Sunday, November 03, 2013

Dead (wo)man's party

It's past peak leaf time around here, about two weeks beyond the loveliest time in autumn when gorgeous reds, oranges, and yellows pop, with some deep purples and still-greens and ever-greens mixed in, perched and ready to flutter to the ground and skitter across the pavement. Daylight Saving Time ended today and now is peak leaf-raking time, the bare trees reminding us that time flies too quickly. I ran another half-marathon three weeks ago, this time on my own, and the runners' heavy breaths floated visibly in the cold morning air. My banner year is coming to a close, and I fear that next year will be the opposite - full of challenges we'd rather not face. This year, I ran two big races, took many fun camping, backpacking, and long-weekend trips, learned to fish (and received my own fishing pole as a gift), met some of my special-someone's family, and brought that special someone to a Rosh Hashanah service. I checked a dream trip off the list, saw the Pacific Ocean, and stood below Mount Rainier. A gorgeous baby was born and a union was made official. I bought new tires for my car and finally found a way to take full control of my asthma. But among the milestones and the noteworthies have come family strife, a government shutdown, and the foreboding sense that the closing of some doors has opened others to worlds we hadn't expected and don't necessarily welcome. The party is winding down; time to deal with the real world again.

Seasonal Affective Disorder usually drags me down as the sun slinks farther south and the days grow shorter, but I'm determined to beat it this year. Down with the leftover Halloween candy, the heavy food, the sleeping on the couch all evening, the strange despair that sets in despite the opportunity for a full life. I bought one of those therapy lights, and after five days of huddling beneath it while eating breakfast each workday, I can already sense that something is different. Maybe it's coincidence. Maybe it's the placebo effect. Maybe it's a number of other reasons. But I've had more energy in the evenings, and though melancholy lurks, it hasn't yet taken hold; that's a great start. I started this post a few weeks ago, in the throes of the seasonal blues, and I'm finishing it tonight feeling lighter and fresher.

As I think I've mentioned before, the span of time that includes the Jewish New Year, the new year observed with the Western calendar (January 1), and my birthday (February 11) provides ample opportunities to reassess, to make promises for the next year, to vow yet again to do things differently. I think my aim will be to put aside some of my generalist tendencies, find some things I love despite the challenges they bring, and focus more of my energy on them. All my life, I have flitted from one hobby to another: ballet/jazz/tap dance, soccer, horseback riding, piano lessons, choir. There are some things I regularly do these days, like hiking/camping/backpacking, cooking, yoga, weight-training, occasionally crocheting, reading. These are recreational pursuits, though, activities I enjoy but don't obsess over, and if I improve my skills, it's only because I do them often. But the runner's high has taken hold of me, specifically the high from racing. I'm a slow runner, and between my asthma and my hourglass physique, I don't expect that I'll ever win a race or even place in the top 10 percent. I'm lucky to place in the top 50 percent for my age range. But there's something about communal running, pushing yourself to just finish, cheering on others as they cheer you on in return, traversing through time and space by the sheer will of your mind and body alone, that I just love the way I haven't loved an activity before. I cheered on my special someone and some friends at a half-marathon yesterday, and I so ached to be running with them that I ran hard on my own afterward. So, I may not win any races, but I want to get better. Faster. Without pain in my knees or my back or my lungs. I do many things because I can without too much work, but I want to run more despite the hard work. Or maybe because of it.

Yesterday was All Souls Day. Oingo Boingo famously sang in 1985,

"It's a dead man's party
Who could ask for more
Everybody's comin', leave your body at the door
Leave your body and soul at the door . . ."

I don't know what it means, really, but I'm taking it as a cue to use my body and soul now, while I still have them.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

The Ghost Got a Makeover

A while ago, my mom took a trip down to the old neighborhood, and afterward, she sent back some photos of the old house, the one that's been haunting me. I would never recognize it if I drove past it now. The new owners painted it a bland tan color. The big trees in the front are gone, the bushes and benches in the back are gone, part of the porch has been lopped off, the overflowing garden and pond are now a dog run and firewood storage, and tall shrubs separate the yard from the neighbor's. If the outside has been changed so much, I can only imagine what they did with the interior.

It's a relief, really. I think the house haunted me because I felt like we had abandoned it, left it standing, knowing that someone else moved in without knowing who they were. But it looks so different now that it's not our home anymore. Now that it doesn't look like the home I used to know, I don't miss it. The home that haunted me doesn't even exist anymore. I can finally move on, at just the right time, since I'm now planning to make a home with my special someone and his kids. And old ghost gone, making room for a new life.

Water and Butter

A month ago, I stepped off the plane in Paris. I withdrew euros from the ATM, boarded the Metro, and headed toward the city center. I had wanted to visit France since I was 11 years old, before I even knew what that meant to go to France. I studied the language, the culture, the music, the art. I watched movies with subtitles. I read Colette, The Little Prince, Balzac, A Tale of Two Cities. France seemed so beautiful and magical, like the fanciest fairy dust-covered place. La Belle Époque transcended time and space to exist in my heart. I believed that some day, I would become one of those delicate ladies with the big layered skirts and lithe frame that have been painted with vague strokes in a vintage French poster.

So I roamed Paris with my friends. Bicycled along the Lac d'Annecy near the Alps. Bought a baguette and fresh chèvre at the market in Lyon. I roamed the countryside, drank pastis in the city that inspired Van Gogh, and sat topless on the beach in Marseille. I knew the language but couldn't quite understand it, and it filled my ears uncomfortably until I gave up trying to speak it and just ignored it all around me. I had no appetite for fancy wine and food. It was hot and humid, every day was full of tourism, I was woefully alone, and I found myself yearning for the wily ways of us silly Americans. I flowed through the country, taking in all I saw and heard, having some magical moments in unexpected places, without ever touching the real surface. I left France 10 days later, in the same form as I had arrived, unchanged except for the fact that something I had yearned for over so much of my life no longer tugged at me. I had built up France so much in my mind that even though much of it was just as beautiful and dreamy as I had imagined, I didn't feel like the same person who had been imagining it for so long. France didn't change me. I had changed long ago but never left that dream behind. I no longer need to feel dainty and glamorous. I spend my time on the rivers or in the mountains. I run half marathons and cook barbecue pork in my slow cooker and shop at Whole Foods and mow my lawn and have water gun fights with my boyfriend and his kids. I do still like gorgeous shoes with tall wedges, and sparkly earrings, and flower clips in my hair, but I don't lament the fact that I'm not chic and sophisticated. I'm living the real life I always wanted, so I no longer dream of someone else's life in a faraway place.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed France and I hope to return some day to see more of the things I loved. But it wasn't at all the trip that I was hoping for, and I didn't float back home on a cloud. Instead, I came home understanding my country better, loving the things that make my life what it is, and finally feeling like I actually fit in here in this land.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wearing it

Some women have necklaces that they wear all the time. Thin chains wrap a close circle around their necks, carrying dainty pendants that can easily be tucked away. Sometimes they come in that well-known blue box, or else they're passed down through generations. Fancy jewelry that comes from a national chain isn't really my style, and although I have a couple of beloved necklaces that my grandmother used to wear, they're just not me either. Not as an everyday accessory.

But today I received a necklace in the mail from The Run Home that might be the one I put on each morning. It's a thin gunmetal chain with three small pendants: a solid pewter heart, a pewter running shoe, and a nickel silver pendant hand stamped with 13.1. As in 13.1 miles, a half-marathon, which I ran this weekend. My mom gave me this gift to celebrate the event. I didn't think of it as such a big deal because I had been training for it, I really believed I could do it, and when I crossed that finish line sooner than I had planned, I felt like I had a couple more miles in me. It was a goal I worked for, but not too hard, and I didn't suffer for it (I had forgotten my asthma inhaler at home, and I didn't need it at all during the race). But not everyone can run as far, and not everyone has a necklace with a running shoe and a race distance. And 4 days after that race, I'm itching for more - my special someone and I are already scheming to run the Hood to Coast relay in 2014. So I guess this makes me a runner. My young, lazy, asthmatic self would be so surprised to know that running has become a hobby, and my aging knees may be dismayed at this news, but they'll all have to get used to the fact that running will be a consistent part of my life. Right after the race, I thought that a full marathon was beyond my reach, but the idea is starting to settle into the crevices of my brain. There's just something about moving across the land by foot that makes sense, like a meditation in action. Allons-y.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


I'm haunted by the house I grew up in. Two dreams in two hours - not the first, certainly not the last.

We walked away from that house when my parents divorced and medical bills forced foreclosure and more. We left the bank to clean up most of our belongings. Slowly we all trickled out, went our separate ways, never looking back.

Now, someone else lives there, in the bedroom where I listened to the birds coo and the train horns blast and the falling rain flow through the gutter. In the hallway where the pets played by day and I sometimes slept at night, too lonely to stay in my bed. Someone else eats in that kitchen, sits on that porch, tends that garden. Maybe they have remodeled, made it the house we never could.

My memories are stuck floating around that house, left to dream about what was or what could have been. Sometimes we're back there as a family; others, it's been abandoned by us, furniture and games and dishes still strewn about, a place we haven't fully left yet but don't care for in the meantime.

Why can't I just move away already, and release the ghost that still follows me 10 years after I took my things and left?

Thursday, April 04, 2013


Porching season is nearly here again. I'm not quite prepared - I was just getting used to winter. But now I can leave the porch door open so the fresh air can flow in and Dear Kitty can come and go as she pleases. This means it's gardening time again. The bulbs I planted in the fall are sprouting and the perennials I planted last summer have returned. Rather than attempt a vegetable garden in the ground again, I decided on attractive vegetable pots on the porch that play dual roles as food and decor. Cucumbers, tomatoes, sugar snap peas in tall pots. Rainbow chard, red Russian kale, mesclun mix, and spinach in wide bowls. Carrots, red oak lettuce, parsley, and basil in their own pots. Broccoli and arugula in long flower boxes. All from seed. This is the year I finally have a substantial harvest. I can feel it. I think it's important to start plants from seeds, because its important to know what the seeds look like, especially if they're not visible in the plant. Who knew that spinach and chard seeds were so big? Or that carrot and parsley seeds look similar? Cool stuff.

While I await my porch garden bounty, I'm training for a half marathon. Last weekend, I was really dragging and doubtful that I would make enough progress in the next month to get through the race. Then I had a massage and a big plate of pasta and turned out a 9-mile run yesterday. It was fabulous. The thing with running longer distances is that at some point, momentum takes over and it's easier to keep running. Until the blisters remind you that you're mortal, anyway.
So, spring is returning, with less frantic energy than last year, now that I'm comfortable and settled in. This summer will be hectic enough with the France trip, the wedding, the baby, and surely plenty of camping trips. And as much porching as I can possibly handle.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Banner Year

Hey guys, I'm going to be an aunt!! My handsome, all-growed-up brother and my beautiful and glowing sister-in-law are going to have a baby boy in July. This is still so surreal for many reasons, but they just announced the gender today so it's getting more real. Although all three of my cousins on my dad's side of the family have procreated prolifically, my brother's baby will be the first on my mom's side of the family. My brother is the youngest on both sides, and it's been clear for a while that any grandchildren were probably going to come from him. My brother and I have always been friendly but not that close, partly because we haven't lived in the same town since I left for college. We've gotten to know each other better as adults, and especially lately, it seems that we've had a better connection during our occasional phone conversations. But I'll admit that I still think of him as my little brother. He's still the grubby-fingered, chubby-cheeked, smelly and embarrassing little brother in my mind. But he's been married for more than 4 years to a woman I've enjoyed getting to know, he's been a pastry chef for some cool restaurants, he has owned a home for more than a year, which they've been fixing up for a while, and now he and his wife are going to be parents. And they're going to be great parents - creative and fun, responsible, so loving, and they'll do everything they can to give this child whatever he needs. So it's time for me to paint a different picture of my brother, one as an adult and a professional and a family man. And just so you know, I'm going to be the best aunt ever, even though I have to do it from many miles away. That kid is going to appreciate how cool science is, dammit!

It's not just the baby that has brought joy lately. My mom and her companion, a man she has shared her life with for 8 years, are getting married this year in a big hippie celebration. I'm so happy that she has found happiness and that she has a great guy to hold her hand through the good and the bad. I hope she doesn't feel that the baby has stolen her thunder, because all wonderful things in life deserve great celebration, and she deserves this joyous celebration of love in her own life.

As for me, just toodling along. I bought my plane ticket to France, fingers crossed that my job would not fall victim to the government's purse-tightening. So far, I'm safe, but I'm going to go to France no matter what, because the fates have decided that this is my year, and I'm not letting political nonsense get in the way of my dream. Unfortunately it's a shorter trip than I would prefer (really anything shorter than 2 months is too short) so I'm trying to prioritize. On the list: a few days in Paris, the ancient cave paintings in Dordogne, a few chateaux, some cheering as the Tour de France cyclists whiz past, a trip to the coast, some serious culture (art, food, wine, music), and if I can manage it, at least a train ride through the Alps. Too much for only 10 or 11 days, but I'm determined to make it work. Alas, my special someone cannot join me on this trip, but we're good at taking mini-vacations together, so a visit together to the City of Love will have to wait for now.

So yes, this is shaping up to be a banner year so far, and it's only March. I've been tiptoeing around any real celebration of all this good fortune because for so many years, my family has had small spurts of good fortune, followed by long spans of exhausting challenges and can't-we-just-get-a-break fist-shaking at the Powers-That-Be. The joke was not to say too loudly that we had some extra money because then something would surely break. We've never done things conventionally and it's taken us a while to get our bearings. But the past couple of years have been better. Calmer. Not free of challenges,  because that's just a part of being alive, but free of the ridiculous challenges that threaten our sanity yet again. More importantly, truly good things have happened, and actually stuck, finally. Life has settled down for us, and it's about time. Thirteen may be an unlucky number, but for an unlucky family, 2013 has been pretty great. I'm so truly thankful for the peace of mind we all have, and I hope every year is filled with such happiness, even without milestone events to celebrate.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Dreaming of gardens

The birds are chirping loudly. Even though robins live here year-round, their numbers suddenly seem to have tripled. Beneath the melting snow, tender blades of green grass are tentatively poking out. But the real sign that spring is starting to make its way here: the garden stores now post on their signs that SEEDS AND SUPPLIES NOW IN! It's too early to plant those indoor starter pots, the ones that will be transplanted outside after the last frost, but those stores know what we crave after the holiday season ends. It's cold and snowy, and although the days are growing longer, the land is an ugly brown. Now is when we indulge in the dreams of flowers and vegetable gardens to keep us going until the time comes to sow seeds and mow lawns.

Whoever decided that Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the start of a new year should fall during the darkest 6 weeks of the year was brilliant. Hanging lights and sparkly colorful ornaments on trees and roofs, holding parties to give us excuses to socialize with others and take our minds off the short days and cold weather, providing a sense of meaning and an opportunity for introspection at a time we would prefer to sleep through - it helps us muddle through. But then we wake up on New Year's Day, hung over from heavy food and too many drinks and exhausted from shuttling among parties, friends, and relatives all month, and we're ready for something refreshing. It starts that morning with the Rose Parade, those whimsical floats covered with organic materials and the freshest flowers you've ever seen.   Then, the awards shows, actors and actresses dressed up like irises and roses and birds of paradise. Next, the home and garden shows, which tease us with the newest gardening implements, the most fabulous ideas for turning discarded items into planters, and OH! the hanging baskets and walkways overflowing with blooms!

When I lived in Chicago, this was the time of year that I always visited the Garfield Park and Lincoln Park conservatories, their humid greenhouses filled to the brim with the most wonderful exotic plants and flowers that bloom year-round. Same with the U.S. Botanic Garden in DC, and I volunteered at the Amazonia exhibit at the National Zoo, which was a two-story greenhouse with giant fish, exotic birds, and monkeys roaming freely among the kapoks and other jungle plants. All of those places are free and open to the public every day of the year. Boise has no such place. The Idaho Botanical Garden is lovely, but it is not free, there is no public greenhouse, and it's closed on the weekends November through March. I have played with the idea of starting a crowdsourcing campaign to raise money for the Boise Department of Parks and Recreation to build a conservatory in the Boise area that would be open everyday with free admission. But how much does something like that cost? And at a time when there are so many more problems in this world, problems bigger than just the winter blues, is that something people would really support?

In the meantime, I'm starting to plan my own garden. This year, I think I will plant vegetables on the east side of the house where the grass doesn't grow. It's a pain to mow around the tree stump there, and it gets lots of morning sun but isn't blasted all day, so I think it will survive better than on the too-sunny south side where I planted last year. I think I'll do kale, broccoli, tomatoes, beets, and carrots. Maybe radishes and red cabbage too. And I want to scatter flowers all over the yard. I'd love a couple more rose bushes or peonies, and I'm thinking of potted flowers too. This year, I want to turn an old bathtub into a planter. Not sure where I'll put it, but I have some options. Why, oh why, is it only February?!

Sunday, January 06, 2013

I hardly knew ye

When I wrote this post a year ago today, my head was filled with ideas about a life I had just left behind and another life that I was just beginning. I didn't even know what was actually possible, just that this new place with 4WD and mountains and sagebrush and cold, clear rivers was so much different from the tall buildings and knowing neighbors and the vibrations of a busy East Coast city. I thought that I would live Wild West-style here while trying to find fragments of the things I loved in other places. Because that's what you do when you move from one place to another: keep ahold of what you know to bring you comfort in a new and foreign land. I'd be a city girl in a medium-sized western town, enjoying the novelties like rodeos and shotguns and pickup trucks and getting stuck in godforsaken places with the wind and dust whipping through unkempt hair, like in an Annie Proulx novel.

Instead, I camped and hiked in God's country, vast valleys filled with wildflowers and alpine lakes. I rocked out to a local music festival. I watched fireworks from a blanket in the park after rafting on the small river that splits the town in half, biked along that river to the county fair twice (and home in the dark twice), and hiked along that river in numerous spots. I slept in my tent so much it started to feel like a second home. I gathered with friends to grill in the backyard on hot summer nights; I read in a chair on my porch for entire days at a time, gardened and pruned and mowed and explored my little plot of land, cooked up a storm for Labor Day and Thanksgiving get-togethers, and snuggled in front of the crackling fire in the wood stove on a cold winter night. I dreamed about the renovations I would make if only I owned this random red house on the hill.

I thought that when I moved here, I would spend some time trying on the things that supposedly make one a westerner, in order to fit in such a foreign place about which I knew very little. But as a native Midwesterner, befriended by other Midwestern transplants in this Midwestern-seeming town, I'm actually living the life I was always supposed to live. This is a mostly tame place, with little danger unless you seek it out, and there is just enough excitement to satisfy the city girl in me, while the nature-girl part gets to play as often as I want. Today, a chickadee visited my bird feeder and five mule deer meandered along the sidewalk near the nature center. This is my version of the wild west, wild as in wildlife, as in nature right at my doorstep.

The person I have become is the person I always was. When I reflected last year on the tumult of the previous years, I didn't recognize then that I had been bracing myself for so long against the gales that whipped through my branches because my roots were seeking purchase in the wrong soils. I thought that I could grow anywhere if given the right sunlight, enough water, and sufficient nutrients. But I was operating as though I were a different species; now that I have been transplanted, I can thrive among the Great Basin sages and grasses and the Rocky Mountain conifers.

Last January, I had high hopes for the coming year because I didn't know what to expect in such a different land. This year, for the first time, I have different goals: fix up the great used bike I bought, build a kitchen table from a used door, expand my garden, buy a kayak, take that trip to France I've been dreaming of since I was a kid. These are the dreams of someone who is already where they want to be, and now they can dig their roots down deeper. There is no more looking ahead to the next move, at least not for a while. Now is the time for nesting, for building on what I started last year, for owning my life.