Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Winter Quarters

Even the travelers of the circus have a home. They go there every December, and water the animals, relax and celebrate a little time spent standing still. Come February, they order up food and get the show on the road.

I've been very fortunate to call the same set of houses 'home' for as long as I remember. My parents still own the house I grew up in, until I was grown, we still owned my beloved grandmother's house, and even my closest friends' families live where they used to. It's like poor folk to tie their destiny to an 1100 square-foot box.

Growing up, I knew I was fortunate to have a 'home'. My parents were married - to each other - and we had a dog, and even the first version of a minivan (a 1986 Nissan Stanza wagon, look it up). Outside of my immediate family there were plenty of roots to cling to... my grandmother a pillar in her church community - the first humanitarian angel I would ever know, and my grandfather, representing a legacy of music that shaped my life growing up.

I had plenty of teachers, albeit unconventional ones.

Probably because I had so much help, home isn't one place for me. I don't visit it regularly. I may not even think of it regularly. In fact, I had so much 'home' that it's no longer a place but a feeling. I think of the tomatoes in grandpa's deep freeze, I'm home. I think of the fresh okra at Aunt Ann's house, I'm home. I remember our neighbor Tony, who had skinks (Imagine - real reptiles in his house!!!), I'm home. Pancakes, housecleaning on off days, Archer oatmeal cookies at my house, I'm home. Music. Laughter. Learning.

So these days, when I walk into my old house and look down the short hallway to my bedroom, I don't think of home, I think of the color green, and taping my poetry to every surface in the room so I could feel immersed in my own space. That people kept it quiet for me so I could sleep late, even when the door was right next to the only bathroom.

I've 'gone home' for a lot of things in my life, bad breakups, painful lessons, uncertain futures, migraine headaches. I'm always welcomed there. It strikes me now that I haven't needed to go home in a very long time. I look to my own house, or my hotel room, or a good book for the comfort that I need. And I don't seek it as often.

I don't go home for every holiday. I spent Easter in Dayton, OH this year. Part of thanksgiving in Philadelphia. I don't end my season and recharge with family and friends. At the end of a stressful run, I look for a comfortable bed, a quiet refrigerator (if I had a sledgehammer mine would be quiet now) and a strange window to peer out and enjoy the beauty of some alien car lot.

These days I find my home in places I feel strange. Yesterday, on my flight in, I had a long conversation with an American Airlines pilot next to me in Coach. I never talk to people on planes, it embarrasses me that we have to be so close to perfect strangers... but I think we recognized something in each other. You have to carry 'home' with you. If that trip takes you farther away from your winter quarters, then you find something familiar there and set down your stakes. Even if that means on a cramped airplane.

I can't possibly be the only introvert at 35,000 feet, and I know I'm not the only one in the classes I teach. We're uncomfortable all the time. When you talk to me unexpectedly in the grocery store and I forget the whole shopping list that I memorized two hours before because you startled me, or when I cut you off in traffic and end up next to you at a stoplight and I'm thinking so hard about apologizing that I miss the light and get honked at... I'm so worried about visiting a new restaurant that I blurt something embarrassing at the hostess... Or so nervous to meet you that I spill balsamic vinegar on your purse. We're acutely, painfully aware of how uncomfortable we are.

These days, I'd like to embrace the uncomfortable feeling. If it were normal to be clumsy, inconsiderate, twitchy and short with people, I'd fit right in, but because we're not at that level yet...

I don't call 3013 my home anymore, and the Glasgow house doesn't qualify either. My winter quarters travel with me in my purse. A book, an iPod, some lip gloss, sunglasses, just a few things to make my December and January seem a little more like 'home'. At least a place where I can stand still for a while, regain my composure and say something clever to make myself feel better. Home is where my wallet, phone and keys are.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

All My [Furry] Children

Sad that All My Children will finally come to an end and housewives (and husbands) will have to watch reality tv or sitcom reruns during the day while folding their whites...

Bart and I don't have children, except for our furbabies, who usually fend for themselves. I admit, even though I work from home a lot, that I neglect their hygeine. It's not like I'm sitting at home watching my soaps. And after all, cats self-groom, right?

Well... some cats are capable of keeping up with it. Poor tungsten, well he's just got too much to deal with. He's got a double coat, and I always joke about using his fur to soak up oil or stuff pillows or something. You just don't know what kind of a fur machine this cat is. But after today, I can tell you where the tungsten tumbleweeds drifting through the house come from.

Cats shed fully twice a year - and a lot in between, but when you have two coats, that means twice the bounty for the shedding tool.

He doesn't realize how much he needs this brushing, and it takes two of us to do it. I usually hold his front end and distract him while Bart works the back and haunches, which harbor the most undercoat. He likes the attention at first, and nuzzles my hand but soon I'm holding a couple handfuls of scruff and trying not to get bitten. Today, we harvested at least enough to spin into a headband's worth of yarn.

When you have a giant pile of cat hair, what else can you do but make hair dolls?

Bart fashioned this little fella out of twisted tungsten tumbleweeds and even gave him a little hairy heart. The heart is the strange(er) looking lump on the right side of his chest... it doesn't matter.

Anyway, we gave a little frankenstein juice to our friend and he immediately wanted to make friends with his former partner in crime.

They had a really good time inspecting boxes together. That is until his little hair-heart fell off.

It was all downhill from there.

After that, we said goodbye to our frankenstein hairdoll. It was a good 10 minutes for all of us, but in the end, there are things that are just too weird for Bart and me and the little tumbleweed man with a heart of fluff had to go.

And we had to shower from playing with cat hair for 10 minutes.

Won't be my last hair doll.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Tree Grows In... My Sinuses

It's very interesting to me that the great writers of the 19th and 20th century never complained about mundane personal problems in their works. We know that Lewis Carroll suffered from migraine headaches, but he never added so much as an adjective to share his pain through his writing. No "head-splitting", "blinding light" or "achingly" to betray his true feelings. Did the masters just want to distance themselves so much from their stories? Or did they genuinely have fewer problems and care about them less?

I realize I write mostly nonfiction, but I have a little trouble distancing my written words from what I'm thinking at the time. I have a headache today, in return I bring up Lewis Carroll as my example in the opening paragraph of this blog. Poetry is mostly nonfiction, novels are usually reflections of real life... no innuendo at all of the authors well-being, yet I can't help but gush about my headache?! Coincidence? Not hardly... the subconscious mind at work.

So is awareness making us sicker? And in return, making our writing sicker? Since I can google the pollen count every day and look for my pollen adversaries, I am more attuned to hay fever symptoms. As a society antibiotics and chemicals have sensitized us to the natural world, causing more asthma and allergies than our author-ancestors endured. And natural selection probably has something to do with it as well, a kid with asthma in the 1800's likely died before they were able to reproduce. Today, we give the kid nebulizer treatments and they someday return the favor by giving the treatments to their asthmatic kids. Even though we are getting more sensitive, awareness of those symptoms must be a factor in the way we communicate.

We know more about ourselves now than anyone has before us. The writer of today can harness literally all knowledge with the right username and password to create, diagnose and treat a plot disease. The genres of science fiction and fantasy are not only unlimited in the author's mind but in the amount of research available to describe the imagined.

Today's author has a larger audience as well. In the 1800's, vast portions of the population were illiterate, so target audiences for the written word were scholars - learned men. Now, anyone around the world with a computer and google translator can read this blog. And if I throw out a tricky word, like 'Abstruse', the reader can drop that word into their search engine and get my meaning (or lack, thereof). You don't even have to be able to spell it correctly in most cases. Likewise, if I'm bored with a word, I can google synonyms to my heart's content. I just wonder if 100 years from now our great-grandchildren will read 'Alices Adventures...' and then this blog and think we're a bunch of whiners, unable to divorce our sinus headaches long enough to develop a character.

In 1943, Betty Smith wrote 'A Tree Grows In Brooklyn', which is the first book I remember relating to the author. Francie, the main character, is an analogue of Smith. Smiths struggles are Francie's struggles. The author lives within this novel, just as the novel lives within her. She uses it as a megaphone for her personal struggles with poverty and the will to transcend those problems.

If only she knew then that reality TV and the Internet would eventually expose all of us as interesting, unique stories... waiting to be told. That someday I would write about spring allergies and someone would read it (willingly, as you just did) and identify with the shared experience. The only difference is that in 1943, the people who shared her struggles could barely read and now, authors have peers everywhere.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


I'm pretty practiced when it comes to disappointment. It's easy for me to forgive others for disappointing me, infinitely more hard to forgive myself for disappointing others.

I wouldn't consider myself a planner, but I get around that by putting things on my calendar, which I'm enslaved to at work. A few weeks ago, I committed myself to something yesterday afternoon but forgot to put it on my calendar. Needless to say, I didn't keep my commitment.. others were disappointed, but not as much as I was. I know I'm being extra hard on myself, but follow-through is something I value.

I've talked before about Myers-Briggs type and how it determines your actions (or inactions) and sometimes the motives behind them... well my type is a recipe for disaster when it comes to commitment. As a 'Feeler', my values are top priority (as anyone who has tried to tempt me into eating meat can tell you) and as an introvert, they are very personal as well. Any upset to the values, like breaking a promise, takes intensive repair and consideration before I'm okay with it.

As it turns out, yesterday was a day for multiple disappointments... to myself and others. Bart had his vasectomy on Friday, a decision he and I have been open about with our families and friends, despite constant advice against our choice. The feeler part of me wants so badly to keep harmony that I probably wouldn't have told anyone, and maybe wouldn't have decided on sterilization if it weren't something really important to me, and us. I know I can't succeed without the input of others and I'll value my family's opinion, but in this case, I knew their opinion and what they have said before about our choice so I didn't send the issue up the flagpole for one last round of discussion. Disappointment #2.

I know our loved ones deserve a chance to be heard. I just felt like they had already had that chance, and they didn't agree and had more to say. Now it seems I've harmed some relationships by handling the situation the way we did, making a decision and carrying it out without calling extra attention to it. I'm sorry it happened this way, it's the peace-keeper's worst nightmare when you try to avoid conflict and get it instead. I'll have to keep that in mind in the future and try to avoid another land mine of disappointment.

Finally, the worst possible disappointment, one that results from pure selfishness that I wouldn't have normally acted upon... the boobs. I've wanted to get breast augmentation my whole adult life. I've talked before about my inner conflict about them and recently I decided I would pull the trigger and buy a pair. It's entirely for me. It's expensive. It's controversial. I didn't want to share the entire process with everyone because it is so deeply personal an issue. Some details made it back to my family, who didn't know I was considering them, much less that I have a surgeon and have booked a surgery date. They seemed hurt that I would go that far without discussing the choice, which wasn't my intent at all. I just wanted to keep some of it to myself. I feel horrible, and worse, now I feel bad about choosing to do it in the first place and doing it so selfishly.

The moral of this story? If you value harmony, and treasure values, disappointment hurts. If you're a 'perceiver' according to Myers Briggs, you wait until you've gathered what you think is enough information and then make a decision, but gathering info will always be easier than making the decision.

And I'm sorry, all of these disappointments could have been avoided.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

That's Mitosis, Homes!

Looks like all that RnR (rinse and repeat) worry is doing something besides prematurely aging my face...

Behold, tiny grape life... Full of my future grapefriend's DNA and ready to brave the journey from twine to trellis:

And again, peeking out of the crazy witchcraft blue shelter that I put up against my better scientific judgment in the hopes that they get a better shot:

The party is on, but I still have plenty of RnR worrying to do, these two are relying on the still-dormant plants to pollinate. And if I can't summon some action from the nearby vines, these girls will grow old together, curly haired spinsters who lean on the fence all day and gossip.

Let's just hope the gentlemen-lover plants get the nerve to sprout and ask these ladies to tangle on the vine, so to speak...

Your Fairy Grapemother

Friday, April 1, 2011

It's a Process, Right?

I'm not quite at the point where I do the same thing over and expect different results... quite.

But lately I've been investing a lot of soul in cooking, looking for the taste that I know I'm capable of creating. I just know I am. First, the risotto, I just didn't have the endurance to see the dish through AND eat it. Now, I'm conquered by a butter masala, well... to be honest, a butter masala and chapati.

I love Indian food. I love all kinds of Indian, but my favorite is Indian junk food, like you'd find in a curry shop in the UK. Today, I tried to make a tikka masala - which is the least Indian dish on those menus. But my craving stems from a different kind of kitchen failure. I had the rare chance to take some friends out for Indian food and it was by far the worst curry I've ever had. They were ill, I was embarrassed, and now I'm vowing to make something entry level so I can redeem myself and prove that Indian is yummy and safe to eat.

So I tried...

With no tofu or panir (and obviously no meat) I settled on potatoes for the star of my curry. I simmered my spices and tomatoes with the potatoes and set to work on chapati bread to go along with the gravy I was anticipating. With no yeast, I chose an unleavened bread to try out my skills. I rolled up a plain dough and let it rest while I did something I DO know a little about - rice. Lately I've been testing techniques with my rice cooker and basmati rice and have found the perfect recipe for the rice I have and the cooker we own. First, rinse the rice several times in clean water. Then, turn on the rice cooker and heat a little oil in the cooker pan. Finally, toast the rice for a few minutes to burn off the water from rinsing and make sure that all the grains get a coat of oil for their bath. Then add the water, lid it up, and walk away. The result? Perfectly separated fluffy grains of rice that look more like vermicelli than plain ol' rice...

But I digress, we're talking about failure here, not perfection. So with the rice cooking I set to rolling out the chapatis for the griddle. After making a righteous mess, and sticking dough all over my rolling pin, I finally figured out that like pizza dough - I needed to work the gluten and not protect it like my southern biscuit instincts tell me.

I rolled them up and Bart started grilling.

Just like pancakes, it took until the last couple to get the technique right. They still taste a little doughy and dried out really fast. Next time I'll man up and use some yeast and make naan instead.

All in all, the meal wasn't a total failure, but the masala left me wanting less yogurt and more tomato. I'm sure I was missing the familiar taste of preservatives too. The potatoes cooked perfectly and the sauce consistency was right. The color wasn't too far off, either. But the end result was too tangy or sour and Bart didn't eat much. I'll be back, masala... you can't scare me off that easily. I cook to win.

Now I have to go, Bart wants me to pay attention to him instead of my food for a little while.