Tuesday, June 29, 2010


This past weekend was a surefire blogpost fiesta or so I thought, with a Jimmy Buffett concert AND a Justin Bieber concert on deck and it all being very exciting and fun but turning out in the end to not be very bloggable.  After all, what can be said about a Jimmy Buffett concert except that once you've been to one you know the scene.  And don't get me wrong, it's fun everytime...the parrots, the margaritas, the Coronas with lime, the guacamole in the tailgate, the drunks....but what to write?  The same holds true for taking a load of kids to see whatever pop culture icon du jour currently occupying their fantasies, whether Twilight or Bieber related.  But it's an uninteresting post no matter how many times I walk around it.  "Hey, my kid loves Justin Bieber and I drove her to Milwaukee so she could scream at his face for three hours with her friends. "  I'm just not feeling it.

Designated driver....awesome.  No really, that was my last one before the show even started. At 13 bucks a beer, it wasn't hard to stop.

But the mundane is where the action is in my blog.  My trip to the laundromat, babies.  A universal experience to which most can relate, or should anyway.  Prince Charles and Candy Spelling, maybe not, but regular folks, yes.  Like the post office, it's really a place everyone should go periodically to appreciate just how much time and energy chores take without those luxuries many of us take for granted.  I blogged often about this in England where there were no dryers, a situation that subsequently drove me mad and rendered me somewhat obsessed with laundry.  And so I return to my roots.

The sad truth is that once a year the cats or the dog throw up on something that's too big to put in our own washer spurring my annual and very personal laundry Hajj with affected comforter plus a few more, since I'm going anyway, that are in need of freshening.

I was there to wash three comforters but most of the Sunday patrons were there for their weekly or in some cases monthly family laundry days.  A mother and her adult daughter were running an operation with quiet efficiency involving three triple load washers and multiple dryers while also directing those waiting as to which washers would be available next.  A pair of sisters arrived just minutes after me with their month's laundry only to watch me use the last triple load washer for my one item and well, I didn't blame them for their polite stink eye.  A mom and her teenage son of 14 or 15 folded an unimaginable amount of clothing before pushing the cart out to their car to unload pile after pile of clean clothes into their trunk.  On the surface it didn't appear that the kids had a choice about being there nor did they seem too perturbed about it either, checking their phones periodically and looking resigned without looking pissed off.  I'm going to guess that for many harder working families than us, helping one's parents is part of the drill.  It never occurred to me to ask a kid of mine to take two hours out of her day to help me with the laundry.  And why not?  I tend to shelter them too much from that sort of work, but really to whose benefit?   Then again at age 4 when asked to clean her room, Allison crawled military style on her elbows while dragging her inert lower body crying "I CAN'T! MY LEGS ARE BROKE."  So maybe I just gave up a long time ago.

The sweet smell of hot, clean clothes that may be a little sickening to some is olfactory music to me.  Laundromats are inherently clean places despite the dryer sheets blowing across the floor like tumbleweeds or the 16 oz. orange and purple abandoned soft drinks on the perimeter's ledges atop the strewn Sunday circulars left behind by those who did their laundry much earlier than me.  Like Tiffany's was to Holly Golightly, laundromats are to me.  They are places to think and to sit quietly in the uncomfortable plastic chairs or even nap on a sunny day in one's car with the windows down and the radio on like the guy next to me in the parking lot.  It's too noisy to talk so mostly no one does. The dull roar of dryers and washers creates a sound barrier around each person moving silently among the others, going about the very personal business of clean clothes.  Everybody doing things just a little bit differently.  Dryer sheets or liquid fabric softeners, Tide or Gain, Scented or Non, Ensueno or Snuggle.  Folded. Crammed into black plastic trash bags. Separate colors in different washers or all together in one big washer. Delicate colored bras and silky underthings brazenly hung over the cross bar tops of the rolling baskets.  I just like to nestle into my own thoughts, people watching and daydreaming in the deafening din.  A few odd and creepy guys came in of course, as they usually do, but also a mom and her two little kids with an insane mountain of wet, mildewed laundry that had been blessedly soaking up rain water in their basement, saving them thousands of dollars of damage, while they were away on vacation.  A story behind every basket.  Did not ask the creepy guys their stories.

Goodnight Justin and old B.B. King, from Milwaukee's Summerfest

And at the end, the cat vomit was well clear in time for Paw Paw's visit and I myself now serendipitously have a clean and fresh bed from top to bottom.  I'm sleeping well this week.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The final shots

The doctor's office was filled with teenagers today.  Everybody was getting a buff and polish now that school is out.  High school kids with few exceptions are usually too busy to "be" sick.  Of course they all still get sick but depending on what the weekend holds, well, it just may not be convenient to indulge in a sick day.  This is not to say they don't whine and complain every minute of every day about one thing or another, body and soul.  But they push through fevers, they rarely throw up, they take their medicines efficiently in pill form and they mostly rely on each other's folk remedies for a legion of adolescent ills...stomach aches, headaches, cramps, acne, whatever.  Most complaints are triaged by texting a friend and treated with isolation in one's room or a little TLC by mom at the kitchen counter.

Today was my last trip to the pediatrician with Liv unless invited and fat chance of that, as she turns 18 this year.  Since she is soon legal to fight in a foreign war or enjoy a pint of lager in England, conventional thinking is that she and Dr. K can and should handle routine health stuff without me from now on.  I've been feeling like an interloper the past few years anyway so officially getting the boot feels fine.  Who likes going to the doctor anyway?   I'll be fine...I'll just sit in the waiting room and read my book...whimper, sniff.

When I look back and think about how often we were in doctor's offices during our first decade of parenting, it seems like I did little else; rashes, ear infection after ear infection, coughs, viruses, immunizations, big head circumferences, shaking legs, deer ticks....and on and on and on it went for years.  There were times when I wondered was it something I was doing wrong.  But it was just a phase, a quite normal phase of childhood and I wish I had been sure of that at the time as it would have saved me a lot of lost hours of sleep.  And whatever brought us all to our knees weekly back in the nineties seems to have left all of us with hale and hearty constitutions now.  This fact was made pretty clear today when Liv told the doctor she liked her new hairstyle to which the doctor cocked her head and looked perplexed, as she had cut her hair last November.

I was kicked out of the exam room in short course after the airing of the annual motherly concerns.  Dr. K and Olivia exchanged looks with one another and I felt politely and sympathetically tolerated. My concerns would merely be a launching point for the real conversation they would have once I stepped out.  So be it. I was sent to the waiting room feeling a bit superfluous while moms of toddlers ran around chasing their hellions.  Yeah, I can be done with this.

Five years ago, thoughts in the distance of my kids growing up made me feel sad.  And now that we're here I must remind myself that it is yet just another phase on the long road of parenting.  I refuse to let myself get wound up about it.  Just like everything else, we'll all settle into the new normal for a little while before it changes yet again.... and again and again.  Just keep riding the parent rollercoaster, I tell myself, taking time to let go of the bar and wave my hands in the air a little bit during the straightaways.

Childhood immunizations, a seemingly endless pile of jabs it seemed would never end back in 1992, are finally complete.  She's ready to handle the big bad world.  Without stickers.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Last days in Alabama...heading north

Cinnamon, Lighthouse Bakery backyard cat

Southern lightning.  Not a drop of rain.

Bird Sanctuary....more like Bug Sanctuary

We just kept trying to throw money at anything that would move while visiting the island so we broke the cardinal rule of Hunter family vacations, avoid any learning, and went to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and Estuarium, a worthy expense that might help the island overall.  Unfortunately, by the time the woman tallied the senior discount and the student discount we had only dropped a scrawny Alexander Hamilton which we thought was kind of pitiful.  Gift shop, there we went.

The estuarium's exhibit explains the interdependence between the four key habitats of coastal Alabama (their words not mine), which I read as fresh and salt water, barrier island and coast and how all of that works together to make this region rich in natural resources that crank many economic wheels.  I couldn't help mentally moving around the furniture in this small museum to accommodate the new exhibit opening in 2011, The Gigantic Oil Spill and How it Forever Wrecked our Island in 2010.   Ironically, Dauphin Island was originally called Massacre Island by the French colonists who found huge piles of human bones on a few spots on the island.  These spots were later determined to be burial mounds made by Indians who had originally settled on the island. Massacre Island indeed.  This time it's the oyster beds.

Critters in and out of the Dauphin Island Estuarium

And so we bid farewell to Tante Amy and Uncle Dave over a still fabulous seafood meal of hot garlic crab claws, fried alligator and shrimp salads.  The truck spraying for mosquitos flicked on its insidious fogger as we kissed and hugged outside the restaurant.  I told Olivia to quick hop in the van and protect her ovaries from whatever the hell was coming off that truck.  The rest of us past our childbearing years continued our goodbyes in the fog.

A visit to Auburn on our way north.  Our last college visit before applications.  It's been a fun year going on campus tours with her as she so enjoys imagining herself at each place we see.  I'm reassured that college doesn't seem to have changed much except for the price... and how much you couldn't pay me to do it again.  I'll let Olivia blog it.

Yesterday, my Nana, my mom, and I all went to Auburn University so I could tour another college. Nana graciously rode the bus with Mom and me (named "Tiger Transit", after Auburn's mascot) from the Jule Art Center to the Quad Center, where our tour started, but opted out of coming on the tour with us. Wise choice, considering the 90-plus degree heat commonplace in the South in June.

Toomer's Drugstore for a limeade, their specialty.  Fresh limes squoze to order

Auburn was AWESOME. Definitely my type of school. Our tour guide was very friendly, and from the way she described everyone else, including professors, I infer that everyone else is as nice as the day is long. Also, according to my Uncle Dave, Auburn students know how to party and have fun! The tour guide backed up this claim by describing one specific tradition: after any win in any sport, students head to a place called Toomer's Corner and toilet-paper a tree (which I assume every parent wants their child to learn at college). Despite my being a little Northern girl, I believe I will have a fantastic time learning and playing here.

In all seriousness, the roof on which we stood was as hot as the sun.

The town is the college, so there are Tiger paws and pictures of Aubie the Tiger in every kind of downtown business, from bookshops to bars. Lots of school pride--love it!

After our tour and a refreshing limeade at Toomer's drug store, it was unfortunately time to head home. I bid a fond farewell to the South and hope that I can come back for more limeade and Tiger pride.
War Eagle!

Chip's text, "Have we lost her to Dixie?"  I think so.  If you can love it at 99F, I think you really love it.

How many hurricanes has this old live oak seen I wonder?

Today, just one stop on our journey north.

I like to picture Jesus as a figure skater. He wears like a white outfit, and He does interpretive ice dances of my life's journey. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Love that dirty water

I came to an “aha” moment a few months ago as I was doing something mundane at the kitchen sink that if anybody asked me what my greatest luxury is, I would say unfettered access to clean and potable water.  That festival in India where 80 million people show up to the Ganges and bathe…well, that is not for me.  Go ahead and say it Olivia and Allison, “Mom, you’re racist.”

And so I faced my fears a few days ago, had my own Ganges moment, when my brother-in-law and sister took us motoring in their sailboat upriver away from the tainted Gulf water to the brackish shores of the Fowl River, a spring-fed recreational river that does flow out to Mobile Bay.  My brother-in-law insists its one of cleanest rivers in Mobile for its lack of pumped raw sewage.  Great. Cold comfort.

A number of anonymous souls over the years dedicated to the fun of all mankind have maintained sturdy knotted ropes tied to a tree for boaters to use along the shoreline.  There are 2 x 4s nailed to a tree and two boards not unlike water skis nailed to a branch extending out over the water.  It’s a quick scramble up the trunk and then a quite literal walking of the plank to the bow’s edge.  A friend, or an uncle in our case, hands you the rope and coaxes you to resist your very rational fear of what you are about to do and then you swing out into the river and let go. 

I neither scramble nor resist rational fear easily.  As we motored out in the 106F midday heat index with no breeze, all I could think about was the state of the water and what had I gotten myself into.  But it turns out when heat stroke is upon me, I will jump into any water no matter how questionable.  Olivia, always the thrill seeker in our family, climbed the tree despite the hundreds of little crabs moving up and down the trunk like spiders. She declared her fear quite clearly and she jumped.  Once the kid had shown us how it's done, we adults all gave it a try and it was indeed fun, once.  And despite the thorough sinus wash by the sketchy river water, I lived to see another day.

Dauphin Island is the Jersey shore for people from as far north as Birmingham, even for beach weekends and holidays through these ungodly hot summer months.  The outdoor swimming pools are naturally heated to a very unrefreshing 90 degrees and the view from the beach is that of working oil rigs just off shore, still pumping away despite the current disaster.  It’s a scrappy little island unapologetic for its ramshackle tourist services and coarse vista.  Swimming and boating in full view of oil rigs is an acquired taste.

It’s so absurdly hot during the day that the beaches are empty much of the time the sun is up and fill with people at dusk. The Cullens of Twilight would be at home here.

But at last I am able to walk on the beach without burning my feet.  There’s a faint breeze and it’s carrying the smell of oil tonight.   I can only post photos of the very normal and very not normal of the Gulf Coast during these fragile days in its history.

I found this to be questionable parenting but my brother in law said, "it's probably ok."

A dolphin grabbing dinner just 50 feet from where we stood on the beach, rigs in the background

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Gulf Coast

Two days of anticipation as to what we would find here on the Gulf Coast so it seems only right that I start with the destination and work backwards on the trip.

June in Dauphin Island, Alabama.  Could not be sweatier.  We arrived around 5pm just as five or six Jeep loads of clean up crews were leaving the beaches for the day.  A sobering first sight.

The usual car/beach vacation scenario of unloading and running to the beach was not quite our inclination when we arrived.   Air conditioning is gooooood.  Eventually we all followed the smoker out to the porch and after a gin and tonic I started to think it wasn't really too bad outside.  Silly gin.

I was anxious to see the beach and chased down the first Alabaman who looked my way.  She’s a native of Birmingham but has been coming to Dauphin Island for many years, having adult children that played here as kids.  She and her husband have owned a condo on the east side of Dauphin Island since 1995, hosting kids and grandkids to beach vacations and boating trips around the island where she says they lure dolphins routinely to “show out” behind the boat, standing on their tails and nickering for the bait fish that the kids fling from the back of their boat.  

Last week in Birmingham, she told her husband, “I just have to go see it.”  He said, “Why?  It will just make you sad.”  She said, “Well, then it will make me sad but I have to go.”  They’ve been here since Monday and she speculates that because of the wind currently blowing out of the southwest this eastern beach along the Gulf has been spared the gross oil blobs washing ashore.  Not so lucky on the western part of this island where there is oil in abundance washing ashore, devastating the economy here yet again just as it was coming back from Katrina and Rita.  She tells me, “I’ve cried and I’ve prayed and I keep praying.”  Further along the Gulf coast to the east, Florida is getting the worst of it the past few days.  Bon Secour, Gulf Shores, Perdido Key swamped with oil. My brother-in-law tells me that many tourist businesses' bills are coming due about now and with no customers they are in fear of losing everything.  I'm glad I'm here to spend some money because what else can I do but wring my hands.

The skimmer is right there, literally situated off of our beach according to how the water currents are flowing so as to optimize its catch of oil in the water.  But the truth is, the fish are swimming to Texas, BP isn’t returning phone calls and my new friend from Birmingham has oil on the bottoms of her water shoes.  “The oil is out there even though you can’t see it.  This is the most I’ve had on my shoes all week. You should rinse your feet.”  And I do.  As we talked, a mullet jumped high out of the water.  She found that encouraging.  I wondered if he was jumping not because that’s what mullets do but because he was starving for oxygen in this water choked with oil and dispersants.  It’s too much to think about. As my friend wrote recently, so succinct and perfect, “Poor Gulf.”

No tar balls here.  yet.

We traveled Highway 45 for almost the entire day, from Tennessee nearly to Mobile.  It’s a dandy road with a 65 mph speed limit but no trucks due to its limited local access and no brake zones.  A hidden gem of a road with just the right amount of towns to keep it interesting.

Traveling with a smoker provides an alternative look at travel compared to our family’s usual “iron butt” strategy of driving.  My mom will tell you she can go as long as it takes between cigarettes but I’m telling you she can go about 90 minutes before the Life Saver unwrapping, Goldfish cracker eating, ice chewing and finger tapping makes me want to push her ever so gently out the car window.  And since smokers love their cold drinks, I am won over by the gas station fountain drink guzzler with loads of ice.  Sipping Dr. Pepper on a southern highway was befitting of the journey...if only Lynyrd Skynyrd had been on the radio.  However, as a newbie to the 64 oz. slow sip society, my pacing was off and I was in a little bit of a pickle mid afternoon.

I announced to Mom and Olivia that what we needed was some good karma following a perplexing search for food in downtown Meridian, MS.  Apparently they don't eat food there.  So seeing a sign for fresh peaches, I swung a hard left across the highway south of Meridian in need of food and a reststop.  Fontaine's Peaches Farmstand not only had a restroom for customers (whodathunk), but also the most chin-dripping peachiest peaches I've had in a long time.  I bought fifteen peaches more out of gratitude for their being plumbed than anything.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sturm und Drang

I think this storm was a microburst or a downburst or maybe just a terrible thunderstorm but mind you, it had rotation.  I'm a midwest girl now and I know when clouds are swirling.  Whatever it was, we were driving in it.  It snapped trees,  brought 18-wheelers to a crawl and grounded every motorcyclist beneath underpasses across a wide north/south swath of southern Illinois this morning.  I called Chip at home after our near death experience to have him check the radar for details.  His voice was dulled by disinterest....competing thoughts of World Cup coverage interfered with my drama queen moment.

Him. "Yeah, that looks pink."
Me.  "What does pink mean?"
Him. "It is somewhere between severe and extreme."
Me. "No shit."

I'll spare the details since going into it properly would require me to do a lot of wild gesticulating in your face with bug eyes but, in a word, it was badness.  Wiping out three generations of women in one car was not my plan today.  Rotating clouds over my car, well, it turns out I did not and still do not have a plan for that.  I had a quick fantasy of myself lying on top of my mother and my daughter in a ditch along I-39.  I scanned for a funnel around me but then instinct said run.  And so we did.

We're on the road to Alabama for some family time with my sister and brother-in-law and to do one more college visit.  It's not a bad journey with Nana at my side.  She points out little forests and cloud shapes and rock formations and likes to listen to the radio like I do.  Livvy is happy to just ride the drive.  She watches movies and has occasional outbursts of laughter that are fun for those of us up front who only have the road to watch.

No trip south is complete without a side trip to Metropolis, IL to see Superman.  Turns out today was  the Superman Festival but at 95 degrees, funnel cake and carnival games had no appeal.  We grabbed our sweet teas, a few snapshots and hit it for Jackson, TN, our destination for today.

Why is Metropolis' Big John bigger than Superman?  John carries groceries.  Superman can stop a train with his body.  I don't know what to think. The scale is off.

Wonder Woman coming out of the information booth.  Really?  Doesn't she have super powers?

A more rural drive takes us through the last of southern Illinois, then far western Kentucky and Tennessee and reveals some corporate farming of corn and soy and two big industries, churches and mega high schools.  Crosses and football stadiums are thick on the ground.  Tomorrow we hit the Alabama Gulf Coast.

My 600 mile 22 oz Bud Light.   

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The beast within.

So many reflections about a day that started like any other but quickly dissolved into an axe wielding frenzy. 

I don't think it's a part of ourselves we ever really talk about with one another but I've been to your houses and I know you move large pieces of furniture by yourself just like I do so I don't think it's just me.  Instinctively and impulsively and at times randomly, we decide we must move something right now.  Sometimes I've thought about it beforehand but haven't been so moved yet to do it and sometimes it's a new thought completely.  But when the will and the way cogs mesh on any given day, there's little that can be done to redirect me until I get it done.  I’m rarely if ever put off by tasks that seem too heavy or too big or too improbable to pull off.  Last week it was rolling a giant leather chair up the basement steps.  Today, it was tree removal.

This morning, like many mornings this spring, I was greeted (for the last time as it turns out) by a smug, weedy tree sticking out tall and green through one of our evergreens.  The cheek of it!  It had nurtured itself unnoticed beneath the evergreen branches like a fragment of Voldemort, surreptitiously developing a proper trunk and branches and stuck out through the middle of the evergreen like a bratty kid’s tongue.  The nyah nyah mockery of me had finally taken its toll.  Its life would end today.  

A little history that pains me to reveal is that these kinds of weed trees were all over West Philly and I loved them because they were green.  They filled in the cracks of the concrete and the crumbling buildings and vacant lots and covered the graffiti nicely.  I told myself they were trees anyway.  But in a pedigree landscape, they look like the mutts that they are.  Today was finally a day of action.

I wandered off the porch and down the hill in my pajamas like a sleepwalker.  My mom looked worried, as she usually does when I get that look on my face.

Mom. “Where are you going?”

I didn’t quite answer.  I walked straight into the evergreen to face my enemy.  It was not to be a clipper mission I came to find.   I came up the hill and headed for the garage. 

Mom.  “Where are you going now?”
Me. “To get the axe.”
Mom. “WHAAAAT?  Oh, Lord…..you’re going to hurt yourself”

Bruce congratulating me on my tree felling

A few years ago, Chip’s stepdad gave him an axe for Christmas. Naturally I was suspicious.  There’s a lot of evidence on Dateline NBC that suburbs cause men to kill their wives.  I’ve been lucky so far but I sleep with one eye open at all times. 

Still clad in pajamas and untrussed, as it were, I set out to the side of the hill with my axe, my clippers and my phone.  My mom’s a panicker so I was pretty sure if I hacked my leg off at the shin it was going to be on me to call fire/rescue. 

It wasn't exactly Braveheart but by the time I was done, my hair and face were painted with sap. I hacked and grunted and cursed and hacked and rested and hacked some more.  Not sexy.  Finally with a few twists I heard the satisfying rip/crackle of the last bits of cellulose busting free from the stump.  I’m pretty sure I called the tree a motherf*cker in my triumph which I think only my mom heard but can't be sure. What I am quite sure of is that I looked half insane and can't imagine anyone would have come out of their house to confront me on my language while I stood half nekkid before them with an axe in my hands.

My jack in the pulpit watched.  I love him and will never take an axe to him.

Reflections on axe wielding.

  • Throwing an axe while standing on a slippery hill contraindicated.  Nobody in human history should do that again.
  • I have a new appreciation for trees because they are some sonsabitches strong when they want to be.
  • I have a new appreciation for hurricanes and tornadoes that snap trees.
  • Chopping something down with an axe is harder than you’d think and I have a new respect for people who chop firewood, let alone people who are loggers.
  • Chopping something down with an axe is extremely satisfying and makes you feel like a beast.  And in fact that was my text to Chip, "I AM A BEAST."  But he gets these texts a lot so he didn't even call home.