Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ten Titles That Have Stuck With Me

Ten Titles That Have Stuck With Me (narrowed down to books read when I was under 12). And, of course, annotated because I am avoiding grading papers. This is much more fun to think about!

1. Dr. Seuss' Sleep Book (The drawings were packed full of imagination. We always laughed at the creature with a tail so long that he could bite the end of it at night and the pain wouldn't reach his brain to wake him up until morning. My absolute favorites were the creatures who brushed their teeth under a giant waterfall.)

2. Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster (I listened to this being read out loud on public radio after school for several afternoons, then read it to myself more than once. It was such a crazy, nonsensical story that totally made sense. When Jack and I read this together a few years ago, we laughed out loud many times and I caught all sorts of great word play and meaning I'm sure I missed as a kid.)

3. Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (Meg was so courageous! This was another book I got even more out of--especially on a spiritual level--when I read it as an adult with Jack.)

4. Ginny and the New Girl by Catherine Woolley (I so completely related with Ginny, who lacked confidence and had to figure out how to deal with her best friend Geneva cozying up to the new girl and leaving her behind. I read more than one book in the Ginny series, but this is the one that stuck with me most. I'm not sure I applied the lessons Ginny learned very well in my own life.)

5. Hugo and Josephine by Maria Gripe (A wonderful friendship story and a surprisingly sophisticated exploration of what it means to be outside the norm but to be okay. Hugo was poor and quirky and oblivious to what anyone thought about him; Josephine was poor and desperately wanted to fit in. And, Sweden!)

6. The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder (I reveled in how resourceful her family was, I loved the way she knew her own mind, and I envied the way they kept moving on to new beginnings. I often wonder why we are still living in the same house we've lived in for twenty years.)

7. Dr. Doolittle by Hugh Lofting (The talking-to-animals part was okay, but what I really got into were all the far-flung adventures!)

8. The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton (I read this in the sixth grade and it made a huge impression on me, but I didn't remember specifically why until I re-read it this past year with a group of inmates at the jail. I don't know if I loved the book because it reflected my belief that we need to see others as complex  rather than as preconceived stereotypes or if it shaped my belief. Maybe it was a little of both.)

9. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell (Again, I loved the main character's courage and resourcefulness. I read this book with Jack as well, and was so struck that the tragedy that left her alone on the island might have been avoided altogether if her people had shared an unexpected bounty rather than keeping it all for themselves. I don't remember understanding that when I was a kid, but it may have helped shaped my belief that if we are generous with whatever we have, it will come back to us multiplied, but if we are selfish, we risk losing more than we imagine. Btw, that belief becomes stronger every time I learn it again the hard way.)

10. And last, but not least, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (Louisa May Alcott, aka Jo, was so real to me as I grew up in her neck of the woods. The house we lived was built before she was born. I used to imagine that maybe she'd known the people who lived in our house, and that maybe she'd even visited them there. I utterly adored her independent spirit!

Okay, I can't help but add a bonus title. Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (Because Pippi.)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Feat #14: Over the River and Through the Woods

And up and up and up the side of a snowy mountain.  

On this most stunning October day, with a bright blue sky and sun shining, Dad and I headed up trail #007 on the back side of Maple Mountain. Eight miles round trip. We didn't make it all the way to the peak due to snow conditions, but we got high enough to see some amazing views.

At the trail head:

Still happy after the first couple of miles.

Then we hit snow. Which wasn't too bad, but it did make the going harder. It helped that the temperature reached into the 50s by afternoon, which was downright balmy for a hike.

Through the towering pines!

Sadly, our pictures at our highest point were all washed out, probably because of all the glaring white snow. Trust me, it was spectacular.

And I wish we'd been able to get a picture of one moment during our descent when we were walking through an aspen grove and the wind picked up. All of a sudden we were showered with a magical frenzy of gold and green as hundreds of leaves fluttered to the ground.

Hiking with my 76-year-old father gives me much hope that there will be life in me after 50, though I confess, I had a bit of trouble keeping up with him. I think that means I need to get out there more.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Feat (Lucky) #13: Y?

Nana and Gramps are in town for a visit. Just the excuse I needed to hike to the Y painted on the side of the mountain above BYU. I haven't made the climb since finals week at the end of my freshman year. 

It's not a long hike (only 1.75 miles round trip), but it's pretty steep. An 1,100 foot elevation climb. Nana made a good go of it all the way to the third switchback. Gramps, Jack, and I continued up the trail. Eleven switchbacks in all.

The fall colors were spectacular!

It sprinkled on us part of the way, but the sun was still shining. We did see one faint rainbow, but it wasn't strong enough to get a good picture.

The view out over the valley on the way up as the sun began to set was exactly what we'd hoped it would be.

We made it to the giant Y just after the sun set.

The twilight views on the way back down made the whole adventure just about perfect.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Sacred Moment

I've debated telling this story for a long time because it is hardly my story. But I feel moved to tell it, especially today. I hope the man in this story, who I will call Tom, won't mind that I have. If he ever finds it here and recognizes himself, I hope that he remembers me well enough to know my intentions come from a deep place within my heart.

Over the past few years I've run into Tom a number of times. The first time I met him was in a job readiness seminar at the Adult Probation & Parole office. He struck me as serious minded, focused on putting his life together. The next time I saw him, he was wearing a jumpsuit, sitting in the class I teach at the jail. Every few months I met with him. He left, then came back again for a time.

One day Tom told me his background.

He grew up in the LDS church, knowing there was something different about him and believing it wasn't okay. He stuffed down his feelings. He went to BYU, got married, had children. Began stuffing down his feelings with food. Gained a dangerous amount of weight. Had surgery. Could no longer stuff down his feelings with food, so he turned to alcohol. Eventually his marriage ended. He was nearly 40 when he allowed himself to accept that he was gay. He'd only barely started coming out to people the year before I met him. He felt his family members were, at best, unsupportive.

Everything fell apart, and then fell apart some more.

We sat in the interview room. His anguish was palpable. He had told me his story in hopes that I could find information about programs or organizations that help people in his particular situation to make a fresh start. We looked some things up, then I asked him if I could show him a short video.

We watched this.

By the end, Tom had tears streaming down his face. He could not believe it was possible. Not that BYU students could make a video like that without repercussions. I assured him it was. And though we didn't talk about it, I imagined he had also not believed it was possible that he could love himself or that the God he believed in could love him.

I have no idea where Tom is now or what he is doing, but I am not exaggerating when I say that meeting with him that day was one of the most meaningful experiences I've ever had. And it breaks my heart that he's not the only one who has lived or will live in that hell.

As my friend Christian says, "Closets are no place for children of God."

Update: In re-reading this, I realize that I inadvertently painted Tom as someone who is always serious or unhappy. The part of the story that is missing from this post is that most of my exchanges with Tom were positive and forward-thinking. He often had a smile on his face, and one of his dreams was to own a small neighborhood bakery. As you can imagine, I'm a big fan of small neighborhood businesses. We had some happy conversations about how he could achieve that.

Please, Let Us In

I'm not sure why Brandon Mull's Fablehaven sat on our bookshelf for so long before Jack and I picked it up to read together. We even have an advanced reading copy that came out before it was published in 2006. We're about halfway through and have found it hard to put down at night.

And I've even met Brandon Mull as I've worked at various events, including a writing conference for kids at our high school and a presentation he gave at our library. Extraordinarily nice person.

When we started reading the book, I remembered an incident that happened when he came to the library. Over the past few years, I've thought about it from time to time, trying to untangle it.

Somehow I ended up standing guard at the front door of the library after we closed that Saturday afternoon. Quite a few people were still inside, standing in line to get their books signed. As a volunteer, I was instructed to turn away anyone who tried to come in. Before I was left alone at my post, a number people showed up to meet Brandon and the library director wouldn't let them in. The line was drawn.

A few minutes later, a mom and her kids showed up. She said they'd been at the event earlier and had to run home to tend to a sick child. I saw her son's pleading face. But we'd already turned people away. It wouldn't be fair to them to make an exception. I also knew first hand what is was like to be at the managing end of an event like this, trying not to impose too heavily on a well known author's time. Brandon Mull was already being gracious by staying much later than planned for us.

So I didn't let them in. (I still hate the feeling I had at that moment.)

Another few minutes passed, and the mother and children showed up with a senior library employee. He let them in, and apologized for overriding my decision. She looked directly at me. I'd like to think she wasn't glaring. I wonder if she knew that I wasn't offended at all. I was just really happy her son would meet Brandon and have his book signed.

As someone without authority, I was following orders. It took someone with authority to make a different call.

I will continue thinking about this incident from time to time, trying to untangle it.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

What I Do (When I Remember To)

An average Wednesday of remembering and doing and thinking and forgetting.

Just before Jack and I left for school this morning, Roger calls. Trouble with the Jeep. He's turning around to bring it home. Can I drop him off at work on my way to class? Sure!

Arrive on campus. Park in far-flung student parking. No room at the inn in the employee parking lots. Run into one of my students and immediately feel sheepish carrying the bag from McDonald's that held my breakfast. It was not horribly sinful--an Egg McMuffin sans bacon--but we had recently discussed Super Size Me in class and she had been most vocal about avoiding fast food.

Hang out in the faculty room in the library. Consider using my time wisely. Make a hopeful start by printing an article I need to re-read and annotate for class later (which I wouldn't have had to do if I had remembered the copy I left on the printer at home). Then get distracted by googling a high school English teacher that had been the subject of a freaky coincidence this week. Find his email address, so of course I write to him to thank him for influencing me for good. Have to proofread the email multiple times before clicking send because, well, high school English teacher. Hang out online until it's time for class.

First class. Finish up the second half of a two-day presentation full of song and dance about grammar, punctuation and exciting things like easily confused words (such as affect and effect) and active vs. passive voice. Got extra credit points from my students for showing the Jimmy Fallon/Justin Timblerlake hashtag bit (#evolvingusage).

Back to the faculty room to read the article we are going to discuss in my next class. I have to be done by noon because I've got a committee meeting for an upcoming conference on writing for social change. The article is mostly about the history of and issues with Skinner's behavior modification theory and partly about the development of apps to help people lose weight. While I make physical notes for class, I also make mental notes about how to move forward with the possible development of an app to help people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system.

Finish up by noon, but I forget about the meeting and head straight to my classroom. I walk in and none of my students are there. Another instructor is at the front of the room. I am all disoriented. I look at the clock. Oh, right, noon. Meeting.

Head to the meeting room. No one is there. Check my email. Meeting cancelled. Found time! I get a few things done. Check email for my other job. Discover a meeting at the county commission office is re-scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. I definitely don't want to miss it. Not sure what that means for the plans I have with my parents, who will be in town then. Hang out online until it's time for class.

Finally, class. Good discussion from the few who participate. Hopefully the rest listen, because they've got to write a paper, synthesizing the ideas presented in the documentaries we watched and the article we read. We talk about the balance between our environment and our own free will. We talk about the role individuals, parents, business, and government play in shaping environments. Stories emerge that help us illuminate the issues. School lunch changes at Spanish Fork High. Fast food restaurants surrounding Provo High. Selling alcohol at the Walmart in Cedar Hills. Owning backyard chickens in Springville.

Hike to another part of campus to meet someone in the placement office to invite him to a meeting I'm attending tomorrow about organizing a job fair to help people with a criminal record find work. I've been meaning to do this for at least three weeks. Decide to walk up four industrial-size flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator because I don't think I'll have time to exercise later. He's nice. He will come to the meeting and share his expertise.

Hike the long distance back to my car. Good. Another bit of exercise. In fact a little more than I expected because I can't find the car straightaway. Call Roger while I'm searching to keep myself entertained. He tells me he's made an appointment to get the Jeep fixed on Monday.

Drive to the bank to deposit checks that have been sitting on my desk since July. True story. Our bank just isn't convenient. Our account pre-dates our move to the town we live in and we don't have a local branch there. But we like our bank.

Stop by the Volkswagon dealer to have our coolant topped off. The dashboard panel has been sending warnings the last few days. The service department is extremely nice. No charge. Use the time to make notes for an essay I am writing about chickens. Well, not chickens exactly. But chickens will illustrate the point I really want to make.

Decide that since I had already missed being home when Jack got home from school like I usually am, I'd run a few more errands. Call Jack. He's fine.

Stop by the Stouffer's outlet to stock up on cheap, easy frozen food. Sadly, no French bread pizza for Jack. But, mmm, Asiago Cheese Tortellini? Yes, please.

Stop by to see an elderly neighbor. I was supposed to go last night to help her take off her pressure socks, which she's not supposed to sleep in. I completely forgot. Wanted to apologize in person. She just laughs. Luckily someone else helped her out. I promise her I will not forget next Tuesday. She laughs again.

Finally get home. Jack's hanging out with friends. I tell them they need to empty the trash if it's so full the lid doesn't close. (I do say hi first.) I take care of the sink full of dishes while my cheap, easy frozen dinner is in the microwave and my organic frozen whole green beans that I buy in a giant bag at Costco are steaming in a pot.

Check stuff online while I eat dinner. Decompress. Engage in Facebook conversations about stock market investments and about the impact of e-books on the publishing world and about chickens. Create an event page for next week's "So You Want To Read" lecture at the Springville Library that I will host. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Can't wait to hear what our presenter says about the book.

Talk to Roger in passing when he gets home from work. Head to a shift at the jail. I always think I can make it there by 6:00, but never do. Check inmate messages. Meet with inmates about planning for their release. We talk about everything from applying for student aid to finding 12-step meetings to finding food to eat.

Get home pretty late. Enjoy the fact that I don't have to set an alarm tomorrow because it is Fall Break. Chat with Roger. Eat an apple. Read to Jack. We love the book we're reading together right now. Think about writing a blog post about it. Maybe tomorrow. Tomorrow I will likely procrastinate grading papers just like I do today.

Stay up far too late writing this. Roger should be asleep. He had to set his alarm. No Fall Break for him.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

A Lesson

My bike ride on the west side of Utah Lake the other day turned out to be more than just a bike ride.

I was planning to spend the time thinking about a lesson I was preparing to teach the following day for the teenage girls at church. The lesson was about becoming more like Jesus--to learn about who he was, how he moved through this world, how he engaged with people, and to emulate that.

Nearly 30 miles of road stretched before me. Plenty of time to think, I thought.

Instead, I was distracted by a few steep hills, trying to pace myself and breathe evenly, negotiating curves, a strong headwind, passing traffic, sun in my eyes. I also didn't want to miss the spectacular views of the lake and the mountains beyond.

Then, about 20 miles in, as I reached the southern end of the lake, the road straightened and flattened. The best views were behind me. I found myself inside my head. "This ride," I realized with sudden epiphany, "Is a metaphor for so many of the things I want to talk with the girls about tomorrow."

The road I was following in the hope that I'd have the wherewithal to finish was the path Jesus modeled for us. The hills and curves he dealt with in his own life revealed his capacity for empathy and compassion, for understanding the challenges of others. The strong headwind was the opposition he faced, the willful misunderstanding, and the weak faith of even his most faithful disciples, all requiring patience and diligence. The cars and trucks I had to share the road with were the throngs of people who wanted to hear him and be blessed by him--people his disciples often tried to protect him from, but of whom he always charitably said "let them come" or "let them stay."

Whenever I could, I looked out across the lake. Sometimes I was rewarded with the perfect reflection of snowy peaks on the glassy surface of the water. Glimpses of heaven.

Once, when the road turned and I was heading directly into the sun for a few miles, I had to concentrate hard to follow the white line along the shoulder. The blinding sun became the anger and hurt that keeps us from truly seeing ourselves and others in a way that enables us to forgive, to love with the pure love of Christ. Finally, another bend and I could see clearly again.

The last 10 miles, when the road became straight and flat, was my time in the wilderness. My mind was stilled, and I gained spiritual clarity. But I was also getting tired and hungry.

"And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him" (Mark 1:13).

Just over six miles to go, and I saw Roger and Jack parked by the side of the road waiting for me. "Oh, please," I hoped. "Maybe they will ask me if I want to stop and get a ride." The idea was sorely tempting. Instead, Jack pulled his bike out of the back of the truck and joined me. My ministering angel.

But becoming more like Jesus isn't just about following a road, peddling so many miles, or climbing so many hills. It's about transformation. About being different. About seeing more.

Later that evening as I drove to work, the sun was setting. Brilliantly orange clouds stretched over the mountains to the west, the length of the lake. In my eyes, none of it was the same as it had always been and it would never be again.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Feat #12: The West Side

When we were car shopping last spring, we met a guy with a Lamborghini. We chatted a bit, and I asked him what his favorite road to drive was. He said, "The road on the west side of Utah Lake." The seed was planted. I started to formulate a plan. Finally today, all of the pieces fell into place and, with Roger and Jack as my trusty support team, I biked that road--nearly 30 miles from Saratoga Springs south to Elberta.

After tackling a few hills, I settled in to a steady pace (not anywhere near as fast, of course, as I would have gone in a Lamborghini).

This. This is why I wanted to do this ride. Spectacular!


About 6 miles outside of Elberta, Jack pulled his bike out of the back of the truck and joined me. The last stretch was tough. Was it ever going to end? Jack's company made all the difference.

I kept going until I finally reached a stop sign. I stopped.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

[Insert Cliche about Keys and Hearts]

My brother Robbie would have been 53 today.

This flip flop keychain was a gift from the Waswa family--his family, really--when my sister and I visited Nairobi last summer. It means a lot to me. Not just because it was a gift from people my brother really cared about and who have become a part of my life, but because it was so thoughtful.

The first member of the family we met was sister Rose. We connected at a coffee shop in a mall, which I think was on the outskirts of town. (Since someone else was always driving, I never got my bearings in that city!). We talked for hours about all sorts of things. My brother, her family, our family, Kenya, her environmental work, my sister's writing, school, my work, travel. On and on we talked.

The next day we met up with the rest of the family at sister Esther's apartment, mostly to pass on my brother's ashes to sister Miriam, his love. But also to come to know one another, to share a meal, and to share memories of Robbie. Toward the end of the afternoon, we exchanged gifts, including gifts to take home to our parents and to Roger and Jack.

After the day was over and my sister and I were on our own again, talking about everything that had happened, and exclaiming that the gifts they had chosen for us suited us so well (okay, maybe the fertility statue for Roger was a bit of a mystery, lol!), we realized that Rose must have been carefully taking mental notes during our conversation the night before. Sandals, beach, how nice it would have been to have gotten to the coast on that trip.

Smart woman, that Rose. Thank you, and Miriam, and Esther, and the rest of your family for loving my brother and for taking us into your hearts as well. I think of all of you and him every day as I carry my keys.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Dream

I watched MLK's I Have a Dream speech twice today with my students, and the part about people being judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin struck me a little differently.

Usually, I interpret it as people being seen for who they are--especially in terms of positive attributes--rather than being dragged down by negative racial stereotypes.

But it cuts another way, too.

When someone who is white commits a heinous act, I--as a white person--feel the pain the way humanity feels the pain, but I am not expected to feel the guilt or the shame or to bear any responsibility because I share the perpetrator's skin color. In fact, I do not have to worry that his or her actions will reflect on me in any way.

That is my privilege.

This is my dream: That one day all people who commit heinous acts will be judged by the content of their character and not be used to judge others who share the color of their skin.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Stranger Than Fiction

Not long ago, I read in a novel about the murder of Leon Trotsky, which happened in the study of his own home. He met his end after a hatchet was lodged his skull. Soon after, my sister--who was spending a couple of months in Mexico City--posted a picture of the very study in which Trotsky was killed. She had just visited the house. We figured out there was a decent chance I had read the account of his death at about the same time she was at the scene.

This is a pretty dramatic example of a phenomena that happens to me all the time. I read something and soon after I experience something that reminds me of it in real life. Or I experience something in real life and soon after I find myself reading something that reminds me of it.

Another example, not as dramatic. A couple of days after the Trotsky incident we discovered a huge beetle on the bathroom windowsill, thankfully on the outside of the screen. Not even an hour later, I settled into bed and started reading. And, no kidding, this is the second--the second!!--sentence I came to: "Here is a strange beetle, trapped inside the window near the desk."

Today it happened again.

I'm in the middle of a memoir of a woman who is currently recounting some of her experiences during the civil rights movement in 1960's Georgia. After we finished our dentist appointments this morning, Jack talked me into taking him to the store so he could spend some of the money we owed him for allowance and mowing the lawn. I didn't have enough in small bills to pay him, so I sent him in to break a $100 bill I had leftover from our vacation. We joked about whether the cashier would be suspicious.

I stayed in the car to read.

Jack probably hadn't even made it into the store before I came to this line: "I learned that Charles had gone to the junkyard to buy a part for one of the old cars we used, and he'd tried to pay with a hundred-dollar bill. The junkyard dealer had called the police, and they'd taken him to jail."

All. The. Time.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Feat #11: A New Tradition?

This is my friend Jane. She traveled to the middle east this year, in part to prove to herself she could.

She also does a cartwheel every year on her birthday. On her last birthday she turned 79. She is definitely an inspiration!

Here's to you and many more, Jane!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Feat #10: Getting the Worm

Every night this week I set my alarm for 7:00 a.m. and every single morning I got up and ran my favorite route. I usually mix it up a little, alternating running with other exercise, but last week my focus was slipping a bit, especially with the summer heat, so this week I decided to do something drastic.

The drastic part wasn't running every day. The drastic part was getting up at 7:00 a.m. to do it. I am not a morning person. Even though I know it is lovely to get out early. And even though I know 7:00 a.m. isn't even really that early.

Here's my favorite route (4 miles):

I start by walking about 1/4 mile to Canyon Road at the edge of my neighborhood, then I start running. Almost immediately, I turn and head south down into the river bottoms. The hill down is a good warm up, then the hill up on the other side gets my heart rate going.

Shortly after the top of the hill, I turn and head east toward the mountains. In the mornings, there is usually (always?) a strong headwind coming out of the canyon.

The reward comes at my halfway point, when I turn north again, down through the river bottoms into the shade and across the creek. It is always cool and refreshing, no matter how hot the weather is.

That leg ends, though, with a steep uphill climb to the mouth of the canyon. When I reach the top of the hill, I turn west on Canyon Road to head home. It's mostly a gentle slope down on a wide bike path, with glimpses of Utah Lake in the distance.

When I get back to my neighborhood, I slow to a walk for the last 1/4 mile.

I'm glad I stuck to my goal this week. I'm also glad I'm not setting an alarm tonight.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Feat #9: Solo

Here I am coming in from my first ever solo sail on our family's Melges MC Scow, just before a successful landing, which included leaving the tiller and hurtling myself up to the bow to catch the post on the pier. This may not seem like a big deal because I grew up sailing and many times solo-sailed boats like Sunfish and Lasers.

But it was. A big deal.

The MC has intimidated me since we bought it about 20 years ago. It's designed for racing and is very sensitive to the smallest shifts in weight or wind. The sail is relatively large and the rigging is heavy duty and fairly complex for a boat that size.

Pretty much every summer we have to make repairs due to tip overs, mishandled Water Safety Patrol tow-ins, and rough landings. I've been on the boat when we've tipped over, including at least one time with me at the helm. And as a faithful crew member, I have flung myself more than once into the lake to keep the boat from ramming into the pier or the shore in unpredictable conditions.

What you can't tell from this picture is that the wind further out on the lake was actually quite strong and gusty, a good test for me. I told myself I had to cross the lake and to come about at least three times. Going out a little ways, turning around, and coming straight back wouldn't count. I ended up coming about four times because, full disclosure, I held back and didn't quite make the landing on the first try.

My dad and my uncle Tom, who have been sailing the lake their entire lives and who coached me well, cheered me on from the pier while I sailed alone.

Alone. I sailed the MC alone.

Feat #8: Slam

About 10 years ago, I retired from tubing. It is fun to go fast, but mostly all it did was batter my body. Plus, I wear contact lenses. It's hard to see without them, but it's also hard to see wearing swim goggles to protect them because of all the spray. So I gave it up.

Last week, I put on my goggles and came out of retirement for one day in honor of my 50th year and this project.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Feat #7: Cake and Ice Cream

We just got back from a terrific vacation at our family cottage on Lake Geneva in Wisconsin. For years, I've heard various cousins talk about riding their bikes over the rolling midwestern hills to Hebron, Illinois, just under 12 miles southeast of our cottage, for ice cream.

I'd never done it, so I talked Dad into going with me one hot, humid, windy day. 

Once we got past the steep, steep hill on Indian Hills Road within the first mile, the rest of the many hills we encountered seemed like a piece of cake. 

We missed one turn on the wandering back road route we'd mapped out--it would have helped if the map we took with us didn't end at the border of Wisconsin!--but our error only added a little. Our final round-trip mileage: 24.

The old Hebron ice cream shop that had been the big draw for my cousins isn't there anymore. But there's a newer one at the main intersection, right near the town's water tower, which is painted like a basketball, an homage to the unlikely 1952 state basketball championship teamMom, Jack, and our friends met us there for cones and sundaes. 

Thinking of the long, hot return ride ahead of us, I picked a (possibly more hydrating?) chocolate ice cream soda. Not sure if it helped, but we did battle the headwinds and burning sun and made it home! 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Dear Diary

Nearly every summer for my entire life, I've spent time at my dad's family cottage on Lake Geneva in Wisconsin. The memories over the years have bled together into one long, happy, sun-drenched vacation, mostly spent in a bathing suit.

In 2009, I bought this blank book at a fundraiser for the local garden club and decided to use it just for recording Lake Geneva memories. I bring it back with me every year.

Let the 2013 entries commence!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Feat #6: Double Header

Yesterday morning I got in the car at 6 am and drove to Salt Lake City to run in the Color Me Rad 5k, held in support of the Utah Arts Festival.

Joining me on the course were my cousin Sarah and her daughter Sofia, both avid runners who graciously let me set the pace. It made all the difference to share the experience with them. So fun!

Here we are before:

And after:

What was the double header?

I accomplished one of my 50 physical feats AND used it to justify tossing out (1) an already stained t-shirt, (2) a pair of favorite old running shoes that really were too far gone to use anymore, and (3) a pair of shorts I bought at the Limited more than 25 years ago. The 1980s would be very proud of the circumstances under which they met their demise.

Friday, June 21, 2013


This is a picture of one of the cool bookmarks we used to sell at our bookstore. They were made by a teenage girl who had been in an ATV accident and was struggling with a serious brain injury. Working the wire and stringing the beads helped her develop her fine motor skills. Selling the bookmarks helped her contribute to her medical bills.

As I am always in the middle of literally dozens of books, this bookmark is reserved for the one that I am reading--usually slowly savoring--in order to be uplifted.

The charm at the top reads "laugh," and that's the exact reason I chose to buy this particular one.

Today is a good day to be reminded of that. Our Jeep has now come back from the shop for the third time, and the problem with the gas line still isn't fixed, rendering it useless. It's a pain. Really inconvenient. And now we're going to have to take it somewhere else and pay hundreds of dollars more to try again.

Thinking about the girl who picked the charm that reads "laugh" and put it on my favorite bookmark helps me regain proper perspective.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

In My Mind I'm Going to Carolina

I miss blogging more regularly than I have been, and I'm also having trouble focusing on my goal to go through our house really thoroughly this summer--purging and organizing, slashing and burning as I go.

So, I've concocted a new writing project: documenting the stories behind some of the things I come across and seeing what the stories reveal about my life, family and friends, our community, our culture, our world.

Things I treasure. Things I know I need to get rid of even if it's hard. Things I can't wait to get rid of. Things I may offer as free giveaways (so stay tuned!).

And things I need to use up.

Like these travel-size bath products I've picked up on various adventures.

I always think I'll use them when I go on new adventures, but really I just shove them in a bin under the bathroom sink and forget about them.

Now I've got them lined up on a shelf in the shower. As I use them up, I will pretend that I'm off on an adventure somewhere. Like maybe Carolina. Can't you see the sunshine?

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Feat #5: Up and Down

Roger and Jack flew into Boston to join me last week. Every time I get Jack to my childhood home, I pick one of my favorite memories to recreate. Swimming in Walden Pond, marching with the minutemen to Concord on Patriot's Day, and, this time, climbing Mt. Monadnock in southern New Hampshire. The last time I climbed it was before Jack was born.

We had planned to do the hike on Monday morning--the day before flying home--but we woke up to pouring rain. I'm pretty sure Roger and Jack thought I was crazy for being so determined to get us all up the mountain, which is more than an hour away from my parents' house. They were good sports anyway. We set our alarm for 6 a.m. and set out on Tuesday morning, with a strict early afternoon deadline to get back home in time to shower and pack and get to the airport. The risk paid off: we couldn't have had more perfect weather, and we made our flight with ease.

The round-trip hike is less than five miles, so it may not sound like a big deal. And the trail starts out deceptively easy.

Quickly, though, it becomes a relentless scramble up a rocky trail.

Up and up and up and up the rocky trail.

The reward, though, and what I most wanted to share with Jack, was the hard-earned and amazing view.


Of course, then we had to climb back down all the rocks we'd climbed up . . .

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Feat #4: Falling Water

I flew to Pittsburgh a few weeks ago to attend my sister Maryann's graduation from Chatham University, then stayed on an extra day for some adventures. 

First we toured Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water, about an hour and a half outside of Pittsburgh. It was amazing to see it in person and to get a real sense of the relationship between the house and the river. 

When I got back to the car, I discovered this image on my phone:

Roger, who was in Utah, had been checking the web cam at the famous Falling Water viewpoint and snapped a shot of his computer screen, then texted it to me. I'm on the far right in pink, and Maryann is in the middle.

After lunch, we headed a bit further south to Ohiopyle State Park, rented a couple of bikes and rode for twenty miles along the Youghiogheny River on the rail trail.

When we were done with our ride, we were a bit (okay, a lot) hot, so we decided to take a chilly, chilly dip under Cucumber Falls.

A delicious end to a perfectly delicious day! Do you think anyone would mind if I built a house there?

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Drivers Wanted? Here We Are!

Buying a car is a complicated matter in our family. It isn't just about finding something that will get us from point A to point B. It is about finding the right balance of practical and fun. Finding an actual option that fits that balance. Making sure that it complements our Jeep Wrangler, which is a permanent member of the family but only seats four and can't carry much cargo.

Then, of course, finding it at a deal we can swallow without choking.

We've been talking about it for years, especially after each major expenditure we made on our lovable but irritating and rapidly deteriorating Jeep Cherokee. Then recently we realized we didn't own a vehicle we'd feel okay about driving cross country. My sanity requires that I have the capacity to drive cross country at all times.

Yesterday the planets finally aligned. We said goodbye to our Cherokee and hello to our new VW TDI Jetta Sportswagon. And when I say new, I actually mean new. We haven't bought new since we ordered the Wrangler nearly 20 years ago. We made the decision based on the same logic this time around: it's a car that holds its value well. The gently used ones we found were nearly as much as the new ones, and if we bought new we could get exactly what we wanted and an awesome warranty.

Here were our main must haves that are now our do haves:

  • Standard transmission (more fun to drive!)
  • Lots and lots of pep (but pep that flies under the insurance rate radar - and as it turns out we're actually going to save $200/year on insurance!)
  • Great gas mileage (possibly nearly triple what our Cherokee got!)
  • Low miles (the odometer read 17 when we drove it off the lot!)
  • Room for five plus gobs of stuff (but compact enough for easy city driving and parallel parking!)
  • Air vents in the back seat so passengers can have a little more climate control (maybe an odd and insignificant deal breaker, but I promised Jack!)

Unexpectedly, we bonded with the dark gray. Who knew? I must say, it looks very sharp parked next to our red Jeep. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Feat #3: On the Road Again

I decided I'd count what I did today as one of my 50 Physical Feats because it represents what I hope is another turning point since my last post (which, yikes, was over a month ago!).

If I plotted points on a graph to represent my progress since then, it would have some nice highs and some crazy lows with a general rising trajectory. My vitamin and meds regimen has made a difference, but it hasn't been magical. I think the body part of my challenges had a far greater impact on my mind and spirit than I realized. It's been an uphill climb to say the least.

The scariest part was discovering that in my exhaustion and resulting depression, I'd gotten detached from everything that is important to me. It would have been just so easy to let it all go. The image that ran through my mind over and over was releasing the grip of my fingers from the monkey bar. So easy.

I had an epiphany while watching all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer over the past few weeks (yes, that is what I've been up to in the guise of regrouping from meeting the barest minimum of life's requirements). She spends several seasons grappling with her ambivalence about being the slayer, and then ends up sacrificing herself to save the world. Her friends figure out a way to bring her back to life and it seems like all will be well, but she realizes that she doesn't want to be alive again. She disconnects. Then it takes another near-miss with the world ending for her to realize that she doesn't want it to end, and she does want to live.

In a (much less dramatic and less well dressed) way, I am Buffy. The sense of calling to make a difference, the ambivalence, the sacrifice of exhaustion, the prescriptions bringing me back, the renewed ambivalence and disconnection. And I've realized that if I totally disconnect, my little corner of the world will end. I can prevent that if I reconnect.

So I've been trying to get outdoors more. I've been diving deeply into books rather than aimlessly surfing the web. I've been spending more time with Roger and Jack. I've been trying to be more engaged at work. I've been spending more time with friends. I've been playing the piano. I've been eating food that tastes good and is good for me. I've been cleaning and organizing the house so I can enjoy a more pleasant, uncluttered environment. I've been more focused on nurturing my spirituality. Stuff like that. (And it really helped that I turned in grades for the semester!)

I've also been exercising more regularly. This afternoon, for example, instead of taking the nap that I yearned for, I walked to the mouth of the canyon on our city bike trail. I meant to walk back, too, but decided to run some intervals. After the second interval, I just ran. Ran about a mile, all the way back to our neighborhood. I totally surprised myself.

And given the state I've been in for the past few months, I count that as a physical (and mental and emotional) feat.

Friday, March 22, 2013


Over the past 48 hours or so since I began treatment for my ailments, I have felt the dense layers of fog I've been buried under start to clear away. I'm catching metaphorical glimpses of enough blue sky to make a Dutch boy's britches.

I don't even care if it's just placebo effect at this point. For the first time in a long time, I can imagine being myself again.

Last night while we were getting settled in for bed, I realized I actually felt light hearted. I asked Roger and Jack if they could tell a difference and they both immediately said, "Yes!"

Today I looked at the basket of laundry on the floor and just started folding it. No feeling of overwhelming dread that my arms were too weak or that my brain could not manage it. Seriously, I had reached the point that a basket of laundry felt like too much to bear. A basket of laundry!

What's been especially hard is that I've fallen way behind on my 50 physical feats project. There are things on my list that I've missed or am about to miss because I'm not ready. Things that I won't have an opportunity to do again until next year. So I'm adjusting my plans and instead of finishing at the end of 2013, I'm giving myself through to the day before my 51st birthday in July 2014 to finish. And that's okay, because the whole thing is meant to be a joyful adventure, not a weight on my soul.

It might take a while to get back up to speed. It might not. But I'm grateful that I'm no longer falling deeper into the abyss.

I am reset and moving forward.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

I Will Not Die

At least not from anything I'm aware of anytime soon. And even better, I am not crazy!

Yesterday I went to a followup appointment with the doctor and she went over the results of the myriad of blood tests they did. Everything looked really great except for a few things which explain a lot. I have now embarked on a regimen in an effort to set those things right.

(Frankly, I am not much for regimens. But I'm relieved and hopeful that it will help fix me. So I will follow the regimen.)

The small things: I was slightly dehydrated at the time of the test and I have a minor vitamin D deficiency (the doctor laughed when I asked if I could blame three months of inversion for that). The regime: drink more water and take a prescription level dose of vitamin D twice a week for three months.

The expected thing: Hypothyroidism. Not a severe case, but the indicator was enough below the bottom of the healthy range to impact my energy level. The regime: A daily pill, maybe for the rest of life. I can't say I'm happy about joining the ranks of people who have to take a pill every day. But I am happy that in the scheme of things it is a small sacrifice to make for increased metabolism (and maybe less itchy skin).

The surprising thing: A severe vitamin B12 deficiency. I'm getting plenty in my diet, but for whatever reason my body isn't absorbing it. This could explain why I have been able to function at a reasonable level for only a few hours each day before crashing. And why it's been so hard to make my brain focus. And why my memory keeps failing me. And why my hands tingle. And why it feels like I want to jump out of my skin. I did some googling, and came up with this article from the New York Times. Apparently elderly people are sometimes misdiagnosed with dementia when what they really have is a vitamin B12 deficiency. I confess that over the past month I felt like I might be going nuts. It is comforting that it appears I am not. The regime: weekly B12 shots for the next month and daily B12 supplements.

I will go back for a followup in three months. Or better yet, my old self will be going.

Monday, March 18, 2013


It never fails.

Both of my jobs involve teaching and counseling with people. Of course, what I hope is that the people I work with come away from our conversations with some new insight or information that will be valuable for them. Or at least a reminder of something they'll hear differently this time and maybe remember.

What I know is that I usually do.

I recently spoke with a 20-year-old man who expressed bewilderment that a good woman had fallen in love with him. He had, he said, been doing drugs since he was 13. But he'd met her during his longest stretch of sobriety, when all sorts of things in his life were falling into place. Then he used again and screwed it all up.

What could she possibly have seen in him? he wondered.

I found myself saying something like this: It's so easy to see the "bad" things we do or think or say as reflecting our "real" selves. It's so hard to see that the good things reflect us as well, and maybe even more so. I'm not sure why our self-perception can get so scallywompus. But it can and often does.

I need to remember that.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Out of the Mouths

Warning: Explicit language ahead. So sorry. But, well, it expresses the point I was trying to make so succinctly.

One topic we discuss in the class I teach at the jail is how we react when we're called on something and how our reaction affects what happens to us next. We talk mostly in the context of being on good terms with people in the workplace, about not getting fired. And, okay, a little in the context of how to avoid being put in the hole.

"Hey," said a student from the back of the classroom. "If someone gives me shit, I'm going to give them shit right back."

"And then what do you get?" I asked.

He shrugged and grinned, "More shit."


Thursday, March 14, 2013


I've been more silent here on my blog than I've meant to be. I thought I would roar into 2013 with all of my plans. But mostly I've been tired. Deep-in-my-bones tired.

So tired, I actually went to see a doctor today.

That may not sound like a very big deal, but in the world inside my head it is a Very Big Deal. I rarely go to the doctor. I am seriously averse to being patronized when I report vague symptoms. Like fatigue.

Will find out what stories my blood has to tell early next week.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

On the Side of the Road

A few years ago, I started having a mid-semester creative writing contest for my university students to provide a bit of a break from more intense academic research and writing as well as a chance for the winners to earn some extra credit.

I came up with my go-to writing prompt for the contest as I was driving to campus one day and noticed a single, brand new running shoe lying on the side of the road. I wondered how it got there.

Over the years my students have come up with all sorts of ideas that they've written about in stories, poems, comic strips and so on. The shoe is a magical portal! It fell off Santa's sleigh! It belongs to the ghost of someone who died in a horrible car wreck along that stretch of highway!

My all-time favorite entry was patterned after the hushed narration of a nature show. "It is very rare to come across a shoe without its mate. They usually travel in pairs."

As I was driving to campus today to announce the writing contest, I notice something lying on the side of the road.

A bright pink bra.

I thought about tweaking my writing prompt for a second or two. But, well, you know.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Someone Saw

Sometimes I think we've over-bought into the idea that we can be effective by focusing primarily on the numbers. Sure, numbers can be an essential part of the equation. But they don't take into account some of the most important things of all. It's hard to measure, for example, the true impact of a real human connection.

People aren't widgets.

The other day I met with an inmate who was being released after his 42nd stay in the jail. I can't imagine that he didn't already know that he could go to the Food and Care Coalition to get a hot meal and some bus tokens.

Maybe I helped him by mapping out his to do list to make it more manageable. Get a two-week supply of your current meds at the Rite Aid by the hospital. While you're waiting for them to fill the prescription, go across the street to the Deseret Industries to get a change of clothes. After you check in with your probation officer, go to the Health and Justice Building next door to get a birth certificate so you can get your social security card and then your state photo ID. And so on.

I don't know. Maybe the practical information we talked about will make a difference for him and he'll put more pieces of his life together this time around. I always hope it will.

But it was the unofficial conversation we had as we wrapped up our meeting that struck me.

While we talked, he had his arms resting on the table, hands out, palms up, gesturing. I kept noticing the tattoos on the inside of his forearms.

"Your tattoos are really colorful," I said. "More colorful than I usually see."

His eyes lit up. He pointed to the roses on his right arm. "These were just in black ink for a long time," he said. "Then one day I learned from my daughter that different colored roses have different meanings. So I added color based on those." He showed me the intricate pattern of red fading into yellow and yellow fading into red. I wondered what stories they told.

He turned to go back to his housing unit with a smile on his face. Someone--who was not, by the numbers, required to see him--saw.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Welcome to the Family

On Christmas Day, we added someone to our family. Meet our new little guy. He lives in the fridge.
Whenever we open the fridge door he greets us cheerfully and chats with us. If we leave the door open too long, he scolds us. (I have actually gotten better about not leaving the door open as long because I don't like to be scolded.)

Once in a while, he will ask, "What are you looking for?"

I realized one day that instead of giving him fridge-related answers (The eggs. The milk. The marmalade.), I'm responding in more existential terms.

What am I looking for?

The determination to eat healthier food.
Leaves to come out on the trees.
A way to get to the ocean more often.
The bottom of that stack of papers I'm grading.
Congressional action on, well, anything. 
Peace on earth.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Giving It Up

I've been thinking about giving something up for Lent this year, but have been putting off deciding what it is until the last minute. I've got it now.

Yesterday, I was talking with someone who I think is like me in the sense that we have both have lots of ideas rattling around in our minds and we both want to go in a million different directions. She asked me how I manage. I mumbled something about how I really don't, that I just pretend.

But I don't think that's quite right. I don't think I hide anything. Well, except for when my dad was visiting last week and I asked him not to go in my office because the stacks are piled too high.

What I do is procrastinate whatever seems less essential at the time. Thus, the piles. And, what's worse, I often decide that the more essential thing is to regroup from expending energy on whatever scheme I'm involved with at the time. In other words, I get worn out and I stop doing anything productive for a while. I just hang out (usually in my pjs) and read and think and sometimes write. This means that not only do the the piles get higher, but I end up with more ideas rattling around in my mind and more directions to head in.

I need to figure out how to manage better.

So for Lent I am going to give up procrastinating. Every day I will do something specific that has been hanging over my head, causing me angst. Then, if I get around to it, I will report back here.

And I might give up Diet Coke. But not until the stash in my fridge is gone.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


I'm truly not obsessing about turning 50 this year, but reminders about how long I've been on this earth abound. Like the 50th anniversary of MLK's "I Have a Dream Speech," which was given about a month after I was born. Or the 50th anniversary of Kenya's independence. Or the 50th anniversary of the publication of Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique.

Wow, 1963 was a pivotal year. Especially for the Beatles, who were gearing up for their invasion.

A week or two ago, one of Jack's friends told me that people said he looked like John Lennon when he put on Jack's glasses. He reached over and took Jack's glasses and put them on. No kidding, he was transformed into John Lennon.

And then he said, "Who is John Lennon?"


A few days later, I was waiting to pick up Jack at school and I saw this same friend of his walking with a girl. Clearly they were flirting with one another. When Jack got to the car, I asked him about his friend and the girl. Were they an item? Jack didn't have anything good to say about the situation. Was she getting in the way of their friendship?

"Don't let her be your Yoko Ono," I laughed.

And then I had to explain who she was.

Saturday, February 09, 2013


Once a year, Roger has to venture up to Salt Lake City to take around fliers for a BYU library book collecting conference to some of the independent bookstores. It's a tough job, I know.

Since my dad is in town, we decided to kill two birds with one stone (or, as my sister prefers to say, feed two birds with one hand) and left him with Jack so we could spend the night in a downtown hotel. That gave us plenty of time for some leisurely browsing at several of our favorite stores.

People often ask me what I'm reading or whether I've read any good books lately. When we had our bookstore, I made a point of reading lots of books that other people would enjoy so I'd have lots of books in mind to recommend. Now I pretty much just read what speaks to me or that connects to something going on in my life, so I'm never really sure how to answer those questions anymore.

Here's what I picked up last night:

Finding Beauty in a Broken World by Terry Tempest Williams. I'm going to a writing workshop she's leading next week. I remember being intrigued by this book when it first came out and I heard her on the interview circuit. "Shards of glass can cut and wound or magnify a vision," she writes. "Mosaic celebrates brokenness and the beauty of being brought together." I rationalized buying it because I love the way she writes and so I can have something for her to sign when I see her. Oh, and also because it begins in Ravenna, Italy.

A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams by Michael Pollan. It's a memoir about building a small cabin with his own hands on his Connecticut property. He used it as a writing space. I love books that weave threads of seemingly disconnected ideas--especially ideas that enthrall me like how we humans are affected and inspired by well designed buildings. I rationalized buying it because I know exactly who I will pass it on to when I've finished reading it.

A used copy of a book published in 1978 called A Guided Pilgrimage: Literary Places, in which author John Deedy has "set out to provide a guide, with biography and some critique, to people and places in the state of New York and the New England states where persons might commune with the spirits of those who helped create an American literature, or, in the cases of some, a literature that America shares by reading." I rationalized buying it because it jumped off the shelf and reminded me of an idea I've been nurturing for a writing project that involves reading books and traveling to where they were written. Communing with the spirits. And maybe dragging Jack into the project in the guise of educating him. If I don't run out of years before he's grown up that is.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Feat #2: Going Downhill

In my head, I don't want to be the mom who sits on the sidelines while my kid plays in the snow. But in reality, I'd rather be curled up inside, wrapped in a blanket, reading a good book. Let Roger take Jack and his friends sledding.

So yesterday afternoon all we went sledding at Jolly's Ranch in Hobble Creek Canyon, and I was determined to take more than ten runs--not just take a token run then go hang out by the fire like I am generally inclined to do. You know, to prove to myself that I'm not "that" mom.

Happy to report that, at least for one afternoon, I wasn't!

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Feat #1: An Auspicious Start

I'm taking advantage of my dad's visit to enjoy some outdoor adventures. This morning we headed to Utah Lake, which is completely frozen over, to do some cross country skiing.

I've skied before. And I've been on the lake before. But I've never skied on the lake. It was a completely new and somewhat surreal, almost primitive experience.

We couldn't have asked for more perfect conditions, especially for someone like me who isn't too keen on being out in the cold. Clear skies, decent temperature, no wind, easy snow to glide through, and we pretty much had the place to ourselves save for a few ice fishers.

We did a two to three mile loop out into the middle of the lake, working up enough of a sweat that we had to peel off some layers. I even took my mittens off! 

Dad and I agreed that we made a standout memory together. (N)ice.


A few weeks ago, I was yearning for some adventure. I know that is not unusual, but this winter has been especially hard on me. The freezing cold temperatures, the inversion, the gray, gray skies day after day after day.

So I emailed two lovely, funny friends, and asked them if they'd like to meet for lunch in Salt Lake City one day.

We met up yesterday. I thought I'd take the train up to make it an even grander adventure, but it turned out that I have at my disposal a fun little Fiat. I got rear ended in a terrible ice storm last week, and it's the rental I've been supplied with while my Jeep is in the shop. I've almost got myself convinced that the brown car isn't the color of mud but rather the color of chocolate or Italian leather. Almost.

And if having a fun little Fiat to drive wasn't enough, the sun was out. And the skies were blue as far as I could see. Nice day, road trip, good friends, meeting of the minds, hearty laughs, tasty food.

Spring is clearly ahead of me, and my winter stupor is receding in the rear view mirror. Even if it's cold and cloudy every day for the next two months.

Monday, January 21, 2013


This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day found me doing some more long-overdue deep cleaning in Jack's room, including vacuuming under his bed. There weren't many things--mostly rubber bands and nerf darts from past battles--but, whoo boy, the vacuum sucked up an awful lot of dust, feathers from his pillow, and cat hair.

I may be crawling at a snail's pace, but I will conquer our house and all of our crap belongings. Forward!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

85 Linear Feet

No physical feats to report yet. I had something dramatic planned to kick off the project today, but it fell through. I think I will have another opportunity sometime in February to do it, and I plan to take advantage. In the meantime, I need to think of something else to kick things off with.

I don't think today's project--in which I cleaned about 85 linear feet of bookshelves and reorganized nearly all of the books, some of which were stacked two rows deep--is quite in the spirit of the whole thing.

Jack's shelves were beyond full, so I pared them down. I'd long since moved out the board books we read when he was a baby, but his bookcases still held our entire picture book collection. I pulled them all out, culled the books we're bonded with and took them downstairs to put on the family room shelves, then stacked the rest away to sell or donate.

Of course there wasn't room for the picture books on the family room shelves, so they required weeding and reorganizing as well. That darn domino effect.

It turned into a six-hour marathon, and I'm still not quite done. This is why I procrastinate. (And it is also why I am glad there are libraries and Kindles.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Give Me the Beat, Boys

In between a meeting at the United Way and a shift at the jail today, I stopped to get something to eat at the tasty, offbeat Station 22 Cafe in downtown Provo.

I ordered the Jack Kerouac burger, partly because I liked the name, but mostly because of the melted brie, applewood bacon, and bourbon sauce. 

About 10 years ago, I read Kerouac's On the Road just a few months after reading Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. It struck me that Sal Paradise was Holden Caulfield, only a bit more grown up and with a bit tamer language. Both yearned for freedom from convention, but ultimately both were tethered at their core to a sense of responsibility they just couldn't shake.

I can relate.

As I ate my burger, I read in Andrew McCarthy's Longest Way Home about the time he flew to Buenos Aires and headed south to Patagonia. When he got there, he climbed up a glacier, high enough to look down on the low level clouds. He fantasized about doing flips in the clouds like he did when he was a kid looking out airplane windows. Back before he was afraid to fly.

When I was done, I headed south on the highway toward the setting sun and sang real loud when Bill Withers came on the radio.

Give me the beat, boys, and free my soul
I wanna get lost in your rock and roll
And drift away


I won't lie. I am struggling to get moving.

Maybe January wasn't the best time of year to launch my 50 Physical Feats project, especially with temperatures hovering around zero for the past few weeks. I could also blame my lack of motivation on some ill health. Or on my Seasonal Affective Disorder, which I have self diagnosed but have failed to self treat. Or on my compulsion to watch all five seasons of Doc Martin. Or on the fact that the fabulous kick-off event I had planned to participate in this weekend fell through and I don't have a dramatic enough backup plan.

Or maybe it's what William Faulkner said in As I Lay Dying that describes me so well: "I notice how it takes a lazy man, a man that hates moving, to get set on moving once he does get started off, the same as when he was set on staying still, like it ain't the moving he hates so much as the starting and the stopping."

Apparently I'm just set on staying still.

I will get moving though. I will. I will. And when I do I'll be set on that. I will.

I will.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

A Good Thing

After years of trying to figure out how to get in and do it, last week I finally held my first book group discussion at the jail.

Thirteen inmates showed up, and nearly all of them had read the book. I had given them several options, and they voted to read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, which is told from the point of view of an autistic teenage boy named Christopher. I read the book several years ago and had forgotten many of the details, which I saw differently as I read the book again over the holidays. I wondered, for example, how the inmates would relate to Christopher's unrelenting phobia of communal bathroom facilities.

I put the book on the list of possibilities because of some of the themes it explores and that we talk about in the transition skills class I teach: seeing the world through someone else's eyes, trust and forgiveness, and facing fears.

After laying down the one main ground rule (that all opinions must be treated with respect) and the one corollary (that while my opinions should be respected, no one is obligated to accept or suck up to them), the discussion we had was vibrant and full of varying perspectives and insight. Success!

I am going to do this again and again. And I'm planning to expand the list of titles I can offer to my classes. I've started an evolving wish list (click here) in case anyone wants to suggest additional titles and/or contribute books to the cause (zero pressure, though!). The books don't have to be ordered through Amazon, but they do need to be paperbacks and they need to be sent directly to me from whatever store they are purchased from to meet the requirements of the jail. Message me if you have title ideas, need my mailing address, or to let me know books are on their way so I can mark them off the wish list.

This is a good, good thing. And I'm not just saying that because Martha Stewart served time.

Saturday, January 05, 2013


The other day at the post office, I noticed a man in line ahead of me holding a veteran's ID card and a notification to pick up a missed delivery. I hoped it was something fun, maybe a late Christmas present.

As I watched my clerk stamp and meter my packages, I heard the clerk at the next counter ask a co-worker what he needed to do to release undeliverable certified mail. I glanced over and saw him holding the missed delivery the veteran was there to collect. An envelope with an address handwritten in big loopy letters.

"Oh," the man said softly. "That's what she thought it might be."

No late Christmas present. Just a dead end. Maybe one of many. Who were they trying to find? A long lost sibling? An old friend? Maybe a grown child?

So many people. So many stories. So many ways they might go.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

The Beginning

It's dropped below 10 degrees and it's not even 10 p.m. A cold, cold start for my new project. I don't do well in the cold. In fact, once fall turns into winter, I'm inclined to hibernate. So the next few months are going to be a real stretch for me.

When I came up with the idea of doing 50 physical feats in 2013 last summer--when it was warm and I was in better shape--I thought I'd try to hit the ground running on January 1.

But the inclination to hibernate won.

So I need to start out with some conditioning, both physical and psychological. Today I went for an hour-long walk and discovered two things. First, it looks like the city keeps the bike path clear in the winter. Nice. Second, one of the reasons I don't like exercising in freezing weather is being hot and sweaty under my jacket and hat and gloves while my face is so icy cold it hurts. I'll have to experiment with different fabrics and layering and find a good balance.

I will report on my first physical feat the weekend of January 19th. It will be something I have never done before, and I will be very glad when it's over.