This post must encapsulate all of October, my favorite month. I've been so busy doing my favorite fall things, packing my weekends full. It's been wonderful. Between two baby showers, Pumpkin Day, getting together our costumes, attending the annual Halloween Party at the Youds' house, carving our jack-o-lanterns and watching my favorite Halloween movies, we've kept ourselves very busy.
The first weekend found us in San Francisco. Our mission was to see the Blue Angels performing at Fleet Week. Technically we did see them, buzzing above the skyline through the clear October sky. But there wasn't a parking spot in a five mile radius from the piers. After a fruitless search that took us up and down every single street in the city, we gave up. Traffic was terrible, so we detoured to Union Square where we strolled and shopped, and ended up at the Cheesecake Factory for a delicious dinner. While it was no aerial extravaganza, our date in the city was a lot of fun.
Besides, the Angels were performing that Sunday, too. The only catch? Our friend Danika and her husband Peter were throwing a co-ed Baby-Que. We swung in to say our hellos, hug Danika, give them our gift (plush Bambi and Thumper for Baby Balland), and then Jon gave me the signal. It was time to go. Then a funny thing happened. Jonathan grew a tremendous conscience. He acknowledged that our presence at the party meant a lot to Pete, and that friends are more important than second trips to the city. The ribs were delicious, the cookies were yummy, and Jon won second place in one of the baby games. Another great day.
Somewhere along the way I was unable to continue coaching the girls' volleyball team at Livermore High School. Never mind that I had been there three to four days a week all through tryouts and almost halfway into the season. It's a political thing. And, while I understand the district's paranoia about who is allowed access to the campus and to students given the terrible tragedies at the Amish schoolhouse and at the high school in Colorado recently, it's hard not to be there with the girls I'd grown so fond of.
The good news is that my evenings were freed up by the lack of volleyball practices. I was able to clean and even cook. One afternoon I spent scrapbooking for the first time in ages! It felt good to be spending time with Jonathan more. We went to the movies, The Illusionist was wonderful, Flicka made me laugh and cry. We saw Flicka at The Vine in Livermore and were two of only seven people in the theater. I sincerely hope that the city makes decisions that will keep The Vine in business once the new theater opens only blocks away. My vote is to start showing classic movies, much like The Stanford Theater in Palo Alto does. I'd be there all the time.
Jon has traveled twice this month, just quick trips. On the most recent one, however, he was stuck in Chicago overnight because of the weather. That was a bummer. But usually he wrangles it so he can be home within 36 hours of departure. He misses me.
On the 14th was my sister-in-law's baby shower. My mom and I went together bearing many gifts. Mine all fell under the mommy-to-be's chosen theme: Winnie the Pooh. I'm not really a fan of that stuff anymore, though my mother claims I could sing the whole theme song at the age of three. But I must admit that this baby stuff is all very cute. Little, soft, cream colored, precious. I'm looking forward to welcoming my nephew in just six weeks! (While I was at the shower, Jon went for a walk downtown and wound up with this adorable, and very fitting, ornament just for me! So cute!)
I've also been riding religiously once a week. It's a spectacular feeling, moving with the motion of the horse. I usually ride a beautiful horse named Hollywood. He's tall and spirited, and he cheats a little during my lessons, reacting to my teacher's voice commands before I have a chance to use my heels and calves. But I'm learning so much so fast! A couple of weeks ago I began cantering for the first time. I am on a lunge line, a rope that Mallory, my instructor, holds onto and is attached to Hollywood's bridle. We move in a 20 m circle around her. The canter is quite a bit faster than the trot I've become so used to. And it will take some time to learn the correct position of my upper body, the exact tension I need to maintain on the reins. Yet, I've already become attuned to the rolling, flexing motion of Hollywood's body. I already trust him. Riding has been a miracle for me, so centering and soothing. I love every minute, from the tacking and grooming beforehand to the rub down I give him when we're through. The sweat and horsehair and the clicking of the metal scraper as I scoop his hoofs clean. I love it all.
Then the weekend before last we took advantage of the Indian summer and made our annual trip to the pumpkin patch in Half Moon Bay. It's my place, and it's become ours since we met. Pastorino's is family-run and full of fun things for families to do. We picked out our pumpkins in record time and then perused the gift shop and the green house. Finally we snapped a shot of me near the Aunt Audrey's Pie Shoppe sign (which I considered framing and giving to Teather's kid when he's born... but I don't want him to think I'm full of myself), and we were on our way into town for lunch. Half Moon Bay is full of crazy little shops and crazy little people. A silent protest against the war was in process at every corner. Next to the flea market that smelled of incense was a boutique boasting $428 jeans. I had cottage cheese with my club sandwich and Jon enjoyed an Italian soda.
On Sunday we got together with the YaYas and Amy's family for Ames' 22nd birthday. Brunch with her folks was fantastic, as always, because we all laugh so much. But Cindy and I pulled off our first absolute surprise for Amy earlier in the week. I picked her up around 6:00pm and we drove down to Santa Cruz with orange daisies and a box of animal crackers. I'd called Mount Hermon that afternoon and, by the grace of God and a guy named Tim, had been able to set up a reunion at the camp fire. Another guy named David met us and led us to the campfire pit, helped us set up and find a place to hide, and then conspired with us to get Amy down there a little early so we could complete our mission.
Cindy and I were huddled in the cool, damp darkness of the Santa Cruz Mountains, just beyond the ring of light from the fire. Amy walked up oblivious, saw the flowers, still oblivious, read the card... saw 'YaYa!' written at the bottom and gasped. We shot out at her from the trees, screaming and waving our arms. There were happy tears and lots of hugs. She'd had no idea. We stayed long enough to watch a couple of ridiculous skits and to sing some crazy camp songs as loud as we possibly could. It felt good to belt out the zany verses about xylem into the chilly night air, the voices of a new group of sixth graders braiding around ours.
The pumpkins staying in the back of my Jeep for the rest of the week, bumping around and squeaking as their skin contacted the plastic insides of my car. Obnoxious, sure. But I was so tired at the end of each day that I just couldn't remember to take them out.
And beyond work was Jon's final trip of the month, to Baltimore, and the World Series was raging in Detroit and St. Louis. Mom and I surprised Dad last week by showing up at his school with big red signs covered with pictures of his favorite Cardinal players. We bounced in shouting and smiling at the end of his school day and gave Twinkies to the kids in his class while campaigning for their support of the Cardinals. It was a tremendous surprise, and all Mom's idea.
The Series itself was terrific to watch, especially Game 4. I won't go into detail, because I'm just knowledgeable enough about baseball to keep from looking like a complete moron, but I did embarrass my dad by asking things like, 'What position does Pujols play?' and 'Is that Carpenter guy any good?' While Jon was in Baltimore, I hung with the folks, shouting things at the TV and listening to Dad expound upon every single play of the game. What amused me (and impressed me) most was the way he'd pause the Tivo after a hit or a save, tell Mom and me about some obscure piece of strategy or some similar play famously made twenty-odd years ago. Then he'd continue watching... and the announcers would say exactly what Dad had said to us. It happened again and again. Honestly, my Dad should work for the network.
So, the Cards won and Dad jumped up and down. Eckstein (or 'Ecky' as Mom calls him) took home MVP of the series, and so she jumped up and down. I took crazy photos of them standing near the television pointing to the trophy. It was a tremendous day in the Pancoast house.
All along the way, Jon and I have been collecting the piece of our costumes. We found the perfect dress for me on eBay. Just a bright pink prom dress, but it sure did the trick. My jewelry was easily found at Mervyn's and I already had the wig. Jon's overalls were the hardest to come by. Mom suggested OSH, and she was right. The hat and gloves came from a lady on eBay, the shirt is Banana Republic, but I hope he'll choose to wear it when he's being himself, too. Anyway, we were the most colorful couple at the Youds' party, and I was so pleased at how well they came out. Mario and Princess Peach were Jonathan's choice, but in the end I agree that it was an excellent one.
Yesterday we went downtown (after waking up around noon) and had lunch and took a peek at the Christmas ornament store that opens at about this time every year. That's right. We skipped right over Thanksgiving, before Halloween even actually happened, and began planning for Christmas. Each of us found a new ornament. Meanwhile across town, Dad was making his usual threat not to put up Christmas lights or the big Christmas tree this year. And, as usual, Mom and my brothers managed to talk him out of that idea. In fact, the Christmas lights were put up that very day!
We wrapped up our final October weekend watching the first Harry Potter movie as we carved our jack-o-lanterns. Again, I'm pretty happy about our designs. Mine, at least, is better than last year. I like Jon's dinosaur, too, but nothing will ever top that darling penguin.
So, we've done everything this month. Cheered teams to victory, picked pumpkins from our favorite patch, hung with friends and family, watched movies, got very much into costume, partied, rubbed our hands in pumpkin guts and tried a new place to eat (Woks Up in Dublin is totally worth a try). My favorite month is drawing to a close, and my only regret is trying to cram all this exciting stuff into one single blog entry. I'd like to promise more (better) postings next month, but I am absolutely at the whim of time and stress. Here's hoping that I'll find the patience and inspiration to be more interesting more frequently in the weeks to come.
For weeks during my junior year of high school, my friend Jennie and I would hang out during the final period of the day in an empty classroom and watch movies while waiting for her brother to drive us home. We'd laugh continuously at 'Liar, Liar' and daydream about Wesley in 'The Princess Bride'. But our absolute favorite movie, the one we repeated more than all the others, was 1986's 'Crocodile Dundee'.
Paul Hogan may have been ancient, but is dark,wrinkled, leathery skin didn't deter us. We lived for his smile, sat on the edge of our seats during the scene in which he saves the lady reporter's life. In fact, when he stabbed his bowie knife into the crown of the giant croc's head and twisted it to unleash a sickening sound effect, we almost cheered.
To say the least, I remember this movie fondly. Naturally I Netflixed it. Jon, you see, had never been fortunate enough to watch the film on his own. As with everything else in our lives, I wanted to share the experience of 'Crocodile Dundee' with him. I wanted him to feel the nostalgia of the mid-eighties haircuts and flashy clothing styles. I wanted him to be mesmerized by Dundee's Aboriginal tricks.
You cannot imagine my disappointment. The dialog was terrible (perhaps because Paul Hogan helped to write the screenplay?) and the plotline was contrived. The love scenes I had sighed over, both in the outback and in the New York subway station, were the ultimate in cheese. Jon, bless him, didn't even roll his eyes. I was writhing with embarrassment at the poor acting and the ridiculous jokes and the unnecessary sexuality.
Only one familiar element rang true to me. Dundee is a man. He is strong and focused and unyielding and capable. He wrestles crocodiles and strangles snakes and defends helpless kangaroos. He beats up bullies and dances with ladies and treats everyone as his close friend. I think the woman in me was just awakening when I watched 'Crocodile Dundee' for the first time. While I'd been playing with boys all my life, and then progressed to playing the game of pre-love for the boys, I'd never known attraction to anything more than a sense of humor, an athletic streak, a floppy hairstyle and a torn pair of jeans.
At one point, the terrible actress in the movie has survived a mugging after Dundee comes to the rescue with (again) his knife. She crosses her arms over her chest, supposedly the picture of modern feminism, and says, 'I always feel safe when I'm with you, Dundee. Why do you always make me feel like Jane in a Tarzan movie?' He doesn't answer. It is the only way he knows. Of course they kiss then. The music ruins it.
But I understand what she means. There's something to feeling like Jane, even in a world where young women are told they need to be the Tarzan for themselves. Climb mountains, girls. Be the CEO of a major, multi-national corporation. Win the Nobel prize. Ask guys for their phone numbers. Forget to call. Opt to drive. Open your own door and pull on your own coat. Hire someone to clean and cook and watch your children; you have more important things to do. But do I really?
When Jon and I hiked Half Dome together for the first time, I crawled to the top of that blasted rock with my legs vibrating with fear and my sweaty palms sliding down the steel cables. I dragged myself up to impress Jonathan and to prove I could do it myself. He put his arm around me, proud, and took a picture. But I could barely stand up, and the wind was whistling morbidly all around me. Everything I knew and had known was telling me to excuse myself politely and descend on my own, just the way I'd come up, guts and pride and ability. Thankfully, my body went on strike and I had to tell my brain to take a hike. Jonathan stood behind me on mountainside, strong arms wrapped around me, and held me up. I took one step at a time, using his feet to steady my own. It took ages, but we made it down. Just Tarzan and Jane in Yosemite.
There really is something to it. And that's what called out to me from behind the veneer of the lousy 80s flick. Biceps and a big smile, a bowie knife in the backcountry. Just a man who knows what he wants. Even the terrible dialog was redeemed slightly be the always-invigorating Aussie accent.
I'll probably never watch it again (and I know Jon won't), but I've decided not to be humiliated about sharing this blight on the world of film with my husband. My status as a movie snob took quite a hit. Rather, I took the time to explore my memories and I came to a conclusion about myself and the growing process I'm still working on. Even as I chase my dreams and try to measure up to the standards set by society (be skinny, be strong, be sensitive, be selfish, be successful), at the end of the day there is absolutely nothing wrong with being, as Dundee would say, a real 'Sheila.'
October began for me in the mountains. I woke up to the sounds of friends in the kitchen, friends working, friends packing up to return home. Today was the final day of the annual Tri-Cabin trip we've been attending for several years now. And while we may have eaten wonderful food (those enchiladas were fantastic!), and while we may have played Carcassonne, darts and ping pong until we were exhausted, it was the quiet moments I treasured most at the end of the day.
I watched the wind tickle the trees, fumbling between the branches and rushing to me from the depths of the sky, sounding like God breathing. Here and there were red leaves, shy and outnumbered but prepared to catapult into a fiery majority within the next few weeks. The evergreens appeared fearless in the face of impending change. They are strong and staunch and beautiful. When a pine cone released its grip on a branch 50 feet in the air and plummeted to the ground with a resounding crack, it rolled under a nearby bush to consider the delicious feeling of the only free fall it will ever know. I held Jon's hand, his long, warm fingers tightly locked with mine, and felt small but safe, and lucky, too.
Noel attempted M&M pancakes. Dave tried to remove splinters with a razor blade. Stephen beat me at Sorry! Debbie asked Jon if he wanted to change a diaper, and I don't believe I've ever seen him look that scared. Little Madeline wanted "My Country Tis of Thee" as her "night-night" song, and the whole crowd of us sang it to her. When we'd finished and had begun laughing at ourselves, Steve turned to me and said, "This is the weirdest party I've ever been to."
It was noisy. Laughter rolled like a psychotic snowball down the stairs into the basement, increasing in size, speed and momentum, crashing into us and distracting from our game of darts... but in a good way. We'd pause, lower our darts, and catch snippets of conversation completely out of context. "It's Japanese art-ish." "He ate the beer bread for breakfast." "I need another white one." They meant nothing and yet they were followed by gales of fresh laughter.
Between the craziness, though, I had a chance to settle into a couch corner and read. Pam Houston's words soothed me like a mighty, tender, truthful lullaby. Allowing her to do everything and then to tell about it, while I nursed my aching muscles and pounding headache, nudged me into a very relaxed place. She shot rapids, climbed mountains, came face to face with a bull moose, fly fished in the freezing cold in the dead of night.
I sat still.
And at night we crawled into bed and clicked on the electric blanket. Everything was so cozy. I didn't want it to end.
There is something about this cabin I've been to a handful of times that makes me feel warm and welcomed. Maybe it's the green shag carpet or the brown linoleum kitchen floor. Or it could be the way every corner of the place is filled with memories, a stuffed marlin above the entrance, a quilt, family portraits, weathered books and pieces of furniture so well used they have expanded and hunkered down into the perfect spots to think, read, relate, fellowship, rest. And beyond all of that are the mountains that guard the sanctuary, a few friendly, blue and gray peaks fuzzy with evergreen trees. More than anything, they welcome me.
(*The Camp Syrup is in the picture, but you can barely tell what it is... so I'm creating another footnote. Hooray for footnotes! A double hooray for Camp Syrup!)