Monday, December 31, 2012

new year tomorrow!

I did say to a few students, "See you next year!" and I'll probably say it to Claire and Grant tonight. Can't help it. But I hope I'm asleep at midnight. It's been awhile since I've had a New Year's Eve celebration that involved purposely staying up to greet the twelve chimes. But I think I'll do it again when Claire and Grant are old enough to be really excited about staying up super late, eating shrimp cocktail and caramel corn, watching old movies and playing cards.

It's also been awhile since I've made any New Year Resolutions. I used to make birthday resolutions but quit those too. This afternoon though, I was thinking about what 2013 might bring and made a short list of hopes: healed knee, a return to running. Just that I named those first made me realize I have yet to transcend the physical. But what is right in front of you is right in front of you. Also on the short list was to continue learning how to love and be kind, especially toward those nearest me: again, what is right in front of you is right in front of you. I love Justin, Claire and Grant dearly. Dearly! But I get short with them or frustrated or expect more than they have to give.

A good friend told me I need to remember to give myself grace too. I don't want Love More and Be Kind and Speak Gently to become measures of how short I fall.

I also want to Be Present or, as my dad wrote years ago in a Bible he gave me, "Be there." Very simple and grounding.

I would like to not freak out so much in 2013. I emote. A lot. I think out loud. A lot. Or I scramble to my notebook and write too much. You know, maybe that is just how I am and I can be okay with that in 2013.

I would like to meal plan. I don't like meal planning at all.

Also on the short list is: I want to listen to God and hear what he has to say. At church a man said too many people put God in a box, limit him to their own understanding. I wouldn't mind having my limited understanding blown open to see God in a new way this year.

Yikes. And fun.

When you look at all of this together, and think of all the tangents each of these kinda sorta resolutions offer, well, it isn't a short list at all! Let me continue to grow!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

quiet: rare commodity

Early in my teaching career, I wanted to quit. I really didn't like it. I told myself I got to work with literature and writing - two passions - but that joy didn't cut the wild frustrations of classroom management or paperwork or my own learning curve. I didn't know what teaching would really be like and I became a teacher with the idea that I would quit after a few years to pursue a masters in writing. So I began with the intent of leaving. After three or four years I felt more competent but still wanted to quit after a tough day. I started calling those tough days Cubicle Days. As in: I wish I worked in a cubicle.

And then I would go for a run or have a weekend away from students, and I would usually feel better when first bell rang.

In January, I start two online writing workshops, one focused on parenting. Writing about parenting, I'm guessing, and how to keep your writing life and be a present parent, maybe. So while I have been tracking political cultural social economic news and working my slow way to my own opinions and ideas (and sometimes surrendering to: I just don't know; and sometimes thinking I should just let the news and surrounding opinions be), I have also been thinking about this upcoming course. Writing and parenting. Writing about parenting.

In my notebook, I have made a couple of lists of topics or questions I want to write about. Some of them are prickly, like this: it's quiet now because Justin is out with the kids. Ten minutes before they left, I thought I'd turn inside out waiting for them to get out the door so the whole apartment could be quiet. And then they were at the door and I couldn't just call goodbye from the kitchen; I had to go kiss the fat baby cheeks and whisper love in their ears. The prickly part of that is how much I sometimes want the whole apartment to myself so I can be quiet alone. I want sleep in a similarly tangible way, or airplane rides without a little person on my lap.

Maybe a year ago, a friend and I were talking about parenting and selfishness. I said parenting was the ultimate lesson in selflessness. And she said that God would have taught me that in another way if I hadn't had children. So I have Cubicle Days in parenting too, when I wonder how else I might learn to be gentle with my voice or patient with routine, when I wonder why I am a mother to learn these things.

The kids are out and the apartment is quiet and I haven't worked my way to an end on this, but I'm done. I will be happy to for the noise of play, but this quiet is too sweet.

Friday, December 28, 2012

staying with me

I am still thinking about the school shooting.

I think most of us have events or books or understandings that stick. When I was in seventh or eighth grade I read The Diary of Anne Frank and curled up on my bunk bed crying because  Anne was never going to be a teacher. One summer during college, I was driving and heard the news about the mom who drowned her kids in the bathtub and I parked in front of the library and screamed.

And now I think about the shooting and the families and friends waking and eating breakfast or not eating breakfast and walking through their grief and falling asleep or not falling asleep. I listen to and read debates about what this means for the country and gun control and gun culture and violence and mental health provisions and school security and media coverage. Early in the reporting, when everyone but the NRA was eager to say something about Newtown and what this means, I heard Huckabee's quote linking the removal of God from public schools and the trail of shootings.

That almost undid me.

It's difficult to explain exactly why that viewpoint made me angry and sad at once. First, I believe God is present. I don't think legislation alters where God exists.

But that quote also needled another thought: the United States is not a wholly (or holy) Christian nation. Some of its first citizens loved God and sought His will, but not all. And some of the people living in the US now also love God and seek His will, but not all. There are many different faiths and while politicians may legislate morality, they cannot legislate a single faith. And Christians should understand that, because their faith is a walk, a journey, a run, a trek, a crawl, a climb that is innately personal and profound.

That personal faith spills into everyday life when Christians live what they believe right where they are. They are in office cubicles and board meetings and truck stops and college registrars and newspapers and banks and police stations and hospitals and coffee shops and department stores. And they are in schools. So God's love is being lived out in our world.

And God's love isn't lost because kids in public schools don't start their day with a prayer. God is bigger than that.

So I have been thinking about the Newtown victims and praying for their families and friends and neighbors in the community who hold close the sorrow and loss, will hold that sorrow for a long time yet. And I have been wrestling with my own unfinished what this means issues. Shortly before the Sandy Hook shooting, I was standing at the window looking out at the desert and Gulf and the apartment buildings between and I had a little heart cry: How do I live here? Here in Kuwait, but also here in this world. And I sensed God saying to simply walk close to him. Love him. Seek him. I complicate things and I want definitive answers about what this means but right now I also want to simply walk close to my God.

When I feel overwhelmed by sadness about the shooting and the young victims, I tell myself it is okay to feel sad for people I have never met, for a situation that isn't mine. And then, I think carefully about how to pray. Sometimes I pray for a specific family when their child's face comes to mind. Sometimes I pray for peace.

I can't write more without crying.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

'twas the day after christmas

Has anyone written this yet?

I started my morning early, on the elliptical. I've been cross-training for the knee, taking the impact off the joint so any sad little ligaments or tendons get a fuller rest than fast walking or slooow jogging allows. I like the elliptical because I sweat and since chopping running from my day, I have missed sweating. It made me cranky not to sweat.

Then I had two cups of coffee before ten in the morning. I don't wake up with coffee. When I drink coffee, it's usually a mid morning or afternoon mocha. So two cups in a row - made a little strong, unmeasured in our French press - made me jittery enough to sail through what I started earlier this month:

Organize.

Or:

Throw away a bunch of stuff we don't use or need.

I spent Christmas Eve in the kitchen, baking and sorting cupboards, taking inventory of curry sauces I bought for easy meals and a bag of black beans I didn't remember having. A week before that, I went through the old science lab drawers and cupboards we have along one wall of our dining room. I took each drawer out and dumped its contents on the dining table. I was merciless. I didn't think about who might use paperless dusty crayon halves. I just threw them away. And not too long before that, I sorted the kids' clothes and put together a stack for donation.

So I have really enjoyed getting rid of junk.

And this morning, two cups of coffee and Christmas music a little too loud, and the kids wandering in pajamas or tutus, I plowed through the pile on my desk, in my desk drawer, my school bag, the kids' toy shelves, and our gigantic bookshelf. I made a teeny tiny bag of three things someone I know might use. Everything else, I pitched: tape-laden paper airplanes Claire has been making lately, old markers that are nearly dead, more sad little crayon pieces (I know there is a Sunday school teacher who would iron those between waxed paper to make stained glass windows, but I don't know who she is or when she'll come along to take all these crayon pieces); puzzle pieces with their nubs gnawed off, Happy Meal toys, old lists and receipts.

Everything doesn't have a place.

I found things I didn't want to pitch, but couldn't think of how to place. I solved that dilemma by stuffing travel brochures in with my writing files and putting all "school stuff" in one giant Ikea box on our shelf. It looks tidy. Another giant box has stacks of dvds and cds hiding inside and a third box I call "Stuff Justin Has to Figure Out What to Do With." A fourth box is empty.

I've been working from one end of the apartment to the other. So tomorrow, I tackle the bedroom. I'd like to know what it really looks like to tackle a bedroom. In the past, it's looked like my closet throwing up. But that is what my room already looks like - partly because I knew tomorrow would come and I didn't feel like putting away what I would soon take out to decide: keep or not.

This morning while sifting through Memory game cards and puzzle pieces and Legos, I thought about what we let in. This Christmas season, I had a chance to talk with Claire about stuff and gifts and wanting and needing. Short conversations while out shopping or playing or after Christmas parties. I tried not to be didactic. Everything I said to her, I need to hear too. Which is why, as Justin and I planned Christmas gifts for the kids, I kept thinking about what we have and what we use and what just takes up space. Which is why I began opening cupboards and dumping drawers. And that has led to me asking how I can be more careful about material things I let in our space.

What is your relationship with stuff?

Monday, December 17, 2012

sandy hook elementary

On Saturday morning, Justin came into the kitchen and told me to give Claire and Grant extra hugs today. He was shaken and I asked what happened and he told me about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown. We stood in the kitchen holding each other and crying and then wiping tears away because Claire came in and asked what was wrong. I told her we were sad.

Later that morning, alone in the apartment, I read about the shooting and cried again.

And that night, laying in bed I thought about parents in Newtown, the day after so much about their lives changed. I cried again and had such an ache inside.

When I was twelve, I saw Polly Klass on a magazine cover at the grocery store checkout. I was there on an errand, read the headline - something about a confession of murder or a body found - and walked home with the gallon of milk. I told my mom what I'd read. Polly was a year younger than me. Mom held me while I cried and she kissed my forehead and held me as long as I needed. She told me I have a tender heart and that it is a gift.

Empathy is a gift. We don't need to grapple with what we think we're supposed to feel about an event. We don't need to summon an immediate opinion or solution. I am okay just being sad for a little while. But in the middle of my sadness, I have also thought about the insight of empathy. My children did not die in a school shooting. It was not my school or my town. But when I think about Sandy Hook Elementary and the Newtown community, my sorrow is heavy. I whisper short, ineloquent but fervent prayers. Prayers born of feeling a fraction of sadness Newtown carries today.

Last night we took the kids to a Christmas tree lighting. I didn't want to go because I was tired. Our family has been swapping coughs and bellyaches for almost two weeks and my sleep hasn't been good. But Justin wanted to go, I think partly because we are both raw at the reminder that life remains so uncertain. We ate dinner out before the tree lighting. In the bathroom, another American woman started talking about the shooting. She'd seen my family, she said, the two little kids. She lost a child thirty years ago to cancer and so understands the grief a parent endures, but to lose a child so quickly, she said, that - and neither of us had anything to say about that kind of loss.

Friday, November 30, 2012

friday five: a whole month!?

I did it! I managed to blog each day for the month of November. My comments on the process:
  1. Thank you for your comments! I liked hearing from you. I think of Steve as the Champion Commenter. He decided that if I could blog each day this month, he could post a comment. But each of you who left comments: thank you too! And there are a few of you who commented on my blog in conversation, and I appreciate that too. Fun to send all this out, but nice to get a reply echoed back.
  2. I thought I might find a new theme for my blog but I haven't. There are blogs devoted to cooking, politics, mommyhood, loss, spirituality, empowerment, homemaking, happiness, running, books and and and! So many people have so much to say about so many things. My blog remains a mash. I want to make it a tidier mash and update my blog roll, perhaps redo my labels, and put a new picture of me up. I have bangs now.
  3. Blogging daily is a time commitment. I knew that going into the month. I like to make time most days to write but a lot of that writing isn't for you to read - it's rough or personal or wandering. (Some of this month's posts may fit that description. Hm). Making time to write and quickly review what I posted took between twenty minutes and an hour. When a post took longer to write, it was usually because I was rereading and revising a few sentences or the order of my ideas, hoping to be better understood.
  4. I have long said I enjoy writing essays. And a couple of posts this month will serve as starts to longer pieces. One of the workshops I'll begin in January is called Balancing and Other Acts: Parents Who Write and the focus is narrative nonfiction. I'm looking forward to culling my blog for ideas that deserve a finished work.
  5. This month has not made me more of a blog reader. I usually read blogs in chunks, getting lost for an hour in updated posts. So I have less of a daily fix, unless I notice someone on my blog roll updated. But my blog roll itself needs updating! A couple years ago, I regularly checked a few blogs and added comments and felt entwined in a small virtual way to lives of people I hadn't met. I thought I might read more blogs this month since I was posting daily, but I did not. I am okay keeping my blog reading sporadic bursts. I still feel entwined.  
What a fun month! Glad you were each along for the read.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

an oasis in

Kuwait.

Last year or the year before I began thinking of my time here as an oasis.

Kuwait is difficult. Not all the time but enough of the time. I still like our life here, but Kuwait can be a difficult place for me. (Shall I qualify that statement with the next: Every place can be a difficult place to be! Really, we all know that, right?) But because Kuwait can be difficult for me, the understanding that it is also an oasis is sweet: God meets where I am and right now I am in Kuwait.

But sometimes what this time here has felt like is one thing after another. (Go ahead and qualify that by reminding me that the definition of life is one thing after another). I have been seized by worry and fear. I have hated. I have been angry. I have felt completely lost. I have wanted what I cannot have. I have ached. And God has been so faithful to meet me where I am. And I am in Kuwait.

You cannot really escape in Kuwait. You can fly out or drive out to the desert. But when I want to escape I am usually stuck in traffic and stuck in Kuwait and wanting so badly - wanting so badly to run away, drive far, find a place where I can scream or sleep or be quiet.

Sometimes I think I am here because I cannot run away. I am made to stay and made to seek and learn. Sometimes, though, the understanding that comes feels nothing like an oasis. I am there now.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

strong finish

When I ran in high school I loved the kick at the end of a race. It burned and killed and made me dizzy if I did it right. My coach said that if I had that much at the end, I wasn't running smart. He was probably right.

I don't have that much at the end of this run. A couple more days to call it a full month of blogging and that's great! I knew I could do it, but I wasn't sure I would. I almost have.

I am running out of words.

Tomorrow I will have a bit of a kick. I hope.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

possibly more than i can chew, but what fun!

I need to renew my teaching certification next summer and the minimum requirement is six credits. Okay. Last time I did this, I took a couple of cheap classes with coursework that was mostly repeat of my college teaching methods classes. Boor-ring.

What I want is to earn an MFA in writing. But graduate credits are pricey and the paycheck payoff is minimal and the time commitment seems a little big for me right now. While I haven't been in a rush to apply to any graduate programs, I still need credits to keep my teaching certification.

What I wanted to find was an online writing workshop that offered credits. A lot of colleges and universities offer writing workshops for no credit and if I wasn't keeping my certification, those would be a great option.

So guess what I finally found? Stanford Continuing Studies offers online writing workshops for credit. Two workshops, six credits, ten weeks. Very excited to be part of a workshop! Very excited to write in new directions!

The classes begin in January so I have time to look at my schedule and see where I need to reorganize my time. Right now I am just so glad to have found credits that won't ask me to create an umpteenth classroom management plan. So excited to write and workshop!

Monday, November 26, 2012

why i blog

I just deleted everything I wrote. Because it began with

Or: why I bother.

The thing is, I don't really know why I blog. I started blogging to share our overseas adventure with family and friends. But I also started blogging because I write a lot and most of that is stuck in a notebook or file and I want to share my writing.

This blog may not be optimal publication but it is sending my words out.

I also blog because I think through writing. I mean, I write my way through decisions and fears and understandings. And some of what I learn I share. Much of the time, I share all the middle parts of learning.

Sometimes I wish I blogged anonymously. There are things I would like to say about my faith, marriage, family, in-laws, parenting, relationships, work, time, church, politics, books - things that I would like to say but don't because a blog begun as a way to share our overseas life with friends and family is a poor place to post what fits better in my notebook or shared with groups of trusted friends.

But I don't lie here either. I just don't say everything that flies through my head.

What I've been realizing recently is that I don't have to be shy about learning my faith or figuring out parenting. Or talking about other parts of my life.

It's such a process!

Sometimes I think this blog is a place for family and friends to get to know me in a new way. What I write here, I will talk with you about. I might not say, hey, God is teaching me about hope and, wow, is my hope ever tentative. I might not open with that unless you're one of my Bible study friends. But I put here. And anything I put on this blog, I am willing to share with you in a bigger conversation some day.

When I blog, I can't see your face. That makes me think about quitting blogging because I post something important or serious and I can't see you smile or laugh or shake your head or sigh. There is a dialogue through comments but it isn't like a conversation over coffee. So in this way, blogging really is publication: I send my words out and you make of them what you will.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

knee news

I went to a different physical therapist today and

and

and

The knee is still in trouble and there is still no big name for this trouble but the hope is that with continued physical therapy exercises, the supporting muscles will do a better job of supporting the knee joint and underdeveloped underused forgotten misplaced muscle groups will step up and join the party to keep my legs walking and someday running again.

Sprinkle commas liberally in that sentence.

What remains a mystery is why my knee swells every couple of weeks. There is no great pain preceding the swelling or suffered during the swelling so there is still no answer as to why my knee puffs up so often.

When the physical therapist asked me what I do when my knee swells, I told him I cry. And that I also ice. I didn't say that neither seem to do much good.

But as for hope and waiting patiently, I have started to imagine running again. I am not running now. I won't run for awhile yet. And before I would think of running and start crying or get angry because it was gone gone gone and I didn't deserve to run because I'd made it such a Big Deal and was selfish about the time it took and and and - I just ate up all the ugly parts of being injured and self-pitying and I assumed I simply deserved to lose something I enjoyed so much.

I turned this injury and rest into a really big punishment. I made it mean.

What I didn't do for a couple of months is say out loud that I thought God wanted me to take a break. That there was something to learn from a season of rest. Rest is good. Bodies and minds need rest. But we don't always want what we need. Right now, I would much rather have my mundane running routine than sit with a swollen knee and a list of physical therapy exercises. But I need rest from the running and I need to become stronger so that I can run again.

Funny that rest should now provide strength.

But hope, again: I have started to imagine running. Here is what I picture: a favorite road in Wisconsin, autumn or early spring, cool enough for long sleeves pulled over my hands. Or: sweating a fartlek on the treadmill while watching water trucks cross the desert and sun come up over the Gulf. Or: a place I haven't been, a trail somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, green enough and clean enough to make me think of heaven.

I don't feel defiant in my hope, but assured: this rest is good and I will run again.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

three word games

I like words. When I was in high school I carried around a thesaurus. I am sure my English teachers appreciated the reach of my vocabulary if not its clean accuracy. Here are three word games you can spend the weekend playing:

Scrabble. I think everyone knows this one. Oldie. Goodie. And infuriating when you have a shelf of vowels. But land that triple word and the world is right again.

Bananagrams. Such a fun game! Like Scrabble, it's an acrostic game with letter tiles. The game comes with a couple of different ways you can play or you can add your own house rules. This is a faster game than Scrabble and based on finishing first rather than points.

Quiddler. This card game is the most fun if you have a group. You can play Scrabble and Bananagrams with just two people and feel an even match, but Quiddler is much better with at least three or four to play. The game is made up of rounds; each round you add another card to your hand. Cards have a single letter or a letter cluster such as "cl" or "qu." Cards have point values, so this game combines speed - make your words first - and points to make it a little more complex than Bananagrams.

Friday, November 23, 2012

friday five: places to go

Playing off of number thirty-three in my last post: daydreams. Here are five places I would like to go:

  1. Back to Italy. Justin says that this is a trip to take with my parents so we can see together where my family lived when I was very little.
  2. Seattle. Partly because I read Where'd You Go, Bernadette, partly because I listen to a podcast from the city, partly because friends have gone and liked it, but mostly because I like gray days.
  3. Jordan, again. I really enjoyed our trip a couple years ago and would like to take the kids when they are older. We might even cross the border into Israel.
  4. Turkey. Such an old important country.
  5. Ireland, because some days in the desert I would simply like to drown in green.
I'd also like a writing holiday in Paris, a summer in Norway, a month on Lake Superior, a short winter visit home, and a place with a hammock in Colombia.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

thankful for

  1. ten minutes of quiet
  2. plenty
  3. cake
  4. cooler weather here
  5. staying alive on the roads
  6. a job I enjoy
  7. kids that crack me up
  8. a husband that loves me even when I am a little unlovable
  9. a writing life
  10. books
  11. God
  12. learning His love
  13. clouds in the sky after months of clear bright sun
  14. our Fahaheel seawall walk
  15. online recipes
  16. parchment paper
  17. unsalted butter
  18. fresh baked bread
  19. crayons and markers and paper
  20. Pentel RSVP pens, fine point, black
  21. electricity
  22. playing Scrabble with Justin
  23. family
  24. good friends who feel like family
  25. days out
  26. mochas
  27. comfortable bed
  28. the moon
  29. treadmill
  30. colors
  31. forgiveness and healing
  32. sleep
  33. dreams and daydreams

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

drawing with mom

One of my favorite memories is laying on the floor with a brown paper bag opened flat and a box of crayons spilled out. We laid on our bellies and Mom was on the floor with us, each of us filling a space of the brown paper with color.

We have a little table for Claire and Grant and little chairs Justin and I sit at too. We open blank notebooks or tape down butcher block paper or use the back sides of old school letters or tests. We can never keep a box of crayons new for long and markers have tattooed legs and arms. But Justin and I both like to sit with Claire and Grant, drawing.

Many times in the middle of drawing another tree or fish or airplane - frequent requests - I think of Mom laying on her belly, drawing pictures with me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

worst date?

More like misguided, overanyalzed or underwhelming.

I did not date in high school and paid only marginal attention to my friends who were dating. Dating was this big mystery thing that I might do once I went off to college and the selection was varied. Dating in a small high school begins to look incestuous after four years. Later, as a high school teacher, I heard enough student gossip to realize that those kids who didn't leave home after graduation were bound to have a few awkward family reunions.

But my own dating life in high school was nonexistent. I don't think my parents were opposed to me dating; in fact, my younger sister is married to her high school sweetheart. But enough of my friends told me that there was just no one in my hometown for me and I believed it. I was kind of weird. And oblivious to a lot of pop culture. So right there, you  have little to talk about on the drive to and from the movie theatre.

Perhaps I am very lucky to not have a worst date story. Though I suspect I may be someone else's worst date story. Any dating I did in college I did not like to call dating. Once a guy I had been hanging out with for a while introduced me as his girlfriend and I almost threw up. And he was a really super nice guy! In my head, dating meant we were bound for marriage. It at least meant he should meet my parents.

So I called it hanging out because changing the name works. You tend to avoid The Relationship Talk and meeting parents if you keep insisting you're just hanging out. Actually, in my case, usually I was just hanging out. Once a guy I had been hanging out with asked me to go for a walk in the campus nature reserve. Where he started The Relationship Talk and I got a little fuzzy thinking: oh, this could be nice. And then he concluded The Relationship Talk saying that maybe we had a chance in another ten years. Subtle.

So not the worst dates ever. Not really even dates. Oh well. I tried to think of a good one, Kristine. Alas, I have no romantic comedy in my past.

Monday, November 19, 2012

mistakes were made

The icky non-apology-apology.

I've been thinking about Steve's question about my biggest mistake. I ticked off a list in my head and decided that kind of post might land in the hiring/firing folder, lose me friends, and worry my mom.

While this may not be my biggest mistake, I got really lost once and still feel awful about it.

In college, I volunteered with a small group of students who visited a juvenile detention center once a month to lead poetry workshops. I used to think about those kids all the time. They were sad and broken and recovering or not and their anger and pain came out of hands clenching pencils and voices that spoke too low to really hear. After a couple of workshops, the boys got comfortable and spoke up and really liked to read their poetry. And I really liked working with them. I did this for three semesters and the last semester I was in charge of driving volunteers up to the detention center. Usually I drove with a copilot who remembered the turn-offs or I had a map. The last drive up, I had no map, we were already a little late, and I guessed that after a year of visiting this place, I'd recognize the roads and get there.

I didn't recognize the roads and we didn't get there. I remember the drive being a lot of pine trees and county highways named K and H. The other student and I talked about whether to keep looking or just turn around and go back to Point. Eventually we turned around. I had a knot in my stomach. In the backseat were boxes of the boys' poetry, typed and bound in a short anthology for each to keep.

I felt awful. I felt awful because I was missing my last poetry workshop with those boys. I felt awful because they'd each contributed poetry for the anthology and we wouldn't get to open it together. I just felt awful.

I called the teachers at the detention center school. One was more understanding and forgiving than the other. The other yelled at me and told me I had let them all down. I had. Mistakes weren't made. I got lost because I didn't bring a map and because I got lost, the boys spent an hour waiting for us to show up to a poetry workshop. The angry teacher yelled that after all the people who had let these boys down, now I had too. I called my coordinating professor, crying because I had messed up and felt stupid and angry and couldn't do anything to make it right.

I didn't go back to the detention center or see those boys again. I talked with other volunteers and my professor and the teachers again after time cooled anger to disappointment. I still feel awful. Sometimes I feel like anything I or the boys learned about poetry or from each other during those workshops is negated by a drive of tall pines on either side of the road, a knot in my stomach, and a box of boys' poetry in the backseat.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

hoarding

This morning I bought four bottles of light corn syrup. Four. I usually purchase things in odd numbers but today was an even day at the grocery store because I also counted out ten apples: four gala and six golden. I was okay with those even numbers because they add up to ten, which, while even, is a nice number. Tell me I am not alone in favoring certain numbers, or loving the odds over the evens. But the corn syrup. I almost added another bottle to make it a nice five but decided it would all be okay since one of the bottles is for a friend who talked about looking for corn syrup and not finding it and the other three are for me.

I just drink the stuff.

No. I don't. I use it to make caramel corn. And, well, that's about it. And now I have enough corn syrup to make enough caramel corn to eat my way into the twenty-twenties. Yea ambition!

But while I stood in the aisle looking at what might be the only stock of light corn syrup in Kuwait, I realized I am not so far removed from the people who devote an entire room in their house to their Costco purchases. Instead of forty-five gazillion rolls of toilet paper or thirty pounds of granola bars, I'm packing my shelves with light corn syrup. Oh, and: brown sugar, chocolate chips and baking bars, fruit leather, whole rolled oats, vanilla beans, and Forest Feast dried fruit. I also have a dwindling Trader Joe's stash of sesame cashews. And each summer home I stock up on toiletries: sticks of antiperspirant, tubs of Cetaphil, and enough lady stuff that the cashier must wonder if I am joining a Northwoods militia. Nope. I pack it for Kuwait because products here are hit and miss. A lot of miss, actually.

Which is why I checked the expiration date on the light corn syrup and thought, hey, if I'm here in 2015, chances are I'll still want to make a bowl of caramel corn.

Later, though, I thought about times when I've said no to the buy-for-the-apocalypse impulse. I didn't die. I missed some good chocolate. But I didn't die. I ate the other good chocolate. That steps too close to being flippant, but what I want to say about hoarding is: I do it. And I say that it's okay because I bake a lot or share the vanilla beans or have a bag of chocolate chips if you're making cookies. Maybe it is okay.

But I also live in a country where in line at the grocery store is a young man buying flatbread for his lunch, thinking about a soda too before putting it back in the case.

So here is what I am reading and thinking about:
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Matthew 6:25 
I wonder what my grocery shopping would look like if I carried that verse around the store with me. I would have walked out with two bottles of corn syrup, one for my friend and one for me. And wouldn't that be plenty?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

pulling teeth

And other metaphors for a writing a blog post into -

Into what? The blogosphere? Interweb? Oblivion? Into a vast network of unread stuff that will surface to great import only if I am ever up for hiring or firing? Ack.

Descriptors and metaphors for sitting down to write today's post:

Agony
Boredom
(not) Cat's meow
Dread
Electric cut out mid thought
Fear I'll say something perfect for the hiring/firing folder
Grouchy
Hair pulling
I want to quit this month early
jk (oh, and I loathe text speak)
(but can I count) jk twice now?
Look out for anticlimactic posts this week!
Meh
No ideas
Oh dear
Poor me
Quit griping and type
Right now
See: almost done
Though I'll admit, it's a half-hearted march to the end
Universally unappealing
Very dull
Whatever, fine, okay, here's the daily post
Xylophone, the x always such a problem letter!
You tell me what to write!
Zzzzz.

I mean it on the y. If you're reading this, give me a topic in the comments before I poke my eyes out. This was a terrible terrible idea! Help me salvage it!

Friday, November 16, 2012

extremely loud and incredibly close: a novel

Funny that Stetson wondered what I thought of this book because I tried writing my longer take on the book a couple of times before leaving it for another day. I might have had a difficult time writing about the novel because I'd just finished it and sometimes a book sits with me for awhile before I can think about what I really thought of it.

I read the book on my Kindle; Jonathan Safran Foer arranged his novel to include photographs and pages that are written as letters or manuscripts so while I got to see the graphic elements of the novel, I don't think I fully appreciated them at first. As I read on, I could better see links between the play of images and the narration. The novel is written with a slow progression toward getting who the characters are, what they've each experienced individually and collectively. I thought a lot about generations and the stories and lives that layer from parent to child to grandchild.

Parts of this book made me cry. It is set in the immediate days, weeks, months after 9/11. The kid in the book is Oskar and his father dies in 9/11 and while some conversations or vignettes are funny, the constant remained an ached that this boy is living with a gigantic rock in his heart. Because Oskar narrates from a young mind, the details he reveals seem truer. He hasn't had a decade to reframe his loss or the tragedy and his own emotional response: he simply tells his moment.

Between Oskar's own narrations are letters from Oskar's grandmother and grandfather, his father's parents. Those letters tell the story of their youth and marriage. And parts of their story are wrenching. And parts are everyday and parts are almost unbelievable. Except that not much in this world, with all the lives being lived right this minute, not much is really that unbelievable.

I don't want to tell much about the stories themselves. I started this book knowing very little about its plot. I think  that may be the best way to read this one. I didn't read it quickly. I walked my way through it. And when I did find the end, I thought it was a great end.


Note about the movie: I also do not want to watch it. I liked the book enough and saw enough in my mind that I don't want a movie to alter the people I met in Extremely Loud. I did go to the IMBd site and was really upset that Ron wasn't included in the movie, unless a similar role is played under a different name. I think one of the themes of Extremely Loud is the closeness of tragedy. In the middle, you may think you are so so alone, but the men and women and children around you are likely not far removed from tragedy. I really liked Ron in the book. I thought he was important to the story.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

halfway!

Day fifteen of blogging in a thirty day month! I'm a little surprised I haven't quit yet. I remember a few two mile races in high school when lap three had me tired of the round again round again - and I still had five laps to run.

Other Halfway Things:
I am halfway to sixty-four years old.
Justin is halfway to sixty-six years old.
Claire is halfway to eight.
Grant is halfway to four.

Okay. If I blogged this in the morning, I might have a better list.

We are halfway through our long weekend. School was cancelled on Sunday after Saturday night's spectacular fiftieth anniversary celebration of Kuwait's constitution. Does anything say Happy 50 like fifteen million dollars worth of fireworks? We skipped the fireworks. We have two excuses for rarely heading into the city at night: traffic and kids. We would have enjoyed the fireworks but, oh well. (Sometimes I am afraid I used all my adventuresome spirit just propelling us out of Wisconsin. Then I remember that some things really will be easier once everyone is potty trained and I don't need to pack snacks).

So halfway through our long weekend: school was cancelled on Sunday and then we had a scheduled holiday for yesterday and today and the regular weekend is Friday and Saturday. There you go. And we've been having a great weekend! Yesterday morning Claire and I took a walk along the Corniche with friends and this morning Grant came along for another walk with friends in Fahaheel. Two walks in two days! Gorgeous weather. I love the way the kids' hair smells after a morning in the sun.

Halfway through November: post topics! I have two in my head, but fifteen days of November left!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

keeping in touch

I have a friend here who is moving next month. I actually don't want to talk about that goodbye. I'm keeping it an abstract thing that will happen sometime soon but since it isn't right in front of me (next month is kind of right in front of me), I am not dwelling on how sad another goodbye to another good friend is. It is sad. I am just not thinking about it all the time.

Because I have said goodbye to many many good friends for years. Years!

What I've been wondering about lately is: what is "keeping in touch"? Facebook? Skype? Emailing regularly? Checking each other's blogs?

In college I got interested in the lives of pioneer women and their families. And when we moved abroad, I thought about how different it is for us to leave home today. Pioneer women headed west knowing they would likely never see their hometowns again. We go home nearly every summer. Pioneer women wrote long letters that took months to arrive, but they were precious and personal letters to family and friends. I like a Facebook post or picture or write a quick email saying I miss you. I really do miss you: friends who were such a part of our routine and are now far away. I miss the conversations and coffees and walks or runs together, dinners shared. I miss that.

But as I am about to add another goodbye and another far away friend, I wonder about how to keep in touch in a way that feeds friendship.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

stupid knee

I actually don't want to write about my knee, but I will.

I quit running because I became too dependent on my daily run, perhaps more dependent on my daily run than I was on the God who gave me legs to run. But I mostly quit running because an ignored, likely mistreated, as-yet-un-officially-diagnosed knee injury ground my running to a halt. I have run through numerous injuries in the past. And I ran through this knee twinge at first and then I got angry and cried a lot because going slow and cutting miles didn't help and I didn't want to do what I sensed I needed to do all along: quit.

Not forever, but for a time. Or maybe forever. I don't know.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about my knee. I get tired of thinking about my knee. And I get tired of physical therapy that yields little progress. On Sunday I am getting a second opinion from another physical therapist but I am expecting much the same response as the first. The joint itself has little physical pain except when swollen and even then, minimal; but it swells every week or week and a half for three to five days, a frustrating cycle. It's a knee alignment issue. Okay. But my inner quad muscles aren't getting strong enough fast enough to pull the kneecap into proper alignment.

I also pray about my knee. I hope it heals. I also pray that I just endure this injury with a measure of grace. I still get angry and cry because I physically ache for a long run and all that heat and sweat.

You can put this into perspective for me: some people have no legs or cancer or live in the middle of a war or had a mother die when they were young or just lost a house. And I am upset because I cannot run or squat to help my toddler put his shoes on. I put this knee injury in perspective for myself all the time. I think of all the things I am grateful for: I can walk, my knee isn't causing me debilitating pain, I can still play with my kids. But I am still snagged by the thing I cannot have right now: running.

I miss it too much.

Lousy indoor treadmill running. I actually miss that.

A few weeks ago at church, we were singing and a couple asked Justin if I was experiencing right knee pain. God was telling them to pray for me. Since February I have been praying that this stupid knee just heal: praying for wisdom in treatment, that the physical therapy build muscular strength, that no lasting joint damage result.

I know I shouldn't call it my stupid knee. When I am frustrated and angry, I call it stupid. Sometimes I say other, meaner, totally ungrateful things too. And I know I shouldn't.

So when this woman asked if she could pray for me knee, I nodded and started crying because it is startling for a woman you have not met to know that your knee needs healing. Here's the thing: it isn't healed yet. It didn't happen like on a televangelist show. But I hope it will heal.  

So tied up with this knee thing is an internal dialogue about how big God is and does he heal in New Testament Jesus ways? He does. But my knee still swells. I am not running. I am not particularly joyful sacrificing running. I nibble at doubt and reach for hope. My knee injury has prompted a marquee of questions: am I really hoping? is it because I am doubting? what do I have to do to be healed? do I need to phrase my prayer differently? isn't it about grace? why can't I be content? what else do I depend on more than God? how do I know it's Him I hear? when will I get it? when will I get His love for me? when will I understand what that love is? why can't that love be healing my knee? can I say I believe He will heal? are faith healings real? really real? then why isn't my knee healed?

Gets to be a fun mess. The uncertainty and tentative hope is excruciating. Learning to live beyond such momentary light affliction because it is just that: momentary and light. And being humbled to see just how little I know of how my life is ordered. I want the long view. I want to know the growth from this. I want to know if I am healed, if I run again. And I sense God simply saying to wait.

So I will see a new physical therapist on Sunday and hear what he has to say, perhaps take a different treatment approach. And I will keep praying. And I will wait.

Monday, November 12, 2012

realizing anew

Yesterday afternoon I laid down to nap with Claire. She was supposed to sleep and let me rest too, but she wanted to be a cat or to show me her baby cow dressed in one of Grant's newborn onesies. She burrowed under the covers and popped up to lean over my face, goofy grin. It was sweet time. We snuggled, she pretended to sleep with snoring noises that made both of us giggle.

In the end, she didn't nap at all. She's moving out of that anyway. Justin took her on an errand to buy paint which led to a kid's hot chocolate at Caribou which became a walk along the beach picking up shells. She had a great afternoon.

Sometimes I think how neat it is that I get to watch this person grow.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

veterans day

I know a few former military men and women who work in Kuwait as contractors. Last year I met a woman chaplain who served in Afghanistan. And any time we fly from here, I notice troops with their duffels, flying home or flying further away from home. A couple years ago, I met a young man flying home for a short leave to meet his new baby daughter. And when I think of a small group of soldiers waiting for a flight to Kandahar, I wonder where they are now.

My parents met in Italy while serving in the Air Force. When I was seven, Dad left the Air Force and settled our family in Wisconsin. I have a friend here who grew up on bases and I sometimes wonder who I'd be if I'd finished growing up on bases.

When I was seventeen, I thought about joining the Air Force but didn't. There are many of us who haven't served in the military and do not know the unique challenges and costs of that kind of service, wartime or not. But as a nation we are learning the toll of combat service and need to address ways to serve the very people who serve our country. Today is a day for gratitude and so I do thank military men and women for their service. And I thank Dad and Mom for their service.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

breakfast! two recipes

Perhaps one of my favorite meals! The other two are lunch and dinner.

A couple of years ago, my dear friend Monica gave me her copy of The Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond. I have a few favorite recipes from that book but added a new favorite the other week. French Breakfast Puffs. These are an easy treat that look and taste like you spent a lot of time in the kitchen. I used mini muffin tins and made a gazillion from one batch. They freeze well so if there are any leftover, keep them for a lazy morning next weekend.

Another PW recipe I like enough to make too often is her Cinnamon Baked French Toast. Seriously. I eat this hot at breakfast and cold at lunch. What is great about this recipe is you can modify it to fit the ingredients you have on hand - it's essentially a bread pudding. If you want to add another taste to the French toast, top with thinly sliced, peeled apples before adding the brown sugar crumble and baking.

So go make a nice Sunday morning breakfast today and sleep in tomorrow!

Friday, November 9, 2012

friday five: podcasts

Podcasts I regularly listen to and enjoy:

  • Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California - I first found Cornerstone after reading Crazy Love by Francis Chan who was then the lead pastor at the church. Francis and his family have since moved and now minister in San Fransisco. I started listening to Cornerstone podcasts shortly after the lead pastor position went to Todd Nighswonger. The sermon series are taught by different pastors at the church and each pastor has unique strengths. The teaching is from the Bible and draws from relevant historical and cultural sources too. Cornerstone also takes time to address misunderstandings or teachings that need further explanation within their own church body. The sermon series invite response. I know the pastors are teaching to a group of people in California, but the messages are applicable in Kuwait too.
  • Fresh Air with Terry Gross - The iTunes podcast switch its formatting so that you can now choose which segments of the show you want to hear. I love this change because of a forty-five minute show, I might be most interested in a twenty minute interview. And I enjoy Fresh Air because of the absolute variety of people and subjects covered.
  • Stuff You Missed in History Class with Deblina and Sarah - History is fun! And these two women from the How Stuff Works site discuss a range of historical periods, places and people. Deblina and Sarah run with listener suggestions and include listener mail in their podcast. The podcasts are usually twenty or thirty minutes long but if a topic requires more time, they carry it into a two-parter or a short series. I love this podcast.
  • PBS Frontline - Really, just full coverage on current issues or ideas. I think that Frontline is very fair and purposeful in their reporting. The stories they cover are substantial and important, sometimes under reported or misreported elsewhere. If you go to their site and scroll down, the left side lists recent episodes; like Fresh Air, Frontline offers great variety. And you learn a lot. One of my favorite episodes is Digital Nation which should spark a conversation about our everyday use of technology.
  • Radiolab with Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich - First, great names, right? I started listening to Radiolab four years ago. I can't remember how I found them, but it might have been through This American Life. TAL and Radiolab both choose themes for their shows but Radiolab's themes are often rooted in science or the mind. And while TAL is an excellent standard for radio storytelling, Radiolab takes sound risks like repeating or layering voices that sometimes work just perfectly. Other times, the wild sounds make Radiolab feel busy. (Which might, thematically, be the point). I think Jad and Robert have grown as hosts and know that their conversations and questions are important for the listener to hear - Jad and Robert do not agree on all issues so make a round discussion. A fun podcast, but often a  thinking podcast too.

Just to note, I've linked the shows websites here, but each are available for download on iTunes. I find it easier to subscribe to them there than visit individual sites.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

sestina!



I wrote this sestina in the spring, an homage to the Post Secret website. I liked Post Secret better five years ago. But over the years of reading other peoples' secrets, I noticed a few English teacher things: spelling and grammatical errors and a proliferation of exclamation points. So I had fun with that in the following poem, a sestina of thirty-one secrets I made up. You can read it in as many voices. 

A Sestina of Secrets

I’m afraid a fifth year of college will ruin my life.
She didn’t even know I was away.
I can’t tell my wife I took out a loan.
I can’t tell her about the boat either.
I wish my parents would stop asking. I’m not!
I don’t know what I wouldn’t do for love.

The only woman I have said “I love
you” to is my mom. My brother took his life
I can’t stop blaming myself even though it’s not
MY fault I missed his call. She wishes there was a way
for us to be together. There is: move! Either
I marry this year or I choose a life alone!

My dad lived thirty years alone,
thinking I was dead. I’m sorry. My neighbor is in love
with Christian Bale! I was told to either
get clean or leave. I left. I wish I hadn’t. My life
makes more sense to me when I am away
from home. I don’t understand the knot

in your head! Please untie it! Whether or not
your ready I’m having your baby. I used a payday loan
to buy groceries for my kids. I threw away
my roommate’s flash drives and really loved
hearing him yell about his ruined life.
Just so you know, he isn’t really that into you either.

When I was ten I decided I was going to be either
a ballerina or an actress. I’m a stage actress and cannot
afford rent. She said finding God made her life
better. I’m about to find out too! B212: Leave me alone!
My parents spent forty years of marriage in love;
I want the same but my doubts won’t go away.

Sometimes I dream of just going away,
leaving all of this for something new. Either
I am running out of secrets or I am so in love
I tell you everything! I saw the look on your face. It’s not
what you think. Please please know you aren’t alone.
This is the happiest I have ever been in my life!

My life would change too much if you go away.
I know you like me for my car but it’s better than being alone.
Let’s set the date and tie the knot, baby! I’m in love!

Sarah K Marslender April 2012

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

gone fishing

Last night I was frustrated that I was frustrated. Parenting has knocked my pride and made me see my selfishness. I think I've talked about that here before. But I don't say that to moan about how awful I am or worry that I will never be anything but a proud selfish person. I don't believe that. But I do believe there is a constant battle between my flesh and my spirit and parenting simply brings that to the front. I can't always have what I want. That doesn't make me unique. You can't always have what you want either, but that doesn't make me feel better.

I want easy bedtimes. I think I can have that. But I also think I need to yeild to who we are right now. A high energy daughter and a tired mama in the evenings. Okay. Then what?

I have so very little figured out in the realm of parenting. I enjoy parenting most when I just love the kids, when I look past the fit or the no nap or the food on the floor. A couple months ago, another mom friend and I were talking about the Seattle Fish Market philosophy: Play, Make Their Day, Be There, Choose Your Attitude. It's a catchy foursome of great ideals that turned into a book and video and the Go get 'em pep talk of many business and education meetings since. But after watching it at a staff meeting this year, I started thinking: I need this as a mama!

A lot of ideas crash into each other. God speaks of joy and freedom and peace. And I pray to understand and accept those gifts in daily ways. And then I think about the Fish philosophy and put that next to my parenting and see just how consumed I can be with getting parenting right. But parenting (life! changes!) is incremental and I cannot see what the next year brings or how our now plays out in a decade. I can be okay with this.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

almost forgot!

I think one of the challenges of writing a post a day is -

Nevermind.

It's bedtime here and Claire and Grant are in bed, both calling, "Mamaaaa!"

I was saying: I think one of the challenges of writing a post a day is keeping it interesting. Duh. You know what? I'm distracted right now. Claire is making up very loud stories about Legos and morning and holidays.

One of the things I like about skipping blogging for long chunks of time is I don't have to write what is happening in my life or mind. I want to be honest and sometimes I sit down and want to say something a little too close or a little too embarassing or a little too shameful. I keep writing notebooks for that: all the questions and working around to an answer, sorting emotions or responses, dissecting conversations. I keep writing notebooks to pull essays from my journaling or write short fiction wound with threads from me.

When you write often and a lot, the same stories come up, the same hurts, the same fears, the same hopes. Your mind circles back to whatever thing you can't let go or haven't figured out yet. So you write it again and again and after awhile you wonder if you'll ever say it right.

When I flip through some of my notebooks from the last year or so, I see a lot of mentions of bedtime. I hate bedtime and I'm tired enough now that I can't remember if I've talked about that here before. Bedtime quit being easy when Claire was two. So we've had two years of holding our breath that this bedtime is easy and sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. So I don't like it much. Good night.

Monday, November 5, 2012

political divide

Justin and I voted absentee. The US Embassy is mailing our ballots. I voted partly so my civic duty can justify occasional political rants. I voted knowing that my absentee ballot may not be counted. But I voted.

A few weeks ago, a couple of students were talking about which candidate would be better for the Middle East. Romney would not, they said, but they weren't clear why. And during the primaries, one girl told me she supported Santorum because of his conservative stances. What surprised me was that students in the Middle East are paying attention to a US presidential election. When I was in high school, I don't remember thinking about how another nation's election might play out in my own country.

As Justin and I have watched politics unfold in our own home state, Wisconsin, the past couple of years and during this year's presidential campaign, we've both been a little shocked by the hard lines drawn and the divide between sides. That divide is bristly. Both sides entrenched. But regardless your political views, a politician or a party is not going save you. Their policies might help you recieve your healthcare or your tax break, but politics is wild and messy and discordant enough that you may only keep that healthcare or tax break until the next round. Which is why I have fledgling opinions about sacking politics and working right where you live: be a part of your community, recognize and aid needs you see, know your neighbors beyond the red or blue sign in their yard.

Here is an episode of This American Life called Red State Blue State. Tough political climate.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

(fairly) recent reads

Finding Everett Ruess: The Life and Unsolved Disappearance of a Legendary Wilderness Explorer by David Roberts I bought this book because Jon Krakauer wrote the foreword; I respect and enjoy Krakauer's work and expected similar adventuresome and thoughtful nonfiction from Roberts. Parts were great but the book got long because the story - a young man wandering the wilderness disappears in the 1930s and to this day no one knows exactly what happened - the story is a long one! And Roberts himself becomes entwined in its conclusion. Finding Everett Ruess is great if Krakauer's chapter about the young man in Into the Wild caught your interest. If your curiousity is only mild, google Everett. Enough people out there pay homage to his wandering spirit.

What I enjoyed most about Finding Everett Ruess was the language. I actually like having to look up words. Just not all the time. Which is why I read

Where'd You Go, Bernadette: A Novel  by Maria Semple I picked this book up because I heard an interview with Semple and laughed. At the time I was reading No Time Like the Present by Nadine Gordimer which has precious few laughs. So I was in the mood for a light, fun read. Which is why I was so pleased that while Semple works humor throughout her novel, she adds some complexity to her characters. I also appreciated that she wasn't quite sure how the book would end as she wrote it: I love that approach to writing, to let a story grow out of its characters.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette is set in Seattle and Semple has recieved a lot of attention about playing up the stereotypes of the city. But when I read the book, I thought there was more to talk about than its city. Semple takes a multigenre approach to telling this story: she uses letters, email and text messages to weave a narrative. I think it works perfectly for this story, giving the reader a few different perspectives on the same events. And I liked the end. Some plot twists made me wonder how Semple would conclude, but she managed a graceful end.

One of the first places I saw a multigenre narrative work well was in Monster, Walter Dean Myers' young adult novel. I don't remember much of the story or its characters but I remember thinking You can do that? Wow! at the storytelling technique.

I just finished Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: A Novel by Jonathan Safran and will start Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character by Jack Hitt soon.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

traffic rant 143

I have ranted about traffic only one hundred and forty-two times before. Really. I keep tallies like that.*

On our drive home from a friend's house today, Claire said, "Mama, why did you say, 'Come on, man?'" Because another car sped ahead to cut me at the turn, that's why. I said, "Because people here don't know how to drive." That isn't what I should have said. So I ammended it to say that some people here don't know how to drive well. That kind of statement can be pasted over any road in the world. It's safe enough to back out of and it's the kind of statement that politicians make. That some politicians make.

But think about any road in the world. In Kuwait there are drivers who may be from any road in the world. And while cultures may clash in governmental or educational policies, you do not want them clashing at 120kmh on the 30.** More likely they clash at 70kmh and 135kmh, but that was Traffic Rant 92. Traffic Rant 143 is less rant and more of a statement: I think most drivers on the roads here in Kuwait drive as they did on their roads at home. From all over the world. Where stoplights and turn signals and speed limits and passing and seatbelts and turn lanes may mean something else or nothing at all. I once heard Dave Barry say the same about Miami traffic and when talk here turns to traffic, a few friends have also found the We Drive Like We Did At Home theory a calm explanation of the Casual Merge.***



*I don't really keep tallies like that. Should I start?
**I think in kilometers here. The 30 and 40 are main highways here.
***The Casual Merge is a car that drifts across its lane to yours, with no turn signal warning and perhaps no apparent reason and certainly with no urgency to complete the manuever. Despite its name, the Casual Merge does not feel casual at high speeds.

Friday, November 2, 2012

tucked in a cookbook

First, thanks for the encouragement! Here is day two:

Last night I went through my cookbooks and loose recipes looking for a cinnamon roll recipe. Whenever I look for a specific recipe, it takes a little time. Even if the recipe is in a real cookbook, I get sidetracked by the other looseleaf or printed recipes I've tucked into my cookbooks. The organizational part of my recipe collection is an old green Barnes & Noble bag that I finally shoved full with a sheaf of recipes ripped from magazines or printed from online sources. If I know the recipe is somewhere in that Barnes & Noble bag, I rely on the color of the heading or whether I printed it through email or if the page is double-sided, lined notebook paper, or the back of a reciept.

I found the cinnamon roll recipe and set it aside in a stack of main dishes and desserts I haven't made recently: To Make Sometime Soon.

I also set aside a few papers and notes that have nothing to do with baking cookies or making soup. I found a tiny white envelope for our cat Oliver's worm medication dated August 2005. Justin and I got married that summer and then adopted two cats, Ira and Oliver. I found a note my mom wrote and sent along for my first marathon, Grandma's in 2002. I found notes from a rather pressured pitch to become a Mary Kay consultant. I found a printed email with payment confimation of an August 2008 Discover bill; on the back side, long division and fractions in Justin's hand.

These things don't belong with my recipes. But for years I've found them when I look for a cinnamon roll recipe or the sauce for lime chicken. And I like finding things that aren't in their place. I like to remember a friend because there's her handwriting telling me how to make hummus. I've thought about really organizing my recipes. But most of the time I can find the one I want. And something else that takes me outside the kitchen for a minute.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

back: for one whole month

This month is Nanowrimo. Write a novel in a month. People do this! I am not one of them. Maybe next year or maybe never. But in an offshoot of the spirit of completing a novel in a month, I am going to post to this blog each day this month.

I kind of feel like throwing up just writing that.

I haven't met very many (any) of my writing goals lately. So wish me luck.

I'd very much like to post the above and call it good for the first of November but this announcement does not seem like post enough. Last week I was thinking of teeny tiny essays I could post here. I even wrote a short list in my notebook in case I sit down and go: hmm. I'm sitting here going hmm now so let me find that list: Okay. Glancing at my list I am already thinking I should spend November posting photos of the road in front of our apartment.

But here are two topics: Goals and Quitting. Let me tell you about my goals: when I picture the word Goal, I imagine two things: a soccer field and a jar of marshmallow fluff. What I do not see in my head when I think Goal is a concrete block of Goal or a sprint toward a Finish Line. Still, I have goals. They are nebulous. I think that is why I imagine the jar of marshmallow fluff. And if you want to know, the soccer field that I see is totally empty. There isn't even a ball to kick around.

Please don't run too far with that.

This month I turn thirty-two. I don't remember thinking thirty-two sounded old, even when I was a teenager. I thought sixty sounded old, but not thirty-two. I don't feel old but I also really don't have the energy to Assess My Life or set a This Year I Will goal. Past birthday goals have included giving blood and reading my poetry at a coffee house. High stakes.

I am in a holding pattern. That is what life feels like right now. Not in a bad way. Circling the airport, waiting for the weather to clear: that is better than nosediving through storm clouds. (Although a nosedive could be electric if you live through it). But while I'm in this holding pattern of early nights and early mornings, I'm wondering if I'm missing something. I'm not rabid for a goal, but I want to make the best use of my time. So I'll be thinking about goals this month and I might try to visualize something more than marshmallow fluff.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

must there be a lesson?

Last week I rearended another car. We were stop start stop start in front of our school gate and the traffic started, I took my foot off the brake, Claire said something in the back seat, I turned my head to look at her, and crunch. The SUV I hit had a spare tire that neatly crunched my hood. Every time I look at the hood, it seems worse. Amazingly crunchy, those hoods. A friend explained hoods are made to crunch easily so the entire hood can't crash through the windshield into the driver and front passenger. Makes sense. So my hood is crunchy, and my front plastic grill might be a little damaged, one headlight is crooked but not broken.

What I immediately thought about after the crunch was all the paperwork that must be involved in having an accident here. I was shaking and embarassed because it happened at school and now everyone would think I am a careless driver or a crier (I am a crier, it helps) and I was really really worried about the mess of paperwork that would come my way because this life is laden with paperwork.

And then someone told me that the lesson in this is to be careful.

I am careful and I made a mistake that morning and that is that. Being told that the lesson in my rearending another vehicle at a wildly low speed is to be careful made me bristle. Not so much because it isn't true - I do need to be careful when I drive - or because I already know that I need to be careful or because I am usually very careful.

(Usually always has an exception. Exhibit: rearending another vehicle).

What made me bristle is this: I look for lessons in way too many interactions and events and thoughts and readings and days and weeks and months and years. I look for lessons in why a relationship went bad and why I feel terrible or why my kid is having a fit. Am I supposed to learn compassion or contentment or gentleness in this moment? I do this look for the lesson all the time and when I hit that car and someone said the lesson was I need to be more careful, I thought: No. I am already careful. The lesson isn't that. And you know what else? I don't feel like looking for a lesson in this. I'm tired of breaking my life into lessons geared toward building my character or finding God in any given situation or understanding why. Many times I want to know what the lesson is so it can be done: like, check, I've learned that. Next.

Sometimes things happen and I don't why. I don't know how it works out or what I'm supposed to learn or how I grow through a situation. And I am more okay with that than I was before I rearended that car and someone said there was a lesson in it. There is a lesson it! And I don't want to spend time overthinking what it may be, though I'm wondering if that - Quit demanding to know the lesson you're in the middle of learning! - might be part of it. Maybe I don't need a name for each of my lessons. Maybe I can have a day a week a month a year that sees me grow in faith and character without calling out each chapter as a Lesson.

That sounds lovely.