Lessons from the road

At least one butterfly died in the making of this post.

One thousand, three hundred and something or other miles later, past so many cornfields I no longer wonder why America has an obesity epidemic (the stalks whisper high fructose corn syrup) we have arrived.

I do wonder why GPS doesn’t offer the Old Spice Guy’s voice as an option.

I do think the rolling fields of wind turbines in Iowa are hypnotically beautiful. But has anyone thought about what would happen if those blades flew off?

Creative pit stops: It took us longer than usual to make the drive because when you strap a four-year-old into a seat and expect her to sit still for thousands of miles, you are in for a battle. (I refuse to mount one of those DVD players in my car.) So, we made the most of rest stops. We fed her well. He ran her for 15-20 minutes around buildings, along sidewalks, and through parks. It worked. She climbed back into her car seat sweaty and exhausted, content to study her sticker books and puzzles for another 300 miles.

Indiana: What’s with the fireworks and strip clubs? Loved the sign advertising the Polecat Strip Club. Do they not know that a polecat is a skunk?
Illinois: If not for Chicago, then what?
Iowa: You are boring but comforting. Just one question, why, in the land of waving grain, did we find an Astroturf lawn in front of a restaurant?
Nebraska: Meh.
Colorado: Thanks for the amazing rain storm and double rainbow. Sorry my camera battery died just as you showed us your wares.

Giant pinwheels

Sunset at Iowa/Nebraska border

Good reads and the open road

Photo by Eric I E via Creative Commons

We are going on a road trip.

Yes, we are.

We are pointing the compass West and driving away from the flat terrain of the Great Lakes. We’ll be tearing across that big lawn that separates the Midwest from those pretty purple mountains. How far will we travel before we shed this sticky, scratchy blanket of humidity? How many miles before I breathe that sigh of release?

I look forward to inhaling the scent of sage and  alpine air and complaining of dry skin rather than leaking pores. I’m pretty sure I’ll perform prostrations at the base of the mountains and kiss the earth. Maybe I’ll post a picture.

This is my first road trip out West with full Internet/digital capabilities. As much as I’d like to unplug for 10 days, I know I’d rather document and share the experience.

This also is the first extended family trip — other than that haunted weekend last summerwe’ve had since March 2009, when the severe belt-tightening was just beginning to make our eyeballs pop. It will be on a nickel and dime. Frankly, I’m not sure we don’t have panhandling worked into our itinerary. Most of our adventure is possible due to the generosity of family. It will be challenging, but I also think it will be character building and oh-so-worth-it to see the land I love and spend quality time with family.

Road trips mean endless hours of the same scenery (cows! more cows! cows and barns and silos!), lousy radio stations, even lousier food choices, and my favorite part — books. I’ve already stuffed my backpack full of reading material.

In the spirit of summer vacations and road trips and good reads, here are a few new and recent finds on the Internets. I like to think of these sites as warm and welcoming down comforters on a cold afternoon, as eye-opening as the first cup of coffee of the morning, and as pleasantly wonderful as finding a new best friend right down the street.

Postcards from a Peaceful Divorce — I can’t get enough of this new blog. What a great concept not only for a blog but also for life.

The Suniverse — I met this blog’s author at the Detroit stop of Bossy’s (No)Book Tour and fell in love with her style. She makes me laugh and cry all at once. Her posts ring true.

You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me — Another  beautifully crafted blog that spins the stuff of life into colorfully touching tales.

Mrs. Blogalot – Always funny. Always on target.

Momma Mia, Mea Culpa & Redhead Ranting – I found these two blogs through Tribal Blogs and they fast became part of my daily/weekly blog habit. I think if you went out with these ladies for a few cocktails, the night would not be boring, I am sure of that.

Happy reading.

Next report: Live, from cattle country.

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Why do people make things so complicated?

Voice mail. Text messaging. They are not new. Both are designed to speed up the process of communication. You can call your best friend Lucy in Tulsa. If she doesn’t answer, you can leave her a message after the beep.

“Lucy, girl, it’s MomZombie.  Please call me when you emerge from your comatose slumber. I have a great idea for this weekend.”

If you are super-efficient, you can also text good ol’ Lucy to further clarify why you are calling.

The ball is now in Lucy’s court. She knows I called and texted. She knows why.

This is not a message: ”Hi. It’s me. Call.”

So, I call you back. You don’t answer. You call back. I don’t answer.

Phone tag.

Won’t somebody just say what the hell is the point of this volley?

Lately I’m getting barraged with phone calls and texts that only reveal to me you have a short fuse but do not tell me why you are trying to reach me.

WHERE R U?

PICK UP THE PHONE!!!!!

WHAT IS WRONG W/ YOU??????

Or,

“Hi, it’s me. Why won’t you answer your phone? What is wrong with you? This is getting really annoying that you do this.You need to answer your phone.”

Where is it written that just because I am “reachable” everywhere I must respond immediately? I think there is a reasonable window of opportunity for acknowledging and responding to phone and text messages. Not everyone agrees with me on this one.

I think I am entitled to let the call go to voice mail when:

I am in the shower.

When I am in the bathroom doing bathroomy things.

When I am sleeping or relaxing.

When I am engaged in some type of one-on-one activity with another person who would be greatly disturbed by the answering of a phone or the reply of a text.

Is this not the POINT of the aforementioned messaging systems?

Rather than send 200 texts and redial my number another 250 times yelling and ranting about how I’m not answering my phone why not tell me why you are calling and what you need.  How about:

“I’m done with my appointment. You can pick me up now.”

“There’s a big insect-y thing on my wall and I need you to come over and smash it for me.”

“Please bring home a loaf of wheat bread.”

Wasn’t that easy? One call, one text and the whole idea travels like magic dust from sender to receiver.

Now, if only I could figure out how to comment on Blogger blogs.

mummytime

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SpongeBrain SquarePeg

Photo by Dan Storey 15 via Creative Commons

I’ve been table hopping book clubs for a while now, seeking the right fit, a good mix, and  readers of a similar stripe.

I’ve joined short-lived book clubs and tried to get into book clubs that apparently cannot spare an extra chair. My last two club meetings were clear examples of a square peg not fitting into the round roles.

‘Are you in my mother’s garden club?’

Since last fall, the young librarians at our up-and-coming library  have been hosting book parties: book club meetings in a trendy local bar. The experimental gatherings were wildly popular, attracting a wide array of readers. I felt right at home going alone to the first few meetings. Not so much last time, when I found myself sitting in a busy bar at an empty table keeping watch over a flock of “reserved for book party” placards. This was after I went to every busy table asking, “Book club? Excuse me, is this the book club?” and getting shoulder shrugs and quizzical looks in reply.

Moments before I gave up the table, the placards and I were joined by a raucous group of fresh-faced and firm-butted 20-somethings. Easily I had 20 years on them. I told myself, “Oh, so what?” and ordered a giant glass of white wine.

While I won’t say the evening was a disaster — I actually had some nice conversations with them based on my asking a litany of questions about their lives — I found it excruciatingly difficult to discuss the featured book. It was written by a 20-something about 20-somethings.  On more than one occasion, they referred to the book’s narrator as a “liberal douche” and a “fatalist fuckwad.” I am not an educator. Maybe teachers would know how to handle this scenario a little better. I am also not a U.N. ambassador, so the diplomacy thing started to wear thin after the first 30 minutes. Finally, I resigned myself to being outnumbered.

While the group had me beat in the education credentials department, (All had or were finishing graduate  degrees, which they admitted were keeping them busy until they could find work in this downturned economy.) I had them beat with life miles logged. Not that I could get any of them to recognize or respect that. While I was willing to listen to their literary analyses of the book, their listing of  the author’s fatal flaws and amateur writing errors,  I felt like their mother when I attempted to break down some possible themes of the book based on life experience.  In other words: Someday when you are in your 40s, you will look back at all the self-involved shit of your 20s and see it through a different lens.

It was like I was sitting face-to-face with my own insufferable 25-year-old self: perpetual college student, angsty literary freak wrapped in layers of  irony and cynicism.

Eventually I realized they were just smashed.  I finished my wine and excused myself.

They may have been smirking at me just a little.

‘Did you go to school with my granddaughter?’

My community center book club experience wasn’t much better. In this case, I was easily 30 years younger than all the participants. While in the former case, all the attendees cradled iPhones and Blackberries in their palms to text each other from across the table,  the ones at this gathering were all about their manila folders of news clippings and mimeographs of book lists dating back to the Reagan administration. Conversation about the book of the month followed a very formal road until it ran out of gas. Then those in attendance slipped into what must be their usual banter: an update of ailments, hospital visit recaps, and their hatred and distrust of the Internet and computers.  While the hipsters barely waved bye to me when I left, I felt the tips of this group’s claws piercing my skin. They wanted phone numbers. They handed me several mimeographed sheets with margin notes written in pencil. They looked forward to me joining their ranks. They needed new blood, they said.

In both book groups I felt a  generational disconnect and a distinct imbalance in the reader demographic. To the older folks I was this young whippersnapper who didn’t a Viceroy from a victory garden.  To the hipsters, I was their mom.

More often than not, I’ve found myself in the equivalent of sitting in the wrong lecture hall in college and too afraid to get up and walk out.

The older I get, the more I feel my brain is like an old sponge. It still has the power to absorb but some of the content is questionable.

This post, by the way, has been rotting in my drafts folder since May.  At one time it was a fresh writing prompt  offered by the lovely San Diego Momma.

Dancing in my bones

Photo by Sakeeb via Creative Commons

It’s hot around here. Not only do we have the heat, but also we have the humidity. I hate humidity.

Oh, sure, the curly-haired people love the humidity. It makes their hair all fluffy and fabulous. The baldies bask in it. But me? Not so much. Humidity for me means limp, frizzy hair, excessive sweating, sticky floors, tacky-feeling furniture, damp bedding and moldy bathrooms.
Humidity makes me mean.
As a child I used to fantasize that I could peel off my skin and go dancing in my bones.
While all you winter haters bitch and moan when the arctic winds howl and the mercury dips low in the bulb, I’m dancing the happy dance. You can layer clothing in the cold, people. You can turn up the furnace, build a fire, sip tea or hot cocoa. When it gets this hot, there are only so many layers to peel. Iced drinks last maybe five minutes. Forget ice cream. It’s liquified before you can finish the first scoop.   Degree Clinical Protection Anti-Perspirant and hair clips are my best friends right now.

We do not have central air-conditioning. We have window units. They work really well if you grab them in a love embrace.

Heat and humidity make me lazy. I’ve spent the last week sitting on the couch making out with the air conditioner. When I get up, after the head-rush dissipates, I accomplish maybe 25 percent of any given task before retreating to the couch again to cool off. Don’t even ask about cooking in the kitchen.

My girls do not sleep well in this heat. Both of them awaken cranky and sweaty, complaining that the AC isn’t cold enough, that the ceiling fans are only blowing hot air around.
Today I jumped from the chilled shadows of the coffee shop to the cool canyons of the public library, avoiding my house until the sun began its slide toward the horizon. In between stops, I laid on the AC vents in my car and guzzled bottled water. I’m trying to avoid feeling guilty. So much awaits at home: mildewy laundry, a virtually empty refrigerator, a yard of mulch at the foot of our driveway, a weedy garden, and a pile of paperwork big enough to scare away a tax accountant. It will all have to wait for a cold front to pass through this area.

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to figure out how to bare my bones.

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Riding with it

Photo by MZ

Lately, the words and ideas bud, bloom and scatter like seeds on the current before I can capture them.

I’m speechless. I’m caught most days without a headline or an introductory paragraph. It’s all buzzing around, free range, while I distract myself with other things: tending to our ever-growing and demanding gardens; amusing and entertaining and otherwise protecting from harm my Girl from the East; arguing, reasoning with and compromising endlessly with Girl from the West; trying to find a few precious moments to myself which generally do not involve the computer; working to put our financial house back to rights.

That last one is the boulder in our path, the one we must find the correct tools to chip away at until we have passage to the rest of our lives. I don’t care what anyone says, things are still tough here in Michigan, and I don’t see great signs of a major turnaround. A few contemporaries have found new jobs; I am happy for them. Still many more face an end to unemployment benefits and slim prospects of new work. It all depends on what industry you are in. Life may never be the same for me.  It might get worse before it gets better. I’m trying to ride with it.

Yes, overall things are better today than 12 months ago. But the scar tissue remains. It will not be eradicated without the intervention of a specialist.

“I don’t know how you do it. I would just fall apart,” a friend says to me as we sit on a stone bench watching our girls prance and shriek in a water fountain on a day too bright to be depressed.

She makes me sound so brave.

“I don’t know how much more of this I can take,” is what my husband said to me earlier in the week, after I vented about what feels like an endless loop of hope and letdown. I vent early and often. I vent until he cannot stand it another second. He takes it personally. He wonders why there are so many words running around unchecked.

He makes me sound so immature.

Truth is, hard times and traumas are triggers for past traumas. Good times keep the demons tucked away and quiet. Hard times stir  the lair and the ugly escapes. I don’t always feel like holding it together. I have the tools. I know what I need to do. But some days, I just don’t open the box.

Yesterday, I busied myself with errands. I took Girl from the East to Target to buy provisions for our upcoming holiday weekend at the pool and the park. Hours earlier I received word that a woman I know died of a massive heart attack. A woman my age. With two children. A personal trainer and fitness guru. Alive one minute on a night out with her husband. Dead the next before anyone knew what to do.  I wanted to block out the news, bury the thought. Instead, I  bit into it and chewed. I tasted my mortality. We stopped for coffee and a snack.  I sat in silence, listening to the Asian family next to us talk in their native tongue. As I tried to translate their words, to determine if they were speaking Mandarin, a neighbor approached me and tapped on my shoulder.

“You look different,” she said. “What did you do?”

New hair color? Different cut? Did you just get a massage?

“Nothing,” I said. “I don’t know.”

“Well, you seem so …. serene. I didn’t recognize you.”

“Oh, my god, does that mean I’m recognizable as a ball of stress?” I joked.

“Oh, no. But I saw you from the checkout line and you just caught my eye you looked so peaceful.”

She made me feel so determined to keep going.

I’m riding with it. Yes, I think I am.

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