Saturday, October 28, 2006
The best, however, was surprising my Mama. She has had her knickers in a twist about her birthday for about the last year. Somehow, turning 60 hit a few panic buttons for her, and made her feel old. Between her doctors telling her along the way that due to her disease she'd never see 60, and knowing that people who work in hospitals characterize anyone over 60 as "elderly", she's been subconsciously battling the concept of BEING old. Like death is right around the corner for her. The truth is, with the disease she has, death could very well be right around the corner. But probably no moreso than it has been for the last 5-10 years. The truth also is that she could live to be 70 or better, it all depends on fate. She could die of something completely different than rheumatoid arthritis or its complications. I could get hit by a car or my plane could go down tomorrow. We never know. The best we can do is to enjoy each day, and not obsess on how we can outfox the Grim Reaper.
So anyway, Mama was having a hard time. She had been working on herself to pull out of it, had been feeling like it would be alright, but told eveyrone she wanted to do nothing special for her birthday, no dinners or visits or presents or anything. She just wanted to pretend it was any other day, and get on with it. But the day before the birthday, she was entirely fit to be tied. Just all in a dither, couldn't figure out what to do or not do, thought about going out of town just to get out of town and be doing something somewhere else instead of sitting and WAITING for her birthday to come and go. This was the day I was to arrive. My sister and I hadn't told her a word about me coming, and were lying enough to get kicked straight to some ring of pergatory if not hell, in order to create a plausible theory for where I was and what I was doing. We talk at least once a day if not more, so avoiding her was tricky. I got to Dallas and heard she wanted to go out of town, so I told her she couldn't, as her gift was being delivered to her house between 5 and 8 that night. She wanted me to see about having it delivered some other time, or having someone else sit and wait for it instead. I told her that it had to be her at home, and that I ask so little of her, couldn't she just be there this once? The knife slid silently into her heart and turned 90 degrees, as she realized it was true, I didn't ask much. So she promised to be home.
My sister picked me up from the airport like a trooper, and drove me over to Mom's house. We saw her, in her yard, at 5:30 pm and freaked out. WHAT IS SHE DOING IN HER YARD?!? She's NEVER in her yard at this hour! We whipped the van around and went the other way, until the coast was clear. Whew! She went inside. I got out of the van and casually walked up the street to the house, and called on my cell phone. "Hey Ma. What's going on? Whatcha doin?" She said she'd just come in from getting the mail, what was I doing? I said I was just hanging out, catching a bit of fresh air. And by the way, I had confirmation that her present had been delivered, just outside her garage door. Could she go look? I was walking up the driveway. She opened the door from her house to her garage, and claimed nothing was there. I said, "No, not INSIDE the garage. OUTSIDE. Look outside." She looked through the windows in the garage door and saw my toothy grinning face staring back at her. "WHAT THE FUCK? Is that YOU?!?!" I said "none other, Mama." She came FLYING out of the front door of her house, grabbed me and hugged and kissed me about 50 times. My sister parked the car, waving madly, and we got the boys and my stuff out of the van and into the house. She was so happy, to have her girls there with her.
For her birthday, she got coffee in bed, a little bit of shopping, a Dick's burger for lunch, and dinner out at Anthony's, a wonderful seafood restaurant. Then, a trip to an old historic hotel for a cocktail after dinner, and posing for a ton of opulent pictures in the lobby. Never once was she sad, anxious, or upset about her birthday. It dissolved as she appreciated what she does have in her life, and how much she is loved by her girls.
Our mother is beautiful, she is strong, she has conviction and isn't afraid to tell you about it. She's graceful, loving, and giving. She has friends who love and cherish her, daughters who would die for her, and grandchildren who think she has hung the moon. Who cares which birthday it is?
Sunday, October 22, 2006
You see, there are PARTS of my family which like to pepper their language with a variety of interesting words. Some of which are made up. Some of which are used untraditionally. Like cuss words, for example. Although my mother will tell you, all holier-than-thou, that "Profanity is the effort of a feeble mind to express itself forcefully" while she's telling me to stop saying "fuck" so much, in the next sentence she will either say that or "Goddammit" herself. The husband, well, he rarely cusses. Occasionally, especially when he's talking about something moronic at work, or when he's drunk. But he always has a huge bit of guilt afterwards, as though he's let his judgment lapse. GOD FORBID. You know, the rest of us mere mortals lay in fear of being discovered to be... well... HUMAN.
And then there's my mother's interesting use of the words "faggot" and "queer". She will insist rather vehemently that the first definition of the word queer in the dictionary is "odd" or "unusual". Okay, so we can get away with saying something is queer, and have people by the context understand it to mean odd or unusual. Simpler minds out there may stumble on that, but whatever. And then there's faggot. When she says it, she means basically the same thing as queer, yet with a lot more oomph. It never ever ever means homosexual when said amongst us, it just means dorky but usually in an adorable kind of way. Like, when my husband comes home from work, takes off his work clothing, and dons a blue swimsuit, a t-shirt with some logo from his job printed on it, YET HE CONTINUES WEARING THE DARK DRESS SOCKS. He sits all casual-like on the couch, as though this is perfectly acceptable attire. THAT is faggot. Or, when a person wakes up after a bender, with the hair all caddywhompus, half mohawk, half rooster tail in the back, noticing when they put on their pajamas, they put the top on inside out, and the bottoms on backwards, and they are missing a sock. That is also faggot. Crooked ponytails on my child with flowered pants and a plaid shirt, and maybe a second shirt on top for good measure, all of her choosing, that's also faggot. And one time, my Mama said she thought someone was breaking into her house (turns out it was her brother, but didn't know it at the time). Instead of being all brave like she would like to think she'd be, with her kids there and everything, she got up on the couch and ran back and forth screaming. Now THAT IS FAGGOT. It's a term which needs to have a word for it, and preferably one that isn't "faggot", since that seems to incite some serious emotions in people, and not at all in the right direction. If you aren't in my mother's little circle of folk who know her and have come to understand the meaning of this word, you might take offense. So, there ought to be something else in its place, descriptive yet not so damn CONTROVERSIAL.
The husband, he doesn't particularly care for these two terms. No, let me be a little more clear on this point. HE FUCKING HATES IT. I get the "I'm SO DISAPPOINTED IN YOU" look if I have ever said either word within earshot of Hootie. I might as well have said, "Fucking Asshole Piece of Shit Prick." And other choice words I probably would have to crawl in a hole from embarrassment if my inlaws ever read my blog. So I'll refrain. It could happen someday. We have agreed that we make every effort not to cuss in front of the child. I won't say I have never done it (BECAUSE I WOULD BE LYING LIKE A DOG ON A RUG) but I am pretty good to avoid fuck and shit and I modify things like damn into "dangit" or "doggoneit" or other schoolmarmy variety thereof. But I think back to my childhood, and I remember vividly that my actual mother cussed like a sailor, and my father rarely did, and I didn't until I was old enough to do so with permission. That's the way it was. You did what you were told, those were the rules, you didn't cuss around your family, but what you did amongst your friends, well, that was your perrogative. So Lord help all of my friends, because when I am away from my child, I have BUILT UP cussing which must come out, and it usually spews out like toothpaste under pressure.
So anyway, the war. My mother likes to say things to my husband like calling him faggot, just to get a rise out of him. And my husband likes to give the disapproving glare or the serious talk to either of us, if we happen to cuss around the child, especially. I'm caught in the middle. I can understand both points of view. Faggot just sometimes needs to be said, and yeah, it's probably not right to say it or other such things around Hootie, at such an impressionable age. What is a girl to do?
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
I turned to look at him, stumped. We'd been sitting on a hill overlooking the Wild Basin for an hour, having a lovely conversation and listening to some music from the battery-operated jam box sitting behind us. "What's stupid?" I asked. There was still a slight chill in the air, although it was an evening in mid-April in Austin, a time when it could go either way, hot or cold. I had half a dozen goosebumps on my arms.
"Because I want to kiss you," he said. This, coming from my pal of 2 years, the guy upon whose shoulder I had cried several times, over some OTHER guy (or four). This guy who had platonically cooked me a lovely meal that evening, and taken me out for a drive into the hills to look at stars and hang out, talking about game theory and whatever else came up in conversation. The guy my friend Marni and I always thought would make someone such a nice husband someday. Just not us. Because he was just too nice.
I contemplated this for a second. It really wasn't much of a second, either. It was more of a frozen moment in time, in which God said, "Hey wait, Peter, hold up a second. I have to intervene in an issue on Earth. It'll just take a sec." He came down and saw that I was possibly in jeopardy of tossing away a FINE opportunity to live happily ever after, all because I was hopelessly attracted to the wrong type of guy (read: morose, artistic, abandoned by his mother or recent girlfriend, self-absorbed, unable to emotionally connect), and not attracted to the right kind (read: happy, cheerful, with a FUNCTIONAL family, lots of friends, and no blatant emotional issues). And that is when God, real quick-like, tossed a lightening bolt at me and went back to his conversation with Peter.
"Well, why don't you give it a shot?" I finally said. Something in me had clicked, and the thought of locking lips with this sweet, happy friend of mine didn't seem so bad. So he did. He wasn't the most experienced kisser, but his kiss was tender, and genuine, and respectful. "You could do that again, " I said. From that moment on, we were an item.
I remember driving home from his house he rented with some buddies, back to my apartment one night about two weeks later. It occurred to me on that drive that I fully expected I would marry him. I did marry him, about 2 1/2 years later. And that was over 10 years ago. White picket fence? Well, not exactly. There's one next door, however. But I am happy, I am fulfilled. I can pretty much guarantee that if that night hadn't happened, and I went about my business the way I had prior to this, I would not be in a happy relationship. I might be happy, but my guess is that I would be alone and happy.
The source of my previous attractions were always passionate guys. The type who would leave me thought-provoking, often sensual or dark poetry under my windshield wipers. Writers, artists, people with a deep, dark well worth of emotion that came out in usually very vibrant and beautiful ways. And I usually fell into the role of savior, voice of reason, rock of Gibraltar. But it was always about them. Their issues, their feelings, their inability to give back TO me as easily as they could take FROM me. My sympathy for their plight would make me reluctant to ask for what I needed, and I would feel empty and worthless when eventually the relationship would end. Maybe all of this is a function of being 20-23, but my guess is that these guys either got their asses kicked by someone with more issues than themselves, or they are still spiraling inward. I am a lucky one - I chose something greater than the raw passion, lust, and infatuation I experienced with these others. I chose to be with someone capable of being my FRIEND as much as my lover. The romantic part of our relationship is great, but it's not the center of it. We just enjoy each other's company and presence as companions, and that is the focal point for everything else. It's based on respect, and that flows outward into all the other aspects of our life together - parenting, working on our home together, traveling, arguing, being romantic, dealing with difficult family issues from time to time (my family, not his. Nothing about his family is difficult!). It doesn't have the peaks I experienced before, but it also doesn't have the devastating valleys either. Some would prefer to suffer with the valleys in order to get that euphoric high that can only come from the peaks. But I, on the other hand... I am so happy that I chose this type of relationship, one that is not volatile, where I do not question the future of it, or wonder why I put up with the things I do. I am blessed and lucky to have such a wonderful man as my husband. He is a great partner and wonderful father, a brilliant provider and supportive friend. And I thought I should write about him, since I haven't said much about him to date.
Monday, October 16, 2006
Erich and Ursula climbed the creaky stairs before us, honoring their cultural obligation to view the accommodations first and then proclaim them magnificent. With our belongings neatly arranged in a corner, we descended the old staircase into the foyer of the farmhouse. The woman, in her full skirts and kerchief, briefly came out. Erich asked where a hungry family might find a warm meal in the vicinity, and we were told we could go about 5 miles up into the hills on a winding road, and find a low-slung thatched roofed structure that is a pub and restaurant. Starving, we got into the car and headed up. It was getting close to twilight, and the sky was clear. The four of us walked in. First Erich and Ursula, they are both internists with a shared practice. He is Prussian, not typically German looking. Round, with a big belly built over the years from sausage and ice cream. Ursula has remained trim, impeccably dressed in only Jilsander, with silver hair cut in a professional bob. Christine, whom we all call Miki, goes next. She resembles her father, but with dark brown, thick, full hair, falling to her shoulder. Yet trim, like her mother. And then I brought up the rear. My hair was long, curly, and blonde. On my face sits a button nose at the end of an almost absent bridge, full lips, and graygreenblue eyes. Although I am short, I do not resemble these people at all.
We survey the room. On the left toward the back, three older women sit in a wooden nook booth, deep in conversation. They are not dressed modernly at all. Directly ahead, about four or five older men occupy a thick slab of a wooden table, smoking cigars and drinking frothy pints of various pale beers. In front of them is a game of some sort – cards or dominoes, I am not sure. On the right, at a cozy two-top, a couple in their mid-40’s dine quietly. There are a handful of other thick wooden slab tables in the room, and a long bar. Erich chooses a small table almost exactly in the center. He despises being seated near the kitchen, near the front door, near the restroom. He is equidistant from everything. We sit down.
A man in his late 40’s, maybe early 50’s brings us menus. We discuss the options on the menu and this dish that I cannot stand – it is meatloaf with a fried egg in the middle, that when cut into a meatloaf slab, looks like a big eyeball staring up from the plate. Eggs are vile, I say. Everyone laughs. We make our selections. To call the man who takes our order a waiter would be an insult. It seems to me that he owns this restaurant, or perhaps many in his family do. The other patrons all appear to be acquainted, in the way that most people in small towns at least in passing know each other. Everyone seems to take turns eavesdropping into our conversation or sneaking glances at us while continuing their activities. Fresh blood, fresh conversations in the room, fresh accents leaving everyone to wonder where we are from. Although we are conversing in German, it isn’t in Austrian dialect, so it is obvious we are foreigners. I feel like I’m keeping up with the conversation well, having spent four weeks with this family the previous summer, and having taken 3 years of German in high school.
I am answering one of Erich’s thousands of questions about my life. He never mentions America, just questions me about my school, my friends, my house. What’s it like? Erich is always curious to learn about everything. Miki is quiet, occasionally Ursula will interject a comment here and there. Most of our conversations consist of Erich either teaching me about whatever is around me, telling me stories about the war or his childhood or German history, or asking me questions about a fascinating place he has never visited, Texas.
As I am talking, the man brings our soup and drinks to the table. As we are in the thick of a conversation about something we have seen today, the man puts a hand on my shoulder and says, “You sound like you’re from the south.” He looks right at me. I am surprised, because I think he ought to be speaking to Erich. But he’s speaking to me. I am amazed that this man is able to know that I’m from the South when I’m a) speaking German and b) I have only lived in Texas at this point for about 3 years. Previously, I lived in Iowa, and I like to think I haven’t picked up much southern drawl. I say, “Yes, I am from the south. Austin.” He gives me a quizzical look. “Not familiar… what is it near?” I tell him “it’s right in the center. It’s the capital. South of Dallas…?” Still nothing. I say, “Surely, you have heard of Dallas, Texas. Television? Dallas?” He looks at me incredulously and says, “You’re from Texas? You’re American? I thought you were from Bavaria. Southern GERMANY. You do not sound American to me.” I tell him I am. “But you live in Germany now?” Nope. “Your parents are German and you spoke German in your family?” Nope. “HOW did I learn German, and especially without an American accent?” I tell him that I learned it in school and I mimic what I hear. Several others also comment, they cannot believe I am American. I do not look American. I do not sound American. I must have German heritage. I tell them I have a grandmother who was born in America to emigrated German parents. Though I never knew her. She was dead long before my father met my mother. “Incredible,” they tell me. As though this is unheard of. They tell me they do not often meet Americans who speak German, let alone speak it well. I am beaming. Proudly. Because I have evidently mastered this language well enough to be mistaken for German. I am 12 shades of red and there is a smile on my face from one ear to the other.
I have this mother guilt. When I am maxed out on my ability to play with my child, I let her watch television. Not 8 hours a day, but probably 3 hours. Not consecutively, but split into chunks. I have done what I swore I would never do; I have allowed the television to serve as an electronic babysitter, when I need to get something else done that does not or cannot involve her (like showering, or cooking dinner). All that I have read suggests that television isn't good for small children. I could be risking her developing ADHD or associated attention-oriented problems. Yet, I am at a loss for what else to do.
I am introverted. When I was a child, I spent hours upon hours entertaining myself. Drawing, reading, playing with clay. Playing outside. Making forts for myself. I grew up with no siblings, and as a young child, few neighborhood friends. It wasn't a kid neighborhood, from age 2-9, before we moved to a new area. I like to entertain myself, but Hootie does not. From nearly the moment she awakens until she goes to bed, she asks me constantly to play with her. There are many activities I do enjoy doing with her - drawing, reading to her, playing with her playdoh (sense a theme?) and many others. We go to the park, play outside in the sandbox, and I get her involved in helping me with various chores around the house as well. What she wants to do more than anything, however, is pretend play - with her little figurines of Dora and Boots and Diego, and the various animals they can save and rescue. I have the patience to do this with her once or twice a day for about 10 minutes, until I am so bored my eyes roll back in my head. She wants to do this over and over, and I just don't have it in me.
She's going to be an only child, so there won't be another little sibling around for them to entertain each other. That leaves friends, and me. I have gotten her involved with preschool 3 mornings per week to get a lot of social interaction with her peers. We have other playdates with other friends too. But when we're at home, just the two of us, she doesn't much like to entertain herself; she wants to be interacting with me nearly all the time. I have no idea if this is normal, or if it is something she learned from the way I interacted with her as a baby. It's obviously a need I feel responsible for fulfilling, because it breaks her little heart when I tell her sometimes that I don't really want to play. Hence, the guilt. I don't know if a good mother is SUPPOSED to play with her child all day or if it's alright to say no, and let the chips fall where they may. I have tried to teach her HOW to play on her own, but the second I leave, she complains that she wants to do said activity WITH me. Not by herself. She claims in her drama queen way "I need someone to play with me! I'll be SO SAD if I have to play by myself!" and she'll run to her room, sit in her time-out chair, and sob. I feel like I must be cruel, the times I am just unable to continue playing for hours, given the heart-wrenching reaction I get from her.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
1. A recently acquired pair of wide-leg jean capris from Banana Republic:
2. A cross-front white yoga shirt with short sleeves
3. A medium earthy green Old Navy zip up sweatshirt, about 6 years old, tattered and holey
4. A new pair of brown cowboy boots! Rock!
5. A beautiful new pair of black Bandolinos, strappy and pointy toed and even comfortable.
6. My Simple Black Dress - open back, A-line
7. A cut-off pair of low-waisted black yoga pants
8. My red with wild white and green and blue and orange flowers capri pajama bottoms from Target (with whatever white tank top I can find)
9. A batik wrap-around skirt I got in Colorado this summer
10. A charcoal gray nubbly, chunky shrug sweater with big floppy wrists, which attaches in the center with a giant bronze safety pin
Butternut Squash Lasagna
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 butternut squash (1 1/2 - 2 lbs) - peeled, seeded, cut into cubes
salt and pepper (I used sea salt and fresh ground white pepper)
1/2 c water
3 amaretti cookies, crumbled (hard to find these at a standard grocery - we have an Italian market nearby where I got mine, but anywhere with some sort of gourmet food works
1/4 c butter
1/4 c all-purpose flour (I used whole wheat flour and that tasted just fine)
3 1/2 c whole milk
Pinch of nutmeg
3/4 c lightly packed fresh basil leaves
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
2 1/2 c shredded mozzarella cheese
1/3 c grated Parmesan cheese
Heat oil in large skillet on med-high. When warmed up, add squash and toss. Sprinkle salt and pepper and toss. Add water, cover, simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Cool, transfer squash to food processor. Add cookies and blend until smooth.
Melt butter in medium saucepan, medium heat. Add flour a bit at a time, whisk 1 minute, making a nice roux. Gradually add milk, whisking constantly. Boil over med-high heat. Reduce to medium and simmer until thicker, about 5 minutes. Whisk in nutmeg. Cool a bit, put 1/2 sauce in a blender. Add basil and blend smooth. Return sauce to sauce in pan and stir. Season with S&P.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rack in center. Lightly butter or spray 9x13 glass dish. Spread about 3/4 c sauce, and arrange 3 lasagna noodles. Spreadh 1/3 of the squash puree over noodles, sprinkle with 1/2 c mozzarella. Drizzle 1/2 c sauce over noodles and cheese. Repeat layers until out of noodles and sauce. Cover dish with foil, bake 40 minutes. Sprinkle rest of cheese and parmesan over the top. Continue baking uncovered until sauce is bubbly and top is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let stand about 10 minutes before serving.
Butternut Squash Risotto
7 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp minced fresh sage
6 c vegetable or chicken stock
2 c butternut squash puree (cube it, simmer with 1/2 c stock 20 minutes first)
2 Tbsp olive oil
2/3 c caramelized onions
2 c Arborio rice
1 tsp minced fresh rosemary
1/2 c dry white wine
1/2 c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 4 Tbsp of the butter. Add 1 Tbsp of the sage and heat until the butter browns. Strain the butter into a small bowl and discard the sage. Cover the bowl to keep the butter warm. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, whisk together the stock and squash puree. Bring just to a simmer, 8 to 10 minutes; maintain over low heat. In a large saucepan or risotto pan (if you have it; I don't) over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the caramelized onions and rice and stir until the grains are well coated with the oil and are nearly translucent with a white dot in the center, about 3 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1 Tbsp sage and the rosemary. Add the wine and stir until it is absorbed. Add the simmering stock mixture a ladleful at a time, stirring frequently after each addition. Wait until the stock is almost completely absorbed before adding more. When the rice is tender to the bite but slightly firm in the center and looks creamy, after about 30 minutes, stir in the remaining 3 Tbsp butter, the cheese, salt and pepper. Add more stock if needed so the rice is thick and creamy. Let stand for 2 minutes. Drizzle with the reserved sage butter and serve immediately. Serves 6-8.
In front of me, between the clicking clacking ringed fingers sits my steaming hot AOK steel-cut coffee mug containing a delightful sumatran blend from the best little coffee store in the world, Anderson's Coffee. With a little bit of non-fat creamer and Splenda. I might intellectually be a traditionalist, but my waist prefers the accommodations I am making towards its reduction.
In the front room, Hootie delights in watching a prerecorded episode of Babar, as she adores elephants. We were too busy up and out and doing yesterday, for her to watch it then. This is a treat. The husband lounges on the bed in the middle room, the boudoir, devouring and absorbing his weekend treat - stacks of the former week's Wall Street Journal. Somewhere in the kitchen a small container of scones beckons for me, but my stomach isn't yet ready. In a minute. I'm typing.
It will be a good morning, as all Sunday mornings are. With my child, my husband, my cozy house, and my elixir of life steaming mug in front of me. I am contented.
Friday, October 13, 2006
I have never had any direct involvement with Alzheimer's Disease in my life, but I can tell you, if there is one thing I fear most for myself, it would be such a diagnosis. Not only would I be terrified for myself, the thought of completely losing my memories and connection to the people and places and events of my life. But even moreso, the effect this would have on those around me who love me and interact with me. Especially my husband and child. The thought that one day I could look into their eyes without a glimmer of recognition would be heart-breaking to them. And, to eventually not even know who I am, or remember anything from moment to moment... horrifying. For those who have a loved one with Alzheimer's Disease, I can only imagine how it would feel to eventually need to hospitalize this person you adore, out of sheer exhaustion in caring for them, knowing they are alive but not with you, not really. Sitting in an institution, unaware of their own fate, yet still living and breathing. Those people who are able to mentally and psychologically take on the challenge of caring for a late-stage Alzheimer's victim are living angels with wings. I do not know if I personally could withstand the horror of it. And I feel if there were anything in my life which could ever make me think of committing suicide, a diagnosis such as this might be it. Not that I think anyone else OUGHT to do that, but I don't know that I could stand the thought of what I would be doing to my family.
According to statistics cited at the Alzheimer's Foundation website, patients diagnosed with Alzheimer's can live anywhere from 2 to 20 years with the diagnosis. It is the 7th leading cause of death in people older than 65. Given the age at which people are generally diagnosed with the disease, the statistics of mortality are likely consistent with a person that age's chances without the disease. The actual cause of death in Alzheimer's patients is, however, not the disease, but pneumonia. In a state of extreme dementia, patients can become ill and not ever get up from their beds, which causes pneumonia to set in and take over. Although there is no cure, there are about 5-6 medications which can slow and even in some cases reverse the damage which is done by Alzheimer's Disease. I pray to God that my friend's mother has a mild case, not very advanced, and that one of these drugs will be able to help her. I know very little at this point, we haven't discussed any of these details yet. My friend is understandably just in shock, and doesn't feel like talking about it yet. I know a day will come when she has grown accustomed to the knot in her belly and is able to maintain her composure to at least enough of a degree to discuss it. Right now, she's just hanging on by fingernails, trying to keep from going mental in front of her son, who would be freaked out by it.
Sigh. Heavy heart.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
But why do it? I have never understood this. I know it is an intensely personal decision, whether or not to be medicated while a bowling-ball sized being is shoved through an oriface on your body normally the size of an olive. But I'm really curious about why it is so important to women who choose this route?
Clearly, I didn't choose this route. I never once set out to choose it; I didn't have any idea what I would want until the time I was delivering Hootie. I left it completely open, to go whichever way I felt would be right. I had assurances from my OB and the anesthesiologist that an epidural would not harm my child. So I felt as though it would be safe to choose either way.
On the day my water broke, two days before my due date, I already knew I would need to be going to the hospital right away. I had tested positive for Strep B, which meant that while traveling through the birth canal, Hootie was at risk for getting some of these Strep B germs (harmless to me) in her lungs, which would be extremely dangerous for her. Therefore, I was to be on two bags of antibiotics prior to delivery to protect her. And since I had already been dilated to 3 cm and 90% effaced for several weeks prior to this, I knew I needed to go in pretty much right away.
So, at 4 am when the water broke, in classic gusher piles on the floor fashion on the way to the bathroom, I calmly woke my husband and my Mama, who was sleeping in our guestroom, telling them it was time to get ready to go. Labor started, though did not hurt. I drove us all to the hospital in our truck - my Mama couldn't really get in the back part of the cab due to her rheumatoid arthritis, and I wasn't sitting in the back; so I drove, Mama sat up front, and my husband sat in the back. We arrived, got me hooked up to all sorts of monitors. I could feel the contractions pretty well, having to breathe through them and all that you hear about how to manage contractions. Things went on this way for several hours, and though it wasn't comfortable, I could deal with it.
I had a tiny bit of pitosin when I sat at 6 cm for a little bit, and then things sped up. At about 7 cm, they were checking me and also told me that the anesthesiologist was in our area with the epidural cart, if we wanted to take advantage of it. The nurse added that it could be up to 45 minutes from the time I decide I need it after she leaves, until she is able to get back to my room to administer it. I thought about it. I wasn't in excruciating pain, but I was getting a bit tired, the contractions were close together, and I had no idea how much longer the process ahead of me would be. So I said sure, let's go for the epidural. The anesthesiologist was in and out in about 10 minutes. The hardest part was holding completely still during a contraction for her to inject the needle. It didn't hurt, especially compared to the contraction.
Within minutes, my legs were moveable but numb. I couldn't feel anything but tightening when I had contractions. My Mama took a nap, I took a nap, and we waited until I was dilated to a 10, which was about an hour or so later. We had the mood music going on in the background, the husband and Mama had gotten a bite to eat. Everyone was laughing and joking. It was an extremely mellow situation, nothing like what you see on television.
My nurse, Elise, was managing two rooms at the time. Another nurse came on duty, and she had to choose which room to work in. She chose ours, because there were a "lot of really fucking intense people in that other room!" and we, well, we were laughing and making faces at each other.
So about 2:00, I got checked again. Dilated to a 10. Ready to push. The OB was called, and the nurse set my husband and Mama each on one side of me, to help support my legs while I pushed. They'd wait for a contraction, tell me to push, tell me when to stop, and we'd wait for another one. My husband and my mother were really frigging proud of themselves, because for a while, the nurse left the room and let them manage it all on their own. Finally the OB came in, and Hootie was born at 3:11 pm. The way I felt about that child is a story unto itself, and not the subject of this post. But I can definitely say this... although I know I could have had balls of steel and gone through it without the epidural, it afforded me a calm yet exhilerated experience of giving birth to my daughter. I was thrilled, I wasn't in agonizing pain, and I had enough energy to enjoy the experience and the time afterwards in which I could feed her and look every little part of her over. And for that, I am grateful to the epidural.
It's every woman's call, and some are staunchly in favor of one path over the other, some with a very organic snobbery that I find off-putting at times. Life gives us a million opportunities to show our moxie, our character, and our gigantic balls of steel. In this case, I chose to enjoy labor and delivery instead of suffering through it. I don't deny anyone their pleasure in their decision, but at times I think it would be far more gracious if the earthy no-drugs mamas out there were able to afford me the same courtesy.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
But I didn't grow up with any of these people (or anyone from my father's family either, for that matter). When I was about 2, my parents moved from Los Angeles to this very small town in Iowa, due to a job. I vaguely knew there was a large family in California that my mother came from, but the only people I ever saw were my mother's sister (and family), and occasionally, my grandmother. Due to various arrogances, misunderstandings, and intentional insults, my mother and her cousin C (my Mama) were not close. Not even really speaking, at the time of the move. C is a bit of a feisty one. Opinionated, not afraid of anyone, or afraid to speak her mind. My mother is much more of a conflict avoider; at least the conflict she generates isn't direct. So I knew very little about my mother's family. Over time, the family rumor mill and gossip network communicated bits and pieces I overheard while growing up. C and her mother were not on the best terms, C and her brother were not on the best of terms. C and several other family members weren't on good terms either. She had three daughters, the eldest one slightly younger than I, the other two in close proximity to each other. They lived in Denver, and eventually when C and her husband divorced, she and the girls moved to Washington (State).
Fast forward again, to about my 18th year. My maternal grandmother, who I had started at age 15 to develop an actual relationship with via the telephone, was hit by a car and died. At her memorial service, her sister, C's mother, was in attendance. She and I became fast friends. She was quirky, tall and thin, attractive, and spunky. And she took on the role of my Auntie Grandmother, being like a grandmother to me that I didn't really have. We'll call her NB. I visited her many times, and vice versa, and we communicated a lot in my early 20's. I heard all sorts of stories about how horrible her daughter was, how she kicked NB out of her life, how there were problems always of C's causing. How she'd callously mistreated her mother for years. Much of what was echoed throughout the rest of my family was similar, and I never came in contact with her to validate/verify any of this.
Until NB was diagnosed with untreatable liver and stomach cancer, likely metastasized from somewhere but unclear where, in the summer of 2001. C basically took complete care of her, much to her own detriment. C has the most aggressive case of rheumatoid arthritis I have ever heard of, and has suffered with it since age 37. So she's not in the best physical shape herself, and taking care of an ailing mother was not easy. When I found out about the cancer, I called C to see if there was anything I could do. I scheduled a long weekend visit to Washington to see NB, and the plan was for me to take care of her that weekend, giving C a much needed break. I called about every 3 days to see how things were going. Due to either dementia or the pain medications or both, NB was oftentimes delusional and erratic, making little sense. But she knew I was coming and was looking forward to seeing me.
When I arrived in Washington, I had no idea what I was going to find. Here was a woman I had heard little good about, yet I knew none of this from my own experiences. I knew that two of her daughters also no longer were in contact with her, and yet there was one who steadfastly remained by her side. There had to be another side to this story. So I went with an entirely open mind. C picked me up at the airport, and I knew her instantly. She resembled her mother enough for me to know which one she was. She took me to her house, and we were up until well after 1:30 in the morning, talking and getting to know each other. The next day, she drove me to where her mother was, at her apartment 45 minutes away, and left me there, to spend the weekend with her. Her estranged brother was to pick me up and take me to the airport on Sunday. What followed was a nightmare. The first 5 minutes with NB were fine, and then she went off on a tangent of illogical talk that I couldn't follow. Eventually she became paranoid that I was going to fill her apartment with people to host a party for her son, whose birthday it was that night. I had to stop her once from getting her keys and going to the car (she could no longer drive), and she went off on me as though I were the devil. I called her son, Mike, and he eventually came over that evening. He took me out to dinner, and when we returned to the apartment, NB went ballistic, screaming at Mike that she did not want me in her home, to get the hell out, and flew at me. He stopped her, and told to me to get my things, I could come home with him. I called C, she was not home. He called C's daughter, to let her know that this was happening, and she came to take care of the situation and calm NB down. I spent the rest of the weekend at Mike's house. That was the last I saw of NB. We did speak on the phone and she apologized profusely, but it was a traumatic experience to say the least. She died in November. I maintained close contact with C, talking for hours and hours at a time, throughout the ordeal, and afterwards. We had formed a fast friendship, and continued it.
Early the next year, C had to have spine surgery, due to a failed lumbar fusion. She was terrified, as this was a recurring problem she faced with this part of her body. I flew to Washington again, to be with her and spend a few days. I came back up later in the month and helped her with her recovery, and continued to visit many many times that year. In fact, I think I spent about 140 days out of the year with her. Yes, I still had a job at this time! I managed to work remotely for a good chunk of the time I was there, and kept the job. And, my loving husband refrained from either killing me or divorcing me, for which I am eternally grateful. 140 days is a long amount of time in a year to go without one's spouse. But, it was critical personal development, such that I feel I wouldn't be as good a person as I am today (though always a work in progress) without having gone through that and gotten my mothering needs fulfilled. I also got to know Mom's daughter, and we became as thick as thieves too. To the point that we're now better sisters than her original sisters have been to her.
Throughout the course of spending so much time together, Mama and I discovered how much we have in common. My eye color is exactly like hers, which is different from anyone else in my family. We just clicked and became so close, I felt more like she was the mother I was always destined to have, but somehow fate worked out differently. She felt this bond as strongly as I did, as though I were as much her child as any other she had borne, so eventually I started calling her Mama, and she started telling everyone she had four daughters. Her close friends got to know me too, and their initial skepticism subsided, and they now all welcome me as family. My sister and I couldn't be closer if were were born sisters, and many people say we look as though we were actual sisters. I love the two of them with all my heart, and feel as though I was meant to be a part of their family. And to explain my theory on how I ended up with my actual parents instead of this woman, is that my mama's womb was just busy at the time I was meant to be born, and my mother's was available; the closest genetic match to my Mama. And even though they didn't plan on getting pregnant, an opportunity arose, antibiotics, and God stepped in. Later in life, God brought Mama and my sister and me to each other to heal parts of us that were broken without the others. For Mom and my sister, losing contact and/or closeness with two daughters/sisters is a scar that never heals, and I hope I help with the pain of that. For me, having a mother who never provided me with the loving, nurturing, supportive environment I needed growing up caused a lot of emotional issues it has taken me the better part of my adulthood to unravel and rework to a point of health. And never having siblings - well, I think that this can work out positively or negatively, depending on the environment the parents create. And the nature of the siblings. I can't say that if I had any blood siblings, I would be any closer to them than my folks. But I wouldn't trade my sister for the world. Mom and my sister have helped tremendously with healing my brokenness, and I credit Mom with changing my view that if I had children, I would just fuck them up the way I was haplessly fucked up. I would pass all this garbage on, and I didn't want to do that. Now I am so grateful, that I listened to her, and I have my beautiful Hootie. Mama is a true grandma to her, is there for her and loves her unconditionally. They are my family, the one I always needed, and had to spend 31 years without.
So when I write about my Mama or Mom in Washington, that is her. When I write about my parents, in Nevada, that's who they are. They don't talk to each other, and my actual mother has felt extremely hurt and wounded at times by me having taken on a second mother. I tell her that I'm only getting things that I need in my life, things she isn't capable of giving me herself, and one isn't to the exclusion of the other. My lack of closeness to my actual mother has nothing to do with the existence of my Mama. And has everything to do with her own ability to be the other half of a nurturing, giving, supportive relationship.
So that's the story.
No, I'm not the product of a lesbian relationship. It goes more like this.
I was born and raised by a man and a woman, who shall be referred to as my Dad and my Mother. They are still married. They do not live anywhere near me. My creation wasn't intentional - I was an "accident" - an "antibiotics" baby. But more on that theory later. I have no official siblings from these parents. I didn't have a hideous childhood, but the relationship between me and them is fraught with issues. It always has been this way, if you looked at it honestly. I spent many, many years overcompensating for these issues, to my own detriment. I don't do that now.
My father is a recovering alcoholic. He has not consumed any alcohol in all my 36 years of life, to my knowledge. When I was growing up, he was working, traveling for work, or busy working on something at the house, some woodwork or home improvement project or whatever. He's a worker. He's a quiet guy, not the life of the party, not the funny man. He's a loyal friend, almost to a fault, and expects the same rigid loyalty from everyone in his inner circle. If you say you are going to do something, by GOD, you do it, come blizzard (he walked 2 miles in one to get to a friend's house he promised to help move, when his car couldn't get out of the driveway), or any other potential obstacle. My father was rarely ever the disciplinarian in the house, but when his voice was raised, you'd best be at attention.
The first thing I should mention about my mother is that she has bipolar disorder. But it doesn't manifest itself in the manic way that we read about in extreme stories of people thinking they are the second coming of Jesus Christ, or they jet off to Washington to save the whales in Congress, or go on a shopping spree to end all shopping sprees. She obsessively did needlework. The other times, when she wasn't in this OCD needlework frenzy, she was depressed. I'm sure there were times which were more even keeled, but in those days, she was entirely undiagnosed, unmedicated, and untherapized. My memory of a lot of that is foggy. I know she didn't play with me, other than an occasional game of cards, and I grew up with a sort of apathy toward her. I didn't hate her, I didn't "love" her, I just lived with her. We had lots of bad moments, in which her depression turned ugly, and many times turned ugly toward me. Many kids grow up shouldering the responsibility for causing depression in depressed parents, but somehow, through what I like to think of as the grace of God, I did not. I remember around age 9-10, it was Christmas. It was snowy (we lived in Iowa), and dark outside. Christmas Day. My mother was in a depressed funk, initiated by I don't remember what. I bundled up, and went walking outside, down to the cul-de-sac ending which had no houses built. On the border of a cornfield. I sat for an hour or better, being aware that something wasn't right about how our Christmas was going. Having my mother sleeping all day in her bedroom, or crying, was not the way it was supposed to be. But I knew I didn't cause it. I knew it was her. Perhaps that is where the apathy came from - if I let myself get sucked in and too involved with her depression, trying to fix it, it might destroy me too.
I wasn't physically abused, but I went through some episodes of some pretty harsh verbal and emotional abuse. My father was aware, in a guy sort of way, that this was going on, but tried to ignore a lot of it, and didn't really think there was much to be done about it. When I would be excessively punished for some fault or other by my mother, he would generally reduce the sentence upon returning home. I was mouthy, I talked back. I played her sometimes, knowing I was right, she was irrational, and would dig my hole as deep as I could, just to see how deep it could go, over an infraction like not wiping down the baseboards under the cabinets when mopping. She claims she knew she was doing wrong, she just didn't know how not to do it, and frankly didn't really try.
Fast forward. I grew up. My mother went through a major depressive episode and was hospitalized for 3 weeks. She went through some intensive therapy then, but still thought she had just chronic depression (who knows, maybe that is actually what she has, I don't know). In the middle of her doing so, I was going to college, trying to figure out who I was, what I wanted in MY life, instead of trying to be whatever my parents needed at the time, or thought I ought to be. I wasn't into figuring out my relationship with them through counseling. I had had enough of all that. Eventually she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and has been on various medications since then, with periodic success. From what she tells me, things will be working fine, and then they will stop working. She'll go to the shrink, get on something else, go through a period in which she feels like crap, until the new medications take hold and help out. In a desperate attempt to keep me somehow close, to validate her existence, for me to try and make her feel better, she and my father did a lot of "strings attached" things to lure me to their house, and keep me around as long as possible, get me to help with this or that as much as possible, with the implications that I owed them.
Eventually, my mother tried to kill herself, twice. Evidently she didn't try very hard, as she wasn't successful. I doubt she took as many pills as she claimed she did, as both doses would have been lethal. The first time, she claimed that she did not want to go on vacation in the travel trailer my father had pushed for them to purchase, to enjoy the country in their retirement. She took them one night, went to bed. Was still asleep when my father got up and went to his part time woodworking job the next morning. When he tried to phone around noon, and she didn't answer, he became worried. He went home, found her stumbling around in a stupor in the house. He called me at work and I went right over. I got her dressed and into the car, and we took her to the ER. The drugs had been in her system for so long, a stomach pump would have done nothing. They did give her charcoal to absorb whatever it could, and then checked her into an institution overnight. Needless to say, that was bogus, did nothing for her but keep her from hurting herself. She recovered and continued on with her medication and doctors. The second time she tried to kill herself, it was because my father had had a very close brush with fatality, falling asleep at the wheel on a drive to Houston. He totalled their SUV, but was basically unhurt himself. She didn't want to face possibly living entirely alone, and tried the pill route again. I was in Atlanta on business, my father found her and took her to the ER. The shrink there at the hospital agreed to see her professionally and they went home. She hasn't tried since, but continues on her rollercoaster.
I realize that my mother has a big struggle on her hands, with this disorder/disease. It's not her fault she has it, and it must be hell. I thank God I didn't inherit it. I do not blame her anymore for the things that happened in my childhood, as I know she didn't even know what she was doing or how not to do it. The thing that bothers me is that there are parts of a person's behavior which are due to illness, and parts which are personality flaws. And when a depressive person is not feeling bad, and regulated with medication, it ought to be that they can carry on normal relationships. They deserve some wide berth when they are struggling and not feeling well. But there ought to be times in which they do things while not depressed, for which they ought to be responsible. Even those things done while depressed - ultimately they are still responsible for their actions. And my mother claims zero responsibility for herself, for her actions. It is all the bipolar disorder. It's never HER, she can never be asked to not do something unhealthy, to not lie to me, to not attempt to emotionally manipulate and blackmail me. I see right through it. It's a crutch, this bipolar disorder. It's got to be hell, but it ain't no picnic for the rest of us either.
As a result, I have an arm's length relationship with my folks. I never shut the door to them, I never have cut them out of my life. But, I do not let them cross my boundaries anymore. I had to set the relationship aside for a few months about 5 years back, in order to establish what the boundaries were, but I did it, and came back, and told them what it was to be. Of course, you can imagine their devastation, upon hearing how callous and self-absorbed I needed to be, for my own mental health. But I have been so much happier as a result of doing that.
Part two, soon to follow. About my other mother. Who shall be called Mama.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
I had this mistaken gender issue happen SO often when Hootie was a baby. Like 2:1, people thought she was a boy. Now, I am not the kind of mother who dressed her daughter in all pink and ruffles and those funky little lacy headbands or scotch-taped a bow to her head. So on days when my child was dressed in something you could only describe as "unisex", it stands to reason that the populus at large could take a 50/50 stab and think she might have been male. But when she's dressed head to toe in pink? Or when she's got two little pony tails sticking up off the sides of her head like Shrek ears, with little ribbons on them? HOW can a person say, "HE's so cute?!" It is a stretch, I know, to assume that just because her darling little face is so delicate and feminine, that everyone else can see that and surmise she's female. I know I have never mistakenly called a male child female or vice versa, so I know it is possible to deduce this by looking at their little faces. But in the event that a person isn't on the same wavelength that gives me this ability, HOLY COW PEOPLE, LOOK AT THE CHILD'S CLOTHING! And if it is still somewhat ambiguous, tell the parent, "You have a darling baby" or "Your child is just precious!" You don't have to associate a gender to such a comment!
I have to assume it is just another annoying form of ignorance, that goes along with other forms of ignorance when random strangers try and interact with children they do not know. Like when people go to touch the baby. HELLO, that is RUDE. Generally speaking, I don't go up to other people's children and TOUCH them. That is an invasion of that child's space. Or, people coming straight at me with their hand to touch my belly when I was pregnant. I thought I was a lumbering ox those last few months, but come at me with your hand, you stranger, and I'll show you how fast I can move! I cannot tell you how many bullets I dodged in that arena, and how many times I had to tell people, "I am guessing you meant no harm, but it JUST isn't appropriate to attempt to touch a person's belly that you do not know, without permission." And people generally get OFFENDED by comments such as this. As though I am supposed to just endure this, for fear of hurting their feelings. What about MY feelings?
Sunday, October 08, 2006
It's only been about 9 months since I began practicing yoga, at a little studio near my house, about 5 blocks away. Definitely walking distance. I had been fascinated and drawn to it for years, but always had my reasons not to try it. It was too expensive, previous studios I heard about were too far away, and I didn't want to be part of a "yoga farm" where they churn people in and out of multiple classes at a time, in a day. I wasn't sure about Bikram yoga, where they turn up the heater and make you sweat out every last ounce of fluid - I can do that in my front yard in August with a pair of pruning shears and my unruly trees and rosemary bush, thanks. I didn't really want to look at yoga as an "exercise class." But the little tiny studio near me opened nearly a year ago, and at the beginning of the year, I decided to try out a basic yoga class. I was mesmerized and immediately bought my first 10-class card.
During my daughter's first 4 months of life, she practically lived perched up on my right shoulder. This was about the only position in which she would not be howling, due to what I chalked up to colic. This jacked my shoulder way the hell up. Genetics works in my disfavor, as both of my parents are prone to and have developed tendonitis in various joints. Basically, I have calcium sitting on a tendon in my shoulder, put there by my ever-so-thoughtful body in a masochistic attempt to heal the tendon, which does the exact opposite, and frays it with each use. Some bodies reabsorb the calcium, some do not. Mine appears to not be absorbing. I'm full up on calcium, thanks. Basically, this manifests itself as annoying aching, sometimes sharp pains, and limited range of motion. If I stay on ibuprofen 24/7, I can barely tell that this pain is there (unless I put the arm/shoulder in an egregious position, then I can tell REAL well). My next step will be surgery, as cortisone injections failed to help. But I am not ready to be having surgery yet. The kicker for me will be if I ever use my shoulder as a reason I cannot DO something, then it is time to go under the laser. LA-ser (said Austin Powers style).
Yoga has helped my shoulder tremendously. Not only is my range of motion vastly improved, but when I regularly practice yoga, the pain is also significantly reduced or non-existent. When I am out of town or sick and cannot practice, I can feel it within a few days. So this is one very beneficial side-effect of the yoga for me. But, not the leading one.
Yoga stills my mind. I always tried to meditate when I was younger - sitting still, trying in my very A-type personality way to de-clutter my mind. I would look for the sorting bins, sort out my thoughts, try to put them away in neat little file folders in the huge library of my mind. Picture myself sitting still on a beach, listening to the waves crash in. I always failed. A thought would come to my mind - something completely and utterly irrelevant and usually ridiculous - and I would chastise myself for allowing new thoughts in. But through yoga, I have learned to just observe my thoughts as they pass by, not giving them much credence, not investing myself in any of them. In fact, everything is viewed through the lense of curiosity and observation. Observe the body in twisted contorted position A, observe how the muscles tighten up to maintain balance, observe how this body senses pain in the shoulder or groin or calf. Be curious about it, but try not to let it gain control. Respect the edge of the tension and pain, push slightly past the edge. Pull back if the body starts to shake. It is hard to sit and plan dinner or rehash a failed conversation or worry about the myriad of things I might worry about when your left leg is wrapped entirely around your right leg, your arms are intertwined like rope, extended toward the sky, you are trying to maintain balance and look at the celing and deepen the pose every few exhalations. Each pose requires deep concentration, focus, balance, effort and release.
And what's more, I'm not in a yoga farm. I practice with a brilliant American man, whose life has become the practice and teaching of yoga. He is Buddhist, but aware that other spiritual concepts cooperate with Buddhism and/or yoga effectively. He's taught in inner-city youth prisons in NYC, but returned to Texas where his roots are, his family lives. It's a modest little studio, with a few classes per day, a few types - Vinyasa, Hatha, Mixed, and Basic. He knows who I am, he knows how to assist me in deepening into poses, or modifying poses to address my problematic shoulder. The music he chooses isn't random; it all facilitates the differing stages of practice going on at the time. It's simply fantastic, and provides the individual and group experience that encourages me to keep coming.
For 90 minutes, I am absorbed in the attempting to achieve random poses. My body benefits, but my mind benefits more. I leave calm, clear, and peaceful. What a delightful thing, this yoga.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
So, I got up, went to her bedroom. She said, "Mommy..." and pointed to her pajama bottoms. They were a little wet - she had had a tiny accident, I think maybe her second one in the middle of the night since she potty trained herself about 4 1/2 months ago. It's not like this has happened much, and luckily, the bed and covers were all dry. I took the pajamas and her little panties off, and laid them on her clothes hamper to dry, and got her fresh, dry ones. I said, "It's okay, Hootie. Sometimes it happens. C'mon, sweet pea, let's go potty." Took her in the darkness to the bathroom, she sat down and went potty while I sat on the edge of the bathtub next to her and smoothed her hair. And then in the darkness, with just moonlight coming in through the window, she looked at me and said, "Mommy, thank you for always taking care of everything for me. I love you."
This child is barely 3. I was blown away. Below is her self portrait.
Sunday, October 01, 2006
The only unfortunate part of the traveling during this time in my life was the fact that I mainly traveled in Europe. I have many friends who have done the Australian-esque World Tour, taking 8-10 months and going every-major-where in the world. Instead, I covered Europe fairly exhaustively in 11 different trips. There are many, many places in the world I still wish to visit, and I think living more of my life and exploring different interests as they grow in me piques interest in visiting more places. Maybe by the time I visit otherwheres, I will have the maturity and informational reading behind me to truly appreciate them in a way I would not have at 18-31.
My interest started as a 14 year old girl, when a single woman and her son ended up placed with my family as a last minute fill-in for another family who had a sudden illness, in a program called "The Friendship Force". It wasn't really an exhange, as much as it was just American families hosting another family from a different country for a week. This woman and her son were German, from Berlin. I fell in love instantly - with them, with their culture, their language. I voraciously consumed tapes and books to try and teach myself German until I was able to take it in high school. I absorbed language like a sponge. And I convinced my parents to go visiting two years later. It was a really dull trip in retrospect - I was so green, so blissfully naive and not even terribly observant. But I knew Germany was a beautiful place, and understood how so many fairy tales could be set in such an idyllic place as the Black Forest. My sharpest memories of the trip were of constant parental bickering and fighting over driving in a foreign country, and the introduction to a spirit that I couldn't even remotely appreciate at the time, a drink known as the "Feige Sau" which translates to "Scared Pig". It's basically a martini glass holding a fresh fig, surrounded by ice cold vodka, topped with whipped cream. Delightful today, hideous at age 16.
Many of the other trips I have taken are fairly uneventful. I did spend the summer after graduation over in Europe "by myself" - hanging out with the family I stayed with the previous year when I won a scholarship trip because of my performance on the National German Exam. That trip was remarkable because my German friend Miki and I spent 3 weeks in Cambridge, England. She went to learn English as a second language, and I tagged along. I mostly spent my days drawing the breathtakingly beautiful bridges that span the River Cam; anything to get out of the shithole that was the Cambridge YMCA. We were so disgusted by the place, the filthy hygiene habits of the many Middle Easterners who occupied the building with us, the rudeness of the staff and other guests, that we clogged as many toilets as we could with toilet paper the morning we left. [Shudder].
Another remarkable memory from that trip was traveling with Miki's family into Italy for 10 days. We drove down from Germany through Austria and into northern Italy. Austria managed to amaze me even beyond the Black Forest of Germany in stunning beauty. We stopped in this tiny village named Rauris, in theory to stay at a small hotel Miki's father had reserved. When we couldn't locate it, a local told us it had closed down, and invited us to stay at their farmhouse for the night. This farmhouse was built in 950-something, solid wood beams the size of my waist. We were in the upper story, Miki's parents in one room, and Miki and I shared another. The windows opened out onto grassy hills with mountains in the backdrop. The bed was something out of another era - a feather bed with antique linens and beautiful embroidery. I had one of the best nights' sleep I have ever had in my life. I awoke around 2 am to the sound of something going on outside - I stuck my head out of the wooden shuttered window to see a young man loading full tin milk canisters onto his truck, leaving empty ones behind for the farmer's wife to fill with cow milk the next morning. He said hello and wished me a good night's sleep and safe travels (word must travel fast in a little town when foreigners are about) and went on his way. The next morning we came down to a full farm breakfast - slabs of fresh meat, cheese, the most amazing rolls, homemade jam and butter... everything was beyond incredible.
In Italy, we stayed in an old Italian villa outside of Florence in the Tuscan hills. We were surrounded by olive and citrus trees. The little apartment we occupied had beautiful high ceilings with embossed tin squares on it, and quirky, lumpy old beds. But the grounds were spectacular. There was a pool surrounded by evergreen trees, and a stone patio that held dinners for the entire villa three times per week. The evening meal extravaganza started around 9pm, went beyond midnight, and had no less than 5 courses. Appetizer, soup, salads, main entree, dessert. With wine and bread interspersed throughout. The best wine you can even imagine, and nothing you could ever purchase. Just locally made wines, chianti style, no label on the bottles. Usually the salad course included several dishes, like white beans or some variety of lettuce with a drizzled fresh olive oil and vinegar atop it. The pasta was beyond compare, so simple and fresh. We took walks and day trips to other unknown, entirely too quaint villages in the area, and steered mostly clear of the bigger cities. It gave me a much better understanding of how delightful a simple life can be. Utterly delightful.
Other trips I have taken have been much more exciting. I have been to Europe at some of the poorest times in my life and managed to squeak by on less than $50/day for all expenses. I wanted to travel so badly, I ate a lot of Top Ramen and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese in order to save as much money as I could to get there. And at the time I did the bulk of my backpacking across Europe, I was able to quit one job and stay as long as I could, and return to something else.
I went for all of October and November of 1992 with a girlfriend, Marni. We started in England, and this was where I learned about the joy of the backpack. We brought rolling duffel bags. That lasted just until we could drag them to our hostel from Victoria Station. The next day we traveled to Cambridge and purchased matching backpacks from a hiking store. Ditched the rolling bags and half our shit, and were good to go. It probably rained on us every single day we were there. We went by ferry to France in the dark of night, tried to find a highly regarded hostel in Lille, France, only to discover by speaking with the wrecking ball driver that it was being torn down. We were chased by gypsies and German shepherds out of the area and had to walk several miles back to town. At this point we were so exhausted that we plunked down a credit card and bought a night's stay in a hotel with its own shower. On this same trip, we got stuck in Ventimiglia, Italy (the closest village to the French border) going from the Italian Riviera back into the South of France due to a train strike. We also plunked down the credit card and bought a night in a hotel, a big bottle of chianti, and a box of Ritz crackers. We ate our crackers and wine dinner on the rocks of a jetty by moonlight and nearly froze to death. It was so cold and wet and miserable. Later on this trip we took a midnight train to Barcelona, Spain. We had picked up a guy who lived in Austin at the time. He was an arrogant asshole, but Marni and he had some mutual acquaintences, and she liked him. The entire trip to Spain almost turned me off that wonderful country entirely, because not only did it rain the entire time, we had a bad meal in Barcelona and I had to travel with this putz. He got his though - he went into a store to purchase some kid cereal and sugar (quirky tastes, he had). He was so condescending to the clerk who was trying to understand what he was asking for, that he came home with a bag of salt instead of sugar (which I am sure was entirely intentional). I think I totally foamed my soda through my nose when he took his first bite. Karma, it's a bitch.
The day that Bill Clinton was first elected to office, we "celebrated" by eating at this amazing barbeque restaurant in an arrondissement in the south part of Paris. A crusty old black man from Seattle and his darling family opened this restaurant and served traditional Alabama barbeque with Heineken beer. We sat and listened to some bluegrass and jazz tunes, ate ourselves homesick, and thoroughly enjoyed our time.
Another trip to Europe I managed to go for free - my friend Dennis got a trip from his parents as a graduation present. And they agreed he could take one friend along as well. He chose me, due to my familiarity and language proficiency. We were only there 3 weeks, but that seemed like HIGH STYLE since we mostly stayed in Hotels. $200/day goes a lot farther, even with two people! I was lovesick, having JUST started dating my husband back then in May of 1993. He sent love letters along with me, for Dennis to hand out at various junctions along the way. We had a wonderful trip, getting stoned in Amsterdam at the Grasshopper Coffee Shop. Purple Sensi was the flavor of the day, and we drank gallons of fresh squeezed orange juice. It tasted amazing in the slow time of a marijuana haze.
My husband and I have been several times to Europe. The most remarkable was the trip in 1995 in which he proposed. We first went to London and traveled to Scotland, to visit my friend Judith in Glasgow, and stay with her parents. That entire trip was a booze frenzy, punctuated by fried fish and chips. GREAT time, that was. For 5 days we went from shopping to bars to parties to curry joints to beautiful hills in the country, to wonderful village restaurants. After going nuts for those days, we took a flight to Ireland. Once there, we consumed our weight in Guinness to recover. We made our way by train and bus to the west coast, just outside of the little town of Doolin. Doolin sits just north of the Cliffs of Moher, the sharpest drop off between land and water in the world. We were in a tiny B&B about 3 miles from Doolin, in the middle of absolutely nothing. It was fantastic. Little-traveled country roads and beautiful grassy fields with grazing sheep. We walked to the Cliffs, one morning, in the rain. Of course. It's June, it's Ireland. Once there, we walked up to the highest point, and my husband (who I had been dating for 2 1/2 years) started to tell me how much I mean to him, how he wants to spend the rest of his days with me. My raincoat was not waterproof (idiot) and all I wanted was a cup of hot tea under some cover. I kissed him, told him mid-sentence that yes, I would happily marry him, if we could just get out of the rain and get some tea! We walked back to the B&B after our hot tea, stopping at this delightful little country cottage restaurant called Nelly's Kitchen. It had an old stone hearth and fireplace, and the proprietors stoked the fire and gave us more hot tea to warm us up - we were about an hour earlier than dinner service, but we stayed and they treated us to an amazing dinner as congratulations on our engagement.
We have taken other trips, notably including Eastern Europe (Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary), and a week-long winefest in the Burgundy region of France. I cannot tell you how or why I remember a damn thing from that visit. I was completely inebriated the entire time. I developed a long-standing crush on creme brulee, making it my quest in life to find the best ever made. So far, my own recipe has not been beat by anyone other than possibly Daniel's Broiler in Bellevue, Washington. We drank some amazing wines at the Olivier LeFlaive winery, getting trashed and eating stinky cheese (Epoisses) for hours in the tasting room, chatting up the wine maker. I browsed the Paris Flea Markets, something I would LOVE TO DO AGAIN WITH MONEY. I didn't have much at the time. And what we had was blown entirely on wine. That we drug home. On our persons. And no, we didn't go through the "I have something to declare" line. We went balls out through the "Nothing to Declare" line. I was truly more worried about the unpasteurized French cheese in my bag than I was about the mere 22 bottles of wine we were carrying. Tja.
I haven't been since 2001, my last trip being with my husband's entire family to Portugal and Spain. My lord, I love those two countries as well. Never have I eaten so well, enjoyed the local culture (flamenco dancing in Madrid and Seville, not to mention the classical guitar at the out of the way joints in Madrid). Ahhhhhhh.
I could go on. But this is getting to the point of ridiculous in length. I cannot wait until my child is old enough to have some appreciation of Europe in order for us to go again. Maybe next year. A 4 year old can appreciate things, right?