IMG_9169.JPG

Carrots and celery are chopped and piled high in blue stone bowls. Onion grows clear and fragrant over chicken breasts in the slow cooker. I slice a small brick of yellow butter into a red mixing bowl. Each slice lands deep in the white mound of flour, baking powder, and salt. I lift the pastry cutter and go to work until it creaks in my hand.

I've used the cutter so often over the last thirteen years that the handle has begun to loosen. I must hold my thumb firmly over one side to keep it together. I can't bring myself to replace it.

A gentle mist has replaced the gentle autumn sunshine outside, collecting on the yellow leaves of the sycamore. Our wall heaters have begun to turn on during the day.

It is Sunday, and my mind is whirling around all the things to be done during the coming week. Presentations to create. Handouts to write and post. What do I want my students to consider when they read Zitkala-Sa's "The Soft-Hearted Sioux"? Did I really schedule a vet appointment for Disney and a doctor's appointment for Little P on the same day? Social media promotions to organize. Travel planning for a quick høstferie trip next week. Also an insurance claim to follow up on. Baby gifts to deliver to a friend. Updates to my CV and my website. Some contract work. Work for Democrats Abroad. Meetings with colleagues. Coffees with friends. And wifehood. And motherhood.

I scatter flour across my countertop. Powdered handprints appear on my red apron. The lid of the slow cooker stutters lightly against the rising steam of the soup, then stops. Jonathan has taken our daughter on a climbing date. I am alone in the house with my thoughts and the patter of rain on the window.

It is dark enough for candles now. The scent of the matchhead always strikes some happy part of my brain, reminds me of lighting Duraflame logs in my family's fireplace as a child. My Dad let us take turns doing that grown-up job. I remember kneeling at the tile hearth and double checking that the flue had been pulled open. The brown paper packaging on the logs had yellow arrows at each end: Light Here. I watched the flames crawl up the surface, devouring those words, and curling the paper into oblivion as they went. Then I put the matches back where they belonged.

Today, Jonathan and I hung some artwork in the kitchen. His Grandma Camp cross-stitched these changing seasons almost 70 years ago. They hung in her kitchen, too. We were lucky to be able to visit her one last time this summer. She and Little P played quietly together, passing a handful of dominoes back and forth, noting the number of dots on each one. When Little P found a domino without any dots, she handed it to Grandma and said, "It's broken," which made everyone laugh. A few days later, Grandma passed away.

I knead the biscuit dough. Fold and push. Fold and push. Pat and shape and sweep some flour and fold and push. Fold and push. Cut. Stacked. Wrapped. Stashed in the fridge. And I turn to see these little framed heirlooms--the work of Grandma's hands--in the fading light. It's World Quaker Day, and I'm spending my silence thinking of all the grandparents I've known and loved, all the legacies I've inherited, all the things I need to tend and pass along to my own daughter. 

Friends, I haven't written for myself in a while.

I've written a lot in the last year. Tens of thousands of words. Not only my master's thesis at the university, but magazine articles and blog pieces and ghost writing and profiles and stuff for teaching. I've enjoyed it and hope the work keeps coming. But I have missed writing things based on my own simple pleasures, my own lessons learned. I think it's time to return to that. And isn't that the beautiful thing about seasons? They come and go and then come again.

Time to stir the soup in the pot. I hope to find more quiet, nourishing moments like this soon.

|

12489342_10156449112015603_7423414369377301531_o.jpg

We barely remember what life was like without her. Until we do. And then we wish for the old ease. Time, energy, money, the ability to focus on and tend to one another. But then we hear her wake from a nap, and we both want to be the one to collect the grinning, nine-month-old babe from her crib.

I was asked if it's been worth it. This monumental change. This tectonic shift. The trials and tribulations of trying to change something that wasn't in need of changing by being crazy enough or foolish enough to stuff something else bigger and shaped differently inside of it. Was it worth it? The way no single thought will remain solidly in my mind; like undercooked spaghetti hurled at the wall, everything just bounces and flops disappointingly onto the kitchen tile. 

The truth:

She is worth it because she is here and full of exuberant, inspiring promise. And because there's just nothing else you can say about having a child once she's no longer a luxurious and naïve hypothetical.

She is worth it because she overwhelms us with joy at odd and surprisingly frequent moments. And because she looks exactly like both of us at the same time, even though that doesn't seem like it should be possible.

I don't know that I'll ever forget those first dark, chaotic weeks of her infancy, but maybe I will. I'm still not myself. Often I feel like I've ransomed my intellect and my emotional well-being just to have her.

Worth it. Absolutely.

Or at least that's what I'll say without thinking about it too hard. After all, anything less than reckless and total commitment to the cause of motherhood will get you branded as some very unfortunate things in this world.

And besides, I love to sing to her--Red River Valley tonight at bedtime--and I love to kiss her toes, and read her books, and brush her hair. I drop down on all fours in our dirty hallway to coax her forward in the rolling walker. I burn my fingers as I skin hot sweet potatoes to puree and I wipe her running nose again and again. The indiscriminate ma-ma-ma sounds she makes send my heart scampering in my chest, because soon she could say it to me and mean me all at the same time.

Won't that be something? Her Eve moment. Naming the things that walk, crawl, swim, and fly in her garden.

This is motherhood. Parenthood, actually, as Jonathan is now on papaperm three days a week.

We've put the ball in the air and we're moving downfield. Tomorrow we get the keys to our new home. It's all so adult, I can hardly stand it. And though we're exhausted, and though we sometimes question who we are, and though my self-esteem has been hobbled, and though our bathroom often smells like dirty diapers, we wouldn't trade that little girl away.

She tried to pinch a freckle right off my soft, fleshy forearm today--thinking it was just another small thing to be inspected and picked up--and I laughed through the smarting tears in my eyes, because that girl is the most precious, perfect little being in the universe. And we get to keep her for a while. Guide her, guard her. It's a privilege.

You couldn't pay me to have another, I don't think. (And Norway would!) But this little one, this Cheeks McGee, this Little P, this dancing baby... oh, we thank everything from God to our lucky stars for letting us be the ones who have her.

Perhaps, one day, my brain will unfracture; perhaps my hands will refind their places on the steering wheel of sanity. Until then, I'll be taking photos and videos of my giggling, squeaking, precocious girl child and hoping she'll look back on her life with us one day and decide it was all also worth it.

|

IMG_3201.jpg

Last week, we lost Jonathan's grandpa, George D. Camp, at the age of 92. Unfortunately, we were unable to fly home to California for the funeral and memorial service, but we did have the chance to send something to be read at the memorial service. Jonathan and I talked for a long time about his relationship with Grandpa Camp, and I used that as an inspiration to write something in Jonathan's voice and from his point of view:

My grandpa's hands were large, squared off at the fingers, and always in motion, whether he was building a new machine, swinging a golf club, or telling a story at my parents' dinner table. He was quick to laugh, and this was indicative of his happiness and fulfillment. After all, he'd accomplished so many of the customary goals of American men: a long, loving marriage, a healthy family, a home he built himself, and a career that provided for his wife and children. By every indication, my grandpa was a simple, old-fashioned man, embodying all the best parts of what have been termed "traditional American values." It would be easy to sum him up this way, but his legacy in my life is far more complex.

Since losing Grandpa Camp, I've been trying to put my finger on what exactly he gave or taught to me, personally. This has been difficult, because I cannot recall specific lessons about the "hot side" of an electrical outlet, or how to mark off the foundation of a house. These practical lessons, along with so many others, I picked up from my dad and his brothers, my Uncle Don and Uncle Gene. These three men--capable and intelligent and fun and generous with their knowledge--shaped me directly into the man, husband, and soon-to-be father I am today; and Grandpa Camp was the genesis of all of that.

Today, many people see only the mystery in things: plumbing, circuitry, a car's engine, the internet. So long as these things work the way they're supposed to, the average person has no interest in understanding the way they work. If a thing breaks, these people call someone like my grandpa. He saw the world through a different, less passive lens. He believed in the inherent logic of the world built around us. This was not an idle curiosity, but rather something active. Not only did he wonder how the mechanics of things functioned, he wanted to pull those things apart and put them back together. And that's exactly what he did throughout his life, a practice that made him both inventive and dependable.

Curiosity is something most of us are born with, but curiosity left unencouraged is almost useless. Grandpa stoked the fire of curiosity in his three sons, and that was passed along to me. Today, when I walk into a room, I see more than four blank walls. I see what is likely behind them. If I'm not certain, I want to know, and I'm willing to pick up my tool box and set to work finding out. I will hammer through the dry wall. I will lift the hood of the car. I will reverse engineer a difficult piece of computer code. This is what Grandpa Camp gave me: Confidence in my own competence.

I hope to instill this same valuable trait of character--this constructive curiosity--in my own daughter and, in this way, to allow Grandpa's legacy to channel down into the next generation.

I grew up without grandparents close by. My Grandpa Ed (Pancoast) died before I was born; my Grandpa Pete (Campagna) lived in Illinois, so I saw him only a handful of times. When I met and married Jonathan, I inherited his grandparents, all four still living and lovable. We spent so many holidays and birthdays with them. I blew out candles on the same cake as Jonathan and Grandpa Camp. The grandpas exchanged war stories at the dinner table; the grandmas debated the best way to wring the neck of a chicken. When Jonathan's Grandpa Wilson passed away at the end of 2012, I realized how close I'd become to these four beautiful people. I consider them my grandparents, too.

My brother-in-law, Josh, recorded the memorial service for us. We watched last night, which made us feel close to the family. Grandpa Camp was a wonderful man of god, a generous human being, a builder, a legend, a good neighbor, a loving husband and father and grandfather. I wish he'd been able to meet his first great-grandchild. Now I'm just hoping the Hazelnut considers arriving a couple of days early so that Jonathan can continue to share his birthday with someone he loves. Either way, we'll always take the time on April 16 to remember Grandpa Camp.

misc_01 049.jpg misc_01 032.jpg

|

10395164_10205196827336802_4755349268735313776_n.jpg

The hardest part is the stillness, the quiet. Though Crypto was a quiet kitty her whole life, walking about on dainty paws and only mewing when requesting (demanding) her dinner, there's an achingly quiet void in our apartment now. One shaped like a furry heart.

Yesterday, we said goodbye to her for the last time. Since November, her health had deteriorated rapidly. Mystifyingly. We tried prescription pills and a kitty inhaler for a sudden onset of feline asthma. Feeding her became an ordeal as we crushed steroids into her wet food, and had to watch her eat so that Disney didn't accidentally Mark McGwire himself. But over time, her breathing rattled and wheezed, worsening with each passing week. We could hear her from all over the flat.

Tragically, the labored breathing was worst when she purred. So, when we stroked her beautiful, silky coat or scratched her precious chin, she would close her eyes, lean into our hands, and wheeze until she gasped for breath.

Crypto was special. All people who have and adore their cats think this, of course, and that's only right. But Crypto really was.

Here is her story:

When Jonathan moved to his first apartment in Dublin, California in 1999, he bought a bunch of furniture (much of which, including a giant, black, leather reclining couch, we still own) and then went directly to the local pound to find himself a cat. He was a 22-year-old single guy with a good job and a flashy car, so rescuing an animal and giving it a home may not have seemed like the predictable next step, but that's the kind of guy he was (and is). At the pound, Jonathan met Crypto. She was bright-eyed and healthy, though she'd been found on the street. In the getting-to-know-you room, Crypto flirted and nuzzled his hands and purred. Jonathan signed the paperwork and took her home in a cardboard carrier.

|

climbing_baby.jpg

We love to climb. I wonder if she will.

That's not always the way it works. When I was little, my parents played volleyball on weekends with their friends. They trucked my brothers and me out to the elementary school playground and then, after putting up the net, proceeded to ignore us while they had fun.

Heat wavered above the blacktop. The metal slides and chains on the swing set were scorching to the touch. After a while, bored with the games of my little brothers, I'd crawl into a shady spot to read. I couldn't have cared less about volleyball. It was the thing distracting my parents from the pleasure of my company. If anything, I resented the sport for being worth their time. 

They wore neon windbreaker shorts and tank tops. For a while, my dad even had a pair of Reebok Pumps. I think. Anyway, they played with two other couples while a boom box blared Mungo Jerry's In the Summertime. They were slick with sweat and red with exertion, and they were having a blast. Between games they stopped to chug water, and we skipped over to be nearer to them. But soon enough, the game would be on again. 

If someone shanked the ball, we were called upon to shag it. I hated that, too.

When, a few years later, I prepared to start high school, they suggested I try out for the volleyball team. I scoffed. I choked. I rolled my eyes. I gagged. I grimaced. What a stupid idea. What a beyond stupid idea. The kind parents have. Parents who don't know anything. Ugh. God. Lame.

|

Holidays are here again. Jonathan and I just spent four days in Malmö, Sweden celebrating an expat Thanksgiving with friends. We hopped the DFDS overnight ferry home yesterday and enjoyed a buffet dinner full of Scandinavian holiday classics (ribbe, meatballs, potatoes, gravy, etc.). Pulling into Oslo this morning, we found Christmas in full swing. The Karl Johans gate julemarked is up and running; white lights are tangled in the trees; the large Christmas tree is up in the square in front of the university; and as we climbed the stairs to our apartment, we noticed that a tree full of lights had appeared in our building's backyard, too.

advent2014c.jpg

Thankfully, I'd managed to be enough on the ball before we left last week to pull together our advent calendar. Since we married, I've made an advent calendar for Jonathan every year. Past models have included Christmas jokes, Christmas memories, quotes from Christmas movies. There are usually presents, too, of course, but I flatter myself that Jonathan looks forward to my wordplay more than he does to the goofy gifts I wrangle together.

This year, daily slips of paper suspended from a red velvet ribbon will be opened to reveal my own written version of The Nativity Story. The opening lines:

Where previously there was none, a flower blooms, a fruit suspends itself from the branch of a tree, and this is what we see: round, starburst thing. Velvet petals and smooth, rosy skin. Shape and matter, weight when we lift it between our own curious palms. Where did it come from?

Happy December, everyone! 

|

pregnancy_announcement_audreycamp.jpg

I stood contemplating our pin map, which hangs in the entryway of our flat. It was my first anniversary present to Jonathan. Red pins for the places we've been and green pins for the places we want to go. There's a little plaque at the lower lefthand corner that reads: Jonathan & Audrey Camp's Adventures. I stood there in the afternoon light and considered the pins.

Red smattered across the U.S., from San Francisco to Boston. Red from the Arctic Circle down through Scandinavia and across Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy... all the way to a tiny Greek island off the Turkish coast. A pair of red pins on the southeast coast of Australia. Each one brought to mind a place, a time of day, the taste of croissant flakes on my tongue, music, sand between my toes. Ten years of adventures.

So much in our lives is going to change.

Jonathan was behind me, suddenly, that warm, calm, solid presence.

And he said, "We're going to need a third color."

|

Dot

PD_1644.JPG

"There is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind." ― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

Dorothy Ann Pancoast (nee Bercher) was born in Cicero, Illinois in November of 1923. Her mother called her Dots. Cicero was a small town, and most people knew the Berchers because Dot's Uncle Frank was the mailman. The families in Dot's neighborhood grew their own vegetables and raised chickens, geese, ducks, and goats in their backyards. As a child growing up during the Great Depression, Dot was more aware of her family's circumstances than they realized. She knew not to ask for toys or treats or store-bought clothes. So long as there was food on the table, she knew her family was okay, better off than many others. 

At night, Dot would lean on the window sill and stare out at the fluttering softness of two huge maple trees in her front yard, dreaming about becoming a beautiful woman. Later she would claim she never became beautiful, but determined quickly that she would be a very interesting old lady instead. I think she accomplished both.

In January of 1949, Dot graduated with a Bachelor of Science, cum laude from the University of Illinois.

My grandmother's college degree definitely set her apart. According to this study, there were only 530,000 American women enrolled in college in 1947. Less than 15% of the girls who graduated from high school went on to university at all. Dot was a trendsetter, as it turned out. Over the next 40 years, the number of women in college increased to 7.1 million (1988). Today, women vastly outnumber men in both their pursuit of higher education and the number of degrees and graduate degrees awarded every year.

I love seeing these photos of my grandma as a young woman, leaning over her typewriter or laughing with classmates, showing off her enviable calves. These are years we have in common, and our passions of the age are shared, as well. One of my most treasured possessions is an "English Romantic Poets" textbook which belonged to Dots at U of I. Her pencil-notes in the margins are so similar to my own. (She was fascinated by the young age of Keats when he was writing his most important works. She admired Wordsworth's contribution to the canon.) Before my grandmother was a wife or mother, she was a curious, intelligent, ambitious young woman with dreams of world travel and a career.

|

Though we're currently celebrating America's Independence Day in Oslo for the fourth time in a row, and though we're watching soccer as part of that celebration, Jonathan and I do miss lots of things about being home for this wonderful holiday. I rooted around through our photo bank for a few of the things we miss the most (and made myself terribly homesick in the process):

2003

DSC01401.jpg

DSC01440.jpg

dsc01448_edited.jpg DSC01451.jpg

Every year, our home church puts on a BBQ. This includes food, games for the kids, music, and a car show. Jonathan participated in the car show for a couple of years, showcasing his beloved 1990 Jaguar XJS V12. Pretty sweet ride. Sometimes we miss that car.

The July 4 BBQ is all about relaxing and being a kid again. This includes juggling. My man can juggle anything, even lawn flamingos. This also includes water wars. Somehow I was always a target in these super soaker battles, and I unfailingly ended up drenched to the bone. That's young John Cromie on the right, looking every inch the BBQ nightmare scenario he was for me.

|

It's not uncommon for expats to, over time, develop an even deeper, more keenly felt affinity for their own hometowns. Absence often has that affect on the heart, or so I've heard. Then again, I've always loved Livermore, California. Not loving Livermore was never the problem. We left for other reasons, but I'll leave that for other posts. Today I'm singing the praises of my town.

Jonathan and I returned "home" for a visit over Easter, and allowed ourselves to be embraced by the comfy sameness of it all.

First Street -- Where all the action, such as it is, happens.

photo 5 (2).JPG

Donut Wheel -- Best donuts in the state.

photo 2 (4).JPG

Valley Furniture -- Can't ever remember a time when there wasn't a Blowout Sale sign in the front windows.

photo 5 (1).JPG

|

Yesterday, we lost Mickey Rooney, the man a few of us still remember as that sweet-faced ball of energy who danced and sang alongside Judy Garland. He was Andy Hardy and Mi Taylor. (And, unfortunately, Mr. Yunioshi.) Because I was raised on the classics, I hate saying goodbye to these legends of Hollywood's Golden Age, and recently it feels as if that's all I've been doing. Already this year we've bid farewell to Shirley Temple, Russell Johnson, and Sid Caesar. Last year it was Peter O'Toole, Annette Funicello, Joan Fontaine, Esther Williams, and Deanna Durbin, among many more. And it's been years since Bette Davis, Jimmy Stewart, Audrey Hepburn, Bob Hope, William Powell, John Wayne, Paulette Goddard, and so many of the rest took their final bows. 

So, who's left? I'm happy to report... many!

Maureen O'Hara (1920)

Maureen O'Hara.jpg

One of the few who never made a movie I didn't like, here she is with Tyrone Power (1914-1958) in The Black Swan. 

Kirk Douglas (1916)

Kirk Douglas.jpg

Rocking the chin cleft. I loved his small role as an easy-going English teacher in Letter to Three Wives.

|

427490_10151927868165603_437166170_n.jpg

Go ahead and call me bossy. I've heard it my whole life.

"Audrey, quit bossing your brothers."

"Audrey is a bright child, but she's bossy in the classroom."

As Sheryl Sandberg has pointed out in the last few months, the word bossy is aimed almost exclusively at girls and women, and it always has a negative connotation. Where a boy shouting orders to a passel of kids on a playground is commended for his leadership skills, a girl is pulled aside and told that what she's doing is wrong.

"Nobody will want to play with you if you're too bossy."

You should have seen me. I owned the playground and everyone in it (who would listen to me, and there were certainly those who didn't). At school or at home, I was the one who invented the games, made the rules, refereed, and facilitated play. Not that any of this lingo was a part of my vocabulary at the time. It all fell under the purview of bossy, which should have been the purview of leadership, but nobody thought to vocalize that difference until more recently.

In my neighborhood, I was the sole girl among about a dozen boys, all my age and younger. And I called the shots.

"Today we're playing cops and robbers. Cops get bikes. Robbers get a ten second head start. The light pole in the little field is home base. Go!"

Bottom line: there was a T-shaped parking lot off of Joaquin Murieta Boulevard in Newark, California where, if you wanted to play a game outside, you had to play my game. So, we played. I bossed the hell out of those boys, and I'm sure it bothered them, but the games never stopped. It was endless hours of Cops-n-Robbers, Cowboys-n-Indians, football, whiffle ball, basketball, swimming, bike riding, kickball, four-square, Hide-n-Seek. We played tackle football, and it took three of them to bring me down and push my face into the turf. Even when they didn't like me, they loved me.

To those who were in a position of oversight, it was plain that, if little Audrey were added to the equation of a classroom exercise, for example, there were few other kids whose personalities would stand a chance against mine. Our fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Busselen, used to ask us to divide into groups of four and dole out responsibilities: Leader, Time Keeper, Scribe, and Presenter. I was born with a hatred of group projects, mostly because I liked doing well in school and didn't trust the other kids to do what needed to be done in order to get an A. Unfortunately for me, fifth grade isn't one giant aptitude test for sixth grade, the way we're led to believe it is at the time. Rather, fifth grade is about preparing all children with the skills they'll need to, for example, cooperate with other people for the rest of their lives. To eleven-year-old me, cooperation only seemed necessary for more subservient types. That's why I was so torn between the roles of Leader and Presenter when these group sessions arose. I wanted to run the show, but I also wanted to be the face of the group when it came time to give the report.

Here I should point out two things: 1) Bossy girls aren't dumb. We know that by snatching the most important roles for ourselves and directing the action thereafter, we're also putting the burden of responsibility for the grade on our own small shoulders, and 2) most other eleven-year-olds are happy to cede that responsibility without a fight.

It took Mrs. Busselen a few weeks of group projects to realize that I was signing up for the position of Presenter, allowing someone else to put his/her name in the Leader spot, and then I was playing the role of de facto Leader anyway. Her answer was to forbid me to do any more presenting.

|

Paris is widely acknowledged as a city for lovers, but this September I visited with my mom. She flew in from San Francisco, and I flew down from Oslo for the rendezvous. Experiencing Paris with a gal pal is vastly different from visiting the same city on the arm of your husband/boyfriend/lover anyway, but we had an added bonus. Mom and I are very much alike. (Heredity, you see.) We love architecture and landscape paintings and striped shirts and ice cream and river walks and accordion music, so you might even say we are lovers of a good French time! And when we were at our leisure to choose activities or prioritize the sights, our list immediately took on a rose-colored hue. Here are a few of the delightful things we did in Paris between the usual list of tourist check boxes:

Taking a spin on le carousel de la Tour Eiffel...

When it's hotter than Hades in Paris, you've got to make your own breeze. It didn't take much coaxing to get Mom to ride Le Carousel de la Tour Eiffel with me. I'm sure we looked a little silly, posing for photos and hanging onto our pony-and-zebra combo for dear life, but it did the trick.

eiffeltower_carousel.jpg

Cruising the Seine and sipping vin blanc...

seine_cruise.jpg

Another ploy to escape the scorching weather in the City of Light, we purchased tickets on one of the many, many, many river cruises and spent an hour on the water. As part of the package, we sipped white wine and listened to the pre-recorded tourist history of each bridge we passed beneath.

Tasting gelato in the Jardin des Tuileries...

gelato_tuileries.jpg

Slick with sweat and giddy with delight, we walked through the gardens, trying to stay in the shade. When we saw the gelato cart, we almost broke into a run. The lemon gelato I enjoyed that day, served in the shape of a rose, was only one of the many delicious desserts sampled on our Paris trip. Others included crème brûlée and chocolate éclair.

|

thankfulness_humility.jpg

My brother, Curtis, has a new blog, which I just discovered this week. Those of you who know Curtis won't be surprised that he has a lot to say about certain things, mostly regarding topics philosophical and/or political. I love that he's begun writing these things down and putting them out there for quasi-public consumption. He and I differ on a lot of things, but that's what discourse is all about. Intelligent debate. Not these vitriolic spit-fests leading up to political primaries, or the partisan finger-pointing and name-calling which inevitably arise once the elections are over. I'm talking about thoughtful, reasoned discussion.

Today, I commented on Curtis's blog for the first time. It's really a response to several of his posts thus far, but I enjoyed writing it out, so I thought I would share it here for fun. (Also to encourage anyone who likes to read Libertarian treatises on modern society to visit pCoast Compelled.)

In Curtis's most recent post--Thanksgiving. To who?--he makes the case for personal responsibility and congratulation. An excerpt:

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and as usual we all have many things to be thankful for.  After all that's what the coming holiday is all about.  But, in light of the current legislative terrors plaguing our society... I have a suggestion.  I think people ought to think carefully about what they're thankful for, but most importantly - who provided those things for them.

We did, as individuals, provide for ourselves our current circumstances... So thank yourself. If you did well in school, be grateful for having the courage to persevere.  If you landed a good job or kept one, be deeply appreciative of your own hard work and level headed decision making skills that made that possible.  If you bought a new car or made any life-changing purchase, be grateful for saving enough of your hard earned money to do so, or for having the backbone to set priorities and goals and follow them through while navigating the financial and legal processes.  If you have a wonderful spouse, be thankful that you have chosen to be attractive to that person (of course you'll want to keep this thought on the DL).

My comment is as follows:

Wow. Well, first, thank you for spilling your optimism about the average individual human all over the interwebs.

As I read through these initial posts, I found an interesting pattern. You're writing to a certain subset of people, and that subset holds close to a rubric set by your own life experience and personality. On Thanksgiving morning, you'll be patting yourself on the back for choosing a job which pays you enough money to be able to buy a new home. And you'll be praising yourself in the mirror for taking care of your own health. And you'll be looking at your brainy, beautiful wife and thinking, "It's a good thing I've actively made myself funny and handsome and successful enough that she wants to be with me." All across America, there may well be similar people giving themselves similar affirmations, but the grave weakness of this fallacy is in its incompleteness.

Allow me to apply what I'm talking about to my own life first. There are plenty of good things in my life which are here in spite of me or my choices. For example:

It will never cease to amaze me that I have the choice not to have children. Until the 1960s, married women either had kids until their bodies gave out, or they stonewalled their own husbands to reduce the odds of conception. Worldwide, women had only one dependable option to limit their family size: abstinence. A close second was abortion, which was illegal and, therefore, not widely available or safe when it could be obtained. The invention of the birth control pill and the legislative victories which made it legal are two things I can take ZERO credit for, but which affect me every day of my privileged life.

I am also thankful for the existence of extraordinary people who do good things for the world and spend their lives selflessly in service to their fellow man. Malala Yousafzai is one. Nelson Mandela is another. I am thankful for public defenders, inner-city teachers, first responders. I am thankful for my friend Jeremy, who pulled an unconscious woman from her burning vehicle and dragged her to safety. And for victims' rights advocates. And for people who pay for the coffee of the person behind them in line at Starbucks. And for whoever gave the homeless man on my street a new blanket and shoes last week. These people are empowered and making their own choices, and what they do has no direct effect on me whatsoever, but I am grateful to them. Humbled by them. Hopeful that there will always be people like that, because--on my worst days--I might need one of them, and--on my best days--I might be one of them.

|

1383582_10153314972810603_1268449502_n.jpg

When Jonathan and I decided to move to Norway almost three years ago, we knew only a few things for certain: 

  • We'd be able to travel more.
  • We'd need warmer clothes.
  • And we'd likely never receive any visitors.

This last, we understood, because, unlike France or Italy or Switzerland, Norway just isn't one of those legendary, popular European destinations. Few non-Europeans can name any Scandinavian city other than the three big capitals. Even fewer could locate the capitals on a map without help. Plus, unlike Denmark, which shares a border with Germany, Sweden and Norway are just plain UP THERE. Oslo and Stockholm share roughly the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska and St. Petersburg, Russia. So, we resigned ourselves to our loneliness, determined to make new friends and buy plane tickets back to California as often as necessary to remain recognizable to our old crowd.

And then the unthinkable happened. People came.

|

oldfridge.jpg newfridge.jpg

Moving to Europe, I expected some downsizing. The average private vehicle size, for instance, is far more compact here than in the U.S. When we see big trucks on the road, they are a novelty. We take notice and assume a wealthy American decided he couldn't transfer to the Norwegian branch of his oil company without his trusty Dodge. Cars here are just smaller. Ditto city apartments, meal portions, playgrounds, and storage spaces of all kinds. 

This last is best demonstrated by the average size of refrigerators in apartments across Oslo.

On the left, you can see our kitchen the week I moved in, back in April 2011. The poor, little guy had been retrieved from the bowels of our building's basement by our landlord. Who knows how long he'd been decommissioned before that. To say we've crammed him full of food is something of an understatement. As a car-free couple, the grocery haul must be restricted to what we can fit into a backpack and reusable bags. Even then, if both of us went to the market, we were able to bring back enough food to make that tiny fridge bulge at its aging seams. There isn't enough room to hold all (or even most!) of the beer cans Jonathan's friends bring over on game nights, either.

Plastic drawers were cracked. The door bleated in protest each time we swung it open. The freezer wouldn't close all the way without effort. The temperature inside the fridge swung wildly from just cold enough to keep the milk good to so cold I couldn't pour soda past the iceberg that had formed within the bottle.

And then last week, as we sat in the living room minding our own business, Jonathan and I heard an enormous crack! One of the glass shelves had split right down the middle. And there was almost nothing on this shelf, so we knew it wasn't our fault. Little Fridgy had simply given up.

I would have felt sentimental about the whole thing had our landlord not acted so quickly to replace it. I worried about having enough time to say goodbye... and then the new hunk showed up. Gleaming. A foot taller, inches deeper. With baskets that could accommodate frozen pizzas. With shelves in the door that could hold soda bottles... get this... standing up!

I stripped Little Fridgy of his magnets and sent him on his way. Because magnets, in my world, are the way I show love to my kitchen appliance. And it was time to magnetize the new guy. Tenderly. One bit of memory at a time.

|

postcard03.JPG

I'm just old enough to remember the enthusiastic robot's voice AOL employed to announce, You've got mail!

The computer always took so long to power up. At thirteen, I could hardly contain myself. Hand on the mouse, waiting. I could see the little gray mailbox before anything else: an icon which a world on the cusp of the Internet Age understood as a receptacle for letters and packages. It was something familiar and tangible to cling to as we tried to wrap our heads around the advent of electronic mail. No need to comprehend the sequence of ones and zeroes. Just mail on a screen. The how didn't matter.

And just as we'd always loved seeing the mailman in his blue shorts and eagle-patched shirtsleeves stop at our house to leave real letters, we were suddenly excited to see the little red flag on the digital mailbox tick up. To see the door pop upon to reveal a stack of little white e-letters inside.

You've got mail. Oh, those words were a thrill. 

Now, email is rote. A burden, an addiction. It has worn down our pioneer patience to a nub of ADHD. My email tab is open all day, everyday. (It's open now. Checked it. Nothing new.)

But the beautiful irony of two decades of instant gratification is that, for me, it's only enhanced how much I enjoy receiving real mail. Snail mail. The stamped kind. From all over the world. 

That's why I signed up for the Postcrossing project. Send postcards to strangers; receive postcards from strangers. I've sent and received about 57 over the last three years. I recommend it to everyone! Learn about culture and geography and the exquisite similarities of human nature. Collect stamps. Get inspired to travel to new destinations. All and easily with Postcrossing.

You never know when one will arrive, either. A treat. A treasure.

But yesterday, I got something better. 

|

"I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance." 

-- Beryl Markham (West with the Night)

IMG_4724.jpg

Rodeo Weekend 2007: Audrey kicked back at Panama Red (then Panama Bay) in downtown Livermore, CA, USA

I've been dreaming of greasy In-n-Out wrappers and 100-degree summer days and rounding small town corners to encounter the smiling faces of old friends. I wake to the smell of manure and sawdust. Garth Brooks croons to me in the perpetual twilight of each Norwegian summer night. I am haunted... because I missed Livermore's rodeo for the third year in a row. It leaves me aching. Between the rodeo, the Alameda County Fair, and my church's Fourth of July picnic, June and July are just about the toughest months for me to be a world away. The remnants of those wholesome traditions, so very, keenly American, cling to me.

The expatriate lifestyle is one to which I still count myself as new. Not only do I remember the questions which run through the anxious mind of someone making the decision to leave home, to make a new home somewhere else... I still have those questions. Doubts are only natural. Sometimes, Jonathan and I will talk about our future in terms of a life spent here in Norway. Years upon years. This isn't something I would have guessed before we came. I might even have denied it vehemently for the sake of my parents and friends. But it comes up. Then fades away again. Unresolved. Left to simmer.

In this way, I fear I am committing one of the cardinal sins of the fully-embraced expat life; I am leaving the old place slowly.

|

I'm a spoiled child. Not only did my husband work from home this afternoon so he could take care of me after my traumatizing morning dentist appointment, but I got to spend a couple hours curled up with my best snuggle buddy.

sickday_aud&diz3.JPG sickday_aud&diz2.JPG

Feeling sorry for me? You should be.

After all, I'm thirty years old, and until this year, I'd never had a cavity. Thanks to my Dad (Mr. Flossing-Every-Day-is-For-Sissies-So-Let's-Do-It-Twice-A-Day-And-In-The-Living-Room-So-As-To-Set-An-Example-For-The-Kids), I've practiced superior dental hygiene my entire life. And I put in that kind of effort specifically to avoid the trauma of the dentist's drill.

Now, my bid for dental perfection hasn't been easy.

When my baby teeth grew in, everything seemed all right at first, but then they wouldn't leave. While other kids got regular visits from the Tooth Fairy, my baby molars were digging in for the long haul. I had to get them removed manually by my dentist. Needles and Novocain; the whole nine yards. Problem solved, right? Hah! My adult teeth couldn't wait for the dentist to perform the extractions before they began squeezing in. No room? That didn't stop my teeth. They popped through the gums in all the wrong places, at weird angles, too. Snaggletoothed doesn't begin to describe me and my mouth back then. When I smiled, people cringed. Full-grown people with excellent manners. One grin from this gal and they headed for the hills. 

|

Do you ever feel nostalgic about the present? On Friday, this not-as-of-yet nostalgia overwhelmed me. It was a clear day; the chilly wind smacked my cheeks red and wrang tears from my eyes. The tears weren't attached to anything, unstemmed, like the dry leaves that skittered on the sidewalks around me. But if I paused and thought, there were a million things I could give the tears over to. Distance from my family, the troubles of a friend, the fading of youth, buried griefs, the painful quickness of time.

fall_colors_oslo_akershus.png

Audrey and Jonathan enjoying the fall colors at Akershus, 30 October 2011.

Such feelings are the terrain of the season. The trees and bushes which have, for so many months, flourished with health around us, now exhale brightly for the last time this year. The colors of fall spark something in me, memories and regrets. Last year, when Oslo was new to us, I walked Jonathan home from work, more than four miles, many times. (Sometimes I took the train with him in the mornings and walked or jogged home on my own.) But this year I've neglected the practice. For no reason. After only a year, I began taking it all for granted.

|

ItsAWonderfulLife_bridgescene.jpg

"Each man's life touches so many other lives," says Clarence, the angel.

A shell-shocked George Bailey, standing in a graveyard, turns slowly and stares into the middle distance. He is here because he almost took his own life out of desperation. Clarence's last, ditch effort to make George see his personal value, has brought them smack into the middle of an alternate universe, one without any record of George. He is horrified at what he almost threw away. He is grateful for his wife, his children, his crumbling old house, his crazy uncle, his deaf ear, his quiet, quaint hometown. George runs back to all of it, begging, "Please God, let me live again."

The snow begins to fall, collecting on George's coat; his lip begins to bleed, the petals appear in his pocket.

My church put on a production of It's a Wonderful Life some years ago. Though I'm a born Mary (good, plainer than pretty, funny, unwaveringly loyal), I was cast as Violet, the town tart, a role originally made famous by blonde vixen Gloria Grahame. (Okay, who am I kidding? I've got a little of that in me, too.) I had a couple of the best lines in the play. When George asked where I got my dress, I said, "This old thing? Why, I only wear it when I don't care how I look." Wink. The cast had a ball, and the community loved it, too.

But a few months later, our church family was shaken by a suicide. The man, ironically, had been a member of the Wonderful Life cast. I didn't know him well, but he'd seemed like a happy guy. Tall, slender, with a handsome, crooked smile. He'd been our Ernie the Cab Driver, George's good friend. That this man took his own life was irreconcilable to me. How could anyone be that close to the moral of this particular story, and not carry it with him, protected from doubts about his own value for life?

But I forget that not everyone has the movie memorized the way I do. I know it by heart, from the very beginning, those opening voice-over prayers from George's mother, daughter, wife, and friends. Burt the cop says, "He never thinks about himself, God. That's why he's in trouble." Ernie says, "George is a good guy. Give him a break, God."

Each man's life touches so many other lives.

Today, as I perused a website dedicated to news from my hometown of Livermore, California, I happened across the obituary of a man named Ken Limtiaco. He died unexpectedly this summer, at the age of 50. 

I never met Ken, but his tire shop was down the street from the first home I shared with my husband. Because Jonathan knew Ken, we took our cars to his shop exclusively. Every time Jonathan (or his dad, who referred us to Ken in the first place) spoke about Ken, I heard only the best things. I've recommended Ken's Tire Service to friends and family for years based simply on the knowledge that my husband and father-in-law, who are both fine men and good judges of character, considered Ken to be honest, helpful, and expert.

Stumbling upon news of Ken's passing was tough. I let Jonathan know right away. He said, sadly, "It was nice to read through so many of the comments on that article."

I went back to Ken's obituary. Indeed, running below it were dozens and dozens of comments left by people who all had something to share about their long relationships with Ken. He gave sound advice. He offered coffee. He reached out to people who were down on their luck. He treated people with respect. He was a straight-shooter. He embodied integrity.

This man who sold tires for a living, this mechanic, had touched these people. Hundreds more showed up at his memorial service to pay their respects and support his family.

|

I was in Livermore, California, preparing for my best friends' wedding. And by preparing, I mean embossing place cards and choosing flowers and squabbling with the wedding coordinator and cramming into a Banana Republic dressing room to try on honeymoon clothes. But I also mean that we were goofing off--er--I mean, rehearsing the ceremony. And as you can see, we know how to make rehearsals fun!

b&c_rehearsalday.jpg

Since then, I've been cherishing their marriage (albeit from afar) for three-hundred-sixty-six days. Cindy and I have a weekly Skype date, so I get all the dish on how things are going. I couldn't be prouder of the life she and Brad have crafted together, or of the goals they've set for themselves as a couple. Life comes at us so fast, and it's so full of distractions. It's refreshing and inspiring to see two young people so focused on what makes love fun and strong. Jonathan and I miss our besties. Being able to celebrate their wedding day at the altar with them meant more to us than they'll ever know. 

Happy 1st Anniversary, Mrs. & Mrs. Lackey!

|

Like bouldering, but on buildings. It's one of the many things we tried this summer, if briefly.

My best friend and Ya-Ya, Amy, visited us in Oslo with her husband, Jeff, at the beginning of June. We did a bunch of fun stuff together. I loved playing tour guide in my city!

One of the best things about Ames and Jeff is their spontaneity. We're spontaneous people, too, so the four of us have a very special brand of fun. On their last night, Jeff took us running out the door, down the stairs, into the street, and down a block to the local French school. There, we set about climbing the large retaining wall that runs the length of the playground. I'm so happy I grabbed the camera while everyone else was collecting their climbing shoes and chalk bags. 

buildering_in_oslo.jpg

Eventually, Jonathan and Jeff pieced together a pretty nifty traverse from one end of the wall to the other. As they "worked," several people wandered by us in the street. One stopped to take an iPhone photo of the crazy Americans on the wall. Another asked where we were from and, as he walked away, called back over his shoulder, "Rest in peace, California!" (We're reasonably sure he meant "Take it easy," but it's the thought that counts.)

When Ames and Jeff boarded the train back to the airport the next day, I'll admit I cried a little. There are few people in this world who know me the way Amy does. She is a piece of home; and she'd brought that feeling all the way across a world to me. And while I may have been instrumental in showing them the nooks and crannies of Oslo, building memories they will carry with them the rest of their lives, they also gave a gift back to me: I will never see the schoolyard walls in my neighborhood the same way ever again. Walking the few blocks to the market or the post office or Solli plass will always be a little more special because that wall holds a secret route, one navigated by fingers and toes, and has held the chalk echoes of our movements alone.

|
When Dad got his first job teaching at Sinnott Elementary School, he made an executive decision and transferred all three of us kids to the school, as well. Even though this meant taking us away from all our lifelong friends, and even though it would put us through a 45-minute commute each way, and even though we had to be at school super early and stay late with him. (Can you tell I have some unresolved feelings about this? Haha!)
 
Anyway, he employed us to assist with his first classroom set-up before the school year began. I was in sixth grade at the time, so he felt I was responsible enough to go to the printer room and use the copiers without supervision. When I entered the room for the first time, I saw a banner strung up above the row of big printers which read: Here's Audrey!

I thought it might be some kind of surprise for me! Got excited. Ran back and asked Dad about it. He shook his head, confused, and waved me off, too busy to play detective. Disappointed I went back to make my copies. The banner still made me smile, though. Some kind of secret between me and... who? An admirer? A generous benefactor? My real parents? (Because, obviously, I'd been adopted by martians.)

The next day I visited the front office to ask a question of one of the admins. They were deep in conversation, so I had to wait my turn.

"Barb, did you put up that sign in the copy room?!"

I perked up.

"Hah! Of course. It's perfect don't you think?"

"You're so bad."

"It serves them right for sending us that horrible monster of a printer."

Another woman overheard them talking and asked the question running around in my head, too. "But why did you call the printer Audrey?"

"Haven't you ever seen Little Shop of Horrors?"

The woman shook her head. I nodded, but no one was paying any attention to me. Spending the night at a friend's house when I was in second grade, we'd sneaked down the stairs and crept up behind the couch where his dad had fallen asleep watching a movie on one of the cable channels. It all came screaming back to me... the dentist's chair, the writhing shadows, the enormous, bloody-tongued bloom.

"It's what they name the giant, man-eating flower in the movie. You know? Like that big, ugly Carcass Flower--"

"--Corpse Flower," corrected Barb.

"Right. Corpse Flower. It blooms every couple of years. The biggest bloom on earth! And it smells like a rotting, dead body!"

"An Audrey Flower."

corpseflower.JPG
I backed out of the room, eternally grateful that neither of my brothers had witnessed the conversation. Man, they would have had a field day with that one. The one time Ted asked me if I knew why the banner was hanging there, I started to shake my head, but thought better of it. If I didn't answer him, he'd run off and ask someone else. Barb, probably. And get the truth. And start calling me horrid names and pretending to plug his nose whenever I walked by. I had a better idea.

"It's just a name," I lied. "You know how they name ships and stuff after girls? Well, this printer is a big, important piece of equipment. Sort of like a ship. So they named it a girl's name."

He wasn't buying.

I rolled my eyes and turned back to my work, saying over my shoulder, "Anyway, I think that's why."

The I think was a calculated move. Whenever I sounded too much like a know-it-all, Ted would try to prove me wrong. I'd learned that, if I offered a hint of humility, the fact sounded legitimate. As though I'd once been in the dark myself, had asked the question, had remembered the answer, but only sort of. It was enough for Ted. 

Looking back, I wonder if this auspicious start to a new year at a new school worked on my subconscious, too. Sixth grade was the same year I began signing my name as Elizabeth Bennett at the tops of my papers. My dear sixth grade teacher never even acknowledged the quirk. She knew it was me, and let me work through that phase on my own terms. 

Years passed. The original Audrey banner fell down. It was replaced when a new beast of a printer arrived. Audrey II. By then, though, my name and I had made our peace, and whenever an "Audrey flower" makes the news, I can't help but smile.
|
Heredity - The transmission of genetic characters from parents to offspring, it is dependent upon the segregation and recombination of genes during meiosis and fertilization and results in the genesis of a new individual similar to others of its kind but exhibiting certain variations resulting from the particular mix of genes and their interactions with the environment.

grandmadotandaudrey.jpg

I woke up thinking about my grandmother. 

She popped up in the middle of my essay on the evolution of Feminism yesterday. Since then I've been wondering which of her characteristics, good and bad, live on in me. Grandma Dot passed away almost three years ago, but I think about her often. On some days, I even see her in the mirror. She's there in my slightly left-upturned mouth. My high, pale forehead.

Some of the genes have pulled through. We may not be movie stars, but there's a capable, bookish, frankness, something trustworthy and approachable, behind my grandmother's eyes in this photo. It reminds me of something Bette Davis says in Now, Voyager as she cradles her young, emotionally damaged charge, Tina. 

"Well, whoever wants that kind of prettiness, Tina? There's something else you can have if you earn it. A kind of beauty. Something that has nothing to do with your face. A light shines from inside you because you're a nice person."

Dot was an insatiable reader, an archer, a woman with a soft spot for the past (a genealogist). She was quick to talk to strangers, an eloquent listener, and had a charitable heart. I want to claim all of these traits as my own, too. Segregated and recombined. But maybe that's just wishful thinking. Maybe I'm entirely my own woman and there is no one behind me to blame when I fall short.

Either way, Grandma's beauty is the kind I want. She is missed.
Enhanced by Zemanta
|
giraffestogether.PNG
A few months ago, I co-launched an expat women's writing group here in Oslo. We have eight talented, enthusiastic members, hailing originally from countries all over the globe. I love my group. Seeing them every other week lifts my spirits and inspires me to write often and better. 

(Note: We are not accepting new members at this time because we strive to allow everyone to share their writing at every meeting. With eight people, this is already often a stretch. However, I can attest to how helpful it is to find and link-up with a group of writers wherever you are. My best advice: If you can't find such a group... start one! It's easier than you might think, and always absolutely worth it. I'm happy to share the steps we took to get ours off the ground, so please don't hesitate to contact me with questions about that.)

Occasionally our assigned exercises yield some really fun writing on each of our parts. In particular, I enjoyed the 10-minute exercise we did a couple of weeks ago, and I thought I'd share my response to it here.

10 Minute Exercise: Think of your favorite animal. Why is it your favorite? Tell us about the first memory you have of one, seeing it up close or in a photo, hearing its name.

Now, here I must admit that I cheated a little bit. My actual first memory of a giraffe is a terrifying one. My mother owned a wall-hanging, three giraffes at a watering hole, black paint on bamboo slats, like window blinds without the window. She hung it on the wall of my childhood bedroom, the one I shared with both my little brothers until I was six-years-old. That wall-hanging scared the bajeezus out of me. I believed I saw it come alive at night, and that the giraffes bared their teeth at me. I believed they were going to eat me in my sleep. This was real, blood curdling, screaming-fit fear. 

I got over it quickly once I saw giraffes at the zoo, and that's the memory I describe here. The intelligence and analysis are retrospective, of course. The romance of the moment is absolutely real.
Enhanced by Zemanta
|
aneveningstar.jpg
At first I think it is a plane, the first star in the evening sky. So bright, it seems like the pearled end of a pin stuck through the fabric of the sky to hold it in place. So bright, I can see it even though the sun hasn't entirely set. I am caught by the beam of it, ensnared, drawn in. The sky is banded with the late-afternoon ripeness of the sunset, burnt orange, gray-green, turquoise. But the star shines through, so bright I can see it glitter. I understand why we draw stars the way we do, with flashy points signifying the burst of light in the night. 

This is the shortest day of the year. The first day of winter. As I walked home from the grocery store after lunch, the cold numbed my fingers, bare and hooked through the handles of my shopping bags. I hauled home my groceries: milk, juice, soda, a whole chicken for roasting on Christmas Day. I passed dogs wearing bright red sweaters and women in full-length fur coats. And now my neighborhood streets are almost empty, long before dinner time. The darkness has pressed us all indoors.

And perhaps because today has been so short, it has felt like one of the busiest days of all. I have run from one end of my flat to the other putting things away, hanging Christmas decorations, reorganizing cupboards. I have been writing and editing and revising. All the things I writer is supposed to do. My checklist for the day has been looking pretty good.

Then the star caught my eye.
|
diz&santahat.jpg
Seven years ago I was an undergrad at UC Davis, living in Livermore, California with my husband of four months, and I was a first-time mom to an itty-bitty kitty named Disney. Since then, many things have changed. I'm a graduate student at Lesley University, and I'm living in Oslo, Norway. Oh, and Diz isn't quite as itty or bitty anymore. In fact, he's quite a chunk! But a couple of important things have remained the same:

-- Marriage. Seven years later, Jonathan and I still feel like newlyweds in many ways. Lots of cuteness. (Thankfully the cuteness is woven in with a learned patience, humility, graciousness, and maturity... all things that only time can provide.)

-- Wardrobe. The shirt was $3.50 at Old Navy in 2002. It's a keeper! And the Santa Hat. The bow and ears are Minnie's, of course, and Jon has Mickey's to match. We picked them up on one of our early Disneyland trips in 2003. Again, I think they'll be around for a while. (We'd wear them outside, but we think it's a trifle soon to show the Norwegians our true, dorky colors.)

-- Humor. It lives here with us always. Often at Disney's expense. And if we're lucky and we work really hard at it, the laughter will still be around in 2018, 2025, and beyond.

Merry Christmas!
|
dadandme.jpg
I don't want anyone out there to think I'm the only writer in my family. 

My grandmother was a wiz with words, regularly stomping on us all in Scrabble competitions, and she wrote about our family history and genealogy. 

My mom writes professional emails so lengthy and comprehensive, I'm sure if you were to print out a single day's correspondence with her, you could bind it and use it as a doorstop or a ship's anchor. 

And my little brother, Curtis, once wrote a story while he was in high school that made our whole family fall over laughing (as it was intended to; we weren't mocking him or anything), and it included an adventure with a kite or something... wish I could remember more.

Then there's my dad. He writes frequently and always from the heart. He signs all of his text messages to me. LD. Love, Dad. So that I'll know they're from him. He shoots off emails for various reasons, most sentimental. I've never needed to wonder whether my dad loved me or was thinking about me. And for that I'm grateful. Even when the things that make him think of me are as... questionable and goofy as the one which triggered the following message from him today.

Things to remember as you read... 
|

tweezers.jpgI cried out and pulled my knee to my chest, hopping to the nearest spot on the wall where I could easily lean without knocking anything over.  I turned my bare foot over between my hands and squinted at the sole, twisting oddly to catch the light. 

There, buried in the pink, translucent flesh was the pine needle. 

It was the stubby, dark green remnant of the redwood tree which, last month, took up a festive residence in our loft, bore our many sparkly ornaments, sheltered our prettily wrapped gifts (as well as the occasional sleepy kitty), and throbbed with a fresh, pine scent which greeted us every night on our return home. 

We loved that tree, with its upward arching branches. It made us pause with wonder in the evenings. It made us remember the holiness of Christmas.

It took Jonathan hours to chop it apart, reducing it to pieces which would fit in our green waste bin.  The floor was littered with sharp, angry pieces.  We vacuumed and swept and picked the bits up with our fingers, gingerly, having experienced the extreme sharpness of each needle and the way nothing from cotton to burlap could fend them off. 

Naturally, we missed a shard or two, but one of them found me.  

I pinched the entry wound between my polished nails.  There was no blood, of course.  The skin on the ball of my feet is tough, used to slapping around bare on concrete, tile, asphalt, and grass in the summer time, and the blood vessels are hidden way up inside. Thus, I could see the belligerent face of the culprit clearly.  He'd backed into his den and was baring his teeth at me. 

Picking, scratching, tweaking, prodding.  Finally, still straining like a one-legged stork against the wall, I squeezed my foot between my palms and let our an exasperated squeak, letting my eyes, big and forlorn, find my husband's eyes, sympathetic.   

Jonathan hopped up from his place by the computer and helped me to the sofa.  I limped like an amputee, letting my lower lip tremble for a fraction of a second, just long enough for him to notice and take pity on me.  He tilted our lamp toward us and pulled my upturned foot into the pool of light.  When his fingers found the sliver and I let out a tiny yelp, he looked up and smiled at me, stroking my naked calf and giving my knee a kiss. 

You're okay. I'll be right back. 

|
DSC04001.JPG

Before I begin, I must say that my heart belongs to a Weimaraner named Scout. Part of his story is told here, but I can't really tell it all, both because I was not privileged to know more than his first few years and because his not being with me any longer makes me too emotional to tell the truth about it. That's Scout, upside down and gazing at me. It's how I remember him best, vulnerable yet dignified... a girl's best friend.

When I was a little girl, I'd spend summer afternoons on the concrete steps of my neighbor's house.  She was a single, middle-aged woman who owned a townhome across the parking lot from ours, and she owned four cats... Rory (an extremely affectionate, extremely large yellow tabby who, later in life, was hit by a car but survived, though he lost a leg... watching him get around tripod style, without losing any weight, was impressive), Sheba (a shy, nattily groomed Persian with big blue eyes, declawed in her front two paws), Maggie (a scruffy, gentle Calico who loved sharing her fleas with the neighborhood kids), and a fourth who I almost never saw.  Anyway, I'd kneel on the steps, letting the scratchy concrete warm my bare, knobby knees, and stroke and pet and scratch those cats until they were purring thunderously.  But I still never wanted a cat of my own.

Dogs were my bag.  I wanted giant, rough-and-tumble, fetch-playing, drooling, smiling, lazy, galumphing, stout-hearted dogs.  I wanted dogs with barrels of whiskey secured under their chins, dogs who could flip their floppy ears and jowls 360 degrees as they shook water from their coats, dogs with baritone barks and ponderous paws.  I wanted Bloodhounds and St. Bernards and Newfoundlands and Huskies and Ridgebacks and Dobermans and Mastiffs and German Shepherds and Wolfhounds and Chows and a thousand other big, beguiling breeds.  You get the picture.

Cats were too quiet, too prim.  They screamed when they fought at night, and their careless claws left fiery welts on my tender skin.  They couldn't do anything but rub against my pant legs or purr into my flat palms.  No hero or heroine of literature had ever taken on the Oregon Trail, the Mississippi River, or the Pacific Ocean with a cat.  Dogs were the right choice for adventure, always.  Think of Where the Red Fern Grows.  Think of Old Yeller.  Think of Island of the Blue Dolphins.

My parents bought our first and only family dog when I was fifteen years old.  Scout was and is the loveliest, most precocious dog I've ever seen, and I loved him more than I'd loved any animal in my life to that point.  Every transgression (and oh, there were many!) was forgiven and forgotten by my family, even as Scout dug holes in the yard, scratched up our floors, urinated on our hearth, and nipped at the unsuspecting fetlocks of our visiting neighbors.

|

dotpancoast.JPGWhen the boys and I were growing up, Thanksgiving Week meant many things to us.  Grass stains on the already stressed knees of our jeans, the anticipation of succulent turkey, hours of football with our dad (it may have been called "touch" football, but there was quite a lot of tackling going on, anyway), and long, deliriously beautiful days without school.  But most of all, and best of all, Thanksgiving meant Grandma.

She lived in Illinois, two thousand miles from our little home in Newark, California.  But, being a good grandmother, she wanted to give the California grandchildren some regular face time, and so she flew in the weekend before the holiday and flew home the weekend after, every year.

It was our week.  While Mom worked and Dad slept (he was working the graveyard shift at a local correctional facility), Ted, Curtis and I got Grandma.  We played games, went for walks, listened to her stories.  She crocheted dresses for my Barbies and read aloud to the boys.

Then, on Thanksgiving Thursday itself, we'd all trundle out to the field for our big football game.  Grandma came, too.  She wore sweats and sneakers, had her game face on, but she wasn't a fullback by any definition.  Delicate and soft at all her corners, Grandma may have been a great sport, but she was no athlete by the time we knew her.  Dad would toss the ball to her, gently, and then charge at her, wrapping her in a giant hug, declaring her tackled.

|
bikesbikes.jpgLast week, I went for my first bike ride since I was a student living in Davis. We borrowed my parents' bikes after work and went our for a quick spin.

Jon and I buzzed down the street and flew past vineyards and cruised along under the clear blue sky.

Our helmets had little brims to shade our eyes from the sun, something the helmets of my childhood lacked entirely. Six miles went by like nothing, easy and smooth; I barely broke a sweat.

The joy of zooming around on two wheels for fun is foreign to me. I've never been a huge fan of biking. When I was little, it was the way we got to school. The distance between my house in Newark and little Bunker Elementary School used to feel like an Ironman... hundreds of leg burning miles, block after block of suburbia and traffic lights and pavement buckling above rogue tree roots. Now, of course, I find that it was less than two miles total.

Still, we had to cross Cherry Street, a massive intersection where my littlest brother, Curtis, was once hit by a truck. I remember his bike flipping up in the air and his little body crumpling as he hit the pavement. The truck driver squealed away from the scene of the crime without looking back, but many other good people stopped to help.

Eventually, Curtis was strapped to a stretcher and driven away in an ambulance... the EMTs gave him a teddy bear which he cherished for many years after the incident. Curt was fine, but while Ted and Curtis kept biking through high school without any qualms, I never got completely past that terrible day. Vulnerable little Curty on a bicycle at the mercy of a demon truck.

With the exception of a Fourth of July bike show my brothers and our friends and I put on for all the parents when we were very young, biking always seemed like such a chore. Even securing a baseball card to a place on the frame where it could snap between my spokes and mimic a motorcycle motor didn't quite make it cool.

But now I'm giving biking a go once again, and it does feel cooler than it did.

After our short excursion, we returned the bikes to my parents house and went home. Later, Dad sent me his own childhood reminiscences about bikes, and I thought I'd post them here because it's fun and funny, and because he remembers his specific bikes so fondly. (I suppose if I gave it a chance, my deep purple Schwinn Sidewinder would take up residence in some happier corner of my memory, too... but that could still take some time.)
|
mrspetercampagna.jpgMy mom's mom, my Grandma Jean, passed away before I was born.  Taking from the scraps of memory and reminiscence and photos and memorabilia I've collected over the years, I know she was a bright, beautiful, sensitive, creative, troubled, clouded, precious soul.  In the picture at left, she's bent at her slender waist, graceful in her hospitality, looking every inch the beguiling 1960s social butterfly.  Like my mom, I wish we had other pictures of Grandma from this day. 

Last year, my uncle gifted me an old composition book that belonged to Grandma Jean long before she was a grandmother to anyone, a mother to anyone, a wife to anyone... she was little Jean Piersel, a teenager in saddle shoes, and she filled this little book with clippings about the movie stars of the 1930s and 1940s.  Her own observations fleck the pages in girlish, oblivious script.  It was a great insight into my grandmother and her youth. 

If only she knew that I share her adoration of those golden years in Hollywood.  If only she knew that I grew up gazing at a picture of her, nigh eighteen, golden hair sloping in perfect forties style and resting gently on her delicate, alabaster collar bones, and that I thought she was possibly the most beautiful human I'd ever seen.

At any rate, my Grandma Jean Campagna was a poet and an artist.  Her playful watercolors captured seasonal scenes from her little town of Moline, Illinois.  An ice skater with a blue scarf... autumn leaves in a collage on the ground...
|

coconutsplit.jpgJonathan took careful aim and leveled a firm blow with his hammer at the circumference of the hairy, brown coconut in his hand.

The crack resounded in our kitchen and made Cindy and I giggle with wonder. Jon gave the coconut a quarter turn and whacked it again.  This time, we could hear the beginnings of accomplishment in the echo. With a twinkle in his eye, Jon hoisted the coconut up to our eye level so that we could see the crack that was crawling around the equator. He set his jaw and raised the hammer one last time.

As hammer connected with shell, thin streams of clear coconut milk began to drain into the pan we'd set on the counter. Finally, the coconut split... revealing two pristine, white, concave faces.

Cindy and I had decided that a Saturday evening would the perfect time to bake a cake, and fortunately, two dear friends had gifted Jon and me with a cake-specific cookbook at Christmastime to aid in this endeavor.  But it was Jon, eager to indulge his inner Survivalist, who chose the Coconut Cake. Never mind that it was the cake on the cover of the book, enticing in its pure, fluffy white glory. Never mind that we'd not baked a thing (besides biscuits) from scratch in our lives. The chance to split open a coconut was too exciting for Jon to pass up.

So, the four of us gathered in my recently-more-frequently-cooked-in kitchen to conquer the Great White Cake. The task before us was daunting. Cindy poured the wine.

|

Recently my family received an invitation to a surprise 40th birthday party for our old friend, Jennie Doering, a woman I knew when I was between the ages of ten and fourteen.  As part of the invitation, guests were encouraged to submit stories and memories of Jennie from years gone by.  Jennie, you see, is a storyteller herself, therefore appreciating such gestures all the more.  This was the perfect opportunity for me to write down my memories of Jennie. 

------ 

At eleven-years-old, I was a tall, skinny girl aching for adulthood, and much of my time was spent structuring a specific definition for the term "grown up."  My main role model was, naturally enough, my mother -- a strong, assertive business woman with a quick laugh and an incredible sense of fun.  But I sought influence elsewhere, too.  Characters in literature from Nancy Drew to Scarlet O'Hara to Lois Lenski's Strawberry Girl impacted me, as did my teachers and neighbors.

Enter Jennie Doering.

babysitter.jpgWhen John and Jennie moved in next door to my parents' home in Newark, they were energetic, smiley people, and seemed not to mind the curious stares of the many neighborhood children.  Jennie, you see, was pregnant at the time, and it was the first time I was old enough to acknowledge what that condition meant.  There would be a baby and, as my mother pointed out, I was soon going to be old enough to transition from the babysat to the babysitter.

Such began my relationship with Jennie.  She was perfectly willing to entrust brand new baby Emilie to my care, young as I was.  At first I went to the house while Jennie was home and played with Em as Jennie operated in the periphery, but it wasn't long before I was spending an hour or two alone with the little one.

On one such occasion, I put Emilie down for her nap and realized I'd forgotten my current Nancy Drew installment at home.  The Doerings and the Pancoasts lived in townhouses, side by side, so I didn't think it would be hard to run five steps to the East, grab the book, and return. What I didn't bargain on was the front door of the Doerings' house closing behind me... and locking.

|
209975_black_and_white_rose.jpgMy Grandpa Pete's wife, Helen, passed away last weekend.  Because my family lived in California, a cool 2,000 miles from our Campagna relatives in Moline, IL (Mom's side), I only met Helen a handful of times.  She was a very petite lady with large-lensed glasses and curly auburn hair.  Most of all, though, I remember that she was a sweet lady who loved my grandfather very much. 
 
Grandpa was the one who took special care to send birthday cards and Christmas cards each year, but Helen also enjoyed sending presents to us when she could.  When I was eight or nine, she gave me a toy dog made of bright pink yarn.  Sounds strange, right?  But I loved that dog.  And when I got to that age of curiosity and developed the nagging need to know HOW things were made, I carefully disected my dog doll and found that her skeleton was simply a coat hanger.  Whether Helen or Grandpa made the dog, I'll probably never know.
|
samantha.jpgSometimes I cling to my Girlhood like a life raft.  I strap myself to it with Optimism and Enthusiasm and Naivete.  It's a defense mechanism, admittedly, but one which I attempt to handle with adroit self-awareness... never allowing my passions to become mere single-minded pursuits, never letting my playfulness regress to a state of immaturity.
 
Being a grown-up-girl comes with a territory.  I enjoy wine at dinner, but a midnight trip to 7-11 with Jonathan usually ends with me sipping a Capri Sun.  I am efficient, capable and self-assured at work, but when the weekend comes I'll play games online or read my Marie Claire or rip off my left arm in order to keep from doing the dishes. 
 
Recently, I was excited to learn that my American Girl Doll can be sent away to a "hospital" and be fixed for a nominal fee. Now, one might wonder why a 24-year-old woman (yes, I still have 17 days until my birthday... I am not a quarter century old yet!) would care about such childish folly.  But, like Velvet Brown's mother, "I, too, believe that everyone should have a chance at a breathtaking piece of folly once in his life."  Of course, I wouldn't call shipping my doll to the repair shop "breathtaking," but Samantha deserves the gesture anyway.
|

Millet_Gleaners[1].jpgTonight, my grandmother is sleeping in a hospital bed in a retirement complex where she has lived for many years.  She barely knows the names and faces of her children.  Her memories have been scrambled so that she cannot tell yesterday from her wedding day.  And every once in a while she comes up with stories of imagined love affairs and visits from relatives and friends who have long since passed on.

My Grandma Dot is one of the most interesting and intelligent women I will ever know.  Tragically, all of her knowledge, that glittering vocabulary and sharp wit, are wrapped up inside a mind which only intermittently opens to the outside world. 

What if she has more to say?

I wonder where her stories are, now that the outlet is lost.  Or perhaps the outlet is there, but her stories are affected by her juxtaposition with reality, brought on by disease, and cannot be told.  But I know she has stories, thousands of them.  When we played cards or when I painted her toenails, she was always talking.  I knew about her jewelry and her trips to Europe and her childhood friends.  She shared about the way she met and married my grandfather, a man I never had the chance to meet.  She talked about college and Catholicism and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Often I wondered how any one person could possibly earn the right to be so singularly fascinating.

|

rockwell_thanksgiving.jpg

Jonathan and I are in the kitchen of our house, our first home, making the stuffing to take to Thanksgiving Dinner at my parents' house tomorrow.  At this exact moment, Jonathan is on his hands and knees on the kitchen floor using a dicing tool, pounding the thyme and rosemary into submission. 

These are the lengths to which we're willing to go for our now famous Sausage, Corn Bread and Chestnut Stuffing (originally a William-Sonoma recipe).  We've made the stuffing for both Thanksgiving and Christmas for the last two years.  Our fifth batch is sure to be our best yet.  After all, we've been finessing.

We know how to multi-task, whipping up corn bread and dicing herbs and washing mixing bowls between ingredients.  We've added notes to the recipe to help us in future years (because we have no intention of ever learning another dish...).

Today we were both off work early, and we've been cleaning like crazy people.  After all, guests are coming soon.  And heaven forbid they see our house in its ordinary, slightly dusty, very cluttered state.  Our downstairs is all but empty. (No real furniture... just bookshelves down here... couches and chairs are on the Life Agenda, but they appear somewhere after the flat-screen TV, the mattress set, the trip to Australia and the Eclipse Jet).  The dining room table (where we rarely eat, but where we often sort the junk mail from the fashion mags and REI catalogs) is clean, and live flowers make a cheery centerpiece.  The kitchen is sparkling.

|

sad%20kitten.jpgIt could be that the start of a new year isn't relaxing for anyone, or that my sporadic urges to be organized throw off any kind of momentum, but I'm tired. Fatigue seems to be born in my bones each morning. I slap the snooze button like I've always done, but because I'm resigned to the fact that I must wake up soon, I don't go back to sleep afterward anyway. Rather, I think for ten minutes about things, jumpstarting my brain like a motorboat.

Professional liability renewals, instant oatmeal, my brother's anniversary, my aunt arriving from Illinois, no gas in the car, sunglasses, keys, Jon leaving for Baltimore, traffic, receipts, cell phone, Endocrinologist, pedicure, frozen pipes, electric blanket...

My thoughts stream together at a constant rate of flow, a speed I can handle but don't enjoy very much, like a wave of lethargic fruit flies. I hear the hum, almost a lullaby. And if I didn't have the responsibilities associated with wifedom and employment to hold me up, I'd succumb to the tired buzzing in my ears and sleep forever.

Last week we took my mother to the emergency room because her headache had escalated out of control. I watched her face contort under the pressure and pain, I watched her writhe on the cot in the ER, hot and cold, tired, confused. We were there most of the night. The CAT scan revealed a tumor swelling and putting pressure on her brain. The emergency surgery took place almost 18 hours later. During that time I did not sleep. I had things to do, people to talk to. Someday I'll be able to describe the way it felt to be squeezed by anxiety and suffocated by adrenaline, but not today. It hurts.

I went 3 days with only 6 hours of sleep total. And I only cried three times. Once in front of my brother, who responded with the caring embrace of the man I am certain he will one day become. Once on the phone with my aunts when I called to let them in on the situation. And once in front of Amy, who made me hot chocolate and held my hand while we watched The Philadelphia Story; she was my angel. Jon flew home early and met me at the hospital, and he was my hero.

Here I am, one week later. No doubt I'll survive this, either. Mom is at home, healing. Jon is coming home from a make-up trip to the east coast tonight. Work is rough, but I'm rising to the challenge. At her house, Mom is surrounded by a literal garden of encouragement - almost three dozen flower arrangements from family, friends and clients. People are amazing. Miracles do happen.

I brandish my optimism out of self-defense.

No, I say to the demons who dance around me spitting what-ifs and might-have-beens at my feet. No, we're all okay, and I'm going to be a better wife because of the patience and strength I've learned, and Mom will value her life more, and my brothers will treat each other better, and...

The Positivity Sword is heavy, and if I'm not careful, it could come all the way around and cripple me when I least expect it. After all, it's a tiring thing to lie about the way I feel, about the way I expect the next few weeks to go. Hefting the words people want to hear it tough, and I've been doing it for a week now. Pat answers. Mom is better. That's true. She's not raring to go, on top of things, owning her life like a multitasking tornado. And that's what I want to see again. Mom as the boss. Mom as the pinnacle of self-reliance and personal achievement. That's when she'll be all better, and that's just not going to happen any time soon. But when I start telling myself those truths...

Last night I took a hot shower. Water pierced my hair to the root, steaming at my scalp, carving its way behind my ears and down my neck, or over my forehead and washing down, over my cheekbones to my chin. The water coaxed the tears out of me. I wept in that shower, cradling my own face in my hands. My shoulders shook, my legs gave out. I was there until the hot water was gone, and the cold took over. In a flash I was up, out, dry, and doing laundry.

Apparently the fine line between weepy mess and able homemaker is a cold shower. But I didn't laugh at myself. I didn't belittle the ten minutes I'd taken to let the scary truth take over. I didn't call it childish. The Positivity Sword was down and leaning in a corner. My mouth was closed. The dull hum of the thoughtful fruit flies had returned to my head, and I was sagging into my mattress, languishing under the warmth of our electric blanket.

... car wash, book club, Carrillo Architectural Group, additional premium, Hawaii, paycheck, grocery shopping, play practice, lint trap, dentist appointments, baby pictures, water Mom's plants in the morning, eat breakfast, The Patron Saint of Liars, cat food, publication...

And then, thank God, I was asleep.

|

boardwalk.jpgIt's been a while since I've felt sand slide under my toes, sucked playfully away by the tide.

But today I stood knee-deep in the Pacific Ocean with my friends and enjoyed the soft swirling beneath my feet. I plunged my toes deep into it and splashed in the sandy puddles. My pink toenails flickered from within the waves.

Santa Cruz, California is beautiful, of course. But not all of my memories there are good ones.

When I was about ten years old, I went to the Boardwalk for the day with my best friend, Julie, and her family. The day itself was quite an adventure. Julie's brothers buried us in the sand and abandoned us for a game of Frisbee. If a passerby hadn't sympathized with our plight, we'd still be there, wriggling under the heavy sand and frantically bobbing our heads.

Then, before we went to try out the rides, etc., Julie's mom told us we had to eat something. Fortunately, she'd packed hotdogs. Unfortunately, we didn't have a camp fire or grill. No problem, she said, we'll just eat 'em cold. Such began my worst food day ever.

More on that later. I can recall funky, silly things about that day that mean nothing to anyone but me. Julie's sister Connie was a year older than we, and she seemed so wise to the ways of the world. That morning she'd pulled out a pair of jeans and turned them into cut-offs with a few deft snips of her scissors. And boy, were they short! Too short, probably, her mom might have suggested. You're just advertising your behind to the dirty guys at the boardwalk. (She pronounced it bee-hind, which made Julie and I giggle.) But Connie, with a distinct will of her own, shrugged and pulled out a black sharpie pen. As we ambled about the arcades and carnival games we lost count of the boys who stopped to stare at her bee-hind. Of course, at that point you couldn't blame them. Across each back pocket she'd scrawled: If you're reading this, back off!

I killed at air hockey, even when pitted against the brothers. For my unabashed victories, I'm sure I was tickled and tossed in the ocean. But I'm equally sure that I loved every second of that attention. We rode all the rides, too. The creakier, the better. Over and over. And I was awfully proud of myself for my absolute fearlessness. Around corners and over steep drop-offs we whipped and wheeled, and I screamed until my throat ached.

Everyone knows, of course, that the only remedy for an aching throat is cotton candy. I gorged myself. Julie and I must have put away four whole sticky, pink helpings. Well, one might have been blue. I remember pulling away thick, scratchy clumps of it with my tongue and smacking my lips to savor the sugar. After a while my eyes were spinning in opposite directions, but I kept right on going.

The boys sought us out to display their new fake tattoos, tiny, crooked and dark green on their chests and arms. I wanted one, too. But Julie's mom, adjusting her leopard print bra straps, stopped me. Apparently only trashy women have tattoos. Had I not been completely hopped up on sugar and, therefore, incapable of constructing a coherent argument, I might have told her I only wanted to be trashy for one day. It was the Boardwalk, for Pete's sake!

Julie bounced a ping pong ball into a glass bottle and won a goldfish.
My skin was ringing like a telephone. I kept touching my arms and legs, pressing my fingers gently across my little thighs and watching the skin turn from red to white. But it was dark, and I couldn't really make out the burn. And what a burn. Vaguely I wondered how I could possibly have burned. The second we five kids had exploded from the van and sprinted to the beach, Julie's mom had snatched us by the scruffs of our necks and slathered us with sunscreen. Granted, that was only one time, and we'd spent hours on the sand and splashing in the water.

Ohhhhhhhhh.

One last ride, the boys pleaded, and their mom agreed. Julie grabbed my hand and pulled me on. It was a spinning ride on a track that whirled around. Double the spinning, double the fun. All day it had been that way. But there in that little green car, with my head caught in the clanging vice of the beeping carnival music, I felt so very very sick. On the turns I slid toward Julie, her little body vibrating with the same amount of sugar I'd consumed, but her half-Hispanic skin glowing a healthy brown after the same amount of sun. My lips were so dry.

The trashcan closest to the ride exit caught the cotton candy and the cold hot dog in reverse. Julie's mom pushed a water bottle into my hand and laughed a bit as I tried to walk a straight line. The air felt like heavy cotton. We drove home in silence, tuckered out. But as the other kids slept, my body screamed with every jolt, every pothole.

Julie wanted me to spend the night. I was in utter agony. But I wasn't sure if I could go home because it was so late. So I stayed, sitting up because I couldn't put pressure on my back, and with cold, wet wash cloths draped over every inch of lobster-red skin. It was my first big, bad sunburn. And I would have blocked that painful memory out entirely if I hadn't had so much fun at the beach. Since that time I have not touched cotton candy (it makes me sick even seeing the stuff), and I can't go on that final ride either. Funny the scars sunburns leave, huh?

Today, at twenty three years of age, I spent several fun hours in Santa Cruz. But my favorite fifteen minutes were those with my toes stuck delightfully deep in the sand. I really ought to go to the beach more often, especially now that I have control of my own sunscreen. SPF 45.

|

babe.jpg"My stepdad's gonna kill me! It was his ball."

"So?"

"So, some lady signed it."

"Okay, Smalls, this is important. What was her name?"

"I dunno. Ruth. Baby Ruth."

"Babe Ruth?! Ahhhhhhhhhh!"

In 1993, Benny "the Jet" Rodriguez got a lesson from his idol. Heroes get remembered, but legends never die. How cool do you have to be to say something like that? As cool as Babe Ruth, the Legend himself.

Because our father was and is a huge fan of baseball, my brothers and I grew up knowing all about the Sultan of Swat (and his buddy, my personal favorite, Lou Gehrig). Dad's Murderer's Row t-shirt got passed down as pajamas through all of us, and I'm pretty sure I cried the day it got shredded to be used as cleaning rags.

Anyway, even as I admit I could probably fit all that I know about baseball and homerun records on the head of a pin (I was Big Mac's biggest fan during his race... man, was that really eight years ago?), I understand the ambivalence which fans of America's favorite pasttime are currently feeling toward Barry Bonds.

A gentleman on the news tonight really summed it up for me when he said, "[Bonds] was probably the best in the game before he decided to resort to steroids. It's actually kind of sad." And it is sad. Baseball is a game, a sport, a pasttime. It's not life or death. It's not worth cheating to get to the top.

The Babe set the bar and athletes today can't touch it without drugging themselves, bulking up like animals (and I think I can reasonably say that McGuire isn't to be left out of either category). That's what bothers me. Hank Aaron got death threats for being a black man chasing the record... Barry Bonds shoots up and we're all supposed to look the other way.

I could watch Field of Dreams over and over again, listening to James Earl Jones speak deep and slow about the best game in our history, smelling the grass, eating the hot dogs. "People will come, Ray. People will most definitely come." Or, Pride of the Yankees... "Today, I consider myself... the luckiest man... on the face of the earth." Or, A League of Their Own... "Are you crying? There's no crying in baseball!"

And to me, that's what baseball is, fun and idealism. Something that involves hotdogs and honor and absolutely no crying. My brother, Ted, caught a foul ball at an A's game four years ago... and it remains to be one of our happiest pictures together as a family, Mom, Dad, Ted, Curt and me. I remember the sparkle of the fireworks that night as we all sat on the field and stared straight up, watching the heavens reaching for us. Beautiful. Perfect. Family.

So, I wish, I wish, I wish that people (hey Barry, that means you) would think about what the game of baseball meant to people in decades past... and then play accordingly. The incredibly gifted athletes who dominate now might just squeeze a bit more enjoyment out of play time if they were brightening the days and months and Springtimes of happy-go-lucky fans nationwide.

|

petitefores.jpgToday I wore a brand new blue shirt to work. It was a present from Jon. And while I am one of those lucky girls who receives occasional gifts-at-random from her hubby, this time he had a reason. You see, today I turned 23.

This is the twenty-third birthday I've celebrated (though only the 19th that I can remember). Unfortunately, I did have to go into work today. Still, my mother, the woman who gave birth to me, is my boss. I suppose I'm lucky she likes to celebrate this day... when it remains to be a fairly painful memory for her. Hehe.

To celebrate, she took me to lunch in downtown Pleasanton. We had lots of options, but on a whim we headed for The English Rose. It looked like an antique store from the outside, and we were very surprised at what we found within. A delightful, cozy dining room with antique furnishings and soft music playing. It was a real tea room!

Our afternoon tea was delicious! We opted for the Queen's menu: finger sandwiches, "a variety of savories," scones with clotted cream and lemon curd, and tiny desserts (including petite fores!). The hostess offered a very, very wide variety of teas. I'm no daredevil, so I chose the house specialty, an English Rose blend. Mom went the British Colonial India route. Yummy!

So, that was a sweet way to spend the first afternoon of my twenty-third year on earth. We went back to finish out a long day at the office.

At home I curled up with Jonathan on the couch. Together we sat very still. I could hear his heart beating, the cat purring. All was right with my world. (Yesterday I received my final grades from last quarter... A-,A,A-... OH YEAH!) Then, after we'd unwound enough to be witty and cute again, Jon and I shared about our respective days. His was productive, too.

But the night wasn't over. We got all spruced up and headed to Santana Row in San Jose for dinner. Jon got us reservations at Left Bank, a French restaurant that sounded sufficiently romantic and memorable. As we strolled down the pretty street, arm in arm, the misting rain settling on our hair and eyelashes, I had to sigh.

Left Bank was all it was cracked up to be. The waitstaff was friendly and quick to get us seated and fed. The menu included everything from duck to lamb to sausages and apples (Jon's pick). I ordered the special, airline chicken cordon bleu. Scrumptious! The portions were just small enough to leave us wanting dessert. Chocolate fondue for two. We skewered homemade marshmallows and slices of strawberry, dunked them in the succulent melted chocolate... and decided we'd wandered right into heaven. Fondue and true love? Can it get any better than this?

(I submit that it cannot!)

We're home now. Jon is stretched out in the recliner, dreaming about binary numbers and the superiority of Windows to the other lame operating systems (i.e. Linux... I just like the penguin). Our cats are happy we're home; it means that they get dinner soon! And I have my favorite German raspberry candies, another treat from Jonathan, to enjoy before bed time.

Hooray for turning twenty-three!

|

teather_01.jpgMeet the newest Mr. and Mrs. Pancoast! Yes, on January 14, 2006 my brother donned his dress blues and vowed to love and cherish his sweetheart, Heather Martin, forever.

The wedding day was hectic and rainy, but everything pulled together. Friends and family showed up in droves. And not even the January rain could hold back the love and joy! Ted didn't see Heather in her wedding gown until she came down the aisle. I got to see her before that, and she looked like an angel.

teather_04.jpgOn the groom's side were his closest buddies, Ian, Donnie, Steve, Jake and, of course, Curtis. Ladies on the bride's side included her sister, Courtney, her mom Lisa and Heather's best friends. Pastor Herb Pedigo acted as officiant and Chet Hall dealt with all the music. Weddings bring out the absolute best in people, espcially in family. My Aunt Mary and Aunt Pam flew out for the occasion and handled the rehearsal dinner preparations, the clean up, set up and tear down practically on their own! It was a load off of my parents' minds during such a busy weekend.

At the rehearsal I was asked to coordinate the ceremony. Hmmmmm... handing the reigns over to Audrey? Naturally I dug the power, but mostly I was nervous. This was my little brother's big day! I didn't want anything to screw it up. How anyone is supposed to keep the show a-goin' without a headset is beyond me.

We managed. And, aside from a minor lighter mix-up during the lighting of the two candles, the ceremony went off without a hitch. I helped the bridal party line up, waited for the cues, timed their entrance... a very much understated version of J-Lo as "wedding planner". A complete exaggeration. Still, I felt useful. Jon took as many pictures as he could, intermitantly stopping to squeeze my hand and give me loving looks as if to say, "Wasn't it fun when we married each other?!"

I won't gush. But I will say that I couldn't have been more proud of Ted as he repeated the vows. Oh, he meant them. And the sweet sincerity in Heather's voice as she did the same was hard to miss.

The reception was quite a party! Heather's dad opened his beautiful house in the hills up near Morgan Territory just for the occasion. And, of course, our home church, Cedar Grove, in Livermore was the only place for the wedding. For Jon and me it brought back lovely memories. At 10:00am Jon and I went to the church and wrapped the trees at the alter in white lights, put up the pearly unity candle and set up tables for the guest book and the gifts.

teather_02.jpgAfter good food, the guests got their groove on... including my parents and my aunts. And me. Jon hates to dance, especially not to the funky songs. Apprently in his family, "Josh got all the funky". Still, I sweet talked him into a couple of funky dances, and he twirled me 'round to a few more comfortable slow songs.

For the bride and groom, the choice was country music. Not my favorite, but it's nostalgic. And I have to say that, as they opened the night with their first dance as husband and wife to Brad Paisley's "Little Moments"... I got misty. I think it is their love that made the song so romantic. Really, when you boil down the lyrics, it's not a beautiful song. It's not genteel or passionate or classic. But it is real.

teather_06.jpgHowever, I didn't cry until the end of the night, when we were called out to the dance floor to watch my brother, my little brother, sing that same song to Heather. This wasn't any bashful, half-hearted, stumbling hum-along either. He belted out the words into the microphone, never taking his eyes off her. And she swayed to the beat, holding his hand and laughing.

Sweet. I've placed the lyrics here to give everyone who couldn't be present for all that we saw this weekend, so that you too can see what binds the newlyweds so entirely together.

Little Moments

Well I'll never forget the first time that I heard
That pretty mouth say that dirty word.
And I can't even remember now what she backed my truck into.
But she covered her mouth and her face got red,
And she just looked so darn cute
That I couldn't even act like I was mad.
Yeah, I live for little moments like that.

Well that's like just last year on my birthday,
She lost all track of time and burnt the cake,
And every smoke detector in the house was goin' off.
And she was just about the cry until I took her in my arms,
And I tried not to let her see me laugh.
Yeah, I live for little moments like that.

I know she's not perfect, but she tries so hard for me.
And I thank God that she isn't, 'cause how boring would that be?
It's the little imperfections, it's the sudden change in plans,
When she misreads the directions and we're lost but holdin' hands.
Yeah, I live for little moments like that.

When she's layin' on my shoulder on the sofa in the dark,
And about the time she falls asleep so does my right arm.
And I want so bad to move it 'cause it's tinglin' and it's numb,
But she looks so much like an angel that I don't wanna wake her up.
Yeah, I live for little moments
When she steals my heart again and doesn't even know it...
Yeah, I live for little moments like that.

|

onemanband.gifWhen nothing makes any sense at all, people go gray and hard like stone, but their hearts keep right on pounding. Isn't it interesting that all of the words we use to decribe the action of the heart, our life organ, are violent words? Pounding. Beating. Thumping. The pounding heart sends a painful rhythm to the dreary brain and exhausted body... a Morse code reminder... "You're still alive!"

I'm entirely aware that this entry is confusing to all. Including me. After a terribly long day, school, sad news, a riveting book about the prison camp at Auschwitz, I didn't feel bad. I was numb.

On the way home this evening I stopped by my parents' house while Jon was at his book club. The folks enticed me with a donut. But I would have gone over anyway, because I like them an awful lot. We get along. In fact, we more than get along. We thrive around each other. It's a happy, loud reunion every time. Curtis practiced his harmonica and Teather updated all of us on wedding plans. There was an overall warmth in the scene. Rockwellian, even.

And yet I wanted to go home. I can be as excited and animated as possible, and you've all seen me like that. It's my knee-jerk reaction to society: ENTERTAIN! But that's okay. If nothing else, it burns calories. Bottom line, the one place where I don't absolutely have to entertain is home. With Jon.

That is not to say that I don't do things to make Jon laugh. If he isn't chuckling because I'm a klutz, he's tickling me or making faces at me, or I'm telling him crazy stories or imitating our favorite comedians. And he totally gets my quippy sense of humor. Even my Bob Hope references usually get him going. Somehow, though, I don't ever have to work as hard. Maybe that's because he's my complement; he is on my same (sometimes humorous) plane, ready for what I'm about to say or do, and he starts laughing with me before I can even get there.

I started off this entry in a depressing way. Primo Levi's book about his time in Auschwitz is earth shattering. He wrenches his reader's gut by illustrating the true "banality of evil" exercised by the Nazi guards over their captives. His tale is told in the present tense to lend a sense of urgency to each story. Will he make it? Will he be one of the half a percent who survive?

That's what led me down a dark path first. But my folks are funny. And my brothers are funny. And Jon is funny. And, heck, I can be funny, too. So when there's a chance to laugh, why allow myself to wallow in the ugly, smelly mud for a second longer than I have to? There's no reason. As long as I can compartmentalize and give Levi's story the utter respect and honor that his memory deserves.

I'm not numb anymore. My heart is beating loud and clear, but it sounds and feels more like a happy pattering of rain or something. And there's more than one heart beat to make me smile. Jon's heart has always been a comfort to me. He's so healthy. What a weird thing to say, you might think. But really, because of his health, his breathing is deeper than mine, which is soothing when my head is on his chest, rising and falling with each swell of breath. And his heartbeat is low and steady, strong. Hmmmmm... the Entertainer is so easily entertained herself!

|

christmasbasketball.jpgAfter three rowdy games of Taboo with the folks and Ted and Heather (whom I am hereafter going to refer to as "Teather"... because it's cute and oh-so-trendy... also, Jon's idea... and better than calling them "Hed"...), I am sleepy but happy. I love that Jon enjoys playing games with my family. And he's competitive, too. Not in the crazy, red-hot way that I get, or my dad gets. Just strong and necessary competitiveness. Thankfully he's smart enough to pull that off. We had fun. But now it's time to recap s'more. About our December. Where was I?

I've mentioned that Jon has been traveling a lot this month. Part of the reason is a potential job opening on the east coast. Exciting! Just a temporary, one to two year gig, doing some cool stuff and gaining experience. Plus, we'd have a whole new coast to explore. Probably based in the D.C. area. Anyway, he's been going everywhere to deal with this stuff!

So, when we came home from our four day vacation in Disneyland on the evening of Tuesday the 20th, and landed in Oakland at 9:00pm, Jon followed me to baggage claim, helped me out to my parents' car, kissed me and walked back into the airport to catch the red eye to Chicago, and then on to D.C.! That night! Bummer.

He was only gone until Thursday. While he was gone I used some of my newly acquired spare time to make our house more Christmas-y and to get in touch with the Ya-Yas (also done with school and available). Amy and I drove to SJ to see Cin and, over a heavy-handed game of Egyptian War and grape-flavored Smirnoff Ice, we caught up. *sigh* It felt good to talk about girly things.

Then Jon was home!

Christmas weekend was brimming with activity. But I particularly loved the way we started it off. Early on Christmas Eve morning we grabbed a basketball and our present for the Youds, delivered the gift (and stopped in to see all of Dave's new toys... including his brand new digiridu), and headed for the courts. I don't want to brag, but I kicked Jon's butt at HORSE. Okay, we both played miserably and I barely edged out ahead of him. Then we played some tetherball... again a victory for me!

For lunch we bumped into our friend Chris at Quizno's. After a quick stop at the grocery store for our new famous Sausage, Cornbread and Chestnut Stuffing ingredients, we hurried home. But this time we took the short cut, hopping the seven foot wall between the market and our house! Right behind Subway, using an old crate and some good, old-fashioned guts, we scaled the wall. That's right. BOTH of us! I haven't climbed a wall since I was a kid! Very cool. I'm still young.

We loaded Bronwyn for our trip to my parents' house. Christmas Eve is my family's tradition, and Christmas Day belongs to the Camps. So far that's worked out great!

Under a fabulously lit tree we piled our sparkling presents atop the existing enormous bright piles of wrapped boxs and pretty bags. But, of course, we couldn't actually open presents until we'd had quality family time. This year we didn't have Teather for long, as they needed to head to her family's get together. After they'd gone we played pool, boys vs. girls... and that was awful! Me especially. Afterwards we expected the traditional half an hour of singing carols our of key. But mom got rid of her piano over the summer (something I believe she now admits was a big mistake) and so we were spared. Although I did feel a teeny bit of a void when I realized we weren't going to experience the ninety verses of Good King Wenceslas bellowed by my dad.

Present time is slow and lovely. We take turns, opening gifts one at a time and appreciating what is given and received by others, taking time to be very grateful of what we're given, throwing away discarded paper and neatly piling our new treasures. Very un-Pancoast-like.

I received wonderful things from everyone. Beautiful sweaters and a soft, leather purse, several books, Audrey Hepburn movies, See's lemon truffles (my favorite candy!!!), board games, perfume... and I gave wonderful gifts. My father, though he grumbles about the sheer length of the book, loves the Doris Kerns Goodwin biographical account of President Lincoln and his unique presidency. Mom is flying through the DaVinci Code.

Best of all, though, Jon got things he wanted and needed and... I surprised him! I love doing that! It almost never happens. The guy is so on top of things.

Christmas Eve was terrific. And there's more to tell. Boring though all of this may be. At least I didn't forget to write tonight. Didn't realize there was going to be a Part III. But apparently...

|

claus_mistletoe.jpgI haven't written in a really long time. And it's not entirely because I'm so busy with the end of the quarter and work and everything else... I also can't think of anything else interesting to say. In the last three weeks I've written three papers... and by Friday I will have two more ready to turn in! Oh, the insanity!

But as a quick update (and in the hope that the words will once again flow from my keyboard):

Jon has been traveling a lot in the last two weeks. Washington, D.C. and then Albuquerque. How exciting! First he got to climb at a new gym and brave the cold, then he got to eat a lot of salsa! Of course, we missed each other like crazy. But his being gone gave me a chance to get things done. (I'm distracted by my cute husband and all his silliness when he's home... you understand.)

When he was home last weekend we made sure to go out and pick up our Christmas tree. No wasp stories this year! We'd run quite a few errands during the day, pausing to join my boss (Mom) and her husband (Dad), my coworker (Denise) and her special someone (Elmer) for our first annual company Christmas dinner! Fun, and fairly relaxing considering that we knew all the parties present like family. Er... they were family. I'm lucky.

Time came to trim our tree (which, by the way, is the most perfect, fragrant Christmas tree ever dreamed up by God), and Jon had a wonderful idea. Before we began, he set up the camera to take a series of photos... one every ten seconds to be exact. As we put up the lights and the garland, smattered the canvas with sparkling bulbs and our favorite sentimental ornaments, the camera captured every other move. In the end we had a perfect record of our second Christmas tree and how it attained all its glory.

While Jon was gone, my brother, Curtis, was kind enough to stay at our house with me. It's not easy to admit, but I don't sleep so well when Jon is traveling. Having Curtis in the house made me feel better, and I was able to sleep between the times I was at work or writing my papers.

keira2.jpgAt one point Cindy and I went to see the new Pride and Prejudice. How I loved it! Beautiful cinematography, beautiful soundtrack, beautiful Keira Knightley.

As of now, Jon and I have trimmed our tree, wrapped our gifts, enjoyed holiday music, mulled cider and added an extra blanket to our bed because of the chilly winter nights. Of course, there are still quite a few Christmas traditions to partake in before the big day.

For instance:

*Hanging our stockings
*Find, hang and use mistletoe
*Build gingerbread houses
*Go caroling

But the best are:

*Going on our annual holiday Disneyland trip
*Reading "The Gift of the Magi" together

We're really in the swing of Christmas here at the Camp household!

|

turkey.gifIt would be very cliche for me to make my Thanksgiving Day entry a list of things I am thankful for. But, thankfully, this is my first Thanksgiving as The Girl Behind the Red Door. Hence, I will exercise my right to be cliche for this year only. Who knows? I may run dry before this time next year! Probably not. Just in case, here is my list, completely lacking, though it is, for I could never begin to name all of the blessings in my life. No harm in trying, right?

Both necessary and useful...

* My Jon
* My family
* My job
* My school
* My bed

Sounding selfish? I'll go more general...

* Shelter (and that it's such a cute house!)
* Transportation (Brownwyn first, of course.)
* Health (no cavities, baby!)
* Love
* Charity
* Those who adopt
* Those who rescue doggies and kitties from shelters


Now to think globally...

* President Bush (he makes up words and gets locked into conference rooms, but he is a good man)
* Our troops overseas, and those here
* Our allies
* Technology
* The Internet
* That the fourth terrorist in Jordan couldn't detonate her explosive belt
* Unemployment is down in the U.S.A.
* All the missionaries, ministers, and good people who are spreading both the Word and all the little things others might need.

Random...

* Disneyland
* Socks
* Carmex
* Dry cleaning
* Lower gas prices
* Honey on toast
* Knowledge of all kinds (also intangible)

And intangible...

* The kindness of strangers
* Faith and free will
* Liberty
* Holidays like Thanksgiving
* Romance
* Happiness
* Abundance
* Humility

Things the list couldn't be complete without...

* Raindrops on roses
* Whiskers on kittens (especially Disney)
* Bright copper kettles
* Warm, woolen mittens
* Brown paper packages tied up with string

Moving on...

* Baby pictures
* Indian summer
* Washing my hair
* Literacy (both mine and yours, hehe.)
* Sunglasses
* Work ethic
* Smiles
* Mariska Hargitay

May your Thanksgiving be as pretty as a Norman Rockwell painting, and as memorable as you and your loved ones can possibly make it!

|

baking.jpgThe nice thing about being wifely in this day and age is that everything can be made by simply adding water. Like today, Jon and I started the process of making our Thanksgiving contribution. It called for corn bread. Corn bread! Who knows how to make corn bread? Well, Jon's grandmothers, my grandmother, probably any American girl who can both open a cookbook and read it. That last really ought to be me. However, some genius out there has developed a lovely thing called "corn bread mix". Let the fun begin!

Pour corn bread mix into a bowl.
Add 1 1/2 cups of water.
Mix until all the lumps are gone.
Pour into baking pan.
30 minutes.

Hello world! I can cook!

Okay, I know that's going a bit far. I know that it doesn't actually count as baking. (I also know that I'm blurring the lines between baking and cooking... but, I didn't burn the bread, so cut me some slack, people!) After popping the pan in the oven, I stopped to open my recipe box. No one will be surprised to hear that it isn't exactly bulging with potential cullinary masterpieces. There are the recipes I received at my bridal shower, all neatly written on cards that match the apple-decorated box. Then there are some smaller, bordered cards with recipes from William-Sonoma (mailed to me as a "Congrats on being a bride" thing... girls, look forward to it!).

But last, and neatest, are the slightly yellowed cards, laminated, covered with tiny, spiraling script. They belonged to my grandma. A few months ago my aunt mailed them to me. "Dear Audrey, I thought you might like to have these." She was right.

Today I took out a card labeled "Ice Box Cookies", and as I turned it gently in my hands like a wish, I thought about all the times she might have made those cookies for my dad, when he was a little boy, and his brothers and sister. And how maybe she made them so often that she didn't even need to read the recipe after a while, but she would place the card near the stove out of habit.

Unfortunately I can't tackled the "Ice Box Cookies" until I figure our the conversion equation between Oleo and butter. I barely know what Oleo is!

The best part of having these little pieces of Grandma's past is reading the notations she'd made years ago, reminding herself of possible substitutes or extras. Like on the card marked "Butterscotch Coffee Cake", below all the ingredients, it reads:

In case of emergency, use 2 c white sugar, mix with other dry ingredients, add 1/2 c golden brown molasses. (Thank God! An answer to the inevitable three-alarm sugar crisis!)

Thanksgiving isn't just a day, in my opinion. It's a season, even a state of mind. Right about now we begin mulling over all the things we're thankful for. My parents and brothers and I never lived near our extended family. I don't remember the very few times we all got together, noisily in Grandma's dining room, awaiting a next course of fabulous, home-cooked food. I never stood on my tiptoes in the kitchen, leaning slightly over Grandma's shoulder as she taught me just the right way to test and see if the turkey was done. I don't associate cooking or baking smells with my grandmother.

But I also don't resent that I didn't have any of that. Today I am thankful that I have been entrusted with a precious part of who my grandmother was, as a young bride, young woman, young mom... and I hope that, in time, I will be able to do justice to her fudge, or "Mother's Oatmeal Crispies". (And I have a sneaking suspicion Jon is hoping for the same thing!)

|

cake.jpgTonight we gathered at my parents' house to celebrate Mark Edward Pancoast's 48th birthday (Did you hear that, Ted? 48. Not 50. Great card, though.) Anyway, it was a fun-filled night. After all, it's not every day that a man over the age of 40 gets an IPod for his birthday.

Yes, Mom bought Dad a shiny blue IPod mini. And I am happy to announce that the new addition to the family has been christened: Old Blue.

The really good news is that while Jon installed software and plugged everything in, I led my folks through a little tutorial on the use of the IPod. Wait, no, the REALLY good news is that Dad caught on to everything quickly, and he got a big kick out of it.

So, between delicious cake and the IPod-inspired enthusiasm, the evening was a lot of fun. Oh, and Jon was introduced to Dad's favorite song. The classic "Dead Skunk" by Loudon Wainwright III. Never heard of it? Don't let Dad catch up to you when he has his handy-dandy IPod... he'll tie you down and make you listen!

"Deeeeeead skunk in the middle of the road, stinking to hiiiiigggh heaven!"

Ew. The smell and the song. But Dad's birthday was happy, and that's the important thing. Happy birthday, Dad.

|

bridesladies.jpgKindergarten was a good year for me. I made some wonderful friends that year. And the one who has really stuck be me, remaining my best friend for seventeen years and counting, is Julie Michelle Vaughan (formerly Valent-Bolduc... far right in the photo).

Living so far from a friend is hard. In this age of email and cell phones communication is definitely easier, but prioritizing as a young wife and college student and employee is still tough! We don't talk nearly enough. But when we do it is just as if not a moment had passed. She's wearing pigtails and I'm sporting stretch pants. Children of the early nineties... that's us. Yet, we aren't playing house anymore. We have homes of our own. We work and learn and cook and clean and support and love like real women do. Aren't we lucky to be doing this at the same time?

We were in the same class but didn't get to know each other until recess. The story goes something like this:

Two little girls energetically playing separate games collided on the playground. In the nurse's office they shared a cot. From that moment on they were inseparable.

Julie and me, buddies always. She was sweeter than me. I was louder than her. We balanced one another out. I knew her whole family, too. Her mom, Debbie, worked at our school and I saw her daily. Julie's brothers and sister were all just a few grades above us. With my brothers also at the same school, occupying the grades below us, education was a family affair.

Soon she was spending lots of time at my house after school and on weekends. Playing "pretend" is so much better when you have a friend to do it with. As I thought up exotic locales, exciting characters for us to play and insanely intricate stories for us to act out (dogsledding orphan sisters in the yukon protecting our late father's gold mine from evil con men... singers advancing quickly from night club acts to broadway... friends on the oregon trail fighting off indians, bears and typhoid... descendents of egyptian royalty hunting for the treasures in the tombs of our ancestors... etc.), Jules put her heart into the game every time.

Our birthdays are a mere ten days apart; Julie is the oldest. So each year our parties landed withing a week of one another, and both usually included an Easter theme (to take advantage of the discounted candy, no doubt!). Not that we kids had any idea that our parents were seeking to cut down on the expense of our celebrations. We were too high on all the sugar! Julie's mom always managed to make up the best Easter egg hunts, too!

I remember our first "crushes", if you could call them that. Being aware that boys were indeed different, finding them cute, doesn't really count as anything. We didn't know these boys at all really. But Jules had the advantage of having an older sister. Connie liked boys and they liked her. She dated first, kissed first... and we took notes. While I was head over heels in love with Dennis Miller, Julie latched onto David Childers. Each of those affairs lasted a few months before we let our affections move on. Chris Gray, David Dickerson, Travis Armenio... we loved them all alternately.

Once she dated Matt. My Matt. I'd staked that claim so long before! But he and I were only friends. Oh, the intricacies of girlhood. Their "relationship" lasted three days and my friendship with both of them survived somehow. Aren't I dramatic? The boys we dated had almost nothing in common. Sometimes I did worry about her choices when it came to men, but everything worked itself out eventually. Most importantly we continued to value friendship above relationships always.

We did have a falling out once. Of the two of us I usually take on the leading role, and I immaturely resented it when anyone else swayed Julie's opinions. Over the summer after eighth grade I had embarked on my Christian walk, accepting Jesus Christ as my personal savior, and I was intent upon bringing everyone I knew and loved with me! They didn't have a choice... if you asked me. Julie didn't agree. She didn't like my new "holy roller attitude"... the limited selection of music I would listen to (I remember a particularly bitter feud over Alanis Morrisette), etc. In my haste to wash myself clean I almost lost a friend.

Thankfully we're bound at the heart, Julie and I. Even after I moved to Livermore we kept writing to each other. Unfortunately she didn't have email or even a very permanent address. But I was at her graduation ceremony and the party that followed! I beamed when she accepted her diploma. My sister had made it!

Julie's life has never been as easy as mine. Life has thrown her curve balls that even experienced adults would have trouble dealing with. And she was still a kid at heart. Over time she developed street smarts that I'll never understand. But they were necessary for her. Sometimes I worried that she had developed a hard exterior that blocked all her sweetness and light. Then she would visit me and all of that would melt away. Above all we found a common plane no matter what life situations we currently and separately occupied. We owe that to the magic of friendship.

That magic was something I often likened to Anne Shirley's relationship with her neighbor and "bosom friend" Diana. Julie and I were kindred spirits from the moment we met. I would have done anything for her, and vice versa.

She has always supported me. When I got engaged and began planning my wedding, I knew that it wouldn't be perfect unless Julie was at my side. My oldest friend. She knows me deeper than anyone else can understand. While the rest of the world sees what I am, Julie knows what I have become, all of my varied layers, my past. So much of my essence is caught up in her. Thankfully she made it to every event of the wedding planning process. At my wedding she walked down the aisle on my brother's arm, ready to help give me away to a man she'd grown to respect and love. Julie, too, gave her blessing to the union. She knows what is best for me and wants me to have it more than anything.

So when she called to tell me that she also had become engaged, I shrieked with joy! Her fiance, also named Jonathan (confusing... you don't even know!), is a good man, too. I felt blessed to be invited to reverse our roles. I became bridesmaid to her beautiful, blushing bride. Jon and I drove out to Boise, Idaho, where Julie now lives with her husband, to be at the wedding. It was a joyous event, full of fun and activity. I felt as she had felt mere months before for me. Lucky sisters.

I thank God that Jules found her Jon. He loves her so truly. At this point in time we're each in a good place, a thousand miles from each other though it is. I pray that this kinship lasts our lifetime, eternally strong no matter what we go through. The fact that it's lasted this long is a testament to us both. I miss her.

|

Ted.jpgHe was born almost 18 months to the day after I was. He came sporting the same freckles, the same pearl white skin. But his fluff of baby hair had a red tint to it, a slight curl. And, oh, his voice was deep! People used to stare at my brother, Ted, as he romped across the playground thinking he was so big. It was his manner, that wide-eyed, mischievous, mud-pie-making grin that he plastered all over his freckled face, that disarmed people. He looked like the subject of a Norman Rockwell painting: an entirely American boy ready to play, to get grass stains.

But sometimes he did cry. And when he cried, he howled! I used to kneel next to his baby rocker and tuck him under the chin with my finger, mimicking our mom, and say, 'What'sa mattah, Teeeeeeed?' in my high, big-sister voice. Not that this always worked, but it made the grown-ups laugh, and it's a good memory.

I loved my little brother. We stuck up for each other. On the playground a boy in my grade poked me until I cried. Ted, little Ted, ran up and wrapped his chubby arms around the bully, picking him up into the air and dropping him on the ground. When both of us were hauled into the Principal's office, we stood our ground. It's a sibling thing. Later on, much later, when bullies were actually mean, when Ted's ears stuck out and his feet were too big, clunking around at the end of his long, skinny legs, I was able to do the same for him. Nobody was going to mess with my brother.

I'll never know him as I did so long ago, when I sang him to sleep after a scary movie, or when I told him stories, or when I pretended to count and name each of his freckles, or when we'd play football one-on-one in the parking lot (Dad was permanent QB). Ted had these giant hands, always. And Dad coached him to catch the ball softly, cradling it and bringing it home to rest under his arm, safe from me. I think of these times and I smile because a brother's love is a strange, beautiful thing.

He called me ugly, stupid, mean, rotten. He hit me, hid from me, tattled on me, hated me. But I did all that to him, too, and sometimes more. I could talk faster. I could think of more things to say. It was later, after the fight had died down, and we became friends again, that love shone. We danced together. I made him dance with me. But secretly he liked to pick me up and twirl me like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. We imagined. I made up a game and he would pretend to be anything I needed him to be. We raced. I ran faster. He ran further. Though you could not meet two people more opposite than we, deep down ran that same love that will be there, red like blood and strong like steel, until the day we die.

Everyone goes through an awkward phase. Ted's lasted a while, but he grew into his feet and his ears, ditched his glasses and embraced his freckles. My friends all had crushes on him at one time or another. He was my best friend's first kiss, something I was conflicted about. It happened in my parents' hot tub, too. Thank God I didn't actually have to see it. The Ya-Ya he didn't kiss, he did take to junior prom a couple of years later. We're a tight knit bunch. How do we not feel weird about all this? You've got me.

School didn't click with Ted the way it did with me. Academic achievement wasn't his goal, nor was it a byproduct of his choices during high school. And when graduation came and he scraped by, you'd never have guessed it. In his vibrant green cap and gown, holding his diploma, he was proud. Relieved, too, of course. But proud. We have one particular picture of Ted, after graduation, with his best friend, Don. They are cheering and laughing at the same time, bellowing like the Marines they were both destined to become. When Mom snapped that photo she caught a glimpse of Ted without trouble or confusion or the lack of options. In that second he was poised for absolute joy.

TedandMom.jpgThe rest of Ted's life so far is too entwined with the Marine corps for me to understand. Much of it has been kept from me. I'm sheltered. After a year on a tour in Japan and in the Philippines, where Ted rose to the challenges he faced and literally fed the hungry and sheltered the homeless, my brother learned about manhood. The control of the military grated on him, though. He longed for home. History was being made, however, and after a short leave he was shipped to Iraq. I knew vaguely that he drove any and every vehicle on his base. He transported troops and supplies, food and oil, across vast stretches of dangerous territory.

My brother has seen men die. I can't wrap my head around that. When I look in his eyes I know that he has seen more than I could ever have feared seeing, he knows more of suffering and pain and conquest. Yet he doesn't understand it. There is still a boyish innocence there, behind those big blue eyes of his. All he has seen has not quite been able to harden the hope I knew when we were children. There must, he believes, be a reason for it all.

We've come quite a ways from our games of hide-and-seek in Newark. Along the way we lost touch. Not just after he joined the Marines. It was before. When I chose my path, he took a completely different one. In my worst moments I have screamed at my brother, telling him that he chose wrong. Choose again! I implore him. You'll see I'm right. But really, when my loudness and self-righteousness took over, when I screamed, I was really just calling for my little brother. Follow me. Everything will work if you come this way. And if you don't, I can't protect you.

While Ted was in Japan, I met and fell in love with Jon. While Ted was in Iraq, I got engaged and then married. I sent him pictures and letters, of course. I thought of him, too, on that day. And while I was getting my hair done that lovely morning, Ted called me. I cried as we spoke. Because every conversation we had while he was over there had an element of desperation in it. This, I knew, we all knew, could be it. More than anything I just wanted my brother home, safe, to meet my husband and be my brother. Simple things.

Tomorrow, September 29, 2005, Corporal Theodore Edward Pancoast will be 21 years old. He is currently stationed at 29 Palms in Southern California. May God bless and keep my brother.

|

moline_hs_yearbook_1945_small.jpgToday I had a really great afternoon. In celebration of Labor Day, my boss (Mom) had my co-worker (and surrogate aunt, Denise) over for lunch. Beyond the yummy sandwiches, complete with feta cheese, the best part of the afternoon was a Show & Tell. Denise brought over her high school yearbooks and her late husband, Lefty's "annuals" (same thing). Mom pulled out her books to share and soon we were reminiscing like crazy.

Well, they reminisced and I sat there with my chin propped up in my hands, like a child at story time. Seeing Denise's flawlessly coiffed beehive hair-do (circa 1965, and not a hair was out of place!), her giant pom-poms and pleated skirt, was so fun! And it was sweet how she remembered each detail of her try out for the cheerleading squad.

Mom, of course, claimed to "hate" her senior portrait. Which is ridiculous because she was very pretty, big blue eyes and soft, curly brown hair. But all girls hate their senior pictures. Anyway, mom showed us her Contemporaires team picture (not sure of the spelling... it's a fancy way to say "better than the cheerleaders"). Meanwhile the pictures surrounding my mom's were full of people with very, very, very '70s hairstyles.

Between Lefty's, Denise's, Mom's and my Grandma Jean's yearbooks we spanned four decades of trends, styles, teen idols and world events. I think that my favorite ended up being grandma's book.

grandma_jean_young_small.jpggrandma_jean_young_caption.jpgMy Grandma Jean was beautiful and sweet. She reminds me of Ginger Rogers. The book cover shown above is hers: Moline High School, 1945. Amazing, isn't it? The caption next to her picture amuses me. I'm sure that Jean was intelligent and talented; I'm sure she did other stuff besides date and dance. But you'd never know it here, huh? Still, I love paging through this book and seeing the calf-length plaid skirts, feminine sweaters, fraternity pins... *sigh*. It was a simpler time. Oh! And saddle shoes!

grandma_dot_young_small.jpgQuickly I'd like to give equal face time to my dad's mom, my Grandma Dot. Here she is, my ravishing grandmother, Dorothy Bercher, in her senior portrait. Thankfully I have had twenty-two years with Grandma Dot, and she's been an amazing example of intelligence, wit and gentility.

More than anything I appreciate the value of history and it's impact on our life today, our culture. Between Jean and Dorothy, I was blessed with some great genes. And I felt very honored today when Denise counted me in her circle of closest and dearest friends because, she said, while I am very young, I am "an old soul". It's true.

|

truffles.jpgAlthough I was recently told that "yummy!" is a juvenile expression, only used by teeny boppers who believe they're frozen in the 1950s, I am determined to bring the phrase back into vogue. After all, so many edible items in this world are too casual, home-style, cozy to be termed "delicious" or "scrumptious"! Think homemade bread, hot and squishy from the oven... or blueberry muffins... or strawberry jell-o. Again, I am a fan of "yummy!", and I refuse to have my vocabulary dictated by the times. Friends, as of now, with the upcoming list of my favorite treat-type foods (not the most original blog idea... sort of a first date convo starter, though), "yummy!" is back.

Okay, let's get the Hostess Cupcakes out of the way. We've covered that one.

But a sentimental favorite of mine, very similar to the cupcakes (probably made from the same material minus the brown dye) are Zingers. Just the thought of the slightly chewy yellow-flavored, solid sugar frosting makes me tear up a little. I remember one road trip with my dad and my brother, Ted. We'd taken the train to Grandma's house (not making it up), and there we bought her maroon Buick La Sabre (where the cliche ends) and drove home via Mt. Rushmore, Badlands and Yellowstone. I have a point. In one bargain motel we stayed in during the drive West, the three of us were very hungry in the middle of the night. Nothing left in the cooler (on trips like this we usually lived exclusively on bologna sandwiches, pretzels and juice), we switched to plan B: a midnight excursion to the nearby 7-11. Dad returned heroically bearing a box of Zingers... which we polished off in 15 minutes. Ahhhh... to be young again. Good memories.

Wow, that was a lot of time on Zingers. Next up... Junior Mints. Don't argue with me. They're like mini York peppermint patties. And they're perfect for the movie theater. Though the last four mints wind up wedged at the bottom of the box, and you spend several minutes straining desperately, twisting your index finger every which way, hoping to dislodge them. But that's my point. They are worth even that effort. Small, sweet, refreshing.

My next favorite is also a horrible choice of food for any woman over the age of eighteen. Cheese croissants... especially from Donut Wheel (Ben, if you read this... note the reverence). Flaky croissant on the outside, some indistinguishable combo of cream cheese, sugar and... come to think of it, I don't know what that mixture really is. Better not to think about it. Ignorance is tasty! (Errr... YUMMY!)

I suppose I have to mention 3 Musketeers... even though they are a rather nondescript candy, actually. But they aren't that bad for you. And that's a major factor now that my hips vary in width in direct relation to whatever I had for dessert.

Anything with filling is usually a keeper for me. Lemon filled donuts, McDonald's apple pies, Home Run chocolate pies (I believe those are or were my brother, Curtis', favorite, too. He'd eat them by the truck full when we were younger). Caramello candy bars and the boysenberry truffles we always pick up in Glacier National Park. The definition of YUMMY!

This entry wouldn't be complete without a tribute to See's. Jon isn't with me on this (one of the few major disparities in our relationship), but I looooooooooove See's Candy. Whenever I went to work with my mom when I was a little girl (on National Mother Takes Daughter to Work Day... now I go with her every other day... but the tradition has stopped), we'd make a lunchtime pit stop at the See's Candy across the street from her office in Redwood City. (Which we now refer to as "HH". We don't like her old office. Use your imagination.) It remains to be a fond memory and an easy way to gain a quarter pound on a Tuesday afternoon. Lemon truffles are my biggest weakness.

Honestly, I could go on. But my mouth is watering, as I'm sure yours is, too. Sleep calls. May your next meal be completed with a very YUMMY snack... and may you never be too proud to say the Y-word.

|

matt.jpgSummer makes me think of many things, but most of all it makes me think of my best friend, Matt. We met in fourth grade, sitting across from each other in Mrs. Bauhaus' class, coloring a generic black and white outline of a sun. I, the teacher's pet, was filling in the white space with a gloriously soft yellow. Staying inside the lines, of course. I was concentrating, the tip of my tongue pressing diligently against my upper left canine tooth (as it continues to do today whenever I take anything really seriously).

"My sun is a lunatic!"

We knew each other already, of course, but just then, as he held up his sun, complete with crazy green hair and bloodshot eyes, I fell in love. It sounds crazy (like the sun), but it's true.

Matthew and I became best friends. Everything was about running and hiding and seeking and finding and playing and laughing and enjoying our youth. Being ten years old seems so far away. But when I'm with Matt I feel my heart start skipping like I'm that young again. Simple, that was our friendship.

Today I had a terrific memory. Freshly cut grass clung to my wet toes. Matt and I skipped through the sprinklers, our white shirts stretched against our skin. Youth pushed us in and out of the white, wonderful stinging spray. We were beautiful. I spun with my hands straight out, letting the droplets of silver swirl off of my fingertips in concentric circles.

At the time I thought Matt looked exactly like Tom Cruise in Top Gun. He pretended to hate it, teasing me right back. But he loved me. Probably because I didn't scream and run when I saw a bug, like the other girls did. Or maybe it was because I could beat him in a race, or in tetherball. We stuck together.

Of course, I was nursing a baby crush on the kid. Ten years old though I was, I knew the difference between boys and girls. I also knew that life wouldn't be the same without him. But I didn't tell him what I felt; I didn't even know how to say it aloud. Little did I know that he felt the same way about me.

Over the years we did everything. Tennis, swimming, baseball... we watched movies, took long walks, played long uneventful games of Truth or Dare.

And yes, he was my first kiss. Our freshman year of high school we went to see Lost In Space at the theater that was down the street from where we lived. Afterwards he walked me home, something he always did. The evening fell lightly over the trees, darkening Joaquin Murieta (our street). Beneath a street lamp, in the grey-yellow circle of light, we stopped. A perfect first kiss that tasted like rootbeer, that was mine.

But we were always just friends, perfect friends. We didn't have issues (although he never liked anyone I dated, and vice versa... shocker!). Even after I moved to Livermore, after he was no longer the boy next door, we remained close. He even wrote me letters! What a good guy.

On my sixteenth birthday, the day after junior prom, Matt showed up at my house for my party. I was wearing my red prom dress to church that morning, so when I swung the front door open to greet my buddy... his jaw dropped. It was the first time he'd ever seen me in a dress! I don't mind saying that he liked what he saw. But to this day he still manages to picture me in a pony tail, shorts and sneakers, knees scratched and fingernails dirty.

When I met Jon, Matt knew something was different. He made an effort to meet Jon and to get to know him. I've never been so proud. Even though there had always been a hope in the back of both our hearts, in the minds of people we knew, that we two would have a future together... Jonathan Camp had taken my heart completely. He was my future. And Matt was wonderful about the whole thing.

Matt now lives in Arizona, working hard and being near his Mom's family makes him happy. But he misses California and, of course, me. He did make it out for my wedding last year, which meant the world to me. And he made a valiant attempt to catch the garter... but our pal Jeremy kept his record alive and snagged it before Matt could get close. How many is that now, Jeremy?

After the wedding I said goodbye to so many people, but I'll never forget saying it to Matt. He was so proud of me. He loved me so much. When we hugged, he squeezed me close like a brother would do to his sister. Eleven years of friendship had seen us sweep through all the stages, braving shadows and rising to the right moments. That memory, just before I grabbed my husband's hand and drove off into our future... the one I shared with my best friend, is precious to me.

Jonathan is truly my best friend now. No one knows me like my soul mate for life. But nothing will ever unravel or diminish the twelve years Matt and I have. And one of the amazing things about Jon is that he appreciates that. Friendship is golden, and we cherish the relationships we forged before we met each other. Matt, like me, admires Jon for that and for many other things.

Today I called Matt to wish him a happy 23rd birthday. We talked for an hour. And in the end we both wished we could go back to the tree-lined avenue where we first met, to dance in the sprinklers, to sit in the back of his dad's parked pick-up (the orange one with the slightly rusted tailgate), to drink Dad's Rootbeer and skip pebbles down the street, to toss popcorn playfully at one another during a movie... to find that simple time.

Happy Birthday, Matthew Jonathan Carlisle Planer.

|

mis.jpgMy cousin is getting married. Ben and his fiancee, Melissa, were engaged last year. They made a point to come out to our wedding in August and we hope we can return the favor and share their joy and their own big day this October! Melissa also participated in the shower my aunts and grandmother threw for me in Illinois last summer. She's a terrific gal, so much fun!

All who know me are unsurprised to see me hurl myself into the midst of all the excitement and act crazy in order to have fun and entertain. I don't even hesitate to do so in front of my relatives. Few others, though, outside the Pancoast clan can work up the wherewithal to do the same when they're with us. After all, we're pretty intimidating. Mis is an exception. She fearlessly allowed herself to be dragged into being a model in our "Toilet Paper Bride" game. Oh! And I have pictures. Ben is a lucky guy.

Of course, I'm a big fan of Ben. He and I kept touch over the years by way of email and instant messaging. In high school I depended on him for encouragement and friendship even though he lived thousands of miles away. So Melissa is lucky, too, and that's the way it should be with true love. Everybody wins.

Today I got the chance to do some shopping for them. Unfortunately I have to miss Melissa's bridal shower, thrown at my Aunt Mary's home in Illinois (the same place we had mine). It happens to fall on the same weekend Jon and I had booked reservations in Las Vegas. But I'll be there in spirit, cheering her on as the toilet paper is wound around the unsuspecting guests, silly games are played and yummy food is eaten.

queen_grandma.jpgMy shower was such fun! I couldn't believe how excited everyone was to be there sharing my experience with me. My aunts made sure they covered every detail. Perfectly lovely. Cousins and aunts from both sides of my family joined to celebrate. I hammed it up, of course, singing into the egg beaters (microphones) I was given, wearing my bouquet of bows as a hat. But I also tried hard to express my appreciation. Two of my mom's closest friends were able to attend. Her Ya-Yas. And of course her big sister, Aunt Kris. Oh everyone was there! Mostly I think I'm using this entry as an exuse to put up this picture. Hail to Grandma Dot, the Queen of Bathroom Tissue!

mixer.jpgSearching through their registry at Crate & Barrel brought back some wonderful memories. Jon and I had such a fantastic time registering for gifts. And, thanks to the generosity of our friends and relatives, we received almost everything on our list. So much stuff! My kitchen is red. The brightest room in the house by far. I was overjoyed to see that Melissa had wisely chosen to register for the same bright red Kitchen Aid mixer that is now our kitchen's centerpiece. Honestly I've probably used it less than twenty times. But even that is a lot for me. Pumpkin bread, biscuits, the occasional angel food cake... easy stuff. Someday I'll get around to pushing the mixer to its full potential. Or will it be the other way around? Either way it was one of my favorite gifts from the wedding. That and the matching red toaster and mixing bowls. I'm getting excited (and hungry) just thinking about them all!

redheart_small.jpgA note to all who ever plan to get married: don't underestimate the fun of the registering process. Naturally it's not the most important part of getting married... or even the wedding... or the wedding preparation. Okay, so it's a teensy part of the big picture. But sometimes it's easy to forget to have fun as you stress over the gown, the music, the food, the pastor, the venue, the flowers, the bridal party, the photographer... see what I mean. Take time to register. Dream big and perfect! Enjoy it together. And don't forget to add your own big, red mixer.

Congratulations Ben and Melissa!

|

osteospermum.jpgSo I've missed a week. Why? Illness. Totally valid. A personal type of illness, too. Yuck. But I'm getting better, slowly. Every day a little more. I can stand upright, talk, enjoy eating, drive. It's been a long week. What's new?

I'm still working at Banana Republic. Still haven't opened a single card account. Ugh. Still love the clothing. But I'm kind of hoping I can find a job that involves less selling clothes and more consistant hours.

In the last week I've been fortunate enough to spend a little time with the Ya-Yas. Not a lot. But we ate some good food (Spaghetti Factory... amazing!) and got in some good chatting. Ya-ya!

Jon has been a model husband/caregiver in the last several days. Midnight runs to the pharmacy, taxi to doctor's appointments (I couldn't drive... sleepy drugs), lots of hand holding. Poor guy. He badly needs his sleep.

His parents recently adopted a new kitten, Claude (as in Monet... not Jean-Claude Van Damm). What a cutie!

Tonight we put on a golden oldie (by Jon's standards, not mine, but an old favorite for me as well) to enjoy. A Few Good Men. "My client's a moron, Dave; that's not against the law." Wonderful! Young Tom Cruise (Was Katie Holmes born yet?), tough Jack Nicholson, Kevin Bacon, Kieffer Sutherland, Demi Moore. What's not to love?

grandma_wilson.jpgToday was Jon's Grandma Wilson's birthday. Steak dinner at Black Angus made my 8-5 BR shift melt away into a baked potato oblivion. And after ice cream I got the chance to look at an old photo album from Grandpa Wilson's childhood. Such fun! Terrific black and white pictures. While lacking in clarity, cryptic in their description, these photos were perfect in their nostalgia. Being allowed to stroll down memory lane, recalling the names of cats who lived and played in the 1930s (Mickey) and how many guests were at his parents' wedding (2) made me feel very blessed indeed.

Tomorrow is Jon's folks' anniversary. July 2. Happy Anniversay Mom and Dad in Law!

|

dad_thumb.jpg'Ohhhhh, my leetle geeeeeel!"

No, you may not understand that comment. I do, though. It makes me laugh. You see, my father, the big, ominous "tough guy", always has been the best baby talker around. Let me translate. "Oh, my little girl!" By dropping certain consonants, elongating the vowel sounds, elevating his voice to a high, precious pitch... Daddy used to make me laugh!

Father's Day has come and, since I offered up my creativity to sing the praises of my Mother in early May, I really ought to do the same for my dad now. So let's see if I can sum up my love for my father in this short space.

Dad wanted a boy. Oh, he may deny it now, but as an extremely talented athlete in high school, he hoped desperately that he'd be able to share his love of sports and all things sweaty and grass-stained with a son. But Mom gave him me instead. The way they tell the story, the doctor handed me, all slimy and squirmy and female, to a 25-year-old Mark Pancoast... and the man fell in love.

I was his "leetle geel", his "jaybird", his "munchy minchin" and a thousand other equally and inanely sweet nicknames. At the age of three I beat him at Candy Land (now he swears he let me win, but we all know the truth... I am the master), and I received a trophy for my efforts. It was one of his old baseball trophies. We both beamed with pride. He bought a book that came highly recommended for teaching children to read, and he sat me down one afternoon to begin learning. By the end of the night, I could do it! Magic? Good parenting? Pure Audrey genius? A little bit of all.

On the playground I was living up to my potential, too. Daddy had hoped and prayed for an athlete, and God had granted him one. I picked up sports quickly, even as he drilled. He'd take us kids out to "play baseball" in the nearby field. That meant a little bit of batting for each of us, and then one monstrous "at bat" for Dad while his litter spread out to shag the balls he sent for miles in every direction. We all won.

And he took me on my first date. I don't remember it as vividly as I used to, but there is a picture of the night that helps me. I was five-years-old, I had on a little mint green dress and white tights and shoes, and I carried a little purse with a turtle on it. Dad put on a suit and tie for his "number one girl" and we were off to dinner. I think we went to the mall? Do you remember, Dad? We went on many special "dates" over the years. The best was to an old-fashioned ice cream counter for a malt. My friends were all very jealous of my time with my Dad. He worked nights and weekends, so he was the one driving me on field trips and spending time with my brothers and me after school. "Your dad is the coolest!" my friends used to rave. But I don't think I told him that; it might have gone to his head.

Things weren't always so perfect, though. Dad had forgotten, in his list of things for God to include in the design of his firstborn, to ask that I not turn out exactly like him. My temper and my stubbornness are all his, too. Fighting was interesting once I was old enough to know my own mind. Not only did I choose to believe and say the exact things that would make my dad the angriest living human, but I stuck to my guns just as hard as he stuck to his. Head butting over issues like my future career, capital punishment, communism, racism... every day occurrences.

Usually these episodes ended with the classic "go to your room!" We rarely reached a resolution peacefully the first time around. Sometimes I was called back downstairs and given a chance to change my mind, to repent. Hah! Now I wonder how much time I wasted arguing things I knew nothing about, how many times I was actually right, how many miles of stairs I walked after all the up and down and up agains.

Always, though, I thought my dad was probably one of the smartest people around. He was always reading, always talking about important things. He worked hard to put himself through college when we were little kids and he was still working full time. He treated my mother very well, always loving her aloud.

The best possible thing my dad did for us growing up was to take our family on great vacations! He was a teacher, so each summer he'd pack the boys and me and all our camping gear into the car. We'd drive all over, usually winding up in Yellowstone National Park. Along the way we developed a love for nature and her bounty. Dad kept us entertained with history and stories, everything he knew he shared. That made the trips twice as fun!

Now, here I have to stop and mention that the info he passed along wasn't always brand new. After a while he began repeating some things. The boys and I pretended not to notice. Maybe in the beginning we really didn't know. But then, as is the Pancoast way, we gave Daddy a hard time about it.

"Kids, do you know what formed that valley over there? Hundreds of years ag..."

And we'd overwhelm him with a chorused: "...ago huge glaciers carved out the valleys as they melted and froze over and over..." Poor dad, breeding such smart alecks.

I think I made him proud as an athlete in high school. I swam, played volleyball and basketball. After showing a lot of potential in all three sports I narrowed them down to my favorite, volleyball. Dad came to my basketball games during my freshman year. He cheered me on, up and down the court. Of course, it wasn't all cheering, per se. Some was criticism "Don't dribble so high, AJ!", some was advice "Keep your head up, babe!". Some was pure incredulity. "What are you doing??!!!" And my father, bless his heart, was born with a deep voice that resounds everywhere, especially in a gym. At the end of the game the big joke my coaches would pass along to me was, "I heard your dad was at the game tonight! Har har har har!"

As a deeply sensitive teenage girl, I desperately wanted the teasing to stop. And having to do the play-by-play with critique once I got home wasn't all that fun, either. So I asked my dad not to yell during my games. When he balked at this idea I, in a moment of what my dad would term "boneheadedness", gave my own father an ultimatum: If you have to scream at me, I don't want you at my games at all."

Well, I should have known how that would go. He didn't come to any more of my games. Finally, my senior year, he began showing up at my volleyball matches again. And boy, was he proud! Then, at the award ceremony at the end of the season, he was my date. I relished his booming cheers then, as I accepted my trophy for being the Most Valuable Player of 2001.

In high school I didn't make my parents worry much. I was a good kid who kept to her curfew, did most of my activities with the church and had nice friends. The night I graduated from high school, my dad gave me a charm for the charm bracelet he'd given me and had helped me build for years. It was a tiny silver acorn. I hadn't fallen far from the tree. Daddy was misty, but he let me go off to my parties and to the rest of my life.

Dad has been my compass, my teacher, my standard for men, my protector (I've always felt safe) and my friend. He's whetted my debating skills and helped to nurture my sense of humor. Giving me away in marriage was no easy task for Daddy. He always swore he wouldn't cry "if the day ever came". But he did, a little. And just as the song we danced to that night proclaimed, I find our relationship as father and daughter to be amazing and unforgettable.

A long time ago I was inspired by an Eavan Boland poem. I sat and wrote this about my father:

wise things

My father took my hand
and we soared up the steps
of a place of words and wisdom
bound into books,
row upon row of the written thoughts
of those much wiser than me.

Oh, how I thirsted for that wisdom.

I would leave the hold of my father
in his sage green coat,
and find my corner.
I would huddle there and search for
the meaning of life, the solutions to
so many mysteries.

I sought counsel.

And then I turned around
and turned around...

He was gone.
It took me a second to realize
I was old enough to make it
home on my own.

When I was young I studied words
and their definitions.
These led me to understand
much of what life is made of,
but something else brought to light
the meaning of irony.

I will always be reminded that I was
in those hallowed rooms of learning
with my father,
with my back turned towards him,
searching- oh irony!-
for wise things.

-Audrey Pancoast, 2003

We get along. We make each other laugh. A few days ago I received an email from my dad in which he told me that he had been watching Anne of Green Gables with his class, and that it made him miss "his Anne". Me. Aren't I a lucky girl? To have a father who believes I am smart and beautiful and successful, a father who has told me that since I was very young. Indeed.

Happy Fathers Day!

|

school_books.jpgToday I am bouncing with happy energy. *singing* No more teachers, no more books! *done singing* Yes, I finished my last class tonight at 5pm and promptly drove home to have dinner, pizza naturally, with Jonathan. And when we saw each other there was this sigh of relief in unison... apparently the poor boy had been going through sympathy stress for me.

But now it's over (with the exception of my finals... next week... three days in a row...), but if I think about those things this rosy feeling might leave. So, instead, I'm going to take my cue from Julie Andrews and share, with you dear friend, a few of my *singing once again* faaaaaaavorite things!

I promise, no more singing.

squee.jpgLet's start with cute kittens. Mine, l'il Disneyface, is the cutest of all. To me. And to Jon. And to everyone else who has ever seen his squishy face! We decided to put him up against the judgment of the world. Kittenwar is exactly what it sounds like. May the cutest kitten win! Well, so far at least, Disney is about 50/50. But what does the rest of the world know? One of the "winningest kittens" is this one... SQUEE!

How cute was that? Awwwwwww. Just be careful when you do visit the site. It's addicting. If you're really geeky (or you really love me) you may want to update yourself as to the current battle standing of Disney, Crypto and/or Disney and Crypto (our tag team attempt at knocking out all competition using both Crypto's weight and Disney's adorableness).

pants.jpgContinuing with my list... last week I got the chance to visit San Jose with the Ya-Yas! Our mission? To see the newly released Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. A girl flick to be sure, but a terrific one. I kid you not, though I entered the theater expecting it to be cheesy... when the end credits scrolled I was overcome with happiness. What a wonderful movie, full of everything that a good story needs. I won't give it away. Everyone should see it.

That same night Jon entered a bouldering competition at a nearby rock gym. He took first place in his division. I am sooooo proud of my climbing hubby!

cactus.jpgAnd then the other night I invited my mom over for some dinner and girl time. I prepared Mexican food and margaritas, used my most colorful dishes, and played oldies. Casa del Camps! Mom and I had a great time just talking about everything under the sun. It's a little rough not living with her anymore, but we still get the chance to catch up every once in a while.

grandmas_family.jpgOn Monday I received a card from my grandma! During my battle with the insane Human Development project that wreaked havoc on my life over the last few weeks, I felt compelled to reach out to her and let her know how much I appreciate everything she's ever done for me. I wanted her to know that she is a successful woman and a loved grandmother. (And what a grandmother! Here she is with all her grandkids except Ted... impressive. We're cute!) Her card expressed the same feelings to me and to Jon. She gave me wifely advice, told me some stories about her family history, enclosed a few black and white photos I'd never seen (very cool! I am such a sucker for old pictures!). It's neat to be penpals with my grandmother. She's got so much to share.

And on Monday we received a gift. Jon's mom, my mother-in-law, Debbie, is a very talented artist. As a wedding present she painted a portrait of Jon and me. It's a very unique painting, gorgeous! Jon and I are in our wedding attire, dancing and gazing at each other lovingly, but in the background is a nighttime setting of deep green hills and dark blue sky. Atop the highest hill is a fairy tale castle. Debbie included a bible verse in antique-style lettering, roses around the rim, so many very personal touches. She gave us an heirloom we're proud to possess, and will be proud to pass on someday. If possible I'll show it on here at some point.

yayas.jpgAt some point in the last week or so I've spoken to many of my close friends. Dan Burkhart is graduating from UCLA this coming weekend. Ryan Densberger is still hard at work. David Giusti is working and coaching basketball, too (I'm jealous! What an amazing experience it is to coach young people!). Erica Woehrle will be working at summer camp again this year. Jen Fraser is going to have a baby in just a couple more months! We're all in these very special, important places in our lives, and still we make time for one another. I'm amazed sometimes how close we've all remained. The Ya-Yas, to be sure, are the closest to me. But all of them have a special place in my heart. They help to make my little world a better, happier place.

wink_scream.jpgThese are a few of my favorite things. I feel wonderful. The summer is here, bringing sunshine and free time to Livermore and me. Over the next few weeks I have so much planned! Rodeo parades, work, Jon's travel, Vegas, camping, baseball games... OH SO MUCH! Thank God that school is out. I can breathe again! Hope my happiness has rubbed off on you, too.

|

mom_and_me.jpgShe fed me, clothed me, tickled me, comforted me, and strategically covered my baby-nakedness with wash-cloths in pictures. My mother, ladies and gentlemen. Leslie Ellen Pancoast. It may be cliche to offer up my blog entry to my mom on this date, but who cares? And who, really, can stop me?

Mom has been so many things to me, it's only fair that I give her some space here, in the open book that is my mind. Short, maybe. Sweet, definitely. Plus, I guilt-tripped her only this morning about not reading my stuff more often... so I'm sure to get her attention this time! (Besides, she's probably the only person who can name the movie from which I pulled the title of this entry.)

In 1983 my folks were young, happily married, and getting ready to start their family. I was on the way. St. Patrick's Day was my due date, and my grandmother flew out from Chicago to be present at my birth.

mom_wedding.jpgBut I wasn't quite ready to be born. Nope. I liked being all wrapped up in a ball, warm, floating, having my every need met. I was already spoiled! So the seventeenth came and went without so much as a move from me. My mom is a patient person, but only to a point. Finally, almost a full two weeks after the 9-month mark, she and my dad calmly drove to the hospital to have labor induced. My entrance to the world was fashionably late, painful... but much anticipated. When my mom held me for the first time, she knew she'd never love any little girl more than me.

So many of my childhood memories are happy ones, filled with balloons and smiles. Mom taught me how to bake (and to lick the spatula!), how to play cards (particularly one magic trick that no one else can figure out), and how to do gymnastics. There was one year, and this is the only time I'll ever admit it, that I attempted to be a cheerleader because I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my esteemed cheerleader of a mother. I failed, both regretfully and thankfully. Valiant effort. I kept forgetting to snap and stomp!

We fought, bickered, played the mind games, got lost in the maze that falls in the generational gap. Yet she was one of my best friends when I was in high school, and she's always been my supporter. Most of all, though, she is my role model. Considering her work ethic, ambition, success and command of respect in her field of work, and also her long, stable, happy marriage... there are few others in this world I could point to as better examples of people who have lived well. I'd count myself lucky if I turned out just like her.

Mom proudly stood by my side with my dad when I was recognized as the Most Valuable Player on my varsity volleyball team. She was there when I graduated from LHS. She helped me move into my first apartment in Davis (and she hugged me as I cried when I left home that year). She clapped and danced when I called to tell her I was engaged. She helped me immensely as I planned my wedding. She generously gave of her time and energy, money and bargaining skills. And on my wedding day she held my hand, kissed my cheek, told me I looked beautiful.

mom_baking.jpgThere has never been a moment when I didn't know how much my mother loved me. God blessed me to be sure. Sometimes I really don't feel I deserve it, either. And I miss Mom when I am home in my house with my husband and my cats, a "grown-up"... a "married lady"... She gives me valuable advice when I call to ask for it, but she never pries or pushes. The perfect mother. Nowadays we meet for lunch every once in a while. Less often now that she has her new job. I'm so proud of her.

We'll always have our inside jokes. When I graduated from high school she took me to London as my grad gift. The memories we keep from that trip alone are priceless! Life may get crazy, at some point I'll be a mom myself (a scary thought, and one I won't consider for quite a while yet so please... no pressure), but Leslie Pancoast will still be there for me whenever I need her. My rock, my love, my friend... my Mommy.

Happy Mother's Day!

|

open_door.jpgSuddenly my blog has a name. It was Jon's idea first, I admit. And I love it. Accuracy is important here, especially since the only readers right now are Jon and me, and we can tell if we're not being completely honest. So why did I choose this name? It all began with an old house and the eccentric folks who lived there...

Anyone who has met my parents understands that they are complicated, intriguing people. But they certainly aren't stodgy or boring. Yes, Dad can go on for hours about glacial movement and erosion, or Manifest Destiny, or even the defining characteristics of fabrics. And yes, Mom deals with insurance. Yet they collectively have a charm about them that allows for knee-jerk understanding on the part of us all when they do things we otherwise might find odd, even crazy.

Case in point: The Advent of the Red Door

After finally being able to move the family to Livermore, CA and out of a rapidly decining area in Newark, CA, my folks were beside themselves with joy at the idea of owning their first house. And the house itself was perfect. Large and roomy, lots of wall space, a dining room that we ate in all of three times because the kitchen eating area was much more convenient, a big back yard with full-grown trees and a rose garden, an in-ground pool, a master suite. The list goes on.

The one drawback to the house was its being a "track home" (as almost ever house in Livermore is). My parents wanted some uniqueness, a touch of character in their first house. First they tackled the inside. The family room almost buckled under a deep outdoorsman theme. Wall-to-wall flyfishing paper, Wild Wings paintings, a creel and rod, dark green couches and, to top it all off, the head of a deer mounted above the brick fireplace (we named him Cal, by the way).

And so my mother moved her wallpapering frenzy methodically through the house, putting personal touches in each kid's room, the kitchen, the laundry room, bathrooms, hallways. But walking up to the big gray-blue house at the end of the typical suburban court, no one could tell our house from the zillions of others.

Dad bought the red paint with Mom's blessing. By noon the next day our front door, clearly visible from the street, was a vibrant tomato red. It shouted our originality into the neighborhood.

That's what gave me this idea. Because, after all, people were still getting to know me at the time. I was a sophomore in high school, defined by my place on the volleyball team, my participation in my honors English class, and the fact that I was "the girl who lives in the house with the red door". Simple.

Being the hopeless romantic that I am, I like to think that my association with the red door carried some sense of mystery. Who is she? Where is she from? What can she do? Perhaps I was extraordinary.

Now, though, the red door symbolizes so much more than that. Behind it lies my destiny, my path, my potential. Red is my favorite color because it seems to indicate life:

Blood running through veins, blushing in the face of flattery and pride, the sin of Adam and Eve, the nail polish I wore on my wedding day, the ribbons I wore during D.A.R.E. week when I was eleven years old, strawberries in the summertime, the bricks in stately old buildings, the cotton-rich earth of Tara, the flag flapping at an old bull to induce a charge, firetrucks, stoplights, roses given to me by Jonathan on Valentine's Day, Christmas, Disneyland, sticking my tongue out at my little brother behind my dad's back, ketchup on hot dogs and the reason Hester Prynne was forced to wear the letter A.

To junior prom I wore a beautiful red silk dress. From that moment on red became a color I was associated with by friends and family. I like it that way. When Jon and I were registering for gifts for the wedding, I carefully chose all red kitchen accessories. For some people red is terrifying, a step outside their comfort zones, too noticeable to be relaxing. But red soothes me.

And so I choose the red door as a symbol of the vivacity I hope to embody the rest of my life. I am many things, some of which I don't yet know of, let alone understand. But for now I will continue to be the girl behind the red door.

|

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries in the My Family category.

Lesley University MFA (Low Residency) is the previous category.

Patriotism is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Monthly Archives