Thursday, December 29, 2011

Intro: The Un-Bucket List

It is almost a new year, and I've been thinking. There has been a lot of loss since we left Wyoming. There have been people we knew who've died young and tragically. It has weighed heavy on my mind and heart.

I think I'm one of those people who sees the glass as half empty. I hate to admit that, but I think I am. Life has been different than I imagined it and sometimes I've resented that. Sometimes I've let the letdowns stand in my way.

Lately, I've seen lots of bucket lists. You know, the things people want to do before they die. Things like: visit the Eiffel Tower, see a broadway play, or scuba dive.

I have my own list of things: watch the Northern Lights, see a firefly, write a book, visit Havasupai Falls. My list changes with time, but those are some things that have always been on it.
I haven't done any of those things.

But I have done some amazing things. I've done some things that I've seen on other people's bucket lists, but were never on my own. I'm going to tell you about them in the coming New Year of 2012. I'm calling it the "Unbucket List." I'm hoping it will help me appreciate the path my life has taken, even if the path was never on my roadmap.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Days of Infamy

Several weeks ago I attended a talk my famed children's writer Lois Lowry. She's a prolific writer with many, many wonderful books, the most famous of which is The Giver.

In her talk she spoke about her childhood and showed us a grainy photo of herself on a beach in Hawaii as a very little girl. The sky looked hazy and we focused on her, the famous lady as a child. Her father had been in the military and was stationed in Hawaii for a brief time. Just after the photo was taken their family moved away.

She moved on and spoke of other things, including the premise for the book The Giver, about a society that is sheltered from all the ill and evil and discomforts of the world as we know it. In their society there is no war and illness and the memories of those things are held only by the receiver of memories, the job that is assigned to the young protagonist (Jonas) of the story. It is a beautiful book, one of my favorites. There is a new gift addition available here.

So Lois Lowry told us of her life, some experiences she'd had, and of her books and her writing. Then, at the very end, she returned to the photo of her as a very little girl on the beach in Hawaii. She pointed it out, in the haze, on the horizon just behind her: an outline of the U.S.S. Arizona. The photo had been taken just a couple of months before the day that will live in infamy: December 7, 1941. The juxtaposition of the happy family at the beach and the ship that would soon lie sunk at the bottom of Pearl Harbor with tremendous loss of life was both poignant and startling. Lois Lowry didn't live in Hawaii anymore on December 7th. Her family had moved and were living on the mainland. Lois Lowry pointed out that in a book such as The Giver, society would have no memory of something as violent and horrific as the attack on Pearl Harbor and the war that rattled the world. And yet, the terrible moments shape us just as the wonderful moments do.
We are not one without the other.

We cannot be.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tomorrow Morning

Tomorrow morning Idaho will execute it's first death row inmate in 17 years.

I have a public blog. For that reason, there are things I don't share here. I have something to share about tomorrow's events in Idaho. Something personal. If you want to hear it, leave me a comment and I'll send you my entry about it. You must be someone I know personally. That's it. That's the deal on this one. Just cause it has to be that way.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It's Autumn Time

I miss my mother most in the fall.

She loved autumn: the colors, the crispness in the air, and the sense of change. By autumn, freckles from summer peppered her face. They always made her look young and vibrant. She was married in October, before the snow fell. Her bridesmaids wore avocado green and shades of orange.

I, too, love fall, but my heart also aches for her this time of year. This was the winding down time; the time of year when our hope of a prolonged life for her was gone and we settled our minds instead on just being together. All the things that needed doing were set aside. There were good days then, before the vomiting and morphine and vials of medications.

We knew winter was coming with its emptiness, harshness, and stark absence. We knew she wouldn’t be there with us, to weather its storms or to smile when the hummingbirds came back the next spring.

Every year, it seems like I count down the days again. I mourn the loss of the leaves, the browning of the hillsides, and the death of my mother. She loved autumn enough to stay for it’s full duration. The first snow fell just hours after she died.

It seems fitting now, that my favorite time of year is filled with a sort of longing: for warm days and cool nights, for long slow walks, for the smell of maple and cinnamon, and to be loved the way only my mother loved me. I long for an elusive kind of peace. The kind that comes with feeling good about change; with hanging on to some things and letting go of others. It’s the time of year when I’m struck by how much I don’t have the answers. How much I miss being sheltered like a child.

All of my worries churn like the leaves rustling on the ground.

Then my children come, run through them, pick them up and toss them heavenward.

And I remember: I used to do that too.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Motivate Me: Mondays

I {heart} Mondays. I know, I'm one of the weird ones. There's something about a Monday that feels like a fresh start. It's the day I re-commit to all of my goals -- the ones I stopped working toward last Tuesday. On Monday it all feels possible again.

I'm most hopeful on Mondays. The weight of the week doesn't drag me down. It is a day for setting my sights high.

I've been severely lacking in motivation lately. The summer drained me of all my energy. Moving drained me of all my inspiration. I wanted a rest. I needed to re-group.

But today (Monday) I feel better. So here are my goals for this week:

1. Write (or re-vise) every weekday.
2. Workouts: Monday (run - 3 miles & swim - 1 mile)
Tuesday (bike - 45 min)
Wednesday (strength) oh, how I adore cardio
Thursday (run - 45 min)
Friday (short run, or bike w/ daughter)
Saturday (long run - 50 min+)

I'm thinking I should post my goals every week and then check-in at the end of the week and see how I've done. Feel free to join me, just leave your goals in the comments.

I'm focusing on these two things this week. I usually have a tendency to overestimate how much I can actually do. But it is Monday and today, I feel invincible.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Owl Right

OK, everybody. I didn't mean to announce I was coming back and then not come back. It's just that when I thought I was ready to come back, my laptop decided to die and it took a couple weeks to get it back up and running and things re-stored (thank you, my external hard drive).

((Oh, except for my daughter's photos from her camera and her trip to Kansas and 1st time ever on an airplane -- those are lost forever)).

But it could have been worse.
It could have been much, much worse. That statement seems to be my mantra lately.

So we are moved (to Hailey, Idaho). And school has started again. And we are settling into . . . well, something.

It feels OK.

It feels like things are going to be owl right, after all.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Raise Your Hand. . .

if you've missed me.

'Cause I might be coming back. Soon.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Well-Read Wednesday: The Dreamer

"Neftali, do you not have enough old keys in your collection?"

"Keys unlock doors, Laurita. One can never have too many."

This book was recommended to me by an amazing person and writer, Lisa Hale. Then it took me about a year to pick it up and read it. She was right. The imagery, the figurative language, and the story is beautiful. So rarely do we find books so beautifully written with as much careful thought given to the language used to tell the story as the story itself.

"The Dreamer" is the fictional biography of Nobel Prize winning poet Pablo Neruda. The author gives us a glimpse into the life of a young boy, Neftali Reyes, as a quiet, shy, sickly boy with a demanding father who tries to squelch his son's quiet unfocused daydreaming and his scrawling words on paper. The boy has a fascination with words, the world around him, and physical objects: pinecones, stones, feathers, old keys. There are poems here too, in the book, and prose that echoes poetry. We journey with Neftali: fearing his father, observing the world, learning, and growing older until Neftali has the courage to write. With the pen name of Pablo Neruda he finally becomes his own person and finds his own voice. And what a beautiful voice it is.

I love how the author includes some of Neruda's poety at the end of the book. The illustrations are beautiful. The book has a beautiful tone to it. It is one of those "quiet" books we hear about. The ones many don't appreciate or pick up because they aren't provocative enough, create enough buzz on twitter or cause us to turn pages fast enough. This book isn't a page turner.

It's a heart changer.
Read it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Whirligig in Wyoming

I came to Wyoming 2 years ago with no intention of liking it. It seemed mostly brown and barren--rangeland that stretched as far as the eye could see. Sometimes the horizon was pimpled with oil rigs, not pumping. I'd grown up in rural Idaho. I thought I understood remoteness and space and the barren distance between two places. I didn't. For me, Wyoming wasn't green enough. There were not enough mountains. My skin cracked and dried out like an alligator's.

Wyoming has a catch phrase: "Forever West." It's how they lure people here in travel brochures and T.V. ads. Ironically, being in Wyoming is the furthest East I've ever lived.

I came here with low expectations. And like Sally in the Disney movie "Cars": "I fell in love." I fell in love with a place where the traffic is slower and the cell phone coverage is sketchy at best. I fell in love with a town that feels like my own town did when I was a kid in late '70s. Locally owned businesses line Main Street. There is a McDonald's and a Subway and Safeway and a Family Dollar, but few other "chains." A shopping mall, Sam's Club, Target: they're all 2 hours away. Family is even further. But the town has what I value and need: a library, a swimming pool, a park, an ice-skating rink in winter, a golf course with groomed cross country ski trails when the snow is deep. I think we're the only family in town without a dog.

I never thought I'd leave this place. My soul had finally found a home, a place to land after flitting about like a caged bird. This was it. But things happen. The bad economy which seemed so far away is here too, with budget cuts and broken things. We're looking at another job change, at leaving here. I told a friend last night that with a job loss also comes a sort of mourning, not just for the loss of the job, or the income, or the security it provides, but also a sort of mourning for the life you had imagined for yourself. I'd imagined a life here: of raising my kids here, buying a house, writing a novel or two or twenty, of getting older, of biking up the canyon, and of backpacking every piece I could of the Wind River Mountain Range. It hurts to have to leave.

He told me that no one talks in language like that: "of mourning the life you had imagined for yourself"--and that I should be writing. And so I am. I wrote it down.

But it still hurts.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Still Amateurs

I inherited a sort of nervousness from my mother. I don't like to travel, I don't like ethnic food, or new things. I hate moving. As a writer, I find it comfortable to stay home, to create worlds and problems inside my head all without leaving the house. After all, it's a dangerous and uncertain world out there.

I recently read, Manhood for Amateurs, by Michael Chabon. He described that, at one point, his life was what one would call "a dull business." But then he met his wife:

"Not very long afterward, in an ongoing act of surrender to the world beyond my window, with no possibility of knowing what joy or disaster might result, I married her. And . . . since our first date--this woman has dragged, nudged, coaxed, led, stirred, embroiled, mocked, seduced, finagled, or carried me into every last instance of delight or sorrow, every debacle, every success, every brilliant call, and every terrible mistake, that I have known or made. I'm grateful for that because if it were not for her, I would never go anywhere, never see anything, never meet anyone. It's too much bother. It's dangerous, hard work, or expensive. I lost my ticket. I kind of have a headache. They don't speak English there, it's too far away, they're closed for the day, they're full, they said we can't, it's too much bother with children along.
She will have none of that."

--excerpt, Manhood (Chabon 182-3)

I laughed. I have a person just like that in my life. I married him too. Together, life has been one grand adventure. He's drug me along every step of the way. I've been the one kicking and screaming.
And just when I thought that the we were finally settling into our lives, the world tilted again. Budget cuts, re-structuring, excuses, whatever they said, the reality is that my husband's school district cannot offer him full-time employment next year.
So the adventure begins anew. I'm dreading it. But I'm glad we're taking it together.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spring Plowing

Grandpa could read the skies: a moon dog at dusk that meant rain was coming, or high clouds that meant he could cut hay. I watched him once touch newly plowed dirt to his tongue and then spit it out. When I asked him why he’d done that he told me that he could taste things in the dirt: minerals and moisture and richness for planting. I nodded and tasted the dirt myself when he wasn’t looking.

He was right.

I tasted iron, like when your mouth bleeds. I tasted what it smells like before it rains. The dirt tasted like earth and rain and sunshine and life. It tasted rich and gritty and ready. Grandpa nodded at me. He’d caught me after all. I spit the dirt out, smiled, and turned with him to the tractor. We both climbed aboard and circled the field again once, twice, turning the dry dirt over. Behind the plow the soil went from dry, crusty taupe to pillows of dark chocolate brown--ready for planting.

It was finally spring.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Well Read Wednesday: The Sound of Colors

This is a picture book. Except that it’s not really a picture book—not in the sense that we’d typically define a picture book. At 80 pages, it’s a bit lengthy for a picture book and is leveled at a 9-12 age level.

However, this book is worth a read, for adults as well as children. The words are beautiful and poetic and the only things equal to the words are the pictures. They’re engaging and imaginative and gorgeous.

“The Sound of Colors” is the story of a young girl whose eyesight slipped away about a year ago. She travels from subway stop to subway stop imagining the world around her:

“I listen for the sound of the colors I can’t see,” she says as she moves through her mind’s eye imagining and searching for the place where all the colors are: “Home is the place where everything I’ve lost is waiting patiently for me to find my way back.”

I’ve heard that this book is even more poignant in it’s native Chinese, but the translation is touching, emotional even. I’ve also read that in Chinese it transcends the story of a girl in a subway station and is an obvious metaphor for life. I see, even in the translated version, that there is more at play here than a girl with a white walking cane. I mostly love that this book isn’t really about blindness, it is about color and light and hope and love.

Trust me, it’s worth read.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Well-Fed Friday: Eatin' of the Green

Here in Wyoming there are few signs of spring. I know the rest of you have crocuses or daffodils and blue skies and Easter decor up. We're a bit behind here. There is still frost on my windshield in the morning and the grass is still brown. But it was St. Patrick's Day and, as a farmer's daughter, I know spring will come. So I'm presenting my favorite Eatin' of the Green.

Here it is:

The easiest salad in the world: leafy greens (I like a spring mix), crumbled feta cheese, Real crumbled bacon, walnuts, and raspberry vinaigrette dressing. Oh, and cucumbers. I adore it with cucumbers too (we just didn't have any).

This salad is so very good.
Green is good.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Come Monday Morning

Come Monday morning I will take my son to swimming lessons. I will carry him into the building and hold his hand tightly as we leave. I will breathe the smell of him: boy and sweat and chlorine when I get him dressed. I will give him a peck on the cheek and he will hold onto me, for balance.

I substitute school. Why, on earth, I don't know. But I do. And I sort of like it--most days.

On Thursday, I was at the Junior High--a place I'd never subbed at before. It has wide hallways and tall lockers and students who were dramatizing about their new health unit on sex ed.
Halfway into 3rd period a 'stay-put' order was issued. At the high school, where I usually teach, that means the police are bringing in the drug dogs to sniff for marijuana and chewing tobacco. But then I heard something about someone being hit by a car in the parking lot. We waited. We did our assignment. We hung out. We started a movie 0n the Revolutionary War, I quickly changed it to the movie "Holes." Someone came to my door.
"We're in lockdown. Put on a movie. It could be two hours, maybe three."
I knew the only thing that needed a three hour lockdown from an accident in the parking lot was an accident with a fatality.
"What happened?" I asked.
They didn't want details released. They didn't want students to know. "A 3 year old was hit by a car in the parking lot." That's all she could tell me.
"What is a three year old doing in the parking lot of the Junior High on a school day?" I asked. But as I said it, I knew: "Oh, no, swimming lessons." She nodded. My heart sank.

I bring my son twice a week to swimming lessons. When I work, his babysitter brings him. The pool and the Junior High share a parking lot. It's not a wide lot. Not one where a car can even move very fast. But I knew, that my son likes to get away from me, that he twists his hand out of mine. I knew that it could have been him. I knew too, that it could have been me, driving when a small child darted -- excited for the hot tub and the warm water and to monkey crawl along the pool walls -- in front of my car.

I still don't know the details of the accident. I just know that it makes your heart hurt for whose child it was and for the one who hit her. I wondered how I could be in a classroom, not far away and not felt the whole world shudder at the loss of such a tiny precious soul. I don't know how one heals from such a loss. I don't know how a parent's heart keeps beating, but it does.

Come Monday morning I will take my son to swimming lessons. I will carry him into the building and hold his hand tightly as we leave. I will breathe the smell of him: boy and sweat and chlorine when I get him dressed. I will give him a peck on the cheek and he will hold onto me, for balance.

I'll hold onto him too.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Water For Elephants

Best Read so far of 2011: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I got sucked into this book by reading the preview thing they offer on Amazon where you can read the first few pages. I immediately fell in love with the main character, Jacob Jankowski, who is a feisty patient in a nursing home watching the circus come to town. We learn that when Jacob was in college he lost his parents in a car accident just before sitting his veterinary exams at Cornell. Rather than finishing his degree, he leaves and joins the circus where he's put in charge of the animals. He falls in love with the circus's rag-tag, decrepit assortment of horses, lions, a chimpanzee, and a later in the novel, one lone elephant. Oh, and he falls in love with another man's wife.

Sara Gruen captivated me first through the character, then through the setting, and then through the plot. I thought all elements were very well done. It is a lovely, enchanting, and engaging book. I couldn't put it down. It appeals to the part of us all that wanted (or still wants) to run away with the circus. We find a life there that is brutal, and base, and exhilarating all at the same time.

It's not a squeaky clean book. There are a couple of things (like a description of the circus exotic dancer/prostitute). So don't say I didn't warn you.

The movie is being released this summer. I, for one, always like to read the book before I see the movie. It will feature Reese Witherspoon and that creepy looking guy from the Twilight movies (maybe this will make me like him).

Me, I'm betting the book is better than the movie.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Today's the Day: New Year Take 2

Today's the Day: New Year Take 2.

Why? Well, I thought this year got off to a sort of rocky start for me. First, the kids were sick. Then I had a bad attitude. Then I just could not get motivated to do anything. Call it the winter blues or whatever I didn't want it setting the tone for the entire year. So I decided to declare a New Year take 2. I mean, hey. I can celebrate again and put myself in a position to expect a better 2011.

Why today? It just feels like a good day. The sun is out. The broken heater in the house is fixed. I'm having lunch with friends. I've already had a good workout today. Dinner is planned and should be easy. I've been cleaning and doing laundry. So far it feels like a good, productive day. The kind of day I want to fill my 2011 with. So there you are.

2011, I'm ready for you.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Worth a Read: for MLK Day

In honor of Martin Luther King Day allow me to share a book which I feel is worth a read:

Read the review from Publisher's Weekly on amazon (see link above). It gives a good overview of the book's character's and plot. The writing of James McBride is poetic and rich and wonderful. So is this story and each of it's characters as well as the background information he gives in the author's notes. This book is well worth the time you'll spend with it. It's worth a read.