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Watch out. She’s writing again.

I finally, for the first time in well over a month, have time and space to write. It feels amazing. And yet, I sit here and struggle to think of some topic worthy of committing to paper. Or screen, rather.

I pulled out my laptop here at the coffee shop and, after wrapping up some membership business for St. Louis Writers Guild, decided I would actually write. I would think of erudite words and I would type them into pithy phrases sure to delight both me and my readers. If I have any readers left, that is. They’ve probably all gone off to greener pastures, tended by people who say they’re going to write and then actually do it.

There’s plenty that has happened lately, so I should have a variety of topics from which to choose. That plenty is what has, by and large, kept me from writing. It’s all so packed with emotion, though, and I don’t really feel like crying in the coffee shop. Again. Maybe I can summarize.

My mother went into the hospital, because when you keep screaming at the husband who has been caring for you for years and then throw a lamp at his head, you don’t get to stay at home any more. She is now at a facility that we don’t necessarily prefer, but is the only one that will take her given her behavior issues. Turns out lots of places don’t want to take someone who screams expletives at her aides and spits on them when they try to do such terrible things as feed and bathe her. She will never return home again. That part is hard. No, wait, all of it is hard, and all of it sucks.

I find myself in new territory: parenting a tween girl. This means that I am reviled 10% of the time, considered annoying at best 25% of the time, and clung to the remaining 65% of the time. Keep in mind these percentages shift from day to day, and there is no warning which defcon alert state is currently active. What buoys me is that her father seems to be in the same boat, so we’re paddling furiously in circles together, just trying to stay ahead of the riptide. We spend a lot of time looking at each other and shrugging. She spends a lot of time rolling her eyes and texting.

The news. It’s getting in my head and generally wreaking havoc. I find myself spending way too much time reading and watching the news, and then reading the massive amount of commentary by people who argue not with reason, logic and fact, but by lobbing ad hominem attacks, most of which are rife with misspellings and grammatical errors. Honest to God, I don’t know what bothers me more: the news itself, or America’s steady, inexorable decline away from the long-established norms of the English language. I realized that I needed to stop reading the unceasing breaking news headlines and start reading literature. So I charged up the Kindle and downloaded my book club book, which I couldn’t remember the topic of until I started reading and then remembered: freaking Nazis. Fascism is apparently quite prevalent these days. How charming.

M has launched into another one of his charming “I’m gonna travel to all the places” periods. He’s been gone over a week now, and will be gone on and off for the next, oh, month to month and a half. He’s visiting places like London, Dubai, Taiwan, Beijing, Shanghai, San Jose and other places I don’t know because he hasn’t updated the family calendar beyond blocking weeks at a time with “M on Business Travel” yet. Keep in mind that I think it’s hilarious that he’s going all over the world…and to San Jose. Yes, he knows the way. He leaves Shanghai and flies east. I think. Sometimes he flies over the North Pole, but that’s when he’s coming into the Midwest. Not sure if it’s a more direct route to the west coast.

Our email server blew up at work last week and the short story is that I went about 48 blessed hours over the weekend with no email at all, and have not had work email on my iPhone since. Then today I discovered that by granting my employer permission to tighten the electronic leash with installing email on my personal phone, I also gave them the rights to do whatever they damn well please on my personal phone. This was discovered after they inadvertently took both Safari and my camera app off my phone, without me knowing about it and most definitely without my permission. I won’t get into the details of my discovery of the missing apps, melt down, frantic Google search to figure out what the hell was going on, and rant at the tech guys, although looking back it was probably fun to watch. One of the tech guys said, with a sly smile, “Oh yeah, we could totally brick your phone if we wanted,” which may or may not have sent shivers down my spine. *cough*stalkers*cough* So I’m seriously considering scrapping work email on my personal phone altogether, both because the mental space it has freed up has been most welcoming and because I don’t need IT all up in my personal iPhone business. I google some crazy stuff sometimes, because I’m a writer, yo. Freaked me right the hell out. No, thanks.

I got a call from Zoe’s school a couple weeks ago. Or rather, from a parent at Zoe’s school. It started like this, “Hi, Amy? Yes, this is ____ from Zoe’s school. SHE’S FINE.” And then the woman explained she’s with the parent association and we laughed about how when someone from the school calls a parent it’s best to lead with the fact that your child isn’t hurt/in danger/flunking out. She then went on to ask me if I would serve as the volunteer vice chair of Zoe’s class next year, which would make me the chair of her class the following year. She told me that my name had been proposed during a nominating committee meeting and that I had been enthusiastically endorsed and then I asked what kind of drug they were all smoking because can I have some please. I also wondered if they had just gone down the parent list alphabetically and finally got to the last name and hoped I’d be the sucker to say yes. And, of course, I’m exactly that sucker. So next year I have to help put together some weekly news, which mostly involves looking at what happened this week last year and then changing the dates, and also help set up some coffees and finding hosts for a parent party or two. I’m sure there’s a whole slew of duties and responsibilities that she forgot to cover, like setting curriculum, hiring teachers, cutting the grass, and walking the head of school’s puppy, but I’ll figure it out as I go. I’m taking a calculated risk that things with my mother will be more settled by then, so I won’t be stressed out and crying every 2.5 minutes. However, given my history, there will be a whole new crisis du jour and I’ll have my hands full, but hopefully crying only every 3.7 minutes. It’s good to have dreams.

So that’s what’s been going on with me. Or some of what’s been going on with me. There is stuff I haven’t told you, like my dirty laundry. And by “dirty laundry” I mean actual dirty laundry. I have a ton of it at home. And a basket overflowing with clean laundry that I haven’t folded and put away yet because tonight…tonight was about the writing and not about the laundry. And damn, it felt good.

These are some of my recent Project 365 pictures. The project is doing exactly what it’s intended to do, and I’m so glad I decided to embark on another one. Want to see them every day? Follow me on Instagram.

Dispatch from the Rails (#2)

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This has been written over a few days. I maxed out my data plan on my cell phone, which is what I use for wifi on my laptop when there’s no true wifi around. My photos piled up on my phone because I couldn’t post, and my essay here just kept growing. Took me two days of pestering to get M to grant me hotspot access on his cell phone, and I didn’t dare take the time to post to the blog. As it was, just pushing some photos through, he asked me every 30 seconds, “Are you finished yet?” We’re at a hotel in Seattle now, so at least in the evenings when we are back in our room I’ll have wifi, plus my data plan billing cycle starts anew tomorrow. Freedom!

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I slept far better the second night on the train. It may be that I was finally used to the train’s motion. Or that Zoe slept in M’s compartment, which opened up mine above my berth. Not that I’m claustrophobic, but it is a little weird to be sleeping in a bunk bed at the age of 42. Or maybe it was that we had only one stop, in Elko, Nevada, at 3:03 a.m., so there weren’t the stops and starts of the first night. I woke up once, around midnight, to use the bathroom, and fell right back asleep. And then at 6:20 a.m. local, I was awake. I laid there for a few minutes, confused as to whether I needed to get up.

I have, for most of my life, been a night owl. I do my best work late at night. I’m wide awake while the rest of the world sleeps. This means, naturally, that mornings are hard. When M and I were first married, I loved weekends because I could sleep in until 10. This pattern has been intact for years, since high school. I adored the weekend ritual of sleeping in.

Lately, though, I’ve annoyed myself by habitually waking up early. I can no longer sleep in, even when I stubbornly try. This probably has something to do with trying to ensure I get an appropriate amount of sleep for health reasons I consciously lay down to go to sleep earlier, and that with my busy schedule I’m tired and actually ready for bed at a reasonable hour.

That morning, when my eyes opened and I “ran out of sleep” as my Uncle Cloyd says, I didn’t fight it. I didn’t try to go back to sleep. I finally realized that I ran out of sleep because I had slept enough. My body was telling me, “Okay, we’re good! Time to get up and start the day!” I sat up, watched the beautiful sunrise for the second morning in a row, and was quiet with my thoughts for a few minutes. Then I changed out of my pajamas, got Zoe’s clothes ready for the day, organized our compartment bag, put our seats back in order, and fetched a cup of coffee. I was writing by 6:45 a.m. This is a revelation for me, and I’m loving it. M has had this habit for years. I think he’s on to something.

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Readying our compartment for sleep and then for the day is a fairly easy process. We could, of course, push the attendant call button and ask Derrick, Car 531’s steward, to come do it for us. We did that the first night, only to discover that everyone else in Car 531 wants to go to sleep at the same time. Poor Derrick was running all over the place, and we waited patiently for our turn while the minutes clicked by. We watched while he did it, so we were ready to handle it ourselves the second night. (On our first train trip years ago, our steward made up the beds when we were at a late dinner or hanging out in the observation car, so we never saw him do it. He was like a bit of Disney magic on Amtrak.)

There are two seats facing each other in an Amtrak roomette. They are far enough apart for two adults with long legs (i.e. M and I) to sit comfortably together. The seats also recline a bit, if you want to lean back and enjoy the view. When the seats are reclined, they are at a perfect distance for M and I to rest our feet on the other seat, which is easy to do since the seats are crazy wide. To turn them into the lower bunk, you press a small, stainless steel pedal under the seat and pull out base with the lower cushion. Or push down on the upper cushion. The seats glide down and meet in the middle, forming a bed that spans the width of the cabin. The pallet mattress and sheet set are stored in the upper bunk, which during the day is securely latched against the top of the compartment. There’s a stainless steel handle that you press to lower the bunk down into the flat position for sleeping. Its pallet mattress stays there, and there is webbing you can attach to the ceiling that ensures the occupant won’t tumble out in the middle of the night. Each mattress has a fitted sheet and a flat sheet, and comes with one blue Amtrak blanket that is some sort of space-age technology because it’s the thinnest blanket I have ever seen and yet is completely warm and perfect for sleeping in a cabin with the heat turned off. (That’s another thing that has changed for me: I used to be perennially cold, and now I get so hot that I can hardly sleep with any covers at all.) Just in case, Derrick steward gave us each extra blankets. We haven’t needed them.

In the morning, you simply reverse the process. The lower bunk mattress is stowed in the upper bunk and folded against the ceiling, and the the seats glide back into their upright positions. It’s ingenious how well this small space works for both day and night inhabitants. More houses should be designed this way, like boats and ships. Every space useful and, hopefully, beautiful.

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And now for the segment where I try to gross out my readers as much as possible. Seriously, if you are of weak stomach, either grab a bucket or skip to the next section. I won’t mind either way. Go ahead, I’ll wait…still with me? Okay. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

A couple days before we left, in the early morning when we snuggle before starting our hectic day, I discovered a huge growth on the side of Zoe’s left pinky finger. I was messing with her hands when I felt it, said, “What in the heck is that?” and switched on the light to discover a horrifying lump. It looked disgusting. I called the doctor as soon as the office opened that morning and he saw her at 11, where we learned that she had an enormous wart she’s been growing (and hiding from us) since December. This wart was bad; it made her pinky finger about twice its normal size. Ew. She also had a small infection from a hangnail, so he prescribed an antibiotic and instructed me to get Compound W. I did all that, and we began treatment immediately. The pediatrician also told me that after a few days of the Compound W, a hard white shell would form over the wart and that I was to, um, remove it. I nearly barfed right there. I also realized immediately that I would be the one doing this as M gets squeamish over tears and boogers, and downright suicidal over vomit. I’m pretty sure if he was told he had to do this task he would run away and we wouldn’t see him again for years.

Fast-forward a couple of days and sure enough, the hard white shell had formed. I had been messing with it on and off, since I was the official parental caretaker of the wart, and knew that this day, Holy Saturday, was D-Day. Or W-Day, to be more precise. I grabbed some tissues, cornered her in our compartment, and started in on the wart. M heard the crying (from Zoe, not from me…I was silently grimacing and telling myself over and over again that it had to be done and to not throw up), came over, turned green, and promptly stopped watching what I was doing. He grabbed yet another tissue, wadded it up, and dabbed at the tears streaming down Zoe’s face, because God forbid he should actually touch a tear while I extracted a freaking wart.

Extraction is exactly what it was. There was no pulling it off so much as pulling it out, leaving a gaping hole in my child’s finger that promptly filled with blood. Zoe, by this point, is nearly melting down and M is right behind her. “Oh my God. Is it supposed to look like that? Did the doctor tell you to do this?” If I hadn’t had my hands full with wart, blood, and tissues I’d have clocked him. Even Zoe tearfully told him yes, the doctor said to do that.

The good news is that her finger is doing great, and is nearly back to its normal shape and size, and is pain-free. She is thrilled that the wart, which we had named Warty because that’s what we do, is gone. M has reached the point where he can finally look at her finger without gagging, and after I render my verdict of, “This is looking great! Lots better!” he renders his, “Oh, yeah, Zo. Your finger is looking a lot better!”

Wart extraction on a moving train. I’m like a regular Hawkeye Pierce.

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We went to Easter Vigil at St. Patrick’s in the financial district of San Francisco. M had done a boatload of research and found that both the time and location were perfect for us. We could easily walk there after dinner near our hotel. (Dinner, by the way, was at a place called Thai Stick, which M found using Trip Advisor, and which was the best darn Thai food we’ve ever eaten.) What his research didn’t tell him was that the old and traditional St. Patrick’s Church now houses a large, warm, and welcoming Chinese population. We entered, genuflected, prayed, and sat back. I looked around, and realized quickly that we were three of the very few Caucasian people in attendance. There were four priests concelebrating the Mass: two Asian, one black, and one an ancient white dude. The two Chinese priests did most of the work, and the Mass was beautiful. The homily was fantastic, too. What an incredible experience.

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Zoe crashed pretty hard after Mass, which was good because the Easter Bunny had work to do. What was somewhat surprising (okay, not really) was that M crashed pretty hard, too, leaving the Easter Bunny on his own to get everything done. Not that he was tired himself or anything. Not that he was exhausted from three days on the train and packing and unpacking and removing warts. But the Easter Bunny doesn’t complain. Easter Bunny just gets the job done, yo. He’ll hide eggs in room 1708 of the San Francisco Hilton at midnight. He’s crazy magical like that.

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Easter Sunday was spectacular in its oddity. We certainly broke tradition this year. There was no family brunch, no making the rounds. Instead, there was a boat trip to Angel Island and a tram tour, then a boat trip to Alcatraz Island and a walking tour, then a boat trip back to Fisherman’s Wharf. On that middle boat trip we saw a humpback whale surface twice in San Francisco Bay. Our captain assured us this is a rare sighting. We also saw several seagulls who were intensely curious about what the people on our boat may or may not have been eating, and we may have laughed at the terror of others when it came to the gulls. I know that’s not very Christian, but darn it was funny.

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Angel Island is a best-kept secret in San Francisco. Most tourists that end up there only go because the Alcatraz-only tickets were sold out and the package was the only way left to get to the old federal penitentiary. M found the package before we ever left and we thought that Angel Island sounded pretty cool, too. We didn’t know the half of it. It’s extraordinary, and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting S.F.

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Before our Angel Island tram tour left, the driver instructed anyone who might need to use the restroom to do so immediately, as the tour takes about an hour and there are no bathroom breaks along the way. By the time the three of us visited the facilities, we were in the last tram group. I had pointed out a cool, old blue tram from the 1950s to M that was parked practically in the bushes alongside the road, well behind the modern trams pulled up to the loading space. We laughed and figured they were keeping it around just because it looks cool. Imagine our surprise when the two, full modern trams pulled away and we saw our driver climb aboard the retro one and struggle to get it started. The Miss Caroline rumbled up and we all loaded in, M and I eyeing each other skeptically. The tram’s engine seemed solid once she was finally started, but her transmission was a whole other matter. We jerked and bucked up every single hill, and I honestly thought we weren’t going to make it a couple times. Okay, every time. But still, the tour was wonderful and we were afforded stunning views of the bay from all sides of the island. Miss Caroline and our trusty driver got us around and back to the dock in time for lunch before boarding for the trip to Alcatraz.

My favorite part was the smell of eucalyptus. The island had been deforested by loggers when the military took it over early last century. To “help,” they planted all sorts of non-native species which still thrive there today. The California Park Service is slowly culling those back to designated areas and trying to repopulate the island with native species, but they’ve got years of work ahead of them. To my benefit, we drove right through several eucalyptus groves, and for the first time in my life I got to smell my favorite smell live. I have always loved eucalyptus candles and lotions, but the actual real smell is so much better. I was inhaling deeply, over and over, before our tour guide finally told me what it was. I think she thought I was hyperventilating. It makes me want to go home and plant eucalyptus trees all around the house, but I don’t think they’d thrive in Missouri’s environment and I’m pretty sure M will kill me if I plant anything but grass. He is staunchly anti-tree, having been the one to clean up their droppings every fall. The story of Angel Island is pretty cool, too, but I’ll leave you to google that for yourself. At one point on the tour, M was worried that Zoe was bored. She was sitting quietly in the window seat of the bucking Miss Caroline, taking it all in. I asked if she was okay, and she responded, “Yeah. This is just so relaxing!” She’s a kid of many flavors.

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Alcatraz Island is stunning on so many levels. The island itself is beautiful. The architecture is interesting. The history is intriguing. I didn’t know that before it was a federal penitentiary it was a military installation. I didn’t know that many of the children of prison employees grew up on Alcatraz, ferrying into San Francisco each morning to go to school. I didn’t know that an attempted prison-break resulted in the U.S. military bombing the cell block – with uninvolved prisoners and guards still inside – to get it under control. Our tour included an audio package, which was brilliant in both the scope and depth of what it covered. Even Zoe was fascinated. She wasn’t too thrilled when I made her stand in a cell so she could get her picture made behind bars. Good. Nothing like teaching her early that crime doesn’t pay.

My best find there was a small book with a series of quotes from the Rules and Regulations of the Federal Penitentiary on Alcatraz. There are some real gems in there that I plan to share with you all later. The book is packed in one of our stowed suitcases, and I’m typing this on the way to Seattle. I’m too lazy to go downstairs and root around in the bag to find it. Suffice it to say that it astounds me how many of the rules and regulations are applicable to our lives. More to come on that.

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After dinner on Fisherman’s Wharf, we took Zoe to find a cable car. M figured out the map and we went to the beginning of the line, where there’s a turntable to get the cars facing forward again. We waited forever, because cable cars are in no hurry or are on a timeframe that no one knows but the operators, and they ain’t talking. It didn’t help that we waited behind a large Indian family with a strong matriarch who was more excited to show the cable cars to her son Krish than Krish was to see them. I made a video of one of the cars coming down to the turntable, and I’ll have to figure out how to lay a music bed over it because the natural sound includes a woman screaming, “Krish! Krish! The cable car! It’s coming, Krish! Krish, turn around so I can get a picture of you facing the cable car! No, Krish, you need to smile! Krish! Turn around and smile so I can get the cable car behind you! Krish! It’s coming Krish! IT’S COMING KRISH IT’S COMING HERE COMES THE CABLE CAR KRISH!” What you don’t see on my video is a bored 9-year-old boy who is barely humoring his mother, while his two teenage sisters stand nearby and roll their eyes and his father stares at the ground and says nothing. The next cable car that came was terminating in Chinatown, about halfway to the end, so we didn’t take that one. Poor Krish climbed aboard with his mother still screaming in his ear and telling him how excited he was over this whole experience. They pulled away, and we were happy to wait a bit longer for a quieter ride. Finally, it was our turn, and I took a seat on the bench while M and Zoe hung off the side. Zoe grinned nearly the entire time, and was beaming with joy. We rode the entire length of the line, and loitered a few moments at the end to get some pictures. Our conductor invited Zoe back into the cable car to ring the bell, teaching her the proper technique to get both tone and frequency. I think it was the highlight of her day, even though she won’t admit it because she’s too polite to say, “I can’t believe you dragged me to a prison and put me in a jail cell, but the cable car ride made up for it!”

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After a quick stop at the hotel to pick up our bags and change back into our train-traveling clothes (i.e. athletic wear, or athleisure, or yoga pants, or “softie pants” as Zoe calls them, or sweat pants as we used to call them back in the day), we summoned a friendly Uber driver. I’ll call him Mohammad, because that’s what his name is. (We were driven around San Francisco by Omar, Tim from Hong Kong who has been in this country longer than I have, and Mohammad, and we celebrated Mass with the Chinese…this has been an awesome multi-cultural experience!) We asked Mohammad for a special favor that we were, of course, willing to pay for: would he drive us down Lombard Street before taking us to the train station in Emeryville? After several minutes of confusion – Mohammad kept calling it “the block with the flowers” because he didn’t know for sure that the name was Lombard and M didn’t remember any landscaping and could only say that the name is Lombard and I finally put them both on the same page because a.) I’m an international interpreter and b.) I know that Lombard Street has spectacular flowers and c.) I can also remove warts when needed, by the way – we were on our way. Zoe thinks it’s the craziest street in America, and I think she might be right. Down we went, while she giggled and wondered why anyone in the world would build a street like this and I wondered at what a great country we live in where we can so easily arrange to go down a squiggly street in the back of our new friend Mohammad’s Corolla. God bless America.

We have become spoiled with our train travel. In this whole trip, we had one night – and one night only – in coach class. The seats are extra wide and they recline like crazy, plus there are two outlets for every pair of seats and giant windows to gaze out. I had brought two blankets and my Irish cloak, because Amtrak trains are notoriously cold, so we were set. That is, until the two adults on this trip made fatal errors. M didn’t realize I had planned on using my cloak as a blanket, so when I offered him a blanket as we were going to sleep, he declined. He knew we had two blankets, and he was chivalrous and left them for his girls. He froze the entire night. I, in mama bear mode, placed Zoe in the window seat while I took the aisle. She’s small enough to curl up on the seat and make herself comfortable, while an adult really should use the side of the train (the window) to lean on to get really comfortable. For most of the night I tossed and turned, trying to find a way to sleep without my head bopping all over the place. Finally, early in the morning, she woke enough where I could switch positions with her. She snuggled into my arms, I leaned on the window, and we both fell asleep. None of us slept as well as we do when we have beds in the rooms, so clearly we are now train snobs and completely spoiled rotten. Also, I realized just how much I appreciate the privacy afforded by having rooms. Out here in coach we are at the whim of the people around us, and people can be pretty freaking annoying. Like the dude behind Zoe and I who wouldn’t shut up even after the conductor announced we were now in Quiet Hours and that people who wished to continue their stupid conversations should move to the observation car, you idiot. Also, I’m not quite so embarrassed when I fall asleep and then jerk myself awake with a start and a snort if I’m in a private room. We have rooms on our long Seattle-Chicago trip, and we’re all looking forward to them.

More animals we have seen on our trip: lizards, a sea lion sunning itself on a bay buoy, a humpback whale, cheeky seagulls, a cat in the lobby of our San Francisco Hilton, and the jerks who sat behind us on the Angel Island tram who kept talking loudly over the recorded tour despite our guide repeatedly telling them to shut up already.

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We went to sleep late last night somewhere around Davis, California and woke up in Oregon, well on the way to Klamath Falls. The sunrise, as usual on this trip, was breathtaking. I can really get used to this whole early-riser thing. Oregon, it turns out, is just as beautiful as the rest of this country. Amazing. In this one state we experienced sunshine and dry land, gorgeous pine forests full of freshly fallen snow, rain, and dry land again. We saw Klamath Lake and a huge water reservoir and two waterfalls and a string of paper mills that was beautiful in its own right as industrial decay. (If you dig that sort of thing. I do.) As I type, we are now in the great state of Washington. It’s pretty here, too. Picturesque mile after picturesque mile. I’m about ready to lead this whole coach car in a rendition of “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land.” I don’t think the foreign guy behind me knows the lyrics, though, and I don’t want to make him feel bad so I’ll hold off for now.

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We crammed a lot into our 24 hours in San Francisco, and will move at a slower pace in Seattle. Tonight’s agenda includes only checking in to our hotel, dinner, and unpacking. Zoe opted for pizza delivery to the hotel, and noshing in the room. She wanted to dine “just the three of us, together.” I love that girl.

Since I’m celebrating being connected again, ya’all got pictures in this post. You’re welcome.

Tomorrow brings new adventures!

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We celebrated M’s grandmother’s (Zoe’s great-grandmother’s) 90th birthday tonight. I sat across a big table made up of a bunch of smaller tables from her and watched as her family here in St. Louis surrounded her both physically and emotionally with love, and saw how her family scattered across the country celebrated on Facebook. The woman is beloved.

GreatGrandma

Now, I think I have a fairly keen grasp of Mary Zlatic. And my opinion is totally unbiased because I married into this huge, crazy family. I’ve known her for a tiny bit over 23 years now, which is a good chunk of time to get to know someone. Here’s what I know about her.

She is kind. I have never heard this woman utter anything negative about anyone else, even when they deserve it. Well, except for stupid politicians, who especially deserve it and besides she’s always been correct.

She is generous. It doesn’t matter what time you show up at her house, she pushes food (and by “food” I mean “mostly treats”) and drink on you. She also doles out hugs upon demand and love constantly.

She has a great sense of humor. She laughs a lot, and gets a kick out of her kids, her grandkids, and her great-grandkids. She also gets a kick out of those little alcoholic chocolates and giggles even more when her coffee is spiked with Kahlua, but those are stories for another time.

She has the patience of a saint. She raised seven children. Enough said.

She has the most wicked sweet tooth I have ever seen, except for the sweet teeth she passed down to her oldest grandson and his daughter. M swears that his love of chocolate is all her fault, and that it gets stronger with each generation. I tell him to stop blaming his sweet grandmother for his inability to pass up a bowl of M&Ms but he won’t listen.

She is loyal. She’s had friends since kindergarten and they still get together regularly for brunch. Except for Evelyn. Oh, she died. (That’s an inside-joke between Grandma and me.)

She is brilliant. The clearest evidence of this is in her kitchen. She has a whole drawer devoted to goodies, and it’s always stocked. And if you can’t find something in there (or rather, after you’ve made your way through the Goody Drawer), you move on to the Goody Annex, also known as the freezer, which is also always stocked with, well, goodies. Further proof is in this anecdote: she once told us that she figured she could get around the whole fasting between meals during Lent thing by simply staying at the kitchen table all day, from which, I’d like to point out, she can reach both the Goody Drawer and the Goody Annex. “It’s like all one loooong meal that way,” she laughed.

So, my totally unbiased opinion is that Grandma is amazing and ranks above Wonder Woman, and I want to be just like her when I grow up.

Except for the seven kids thing. I can’t handle that.

Pretty Pictures 12.8.15

I’ve been seeing more and more to photograph again, on top of writing. Hitting on all creative cylinders, you might say.

abbey church sunset

Even though it’s dark when I leave work now, I love seeing the remains of the sunset glow behind the Abbey church. Everyone else is usually gone, and it’s a quiet, peaceful walk back to the car.

reflection

I noticed the tree reflecting in the stainless steel fridge door sometime in the afternoon, but the light coming in the front windows was too distracting so I waited until night to make this.

I’m Betty freakin’ Crocker

I made biscotti today. I made so much biscotti today that I never want to see biscotti again. Until tomorrow morning when I’ll make up some excuse to eat it for breakfast.

dough

This madness is the result of signing up for two separate cookie exchanges. Because I am stupid. In my defense, I signed up for them months apart, so I could claim that I had forgotten about one when I signed up for the other. However, I’ll be honest and admit that I received a reminder for the one I signed up for last May before I signed up for the second one two days ago. It was one of those, “I’ll be making cookies anyway, so why not just make more? And you know what would be great? Choosing an incredibly labor-intensive and time-consuming recipe!” things.

The first exchange is a party hosted by a mom in Zoe’s class. It’s a mommy-daughter tea-lunch cookie-exchange party. That sounded like fun plus I had consumed some beer at the parish carnival when I signed up and when it’s May it’s super easy to say, “Heck yeah, I’ll make dozens of extra cookies right before Christmas because I won’t be busy then at all!” The second party is at work. A few years ago one of the science teachers started bringing chocolate-covered Oreos for the exchange, so there’s no freakin’ way I’m missing that.

Committing to these two cookie exchanges meant that I needed to have 13 bags of four cookies each for the work party, and three dozen for the mommy-daughter party. Plus I always make extra biscotti for us (because my biscotti rocks, yo) and for family members who have not angered me off in the last year. Kidding! I give them to the women in my family because they are awesome and they deserve a special treat just for them. This all adds up to a boatload of biscotti. (Boatlad being the metric equivalent of whatever all that biscotti adds up to.)

At one point I had two biscotti loaves cooling while two more baked with three batches of dough in the fridge. That’s not counting the biscotti that were already cooled and packed in their gift bags. I had biscotti everywhere.

biscotti

I am exhausted. And slightly nauseated from eating too much raw biscotti dough. But I’m done baking for the year and that’s good. Now I just need to work on the dang Christmas card.

The only answer is LOVE

This has been a rough week. M left for London on Tuesday, and I started missing him before he even left for the airport. Zoe had a minor kerfluffle with a boy at school that I had to straighten out that day, too. The dining hall was supposed to serve patty melts on Thursday, but our chef forgot to order Texas toast and so he substituted hamburgers. (Yes, I know: first world problems. I get it. But when a girl is counting on her patty melt, dangit…)

Frost

Meetings upon meetings upon meetings all week long, scheduled both early in the morning and late in the afternoon like bookends on a shelf filled with novels about torture. I abhor meetings. I think they are the most useless function in the world of business. Or academia. Or anything, really. Meetings of more than two or three people are pointless, by and large, because at any given time the discussion at hand doesn’t pertain at least one person in the room, who is forced to either plod along in boredom or create their grocery list in their notebook so it looks like they’re engaged and taking notes. Or, like me, that person can sit there and think about all the work waiting back at her desk that she could be getting done right now.

I’ve made the terrible mistake of reading comment threads after online articles regarding both the Syrian refugee crisis and the San Bernardino shooting. The crap people post astounds and appalls me to no end. The irrational, judgmental, vitriolic, uneducated, stubborn masses are too much for me. I feel defeated, and worry for the future of my once beloved country if these people are truly representative of my fellow citizens. I need to stop reading the comment threads. Stop reading the comments, Amy, just STOP. Or maybe move to Canada. No, too cold. Find someplace warm. And beachy. With drinks that have little umbrellas.

On my way back to campus from lunch today, I watched as two cars jockeyed to exchange lanes. A woman in a larger sedan was trying to cut across traffic to get into the right lane, while a man in a tiny subcompact wanted to move into the left turn lane. I was behind them both, and the whole thing took less than six seconds to sort itself out. Then I watched in horror as the man pulled up next to the woman, rolled down his window, and screamed obscenities at her for a full 15 seconds, while also gesticulating wildly. His face was almost purple in anger, with veins popping out in his neck, and he called her name after name after name. I wasn’t even on the receiving end of it and I was frightened. He looked so enraged that I worried for a split second that he had a weapon in his car, because it looked like he had already lost his mind. It was another indicator that there is so much hatred everywhere these days. Courtesy and patience and basic respect for humanity is, by and large, gone. I’m sure he was annoyed by her driving – I was, too – but his reaction was unwarranted and went way beyond her infraction.

This afternoon brought an unbelievably poor decision from The Daughter, resulting in an immediate and epic groundation (that’s what she called being grounded) and many, many tears. M and I are very much equal parents; we rely on each other constantly to raise our daughter together. So when something colossal happens and he’s 4,200 miles away (roughly), it feels doubly hard. I don’t like to parent solo, because I know I need him to help me be a better mother. When I have to travel the rough patches alone, or between intercontinental calls and text messages and FaceTime with a six-hour time difference, I feel like I’m on shaky ground. So I’m missing him even more tonight.

Sky

Then, after Zoe went to bed (both of us much calmer, and after a lot of snuggling), I walked out to the mailbox. There was a package inside with a gift I ordered last week. I unwrapped it and checked it over and was so very pleased with it, and know that the recipient will be, too. I found the packing slip which contained the shop owner’s name and an email address, so I sat down and wrote her a brief email, thanking her. I started thinking about how most business owners probably don’t get too many emails saying, “Hey, everything’s great. Awesome job!” and how nice it is when positive acknowledgement rolls in unsolicited. I thought that if she’s anything like me, she’ll see an email come in about a recent order and groan, wondering what sort of fight an irrational customer is picking now. I hope she is surprised to see someone who just wanted to say thank you, and good job, and what you do matters.

As I was sending this email, I realized that kindness is the solution to all that other crap that’s been bothering me. Even when I don’t see kindness hardly anywhere else, I can create it myself. I can give it away all the time, every day, and maybe create little rays of sunshine in the lives of others. Even people I’ve never met who sold me something I will give to someone I care about.

I have a friend who is on a Love Campaign. She’s had a rough year and she’s been through a lot, and despite being laid bare, raw and hurting, she has chosen to actively respond with love. And in love. And kindness. And gentleness and grace and beauty. She’s on to something, I think. Given the alternative (sinking down into the depths over the all the hate manifesting itself in our world), I’ll climb aboard that train. You’re welcome to come along…it’s gonna be a great ride!

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