raisin%20bread.bmpPopping jelly beans into my mouth one at a time, I am suddenly struck by the realization of how careful I've become. I am the product of nearly two and half decades of experience in the realms of life, love and the pursuit of happiness, and at this moment I am worlds away from the ruthless, careless child I once was.

However, being careful isn't always better. Just my eating habits alone prove that I've taken straight-laced to a new, not entirely enjoyable level.

One jelly bean at a time. One flavor at a time. Cherry. Then Lemon. Pina Colada. Two Oranges in a row. The Licorice I eat separately from the rest, many in succession. When, I wonder, was the last time I tested my taste buds by twisting them with the blending of many flavors?

It isn't just with jelly beans that I've become so very vanilla, either. At a steak house I enjoy my food by eating in a rigid revolution: bite of steak, bite of potatoes, bite of corn. On a really wild night, I'll mix the corn into the potatoes! People who know me well understand that I am a self-diagnosed texturephobe. But, as much as I wish that categorization were a joke, I find that I have grooved my way into an eating rut.

At Subway, only tuna. No lettuce, no relish, no nuthin'. The woman in the green hat always hesitates before she closes the sandwich, peering at me from behind the counter, probably grateful for the curved wall of Plexiglas between her and the anti-texture freak. And I have a "usual" at most of the restaurants Jon and I frequent. I needn't even ask for my bowl of teriyaki beef and rice at Shibuya; the guy knows me well. At Carl's Jr., it's the Famous Star, plain with cheese. Every. Single. Time.

tuna%20salad.jpgMy texturephobia has generated a long list of foods deemed unacceptable (worse, nasty) by and for me. Raisin bread, tapioca, Rocky Road ice cream, any normally fabulous pastry or dessert item that has been defiled by nuts or fruit bits, smoothies that aren't perfectly smooth, fruit preserves of any kind (jelly is fine, jam must be seedless). Man, do I sound high maintenance or what?

Here I must rat out my husband, though. Stop pitying him immediately. You might think I'm the problem child at the restaurant when we go out to eat. But Jonathan is just as picky. No tuna, no sushi, and definitely no pickles. Now, I agree with him on two of the three, but just understand that I'm not alone in my mania.

The good news: the other day I accidentally dipped my burger into ketchup and took a bite. I nearly fell off my chair. It was good. Flavorful, even. And so I made a breakthrough, though tiny.

That's why, today, I intentionally picked up three jelly beans, a Lime, a Cherry, and a Grape. Without too much dramatic hesitation (after all, I was sitting alone at my desk), I flipped all of them into my mouth at the same time. My tongue held them for a second, a self-defense reflex, but then pushed them between my molars.

With the first bite the flavors shot out and into my existence, the sharpness of the Lime dominating and jabbing at my gums. But then came the half-sour Cherry, easing from right to left, followed by the gritty-sweet Grape. I'd just eaten a fruit salad in a single bite and, what's most important, I lived through the experience!

From now on, while I may continue to wash saltine crackers down only with water, and while I may remain anti-tapioca, and while I may refuse to try anything new when being pressured by a group of my peers (i.e. Creme Brule), I have decided to improve myself in at least one small way. Nevermore shall I segregate my jelly beans merely by flavor. Rather, I will experiment with delightful flavor combinations, both those created and pre-approved by the Jelly Belly Bean People, and those I come up with myself.

And perhaps someday, I will find that this delicious interlude has withstood the test of time, and that it has infiltrated other arenas of my life. When I am able to write on chalk boards or swim out farther than knee-deep in the ocean, you'll know. Just don't point such things out to me when you see them. Might scare me into regression.

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jelly%20belly.gifLicorice Jelly Belly beans are the best! Thirty-five per serving, 140 calories, all sugar and no fat! I've always enjoyed them, but they've been merely a delicious snack, an almost-dessert. Now, thanks to the tour Jon and I took at the Jelly Belly factory, I know oodles more.

For instance, Gustav and Albert Goelitz were making precursors to the Jelly Belly beans back in 1869 upon their emigration from Germany. Their original recipes for a sweet which mimicked the classic Turkish Delight (something I've only ever heard of from the selfish, greedy little mouth of young Edward in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe), strongly influenced the current classic candy.

A single Jelly Belly bean, from conception to the day it is delivered to the distributor, takes almost a week to make. During this time it undergoes many, many steps (some of which involve the dexterous and efficient yellow robots). Spinning cylinders and conveyor belts and funnels and hoppers guide the Jelly Belly beans on a fantastic, colorful journey. At one point they take a sugar shower!

jelly%20belly%20reagan.jpgThere was a Jelly Belly gallery at one point in the tour. We could see portraits of famous folks (everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Elvis to Spiderman to Ronald Reagan) done entirely with beans! Not life-like, but interesting, nonetheless. Ronald Reagan was the first portrait subject ever. He had been a fan of Jelly Bellies as the governor of California, and when he took the big step up to the White House, the jar of Jelly Bellies came, too. The blueberry flavor was invented specifically so Reagan could be presented with a red, white and blue jar at his inauguration. And that's when Jelly Bellies became famous, an integral part of many holidays.

Licorice was Reagan's favorite. And, though that fact alone would sway me (I'm a huge Reagan-ite), I have loved the little black licorice Jelly Bellies forever. When my church youth group went to camp in the summer of 1999, I met a guy named Josh*. He was a sweet guy, a couple of years older than me, and became my camp crush for the year. When summer ended, so did my attachment. (No, I wasn't fickle; I was realistic. He lived in Pacific Grove, and I couldn't even drive yet!) But his affection for me didn't fade so easily. One day I came home to discover a 3-pound box of licorice Jelly Bellies waiting for me. Dear Josh had remembered my favorite candy. He was leaving to join the Marines, and wanted me to think of him. That box lasted until Christmas! And I can honestly say I thought of him every time I took a handful.

On the tour, we wore those delightful paper hats with the Jelly Belly logo on them. I think they were originally designed to keep peoples' hair from falling into the Jelly Belly process. Now, though, the tour goes through a series of human-sized hamster tubes. There is no human contact with Jelly Bellies until the very end when the nice tour guide hands you your pre-packaged free beans! Of course, this time the new set of Harry Potter flavors was included in the freebie. Disgusting flavors like booger, grass clippings and vomit among them. Jon sampled the vomit (a sentence I never thought I'd say). He gagged on it (shocking!), and I wouldn't kiss him for an hour.

We also purchased four bags of 'Belly Flops,' the less-than-perfect beans, unworthy of the Jelly Belly title. These beans are off-colored, stuck together, misprinted, misshapen and odd-sized. But they taste delicious anyway, and the Jelly Belly folks don't like to waste a single bean. They have even found a use for the several thousand beans that fall to the factory floor each day. A local pig farmer swings by to pick up the pile, and his pigs are treated to dessert!

I would highly recommend the tour, especially on a weekday when Jelly Bellies are being produced! We had a wonderful time. Though I did have to fight the urge, when watching the giant candy conveyors churning out the delectable rainbow of sweets, to jump up and down yelling, 'But Daddy, I want a golden goose now!'


*This Josh is not to be confused with my brother-in-law, also a Josh, who I'm sure has great taste in candy, but was never my "camp crush". I felt this clarification was necessary, both because I am now related to a guy named Josh, and because our last name is Camp, which is where I was when I liked the other guy named Josh whose last name wasn't Camp. His last name was Turner, which probably, if mentioned before, would have saved me this long, blithering footnote. Oh well.

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encouragement%20cat.bmpI've been thinking about thoughtful things, both those I've done and those I've had done for me. I treasure them. The thirteen red roses Jon sent me for our anniversary, and the way they showed up at work glowing and lovely and interspersed with lilies, were thoughtful, of course. But it was his note that really got me: "I love you! You make everything so easy for me. :-) Here's looking at you, kid."

Just words, right? And yet, in one fell swoop he proved that he hasn't stopped listening to me when I babble on about my beloved old movies (we watched Casablanca together for the first time on our anniversary), and he told me a glorious little white lie. In actuality, I don't make everything so easy for my husband. I'm finicky and spoiled by our lifestyle and demanding and fatigued and melodramatic. Much of the time I think his love for me is quite possibly watered down by tolerance. His sweet lie, carefully tucked into the roses, obliterated that fear. It was the perfect thing to say.

My co-worker, Denise, greets me in the mornings. She is dedicated and has developed a strong work ethic. It is easy for her to arrive at 7:30 each morning to open our office. I schlump in at 8:00, wrapped in my sweater and bleary. She always smiles. On Fridays she gives me a conspiratorial nudge and says, "It's Friday, my girl. Thank God for Fridays!" I perk up. It IS Friday, the end of another long week. I appreciate her reminder, like a shot of adrenaline. Most of all, though, it is the days when she looks at me twice upon my entrance and, once I've settled into my own desk and groaned at the number of emails in my box waiting to be answered, she turns in her chair to give me one more smile. "That color," she says, gesturing to my turquoise shirt, "looks lovely on you." Or, "I think your highlights are holding up beautifully." Or, "I meant to tell you yesterday how happy I am to work in the same office with you." I feel that warm rush that praise and flattery send, as if I am standing on the West facing side of a mountain and the sunrise has just crept over the crest to pour warmth into me.

At lunch with my friend Jenifer the other day, I was feeling a little drained. The end of the long week had merely given way to the beginning of a long, exhausting weekend. We stopped to eat at one of my favorite places and took our seat by the window. I like to have my back to a wall when I eat out, just a little OCD thing I've learned to live with. When Jen slid into her seat across from me, the pretty bright light through the picture window reflected on her face. Light like water made her shine, beautiful. It was her eyes that jumped out at me, sea foam green and so very alive. All at once I told her, simply, "You're eyes look so pretty today." She thanked me and chalked it up to the makeup she'd applied that morning, but it felt good to release some nice words, some kind thoughts, and I was energized by it.

Compliments, especially ones overtly sincere, are precious and, unfortunately, too few and far between these days. Yesterday, though, I found myself swimming in opportunities to encourage and build up those around me. I've been helping the women's' volleyball coaches at Livermore High School this week during tryouts. The JV pool looks strong, capable, and full of potential. But not all of them are shoe-ins for the team. Some are still growing into their gawkiness, unknowing that they have more potential even than the rest. Height is prized in Livermore athletics, especially volleyball, because it so rarely comes along. Other girls misstep and trip and thunk on the floor, smack the ball into (or under!) the net. The ones pushed into the setting position succumb to the fishbowl effect, knowing all eyes are on them, and flub every other attempt. These are tryouts, and a kind word at exactly the right moment can make a superstar, at least for a moment. I made the rounds, clipboard in hand, asking their names, making notes, smiling a lot. When a girl swung hard and fast, even if the ball ended up in Rhode Island, I complimented her swing. If one served to the three spot, middle front on the opposing side, over and over and over, even when asked/ordered/implored to serve somewhere else, I told her how lucky she was to be able to find that "sweet three". I let them in on advanced strategy secrets and, low and behold, a couple of them caught on. One girl, a future power hitter who simply didn't have the height and kept slamming her hits straight into the net, took the hint I gave and began tipping it over like a pro, to a spot the varsity girls would have trouble cleaning up.

But best of all sometimes, better than giving encouragement or being encouraged, is observing from a new authoritative place the way these young girls stopped to talk up one another. I was especially impressed by a red-headed sophomore named Re. She had enough energy to power the whole team, the makings of a captain or a libero, and she never shut up. Good things, happy things, bright yellow, bouncing things rattled out of her as she dove around the court and backed her teammates up. "That was great, Karen!" she yelled. "You're amazing!" "How did you DO that, Kris?" And my favorite of the afternoon: "Smoking hot, ladies! That'll make the young'uns say, 'WHATSUP!'" Funny how just five years of distance can make me smile at that, something I probably would have said from my place on the court. Silly stuff, but stimulating and gracious and wonderful to see.

Thousands of days blur by us all, and on some of those days we pause to take the time to tell someone how much we love them, or how terrific their hair looks, or how often we think of them at their new job or with their new baby or in their new marriage. My brother dedicated a song to his wife and their soon-to-be baby son on the radio. My mom gave Denise a necklace with a whale's tale pendant made of blue stone, and it touched Denise deeply because she loves whales, and more so because Mom remembered such a sweet detail. My father-in-law built a trellis overhang on the patio behind his house as a surprise for my mother-in-law who was returning from a mission trip to India. And every time Cindy or Amy says, "Yaya!" when she answers the phone, my heart beats an extra time, just a little more full of love than before.

How I do love thoughtful things!

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gray%20dress.jpgI saw a woman today, sitting with a man I assumed was her husband. He spoke to her animatedly, hands pushing his stories out into the air and across the table to his attentive audience. She nodded to the rhythm of his enthusiasm, understanding and supportive. Her hands rested, crossed and plain, on the table before her, but stretched toward her husband just enough that I noticed from afar. As his hands twirled, her eyes followed every finger twitch. When his story was done she smiled with her whole body, lips, teeth, eyes, cheeks, ears, shoulders. Her hands slid even an inch or two futher across the table. I saw the stretch of her gray cotton shirtsleeves. The husband smiled back and then, sniffing and blinking as if to calm himself after all the exertion of storytelling, reached for his drink. He wiped the condensation that transferred from his ice tea to his palm onto his jeans, and let his hands fall onto his knees. The smile fell from his wife's face simultaneously and she pulled back into her chair.

Later, he opened the car door for her. She stepped in, but even as her lips wrapped around the words, "Thank you," he closed the door, oblivious to her gratitude, or perhaps to her routine appreciation. It hurt to watch. No meanness, no spite, just oblivion. These people weren't particularly intelligent or successful, interesting or beautiful, generous or religious. Just people who would probably decribe themselves being in love with one another. But he didn't appreciate her, and she was silent.

You may think I'm overreacting to this, or you may decide I couldn't possibly have observed such details at a local Starbucks over lunch. Whatever the case, it spurred something in me, a little heartache all women dread and most of us have experienced at some level. And, thankfully, I was feeling poetic, too.

Gray Dress

A feathery portrait of a woman
adorns a white wall
as shadows pass hour by hour
and questions hang on plump lips that never moved,
even when the model wanted to ask the painter,
a thin young man with eyes like the deepest black wells
in a West Virginia ghost town,
when he would lift his head and breathe,
stop his monotonous brush stroking and color blending,
break the layering of lighting and toying with angles,
and see her.

Instead, he painted her and her silence, a masterpiece.
He wanted to achieve the impossibility of
displaying what refuses even to be heard,
and she wanted him to spray his genius onto canvas,
be the realization of potential he'd only dreamed of.

She kept sitting, positioned in a gray dress
that once, in just the right light, had appeared silver,
neck craned this way and that way
until needle pricks of pain scurried up each vertebrae
and whined in her soft-curved ears,
ones he'd not spoken into in days, weeks, years.

Occasionally the sitting gave way to memories,
herself as a perfect subject, statuesque and patient, one
who realized her place as a vessel of true art,
one who embodied that place
so that watchers recognized her talents, too.
One man had watched every day,
from the windows of buildings, a place above the leaves
near the sky, heavenward.
His voice was soft like angels, questioning,
hopeful, honest, earnest.
May I please paint you?

Forever.

Muse of art, passion, impression,
just the woman he'd discovered in the museum courtyard,
hair flaming in the spring breeze flecked with sun,
she touched him deeply to a heart he'd only imagined he had.
She quivered when he touched her back.
At the slightest tremor he picked up his brushes,
intent on capturing this magic luster of
woman enraptured.
His renditions were still, but close enough to the real thing
to draw applause.

He memorized the movement, the way her
bright eyes widened and fell, like ocean waves,
and he painted it over and over and over again,
until he no longer needed his model,
let alone his muse.

She stayed.
Sat in that gray dress every day.
Not once did she stir, cry out,
but rather chose to allow herself the silent agony
of being taken utterly for granted.

--Audrey Camp, 2006--

The painting: Girl in Gray Dress, by Robert Philipp

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shakira2.bmpLast night I met Cindy and her roommate, Sru, and her new RA friend, Marta, in San Jose for a girls' night out. Dinner and then the much-anticipated Shakira concert. Yay!

We walked into the restaurant we'd chosen online wearing sparkly tops and blue jeans, enjoying our opportunity to be fancy. There are a zillion restaurants running down San Pedro Road, and we chose one called St. Peter's something... I'd advise everyone I know not to eat there. But I cannot remember the name, and I'm too lazy to look it up now.

Anyway, we walked in, and a very cute, curly-haired waiter met us at the door. He took the double-take we became used to as the night went on. Not because we were all looking so fabulous (though we were), but because Cindy's hair is currently cotton candy pink. All of it. And Curly, as he came to be called over the course of the evening, was flabbergasted.

A different guy had to come and take us to our seats because Curly wouldn't stop staring. And, unfortunately, while he hovered like a moth around Cindy's pink flame, he did very few things right. In fact, he judged all of us because of her pink hair. No wine menu for these girls. Obviously they're still young enough to do punky things like hair-dyeing. The man took our wine glasses away without so much as an offer.

Now, I don't usually order wine with dinner unless Jon and I are out for a special occasion anyway, but it's nice to have the option. Lousy waiting etiquette, Curly.

To top it off, the food didn't measure up. My chicken and sweet corn tortelloni (not tortellini, completely different thing) was okay. The spinach salad was so-so. The seafood was, apparently, awful. I wouldn't touch it because the eight dark blue muscle shells hadn't been removed. They gaped from within the linguini, salty smelling and sharp. Ew. The four of us passed our plates around to share, hoping no one would notice how uncouth we were (once judged... what's the point?). Curly noticed. He brought Cindy a completely unrequested third spoon. He ignored the rest of us entirely.

Since the rest of the girls mostly pushed their food around their respective plates rather than pushing it into their hungry mouths, and since we ended up sharing everything and I only ate a quarter of my own, we starved all the way through the concert. But I digress.

The HP Pavilion was overflowing with people ready to hear some very upbeat Latino music. Shakira is originally from Colombia. Her accent it divine. But it's her darling personality, the way she smiles through her songs and never takes herself too seriously, which endears herself to her audience. Granted, she's also gorgeous enough to captivate fans without her incredible voice. (A male friend of mine told me today he enjoys watching her perform just as much with the TV muted.) However, I can attest to the fact that she is overwhelmingly talented.

shakira1.jpgMore than half of the songs in her set were entirely in Spanish. She's been around for a decade, but here in the states we've only been aware of her popularity for the last three years or so. Marta, Cindy's newest pal, is from Spain. She sang her heart out all night long, in both languages! It's amazing how music can translate emotion, bridging cultural and linguistic gaps. Even though my mouth and tongue couldn't move along with the Spanish songs, my heart knew the rhythm. I was completely moved.

And oh boy did we dance! Something about that hot, Latin beat and the evocative whine of trumpets behind devilish bongos gets everyone moving! Every hip in the house was shaking by the end of the night. Right now her most famous song is Hips Don't Lie. It was the number we were all waiting for, and it brought the night to a climactic, fantastic finish! Belly dancing and confetti, shadow dancers and energy.

Awesome.

We swung by McDonald's at almost midnight, stomachs growling, Shakira posters in hand, humming, "Senorita, feel the conga, let me see you move like you come from Colombia!"

Around 2:00am I finally fell asleep on Cindy's air mattress. My alarm was set for 6:00am so I could drive back to Livermore and shower before church. I was in the morning drama, a ten-minute comedy sketch called Nursery Workers Anonymous. I was Karen, the woman who had spent one or twenty too many mornings working with the toddlers and had subsequently scattered her marbles all over the church. It was pretty fun.

One line... "Yup!" But lots of goofiness, personality and heart. I don't know if our performance (there were seven equally quirky roles) will result in an influx of volunteers in the church nursery, but I hope so. If not, it may get people volunteering to participate in the drama ministry. We all had a good time.

Where was Jon while all this was going on? Yosemite. Where else? He's not a fan of Shakira. And today he climbed a new mountain: Mount Conness. I love his indomitable spirit when it comes to summiting these peaks. What an incredible nature. Couldn't possibly be more proud. (And I'm not even kissing up because he has to read my blog...)

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pile-of-leaves.bmpThis morning I was tricked into donning a sweater. It was the cool air through our open window that did the trick. That and the deeper-blue-than-usual sky. Without thinking about it twice, whilst envisioning "bouquets of sharpened pencils", I tugged the sweater over my head. And I think the sweater was pretty surprised to be let out of the closet before October. But we headed out the door to work, still thinking I'd made a wise choice.

At noon it was 85 degrees out, and only getting hotter. My skin bristled under the aggravation of the intolerably out-of-season attire. Thank goodness I had an extra t-shirt in the car. I swear Bronwyn was laughing at me as I hastened to make a quick switch in the back seat at lunch time.

Anyway, I came home feeling overheated, sick and bitter. But as Jon and I enjoyed a round of darts in the open garage, I realized I was shivering once dark had settled on our neighborhood. The autumn feeling was back. Or was I just hallucinating? Rather than go off to bed with bad feelings about summer, I did as any true poet (or wannabe poet) would.

To experience my dance with the anticipation of my favorite season, hiding like a blushing brunette just around September's corner, please read on:

In Anticipation of Autumn

Blow air soft along
my skin. Cool, damp air of autumn,
like lamplight needed sooner,
and sooner.
Long legs
push, rustle, swish
leaves in soft piles.

Crunching footsteps
blending, bending in afternoon
shadow angles, criss-crossed in
apple pie patterns.
Yellow light pools and dreams where
my kitten sleeps, uncurled and untwitching,
wishing for birds to bring down
from the sky. Cornflower,
oceanic afternoon
colored sky.

Counting clouds,
one-two-three-four.
That one looks like a giraffe!

Slide fingers down
smooth surfaces of
yellow pencils; push
at the pink eraser.
Spell generosity, thankfulness, education, diversity.
Scratch on lined paper, swing wide
loops for ells, as you remember

my long-fingered hands
tossing big fluttering bundles of unabashed
leaves, symbols
of another fine season,
traipsing from branches on
a swirling journey
down. Gravity playing
and racing with itself.

Home.

A new sun, shy and retiring, groping
with hot fingers at the evening
breezes easing across my bare feet.

You bring me socks.
I wiggle my toes.

Laughter in our darkening house
Sounds a lot like the leaves we left
Carelessly in the street.
Colorful, love, whispers.

--Audrey Camp, 2006--

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wedding_fave.jpg

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