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Going to the dogs

Sammie
Sammie, my pupniece, falls asleep in my arms on Thanksgiving.

It has become apparent over the past few weeks that the dogs in my life have banded together to coordinate a targeted campaign against me. Their goal? A puppy in our home. Their tactics? Being as cute as possible. It’s not me they should be targeting. It’s the big guy who lives in our home and who hates all dogs, even the cute little puppies. I don’t know. It’s like he’s got some sort of genetic defect or something. What I’m trying to say is: give it up, dogs. There’s no way we’re getting a dog in this house. Unless we get rid of the husband/father in this house and that’s not happening. He earns too much money. You can keep being cute, dogs, but it’s pointless. It won’t work.

Look, it’s not like I don’t like dogs. My family always had dogs when I was growing up. We had pets of all flavors, including cats, birds, turtles, fish, and hermit crabs. The dogs were the best, though. (Shhh. Don’t tell the cats. They’re already snooty.) We had a cocker spaniel named Cinnamon who was a moron, if I remember correctly, and who went to live with my aunt after awhile. She would howl whenever we sang Happy Birthday at parties. The cocker, not my aunt. We had two loving, gentle, and very smart Golden Retrievers named Shannon and Abby (short for Abacab Genesis). Shannon was a red Golden, on the smaller side. We adopted her full-grown as a rescue and she gave us the love only a rescued pet can give. She was the perfect dog, and she was even a great mentor when we got Abby as a pup. Both of those dogs put up with receiving a ton of kid hugs, being used as pillows, and racing around the house. They loved playing fetch, and Abby would make a true game of it by forcing me to work to get the tennis ball out of her mouth. One day I had the brilliant idea to throw a second ball, which would make her drop the first. Or so I thought. Dang dog came trotting back with both balls in her mouth, tail wagging away, refusing to relinquish either one. Shannon had problems with her velvety ears as she got older. They would fill with pockets of blood and we’d take her to the vet and they’d drain the blood, stitch the ear flaps flat again, and stick her in the cone of shame to keep her from pawing at them. My little sister, who was probably about six at the time, thought it was a terrible shame that Shannon had to wear the cone. It was so…ugly. Katie set out to brighten Shannon’s world and soon the cone was covered with just about every sticker imaginable. Shannon must have thought she was on some sort of LSD trip every time she opened her eyes in the cone, but she bore her disability with grace and dignity.

My gran had two dogs: Tippy and Cocoa, both mutts. Tippy was larger and a bit on the dopey side. Friendly enough but not very snuggly. He reminded me of my gramps: reliable and steadfast, but short on the warm and fuzzies except in dire emergencies. Cocoa was a small, chocolate-colored terrier mix with a giant personality and paws that faced primly out when he sat on his haunches. My cousin and I decided he was aristocratic. On my dad’s side, my aunt Joann had a giant dog named Harley who looked fierce and was the world’s biggest teddy bear. My other aunt Peggy had a small, yappy dog named Napoleon, which was the perfect name for his outsized ego. We called him Napo. He was a bit of a moron, too, but he had swagger and made up for intellectual deficiency with attitude and spirit. My step-mom had two chows at one point, mean as heck and with bad attitudes. I stayed away from them as much as possible, and then one of them bit the pool man and off they went. Savage beasts. I don’t really consider those dogs true dogs. They were simply jerks to be avoided, much as we all experience people like that in our daily lives.

Pocket
Pocket, the dog of Zoe’s piano teacher, likes to hang out with me during lessons.

Dogs were always part of my family and part of my extended family. Our neighbors had dogs, our friends had dogs. The love we received from these animals more than made up for the mess, the hassle, and the inconvenience being a pet owner sometimes entails. Dogs can melt your heart, make you laugh, and pick you up when you’re feeling blue. I doubt I’ll ever have one again and I’m okay with that. I had the joy of experiencing the unconditional love of my dogs and I have great memories. Besides, with dogs like these in my life, why would I need to get one for myself? So you can keep laying on the cuteness, dogs. You can keep melting my heart and making me laugh. I’ll take it all in and return the love with belly scratches and ear rubs and Instagram pictures. Just don’t expect one of your furry little friends to come home with me.

Resurfacing

I have been gone from here, but oh, how I’ve been writing!*

I participated in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo to those of us familiar with the program, committing to get at least 50,000 words – the length of an average novel – down on paper in 30 days. I looked at my calendar before the month started and grimaced at all the commitments. I put M on notice that I was doing this, and that I’d need help. I scheduled one day each week to take vacation from work, if needed, in order to catch up because I worried about falling behind before I even started.

1,667 words each day. That’s it. And that’s a lot. Try writing 1,667 words about one topic and you’ll see that it’s not as easy as it sounds. I started out on fire, and kept going. It turns out that when you do something every single day it becomes a habit. And when you love what you’re doing, it’s not something to dread. Even when I opened up the laptop and pulled up the blank page without a clue what I was going to write, I was happy. It’s hard work, but it brings great joy.

Some nights the writing flowed easily, and I blew the 1,667 daily goal away. Doubling it, even. Other days, it was a struggle, and I felt like I watched the word tally click up even as I typed, just trying to reach that daily goal. I learned that it’s very easy for me to get lost in my writing, using it to blank out the rest of the world. This is both good and bad. I can tune out a busy coffee shop or kids running around or other writers talking. But I can also get pretty snappy when directly and frequently interrupted. This happens at home, constantly. I learned pretty quick that it was never wise to try to write in the heart of our family together time each evening. Too many interruptions (where is my t-shirt, have you seen my keys, did you respond to that email, can we talk about…, hey did you see…) led to me losing my temper and flaring with aggravation. I never want my family to be an aggravation, so I stopped writing while Zoe was awake and if M wasn’t lost in his own work. Writing isn’t something I can pop in and out of, like editing photographs. Trains of thought lead in different directions and I must follow or the flow is ruined. If I have to break off to describe where the graham crackers are located in the pantry, I go right off the rails.

Since I couldn’t write until after Zoe was in bed and M and I were finished with all the stuff that comes with married life, this sometimes meant I wrote when it was late and I was tired. I was never too tired to write, though, which was good, but I easily lose track of time when working and so went to bed too late many nights. I started carting my new, small laptop everywhere. Since it has a solid-state drive, start-up is nearly instantaneous. If I knew I’d have a few minutes waiting for a lunch date, I’d pull it out and bang out two or three hundred words. A drop, but a start. I found that I can write in all kinds of places. And I found that I can write every single day.

NaNo-2015-Winner-Banner

For 31 days now, I carved out time to write every single day, and in that time I wrote over 60,000 words. A book. I wrote a book. The NaNoWriMo goal is 50,000 words. In case you’re wondering what a book of 50,000 words looks like, here are a few that clock in right around that mark:

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • The Notebook
  • The Red Badge of Courage
  • The Great Gatsby
  • Of Mice and Men
  • Slaughterhouse-Five
  • As I Lay Dying
  • Fahrenheit 451

You may have heard of these. I’m not saying my book is anywhere close to these pillars of the literary world, but if my book were published, it would work just as well as any of these as a door stop.

No, you can’t read it. I will never submit it for publication, and I’ll be lucky if I ever even edit it into something I’d let anyone else read. I didn’t write 60,000+ words for publication. I wrote 60,000+ words for me. I wrote to prove to myself that I can write a book, that I am a writer. I wrote to prove to myself that with a full-time job and the responsibilities of a child and a husband and a home and friends and family and volunteering and all the other hats I wear, I can still find time to write every day. Must find time to write every day. I learned things that I will use in my next book, and the one I started earlier this year but stalled on. I learned things that will help me craft a story that I will submit for publication. This, my friends, is a most excellent use of 60,000 words.

In the last 31 days, I wrote at my desk, on the couch, in a chair pulled up to the fireplace, at the kitchen counter, and in bed. I wrote at Starbucks and Kaldi’s. I wrote in the Starbucks parking lot once when I realized I didn’t want a coffee after all, I just wanted to write. I wrote in the car outside of the piano teacher’s house (more than once), and on her couch. I wrote when I was tired and sad and hungry, and when I was caffeinated and happy and full. I wrote when I was angry, realizing after I wrote that the anger was gone. I wrote early in the morning before anyone was up, and late at night after everyone was asleep, sometimes both in the same day. I wrote even when I didn’t want to write, and learned that while it might be hard to write some days, it’s far better than not writing at all.

I wrote a book in the last 30 days. 60,000 words and counting.

I think I’m fairly tapped out with that particular piece now. It’ll sit in the proverbial drawer, and I’ll pull it out every once in awhile to take a look at it and prove to myself again that I can write a book.

And, most importantly, I’ll keep writing.

*I’ve also been reading. Because writers need to read. It’s almost as important as the writing. I read Still Alice, and had to stop reading because it hit too close to home, and then went back and finished it. Two Neil Gaiman books, because the man is a writing god and a genius, part of Jenny Lawson’s new book, a Shirley Jackson and half of another Shirley Jackson. It’s been a good month of reading. I highly recommend all of these books.

NaNo-ing

I haven’t written here lately because it’s been a maelstrom of awesome, with a few touch-and-goes to bring things down to earth. In a nutshell:

I wrote to my favorite writer…and she wrote back! I’ll construct a whole post about this later, when I have more time.

I went to see my favorite writer read, and had her sign two books for me, which would have been amazing in and of itself but the icing on the cake was that two dear friends agreed to go with me. They either really wanted to see me geek out, or they were desperate to get out of the house. More on this later, too.

I started NaNoWriMo, which is a challenge of 50,000 words in 30 days. I’m exceeding my daily word goal, which is both fantastic and terrifying. What if I run out of material with three days left? This is a very real possibility, but all I can do is keep writing. There have been a few moments of angst, like last night when it was late and I was tired and frantically banging away at they keyboard when M thought it’d be a great idea to watch the Star Wars movie trailer (again) as loud as his computer could play it. I don’t have a clear recollection of everything that happened after the top of my head opened and snakes came out, but I vaguely remember huffing and yelling something about “word count” and then when my head closed back up I found poor M cowering behind his laptop screen. Apologies all around, I made it to my goal, and we all went to bed happy.*

I’m learning to squeeze the writing in everywhere, which has been fun and helpful and made me realize that I can do this beyond the month of November. Even if I don’t win at NaNo, I will win in finally knowing how to prioritize things so the writing happens. This is huge.

I started shooting with the iPhone again, seeing beauty everywhere. And I mean everywhere. I’ll try to post some images here to share.

My mom is faltering more every day. This will require a whole post by itself, but suffice it to say that these are the low points. My sister watched “Still Alice.” I don’t think I can. Then again, I’ve always known that my sister is much stronger than I am.

*NaNo, by the way, is the whole reason I haven’t been writing here. I’ve been so busy working on the book that I literally have no time and energy left for other writing. I need to find a balance. Maybe next month. Not November. November is NaNo.

So that’s where I’ve been. I will be back. I promise.

Victory

Happy Halloween!

Zoe’s volleyball team had their last match of the season this morning, against one of their fiercest competitors. We played them last night, too, and didn’t bring our A game. Or our B game, for that matter. We did okay, but not great. We ended up losing the match by eight points (CYC matches are decided on points, not sets). Today, though, the girls were awake. They did great, and bested their opponent by…wait for it…eight points.

M is their coach, and I can’t tell you what a great coach he is. I mean, he’s phenomenal. And I’m not the only one saying that (nor am I saying it just because he’s my husband and because he’s cute, although those things help, too). I’ve had many parents on the team tell me how much they appreciate him, which is gratifying to hear. He dumps everything he’s got into that team, working with them at practice to better their skills and at games to keep them in the game and upbeat. His job is about 10% coaching and 90% psychologist, and he’s awesome. For him, it’s all about the girls. A winning season means every hand goes up when he asks at the end, “Who wants to come back and play next year?”

Still, today was pretty special. He had been tracking the other teams all year, and we were consistently at the top of the rankings. He told me last night that as long as we reached X points in the match today, we would clinch first place in our division. (Not that it matters.) We worked out a signal for him to let me know across the court that we hit it, and because I am a huge West Wing nerd I made him use the signal from one of my favorite episodes, “What Kind of Day Has It Been,” where the president and staffers are concerned about the space shuttle returning to earth and a downed US pilot in Iraq. They create a signal to let the president know, while he’s in the middle of a town hall meeting, that everything is okay.

When I knew we were getting close, I watched him closely between every point. I wasn’t in the greatest spot; the up ref and pole were right between us, but he ducked around and caught my eye and threw the signal. And, like the big dork I am, I started cheering. Since I was the only person who knew what I was cheering about, I was alone, and cheering for no apparent reason. This is not surprising to anyone who knows me. I filled in the other parents and then waited for the end of the match so I could photograph the girls’ reaction when M told them. I think I have some good shots, but no time to edit them today. We hit two grocery stores, enjoyed lunch out, Zoe rode a pony and looked at a camel, we designed, cleaned and carved a jack-o-lantern, I cleaned the cat box (that being, obviously, not the most fun part of the day), and I started writing this, mainly to fill the last day of a platform challenge (I did every single day, which is my own personal victory) but also because I had a good story to tell. The story being: M rocks as a coach, Zoe’s team is awesome, and I am a huge dork. None of this is news. Time for a shower and a fun night of trick-or-treating with friends.

Tomorrow NaNoWriMo kicks off. And then I write like a mofo.

Honor

There was a plenary meeting at work today. Thursday mornings are reserved for meetings, be they plenary, departmental, or otherwise. Sometimes there are no meetings, but usually there are. I try to go to the plenary meetings, unless they are something specific to teaching that I know will not pertain in any way to me or what I do for a living. Things like how to enter grades into the new online system. Today’s plenary meeting was billed as a presentation by the student-run Honor Court. These are the guys who try to make sure that the students, by and large, live up to the Honor Code they all signed when they entered the school in the 7th grade.

I was intrigued.

I got in a few minutes late, thanks to monster traffic (you wouldn’t think there’d be a lot, but when your kid runs late and then the drop-off line crawls and then you hit every light red, and some of them twice because the cars are so backed up…) and slipped into the back of the theatre. I didn’t miss anything, really, just the first part of the faculty moderator’s introduction.

The leader of the Honor Court stood up, and spoke so eloquently that I was almost moved to tears. He talked about the importance of honor and integrity in both the student body and among the faculty, and how the students rely on the faculty to both model honor and help impressionable young men learn to live honorably. He got a chuckle when he enthusiastically talked about the need for an “Honor Spirit Club,” but he also got a lot of heads nodding.

The other boys on the Honor Court presented, too, and then led a vibrant discussion with their teachers about honor and integrity as it relates to the school environment, specifically: when does collaboration cross over into cheating, how can teachers help kids, what kids can do to help each other, do kids feel safe ratting out their friends and is it reasonable to expect them to, how do we recognize honor and if we do, would it be taken seriously, how behaving honorably can be addictive just like cheating can become addictive, and more. I sat there in awe. These students and their teachers blew me away, and give me great hope for the future.

And then later I took a picture of a boy eating a hamburger while dressed as a hot dog in the dining hall.

HotDogHamburger
This child isn’t mine, so I have craftily concealed his identity. I’m crafty like that.

Blimps, parking spots, Scrabble, Snoopy, and [censored]

Things that made me laugh today:

  • A giant NORAD blimp pulled loose from its moorings and drifted from Maryland into Pennsylvania. Two F-16 fighters were scrambled to monitor the football field-sized dirigible. It drifted across the landscape, and apparently its tether wreaked havoc by pulling down power lines. I can’t stop giggling, because it sounds like Wile E. Coyote had his paws all over this. I wonder if the blimp says ACME on the side.
  • An 8th grader at the school I work questioned his Latin teacher, who is guiding the boys through a translation about Venus, the goddess of love. “Um, so in Latin, the V is pronounced like a W. Does that mean we’re studying Wenus?” Another boy then pointed out that the skin on your elbow is called your wenis. This prompted countless jokes in the faculty offices this afternoon.
  • One of our teachers, a chronic parking offender, received a nastygram from someone after she parked in a reserved staff spot. She showed up in my office just to let me know that the only reason she parked there was because I told her that those spots, while marked STAFF, weren’t reserved. Since I don’t remember this conversation, nor my appointment as Parking Lot Maven, I was confused. Another administrator happened to be walking by and called her on it. “Excuse me? You are a repeat parking offender. You’ve parked on the grass, you’ve parked in the front circle, you’ve parked in spots reserved for staff…” She tried to claim that the staff spots were fine. “They’re for STAFF. You are FACULTY.” I just sat there and laughed.
  • There is a town in Missouri called…wait for it…Uranus. Because of course there is. If you visit the website, you’ll see links and headlines like Great Things Are Happening in Uranus, and Two Monster Balls in Uranus! Again, it just makes me giggle. Because I have the same sense of humor as an adolescent boy.
  • A big, wall-hung Scrabble board. I also laughed heartily at the price.
  • A commercial on TV that lets me hear Snoopy laugh, which is one of my most favorite sounds in the world. I love Snoopy.

Any day when I get to laugh this much is a good day.

Oh, and I made this picture:

raindrops

Monk + Internet = Awesome

CracklingFireEvery week, I have a status meeting with my monk. For each trimester, and then the summer, we set a day and time, and he shows up promptly at my office door, sometimes a few minutes early. His teaching schedule changes throughout the year, so we have to adjust. I do not mind in the slightest. I would meet with him whenever he likes, because our status meetings are typically a lot of fun.

He comes in, makes sure the door is unlocked (it’s a safety issue, and Catholic priests can’t be too careful these days), closes it, and then plops down on the red couch near my desk. I can tell by the way he plops if he’s harried, sad, energized, or feeling goofy. If he’s one of the first two, I try to convert him to one of the second two by the time he leaves approximately 15 minutes later. Most of the time I can’t. Sometimes I am successful. Depends on what’s troubling him that particular day. Thankfully, he’s not often harried or sad. Nearly always, though, we end up laughing together and I learn something new.

Today, per usual, we started out all business-like and professional before devolving into goofiness. He wanted to know why I didn’t have the overhead fluorescent lights on. I explained that it was dark and dreary outside, and that the lights were just too bright today. He pointed out that my weak little desk lamp was throwing very little light, and I agreed, and we discussed getting a floor lamp and then where said floor lamp would be plugged in. My office is pretty decently sized, but the outlets are terribly spaced. There are two right near my desk, which sounds appropriate except that one is nearly obscured by the file cabinet (which means it’s totally obscured when a drawer is opened, so the things that get plugged in there are things that can be easily unplugged and re-plugged, so not, say, a desktop computer) and the other is two feet away, so most everything around the office must be routed to that one crammed two-foot location. I have gotten creative with power strips. There is one other outlet, on the far side from my desk, between the window and the meeting table. Also not convenient for cords. Or floor lamps.

Then he decided I needed a portable fireplace, the electric kind that flicker and glow and make popping and crackling sounds, and that don’t need a vent. We then proceeded to place the imaginary portable fireplace in the office, once again constrained by the outlet locations. I expressed a desire for an actual wood-burning fireplace, so that location was discussed.

We spend more time on crap like this than actual work. Because we’re just that efficient with the work stuff.

As I’m sitting there laughing at his thoughts on the viability of venting a wood-burning fireplace out my office window, he stopped suddenly.

“Wait. Go on the Internet.”

I knew immediately what he was thinking and tried to blow him off. He was having none of it.

“Go! Get on the Internet! Google ‘fireplace video.’”

Because he’s my boss, I am compelled to do these things. Once, he had me google “his nibs.” Don’t ask. Google it yourself.

I found a series of links for fireplace videos, and he pointed to the first one.

“There. Click that. Now make it full screen.”

And suddenly, my 21” monitor became a crackling fireplace, right there in my office. I looked at him, laughing, and saw that he was quite pleased with himself for fixing the whole fireplace issue that easily. I tried to explain that although the video is lovely (it is, truly), I actually rely on that monitor to get work done. He waved his hand, pointing to the small screen on the laptop sitting next to it.

“Use that one.”

Then I tried to explain that I was pretty sure that the IT director might have an issue with using the external monitor I requested for streaming fireplace videos, which only caused him to punch the IT director’s extension on my desk phone and order him to my office.

I knew exactly what that poor director was thinking. When the headmaster summons you like that, it’s usually not good. He showed up about eight seconds later, clutching his notebook and a pen, with a look of pain on his face that telegraphed, “Oh God, what now?”

My monk look pleased. With sparkling eyes and a sly grin, he waved the director around to our side of the desk.

“Look!”

Now there were three of us laughing, which was perfect timing for my marketing specialist to drop by. It was quickly becoming crowded around my little 21” fireplace.

The monk left and we continued chatting, and then he came bustling back in, thrusting a blanket at me.

“Here, you need this!”

Before I knew it, I was tucked snugly into my office chair with a maroon blanket emblazoned with University of Chicago, and a pillow from the couch crammed behind my head. He looked pleased again. I asked him if he was intentionally torpedoing my productivity, threw the blanket back to him, and waved him out of my office.

I’m willing to bet most professionals’ status meetings went nothing like this today.

For what it’s worth, that fireplace video is pretty awesome. I ended up leaving it on, running in the background, for nearly the entire day. I think I felt warmer for having it on (psychosomatic, yeah yeah), and the crackling and popping noises were soothing. At one point you can hear a train whistle in the distance. I highly recommend.

I also recommend…this site that runs coffee house noises in the background while you work.

Or…this site that offers Kmart Muzak from the 80s and 90s.

I love the Internet. And monks.

Habits and hobbies

Zoe tests off the charts for writing and spelling (and high on everything else), and I love that she loves to learn new words. I also love when she tries and nearly gets it, but just misses.

“She gave hers and I added mine and we combineded them.”

I picked her up from school Friday instead of having her go to after care, and brought her home for a little nap before the evening volleyball game. She had been up late the night before finishing her Grandparents Day cards (the girl has to do three sets!) and we worried she’d crash after a full day of school plus playing in after care. I took the opportunity to snuggle with my girl, which doesn’t happen nearly as often as I like these days. She moved her feet and I heard a knuckle pop.

“Zoe, was that you?”
“Yes. I pushed my one big toe against my other big toe. Is that okay?”
“Yeah, it’s fine. It’s like popping the knuckles on your hand. I used to do it all the time before I lost flexibility in my toes from the bunion surgeries. Feels good, doesn’t it?”
“It does! It’s my new hobby. I’ve been doing it a lot lately.”
“Do you mean ‘habit?’ It’s your new habit?”
“Yeah. Habit. That’s it.”

I’m sure that some people can make a hobby of cracking their joints, but in our case, it’s probably best that it’s just a habit.

The after effects of a virtual visit

One of the writers I started following on Twitter a few months ago told us followers to check out our childhood homes on Zillow. I couldn’t remember the street number for my house, because it’s been so long since I even thought of the place we moved from the summer before my 7th grade. I had to use Google Earth to get to the road, and then click-navigate along before finding my house. I didn’t recognize most of the surrounding properties, partly because they’ve all changed so much and partly because I didn’t pay attention to houses that didn’t house my friends, but I finally saw my best friend’s house that was across the street and three or four up from ours. Ricky’s house sat on top of the hill, where the road up t-boned into our street. I still remember the steep gravel drive, and how it would develop deep ruts when it rained, and how it felt like we were going off-roading in my mother’s little Chevy Cavalier when all we were doing was climbing that drive to go home.

Westbourne

I clicked around and eventually got to my house. It looks so much smaller than I remember, and it has a faded red door now. A lot more landscaping in the front. My clubhouse is missing from the back yard, but I knew that was taken out years ago. Daddy’s deck still stands, though, spanning the length of the back of the house. The more I looked at the Google Earth image of my former home, the smaller and smaller it seemed. I ran through the layout in my mind…split level with two bedrooms up and one down. Full bath up, half bath down. Kitchen that opened to the eating area, but walled off from the family room, where there was a fireplace. I remembered Christmases there, and Easters. And that I had to take showers upstairs because my bathroom downstairs was a half bath, and the hilarity that ensued when my parents tried to bathe the cat in that shower. I remembered my baby sister scooting around in her walker, and how she’d inevitably scoot herself under the kitchen table and fall asleep. I remembered the 80s kitchen table chairs, padded monstrosities in brown, on casters. The mar on the kitchen table from Daddy’s cigarette, smoothed over and colored with a marker to make it less noticeable (unsuccessfully). The wallpaper in the kitchen, full of harvest colors and, if memory serves, silver accents. My mother standing at the stove cooking dinner, balancing on her left foot with the right resting on top of the left. Sometimes I find myself standing the same way when I cook.

I remember one perfect night. It was cold, and we were all at home, warm and comfortable. I had Girl Scouts after school that day, which automatically made it special. Daddy had built a fire in the fireplace, and I could hear the crackle as I sat at the kitchen table doing my homework. Mom cooked something that smelled incredible, because the woman could bring it in the kitchen, and she cooked old-school where dinner was amazing while making the top-ten list of cardiologists’ banned meals. Daddy was at the table with me, reading the paper and working on a crossword puzzle and helping me with my homework. Beanie was in her high chair, waiting for dinner. And I thought, “This is it. This is perfect. My family, right here, right now. We are warm and dry, we are together and happy, and we are about to be fed. No one is fighting.” It was an incredible feeling of warm contentment, which was sometimes rare in my childhood. I knew, at 10, that this was the way it should be, all the time, every night.

All this played through my head as I looked at the house on Westbourne. The good memories, and the bad. The comfort and the fear. The consistency and the unknown. All right there at my desk. I didn’t realize the power behind it, or else I wouldn’t have looked it up online over my lunch break. Instead, I sat there, gobsmacked and teary-eyed at work in the middle of the day.

In attempt to gain some distance, I plugged our old address into Zillow, as the tweet had originally instructed. The Westbourne house hasn’t sold in over 10 years, so there are no photos of the inside. There were, however, some basic stats about the house. Most I knew from memory (beds and baths, built in the mid-70s), and I learned that my old home is no longer within the boundaries of my old elementary school, but one fact really threw me. The house is 816 square feet. Now that I’ve been adulting for quite some time and have owned three homes and lived in four, I have a much better idea of what square footage feels like. And I know that 816 square feet is small for a family of four.

I fully recognize that I am a privileged, snobby, spoiled white girl writing about this. Yes, I am fully aware that an 816-square-foot house would be a godsend to many, many families. Yes, I know that I was lucky to have that home when I did. And yes, I know that I am a privileged, snobby, spoiled white girl. Might as well own it.

I’m not saying it’s bad that it’s 816 square feet. I’m saying that in my mind’s eye, that place is more like 1,800 square feet. A whole thousand square feet bigger than what it really is. How does that happen? It’s like going into a parent/teacher conference as a parent and being forced to sit in the tiny kindergarten chairs and thinking, “These were bigger when I was a kid.” Only in this case, it’s a whole house.

I know that memory is faulty, that sometimes (or most times) we end up remembering the stories about events more than the events themselves. But with this new realization, looking at my memories now comes with a new filter. I’m now mentally adjusting the layout of the house, and the events that happened with that layout, down to a smaller scale. My memories, for lack of a better word, are shrinking.

This is the ultimate in irony, as I watch my mother’s memories and abilities shrink from Alzheimer’s. If I was 10 years old in the memory I described above, the one of the perfect night, that would have made my mother 30. Twelve years younger than I am now. She was young and vibrant and beautiful and devious and deceptive. She drove fast and drank hard, often at the same time. And none of us knew, on that perfect night or after, what lay ahead.

There’s power in the past, and while it can and should be harnessed (after all, we who do not learn from our past are doomed to repeat it), we must also be careful to not let it overwhelm where are now. The 816 has been stuck in my head since yesterday, rolling around, popping up when I’m not expecting it. It’s bringing a lot of baggage for 816 square feet. I don’t live there any more, and I’m not 10 any more, and in fact, my own daughter is now 10. I know that instead of making my mother’s mistakes, I am committing sins of my own, just in a much larger house. On our own perfect nights, where the fire is glowing in the fireplace and my daughter is doing her homework and I know she had a great day because we had our Girl Scout meeting and her father is sitting in the kitchen working on his laptop and I am making a dinner I know my family will enjoy, I realize that I still don’t know what the future holds. I am coming to terms with that, because I am here now, and I am writing it all down, and because M and I are giving our daughter the firm, unshakeable foundation I never had, and that’s got to be worth something.

The case for disconnection

There are days when I think it would be best to live completely off-line. Off the grid. Like a Luddite. In a cave. Fingers in ears screeching “la la laaaaa I can’t heeeeear youuuuu!” Today, through Facebook, Twitter and CNN, I learned the following:

  • A road rage incident in New Mexico led to the shooting death of a four-year-old girl.
  • A Texas history text book says that slaves immigrated to the United States to be workers on agricultural plantations. Immigration, of course, implying choice, and workers implying payment for services rendered, neither of which is remotely accurate.
  • A woman visiting her doctor (in Texas, by the way) was shot when another patient’s gun fell out of a purse and discharged. More proof that more guns is absolutely what we need in this country.
  • On a local note: the Mazda dealer that jerked me around apparently does that to all the idiots who buy cars from them. I’m looking at you, Lou Fusz Mazda. Misery does love company (in other words, I’m glad I’m not the only person who made a mistake in purchasing from that dealer), but my blood pressure rocketed up in sympathy for my friend.

The day wasn’t all bad. Apparently the world has decided to go crazy over:

  • The new Star Wars movie trailer.
  • The fact that today is The Day of the Future in Back to the Future.

Being a fan of both movies, I can get on that wagon.

Facebook also let me know that three years ago today I was in Palm Springs, California hanging out with an amazing group of women photographers, and five years ago today I was in Newport, Rhode Island, on a business trip that gave me downtime to wander and make images. Both are incredible memories that I don’t think of regularly, especially the Newport trip, so I am grateful for the reminder.

I suppose the lesson in all this is that I should accept the good with the bad, and try to focus on the positives. Like funny cat videos available any time I want to see them.

Except for Texas. I’m ready to just let that entire state go. (Can we keep San Antonio and Austin, though? Thanks.)