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Sunday, June 29, 2008

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Tonight we are having a couple of our new neighbors over for dinner, newlyweds. (I don't know if either of them ever read this blog, but I hope they aren't too horrified to discover they have become writing prompts. Welcome to my world. Dinner and everything else is strictly off the record.)

I love entertaining. I'm looking forward to this evening for all kinds of reasons: conversation, wine, an excuse to eat decadently. But there's more to it today. I feel like I am getting to welcome someone into the league of married people. Like anyone died and made me nuptial ambassador, I know. But still. That's how I feel. Like I might run out the door when they pull up and pelt them with rice (I won't).

I am excited for this couple in the way some parents might feel excited when friends announce a pregnancy. I barely know them, but I know they are creative, unconventional people, and I know from experience that when two creative, unconventional people board that most conventional of institutions—marriage— it makes for a hell of a ride.

Both times I got married, I was already living with my intended. Both times, I swore that marriage wouldn't change anything. I don't know who I thought I was kidding. Marriage changes EVERYTHING. I don't care how free-spirited you are, you cannot sign on to a culturally-sanctioned covenant as old as civilization, with the collective heft of history and society behind it, and not be altered by it. I can't, anyway.

This is why I don't think civil unions cut it as an ultimate substitute for, instead of a step toward, legal marriage for all consenting couples. It's not the same. Marriage is different. You go into marriage and you might come out again, but you come out as something other than what you were, legally, spiritually, substantively. You can't turn bread back into flour and water, and you can't turn married into anything that doesn't define itself against the word married.

I once attended a wedding where the couple had painstakingly written very elaborate vows outlining all the ways in which they would protect and respect each other's individuality. I had been married long enough to be very, very amused, though I was sad for them when it didn't work out. I wrote our vows (or assembled them from various traditions) when Patrick and I got married, and they were also quite elaborate for two people who claimed to be doing it mainly for the benefit of the INS at the time.

I don't think I've referred back to them since, although I've threatened to, in times of sickness and poorer, hoping that I might have left those parts out. But I'd probably be chagrined to see how many of those high-minded promises we've broken over the years.

It's been a hell of a ride.

A friend of mine who teaches relationship workshops says that there is as much a need for stories about real marriage as there is a need for soup kitchens for people who are hungry. I agree. I think too many couples are fed a bland and watery gruel of happily ever after. I mean, congratulations to all the people who stayed married for forty years and never knew a cross word between them, but that doesn't help ME. I would much rather be seated across from the couple who divorced and remarried each other twice in those forty years and still know days where another anniversary seems dubious.

I don't have real wedding silver to shine up for dinner. Ours was not that kind of wedding. Our guests were a ragtag band of gypsies from the bar where I worked at the time, and our families aren't the silver-bestowing kind. But I'd like to think if we had, the pieces would look well-used by now: tiny scratches, a dent here and there from being dropped on occasion (or flung), perhaps a missing piece we've learned to do without. It would bear the mark of wear and tear, the patina of something precious, durable and worn.


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Friday, June 27, 2008

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Maybe Beta through Gamma

There are times I think the Judeo-Christian tradition needs to chuck the metaphor of father for God—too much baggage for most people to formulate a positive theology around. Who needs a higher power who blows up over nothing, works overtime through your Little League game, and sometimes only pretends to be listening when you're trying to tell him something? Admit it, even if yours did earn the World's Greatest Dad mug, if he were the Alpha and the Omega, we'd all be screwed.

I try to even it out with maternal images, but there you're limited too. The trouble with anthropomorphizing God is that the molds are all dented.

Then I spot a dad radiating father energy in its purest and highest form, and I think, maybe that does get part of it.




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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

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The UPS Man and I are Like This.

mini colanders

This has never been a review blog, and I've cringed over watching so many personal blogs turn into little more than catalog copy, but a decade's worth of repressed decorative urges are finally finding expression, and I can't help but indulge in a little show and tell, here and there. I got these quart-sized colanders when they went on sale one day for less than five dollars each, from They make me happy.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

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When the Moon Hits Your Eye

Our family had cause to celebrate the other night, so we loaded the kids in the van and headed out to a new restaurant I'd been wanting to check out. Within moments of arriving, it was clear that Patrick was less than thrilled about the place. It was crowded and busy when we got there, the service was cafeteria-style and rushed, the menu was expensive, and they were out of the steak I thought might win him over in spite of all that. Customers were swarming for tables, pouncing the second any of us rose up to fetch a fork or a cup of water.

Beyond the obvious irritants, there was a kind of hive atmosphere, because this is a small town, and the place has been getting lots of buzz. My husband is particularly resistant to social buzz. I could tell it was grating on him like the noise of florescent lights.

Me, I was excitedly flitting around. I love buzz. I thought it felt festive. The nine dollar glass of wine helped.

The restaurant's specialty is wood-fired pizza, served up in a style I would call "rustic," and my husband calls "sloppy." We ordered three, and when they arrived, with their toppings in a more or less virgin state (slices of cheese instead of shredded, fresh baby spinach instead of cooked), mine was the only smile that stayed right side up.

We left with most of it in boxes, and have been fighting about it every time it comes up since, which is a lot, because, you know, the buzz.

"That place is awful," he says, "sloppily prepared food and no service masquerading as philosophy."

"It's trying to do something different and creative," I argue back. "Just because the pizza's not to your taste, you shouldn't tear it down. Just because it's not how you were raised to understand pizza should be, doesn't make it bad pizza. You should support the pizza just for trying. " (Yes, dear reader, it's possible one of us is talking about more than pizza.)

"Pretentious," he declares. "Inflated."

"Small-minded," I charge. "Judgemental."

The negative side of being even a little bit hip to psychology, which we are, is that you can spin any conflict into evidence of your opponent's unconscious "issues."

Clearly, I told Patrick just yesterday when another couple suggested the restaurant for a get-together, he is threatened by the pizza's success. And I said it with a nearly straight face.

Why is it so hard to let people be who they are when that happens to be different from who we are? Being judged hurts. I know that. But there I go, anyway, judging.

A few weeks ago, we had our first fight over the new house. Patrick has given me more or less free rein with the remodel and decorating from the get-go. In return, where he expressed a preference for this or that, I was gracious about it and trusted his input. No regrets: he gets the credit for the fabulous turquoise above the pink bathroom tile, and his last minute executive decision to paint his office the same soft blue as our bedroom turned out to be serene like he hoped, and not sleepy like I feared. Then he moved his desk in front of one of the two pairs of windows and decided he had to shade them in order to work at his computer. Which is all the time.

Sunlight to me is like oxygen. The idea that half the windows in that room, in the center of the house, would be permanently shaded, made me crazy. Worse, I knew I didn't have a leg to stand on: he's the one who has to work there, he's the majority breadwinner, the desk is much better in that position, and he let me have my way in virtually everything else. All I could do was sulk. And glower.

Which I did everytime I passed through for the next two days, thinking, go ahead, take a happy, bright space and make it a sad and dark space. LIKE YOUR SOUL.

I really did.

Because natural light is important to me, and if it's not as important to you, then you must be wrong. And maybe bad. And most likely a fascist.

And if you don't like your very expensive pizza flung down in front of you with all the toppings scattered unevenly and the edges a little charred from the wood fire, if you don't find that charming, if you don't GET THAT, you must not get me.

I've been accusing Patrick of taking something as a personal offense that merely happens to not to be to his taste.

The really negative part of being even a little bit hip to psychology is that you can't get away with that shit.

What's wonderful about staying undivorced through minor and major differences of opinion, through each other's big and little fuck-ups for ten-plus years is the gradual acceptance that the person you married is really, terribly flawed, and that, by now, they probably suspect the same thing about you, and that there isn't another human being you can hang out with, day in and day out, for over a decade, and not come to the same inescapable realization.

You can find your soulmate sight unseen three thousand miles away, he can pursue you up and down the length of a continent, promise you the moon and bring it to you. You can get on a bus one morning and leave everything you ever knew behind to ride off into happily ever after and never look back, and one day, I promise, you will find yourself leaving a restaurant with that very person, wondering what in the world you are doing with someone so obviously wrong for you in every way. And in the same instant, in a one-two punch to your consciousness, you will realize that they have sometimes wondered the same thing, and you will know that you are loved, as pouty and judge-y and broken as you are.

And that is amore.


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Friday, June 20, 2008

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I like New York in Joon...


Okay, it was April when this picture was taken. But my affections haven't waned.

Here's an insider tip for the faithful: you might want to get your subscription to Good Housekeeping magazine rolling. I hear the next issue (August) hits mailboxes a little before it hits the newstands (early July).

Just sayin'.


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Truth in Decorating


Lots of readers have been clicking through my flickr set to photos of the new house, and a few have left some very nice compliments. Mostly these make me feel very, very good, but also just a little guilty.

Surely it goes without saying that the slice of life I serve up online is edited for public view. I don't go to the grocery store without putting some clothes on and—on a good day— brushing my hair. I don't let it all hang out here either. Not on purpose anyway (sometimes I miss a button).

But I can't betray people into thinking I have it all together in domestic stage management. Here, in the interest of truthiness, is how the unpacking is going in the back of the house:



The truly frightening thing is that it could well look exactly like this a year from now.

I notice I am procrastinating most over objects with sentimental meaning: photographs, art, memorabilia, bric-a-brac, and the like. It's incredible to me how much of our "stuff" falls into this category. I look at it all and think, what are we, the Smithsonian? I can feel the psychic weight of the contents of those frames and boxes, and frankly, I'm reluctant to unload it onto our living space.

I love the uncluttered feel and look of the front of the house, but I don't know if I'm ruthless enough to toss these things. Also, I know it isn't reasonable to expect to go on living in a catalog picture. Without a few personal items, a space can seem sterile, however pretty.

When we were packing up the old house, I wrote that the purging was a kind of yoga, a deep stretch. I need help with this next pose. What's your approach to sentimental objects? What's the golden proportion of space assigned to history and space left open to imagination and potential? And are you available this Saturday to just come and take care of it?


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Thursday, June 19, 2008

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the heart of this flower imagines

as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending

e.e. cummings, somewhere i have never travelled

I've decided that fresh cut flowers are as essential as milk and bread in this house. The supermarket where I now shop has a great selection, and I've adopted a habit of ending my weekly aisle marathon there, topping off my cart with a cellophane-wrapped bouquet. At that point, the cart is so heavily laden, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it collapsed: the daisy that broke the camel's back.

There were long stretches last year when I could only buy food for a day or two at a time. I couldn't afford to take advantage of bulk discounts because I didn't have that much money up front. This month, our supermarket chain is offering a bonus 10 per cent on prepaid grocery cards, starting at denominations of $300. That's a free $30 worth of food for every $300 you spend, a no-brainer. I would have rarely been able to take advantage of that kind of saving when I most needed it. As Leah wrote once, being poor costs money.

For much of last year, spending ten dollars a week for flowers would have been preposterous. It might as well have been ten thousand a week for diamonds. Luxury is relative.

There's nothing like hanging off the brink of disaster by your fingernails to bring that truth home. I remember one of the first times in several months we were able to go out to dinner. It was just before Christmas, and we brought the kids to an all-you-can-eat-for-under-five-dollars pizza buffet. I have rarely felt so rich. I sat there with my pizza thinking, "Wow, we're just like regular people."

I feel that way now when I toss that bouquet on top of the bread, or when my grocery trip takes half as long because I don't have to tax my math-impaired brain with keeping a running subtotal on paper as I go, or when I don't feel like cooking and can say, "let's just get some pizza." Often as not, it's a couple of bouquets from the bargain buckets from which I can pull and re-arrange the freshest blooms. I still shop the grocery specials and clip coupons religiously. The pizza is usually a five dollar to-go special. But it all feels like the height of luxury.

I know it is human nature for that feeling to fade over time. And that's okay, because maybe the scars will fade too, and I can stop waking up in a cold sweat like Scarlett O'Hara on her honeymoon, wondering will I ever feel safe.




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Sunday, June 15, 2008

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Map Maker

100_6077.JPG lovah.

Yesterday afternoon I dashed out to Target to pick up a Father's Day present and card for Patrick. The present was easy (Wii Championship Boxing (shhhh....don't tell—he's still sleeping). The card less so. Standing in front of the display, I had the same perplexed feeling I remember from when my own father was the recipient of printed and embossed sentiment. Then, as now, the greeting card stand gave you two versions of fatherhood from which to choose: lovable, bumbling cartoon idiot, or revered patriarch, whose masculine greatness could only be described allegorically, by sailboats and leaping salmon. Sort of a cross between Yahweh and the Marlboro Man.

My Dad fit neither of those. Patrick either. Thirty years of seismic social change, and popular culture hasn't much budged on its portrayal of fatherhood. Part of me shrugs and says, big deal. Popular culture is by definition constrained to homogenize and pasteurize reality. But it is a big deal, because as anyone on the margins of society will tell you, to never see your reality represented in the spotlight leaves you fumbling around in the dark.

Patrick's father was a warm and loving man, and very much a product of the fifties and early sixties. He left for work before his sons woke up in the mornings, and he retreated to his armchair at night. He was a gentle disciplinarian and quick with a hug, but would not let the boys kiss him. He adored Patrick's mother, Millie, with every breath in his body (forty years into their marriage, he still gazed on her as if she were a beauty queen), and when she died he barely knew how to boil water.

For every couple I know with children, division of household labor and parental involvement is an ongoing, perpetually unresolved negotiation. It's hard because raising a family is hard work. Great work, but more work than any two people without a full domestic staff or endless supply of selfless relatives can accomplish without yelling at each other sometimes.

Once, when we were "negotiating" over hands-on time with the kids, Patrick threw up his hands in honest frustration, and said, "But I'm already a hundred times more involved than my father was with me."

I had to agree. "And it's still not enough."

We were both exaggerating to make our points. But the core feeling of that statement was true, and I think is true, for most fathers today: they are already doing so much more, and it still doesn't feel like enough, and it doesn't help that nowhere in popular culture is there an up-to-date map to get us through this new landscape. It's like trying to navigate the interstate system with a road atlas from 1956. With your kids in the back seat and the wife saying, "well, just ask someone."

Where is the Father's Day card that says, "to a hell of a human being, who is so much more to us than a cartoon fall guy or an unreachable ideal, whose struggles and accomplishments, gifts and flaws, are part of what makes us who we are; and who is redrawing the map of fatherhood and manhood daily for his own sons by trial, error and inexhaustible persistence, even when the way is hard and unknown?"

I guess this is it.

Happy Father's Day, Patrick. For today, it's more than enough.


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Thursday, June 12, 2008

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Chasing the Light

The boys have been chasing fireflies at twilight the past few nights. As dusk falls, they run to grab plastic containers and I run to grab my camera, and we all dash around the lawn in our separate pursuit of that which is so bright and fleeting.

Sometimes they catch what they are after.


Sometimes I almost do, too.



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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

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pool reads

Both these books arrived just in time for the opening of the neighborhood pool. I'm not going to pretend to review them objectively. I am too crazy about the writers to do that. It would be a review like their mom would write. I am friends with some of them, and friends aren't supposed to be objective. Friends cheer wildly when you get so much as a letter to the editor published, run straight out to buy a copy and slap it up on the refrigerator until it turns yellow. There are plenty of people willing to play the part of critic. I'll be over here with the pom-poms.

Having said all that, I have to pause part way through Things I Learned about My Dad (in Therapy) by Heather B. Armstrong et al, to tell you with complete objectivity, that the essay "Adam & Red" by Eden Marriott Kennedy blew me away today. Eden is, as you probably know, the Mrs. Kennedy, and the voice of Fussy, her often wry and funny blog. If Rizzo in Grease were a blog, I think it would be sexy, smart and tough, but with flashes of sweetness; pink lace under black sateen.

In "Adam & Red", she writes about a perfect patriarchal storm: the convergence of starting a relationship with her then undivorced husband just as his stepfather and father were exiting the scene, a few years before their own son was born. It's a complex, deep, mature piece—beautifully, unapologetically vulnerable. Bloggers are fluent in irony, and in print it sometimes comes across as a little adolescent. I confess there were places in the book I wanted to say, it's okay, we're all over 30 here, we're allowed our feelings. Eden writes in the voice of a full grown woman. The story is not at all heavy, but it has a feminine gravity that pulled me in completely. I felt lost and overwhelmed with her as she found herself swept up in the riptide of a family that had been coming together and coming apart forever.

It's literary craft of the highest order, in a class by itself. But it's not the only great read in this book, not by a long shot. If you don't already have it in your swim tote, what are you waiting for?

(rustle of pom-poms)

I'm looking forward to reading the few essays by writers who are new to me—I've saved them for last. And I'm hoping my kids will be really good swimmers by next week, because once I open Becca's book, I know I'm not going to want to look up.

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I bought some dry erase magnets at Target to turn the side of a kitchen cabinet into a domestic alert center. I wrote things like "caulk bathroom" and "countertop Friday."

According to my husband, there is another urgent priority:



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Friday, June 06, 2008

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Summah days drifted away but oh those summah nights.


If I have to stop, scan and upload every old picture I come across that amuses me to pieces, unpacking is going to take a very long time.

This was about four months before we got married, a year since we left Mexico and moved back to Little Rock (where we were going to stay six months, max). He was working as an art director by day and thrashing around as rhythm guitar player by night. I was a bartender/cocktail waitress at a notorious local dive. Dig the acrylic nails and Virginia Slim.

Then look at our flat bellies and weep for what once was.

Bonus shot: me getting ready for my shift. Hey, who didn't have a red flannel plaid shirt in the nineties?

(Becca, I still have this, and you are never getting it back.xo)


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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

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The Side of the Road


I walked out in a field, the grass was high,
it brushed against my legs.
I just stood and looked out at the open space
and a farmhouse out a ways
And I wondered about the people who lived in it
And I wondered if they were happy and content
Were there children and a man and a wife?
Did she love him and take her hair down at night?

Lucinda Williams

It was fifteen summers ago when I saw her from a car window. I was a too-young newlywed, driving somewhere along Nova Scotia's southern shore. I don't think my then-husband noticed her at all. We didn't slow down, and I didn't say anything. She was nearly completely un-noteworthy: a woman standing in the driveway of a ranch-style home, with children playing around her. The only thing at all remarkable was that she was still in her robe, and so it seemed that the driveway, set back only a little from the highway, was part of her intimate living space, and I was peeking in the window.

It's hard to say why that fleeting glimpse of her stayed with me all these many years. There was a graciousness and ease about the scene that captivated me. Something about the way she stood there in that robe that suggested life could be more fluid than I, preoccupied with making plans, could know.

She couldn't have seen me at all. A peripheral flash, sunlight bouncing off glass.

I've met her at last in this house. Though it is smaller by several hundred feet than our last, we occupy more of it, more fully, more fluidly. Where the rooms of the old house were a series of adjacent, unrelated boxes, the rooms here open up to each other so naturally, it is as if the house has its own current. We float along on it from one space to the next, from room to room, hall to hall, indoor to outdoor, like carnival ducks.

Bobbing home from the neighborhood pool this Saturday, me and my wet, tousled flock paddled through the mudroom, flip-flops flapping over the tile, towels flung over hooks. The littlest Who and I wriggled out of our swimsuits to rinse off in the master shower stall, then paraded barefoot (and one of us bare bummed) through Daddy's office to the kitchen to find something to eat on the patio. Around and around we go like that, day into night, night into day.

Mornings I pull on my red satin robe and step over toys to collect the newspaper from the front step. Sometimes a car passes, a glint of metal in the corner of my eye. It never slows down. I never look up.

But I always smile.
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