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Monday, April 28, 2008

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No "about" about it.


Notwithstanding the exhaustion that infused my last post, I confess I was a little wistful leaving New York on Thursday, and wondered if re-entry to domestic life in the heartland might prove bumpy.

It might well have—two bedroom transitional living is really losing its charm—except that THE PAINT IS ON! THE PAINT IS ON! THE PAINT IS ON!

Many personal blogs can be said to be about as interesting as watching paint dry. Here at Notes, we take that standard literally.

You can save yourself, and abandon me now, or you can go watch my paint dry.
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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

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Just a Small Town Girl


It's going to take more than one short post to describe my visit to New York, and some of it will have to wait a few months, but it's been pretty wonderful.

My cursor has actually been stuck at the end of that "wonderful" for the last 20 minutes, while I've tried to figure out which moment of the past five days I can grab and hoist myself to the next paragraph. It's all too much to contemplate before coffee.

Oh thank God, the coffee just came. Okay, here's a very quick slide show:

New Yorkers, past and present, are some of the kindest, most charming, sweetest, wittiest, loveliest people I've ever had the pleasure to hang with. They don't even laugh at you when you get stuck in revolving doors. And elevators. And turnstiles. And jump in taxis that already have someone in them. Not in a mean way, they don't.

They don't roll their eyes when you check emails and blog comments on your blackberry, and sigh, "Y'all, I have the NICEST readers."

I think their eyebrows do go up just a little bit when you are talking on your blackberry in a high-concept, trendy hotel restaurant with disco music pulsing in from the phosphorescent lit bar, reminding your kids to "say your bedtime prayers!"

But those people are maybe not from here.

I love NY.

But I miss my boys, big and little, and my brain is approaching sensory meltdown. I'm ready to come home.

One more day.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

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There are a thousand cupcakes in the naked city.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

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Thousands are sailing


Dad and Mom, New York City, 1968. (Thank you Aunt Katie!) Anyone recognize the location?

My phone rang for the umpteenth time late afternoon: I glanced down. Another New York call. Business. Better take it.

"Kyran Pittman," I answered.

There was an unbusiness-like sigh. It took me a minute to place the voice. Familiar, but different.

"Do you know, I was twenty five years old the last time I was in this city?"

Today is my Mom's 65th birthday. I'm sitting in Little Rock airport about to board a flight to join her in New York, where she has been since just before that phone call. Her, or a twenty five year old girl I've never met.

I can't wait.


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Monday, April 14, 2008

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Be a Part of It...


The last time I brought my family home to Newfoundland, in the summer of 2005, we had an eight-hour layover in Newark, New Jersey on the return leg. Obviously, we were not going to spend eight hours in Newark, New Jersey. At least, not in the airport.

So we hopped a train and some time later, found ourselves in Times Square with about four hours left to kill.

It was quickly determined that, obviously, we were not going to wander around Times Square for four hours with three kids age 1, 4 and 6.

So we hopped on a bus. A double decker tourist bus. With a loudspeaker and a "New York Sightseeing" sign emblazoned across the side. I was mortified. I wished I had a souvenir t-shirt that said, "I may heart NY, but in no way do I identify with my fellow passengers."

It was not exactly the kind of hipster, have-kids-will-travel globetrotting I always thought I would one day do. The truth is, just navigating the supermarket with small kids is too much for me. The globe will have to go un-trodden until the youngest can get an international driver's license.

But all my self-consciousness melted away as we pulled out from the curb. Because, Oh My God, I was in New York! I gawked and pointed uninhibitedly the whole time. I loved it, and I knew I would have to go back one day to gawk from street level.

The year before I was born, in the spring of '68, my mother went to New York with my father and his brother and my aunt. I grew up hearing stories about them stumbling onto a love-in in Greenwich Village, about being in Harlem when riots broke out because Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot. It was a mythical place in our family lore. And though my mother travelled wide and far since then, she never got back to New York city.

This week she is attending a conference in Connecticut, and for months, she has been planning to spend this Saturday, her birthday, in New York. She has been emailing me excitedly about her planned pilgrimage, which largely revolves around dead poets and beatniks. It's a hybrid of a pub crawl and the stations of the cross, as I understand it.

Everytime she's mentioned the trip, she's expressed the fond wish that I could join her. From the beginning, I've had to say no. It just wasn't financially, or logistically, possible this year. Another time.

Some weeks ago, I found out that I would be taking a little business trip. My expenses would be covered. There were still logistics to be worked out around childcare, and I knew we might be moving house soon, but whatever hesitation I felt evaporated when I looked at my calendar and realized that I was being dispatched to New York on the one weekend in forty years my mother would be there, for her sixty fifth birthday.

There are moments when you realize you've been conscripted into something much bigger than your own agenda. I seem to be having a lot of them.

Got a favorite show, cupcake shop, funky neighborhood, or dead poet in NYC to recommend? Do tell—there's a birthday party to plan!


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Friday, April 11, 2008

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Uprooted: After the Storm


Two nights ago, my preschooler suddenly got busy rounding up shoes and toys.

"It's time to go!" he announced jubilantly.

"Go where, sweetie?" I asked with considerably less energy. It was nearly ten o'clock—lately it's been nearly impossible to get him to go to sleep much earlier.

"To our old house!"

He said it with such joy and eagerness, I can't tell you how hard it was to break it to him that, no, we couldn't go back to the old house.

Weeping, he said, "But I want my old room!" Here at the condo, he shuttles back and forth between the twin mattresses on the floor of the larger of the two bedrooms and our double bed in the smaller—close quarters compared to our sprawling king-size, now propped up in the storage pod.

We are so grateful to have this space. But we are so very ready to vacate it.

Patrick hit the wall the other day, announcing between tight lips that he was "restless, irritable and discontent," before storming outside to smoke about five cigarettes in a row. We have been working literally back to back in the dining room that we've converted to office space. An oddly-placed hearth is the only partion between this and the family room. Patrick's desk abutts the rear of the television, turned on more than usual with the bad weather and no yard to speak of.

Last night, I sent my eldest son to his room after being contradicted one too many times yesterday. He silently fumed at me with a rage I had nearly forgotten a child could feel for a parent. I gave him a minute or two to himself and then went up to talk to him. He kept his back turned and his arms crossed over his chest, palms grasping opposite shoulders, like he always does when he is hurting.

I talked to his back for a few minutes about parental respect, and cultivating a positive attitude, and the place of civil disobedience in a benign dictatorship such as our own. He was impenetrable.

I turned the lecture off. "C'mere," I said, and managed to coax his armadillo-rolled body next to mine.

"Look," I said. "I know it's hard right now to be living in-between. I know you are probably missing home..."

My armadillo uncoiled against me and began to sob, the heaving, rushing sobs that come from grief that's been gathering deep in the gut.

There was little I could say. It was as if we were huddled in the closet again, waiting for the storm to pass over.

I told him the things I missed about our house: watching he and his brothers climb the Japanese maple, the hidden places in the yard where they dug and played. I promised him that he would soon be climbing the trees in our new yard, digging new holes. I half-heartedly began the speech that "home is where the heart is," then abandoned it, because it's bullshit. I've been uprooted enough myself to know that sometimes home is a physical place you need desperately to get back to.

Tell a banked fish that home is where the heart is.

So I shut up, and held him and stroked his sandy brown hair until it was over. Then I told him to fill the tub and take a nice long bubble bath, bedtime be damned.

This morning, the sun was shining like it meant it, for the first time in days. And not to diminish the seriousness of flood conditions in our state after the weather of the past few weeks, but I felt like a kid on Snow Day when I heard that the soccer fields would likely be underwater this weekend.

The household tension had broken up and moved on. All clear. I took my camera and went for a walk around the block to take some more pictures of the tornado damage of last Thursday night.

Ten tornados in all were spawned by that storm. If I had to draw you a map showing the most direct route from our condo to our new home, it would look like the storm path printed in the next day's paper. We were unbelievably lucky. Belinda, Kristen, and their families too.

I don't know that there is any force of nature more random and non-sensical than a twister. Just steps from where a concrete light pole lies uprooted, lacelike wisteria and azaleas bloom unperturbed. Hundred and fifty year-old pines and oaks are strewn about like weeds plucked from a lawn. On the same block, a compact disc I noticed tossed from a car onto the sidewalk last week hadn't moved more than a foot.

Why here? Why not there? Why not now? Why me? Every one of us, from three years old to forty-four has had their turn at asking why this week, with grace and maturity probably in inverse proportion to chronological age.

I like to think God has been sitting with us the whole time we've had our backs curled and hearts covered, aching for us, loving us in all our ungrateful, impatient, ornery-ness. Doting on each marvelous strand of hair, adoring each miraculous, shimmering blossom.


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Sunday, April 06, 2008

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Trapped in the Closet: Chapter 2


I'd love to tell you that little severe weather warning in the bottom left corner of the screen shot is a photo from last Thursday night, but it's from tonight, so I'd better get busy and wrap up this two-parter before I have to write a third. So far, no tornado watch. Hopefully tonight's skies are just full of sound and fury, signifying diddly.

Rolling three groggy boys out of bed and stuffing them in the closet was like a fraternity stunt. What few gaps there might have been between twelve child and four adult limbs were stuffed with pillows.

"I guess if it comes to it, you're hiding in the bathroom," I said to Patrick, as he tucked us in and resumed his vigil between the television and front door. While the thunder rolled overhead I reminded my wide-eyed nine year old of other storms we've weathered in closets together. In between, I glanced at my blackberry.

At 9:54 Belinda texted from a hotel room in New Jersey:

Just hung up w/hubby in Arkansas, tornadoes not mentioned.

She and Alex live 30 minutes to the northeast of the city. Irrationally, I told myself if it wasn't newsworthy there, perhaps our urban weather team was over-dramatizing. Or maybe it was just an itty, bitty, very contained storm.

"It's moving very fast," I told my son. "It will all blow over in just a few minutes."

When the power went, I can't remember if there was an actual bang, or the sudden silence was like an explosion in negative. It was terrifyingly still.

"What does it mean when it gets quiet, Mom?"

What does it mean?

It means you fan your hands and feet out in the darkness in all directions until you feel them touching all three of your precious children and you begin to pray.

With no television, Patrick studied the wild sky outside. He kept his eyes on the open space to the southwest, between swaying tall pines. Then he saw the trees do something he'd never seen trees do. They stopped swaying, and began to twist. Behind the thunder, something growled.

I still can't figure out how he fit in the closet with us. But the door opened and he was there. "This is it," he said. I locked onto my son's gaze, as if dropping my eyes would mean dropping him.

I can't tell you what happened then, except moments later, Patrick said it was gone over, and that he was going out to take a look. The sirens were still going, and I didn't believe it was safe, but he insisted the worst was past. Moments after that, emergency vehicle sirens chimed in with the public warning system.

It was still thundering and flashing. Patrick came back and assured us it was safe to leave the closet, but that "something big" had happened on the street behind us. It was nearly an hour since the warning sirens had struck up. I checked my blackberry. Belinda was looking at doppler images on her laptop.

HOLY CRAP the tornadoes are nearly perfectly surrounding MY HOME.

Since New Jersey had power, and we had none, Belinda then became my own personal mobile storm warning center, alerting me that a second, and then a third, storm system were rolling in behind. Back to the closet. During the second trip down the stairs, my seven year old fell behind his older brother, who was carrying the flashlight, and panicked. He thought he would be left behind in the dark. The fear of the middle child. My heart broke. I pulled him into the closet with me and wrapped my whole body around him while he wept.

The second storm hit about an hour after the first. Waiting for it was the worst part, with only the car radio and Belinda's text updates to indicate its path and progress, and not knowing what it would spawn. Horrible thoughts tried to squeeze into the closet with me. I pushed them out. No vacancies here. Move on.

When it came, it came and it went. Swift and loud, but non-eventful for us.

The third lost enough steam by the time it got here for us to be able to call it a night. In between, I had gone out to the van to charge my dying blackberry and listen to the radio.

Reports of the extent of the destruction and the number of tornados were confused, but starting to come in. The intersection directly behind us was hit badly. Huge pine trees were lying across the road. Then they said another street name. Our new street. With our new house on it. "Some of the worst damage," the announcer was saying.

You've got to be kidding me, I thought.

Gratitude over mere survival is always short-lived.

The patch on the tv map that is our county has turned from orange back to grey, so I can go to bed and hopefully stay there until morning. Coming next: after the storm.


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Saturday, April 05, 2008

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K. Pittman's Trapped in the Closet, Chapter 1

"What does it mean when it gets quiet, Mom?"

"I don't know," I whispered. Up to that second, I'd been playing a rousing game of "let's pretend," as in let's pretend Daddy and I woke the three of you up in the middle of the night and piled you all in the hastily emptied under-stairs closet just for kicks. Thank god my three year-old hadn't woken up during the transfer from our bed to a pillow on the closet floor, and my seven year-old had gone back to sleep propped up on a box that we hadn't time to move. But my nine-year-old son was fully awake, his anxious eyes wide in the beam of the flashlight he held to his bare chest. I knew it was pounding like mine.

Now he had the spotlight on me and I'd lost my line. I was praying silently for the right words to come when Patrick dove in. In the eleven years I've lived in tornado alley, I've never known him to take cover with us. His own father was terrified of storms, and would evacuate the family from their home at the first clap of thunder. All those sleepy nights spent under an overpass in the family's 1969 Chevy Impala had made him blase about the storm warnings that terrify me. "When I see it or hear it, I'll take cover," has always been his policy.

He'd been with a friend that evening, and came home to the condo around 9:30, wet from the downpour that had started a few minutes before. He had barely shut the door when the sirens started, our cue to fire up our usual routine of me emptying a closet and him going skeptically back and forth between the tv and the front porch, a choreography approximating the mating dance of a manic badger and a grouchy bear. Yet another variation on the marriage of the unstoppable force and the immovable object.

"tornado sirens. shutting down. emptying a closet," I texted some friends, including Belinda who was at the Johnson & Johnson event for bloggers in New Jersey, while her husband and daughter were at home in a little town just to the northeast of us, and Kristen, at the same conference, with her loved ones just a few minutes down the road from Belinda's house.

The bear was studying the radar image on tv. "Okay," he said, to my surprise. "Let's get them down here." I took the stairs two at a time. Three sleeping children, four arms, and 50mph winds at our heels.

No, I didn't pause in the middle of the action to snap a photo of the kids for the blog! Patrick snapped these with his camera phone in the long lull between the two major storm systems that hit that night. We were amazed (and grateful) that the baby slept through it all.


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Friday, April 04, 2008

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Tornado update

This is Kyran's Mom reporting that Kyran and family are alright after a harrowing night . The power is out. The new house is safe, but the neighbourhood suffered great damage. Check out her photos on link on right hand side bar).
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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

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The Diaspora

It is an oxymoron to say we are settled into our temporary digs, but we are as settled as life amid stacks of boxes can get.

The new house is getting a makeover, which I assure myself daily will be complete by May 1. I thought we might be camping out in the POD for a month, but friends happened to have a vacant, furnished two bedroom condo just around the corner from our new address. Our new best friends (thank you, John & Lindsay!xoxo). Perfectly in line with the domino cascade of luck the universe seems to have set up around this whole transition.

Not that it has been without bumps. The day after we moved, both mine and Patrick's immune systems crashed spectacularly, amplified by the onset of tree pollen season. Coming from Newfoundland, which is mostly rock dotted by lichen and scrubby spruce, I couldn't imagine I would ever curse a tree. But Arkansas is blanketed with them, and they are a menace in the spring. Seriously. This state ranks near the top of the nation for asthma because of it. The EPA needs to write the trees a very strongly worded letter.

So we've been wheezing and coughing and sniffling and popping lortadine, not sure how much of our fatigue is due to pollen having displaced all the oxygen in our bloodstreams, and how much is attributable to having spent two weeks making the contents of a 2200 square feet home fit into a 16 foot storage container.

Small stuff, compared to the sad news that Eureka, our granddaddy cat, went out for cigarettes one night last week and never came back. He did this the last time we moved, and turned up many weeks after we had written him off, but he was quite a bit spryer then. I will put some signs up around the neighborhood, but I think maybe he just took a look around at all the boxes and decided he was too old and too tired for it.

Fanny, in the meantime, has gone to rehab. We had to board her anyway, so I signed her up for in-house obedience training. It was hard to tell the trainer where to begin. Curing her of attacking the kids' friends would be a huge improvement.

That leaves Lucy, our calico cat, who must wonder if all the other animals have been raptured, leaving her to eat her kibbles from a paper coffee filter on a strange floor.

The kids, on the other hand, are having a blast. The condo is like an ultra-futuristic hotel to them, full of modern wonders our old home lacked, like carpeting and a microwave. Also a garbage disposal, which I am quite enamoured of myself. I've never had one, and I've kind of become obsessed with seeing what it likes to eat. I call it, "Baby." I'm hoping there will be room in the kitchen budget for the new house to install one.

Ah, the dratted budget. The last year wrecked our credit so thoroughly, it was a minor miracle we were able to get a mortgage at all. To do so, we had to make a down payment that was much bigger than the usual minimum. Which is probably a good thing in the long run, even if it means we have had to scale way back on our remodelling plans. Still, we are getting the paint and floors done, and the process of hiring that out is pushing my tiny, stunted left brain to its limit.

The first quote I got on the painting was twenty thousand dollars. For a three bedroom, 1800 square-foot house. Now, the U.S. dollar has taken a beating, but we are not yet paying $100 for a loaf of bread, and I am not paying five figures for a paint job. Not if the risen Jackson Pollack himself were to come and do it. The second quote was $10,000. These guys were convincing. They were so nice and so thorough in their measuring and figuring, I was almost sold on it. We would have to eat on a card table and watch tv on the floor, but the paint on our walls would hold up under 100X magnification. Then I came to my senses.

"If we had the time, we'd paint this place ourselves, and we'd be happy with it," I said to Patrick. So we passed on the micro-precision job, and hired a friend. Good enough will be good enough. And my color scheme is so bright, you won't be able to get that close to the wall to detect flaws anyway.

We took the inspiration from here. I went through so many sample pints trying to get just the right colors, the walls look like a patchwork quilt. Our friend was going to start today. I'm half expecting a call from him asking me if I'm really, really sure.

No, but that's never stopped me before.

Lots more to come.

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