Name-your-color Friday

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Color it white Friday? This year is a tabula rasa for us, a blank slate, because we dared to make our own plans, to sidestep tradition and celebrate our nuclear family.

Paint it a blue, brown and red Friday? On this last day of our little getaway, we visit a nature preserve not far from the hotel. The day unveiled the kind of blue sky only visible  in the cooler months, after the humidity lifts its haze. Cirrus clouds etched the blue, making a stunning backdrop to the blacks, grays and browns of a denuded boreal forest. We hiked miles on leaf-littered trails, through dense brush, small clearings and wetlands. Dog walkers, one or two other families, and chattering chickadees were our only company.

It’s another antidote in the medicine chest of elixirs we’ve self-administered this Thanksgiving. Our family of three (the fourth opted to spend it with her biological father) sought a refuge of sorts in a hotel room on the other side of the state. A pretty area with rolling hills, wide rivers, and thick forests. We played cards on the bed, ate in bed, swam in the pool, sat in the hot tub, ate a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner in a nice restaurant, walked the quiet streets. No cooking. No alarm clocks. No stress.

Color it a rainbow Friday, accented with unicorns and sparkly stars, sprinkled with fairy dust. It’s that fabulous.

 

 

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Let’s go out and play

Girl from the East has a new best friend and it’s a boy.

They secretly became best friends in preschool, unbeknownst to all the parents involved.

The first blush of spring delivered news that Girl and Boy were now best friends. I remember my surprise because I’d never seen the two of them so much as look at each other at school. I considered it a passing fancy.

A week later, Boy’s mother called and said Boy just had to have a play date with Girl. So, we scheduled one. All went well. Many more followed. Sometimes we had to peel them apart when the play date was over. We declared their friendship “adorable” and “sweet.” At preschool graduation, we figured the friendship would be forgotten; Boy and Girl were going to different elementary schools in the fall.

The phone calls started mid-September. First, from the mom saying that Boy, who was sad, had written notes and colored pictures for Girl during summer break. Then, the dad, when I bumped into him at the grocery store, told me that Boy was begging to have a play date with Girl because he was worried that he’d never see her again.

Yesterday was the second big play date of the school year for these two.

I took Boy and Girl to a nearby nature preserve tucked along a small river twisting through a neighborhood. Indian summer spread its buttery glow over the forest, scattering orange and red confetti to the wind, stirring the hunt-and-gather instinct. Red squirrels with nut-stuffed cheeks scampered over the leaf and stick carpet and clambered up tall oaks, barking at us as we passed underneath.  Ducks paddled along the lazy river’s edge, following us with hope of a food reward. Boy and Girl, oblivious, ran races along the dirt trails, stuffed their backpacks with leaves, slid through muddy patches, threw acorns in the river, teased the ducks, found a grassy hill and rolled down like logs, then discovered a playground and played hide-and-seek until the sun cast long shadows across the lot.

I snapped a lot of pictures. I smiled a lot.  I thought about why these atypical pairings grab our attention. When Girl has one of her gal pals over, I think nothing of the hugging and hand holding and proclamations of never-ending devotion. When this happens with a boy, I add a heavy dose of my own romanticism and idealism to it.

Here’s the thing: Boy-girl play dates are so much easier to referee, at least for this mother of two daughters. They just — play. There’s no squabbling over who gets to wear the sparkly princess tiara during dress up or who gets the Malibu Barbie when they’re playing doll house.

This little slice of sweetness between Boy and Girl is different for me and it’s been a joy to watch. It’s a reminder that there are moments of pure bliss in life, when your legs will take you anywhere, when your eyes are open to everything, when wonder and adventure await around every bend in the path.

Go outside and play with your best friend.

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Travel journal: the unexpected, Part I

Town of six buildings includes a coffee barn

To sum up my vacation: bears and bars.

The dichotomy of obsessing about grizzly bears and full Internet connection on the same trip is puzzling even to me.

Let me explain. I had in mind a somewhat outdoorsy trip. I wanted to do some challenging hiking and climbing, but I also knew that with a five-year-old in tow I was not going backcountry camping. So, I left the tent at home and instead hauled my laptop computer and digital camera along so that I could post daily. (I don’t know what made me think I’d post more while on vacation than I do at home.)

The plan died a quick death. Immediately outside Wisconsin, I began experiencing spotty service. When we arrived in southwest Montana, it became clear there would be no Internet unless I was willing to make an effort to find it. Phone service? Forget it. So much for the mighty Android on Verizon. No bars for this girl.

Feeling like a pouty baby who lost her binky, I wondered when connectivity became a vacation priority. For a while, I let my disappointment and frustration cloud the treasures laid out before me. I realized I’d once again become disconnected from nature. My online world threatened to dominate my life.  And damn is it hard to shake that monkey off your back. (Later into the vacation during a mountain climb, I almost lost my footing on algae-slicked log stretched across a rushing stream. I didn’t think about hypothermia or broken bones or a bruised ego that would follow a spill, I thought about my camera and phone tucked in my daypack and what would I do if they got wet.)

Here we were in this rugged canyon a few miles outside national forest north of Yellowstone National Park. While the cabin had modern amenities such as a dishwasher and a laundry room, only the log walls and metal roof separated us from true wilderness. Hike a small distance outside the door and find mountain lion tracks and animal bones. Signs and notices beg us to remember we are in grizzly country. On the kitchen counter, nestled with the salt and pepper and sugar, is a large canister of bear spray. (More on this in the next post.)

Here we are for a week in what we called a cabin; the proprietors market it as a retreat. After discovering a little wooden buddha carved from a log and perched amid the landscaping, I knew I had to honor the sentiment. I was on a retreat. I took my morning coffee alone on the wooden deck overlooking the valley.  I attempted to memorize the zigzag horizon carved by rock and pine. I inhaled the stiff breeze infused with sage, juniper, and ponderosa pine. I listened to the sighs and whistles of wind sliding past limbs and leaves, the mechanical whirr of the unseen humming birds, the roar and gush of the river below.  I sat in the perfect balance and harmony of the world.

I read two books.

I napped by the side of a snowmelt lake.

I scribbled in my paper journal.

I climbed scrubby, rocky mountain sides, my heart racing for signs of wildlife.

Unless we ventured into the valley, we saw no one else. When we did explore, rarely did I see anyone with their attention and energy directed toward a little screen. Folks were casting fly rods, paddling kayaks, hefting backpacks, pedaling mountain bikes, adjusting lenses on cameras, working with horses or cattle on their ranch, or just relaxing. They were living in the now.

I paid attention to that. I pondered this unnameable “thing” that draws me to this part of the country, that opens something inside me that is fused shut most of the time. My mind assembled a scrapbook of images: well-muscled bodies, beautifully weathered natural faces, an ethos of survival and practicality, a need to live on the edge, an understanding that nature is a powerful force, one that you cannot outwit or outrun.

Just when I felt this “thing” infuse every cell in my body, when I was truly a transformed person, we moved on to Wyoming and Colorado. I gained a strong, clear signal. The door to my online world opened, beckoning me to return. The more platforms I opened, the more I realized how one week can set you behind, how easy it is to slip into the endless stream of other people’s minutia. I felt the anxiety boiling inside. I closed the laptop, grabbed a blanket, and huddled outside under a dome of sparkling black. I counted shooting stars.

The Internet is as vast as the universe above. Why does one soothe while the other agitate?

Much of my anxiety stems from too much online and not enough outside. Oh, and then there’s the need for thrills and drama. What of that?

More in the next post.

 

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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Summertime and the livin' is queasy

Warning: This post is not funny.

If you want funny, watch Bossy’s latest theatrical production.

This post borders on whiney. If you want something moving and sad and funny all at the same time, read this (maybe) swan song post by Bejewell.

If you must wallow in misery, well, come on in then.

So how was your Memorial Day weekend — the unofficial starting gun of summer?

While most people celebrated by hosting or attending barbecues, going to outdoor festivals or heading away to a lakefront cottage or a camping spot in the woods, we stayed home.

I could say it’s because we have so much yard work to do, it takes an entire holiday weekend and then some to get it going for the season. That would be true.  But it wouldn’t be the whole truth.

I could talk about how Girl from the East and I made a commitment  to march in our city’s Memorial Day parade, but that wouldn’t paint the whole picture, either.  I could go on about how Girl from the West spent the majority of the weekend sequestered in the basement office finishing her semester-long project, how this could not have been accomplished in a deep-woods cabin without electricity.

The missing pieces, the untold chapter in part is realizing it may be another season of restraint. See,  we are not out of the woods yet. We are not out of the hole, not by a long shot. School is over today for one child and soon will be for the other. Volunteer commitments are grinding to a slow churn for the season. Summer programs, sports and activities are not in the budget at all.

We had a big road trip planned but that is now on hold.

Things were supposed to be better this year. In small ways, they are. In bigger ways that involve dreams and fantasies and wish lists, it’s very much like last year.  We’ve had a good run of it these last few months, almost enough to pretend like everything is OK. But underneath the denial is the truth: Eighteen months ago the bottom dropped out and we free fell to the basement. We survived the fall with deep cuts. We’ve gotten this far because we say to ourselves: This is temporary; this is not our lives.

I watched the “Hoarders” marathon on A&E yesterday afternoon because a band of storms blew through the area and ended my weekend of yard work. The takeaway: after while these people get so used to their reality  they no longer realize it’s offensive to outsiders. Their extreme dysfunction becomes normal.

Now I’m not saying my life is any of those things, but it made me think: You get used to something and  before you know it IT IS YOUR LIFE. You realize you are responsible for some of the mess you are in. Maybe you are responsible for the whole damned mess. Maybe you didn’t manage your money wisely. Maybe you took some miscalculated risks with your career. And then you say: Is this the life I want? If not, can I make it OK for me? Are there aspects to this that I can view in a positive way?

I realize everyone has something big that knocks them down and from this they must learn to stand again. For some it’s the dissolution of a marriage, a devastating illness, or an early unexpected death of a loved one. For others, like us, it’s job loss and a long road to financial recovery.

I’m trying to remain positive that Girl from the West will find a part-time job to pay for some of the things she wants and to save for a car. I’m trying to remain strong that I can get through another year before Girl from the East is in school full-time and I can seek something realistic in the employment front that doesn’t require 40 hours of daycare. I’m holding out hope that the economy  will lighten up here so we both can be fully employed and rise up a few more rungs toward the light.

Sorry, were you expecting something about a cookout?


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Blogging rules

with apologies to Jack Handy:
showoff

I think there should be rules for blogging. Like, if I read on your blog that every once in a while you slip into a wet suit, recline on a chaise longue and listen to “Madama Butterfly” while your Irish Setter licks your bare feet, I won’t mention it when I meet you in person. I think stuff like that should be kept to the Internet only, where it’s private.

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Camping and corn dogs and Ferris wheels. Oh, my!

urbancamp

Urban camp out No. 1

It’s Labor Day weekend. What are you doing on the Internet? Get outside and take a walk, ride your bike, surf, skate, swim, or go read a book. Do all of them at the same time if you have that kind of talent. If your community is like mine, there are more festivals than time to attend them all. Pick one.

Get up and walk away from the computer. Unless, of course, you are at work. That might create a problem. Although when I was working, I did see people do that. Just get up and walk out as if they were protected by a union or something. Later they returned smelling funny.  Good times.

Knowing that next week — with its big yellow school buses belching exhaust,  its alarms bleating before dawn, and the let’s-get-back-to-being-responsible thing will be in full force — we decided that this weekend would be for old-fashioned fun. Let’s call it a throwback holiday weekend.

Our itinerary:

* The second urban camp out of the summer, featuring our trusty tent, our backyard patio and our little fire pit. Thankfully most of the neighbors are on vacation and the road crews are on break, so the nights are quiet. Only the crickets, lonely dogs and amorous cats will break the silence. And a bonus: full moon!

campout

* A trip to the Michigan State Fair. It’s not my favorite place. I don’t like seeing cows with Kroger $3,000 stamped on their sides. I mean, could you put a finer point on it? I don’t like the pushing and shoving of the sweaty masses devouring fistfuls of elephant ears and corn dogs. But this year might be the last for the venerable festival honoring all things agricultural. We are going for Girl from the East, who is fascinated with fairs and cows and pigs and Ferris wheels. And (gag) she’ll probably want to eat a corn dog. Everyone has to do that at least once in life.

:en:Singapore Flyer taken from :en:East Coast ...

* I’m participating in my second half-day retreat of silent meditation. I look at it as both a personal challenge and a way to refresh my psyche for the challenges ahead. Yeah, I think a day of silence and a trip around the Ferris wheel ought to do it for me.

breakfastouts

Breakfast outside is the best, don't you think?

So, join me in celebrating the closing of summer. Embrace the simpler things for a day or two. See you on the other side.Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

A little Diego, a little Dracula

When you are on ghost duty, getting away with only a bat encounter comes as a relief. At least, it did for me.

There are other times in life, I’m sure, when a bat encounter would not be a welcome surprise. 

Sitting in the near-darkness in a cabin deep in the woods, I prepared myself for anything that might happen. By prepared I mean I had a pair of fresh undies nearby and a bottle of vodka.

I was on edge. When I began hearing a faint fluttering sound coming from the ceiling, followed by the screech of nails on metal, the hairs on the back of my neck were standing at attention. Louder flapping and then a flash of something inside the wood-burning stove had me off the couch and in my special attack stance. (Quivering, wide-eyed, with hands over my head.)

Since I am most certainly the girl who WILL go in the basement when the deranged killer is prowling for fresh meat, I grabbed the nearby flashlight and aimed the beam in and around the stove. Inside the stove I found a scared and frantic little brown bat, bouncing off the sides of the firebox, up into the chimney and back to the hearth again. When the light hit its face, the creature retreated to a dark corner and tucked its head under a wing.

I tested the latch on the glass door. Engaged. I examined the chimney and cast iron stove body for openings. None.

Next, I wrote a note and secured it to the hearth with a glass candle holder:  Live bat inside. Do not open door.

Then I went to bed and pulled the covers over my head just in case.

The next morning, I checked the stove and found the bat still inside. Feeling all “Go, Diego, Go” we grabbed our animal rescuer gear (fishing net and spatula) and began coaxing what looked like a big-eared, winged mouse out of the coals and ashes. 

wing

The bat, still inside the firebox, clinging to the door handle, encased in netting

It cooperated and flopped into the waiting net. We carried the net outdoors. Knowing the hot sun was probably torture to the nocturnal creature, we overturned the net on a bed of leaves in the shade. It wouldn’t let go. More prodding, poking, and a little shaking and finally it hopped to the ground.

Then it spread its wings and began shrieking, exposing a fine set of teeth, including little fangs. I asked myself: Are these teeth really necessary for eating mosquitoes? At that moment I was immensely grateful the bat didn’t find a way out of the stove last night.

batface

This is NOT a mouse with wings. Mice are much cuter up close.

 

We stood nearby, watching as it shivered and screeched but did not spread its wings and fly away.  Eventually we grew bored and walked away. Within five minutes, the creature had gained enough strength to flap its dark wings and set off on a jagged path deep into the forest. Mission accomplished.

free

The bat looks scary, but it was shivering with fear.

Where’s my drink?

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The opposite

shadows1

Happiness is yours; it grows from the opposite of what you expect.

Instead of control, it grows from letting go.

Instead of stuff, it grows from simplicity.

Instead of the need for 15 minutes of fame, it grows from planting flowers and vegetables in an abandoned city plot, anonymously.

~ Geri Larkin

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