wish you were here…

30 11 2008

img_3923The sky is heavy with the threat of 4″ of snow today.  I know it is coming and I can feel it – enough years in the midwest have given me an internal sensor.  My motivation to get some things done today is reading three years’ of blog entries of someone I’m insanely jealous of (Tongue in Cheek).  Once I get done with my own scribblings, I will work awhile then read awhile…all day long.  She has blogged everyday for the last three years.  I want to be her when I grow up.  

So, I’m sorry I can’t be with you today but I am in the South of France.  All day.  I might be back tomorrow, but I can’t make any promises.

Our first trip to the French Riviera was a long weekend winter road trip from Madrid to Monaco.  Saint-Paul-de-Vence, the medieval village where Marc Chagall is buried was a must see.  The sweetest little hand painted pitcher changed addresses that day and still peeks at me from inside my alacena (cupboard or hutch) now 4,000 miles away from its original home.  Today it reminds me that travel enriches and heals my soul.  

I’m starting to recognize the pattern.  I need total escape days.  If I can just wallow here for a day or two, I’ll re-calibrate and find the necessary resources to get up again.  

Sometimes it comes in the form of a six back-to-back episodes of The Wire.  Or nine hours in bed…if you know me at all, you see red flags.  I’ve operated on very little sleep most of my life and insomniac episodes for months at a time.  But in these last months, it is my favorite time of the day when I am getting ready to enter that space. Deep, dreamless, dropping off of the edge of the world.  Knowing nothing between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m.

I can’t really do anything that requires conversations with anyone outside my tightest circle before noon when I’m here in the north.  After two or three cafe con leches and quiet computer time, I might get something accomplished by early afternoon.  It is now past noon, I’ll work a bit then treat myself to some more reading.

A perfect Sunday afternoon in the South of France…

talkin’ turkey

26 11 2008

Somehow I’ve always related Thanksgiving with a time that I do a year-in-review.  Maybe it is to prepare me for those unexpected “let’s share around the table something you’re thankful for…” situations I so often find myself in.  I know it makes more sense at the turn of the new year but I can no longer account for how my brain works or doesn’t for that matter.

This has been one busy year…but don’t I feel like that every year?  All I had to do was to go back through my iPhoto library and email account to see what has been going on in the previous dozen months to remember.  Alot has gone down – some good, some not so good, some hopeful and some really depressing.  It really is easy to get sidetracked and just focus on present circumstances (like the call 10 minutes ago from the car repair shop advising of a $1000 fix). That is not a place for my creative brain to dwell if I need energy.  

So where have we been…what makes me hopeful…what am I thankful for – even if it is being thankful just to be done with something:

A magical night when the gypsies came to sing.




The hope of a movie to make and options on book rights secured…even if there is no money in sight yet.  Just the dreams can be enough. ‘Coz that’s what Dot&Cross boys have taught us to do.


A relatively quick and “easy” time at hospice.


Uncertain days ahead but certain of the task at hand.


Hundreds of thousands of miles traveled across some of the most dangerous places on the planet and safe returns with pretty little baubles in hand.




Not more than four visits to the hospital..maybe a couple more between all of us…but none that kept us there days and days.

Shadows that aren’t scary.



Lots of songs and movies “in the can”.


Very unsexy but necessary house repairs on a foursquare built in 1905.


Days that Bella gets a bath.


And the courage to jump into the raging river of the internet in my own little lifeboat called “1eyedmonkee”. 

For these few things I’m grateful and for the ones who share the journey holding me up.  There are a million more things I’ve failed to mention…but what will I blog about for the days and minutes to come if I tell you everything right now? 


a curator’s quest

23 11 2008


Two years and $85 million dollars later, the Smithsonian just re-opened. I heard a story this week about the what it meant to organize all the doo-daas that represent so much of our nation’s collective history. This is how pack rats make a profession out of their bounty. I’m all over that.

I had some brief windows of time throughout the week to work through some small boxes. It is important for curators to be fully awake and careful in their assessment of items. As a content specialist, it is my responsibility to carefully examine each object and to determine just how it reflects the history of the culture.

The small item displayed above is rather nondescript on one side. As I turned it over I laughed out loud. It was so Billy’s eye to see faces in rocks and clouds. So this little buddy above is being cataloged for a place in the museum.

Next was the mystery bottle. I’ve learned to shake, open and dump before disposing. How did I know it was an address bottle? If you had sent him a card in the last who knows how long…the return address was carefully snipped and filed for future reference.

Which brings me to my last point. For the price of a latte…stop at the next greeting card display you see, find something appropriate, get a stamp for 42 cents, find your address bottle and shake out the right name and number, transfer the information and drop it in a mail box.

E-mailing is so much easier for us. Facebook even better…but there are lots of grandmas and grandpas out there that aren’t techno-savy. And a little piece of cardboard wrapped in a little piece of paper with the appropriate letters and number scrawled across the front will arrive at their door and bring happy smiles to their stoney faces.


baby steps

19 11 2008

img_3938I just had a panic attack.  When I got here yesterday, I noticed that the power cord to my computer was being wonky.  The battery was on a recall list a couple of years ago and when they sent me a new one, it never really has been a battery I could use for any length of time.  If I get unplugged, I am seconds away from being advised that I am about to go on reserve power and everything risks being lost.  Whatever.  

So this morning, sitting where I am NOT within 15 minutes of my friendly neighborhood Apple Store, I couldn’t get the plug to light up and tell me it was connected in the way I need it connected.  But fortunately, I am my father’s daughter (somewhat) and decide to check the other little connects down the cord and maybe just maybe if I hold my mouth just right, I might have found the culprit.  I cannot be here for four days this week with no computer.  It would have been worth the tank of gas and a four hour road trip to head back to GR to buy a new cord.  That would have been easier than downtown Chicago, but I’m safe, at least for this post.

As difficult as knowing whether or not our economy is officially in a recession,  I think I’m in the anger part of the grieving process.  I’m not, however, expressing it in a typical fashion that would have me saying, “Billy, why’d you leave us?,” but it’s coming out more in a phrase resembling, “Billy WHAT the FAT!”  When I was here last week attending to things that are important to the Mrs. (like outdoor Christmas lights…), I got woefully behind in the steady paced progress I would like to make on the other fronts.  

My mantra is “one bag at a time”.  One bag of garbage – one recycle bin full to the top with “unnecessary plastic items” – (to quote Nanci Griffith in her reference to things you could only buy at Woolworth’s). My goal each week is to make sure her garbage bin is full to overflowing. Baby step cleaning.  Baby step digging.  Baby step sorting. Eventually we’ll all see the progress but it won’t be an overnight thing.

Last night I took aggressive action against empty boxes piled in the basement.  Tiny little ring boxes, a shiny red box hidden inside a plastic bag to keep it shinier, a huge box from a snow blower that is now living in Cincinnati – boxes of all shapes and sizes.  These boxes once served some purpose and were waiting their next assignment.  Well, I’m sorry to say – their next assignment is to become brand new boxes after they spend some time at the “rehab” center, spa soaking and getting roller massaged.  

As I was slashing my way through the mess, I devised a little contest.  The oldest box prize went to one from gas regulators – addressed to NIPSCO on 15th Ave in Gary.  OK – even if he brought that box home on the day he retired (1983) it would have been a mere twenty-five years old. Twenty-five years of mold from a damp basement…I think I’ll have bronchitis in a week or so. The smallest – went to one of those ring boxes.  There were two and I gave the prize to the silver and white striped one because it was cuter.  The sturdiest box award went to a Bonita banana box which could have served as its very own boat from Bogota it was so strong.  

Anyway – in preparation for this chore I bought myself a serious…a really serious, box-cutter last week, knowing I’d have to attack that space sometime.  It is so serious that it doesn’t even have a retractable blade.  It just juts out there screaming danger to all who come near.  

I’ve had some box-cutter experience at the boutique where Shop Girl hangs out. It is shameful to see how much packaging goes into sending things to stores but at least the stuff gets recycled. One day last winter when I was still working at the hospital and was on my way to interpret for a therapy session, I decided to make a quick stop to say “hi”.  There were boxes to break down and I just love the feel of a weapon in my hand so I made use of my time and got busy.  Ohhh, I could just hear my dad’s voice in my head that I was doing something wrong when before I knew it I had cut across my thigh – slicing open my black cords and just nicking my skin.  Yikes.  That would have been hard to explain in the emergency room being an adult over the age of 50 and all.

Well in my haste last night (or anger? or frustration? or glee that these boxes are going to stop harboring mold and mildew?)…I now have two half-inch slits in my jeans…and one little tiny scratch on my thigh.  Oh Billy’s voice is screaming at me for being so stupid.  He’s yelling as only he yelled…not with terrible words…just those kind that are really recriminating.  Like “only a knuckle head would…”

There were so many boxes cut up and ready for recycling that I couldn’t even take them out to the curb.  I don’t need to give the neighbor anything more to talk about.  They come up with things on their own.  So I will load them into my car, along with bags of leaves for the city compost site and take a little drive.  Besides the sun is shining – and it’s going to be a whopping 45º today.  Good for melting the 9″ of snow that fell two days ago.

The only crazy thing that gives me pause is when I see his writing on some of these boxes…even if it says, “his and hearz buks”  – a clue to the last few years.  But my time in the dungeon was profitable on another front – at least I found a decoration or two that she’d not seen for years because he’d been the last one to put them away – then forgot where they were.  

“Baby step – baby step to the elevator…” Thank you Dr. Leo Marvin.

home again, home again, jiggety-jig…

16 11 2008


Four hours a week, traveling back and forth between two places known as “home”,  I get to spend time quietly listening to lots of NPR.  Weekend America is doing a Thanksgiving special about the meaning of home.  It’s gotten me thinking and I sent them an email this morning.  I’m all talked out right now so I thought you’d like to see some pictures of a place we once called “home”.




helplessly hoping…

13 11 2008

Generally, things are bad in the world and especially so in Michigan.  The national news is punctuated with our reality.  There are almost zero degrees of separation when it comes to knowing someone who is affected in a personal way by the present economic circumstances.

I’ve been pondering the case of my brother-in-law this week as he began what is touted to be a ten month weekly separation from his family as he works as a construction foreman on the other side of the state.  They are all saddened and barely know what that will mean to them months down the road as they adjust to him being home only on weekends.  But the bottom line is the bottom line – he has work and they are grateful.

In my years working as an interpreter for immigrant hispanic families, that reality was more the rule rather than the exception.  Because of the special needs of the kids I worked with, moms and families would stay put so as not to lose the therapies, doctors and help that they so desperately needed.  Dads would leave for months finding work in neighboring cities or states and send the money back home.  Was it ideal?  Hardly so.  Was it the best they could do in their circumstances?  Yes. Did they love each other deeply?  Yes.

Thinking alot about the ideal and the real,  I was faced with yet another situation that caught me up short yesterday.  Having coffee with a friend I used to work with at a four-star hotel (the kind that has bellman), I heard again that things are bad.  People that live on tips are hurting in a big way.  Mainly, the hotel is a conference hotel so people are in and out based on their company’s whims often time paid for by the company.  But, they are hanging on tighter and tighter to the extra bucks they have in their pockets and tip based employees are feeling the pinch.  I understand it from both sides but it hurts just the same.

In the course of our conversation, that pain was like a mosquito bite compared to the stinging reality of his situation as a divorced dad.  I’ve known him for 10 years – since the day he put himself in exile after being slapped in the face with a reality he would have rather never seen with his own eyes.  Leaving behind a confused 6 year old and 3 year old has scarred his soul. Every tip pressed into his hand by kind strangers has his kids’ names written on it.  Sports equipment, gymnastic lessons, birthday gifts and the monthly amount handed over to their mom to help with their care.  It was not the way he had planned to be a dad.  It was not his idea of family.  But it is his reality…trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Mom has since burned through another 10 year relationship and is soon on to the next.  She is only imitating life as it was patterned for her with a dad and  three step-fathers entering and exiting a revolving door.  Meanwhile, my friend lives for HIS weekends to love on his kids and just delight in their presence.  Another reality – that 6 year old is now 16 and is acting his age.

Peer acceptance becomes the highest value and without a support system to tell him otherwise – he’s allowed to not give his dad the time of day let alone spend the alloted weekends with him.  I can’t imagine the pain. But then again, I can because we do it to each other all the time.  We can be physically present – day in and day out – and not really be there.

We finished our coffee reminding each other how much this story seems like God himself.  There HE is – He hasn’t moved.  He always loves us.  But we get ourselves all caught up in looking at the bright lights and spending time with people who make us feel better about ourselves – just like our BFFs.  You know, the one you stood next to at graduation and haven’t seen since?  

And I’m not preaching to the choir here.  I’ve stood by when relationships in my own life were about to self-destruct.  My love didn’t seem to be enough to fill the darkness deep in a soul – until from somewhere inside another light was turned on.  Words I had spoken seemed to mean nothing until they were spoken from someone else’s mouth and the truth was heard.  It’s ok – I’m not the only person who has things to say.  What is important is that things were heard.

I don’t know who will get through to my friend’s kid…I don’t know if or when it will happen.  What I need to do is to remind my friend that he is genuinely loving and extending grace into the life of his son – even if the kid needs to be almost 30 before he realizes his dad is lonely in the wake of his selfishness. 

And because I can’t think without pictures and songs…it’s another Crosby, Stills & Nash Thursday.  It can be a double header if you’ll take the time…after you finish with “Teach Your Children”…just type in “Helplessly hoping” and pick the one on the upper left corner.

“confusion has its cost…”

my island in the sun

10 11 2008

The first shots rang out in unison.  The second – staggered by a few seconds.  It was the third rifle volley that is burned in my brain.  Pop  – pop, pop — pop, pop…pop…and I looked over to see the last vet still crouched in his firing stance as if he had a squirrel in the crosshairs waiting for that magical millisecond when he knew he had could kiss his target farewell…finally – POP! There was no squirrel (but Billy would have liked that) and the “rifle” had no sights.  Nonetheless, it certainly is a scene that I expect to see played out on the big screen some day when it fits into something that Best Boy has planned.  Think Elisabethtown – and the burning “Free Bird”.  But there it was – my dad’s 21 gun salute. Well not technically, but the rounds customary at veterans’ funerals. 

We’d already sung the Navy Hymn at the church…so we waited in silence graveside as the flag was ceremoniously folded and respectfully placed into my mother’s outstretched arms before Taps was played.  My dad loved beautifully made flags – the one drapped over his coffin was one he would have loved.  Now the triangle of stars and stripes was her’s. The little added bonus of being a veteran, afforded us this final salute.  I must admit that other than knowing he’d served in the Navy during WWII, there are huge gaps in what I know about specifics.


I remember hearing that he was on an island I was named after –  Woendi island working in dry dock, repairing ships.  Pouring over a huge atlas we had in the house, he’d get to the South Pacific and point out that tiny atol not far from New Guinea.  He would talk about the fruit bats or flying foxes being so thick in the sky as to darken the sun with their 6 foot wing spans.  There was talk of the tremendous heat and humidity…so much so that coming back to Chicago in the summer still had him in his wool pea coat because it seemed cold.  

Back in 1994 when the Dr. and I were still living in Europe, we took a three week vacation of a lifetime driving from Madrid up to Bergen, Norway.  The motivation of our trip was to reach Legoland in Denmark before Best Boy was too old for Traffic School.  Best I can remember of that was Shop Girl getting stuck in the round-a-bouts and getting singled out over the loud speaker.  “Car Three, please exit the round-a-bout.  Please exit the round-a-bout!”  And no she hasn’t been driving in circles ever since!

As we planned our meandering through the miles, we realized that we could visit Normandy just before the 50th anniversary of D-Day.  That is when WWII became a reality to me.  Standing among endless white crosses at Colleville-Sur-Mer and thinking about what it all meant…and to know that my mom’s brother was on Gold Beach on D-Day and lived.  The stories and lives of so many families were marked by that day – those battles.  

So here we are on the eve of another Veteran’s Day – usually just a day that I am annoyed because we don’t get mail.  Shame shame on me.  For lots of reasons, it means more to me this year:  because my dad’s navy uniform is one of the only things left in his closet and it won’t answer me when I ask it questions.  Because I’m angry that my retired navy Captain uncle has an estranged family that doesn’t seem to care about him let alone what he did for our country.  Then there is my dad’s brother who was a Navy diver who married a WAVE and she will be celebrating her 91st birthday this week.  But this year I’m also aware because there are still lives being lost – family histories that will be scarred today, tomorrow and the next day.  Moms losing their Best Boys and Shop GIrls.

I’d feel desperate that our rich personal history will fade as the ranks of the Greatest Generation thins, were it not for a nephew marking out his career as a historian…and a Best Boy who tells stories another way and the stories the other grandkids will choose to tell their children when the subject comes up.  We keep history alive in our families because we choose to.  I’ll do my part trying to digitize every old photo I can get in my hands.

So today I pause…more un-informed than I should be…more passive than I ought to be…but grateful just the same for those who have fought, are fighting and will continue to fight so that I can sit on my couch and be free to say what I’d like.  Thank you.

And since it’s early in the week and the snow is starting to fly here in the north…I leave you with a little Spike Jonze and Weezer.  To Woendi Island and me!

(p.s. Garrett, tell your dad to let you watch the video!!!  And ask him if I can buy you a copy of the book – Walter the Farting Dog – for Christmas).

The case of the mysterious blue haze…

7 11 2008

“So I went down to the basement yesterday and it was filled with smoke…,” she mentioned casually in the course of one of our daily conversations.

 “Smoke?  Did it smell like something was burning?”, I asked, willing my voice into a zen state.

“No, it was just a blue haze but didn’t smell electrical or anything,” she finished. “I just opened the windows – then my physical therapist came so I went upstairs and came back down when she was done and closed all the windows.”  

These kinds of conversations when I am 150 miles away tend to unnerve me a bit.  So as soon as I was ‘on site’ last night I started checking things out. The furnace looked fine.  Took out the filter to see if something was amiss…nope.

It had been raining most of the afternoon so I wasn’t surprised that there was some water on the floor. This house has been in a perpetual state of mold, mildew and dank since who-knows-when.  I had a father who was convinced that there is nothing ever to be done about the way the house was built and if the basement leaks – so be it!

The nearly new dehumidifier seemed to check out but I had my doubts.  Maybe it just gave up the ghost early having to work so long and so hard with no reward whatsoever.  Talk about a job that is NEVER done!

It wasn’t until I put a load of laundry in this morning that it hit me…the sump pump. I had been trying to squeegee water down a floor drain when I noticed it wasn’t going anywhere – looked over at the “abyss” and saw it was to floor level, full of water…going nowhere.  I moved a plastic lid (picture the clear plastic domed lid over a huge deli tray…that is what my dad had over the sump pit) and low and behold I see the light.  Well actually I saw a spark so I knew I had found the scene of the crime.

In less than seven minutes I’m at Menard’s getting my first lesson in sump pumps. How hard can this be?  The fact that there is more rain on the way in a few hours motivates me in a special DIY sort of way.  But the most daunting part is at hand once I’m back in the basement with the new unit.

The old must be fished out of the pit…that murky, questionable water that to my knowledge is unfathomable.  Old unit unplugged, breaker switched off, jewelry out of harm’s way, sleeves rolled up and in I dive fishing for Lord-knows-what.  I see something dark and large floating around my arm…with a great sigh I realize it is just the “floater” (the REAL floater…not one of those kinds…) that had gotten detached from the old pump.

In up to my shoulder, kneeling on slimy wet basement floor, I locate the old pump and start to yank it out.  I’m not sure I haven’t really found something from the Titanic it’s so corroded.  With a 20 second perusal of the instruction booklet accompanying the new bright and shiny contraption, I understand the basic principles.

Into the deep it goes, pipe connected to pipe, switch into socket and I walk over to the breaker box a good 15 feet away in a corner.  All is well, noises are made, water begins to whish away and I flip the breaker to turn it all off.  A few adjustments and I try again but this time I am back beside the pit when somewhere in the process a point is reached where suddenly the whole thing becomes Trafalgar Fountain. Gallons of water are spewing out being rained all over the basement and I am stuck on the other side unable to reach the fuse box to flip the breaker.

I finally make it over there – head upstairs, dripping wet and call one of the plumbers suggested to me by the saleskid at Menard’s.  “Yes”, they’ll have someone out at around 3ish.  That works for me.  I know lots more than I started out knowing today about sump pumps – how they work, what the pit looks (or just feels like when it’s full and it won’t empty) and more.

The plumber shows up when he said he would and within less than an hour new pvc is fit to the pump and we are in business.  I was on the right road – like a kid building a fort in the woods knows how to build a house…I was lacking the proper tools (teflon tape, epoxy from three different cans, etc.) and professional know-how.

I don’t care what those two hours (including travel time) cost…the job is done and I can call and complain if something isn’t working right.  I know calling a pro wasn’t Billy’s way – he was Mr. Fixit – even if most times it was with things he already had laying around the basement.  I had a certified plumber work his magic.

So no…the Christmas decorations didn’t get hauled up from the basement today like was on the agenda.  Maybe tomorrow.img_38032

Out of the mouth of babes…

5 11 2008

pict0408Back last March, Shop Girl was once again dared by evil Best Boy to reach into her magical Wardrobe/Art department bag of tricks and make an old-school space suit. It was for another Hey Josh where Josh Shipp was talking about all the things we dream about becoming when we are young and innocent – and how life sometimes beats the stuffing out of us and we become apathetic and cynical. Anyway, Shop Girl kicked it with this little guy’s outfit – so much so…he just may grow up to be an astronaut.

I was looking through my iPhoto library to find anything that would be remotely patriotic and this is what I landed on. I will readily admit that my years living outside our American fishbowl and observing from the outside in for so many years, changed the way I felt about the Red, White and Blue. There is a reason that you can pick “us” out on foreign streets and it never made me want to wave that flag much. The first election that we tried to vote in from foreign soil had us turning in our passports for three days to get security checked before we could ever cast a ballot. That was the end of voting for me until a few years ago when my kids were all over my case for not participating.

By the time they were old enough to vote, they had spent two thirds of their lives on foreign soil. The rest they had spent trying to prove to their Spanish friends that they really were American. One time Best Boy buzzed me from the street level intercom asking me to throw his passport over the balcony so that he could prove to his friends that he really was American. That was a no-go. Number one – I didn’t trust a 10 year old with his own passport…and most importantly, number two – I liked the alternate reality better – people thinking my kid WASN’T American.

But as usual – and we should know it’s true by now – that out of the mouth of babes…comes a great deal of wisdom and hope. Passion for politics is NOT on my agenda even having been raised by a woman who was so passionate that I could barely walk when she’d drag me around doing canvassing and polling in the late 50’s and early 60’s. She was a precinct captain. I was also taken to a convention and sit here wondering if it was the 1960 Republican National Convention in Chicago where her fav, Barry Goldwater conceeded the nomination to Nixon. Bitter tears were shed in front of the little black and white console TV when that “Catholic” Kennedy won the next November.

So maybe I have some political baggage. I’d forgotten all of that till I just started writing this. I’m not exactly old enough to be saying, “I never thought I’d see the day…” but I never thought I’d see the day that I’d give a rat’s behind about politics. But I sat in front of a TV (just a tad bigger and with higher definition than that console) last night with tears streaming down my face as the CNN cameras panned the faces in Chicago.

I feel like I carry some of that burden…I feel like I was an accomplice somehow…like some of that conservative blood is on my hands. Maybe it doesn’t help that I just finished reading Frank Schaeffer’s Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of it Back. (Interesting read, by the way…)

But I’d be fooling myself to not think that I was influenced by what I witnessed and perceived as I grew up and the mark left on me is not particularly the mark left on my siblings. That’s what makes it my story. My unique set of markers that make me, me.

So, no apologies…not to my dear sweet 81 year old mother who prayed about it all and remembered, “I’m a Republican after all!” and that’s how her ballot bore her mark. Mine is one of the tears and faces in last night’s Chicago throng. How ironic that it would come full circle for me there yet again. I was raised in racial tension of Gary, IN and a child of White Flight.

I held my own kids captive for years in apathetic indifference, trying not to be an American but they have shown me a new way – a new hope – a new day. And for once in my life I can say I feel proud to be an American!