Monday, November 9, 2015

Reading Out Loud

Joseph decided the books I choose to read aloud to Elizabeth are lacking. It's not that they're bad books, he assures me. It's just, well, they're little kid books and Elizabeth told him she wants something a little heavier, a little more grown up, a little more Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

It's okay, they both rush to tell me. It's okay that I choose books about puppies and little houses on a wide prairie. Those are good books, too. It's just, well, she wants to read funny books.

Don't be sad, they tell me. I can still read her books about kittens and queens and fairies flitting around the garden. But maybe, for a little while - just until they finish the series - maybe Joseph can read to her in the evenings.

Not that they don't love it when I read to her, they comfort, but, well, it might be cozy to lay on the top bunk and read cuddled up together.

So I putter around the kitchen in near silence, Joseph's voice raised a bit to reach me. I listen to the stories, the funny, silly stories he reads in fully, silly voices. Unlike when I read to her, Elizabeth never interrupts, never questions, never stops him so she can go get a drink of water.

I peek in, spying them snuggled under blankets gilded by the circle of light from the lamp. Elizabeth's eyes are glued to the page, her head resting on Joseph's chest. Did you hear that, Mama, Joseph asks. Did you hear how funny this story is?

I do. It's a great story.

If you want to listen, you can, he invites.

So I sit on the floor and lean my head against the bedroom wall. I close my eyes and listen to the adventures unfold in his little boy voice. I listen as he reads for a half hour, ever night, without once pausing for more than to make sure we're both still awake. I listen to the rise and fall of the words, the fluidity of the story. And then, like an internal alarm has gone off, he stops, sliding a Pokemon card to hold his spot in the book.

She never complains or asks him to read more, merely slides off his chest and wraps her arms and legs around him. I'll just read for a half hour while she sleeps, if that's okay, Mama. My book, this time.

Of course, it's okay. Of course.

I kiss her goodnight and whisper her dreams in her ears. I walk out as he opens the thick paperback that is too old for him.

"I live in a book and eat up all the characters." - Joseph

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Future is Now...

Like so many of you, I spent the last two evenings marathon watching Back to the Future. And this time, I did it with my future.

I remember the first time I watched it. My cool uncle - the one who listened to Talking Heads and wore checkered Vans - rented it from the video store. This was back when having a VCR was new technology and ignoring the "Be kind, rewind" reminders came with a $.25 fine. It was 1980-something and I had a crush on Michael J. Fox courtesy of Family Ties.

Alex P. Keaton got me. We were both eldest children trying to cope with parents who were too in love, siblings who were too crazy, and a fashion sense that was too middle aged.

We watched the movie so many times, we had the dialogue memorized. And then, the sequel.

Everyone knows sequels are rarely as good as the original and in this case, that was somewhat true. Still, it was pretty damn good. It gave us a glimpse into the future where we'd be old. I remember thinking of the 2000s with something akin to awe and disbelief. It seemed so far away from a world where Germany was divided, nuclear war was a very real nightmare, ketchup was a vegetable, and there were Libyan terrorists.


Never mind.

Still, there was so much to look forward to: hoverboards, flying cars, Pepsi Perfect - a beverage that would never be allowed into my childhood Coke-centric home. We got the sunglasses at Pizza Hut and dreamed of the future.

And the third movie, which, while we agreed it was the weakest of the trilogy, was still pretty damn awesome. Who can forget Marty moonwalking in the tavern. I'm sorry. Clint Eastwood. 

We watched it and, at the end, debated if there would be a fourth. While the credits said, conclusively, "The End", we still thought there was more story to tell. Where was Doc going with his Clara, Jules, and Verne? Would Marty and Jennifer be okay? Had they all learned what they needed to know to live happy, successful lives?

Twenty-five years later, I parked my non-flying car in front of a house that required a key to open. I put my thumb on my phone and opened my Prime account to stream the trilogy over the internet. Getting them started, I ordered pizza from my app, using my thumbprint again to pay, and settled in to watch the films. Halfway through, my sister tried to video chat with us, but I clicked ignore and sent her a text instead.

I laughed at the phone booth in the future. True story, I saw one sans phone not too long ago and stood and stared at it as if seeing a relic from the past, an anachronism that niggled at my memory. I shook my head at the fake hologram shark leaping from the marquee while admitting 3D movies are so advanced at this point I can't watch them without getting motion sick. Shoes may not self tie - unless you have enough money to bid on the limited edition pairs - and jackets may not self dry, but cars do self parallel park. Robots don't walk the dog, but they do vacuum our floors.

There have been a lot of amazing advances in the last 25 years.

There have also been a lot of repeated mistakes.

Watching the movies with the kids brought back the excitement and fun. 1.21 gigawatts worth.

Friday, October 9, 2015


I met her on the eve of my twentieth birthday.

I sat at the counter at Denny's feeling what I now know is the beginning of a panic attack. I had walked the four miles from the tiny apartment I shared with a woman who had told me shortly before that we should stay roommates and discontinue our friendship.

It was my first break up.

I stared at my check stub already knowing a waitress's true payday was the wads of ones and the occasional five she pulled out of her apron pocket at the end of the night. A few crumpled bills and change represented the charged tips the manager placed in an old tackle box, the label bearing my name bright white over the yellowed tag of my predecessor.

Melissa had gone home to Washington and school with promises of moving to California after graduation. A long summer of listening to the oldies station while locking the world out had faded into the reality of fall. I couldn't stop crying.

I was homesick.

It had been three months since I'd been notified that I was a bad influence. A "bad association". I was counselled and prayed over. My questions were answered with, "God will provide if you have faith."

I had faith. But I also had my half of the rent and the natural desire to eat. The only job available to a nineteen-year-old girl with no experience was waitressing. And the low man on the totem pole got the graveyard shift.

That was my sin.

I worked nights.

I'd watched my roommate become friends with a married man, tell everyone they were merely brother and sister in faith. I witnessed her coming home in the wee pre-dawn hours, swearing they'd spent the night studying the Bible.

He had a key to our apartment.

I did not.

When I demanded one, I was locked out of her life as surely as I'd once been locked out of my home. And then the lectures began, the scoldings, the shaking heads and whispered gossip of what I must be doing while spending those long hours alone in a nearly deserted restaurant with no one but the bus boy and cook for company.

The door to Denny's opened behind me and the new hostess walked in. She was younger, vibrant and carefree. I saw in her a life that wasn't constrained by the chains of religion. She didn't struggle with the morality of befriending a gay co-worker or spending her evenings at work alone with two men. As Katrina was leaving, paycheck in hand, she walked over and said a few words. What they were, I can't remember. But I do remember what I said next. "What are you up to tonight?"

"Going to a movie."

"Can I come too?" It was a ballsy move only a nineteen-year-old could make. I was desperate for a friend, for connection. I was reeling from the loss of my religion and the realization that I wasn't sure if the world really was as I'd always thought it to be.

She paused and shrugged. "Sure." With a simple conversation a friendship of twenty years was formed. There were other people in the car that night, people who populated my twenties and were my daily companions. Some drifted. With others there were fights. But she stayed around.

It was after we drove to her house that I met Faye.

I think now that she must have been in her mid-forties. A salty old broad obsessed with Garfield and Dr. Pepper. She walked into the kitchen and eyed the new face. What did she see, I wonder. Did she see a lost stray who needed a soft place to land? Did she recognize the fear? The desperation to find a new place to belong, without worry of judgement?

Or did she simply see another kid at her kitchen table who she could feed and scold?

I've been thinking about Faye a lot lately, what she'd tell me now, how she'd react to the changes in my life. I wonder if now that I'm older, more settled, I'd sit with her on a lawn chair in her driveway to watch the neighborhood come to life - children riding bikes, adults wandering over with a glass of wine in hand. She didn't take any shit from anyone and there are things in my life I struggle with, battles I run from even though I know I can't run forever. I don't think she'd believe the lies I tell myself.

Dad came to visit me a year or so after I met her. They had a long talk and when he left to drive the nine hundred miles home, he hugged me tight and told me I'd be okay. He looked at Faye and said, "Take care of her." Faye nodded her head and took a drag on her cigarette. It was a request that didn't need to be asked. As my sisters joined me one by one, she looked after all of us, folding us into her flock. She laughed at our first hangovers before buying us a greasy breakfast. She handed me her granddaughter moments after birth, our eyes filled with tears of joy. She made sure I was never without a hammer or screwdriver and gave me a Look when I didn't fix my own flat tire. She taught me to make cheesecake, yelled at mechanics who tried to take advantage of me, and called me hers.

She's been gone ten years.

Lung cancer.

Ugly words for a beautiful person.

I'm in the same decade she was when I met her and I wonder if one day Joseph or Elizabeth will bring home someone shaken, not quite certain of their place in the world. I hope I have the grace and wisdom to take that friend under my wing and be half the woman Faye was.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Falling into Fall

Fall in California doesn't ease in. There's no gradual cooling of days to mirror the lengthening nights. We don't pull out our sweaters, adding layers of clothing as September colors the leaves. Instead, fall in California just...happens.

One night, we go to bed after spending the day in temperatures above ninety. Maybe we took the kids to the beach or the pool. Maybe we grumped as we watered wilting flowers. Perhaps we scoured Target for shorts because our first grader has outgrown hers and sighed with relief when we found a pair on the clearance table. We open the windows to let some of the cooler evening air take the place of the air conditioning. A tee shirt and skirt hang on the back of the door to be paired with sandals. A note to refill the propane tank sits next to your purse.

In the morning, our alarms go off in darkness and we shiver as we race from the front door to the car in 48° pre-dawn light. Fall has arrived.

And if we're lucky, we'll get a cloudy day to savor while we pray for rain.

When you live someplace with unrelenting blue skies, a cool and cloudy day is a treat. It's time to pull out the crockpot and make chicken chili. It's time to get a loaf of sourdough rising on the back of the stove. It's a chance to pull out a board game and finally open a bottle of red that didn't sound good in the dog days of summer. 

When you live someplace with an average annual temperature of 70°, a cool and cloudy day is a gift. It's a chance to contemplate your closet and decide what to donate and what to keep. It's an opportunity to start a puzzle. It's a chance to pull your second coziest sweater from its storage bag and sit around in leggings and warm socks. It's a time to open every window in the house and to finally, finally feel goosebumps.

Sunny days are almost a requirement to be active, to get things done. On sunny, warm days, you run errands, you plan pickleball games, you go for a run, you work in your garden, you go berry picking, apple picking, beach combing. There's this feeling of industry. Being lazy on a sunny, warm day is impossible.

So today instead of being industrious, instead of working on the never-ending novel edits, instead of pulling weeds from the garden, instead of cleaning the chicken coop, instead of going grocery shopping and making a Target run...I'm doing practically nothing.

I'm letting a loaf of sourdough fill the house with warm yeastiness.

I'm letting a pot of chicken chili with roasted veggies from the garden simmer in my crockpot.

I'm wearing pajama pants and a cozy top while drinking a cup of tea.

I'm dusting off my slippers and padding through the house with my feet encased in flannel.

I'm letting summer fall from my shoulders and packing it away.

I'm embracing fall and pumpkin spice.

I'm being lazy.

Because next weekend it will be 95°.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

That was then...

Last night, just before I feel asleep, I felt a cool "poof" next to my ear. It was the sort of sound one hears and feels when one is spooned up against another human.

Except I wasn't.

In the few seconds between the sound and feel of air and the realization that I was alone, not only in the bed, but in the house, I had what might be technically termed "heart palpitations".

Fully awake, I sat in bed and did what any sane woman would do in this particular circumstance. I Googled. Apparently it was either a) my imagination, b) a ruptured ear drum, or c) spectral visitors. I, of course, chose to believe it was an amorous apparition.

While I didn't feel any negative vibes coming my way, I was unsettled enough to lay in bed and listen for every creak and moan of the house, half convinced I'd see a ghostly shadow emerge from my closet. All of this wide-awakeness gave me time to ponder my previous post.

Coming down from the adrenaline rush that facing things that go poof in the night helps put life into perspective.

So I didn't finish my novel by my fortieth birthday. At least I wrote one. (Two if we count the God-awful first attempt at a full length novel that is buried deep in my computer never to be seen again.) If it wasn't finished by forty, well, I'll finish it at forty. I can spit polish this sucker in a year.

Also? I'd forgotten something. In my forties, I'm not supposed to care about the unrealistic societal standards women are held to. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, I'm supposed to thumb my nose at those standards, speak out against those standards, and proudly wear my wrinkles and extra skin. In other words, so the baby weight isn't gone. I can still run two miles.

I lay in bed in my cozy cottage and while I daily pine for two bathrooms, also love the fact that my low rent also means travel, parties, good wine. Very good wine, actually. I may not know how to knit, but I have a sister and a grandmother who do.

I've wallowed enough.

Some might say I've wallowed too much.

Most might say I'm overly melodramatic. Regardless...

It's time to shake off the dust of my thirties and boldly go forward. With new goals, new aspirations, new adventures. Let's face it, kids. My thirties were a ducking roller coaster of emotions and a good chunk of them were not good.

I may be afraid of the monsters under my bed and only pretending to be an adult, but I've got a phantom friend who likes to blow in my ear.

And that's just plain sexy.

Or a ruptured ear drum.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Missing Deadlines

There's a slight chance I'm having a nervous breakdown.

Don't worry. It's only slight.

The problem with deadlines is what happens when you don't meet them. I'm not talking work deadlines or freelance deadlines. I never miss one of those, but I also don't ever take on a project without being certain I can meet the requested deadline.

Not so much with the rest of my life.

I like round numbers and thirteen. I like numbers that end in zero, that are rife with meaning, that are far enough way for me to happily make a goal while being assured it's a safe distance forward in time.

I like new years - both of the January 1 variety and of the birthday variety. I like resolutions and goals. I like the idea of a clean slate, of letting go of the past, of pushing towards the future.

All this being said, I screwed up.

Four years ago when Chad and I separated, I couldn't handle what my life had become. I couldn't cope with the emotional landmines, the gut wrenching pain. It was far, far better for me to think forward. I created, in my fertile imagination, an entire scenario of my life at forty. Forty, after all, was so far away. I'd be fine by forty, I assured myself.

When I couldn't sleep because of the memories assailing me, I would dream of forty. I created a picture not unlike my childhood fantasies of being eighteen wherein I drove a Jeep and work cut off short shorts on long legs.

My childhood fantasies were obviously unduly influenced by Daisy Duke.

And now, I'm a week away from that date and coming to the overwhelming realization that I've failed at so many of my goals.

Yes. I am very aware that life does not end at forty, that I can still work towards my goals, that age is just a number. I do understand all of that. However...

I'm a goal-oriented Virgo.

Goal-oriented Virgos have slight chances of having a nervous breakdown when they don't meet deadlines.

How bad could it be, you ask?


I didn't learn to love running. In fact, while I can run a mile or two, I don't actually run a mile or two on any sort of regular basis.

I haven't lost my baby weight and have faced the stark realization that my baby is in first grade and I didn't even come close to losing it.

My novel isn't done. Yes, it's in beta and second draft, but it's not done. I will not be announcing publication any day soon.

I'm still living in our transitional cottage. Granted, it's an adorable and affordable cottage, but I did expect that I would have moved into something with two bathrooms by now.

I still get scared of strange noises when I'm home alone at night.

I'm not as good a friend as I thought I'd be.

I didn't learn to knit.

And now, I have less than a week and the realization that I'm not going to meet my deadlines. Not even close. A part of me wants to hole up with wine, books, and Thai food. Another part of me wants to discover the diet that will instantly make me thirty pounds light while cloning me so I can work day and night on my book while still working and single parenting.

So I'm going to throw a party instead.