Monday, January 31, 2011

With Great Bitterness

This is an actual personal ad from the Austin Chronicle, which I have had  taped to a card at the back of my Rolodex for at least 20 years.  It reads: "Bitter, disillusioned SWM seeks cynical SWF for mutual disappointment."  Kind of sums up much of my dating experiences, now that I think about it.

My husband and I went on a Date Night on Friday night.

I hesitate to call it a "date" night per se, because A) we were both recovering from having been remarkably ill for much of the week and B) we went to see a play by Henrik Ibsen, who isn't exactly a champion of the "Feel Good" movement. Not really feeling the love, old Ibsen.  (After I saw his picture on Wikipedia, I realized that this has to (almost entirely) be due to those muttonchops.  Seriously, how can you even hope to be happy if you're walking around looking like you've epoxied two squirrels to the sides of your face?)

PLUS, it was quite a snow-and-cold-drenched trek to get to the theater, which was in Brooklyn.  Brooklyn, you know, received every bit as much snow as we did here on the Island (Yes, Brooklyn is technically ON Long Island but Brooklynites do not claim that) and Brooklyn has far less room to stash that much snow overflow. Everywhere we walked we were stepping over huge snow drifts or down into deceptively deep slush puddles... (I'm not sure I can say this enough: I take back every nice thing I ever said about the snow.) (Also, I lost one of my Knitpicks Harmony double pointed needles between the first and second train into Brooklyn, which left me bitter AND idle.)

Anyway, the play we saw, John Gabriel Borkman, was a bitter story about bitter people doing bitter things to themselves and others. With great bitterness. Oh, and it was bitterly, bitterly COLD because it's apparently set in Norway, where people keep large drifts of snow inside their houses.  (Not true; I am joking.  But there was a lot of snow on this particular set, including a full-on snow storm at the end of the second act and it was incredible.  Truly, I wish I had the mind of a set designer --some of the most creative work going.)

We went to this particular production because it was starring Alan Rickman and I feel certain that, somewhere, there is a law that states, "Should Alan Rickman appear in any sort of creative endeavor within possible traveling distance, even if the creative endeavor is the Reading of the Telephone Book, thou are commanded to go."  Holy cow, there is star power and then there is THAT guy.  And, what was truly an unexpected bonus, the two female leads opposite of him were incredibly strong and fine actors. It was a remarkable experience to see that kind of acting --really breathtaking.

So, then we slogged through the snow and ice back to our house.

Where it was snowing.

And it occurred to me that maybe the Powers That Be ought to try to convince Mr. Rickman to appear in something like, say, "South Pacific." If he does one more theatrical run in an Ibsen play, we may NEVER thaw out.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


So, I got sick.

I had a little cough on Sunday morning that got worse as the day went on and then overnight became one of those "you might soon see your lungs up close and personal" kinds of coughs. Monday morning, after I got the kids off to school, I went back to bed with a fat orange cat and, wow, the weight of the covers made me seriously doubt whether I could get back up.

But I had a date to meet a friend for knitting (my knitting has been languishing for lack of good company) so I took a bath and dressed warmly and thought," Dang, I am so SORE. That was really a hard yoga class yesterday."

I took my temperature.  102 degrees.

Wow, really?  I still debated going to see my friend until I realized that A) that's crazy and B) that's really crazy.

I called my friend and cancelled and then I made myself some tea and went back to bed.

My husband had to leave work and pick up the kids from school because, y'all, I could NOT get out of bed.  Seriously, I can be tough, you know (shut up) and I was just totally incapacitated.  When he got home with them, he packed me up and took me to the Minute Clinic. He's taken the kids there so often that after he signed me in, reflexively, he handed me his phone to play with.

Anyway, the nurse practitioner diagnosed me with the flu.  Before she diagnosed me, though, she told me she was going to recommend treatment for the flu even if the test didn't show that conclusively.  "Because you look absolutely...terri-EXHAUSTED."

So, I had that going for me.

The FLU!

Y'all, I was so sick.  Sick enough that I will vow to you to get a flu shot every year for the rest of my life.  Seriously, I know it's not 100% effective in warding off the scourge but if it's even 50% effective, it's worth it. I couldn't even KNIT.  I couldn't read.  I couldn't write.  All I could do was lie under the (incredibly heavy) covers and pray that I hadn't given it to anyone else. I don't understand what it is about the flu that leaves you feeling like you've been in a car accident --my body is so sore.  I just took a bath and there was some concern (well, okay, on my part) that I wasn't going to be able to get back out of the tub.

(As an aside, because it's me and all, this is what I see every time I go into my bathroom now.
(He doesn't normally get up on the counter but he was trying to get closer to me so he could grab me by my pajama shirt and demand canned food.)

A few weeks ago, my orange tabby Edward had another one of his spells of lunacy brought on by his inability to poop (he has plumbing problems since his six week AWOL stint) and, rather than have him pee on my bed AGAIN, I fixed him a nice little nest in our master bathroom.  There's a--hello! --litter box in there and I was hoping that maybe he'd--I know it's a stretch--try to USE IT.  So I brought food and water up and then I shut him in so I could listen to him curse me in foul cat language until I let him out.

Our other orange cat, THOMAS, on the other hand, thought this idea of having a buffet and a litter box somewhere on an entirely different floor from the dogs was the best thing he'd ever heard of.  And while he's not exactly a Rhodes Scholar, there is enough room in his brain for at least one thought and that thought is: FOOD.  Especially if the getting of said food does not cause him much effort. So now, he is full-time lobbying for the master bathroom as his own personal spa and restaurant.

Which makes me laugh mostly, even if it has added kind of a creepy feeling of being watched when I'm in the bathtub.)

So, anyway, I got really, horribly sick, so sick I couldn't do anything but lie under the covers and moan.

And then I started feeling better.  (All hail the Tamiflu! --possibly the best medical invention of recent years.)

But the thing about having the 'flu is that no one wants to have anything to do with you while you have it.  Ever.  At all.  In case you might still be contagious. In fact, people don't want to see anything that might have been NEAR you. My husband bought me a box of 50 (!) face masks to wear when I'm near other people in hopes of stopping the plague before it goes any further.

Just now, I went downstairs to take my sheets to the laundry room (I am trying to de-germify my surroundings) and the whole family basically cowered in the dining room until I got back upstairs. It's not that they don't love me.  They just really don't want to be within a ten-foot radius of me. (My husband said, "Are you down here without a mask?" I was.  I'm sorry.  I forgot.  I won't do it again.  Look:


Unfortunately, I can't reassure them that I am on the mend because the way this flu thing has worked for me is that I feel better and then I am sure I am DYING and then I feel better and then, uh-oh, DYING.  So I am trying to be good and stay quarantined up here in my room.

But it's getting a little lonely up here and Thomas isn't that great of a conversationalist.

Hey, want a tour? That way, you can come see me but not get anywhere close to me.  Which is probably all for the best. (Sob.)

Here is my bed:
Now with fresh, germ-free sheets!
And here is my nightstand:
Why yes, that is a box of FIFTY face masks amidst all the drugs and water.


Array of electronic devices designed to keep me in touch with people without actually, you know, being IN TOUCH with them, if you know what I mean.

Newspaper that I haven't looked at.

My older daughter, Ana, made me a Puff-Puff Pal to keep me company.  I'm naming it, "Wilson."

I heart the Tamiflu.  If you have flu-like symptoms and you've been anywhere near me in the past four or five days, you should get thee to a Pharmacy and get yourself some Tamiflu.  I'm pretty sure it saved my life. (Just not, um, my SOCIAL life.)

Such is my husband's routine with the sickos in our house, the first night I was sick, he set up a vaporizer in my room without even waking me up.  Now I like having it because it gurgles almost as if it's talking to me.
Clearly I am feeling better if I am wearing the garden gnome pajamas!  See!?  Um...Hello?  Family?  Anyone? This thing on...?
So anyway, if y'all were wanting to chat with me on Facebook or discuss deep and meaningful things via e-mail, this would be a good time. (Well, after I have a wee nap --blogging is exhausting work, you know.)  Feel free to reach out at any hour of the day or night --we'll just be hanging out.
We cats SNEER at your silly flu germs! But we're not letting you play with us unless there's food involved.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Lessons from the Breaking of Boards

Last night, both of my daughters promoted to higher belts in Tae Kwon Do.

Jane (10) had her first belt promotion--going from white belt to yellow belt. This was Ana's (12.85) third promotion--going from orange belt to green.  Both girls did amazing jobs, conquering their fears and breaking boards and, in general, exuding the self-confidence earned when you give something your best effort.

I must digress to tell a little Jane story. (Sue me.)  Jane was terrified of the belt promotion ceremony.  She really didn't want to go. She was afraid she wouldn't be able to break the board and that she'd be embarrassed in front of everyone. She was in tears before we went --and, you know, Jane pretty much eats nails for breakfast, so this was unusual.  During the ceremony, as the time grew closer, she got more and more tense--it was almost palpable.

Jane sits waiting, as relaxed as a coiled spring.

My husband and I watched her and worried and hoped we were doing the right thing by making her go through with it.  At one point, he leaned over to me and said, "I thought about telling her that the way the instructor holds the board --kind of pulling it or pushing it --helps the kids break it."  I said, "For goodness' sake, we can't tell her THAT!"  He said, "No, I know, I just thought about it, though, to try to ease her mind a little."

Jane stood up and the instructor talked her through how the process worked: Jane was to do two practice swings and then give it her all and break the board.

She broke it on the second practice swing!  I didn't even get a picture of it because I wasn't ready!  The instructor was a bit dumbfounded because she wasn't anticipating that, either.

Later, when we were congratulating Jane on facing her fears so spectacularly and breaking the board before anyone even expected her to do so,  Jane said, "You know, the instructors hold the board to put tension on it so it's easier to break.  I didn't want any help."

Classic Jane.  Just...classic.  (I learn something from her every single day.)

After the belt promotion, no, wait, now I have to tell a story about Ana because Ana had a board-breaking moment, too.  She was to do it using a hand strike called a "neck attack."  (The first time I heard an instructor call it a "neck attack," I thought that she was saying some sort of glamorous Korean word, "nekattak."  Turns out, it was English.  Neck attack.  Ah.)  The first time Ana hit the board, the board didn't break.

She did bruise the holy heck out of her hand, though.

She tried again two more times until she had tears in her eyes from the pain.  Then she asked if she could hit it with a hammer strike (also English and means, um, strike it like a hammer) and, y'all, she broke that sucker smack in two.

Because Ana?  Does. Not. Give. Up.  Ever.

(I wouldn't mess with either one of my girls, frankly.)  (And no, I'm not one bit proud of them.)

Okay, NOW to the point of this blog post.  Because I have one, really, besides just bragging about my children.

After the belt promotions, there was an exhibition by these three teenagers who had earned their second degree black-belts. Each of these young men has been attending the school for about ten years and the level of excellence they displayed was truly breathtaking. In addition to their expertise in Tae Kwon Do, the boys sparred, and then they did some Jujitsu. It was a really impressive display, followed by each young man saying a few words of thanks and inspiration to the audience.

I spend a lot of time at the Tae Kwon Do school. I've written before about what a special place it is so I don't mind hanging out there one bit.  Both of my girls take lessons there twice a week and I take yoga there at least three times per week (and would go more often if I could.) (I joked with the owner the other day that I'm getting to be as much of a fixture as the much-maligned yoga frog.) (If people start stopping by to rub my belly for good luck, though, I'm outta there.)

Anyway, the messages across the curriculum are consistent: discipline, perseverance, respect, intensity, excellence. (And for me, a little added message about PATIENCE.)  The school starts talking to the students about these things in the Tiny Tiger classes and the messages continue throughout a student's career at the school.

Seeing those second degree black belts, something clicked inside me.  Those guys spent many thousands of hours working on those belts.  They have a passion for the art, true, but they still had to put in the time and the dedication--the (dare I say it?) perseverance and discipline to achieve their goals.

I think that maybe this was a message I needed to hear, especially right now.  I have this idea rolling around in my head (apparently knocking me off balance) for a new book but I haven't...well, DONE anything about it.  Haven't written one word.  Not one outline. Haven't so much as named the characters. I guess I've been expecting to be sprinkled with magic pixie dust and to emerge with a fully written novel in my hands or something.

Maybe it's that because writing is my passion, I expect it to be EASY.  But it's not easy.  It's never easy-- I am not one of those writers. I have a friend who writes so fluidly and naturally that the words seem to just fall onto the page and require little editing.  That would not be me.  I'm more from the "gnashing my teeth, struggling for the phrases, go back and delete it all, begin again and then, sometimes, walk into a wall clock to REALLY knock the words out of me" school of writing.  It's hard work and it takes (hello!) determination and discipline and perseverance to achieve my goals. Even this blog post took me a long time and a significant amount of angst and chocolate.

I didn't have to break any boards, though.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Equilibrium--Um, NOT

So, I've been falling down a lot lately.

I told you of my experience with the black ice. And I told you of falling down in yoga (which continues, actually. If I didn't love it so much, I'd just give up and stay home.) (Well, okay, that's a lie.) I also had a really tremendous fall off of my bicycle trainer --and y'all, that is not easy to do. I mean, you know that scene in PeeWee's Big Adventure when he's riding the motorcycle and he just falls over sideways with the bike on top of him? Like that. No bones broken but my ego was pretty bruised.

I've also had more than my share of spilling things and dropping things and near-misses with my car, (including one I'm especially proud of where I almost backed over Jane's drum teacher's compact car in my own driveway. ) (Also? One day I got out of my car and looked for my clicker thing to lock it and realized that, um, the car was still running.) (Oops.)

I've been through times that were similar to this before in my life.  When I was falling in love with my husband, for example, I fell down and spilled stuff all the time --sometimes ON HIM.  It was very funny, especially once I figured out how to get red wine out of carpet.  I just felt like I'd been in an earthquake, or was out on a boat on the ocean.  I feel like that now--the ground seems to be shifting underneath my feet and I can't quite get my balance.

I'm sure something's up, though, because I don't feel like this is a time of rest. (Who can rest with all of this falling down?) I don't feel QUIET, necessarily...I feel watchful and alert. I'm not even impatient (although I am getting a little sore from falling on the concrete all the time.)  I feel like something major is happening; I just can't see what it is yet.

Just to make sure I'm prepared, though, I've caught up on all the laundry and organized my spice rack.  I gassed up the van and I went grocery shopping.  The cleaners came yesterday and I threw the ball for the dogs for a long time today.  So, you know, I'm just sayin', Universe, any time you're ready, you can stop bouncing me off of the pavement and let me in on the next big thing.

I'm listening.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Falling Down (and Other Life Lessons)

I'm currently taking a web seminar based on BrenĂ© Brown's book The Gifts of Imperfection.

It's not going all that well, actually.  I can't seem to get out of my head, which, lets face it, has a significant raspberry-blowing, snarky, cynical, show-me-the-money side. For example, on Wednesday, the first exercise we were invited to do involved writing ourselves letters from our wisest and kindest older self.

"Imagine the oldest, wisest and most kind version of you is sitting down at a desk to write you a letter of encouragement. What would the Kind You say? What permission would be given? Hold this image in your mind, then pull out a piece of paper."

I still have not done this.

Because my BRAIN thinks this is one of those new-agey, touchy-feely, ridiculous exercises in narcissism.

My heart, though?

My heart is sort of, kind of, very gently offering up some phrases I might use --in odd moments when my brain's not looking.  Things like, "kinder to yourself" and "slow down and take some time to breathe," and  "figure out what you're really feeling, and ask if you're letting yourself feel that, or if you think there is some other way you're SUPPOSED to feel."

And then the clincher: "Maybe you need to get out of your head for a little while and explore the longing you have to connect with the world in a different way."

So, last Friday, on my way to yoga, I hit a patch of black ice in my driveway, and I fell down in quite a spectacular way.

Black ice is new to me --we didn't have it in my part of Texas.  It LOOKS just like wet pavement but it's ICE. And in the case of MY spot of black ice, it's caused by the run-off from the roof falling onto the pavement and washing away the ice melt and salt that would ordinarily be a good defense. Then it refreezes and lies there, just waiting for me to come out.
See?  It's very deceptive, the Evil Black Ice. Looks like wet pavement, is really Death Waiting To Befall (HAH! Pun!) Me.

It didn't help my ego to know that this was the same exact patch of ice that my older daughter Ana fell on the night before, and that I didn't learn from her fall.

So, then, on Sunday?  When I fell AGAIN on the same (censored) patch of ice, this time really banging the heck out of my knee so that going to yoga is now in question?

Then I REALLY felt inept and stupid and graceless and all kind of other negative things that my brain kept offering up.

But my heart?  My heart said to me, "OUCH!  Let's get you an ice-pack, sweetheart. Don't you dare feel embarrassed about falling.  Everyone falls.  But, as long as we're there is a lesson here.  Maybe if you continue to do the same things in exactly the same manner, you are destined to fall down a lot.  Maybe you...I'm just saying...have to address that patch of ice. Because if it goes unaddressed, it might stop you from doing what you really want to do.  In this case, I'm talking about going to yoga. I'll let you think about any other implications, because you're really smart."

Deep breath.  And okay, then:

Dear Barb...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Snow Day

My Canadian friend Kathy read a bunch of my Facebook posts on Wednesday and commented, "Man, and I thought CANADIANS talked a lot about the weather!"

She's totally correct.

I am SLIGHTLY obsessed with the snow and we had a huge snowfall on Wednesday.

Most of my friends in New York are DONE with the snow, thank you. They've seen it, they've lived it, they've shoveled it and now they would like for it to go.  I'm more in the, "Oh my gosh!  It's so pretty!  Look at how funny the dogs are in it! Glad I filled the bird feeders!  Look at the size of those flakes! Look at HOW MUCH snow there is!  Look at ALL OF THAT SNOW!" phase. I know it will probably pass, but for right now, there is no more enthusiastic Long Islander about the snow. (Actually, I may be the ONLY enthusiastic Long Islander about the snow.)

I think it's just that this is the first time I've ever lived with seasons --the first time I've ever had real winters.  This is really the first time that I understand the complete and utter rebirth and renewal that happens in the Spring.  In Austin, the seasons (both of them) sort of slide into each other without much change, which is nice, especially in February when it's 80 degrees outside. This is different and beautiful and feeds the soul in a whole different way. This will be my last post about the snow, I promise. (Theoretically.) (Hopefully.)


Ladies and Gentlemen, for your entertainment and possible derision, I spent Wednesday documenting our Snow Day in photographs.  I was sort of going to do a "live blogging" of the whole thing but then I got called by the Siren Call of the Nap and well, here it is several days later and I'm still kind of groggy.

I got up at 7:00, which is also called "Barb Sleeping In" by people who know me well.  I've been fighting an upper respiratory infection and not sleeping very well.  The pets actually let me have an extra hour, although I think my Edward kitty did it out of remorse because he'd thrown up on my bed in the night. (Nice.)

Anyway, I got up and immediately took some pictures of the snow coming down because...well, there was JUST SO MUCH OF IT.

Cool and kind of artsy shot showing the snowfall at 7:23 AM AND my incredibly sophisticated hoodie-over-the-nightgown attire AT THE SAME TIME.
Glad I filled those feeders!
Wow, our grill table looks like it's wearing a gnome hat!
And then I started my usual full-time job, which is Official Doorman to the Pets.

Here's Edward, who is really convinced he wants to go out...
...until he realizes that white stuff is SNOW (LOOK HOW MUCH OF IT WE GOT!) and turns away in disgust.

The puppy, Austin, is very excited about being out! In! The! Snow!! 
Scout?  Not so excited.  Not so much with going outside, actually.
Well?  Are you Coming!? Out?! Into?! The?! Snow?!
Edward thinks HE might. (We use the laundry room door when it's snowing because it has a tile floor.)

"I SAID, I was THINKING about it."
Cat on Pause.
Meanwhile, Jane (10), who has strep throat, is up and already blogging about her trip to the Urgent Care Center the night before.
Her readers want to know about it and she's very responsive to her public, you know.
It's not looking so good for going to my yoga class today so I light my meditation candle. (Yes, it's in the kitchen.  What?)
These are my yoga frogs, which is sort of an inside joke with my yoga instructor, who has this much verbally-abused frog in his studio.  My New Year's resolution is to develop a home yoga practice, so I bought some frogs for when I set up my space.
It's actually REALLY an inside joke because my yoga instructor isn't, you know, AWARE of it.
Snuck in a little cuddle with Edward.
While I am trying to coax Jane into eating something (my OTHER full-time job,) I walk past my dishwasher,  which needs unloading.
LALALALA, I can't see you sitting there...all ready to be unloaded.  Can't you see I am busy letting the dogs in and out?

Jane plays with Edward, who has a serious case of cabin fever.

Dang it. 
I bake bread instead. (Finished product shown above.  Because I forgot to take pictures during the process.)
(Also?  I unloaded the dishwasher.  No pics there either, mercifully.)
Time to build a fire.
Coop begins the snow removal process.
Dogs begin to coat themselves and my floors with as much snow as possible.

It makes me laugh that Austin will put his entire head into the snow. 

Not to mention the rest of him.  I mean, he's not wearing PANTS --don't you think that would be kind of cold?

Coop breaks out the snow thrower on the driveway.

Since I can't go to yoga (not that I'm bitter) I grab a shovel and start to help. (Well, er, I grab a shovel and start to help after Coop suggests it.)
Clearing the front walkway and stairs.

It's a good workout, if not quite the Zen feeling I was after.

It does occur to me that our driveway is way too freaking long and steep.  And there is a LOT of snow.

The dogs do not care.

Okay, I could go on and on about this (with pictures) but I'll spare y'all. Suffice to say that there was sledding:

More bread baked:
Went with the Giant Loaf approach after the two smaller loaves disappeared quickly. (The Giant Loaf requires that you use a knife to cut slices, as opposed to just pulling huge hunks off as you pass...)
a Cardinal at the feeder:
As always, you can click to embiggen.

and a big ole pot of chili.


It was a darn good day.