Travel journal: Overpacking


I just finished packing for the annual family summer road trip. I’m looking at the bloated suitcases and tote bags lined up in the hallway and thinking, wow, I really overpacked.

“Just throw a few T-shirts, a toothbrush, and a few changes of underwear in a small bag and be on your way,” says my wash-and-wear friend, the one with the athletic build, perfect skin, and tousled beach blonde hair. Sure, it’s easy for her. She makes a shopping bag with armhole cutouts look like high fashion.  She traveled Europe for a month with a carry-on backpack.

“Just buy what you forget at the local Target.”

I told her I don’t think there are any Target stores where we are going.

“Well, Wal-Mart then.”

Um, no. The Evil Empire gets not a dime of my money. (Actually, I’ve read some bad things about Target as well. My sexy boyfriend with the bull’s-eye tattoo has some dirty secrets. Looks like I’m going to have to reevaluate that relationship.)

“You are being difficult,” she says.

Sigh. Yes, I am.

I harbor a great resistance to packing. I procrastinate. Then I panic and overpack. This wasn’t always the case. I don’t know what’s gotten into me. Actually, I do.

This is an act of rebellion. When I use an airplane to get where I’m going, I am so restricted not only in weight and dimension but also suitcase contents.  It makes me feel violated and oppressed. When I travel by car, I can take my entire wardrobe, my shoe collection, a stack of hardcover books, three types of shampoo in the full-size bottles.  I can fill a suitcase full of liquids and sharp objects. I can keep my shoes and belt on when I cross a state line.

Of course, I am not going to get the last laugh this time. My husband called; he wrenched his back. No heavy lifting for several days. You know what that means, don’t you?

Later, I’ll post pictures of myself carrying the kitchen sink up the side of a mountain.

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Eight reasons to say no

Phidippus audax, jumping spider: The basal par...
Image via Wikipedia

“Baby girl, we’re going to have to let it go before we leave for our vacation,” I say to Girl from the East as we drive home from our errands.

“Noooo,” she says, her voice descending into a low whine.  “Can’t the pet sitter feed it for us?”

As I maneuver through thick afternoon traffic, part of my brain grinds like a computer hard drive, plotting and planning the packing and preparation for our two-week road trip. The other part considers my girl’s request. I peek into the rear-view mirror. I see her face morph into a full-on pout: jutting lower lip, scrunched brow, feigned detachment.

I think of our vegetable gardens that need watering. I think of our two cats who need food, water and attention. I think of things like mail delivery and bill paying.

I think of the pet spider who lives in a bug jar on our kitchen window ledge.

I think my life is just a little crazy.

“No. I can’t ask the pet sitter to feed Spiderly Spider. That’s asking too much of anyone.”

“But why?”

Why, indeed.

How is it that a former arachnophobic (me) is now keeping a spider as a pet?

You know what’s weirdest of all? I’ve become attached to this thing.

It’s not your average spider. It’s a phidippus audax. It eats other spiders. Imagine that.

This whole crazy episode started when Girl from the East found the spider zipping around on the bright yellow walls of our downstairs bathroom.  I didn’t know what else to do with it but trap it in our bug catcher. I turned a moment of phobia making into a learning experience.

We’d keep it for a day or two, I thought. Then we Googled phidippus audax and learned all kinds of things, including their popularity  as pets (within a certain crowd, I suppose). Soon, we found ourselves hunting for insects and other spiders and watching Spiderly stalk and capture his dinner inside the bottle. While most spiders just sit in a web, which makes for a boring observational subject, this guy leaps and hops and waves his front legs like a symphony conductor.

Each day we said tomorrow will be the day we let it go.

“Can’t we take him with us,” Girl asks as we pull into the driveway and begin to unload the shopping bags.

“No. He’d be cooked alive in the car. Besides, we don’t bring our cats with us, either, because they would be sad.”

I imagine us hauling this spider halfway across the country, crawling around in hotel lobbies looking for ants,  the spider getting loose in the car … and then I notice the silence. The debate has ended.  She gets it.

So in a few days we’ll coax Spiderly out of his temporary quarters and into the food chain.
My mind turns to the wild woods of Montana, where we’ll be staying for one week of our vacation. There are some big, hairy spiders in those parts. None as tolerable as the phidippus audux.

I wonder how she’ll react when she sees one of those things ambling across the wooden floorboards?

What’s the weirdest pet you’ve ever kept? What crazy lengths do you go for your children?

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Pictures of my life, Part IV

Girl, you have no faith in medicine.
Is there a way to find the cure for this implanted in a pill? 
Is it just the name upon the bottle That determines if it will? 
Is the problem you're allergic to a well familiar name? 
Do you have a problem with this one if the results are the same?
-- Jack White, The White Stripes


In black and white, I’m on  a regimen of crap that I hate. The pills get stuck in my throat. The one I take at night sometimes makes me nauseated. I resent the idea that I need these things to feel/appear normal. Sometimes they don’t work at all. I’ve prided myself on being medication-free for years. I told myself that it meant I was healthy. Was I? Am I now? Today I heard a common-sense talk about wisdom and knowing when to let go of control. Wisdom is knowing when to take the medicine. Wisdom is knowing there isn’t a fix at a nearby big-box store for every problem in life.

In the world of color, I added some red to my hair.

Still haven’t mastered the art of self-portrait photography



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And they lived happily ever after — but not the way you think

Divorce is on my mind lately.

No, not the end of my current marriage, just the ends of other people’s marriages and possibly a little bit of the end of my first marriage.

There’s Molly and her Postcards from a Peaceful Divorce. Click over to her site. Go through the archives. This is the way for a couple with children to divorce if they must do so. Every chapter in this story is sweet, graceful, poignant. And every move seems to be made with the children’s feelings at the forefront. Molly has a way of making her ex-husband’s worst traits seem endearing. Molly makes me go back over my divorce and wonder if her arrangement could have worked for me. Sadly, we just weren’t that couple. We were volatile and disagreeable before and during our marriage. (I guess it takes a somewhat peaceful marriage to make a peaceful divorce.) Visions of my ex hurling my possessions onto the front lawn with neighbors watching and my ceremonious smashing of the wedding portraits in the condo complex Dumpster don’t add up to peace and poise.

Then there’s Bossy and her graceful undivorce. In a recent post she laid out the blueprint of their family life when she and her husband decided to end their marriage. “They made a commitment to each other and to all of the other components of their life together, and it goes like this: to have each other’s backs, to honor the past they’ve spent together, and to move forward as gracefully as possible, keeping the family house a continued hub where everyone can gather.

Wow. Where was all that beautifully logical thinking when my ex and I were hammering things out with our respective lawyers? No one ever suggested we see a counselor or a mediator or a divorce coach. These words sound like something a divorce coach would say. We didn’t have legal counsel, we had football coaches, forever charting the offensive and defensive moves that would give our team  the winning advantage. It was all about making the other guy look bad, dangling threats, and painting worst-case scenarios. These are not the ingredients for peace and harmony and well-being of children.

Maybe that’s the root of it, the legal system. Our losses are its gains.

Now comes this “positive swing bang hum dinger” hosted by Jack White and his soon-to-be-ex-wife Karen Elson. I don’t know what a positive swing bang hum dinger is, but it sounds like a divorce-a-palooza with banjos.  Six years ago they married on a canoe on the confluence of three rivers somewhere in South America. A shaman priest officiated. Sounds exotic and romantic. Now, they are throwing a bash for their closest friends and family to “celebrate this anniversary of the making and breaking of the sacred union of marriage.”

Seems like when folks realize the air is out of the love balloon, if they could recapture enough of that something that brought them together they  could engineer a plan outside the traditional system like Molly’s peaceful divorce or Bossy’s sensible undivorce or even, if your really, really lucky a positive swing bang hum dinger.

My personal jury is out on the joint divorce party concept. What I’ve heard of in the past is the husband or wife having their own separate celebration with friends. My models for divorce were “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “The War of the Roses.” Divorce was synonymous with custody issues, child support payments, and Friend of the Court. Never did I hear party or peace or bonfire with the neighborhood kids.

Inside the oddness of this is something quite nice. People taking it upon themselves to do what’s best for them and their unique situations. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all-marriage and there certainly isn’t a one-size-fits-all divorce.

If most marriages have a 50 percent chance of ending in divorce, why spend all those thousands of dollars on the nuptials? Save 50 percent of it for the divorce party. Soon, will we have divorce planners? Unhoneymoons? Maids of Dishonor? Worst men?

Jeez, Louise, things are getting complicated.


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Setting free the butterflies

‎”You cannot prevent the birds of sadness from passing over your head, but you can prevent them from nesting in your hair.”
~ Swedish proverb

After: a painted lady butterfly

On Monday, we opened a mesh and plastic butterfly cage and urged five winged creatures to leave their nest, to abandon the predictability of their lives, and face the unknown.

A month ago they arrived  in a jar, five little caterpillars no bigger than pine needles. As the days passed, they grew in length and girth until they were lumbering, bloated things with barely room to move.

Before: very tiny caterpillars

Frankly, caterpillars are a crashing bore. Some days that jar sat on the shelf untouched. By the time they were ready to cocoon, those caterpillars were enormous. Then they did this bizarre thing: they suspended themselves by, what, their tongues? their feet? from the jar lid and curled into a J shape and somehow magically changed from fuzzy and lumpy to smooth and iridescent.

It was like Botox for the insect world.

Now came the really, really boring part. We peeled the paper lid on which the chrysalides were mounted and pinned it to the side of the mesh and plastic pavilion. It looked like some kind of pathetic science fair project involving wads of chewed gum and safety pins. Then, we waited and waited and fell asleep from the sheer boredom of the unmoving wads of gum. Until…

Late last week I heard a flapping sound. I looked over and ta-dah! just like that without fanfare or drumroll the first butterfly was born. It perched on the mesh, dripping meconium and vibrating all casual as if everyone does something like that when no one is looking.  Determined to see one of the remaining four emerge, I carried the cage around the house, peering in obsessively. But every damned time I looked away to make a sandwich or take a call or go to the bathroom, I’d come out to find more flapping of wings and yet another empty cocoon. I started to think they had performance anxiety.

By Saturday I had a cage of winged, elegant creatures who were the embodiment of happiness. Unlike their boring former selves who put me to sleep with the endless parade of eating and pooping, these guys held my attention with their pulsating wings, their wiry antennas, and inquisitive proboscis that rolled out to impressive lengths.

These butterflies have me thinking about change, of course, the whole metamorphosis thing and all. Change doesn’t always happen in front of us when we’re watching and waiting. It grows in the shadows of our inattention.

I’m trying to look at whatever it is that’s going on with me as a metamorphosis rather than a gathering of sad birds overhead, preparing to nest in my hair.

Those butterflies, so beautiful and delicate, waving those wings inside their cage. I wanted to keep them in my pocket. But I knew on the most primal level they needed to fly free. Even if freedom meant flapping right into the waiting beaks of hungry birds.

Oh, imagine the joy of ascending to the blue dome, buffeted by the wind. Could that ever be traded for the predictable security of a mesh cage?

Today, a painted lady visited our lily garden. Could it be?

Here’s a link with videos of the various stages.


Today I stand at the crossroads.

My Girl from the East, who was a mush and Cheerios eater when I started this blog four years ago, (yeah, there was an anniversary here recently) graduated preschool last night in a ceremony that was so sugar frosted my teeth ached by the time it was over. Who can resist 20 five-year-olds singing with hand-made mortar boards on their heads? No one.

I’m at the end of one thing and the beginning of another. We are in the twilight of our innocence. My girl and I connected in a smoke-filled room in China almost five years ago and haven’t been apart more than a day or two since then. Stay-at-home motherhood  was not what I expected. I hated some parts and loved others. I have no regrets.  I was there for the first words, the first wobbly steps, the potty training, first friendships and preschool experiences. And all along the way I was at her side or close enough to catch her fall. Once she gets on in the world without me for seven hours a day, it will change. No longer will I be the all-knowing, omnipotent center of her universe.

In three months Girl from the East will  board a big yellow bus, wave to me,  and in a rumble of diesel exhaust leave me behind to figure out a new way to fill the hours of the days of my life.

Which brings me to the next  big thing: my health. I am not better. I am not worse. I am the same in a way that I don’t want to become the new normal. I’m on the dark side of a divide, one in which something about myself will be learned once I step into the light. Maybe I’ll have to give up certain foods or household products. Maybe I’ll have to get on medication. I don’t know, but I suspect a life change.

I’ve been forced to slow down. I’ve started saying no to things without hesitation. I’ve been reading and resting a lot. I’ve let things go, particularly my gardens. They will survive. Nature is tough.

Today is the end of one thing and the beginning of another.