Thursday, January 21, 2010

The U.S. of Emily

On my way to help my in-laws for a few days, I stop in St. Paul/Minneapolis first for some rest and relaxation with Susan, my old friend from high school in New Orleans.  It's finals week back in Madison and a good time for Mom to take her nagging sideshow on the road.  Chip's major hurdle this week is pilling dear Brucie the cat.   He swears the cat is looking at him differently and that indicates some wear and tear on his psyche.  Cats always look at their owners with some level of disdain.  The pilling changes little.

We stop between shopping and wine tasting for a dose of humidity and splendiferous aromas of home....we Southern Belles have got to keep our complexions moist.  A quick trip to the MIA in the afternoon.  My attitude toward art museums is this: go see something new, but don't be in a panic to see every last thing.  An exhibit featuring Czech photographers of the 20th century.  Who knew?

Next stop, Spokane on our way to Pullman, WA. Susan and I considered it spring like in MN with temps in the thirties and I'm welcomed to eastern Washington with near fifty temperatures which linger through my whole trip here.   A beautiful drive on 195 from Spokane to Pullman with seriously breathtaking views of the rolling hills of Washington farmland, Steptoe Butte, the mountains of Spokane and miraculously, winter wheat .  Exposed due to the lack of usual snow cover, beautiful green fields that lay deceptively dormant.  I realize how little I have been looking out the windows on all these trips over the years and yet not really seeing.  Too wrapped up in the mundane.  It's good getting older if only to appreciate what you've missed along the way.

Five glorious last days with my niece before she returns to Shanghai.  I'm prepared for a cry on Sunday because this baby won't be this baby the next time I see her.  Our love affair ends soon and I'm trying to remember everything about her.  The little freckle on her right leg.  The stork bite at the nape of her neck.  Her wrinkled nose and toothless wide grin at positively anything I do.  I'm Big Mama.  She can do no wrong by me and we as co-conspirators do very un-Chinese things like expose ourselves to drafts and roll on the floor with our legs out of our pajamas for better toe sucking and get so riled up we spit up all over ourselves to the worry of her mom.  Tonight was bath night and I'm drenched in her scent.  Baby wash and shampoo, baby lotion, a little balmex, ...she's all over me and I'm going to sleep in these clothes.  

Today we had to do a little business around the Department of Homeland Security and I'm convinced having a baby at immigration greatly increases one's chances of being expediently processed. The paperwork was minimal but of course nothing's simple anymore about being not native born.  Maybe it never was. 

Fox News blithers on in the waiting room...the official network of Homeland Security I suppose.  John Stossel and Frank Luntz blah-blahed their way through hardball questions like, "Just what are them Democrats up to now?"  Even Gordon Liddy appeared in a commercial.  It was surreal and would have been laugh out loud funny if it didn't make my soul weep.  While there, we broke many of the strictest rules of homeland security such as no eating or drinking, no cell phones and no cameras. 

With a withering look, Emily might have said, "You'll get this bottle out of my hand with whose army now?"

We were in and out in an hour, Emily working it with all the ladies behind the plate glass windows.  Shucks, her mom ain't no terrorist...look how cute she is! God Bless America.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Afterschool Special: My Mom's a Loser

"Mom, Cora invited a bunch of kids over here after school tomorrow.  I'm having a party."
"Yay! A party! But why is Cora inviting them?"  
"I don't want the responsibility."

I try not to focus on the illogical point for it is only illogical to me.

After five plus years of being untethered and blissfully unaware of the school dismissal bell, having had so far two good girls who get themselves home without incident or need for trouble after school, I remember that middle adolescence puts after-school BACK IN PLAY.   Stranger danger indeed....who are all these kids?

Boy shoes are staggeringly large to a mother of daughters

It's a half-day dismissal and 12 kids traipse to our house for a karaoke party and pizza to finish out the regular day before their various athletic practices that are held relentlessly come holidays, half days or high water.  Several parents check in to make sure there is indeed a parent here.  I appreciate that even good girls can throw after-school parties without permission, but in this case, big mama is on it.

I'm always desperate for Ally or Olivia to have a party here--I beg them to have kids over, but they rebuff me and tell me to go make dinner like a good little mother.   I like to put faces to these names I hear day in and day out.  Especially the boys.  What can I say?  Life. I have no.  This morning as Ally got ready for school, I said, "I'm so excited for our party!  Oh, uh...of course, I mean your party."  My joke is tolerated because she knows I am a little happy and that is just a little sad.  Chip tells me later when I phone him with the update, "Good job, Julie, you're finally popular!" Teasing deserved and gladly taken.

I've made frozen pizzas, supplied throwback Mountain Dew made with real sugar, limited edition (if swim practice goes well this afternoon for the boys, I've informed the coach the real secret to faster's  original DEW!) and have left them largely alone--but I can hear most everything from where I sit.   The laughing, the singing and the screaming comes up through the cat door loud and clear.  I recommend a cat door to anyone with teenagers, cat or no cat.  The good thing about this crew is a palpable sense of group A.D.D. (two girls briefly out frolicking in the snow without coats for reasons unknown to me and numerous requests for paper towels) and so it seems improbable that any two of them could actually sit down long enough to enact a plan involving smoke, drink or sex without somebody else running up and interrupting by spilling Coke all over them.  I just don't see it happening, but then again I don't want to.  I threw a blanket over the beer in the downstairs fridge, to the amusement of one kid who thought it was a body.  Are they naive... or wily as coyotes?

My friend explained my own kids to me recently, for I could not see the forest for the trees, that a nighttime party brings too much pressure to have "a party that is not lame."  Having an un-lame party might require slightly less attentive parents to ensure greater access to fun and shenanigans, something Ally knows is not possible under my roof as long as I have a pulse.  Or maybe she just wants to keep that part of her life exciting and private.  She does love my not being totally clueless (dare I say cool) but maybe not after 8 pm except acting as chauffeur.  So an after-school party with only good clean fun expectations fits my little slacker hostess and her goofy mother perfectly.

The athletes have gone to practice and the remaining guests have made a fort I can see from the cat door.  All their legs are sticking out so that seems like an okay situation.  It smells a lot like the elementary school gym on Family Fun Night.  But one of the hot bodies taking a quick bathroom break makes a point of stopping and saying, "Thanks for having us all over."  God love him.  Which one is he again?

"I'm blogging."
"About my party?"
"That's weird."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Owen Conservancy

In stark contrast to Nina's blog from Mexico, I can offer only the quiet and contemplative snowscape that is Owen Conservancy.  It's snowing pretty good today and so the temperature rises to a balmy 22.

Today I'm so crabby from being cold and stuck in the house that after Chip shoveled the driveway and walked the dog and then came in to make himself breakfast, I barked, "Why don't you go to work?"  Time for some fresh air and an attitude adjustment.

Given it takes what feels like half an hour to pull the winter me together....get all the clothing layers on, find the gloves, hey, where's my hat, which boots, front door or back, iPod or not, phone, wait, where are my keys...I'm exhausted before I even leave the house.   It's mandatory that I get where I'm going quickly.  Owen borders our neighborhood and so after expending most of my energy trying to get out of the garage, it's a place to hit quick before I end up just driving myself to Starbucks.

The self treachery and trickery involved to get me to this place is all part of the very private hell that is my resistance to physical work.

The cross country tracks are buried in many spots.  As a self-conscious snowshoer (I feel like a poor relation to true winter athletes like XC skiers) I am always worried about being cursed in my absence by XC skiers on whose tracks I've trod upon...even if by accident, it's like throwing trash out the car window in terms of bad form.  Today the pressure is off.  They'll have to find their tracks again anyway so I'm free to roam.

I take the hill first rather than waiting.  I'm breathing heavy by the top and my pulse is really going.  At one point, my shoe comes off as they do when I first set out and I realize I'm walking on top of very deep snow.  Huh.  Proof that my snowshoes actually work.  It seems as if I'm just walking where one could anyway, but apparently not as I pull my leg out of a knee dip hole to get back into my shoe.

A clearing full of natural hutches...coyote dens?  Let me sing louder just in case.

I have my iPod and doing my usual singing to sets by both Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra and I scare a gigantic hawk from a tree.  He's beautiful but not a big fan of my rendition of That's Amore.  He flies ahead a tree at a time and then circles back as I bend away.  I hug the outermost perimeter of the park to milk the longest walk possible which takes me way back into the woods.  I happen upon a happy little friend that someone has built for everyone to enjoy losing his shape under all the new snow.  I pack him and shape him again and replace a missing arm....and trip and fall ass over teakettle for my efforts.  Later at home I peel off my layers and find I cut my knee and bled on my longjohns.  How rugged am I?

Lots of little nooks and crannys like this where critters probably sleep in this deep deep snow.  Almost cozy looking.  But for me, I'm no animal so it's home for a hot shower, lunch and coffee with lots of sugar.  And no more yelling at Chip today.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sing it, little Jul

Perhaps just a short post here and there in between my epic musings will keep me off goddamn Facebook for five minutes.  I hate what I'm so utterly capable of becoming...middle aged woman who updates her profile three times a day about my tummy troubles, recipes and funny things my cats do.

The voyeurism and immediate gratification of FB are intoxicating to me and at the same time, I feel losery and icky for checking it so much. I actually logged out today, a new thing I'm trying.  If my "home feed" doesn't pop up without some effort on my part maybe I can lay off for awhile.  Sub-zero windchills, unemployment, all my CBS soaps being cancelled.....I'm in a serious risk group.

My iPod is the tiny kind which is hard to spot and never where I think it is. It's never lost but it's always lost.  Today, I found the earpieces and the iPod at the same time, a rarity, so took it on my dog walk supposedly to listen to music but inevitably to get my groove on.  I don't listen to my iPod indoors because when I sing along, people born of me seek me out from the furthest reaches of the house like heat seeking criticism missiles to complain that I'm somehow killing them. I can't really listen to my iPod on summer dog walks because everybody's out and about and a person is always being snuck up on by people from the rear or the side wanting to chat or say hi just as a person is hitting that high note that feels so right but sounds so wrong.   I key change constantly and well, the that's a problem, like my parents before me, in middle age.   I forget words, change them, sing them apologies, I'm expressing myself artistically.  As William Wallace and my daughter Olivia declare when feeling oppressed, "Freedom!"

Minnie keeps watch for ambush of the friendly neighbor

Today, taking advantage of the arctic temperatures where nobody but nobody is out unless they have to be, Minnie and I take the very long way around the neighborhood and I sing at the tippy top of my lungs to an embarrassing selection of country, bluegrass and rock and roll.  Sing it Alan Jackson!  I like Good Times too!  

Trying not to look too paranoid, I periodically check over my shoulder and spin a full 360 once or twice in case some idiot Wisconsin winter jogger creeps up on me whilst I'm flexing the golden pipes.  It's kinda private and I'm not willing to share my gift with strangers without vodka on board.   Minnie doesn't seem to mind the singing and probably enjoys my distraction from her digging up coprophagic bon bons in the snow.  In the world, Minnie and I are known as a pair to draw to.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Frigid temps drive me to sit and blog

It’s -1 F outside and if that’s not a sign that I need to sit down and return to my blog then I just don’t understand my signs.  While avoiding my own blog the past thirty days, I’ve perused many of the Blogger blogs instead.  Lordy, there are a lot of blogs out there and many so boring and so utterly weird (cooking, crafting, probably terrorism--I'm guessing this since the Underwear Bomber had Facebook--and even a photo and narrative homage to discount stores of the 1960s…really, what fetish is that?) that it got me in a muddle as to whether writing all this down is a ridiculous pasttime as my YMCA membership goes unused, my desk is a mess, my knitting sits unfinished and my family goes hungry.

To be fair to myself, I was thoroughly enjoying the holiday season from traveling at Thanksgiving to singing karaoke well into 2010 on New Year's Eve.  A month full of family and traditions distracting me from the mundane.  Being back with my Christmas decorations was a reunion I truly enjoyed after my Little House on the Prairie paper Christmas in Oxford last year.   What can I say except I was having fun and enjoying life and that sounds neither disturbed or funny enough to blog about.

My own epiphany in this season of epiphany?  Gap Jeans are a lie.   I’m done with them.  I have been trying to squeeze into their preposterously pubescent cut jeans (relaxed, my ass) for the past seven years, feeling the howling winds of Wisconsin's winters on my muffin top for too long!  Vacant smiling twenty-something sales staff inquiring “How did everything work out for you?”  NEVER GOOD, I wanted to say. 

Back to my roots, tried and true boot cut Levis, rediscovered this Christmas at Tri-State, Idaho’s Most Interesting Store.  The jingle, “We’re from North Idaho and it shows!” is the most genius of ironic songs...not sure they mean it the way we take it.   It’s a Farm and Fleet of sorts and carries a surprisingly relevant selection of sportswear that I used to laugh at as "farmer wear" once upon a time.  Ann Taylor doesn’t do NorthFace or camouflage, you see.  Keen, Columbia, Merrill, Timberland all once unknown brands to me, now strangely my every day wardrobe in Wisconsin.  Knee-high snowboots, hats with earflaps, deer repellant, flareguns....I was never really alive until I moved to the frozen tundra.

Levis …I've come full circle.  As a kid, I bought the stiff, dark Levis with the bright yellow stitching, washed them a thousand times until they softened and conformed to my teen shape that would have actually fit into Gap jeans.  Breaking in new jeans was executed with the patience of a horse whisperer taming a mustang.  No sand paper for me, I broke mine the old fashioned way with detergent, time and most uncomfortably wearing them damp to dry from radiant body heat for a better fit.

I met my niece this Christmas and was transfixed by her babyness.  Her name is Emily and I am the proud owner of a new Chinese moniker that translates as Big Mama, “wife of oldest brother”.  They could have just written all that information on a piece of paper and wrapped it in a box under the tree.  It's my favorite present ever.

I was ambushed guerrilla style by my feelings of loss for my father in law this first trip back home.  I took a walk on the Bill Chipman Trail that connects Pullman, WA and Moscow, ID, a trail that most literally connects my past and my present.  Brimming with love for the youngest member of our family and once again saying goodbye to our oldest. 

I walked a brisk mile up and back in the last hour of winter afternoon light, enjoying the brilliant but unattainable wash of golden sunlight on the tops of the hills as I walked in their shadows below.  Along ground that I know Larry rode many times on his bike back and forth between the two towns.  I felt companionship on my solitary walk with this tangible connection.  A pair of ducks swam under the bridge reminding me of his love of the outdoors and his practical and unsentimental use for it whether he was skiing, golfing, fishing or camping. Rarely puttering, if ever, unless he was holding one.

So much fun I had over the holidays that New Year's Day I untrimmed the tree with my usual  impatience for a return to order that is mistaken for moxie and work ethic.  I wrenched the tree in the air by its trunk....a few forgotten ornaments dangling, the Angel topper and tree stand still attached and dragged it roughly and reluctantly to the front door, throwing it out on the porch. Needles evergreen bloodbath.  What can I say?  I was done with the holidays. 

And so I return to my blog energized, reconnected and satisfied. A very Happy New Year I hope it will be for everyone.