Category Archives: Uncategorized

Yawns

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It’s been quite a month of travel for me.  I’ve had exciting adventures and slept in many different beds, so how wonderful it felt to get back to my own bed this weekend.  I slept like the dead–until about 7am when my ears were accosted by the sound of tweeting birds, which is very unusual at our house. These birds were serious about their songs; they did not let up, and after an hour, when (half asleep and half awake) I weighed plans about getting ridding of them (BB gun pellets? Sharp bird pest strips planted on the roof?).  I woke up enough to realize it was Hubby’s alarm clock that we both had slept through. ON A SUNDAY MORNING. I seriously wanted to punch him.  I told him he needs to go back to the old-fashioned BEEP BEEP BEEP alarm or else I will be slumbering in a different room.

Hubby is gone for a week to Georgia on a business trip so his alarm clock will not be disturbing me, but I still haven’t slept well for days.  The last night I was in Illinois, I sustained 60 mosquito bites–45 on my left leg and 15 on my right.  These were not the pesky little mozzies we have here in Tempe whose bites disappear after an hour.  These big-ass Midwestern mosquitos left some sort of toxin in my skin, causing each bite to swell to the size of big red nickels . . . and they are so itchy it’s hard to keep my fingernails off them.  It’s been a week and they show no signs of healing.  If they aren’t better by Monday, I will seek medical attention.  I keep wishing I’d used the bug repellant spray offered but nooooooo, I didn’t want the chemicals on me.  UGH.

Then last night Ruby the Wonder Spaniel got me up FOUR TIMES to go out and do her business between 2am and 5am.  She’d eaten so many cicadas before bed that her tummy was literally buzzing.  She does this every year, and while watching her leap about the yard for her summer snacks is Youtube-worthy, those crunchy treats always give her a case of the runs.  I gave her a Tums that she licked at loudly for a good 15 minutes, but then we were back outside soon after that.  Complicating the situation is that I’d taken a Benadryl to try to calm the itch from the bug bites and couldn’t figure out which way the door was!   Several times in the past few weeks, I’ve woken up in the dark thinking Hubby and I are still in our fabulous British hotel room with the magical view of the Tower of London.

Next week school starts and I will be back to an “early to bed and early to rise” schedule. It will be a difficult transition after a summer of staying up past midnight either reading or watching Netflix, waking up with no alarm clock, then napping mid afternoon.  But I am excited to meet the new staff members, new parents, and most of all our students . . . and be living a useful life again after the long, restorative summer break.

Cheers,

Mary

 

Home, Then and Now

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It is 7:30 pm on Sunday night, and I am in the middle of cooking my mother’s famous lasagna recipe.  It involves making your own bechamel, and it is the best lasagna I’ve ever tasted.  I seem to remember that she found it in a Better Homes and Gardens magazine which seems hard to believe, but you must remember that in the late 1960s and the early 1970s Julia Child was on tv encouraging housewives to venture away from meat loaf and pork chops.  I’m not going to share the lasagna recipe here because lately I’ve found it hard to amaze my dinner guests, which is not surprising when the NYT and Epicurious send us their best recipes on a daily basis.  Better, sometimes, to reach back in time and return to the classics.

Tonight I was so happy chopping onions and garlic and stirring pots and singing along with Florence Welch and then it occurred to me that WHOOPS I’d forgotten about the pasta. Our stove is awful and takes forever for a burner to heat, so now I am in a holding period waiting for the ziti to cook.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  I am making my mother’s famous lasagna recipe using ziti, simply because the lasagna noodles located on the top shelf (way in the back) were so petrified they quite possibly may have been purchased during Obama’s first term.  You see, our cupboards are very deep, and I am short and cannot see to the back.  And I’m lazy to fetch a chair to look into the bowels of my cupboards.  I hope I gain back some of your faith when I tell you I used fresh oregano from our backyard garden in the meat sauce.  That’s about all that’s left growing in this tremendous heat. That and a basil plant that has quadrupled in size during the few months since I bought it at Trader Joe’s.  I completely forgot it was there and am sad thinking about all the days when I could have had Caprese salads.

I’m making this complicated lasagna recipe so Hubby will have comfort food when he comes home to an empty house each night during this coming week.  William and his friends are off camping up north in the cool mountains, and tomorrow I get on plane to see my aunts and uncles and cousins in my hometown in northern Illinois.  I have not been in three years and am so excited to see my family . . . and to see and feel and smell the town where I was born and where I lived until I was ten years old.

In my dreams I ride my bike down the streets of this little old town.  I go through the squeaky screen door to hug my grandmother and then at other times, I have coffee with my Aunt Linda and my cousin Bridget.  In my dreams, memories of my young self get tangled up with the reality of the older self I am now.  Because I am the oldest of three, I keep the childhood memories of this place for all of us.  I tell my brother about driving to Grandpa Koppen’s house when a tornado was coming, our mother shouting at us to roll down the windows, we will be there soon!  Our own basement was mud walls and big spiders, and grandma and grandpa were just up the street with a lovely finished basement complete with pool table and full bar.  I say to my siblings, don’t you remember when we lived on Grover Street and Aunt Linda and Uncle Bill and Matt and Bridget lived just twenty steps from our own front door?  Their dog, Arfrang, was so cute and was always jumping at their screen . . . and their spunky little cats, Amos and Andy, were so fun to chase and pet.  Remember Thanksgiving and Christmas at grandma and grandpa’s when we would sit at a fancy long table in the dining room?  Then after dinner the men would smoke and drink, and the women would do dishes and talk in the kitchen.  So much laughter, and I remember it all so fondly.  I try to keep this place of my youth alive for us because I am the oldest thus have the most stories, and this is the place where we were born.

I could share here many more childhood memories from my small town in Illinois, but a big storm is moving in, and I’d rather watch that through the window than continue driveling on here.  We have lightening and huge storm clouds and a rumbling of thunder in the distance.  We so rarely get weather here in the desert; this storm is a treat.   As always, thank you for reading my words.

Cheers,

Mary

 

Looking for Rainbows

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It rained all weekend.  I kinda loved it, and in the moments when the rain let up, Ruby the Wonder Spaniel and I went out to pull weeds.  At one point on Sunday afternoon, it began to pour, and then the sun came and shone so brilliantly, all while it was still raining.  It was magnificent!  The thrill I felt from smelling the earthy wet smells and seeing the unusual rain on this quiet Sunday filled me with a simple joy.  Ruby and I went out front into the cul de sac to look for the rainbow and found one vibrantly lighting up the sky.  Both of us smiled from ear to ear, and then the clouds covered the sun and the rainbow disappeared.

We came back in the house, and Ruby began to bark.  My hearing is good, but somehow Ruby is the only one who heard shots coming from our next door neighbor’s house.  Hubby was in the office, but was on the computer, so it must have dimmed the sounds.  The rest of the day turned into a nightmare or alt reality when our usually calm and boring street turned into a crime in progress with 20 (at least) police blocking off and surrounding our street with weapons drawn.  Across the street a policeman watched over the fence with a rifle.   Two SWAT trucks pulled up behind the house next door and shone bright lights onto the backyard.  We were asked to evacuate, but we knew there was no real threat. Turns out we were right; our neighbor was drunk and passed out cold, and he came out peacefully once he awoke.

We knew our neighbor was having a bad time of it.  She moved out a year and a half ago. He was drinking and suffered from delusions.  He is a gun owner and apparently got black out drunk on our rainy Sunday afternoon and started shooting inside his home.  One of the shots ricocheted into the neighbors’ house on the west side of him.  Most of the neighbors heard the four shots.  Nobody knew if he was dead or alive inside the home.

Like I said, I knew things were bad. While living out our daily lives, I tried not to dwell on the situation; I knew she was trying so hard to get him to go to AA or get treatment for his issues and was still not giving up on her beloved husband of 33 years.  But our vegetable garden is near our shared back yard wall, and I often found myself feeling scared and moving as quietly as I could while cutting lettuce for our dinner.  He had no bone to pick with us, yet, if someone is that unstable, who knows what could  happen?   I didn’t mention the situation to very many people so as to protect their privacy and the few friends I mentioned it to didn’t seem overly concerned.  I was so hopeful it would all work out, and she would be able to move back to her adorable house, and he would find the help he needed.

This week it’s been hard for me to focus on life.  I’m still shaken from our six hours sequestered on the east side of our home because as the police told us, “bullets can easily penetrate dry wall.”  When darkness fell, we turned off all the lights and moved from window to window to watch the situation play out.  I was never afraid for our own lives. But I’m still shaken by what’s happened to our lovely neighbors of 15 years who always cat sat for us when we were out of town and would never accept payment, and twice a year invited all the neighbors to BBQs in their driveway,  all of us sitting on  camp chairs enjoying potato salad, hot dogs, hamburgers, and brownies, but most of all each other’s company.

Many neighbors (friends and acquaintances) called  me that night to find out if we knew what was happening.  I relayed only the basics and then said to each person, “I don’t know any family who doesn’t have someone who suffers from mental health or addiction issues, and I hope you’ll keep that in mind when talking about others about what’s happening. They have been lovely neighbors.”

I was sad to talk to her yesterday and find out he is in custody probably for a long time, and that she plans to put the house on the market as soon as she can have the dry wall repaired.  She says there are so many holes it looks like her house has chicken pox.  I’m glad she has kept her sense of humor.  I think it will be a long time before anyone on our street can forget about that horrible, terrifying night, but I know Ruby and I will be happy now to take our time with our gardening . . . and we’ll still keep looking for rainbows at the end of the street.

Cheers,

Mary

 

 

The Angel Shrugged

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Not working every day is taking some getting used to.  I’ve never been good at transitions, or being alone for more than a few hours at a time.  I become anxious and introspective.  I find myself eating potato chips at 9am and biting cheddar cheese off the brick and pacing around the kitchen island.  This quote by Henry David Thoreau (which used to be on the front of my fridge) says best how I feel when I’m alone:

It is easier to sail many thousands of miles through cold and storm and cannibals, than it is to explore the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific of one’s being.

And this one (by Brian Andreas) which is meant to be uplifting, but holy crap, that’s a lot of pressure:

In my dream, the angel shrugged & said, if we fail this time, it will be a failure of imagination & then she placed the world gently in the palm of my hand.

So as to avoid standing in the kitchen eating cheese and reading sad quotes about introspection . . . and feeling the pressure of doing something fabulous because I’m holding the freakin’ world in the palm of my hand, I’ve been keeping busy.

This morning Gwen came over at 8:30, and we took a brisk one-hour walk.  How fabulous to be one of the women walking, the ones I would see out my car window as I drove to work every morning!  It was only 40 degrees, so I wore my hat and winter mittens and we talked about every little thing and were delighted when we came upon four snowy egrets and some ducks over by the fake lake . . . and then became lost.  Gwen was smart to bring her phone and it turned out we weren’t very lost at all.  She and I were in high school marching band together, and it always fills my bucket to be with my oldest and dearest peeps.  Gwen is upbeat, creative, wise, and silly, and it was such a lovely morning that I barely had time to think about missing my students and teacher friends and the morning recess bell and all of those dear things.

I met another old friend at 12:15 for another walk.  How lovely to see Sue Ellen’s new office where she works as a nurse midwife. We chose to walk through the nearby neighborhood and our conversation was interrupted by the many policemen cruising the streets. “They’d tell us if we were in danger, right?” we asked each other. Soon we saw the “criminal”–a grubby, very animated young man who was either high or having some mental health episode.  We chose to avoid the drama so turned around . . . and got lost. Neither of us had a phone and both of us are directionally challenged.  Ten minutes later, we laughed when we approached an intersection and discovered instead of going south, we’d gone north.

Currently my step counter reads 14,567 which is about 7 miles.  Not too shabby.  I’ve only had positive thoughts today and worked toward my goal of getting more exercise and diminishing stress (and the size of my belly).  I’ll end with this poem, by Namoi Shihab Nye:

A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him,
the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.
What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.
A victory? To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slow they fall.

Cheers,

Mary

 

The Day William Left for College

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August 25th.  This date had been on our calendar for a year.  Northern Arizona University Move-In Day.  I felt so fortunate that Northern Arizona University had the latest start date of all our Arizona colleges.  Weeks ago when my friends were stressed and sad, inside my tiny little heart I felt gleeful that I had TWO MORE WEEKS with my kid.  But alas, the day arrived.

Friday morning we were calm and cool, checking items off the long supply list, me darting up and down the stairs to find the stuff missing from the huge stack of college-bound items. Ruby, the Wonder Spaniel sensed something was up and jumped into the car, refusing to get out. She was very sad when we pulled her out and made her go inside, then WE were sad as we saw her watching us from the front window as we drove away.  She and William are best friends, so I’m sure Ruby will be needing extra cuddles from Hubby and me with William away (sob).  On the road by 9:30, we stopped for “brunch” at In and Out. Oh man, I’ve not indulged in several years, and wow, it was tasty.   The drive up the mountain was a chore with so many commercial trucks going slow but we were not on a schedule and, three hours after leaving home, we arrived safe and sound to the beautiful, pine tree studded, cool fresh air of Flagstaff, Arizona.

When we moved our two older children into the NAU dorms years ago, it was a huge chore carrying heavy arm fulls of stuff up and down the stairs.  This time?  Three of William’s friends who’d arrived the day before emptied our car of boxes in two trips and set everything up in such a cheery manner  (thanks Jeff, Chase, and Tyler).  The room is quite large, and I think Chase and William will be very comfortable there!  They have a great view from their windows of the grassy quad below, and the snow-covered mountains above.  Lucky boys, I’d give my right arm to be joining them.  Think of all the people they’ll meet, the things they’ll learn, the adventures they’ll have!!!

When we moved our two older children to the campus at NAU, it was super stressful. I feel like it was karma that this move went so well. We drove through torrential rain that stopped just as we arrived to unpack the car.  The rain started again as we worked in his dorm room, but as we headed to the book store, it stopped. Same happened at dinner time as we met William’s room mate’s parents for beer at Mother Road Brewery, moving on to Beaver Street restaurant for dinner, where we got primo parking spots in a town where parking can be so challenging.  What a fun night laughing with Lisa and Dan–not sure we could have gotten through that night without good friends to hang out with!!!

All week I had daydreamed about the trails we would hike once we had William settled, but the rain was torrential and thunder boomed on and off both Friday and Saturday.  My disappointment was huge that we did not get to revisit the lush, fern-filled fields of Viet Springs where we’d spent a magical afternoon last summer.

Because what I needed overall was a little bit of magic to heal my grieving heart. A little bit of “wow” that only nature can infuse into my soul.  But  . . . it didn’t happen. Instead, we drove home and hugged our pets and then Hubby sat at his computer catching up on work, and I cleaned the kitchen, bleached the microwave, and scraped the play dough off the bottoms of my favorite sandals  (my life is very glamorous).

As of today, I have raised my three children to adulthood.  What a weird feeling.  Hubby and I are trying to not be blue. But the house seems SUPER DUPER quiet without William and his friends here.  I’m not sure what to do with myself.

My oldest son’s girlfriend, Samantha, recently said to me these words (and I am holding them close to my heart):  “A secret:  Kids always need their parents.”  Crossed fingers that her words are true.

Cheers,

Mary

Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties

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We have just returned from two weeks in the  UK on a family vacation.

One of the joys of traveling is experiencing unfamiliar cuisines and observing cultural dining traditions that differ from our own.  Even though in Scotland they speak the same language as we do, we were sometimes stumped as to what exactly we were ordering off the menu.  We saw “Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties” on most pub menus.  It sounded silly and gave us the giggles, but here is Haggis defined: Haggis is a traditional Scottish dish containing sheep’s offal (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal’s stomach for approximately three hours.  YUCK.  DOUBLE YUCK. NOT IN A MILLION YEARS!  Hubby is an adventurous eater, but even he turned up his nose at the idea.  And Neeps and Tatties? Simply turnips and potatoes.  None of us tried those, either.  Other oddities showed up on the menu at our Edinburgh hotel restaurant. Are you tempted by a Pork Terrine with Stewed Prunes or Goat Cheese Lollipops served with Pea Custard?  Nope.  Me neither.

We discovered that throughout the UK, bacon is NOT bacon and is what we call “rough red ham” here in the U.S.  It’s not like American bacon in any way, but is still tasty and super salty. Because there’s so much farmland, for breakfast each day we had organic fresh eggs, and let me tell you, fresh scrambled eggs are a treat I could get used to And the breakfast sausages?  Amazing . . . excepting at the Columba Hotel in Oban where I greedily bit into a breakfast sausage the size of a bratwurst and found the texture, the temperature, and the flavor SO disgusting that I may have caused a bit of a scene when I shouted across the table to my daughter Eve (who had a slice of sausage poised to enter her mouth), “DON’T PUT THAT IN YOUR MOUTH!”  But in every other city, we found the sausages to be unique to their locale and definitely tasty!

It’s hard to find a good cup of coffee in Scotland, and in fact one morning (again in Oban), we were served INSTANT coffee in a pretty pot disguised as if it were actual a drinkable liquid.   WTF?  I very very very rarely complain in restaurants, but a line must be drawn when something THAT wrong happens. Early in the morning. While traveling in a foreign country with your grown children.   I put on my most stern face and asked for filtered coffee or French Press, please, not even caring if our grumpy waiter spat in the new pot. Our family needed coffee, and we needed it stat!

And then each evening . . .  there was fish and chips. Ahhhhh.  Light, flaky, large fillets of breaded haddock. (My mouth is watering now at the thought.)  I’ve eaten fish and chips in many places:  the northern and southern Mexican coasts, in southern and northern California, in the BVI, Florida, in Ireland, in England, but NOTHING compared to the quality of fish we had in Scotland. And the hamburgers!  I could write a sonnet to the beef I ate in Scotland!  Rich, fragrant patties which dripped over my fingers and melted in my mouth.

We are budget travelers, so yes, it would have been nice to have the steak with mushrooms or the lamb rump with fondant potatoes or the herbed pork chops with basil crumb, but for 10 GBP I could have a huge heavenly burger with a pile of french fries (chips) or a fish and chips platter. It’s been explained to me that Europe has strict rules about beef hormones and such and that is why the meat tastes so much better than it does at home. We were highly amused by at two-minute tv ad that showed a mom meeting with a farmer on his cattle ranch.  The pace was much slower than any advertisements we have in the States.  Anyway:   The sun is shining and the trees blow gently in the wind as the the mom gently pets the cows and listens as the farmer describes what happens on his ranch each day to produce such great tasting beef.  Then the mother smiles and says (her hand still on the cow), “I only want the best beef for my family!” While I appreciate the candor and the efforts taken by the rancher to be humane to the cattle, the whole thing was SO un-American that it gave us a good giggle.

About salads:  When they tell you your burger or fish and chips comes with a side salad, do not get excited at the thought of a full cup of lettuces with tomatoes, cucumber, and loads of Ranch dressing like we’d get here in the States.  Expect approximately eight leaves of arugula (which they call “rocket”) with a dab of balsamic balanced at the edge of your plate.   You will be eyeing your neighbor’s plate, hoping you can snag one more tangy nutritious leaf when they aren’t looking.  Halfway through our adventure, Eve claimed she was getting scurvy, and I also felt a definite lack of veg, though fruit was offered generously at breakfasts.

I’ll wrap up this brief discussion of eating in the UK by saying tipping is not expected, at least not in the more casual dining establishments.  We left a pound in change on our table for the person who brought us coffee at the hotel breakfasts, but at most pubs, we did not tip.  In 95% of the pubs where we dined, we walked in, found a table, looked at the menu, then placed our order for food and drink at the bar.  You pay immediately, are given your beers, then a few minutes later the food comes to your table.  No tipping.  So imagine my surprise when we arrived at a pub in Oban and kindly (with a smile), I asked a waiter if we could seat ourselves and he barked at me, “I’ll get a table for you when I can!  Can’t you see I’m BUSY?”  Holy shit!  THAT would never fly in the U.S.! That was the one exception to the order-at-the-counter rule during our travels, and the only reason we did not leave that place is because we were exhausted.  And yes, the burger was divine even though the servers were all so rude.

I do not plan to discuss the whiskey, which is wildly popular among locals and tourists in Scotland. We toured the distillery at Glenmorangie and even though it was fun and educational, we all decided whiskey tastes absoulutely yucky.

Cheers,

Mary

Exposed

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I am in Mexico.

It’s perfect.  It’s exactly what both Hubby and I needed after that crazy month of May in which our youngest son graduated from high school and  we had a huge grad party, Hubby traveled on business to India and China, our daughter studied and passed her EMT certs, a family member was anticipating a big surgery, and I finished up my school semester working as a Kindergarten assistant.  As they say, all’s well that ends well.  But it was very stressful, and being here at the beach is the complete opposite.  We are being so lazy. This morning I took a long walk but other than that I can count my activities on one hand: read a novel, played Words with Friends, sipped cold Pacificos, snacked, and swam in the ocean.

The ocean has been rough for the past two days.  I prefer it when it is calm and fish are hopping out and you can see the dolphins glide by . . .  and no sea spray jumps into your beer. So instead of floating until I am pruny as I do with a calm sea, today I braved the waves for ten minutes at a time until I grew tired of the ocean flinging salty water into my eyes, splashing my hair, stealing my sunglasses, and generally acting like a school yard bully. And after that brief ten minutes, my suit would be completely filled with sand. Every time.  Under my suit, my body looked like a finely breaded chicken nugget.

A large Mexican family is staying in the large rental house behind ours.  They erected a shade structure on the beach in front of us and have happily lounged there all day, listening to banda musica (love) but shouting a lot (hate).  Actually there is only ONE man who is shouting.  ALL THE TIME.  And when he goes for a swim in the ocean, he whistles a loud, repeating  call to his friends on the beach.  I’m certain he must have been dropped on his head as a baby, so I’m trying to be sweet and not imagine him buried in sand up to his neck and being pecked by seagulls.  Because that would be unkind.

So about that walk:  This morning I woke up at the crack of 7:30, made the coffee, then excitedly took a long, brisk walk down the beach to visit my new friend, Leslie, who is staying about 3/4 of a mile to the south.  I happily had the beach to myself and was amazed again at the lovely temperatures and abundance of sea shells brought up by last night’s high tide.  It was then I noticed a seedy looking young American guy over by a sea wall in front of a large house.  I looked back and YIKES, he had pulled his pants down and was smiling at me!  I’d been FLASHED!   I quickly looked away, shook my head, and continued my walk.  So here was ANOTHER person who’d been dropped on their head as a child!  I have read about Peeping Toms and men who like to expose themselves and know they are not dangerous—just weird.  I was happy to see a beach patrol security guy and told him about it.  We both laughed when he asked me, “What was he wearing?” and I replied, Nothing!” On my walk back home, I looked suspiciously at every thin young man I saw, but shoot, I have no idea whether or not I saw him again or not.  Leslie and I thought up a bunch of funny one-liners I could’ve said to him, but we concluded it’s probably best not to engage the crazies.

And now?  A pod of dolphins just swam by.  Hubby took a quick snorkel swim and saw many sargeant major fish and a nice-sized ray. I have found only one jelly fish on the beach (yay). We are trying to decide where to have dinner.  Our favorite place, Flavio’s, served us soggy tacos last night, and sitting on the swings at Boo Bar wasn’t as much fun as last time because the music was too loud and we were just tired.  But these are small problems.  I am trying to talk Hubby into “working from beach” on Tuesday so we can have one more day in Paradise.

Life is good.

Cheers,

Mary