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Saturday, February 28, 2009

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"My, my. A body does get around."


That's my mother's favorite line of Faulkner's. It's an apt one this week. I'm in New Orleans for a speaking engagement, after dropping Patrick and the boys off in Little Rock Thursday night, and taking off again in the wee hours of Friday morning. Home for real this evening. In the meantime, off to find beignets.

The second part of Mont-Tremblant: Day Three can be read here.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

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Hardship Post


You know what's hard? Eating a four-course, two-hour meal every night, and having to come back to your hotel and blog about it and all the adventures you've had all day, that's what.

You can reap les fruites of all my travail over here.
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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

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We are the Champions of the World


Picture Bill Murray, tied to the mast of a yacht in the movie "What About Bob?" bellowing, "I'M SAILING! I SAIL!" and you have a picture of us, skiing.

It took us all day to get the point where four of us could manage one good run, but my God, no Olympic team was ever more victorious.

Read about Day Two in Mont-Tremblant here.
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Monday, February 23, 2009

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True North


If you grow up with northern winters, and then you move down south, and you stay away a long, long time, you forget some things about snow. You forget that it has texture. You forget that it has a sound. You forget that it isn't just a cartoon blanket of white. Then one day, in February, you go north. You step off a plane, and onto the ground, and your feet remember the exact density and crunch of snow in deep winter. The kind that isn't going anywhere, anytime soon.

Read about our first day in Mont-Tremblant here.


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Saturday, February 21, 2009

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Live From New York


I got home from Houston last night around nine-thirty, and didn't get through packing for our northern winter getaway until nearly two in the morning. I was so, so tired. I hardly know what I packed. No one in this family should be surprised if they wind up at our destination without pants. Like the man sang, Mama tried.

Catch up with Day One of Notes on Ice over here. *

*Some 'splaining: This is a sponsored trip, and Blogher, who made it possible, and to whose advertising network I belong, is fastidious about separating sponsored content from their advertising, so the details of our excursion get blogged about on a separate site that does not run their network advertising. It's a bit like my kid who doesn't like his food touching. I'm very happy to accommodate them both.


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Friday, February 20, 2009

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Everyone Here is Beautiful

The Mom 2.0 Summit in Houston is first-rate, full of big ideas and beautiful people like the scrumptious Katherine Center , pictured above, left. Only one thing could drag me away a full night and day before all the fun is over...


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Thursday, February 19, 2009

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"Oh! I forgot to tell you what happened at the doctor's office yesterday."


"Well, I walked into the elevator lobby with the kids, and there's a tall young black guy standing in front of the office directory. I didn't think I took much notice of him, but at some level I must have, because I can tell you he was wearing a leather jacket with a lot of graphics on it, a baseball cap, loose pants and a lot of jewelry."


"Okay, and then out of the corner of my other eye, I see this older couple, maybe in their seventies, just as country as can be. The husband is wearing a button up work shirt in a checked pattern, he has glasses and maybe a John Deere cap on. I don't remember anything about his wife except she was also elderly. I'm not actively observing any of these people, understand. I'm moving toward the elevator buttons with two kids, and they are barely in the periphery of my awareness.

"Then the old man crosses over to the young man in front of the directory, and says, very softly, very kindly, 'Who are you looking for, son?'

"And in a flash, in that instant, I see all of them: that the young man has been standing just a little too long in front of that lettered board, that the old man's approach is casual in a studied, kind way. And I see me: the unconscious assumptions I made the second they all crossed my line of sight, as plain as the white lettering on that black directory, suddenly legible. I had seen that young man, and assumed, "inner city, angry, criminal." I saw the old couple, and filed them under, "rural. ignorant. racist." In a moment, something unexpected happens, everything shifts, and I see all of it.

" You have got to blog about that."

"Okay, I will."
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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

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Blast Off


So, I'm going to Houston on Thursday, New York on Saturday, An Undisclosed Foreign Location* with my family from Sunday to Thursday, and then to New Orleans on Friday.

Consequently, my desk is covered with lists. Lists of things to do, buy, pack, remember, write and delegate, in an ink scrawl that barely makes sense to me, but is nonetheless INK: indelible, decisive, committed.

Respect the list, people.

Only, people don't, and today's list was completely subverted by them. Including my own child, who developed a rash that the school nurse thought could be infantigo. I thought maybe he's just busted out with false eyespots, like certain caterpillars, and neither of us should be taken in by them so quickly, but she insisted a doctor look at it. And the bank, who needed a few more hours alone with my money before I could have my turn with it. And the pediatric clinic nurse, who rescheduled my son's appointment, telling me, "Trust me, you do not want to bring your child in here today. You'll leave with something much worse.**"

I came this close to getting Very Crabby. Then I realized that these are all pretty delightful problems, compared to others we've had. Okay, the infatigo is not so very delightful. But it, and everything else, could suck much worse.

*I'll tell you this: it's cold and french. And I'll be blogging about it all next week. Les bons temps, they will roulez. Perhaps literally, down a steep mountainside. Stay tuned.

**Jennifer points out that we would do well to apply this warning to big box stores. Smart lady, and not one to be taken in by fake eyespots.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

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Luxury Sweet


Happy Valentine's! We celebrated ours two weekends ago, with a night at a downtown hotel. We let the kids swim in the pool and gave them a bath in the jacuzzi before dropping them home to spend the night with a friend, who also gave us the keys to her snazzy convertible. If you don't have a friend like that, may I suggest, unreservedly, that you find one, and never let her go.

It was our first overnight without kids since our trip to Ireland two years ago. It was fun to pretend we were of the jet-set, and not, as George Jones and Tammy Wynette sang, the old Chevro-let set.

This time last year, we were getting our old house ready to sell. One of the many "someday" projects at that address was the master bedroom. It was enormous, with a balcony, a fireplace and a ton of potential, but we never even got around to painting it. Like so much of that space, it felt incomplete, like a sentence that trails off. It was a room without conviction.

Last month, we finally finished moving in, only eight months after changing our address. Everything we hadn't unpacked or found a place for had gravitated to our bedroom as we organized and decorated the rest of the house. It was clutter's last stand.

I evicted what was unloved and unneeded, and put the finishing decorative touches on the room.

"For the first time," I told Patrick, "I have a bedroom I love better than a nice hotel room." He thought it was funny, but I was serious. For the first time in our life together, we have a bedroom that is a real retreat.

A jacuzzi is swell, of course, as is room service. And after zooming around Sunday morning in our borrowed coach, our five-year-old minivan never felt (and smelled) more like a pumpkin.

But coming home to this?


Makes me feel like I get to keep both glass slippers.


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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

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Guilty of Indulgence


As Kristen pointed out the other day, the latest Facebook craze, "25 Random Things," is already 400 years old in blog years. But somehow it seems more compelling in this incarnation. Maybe the context makes it more meaningful. My non-bloggy family and friends are in on the game. Or maybe it's because declaring myself in lockdown from 9-12 everyday while writing a book was a triple dog dare to the universe to tempt me.

I hope my editor is okay with me turning in 300 pages of Facebook memes in the fall.

The truth is, I have to cut way, way back on Facebook, Twitter and other guilty pleasures. It's hard to say how my new writing commitment will impact Notes. I need the blog to keep me loose and limber, so I suspect not much. But it does give me an excuse to repurpose stuff like this, and beg forgiveness.

25 Random (or Not) Things About Me

  • I am from Newfoundland, but am actually a mainlander on a technicality: I was born in New Brunswick, Canada and lived there until my parents moved back to the island when I was nine months old.

  • My first memory is of being in the plane that took us there.

  • I have been wandering off and freaking out my parents since I could walk. The first time I went missing, they were about to have the river dredged when it was discovered I had toddled across the TransCanada highway to visit a neighbor. In my defense, I knew I where I was the whole time.

  • I turned ten years old in the West Indies. We lived in Tobago from November 1979 to April 1980, while my dad was writing a play. The first morning I woke up there, I set out on foot to explore the village. Didn’t tell anyone. Got lost. Two friendly guys in a really old car gave me a ride home.

  • Twice, I have lost almost everything I owned and started over from scratch. Once by fire, and once by divorce. Both were traumatic, but they made me very resilient. I am good at starting over, and I hold material “stuff” very lightly.

  • My parents had a cottage that had no plumbing or electricity. We spent a lot of time there. I feel lucky to know what it’s like to read or play scrabble by the light of a kerosene lamp, to play in the woods all day, to dig clay from the river bank, to pick wild strawberries and fiddlehead ferns, and to watch my mother stew them over a cast iron wood stove.

  • I was bored and miserable through most of elementary, junior, and high school, but I always had a few close friends, so I have lots of happy memories outside of class.

  • My high school summer job was canteen girl at the golf club.

  • In college, I was a cook at McDonald’s. After every shift, I would make myself a McDLT with cheese and as many pickle slices as would stay on it.

  • I was even more bored and miserable in college, and I quit after three semesters with about a year’s worth of credits and a whole lot of incompletes. If I was interested in the subject or teacher, I would complete a paper and then just not turn it in. If I was happy with it, I didn’t really care about the grade. If I wasn’t interested in the subject or teacher, I just checked out completely. Most of my professors were extremely exasperated with me. I heard, "If you'd only apply yourself" a lot.

  • My first office job was in accounting. Hilarity ensued.

  • My first “real” job was an editorial assistant for an industrial magazine in Toronto. I got around being barely nineteen with no degree by writing a personal essay that persuaded the editor to give me a shot.

  • I learned to cut and paste when it was actual cutting and pasting. I was working at the magazine when desktop publishing was introduced.

  • The wax pasting machine was a good place to accidentally on purpose bump into the art director, who I thought I was madly in love with. The art director I was actually in love with was in Little Rock, Arkansas at the time, probably flirting with some other editorial assistant over the wax pasting machine. We wouldn’t meet for another six years.

  • I met my husband on a Liz Phair BBS in 1995. If you don’t remember what a BBS is, or know who Liz Phair is, the rest of the story is bound to be lost on you.

  • I had come back to Newfoundland by that time (the art director married someone else), and thought I would live in St. John’s the rest of my life. I loved it there. On January 16, 1996, I packed a bag, boarded a bus, and left.

  • I ran off to Mexico with Patrick, to a little colonial city called San Miguel de Allende. My parents, to their great credit, did not freak out, though I did not really know where I was this time, or what the hell I was doing.

  • I moved in with Patrick, into a one room apartment in a foreign country, after having spent a total of ten days with him over a period of a year.

  • We came to Little Rock just long enough to make enough money to get back to Mexico, six months tops. Thirteen years, three kids, and two houses later...

  • I hated Little Rock when I got here. I love it now. Its small town-ness presses in on me, sometimes, but that is also its principal charm.

  • I will turn 40 this year. I love everything about getting older on the inside. I sometimes struggle with the outside, but I wouldn’t trade experience for perky bits.

  • I would like to get in shape enough to wear a bikini one more summer, but I’m probably not willing to suffer for it.

  • I am an optimist. I really do believe things are getting better over time, and that most people are doing the best they can at any given moment, given the circumstances.

  • As long as I can remember, I have had a very strong sense of the nearness of God. I don’t talk about it much, because that word conjures up images for a lot of people that are not even close to what it means to me.

  • The older I get, the less tolerance I have for judgmental attitudes. I realize that this is judgmental and intolerant of me. I’m working on it.

    The portrait is one Patrick did by hand, using Illustrator CS4, based on a snapshot of me at about twenty-one. My mother would like everyone to know I haven't smoked since 1997. Anyway, it was turning my skin green.


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  • Wednesday, February 04, 2009

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    It Explains the Webbed Feet

    "Mom, are you an otter?"

    My four-year-old has a delightful speech impediment (it used to be called speaking like a four-year-old) that makes him sound like Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront. Shortly after he started preschool in the fall, he started asking me about my marine mammalian secret identity. It took me a few weeks to figure it out.

    "An author!"

    We were both elated, like Helen Keller and her tutor, having at last spelled water.

    "Yes! An OTTER! Are you an OTTER?"

    I realized then that I had told his teacher I was writer. "Yes, I guess, kind of," I said. I didn't feel like it. "Author" is a word I associate with literary festival program bios, library posters, and my father. I hadn't called him that in years, but I suddenly remembered that was the word I used whenever we were asked in class to say what it was our fathers were.

    Not that everyone didn't already know. "Kyran's father is an author," teachers and classmates were quick to point out to anyone new on the scene. Depending on my age, I reacted with varying parts self-consciousness and pride. Dad's books were what made my family special, at least in the esteem of the outside world.

    Special is nice when you are eight, less so when you are thirteen. But even in the trench of my eye-rolling-est, cringey-est, adolescent self-loathing, I knew I wouldn't trade it in for anything. I loved to pick up one of my father's books and see something from our life written there, in a poem or a dedication. It taught me how common and close is beauty, art and meaning. To see it everywhere, and anywhere. What is heaven like? I'll tell you. It is very near.

    I remember the first time I put "writer" on a form with any degree of certainty. I remember when I began to answer "I'm a writer" at cocktail parties and parent-teacher conferences without feeling six years old and playing make-believe with my Daddy's typewriter. I am a writer. But an author? That seemed like a stretch.

    I guess I am going to have to start believing it. Because according to this, I'm going to be one.

    (The original publicity blurb, flattering though it was, has been the source of much family merriment since it said I had a "gimlet eye." Neither of us knew what that meant, but Patrick thought "giblet" worked much better.)

    To make a long story short, my agent sent out a few chapters of the memoir I'd started work on in the fall, and had put on hold while a magazine article took over my life from November to January. It went out on a Wednesday afternoon. That Friday morning, I was trying to decide whether or not it would be appropriate to change out of my pajamas before taking a potentially life-altering phone call (I decided it was).

    I haven't been sure how to tell people, or how much people want to hear. A message on Facebook and a couple of phone calls covered my close friends and 500 of my nearest relatives. There has been so much happening lately, so fast, I can barely keep up. And I'm a little worried that the OMG!!!s are getting tiresome for some of you, no matter how deeply you've sympathized with our struggles along the way.

    So, here I stand before you, with Daddy's horn-rimmed glasses slipping off my face and his corduroy jacket hanging down to my ankles, shyly trying on the words:

    I'm an otter.

    If you would like to know a little more, Geoff has very kindly helped me break the news back home, and asked a lot of the nitty gritty questions in this very sweet piece. As you were.


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    Monday, February 02, 2009

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    All the Lonely People


    A few weeks before Christmas, we dropped in on a holiday party, where friends were gathering to watch the fireworks that cap off Little Rock's annual Santa Claus parade. It was the house of merry and bright, heady with fragrant mulled wine, jammed to the corners with kids and adults, cookie crumbs and a smile on every pair of lips.

    It was enchanting, in the true sense of that cheapened word.

    I could have stayed for hours, but Patrick was hungry for more than gingerbread, so after the fireworks we took the kids for dinner at a favorite restaurant, Doe's Eat Place. Doe's is something of a local landmark. It was written up in Rolling Stone and People magazines as the unofficial headquarters of the first Clinton presidential campaign. Like certain people in that campaign, the joint has a low-brow seediness that suggested authenticity and character at the time, but now reads as a little decrepit (you decide whether we're talking about Clinton or Carville). But the steak and tamales are still damn good.

    And pricey. We go about once a year, splitting a T-bone between us, sharing the toast and fries with the kids, catching up with the manager, a friend of ours, if she happens to be in. The steaks are enormous, and there is always plenty enough leftover for steak and eggs the next morning, with hash browns made from the leftover fries.

    Just down the street, there is a Salvation Army homeless shelter. Dusk was coming on. Little Rock winters are not generally cruel, but it was no night to sleep on the street. People were starting to gather in front of the doors as we passed. The string of happy, colored light wound around my spirits began to dim.

    As we took our seats, and looked at the menus, I began mentally calculating what it would cost to bring all those people outside the Salvation Army doors inside for a steak dinner and all the trimmings. Maybe fifty or sixty of them, at most, at fifty dollars a person? I did the math. Three thousand dollars or so? Beyond my reach certainly, but not beyond the realm of philanthropic dreaming. You'd have to rent out the whole restaurant, of course. And then there's the question of what to do about alcohol. It would be nice to pour everyone a decent wine, but that might be doing some more harm than good. And there's no doubt that imaginary five grand would go a lot further in the hands of a worthy aid agency.

    And then my bulbs started to short and burn out. Because I wanted to give my poor imaginary friends so much more than a steak dinner. I wanted to give them a warm house party to go to, filled with friends they loved and people who smiled to see them come in. I wanted to give them children's mittened hands to hold while they watched fireworks and sipped something warm and spicy. I wanted to send them and their doggie bags to a home where they would wake up to fries and onions cooking and coffee brewing. A kiss good morning and the newspaper waiting.

    I couldn't do the math for that.

    I'm no saint. I didn't want to take one of those people and their problems home with me. I know a little bit about the kinds of circumstances that lead people to fall between society's cracks. I know something about mental illness, and addiction, and the kind of holes in a soul that money, and even love, won't fill.

    It's so overwhelming, this question of need. I think my response to it is pretty typical of most people. I don't have the answer, so I shut down. I forget that it isn't yes or no, all or nothing.

    As with most things I forget, I've got my kids to help remind me. There's a freeway exit we use where there's almost always someone standing with a sign asking for money. Sometimes, rarely, I've rolled down the window and given some. Most times, I idle uncomfortably waiting for the light to change, averting my eyes, pretending not to notice. Then I began to notice the kids not noticing.

    The capacity to feel pain is a terrible thing. I have a few choice words about it for whomever's in charge. But the capacity to not feel it is a thousand times worse. If those are my only two choices —and if they are, let me register my strongly worded complaint —I'll go with feeling it. I want my kids to have compassion, to feel, even and maybe especially in the face of their own helplessness to fix another person.

    Lately, when we've pulled up next to the panhandlers on the freeway exit, I've started saying aloud what's running through my mind.

    "Look at that person with the sign. I wonder what his story is, if he is really hungry, or if he wants money for drugs. I wonder why some people are hungry and homeless. I don't really know what the best thing is to do in these situations. Sometimes I give a little money, even if they do spend it on drugs or alcohol. Sometimes I give money or clothes to an organization that knows better how to help people in need. I don't know. I wish this wasn't a problem."

    And so on. A lesson in the math that never adds up.

    And then I say, "What do you think?"

    And they don't know the answer either. It hurts. But it feels so much better than pretending not to see.

    On Martin Luther King Day, the boys and I took our new President up on his challenge to honor the day with an act of service. It was nothing grand or even difficult, and talking about it here cancels out any Brownie points I might have earned otherwise. We had a couple of gift cards, traded them in on a few warm blankets and some canned wieners, and brought them to that Salvation Army shelter. Hardly steak dinners for the masses. Not enough to save the world, or heal even one wounded soul.

    Except maybe, just a little bit, our own.

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