Saturday, December 31, 2005

Smiling like a hero while the earth spins ever onward

Running free Morning II Happy girl

The last day of 2005. I’m writing from the cabin, up the Colorado River from the Gulf of Mexico. I like to spend my New Year’s Eve here where it’s quiet and I can be near the river and trees, surrounding myself with a nature that has not the least awareness of the changing calendar page. Her own revelry is much quieter, and much more magnificent. Peaceful.

I’ve been looking forward to getting 2005 in the past. But lately I've been so busy putting padding on the sharp corners that I forgot the inevitable. But it'll hit you, won't it? I realized this morning that as much as I want to be out of 2005, the part of me I haven't given a voice to lately is stricken with dread to leave the last year my father lived. The best of 2005 was his life; the worst, his death. Those are the superlatives of my year. For all the experiences in 2005, in my heart the year will always be reduced to those raw facts. And tonight I cannot escape that awareness.

At the moment, I am trying to hold on to this year. Silly, I know. And so unexpected. I've gotten caught in the trap of my well-intentioned orchestration. I've dialed friends and I've dialed family. All are as surprised as I am to hear my tears.

I thought you wanted to be alone.

I did, but I'm sitting here and waiting for him to walk through the door.

I can't help it. I've sat in this chair a thousand times and watched him walk through that door. A thousand times I didn't pay attention to the normal. I'd give the world for one more time.

What can I do?

Nothing. I just really miss him.

They struggle. We hang up. I wait for him to break onto the scene with a bag of oysters in his hand, walk to the counter and prepare his special sauce. I wait for him to smile at me and ask if I'd fix him a martini. I wait to hear, Love you, Cat.

In life, we experience brokenness, woundedness and weakness. I’ve had plenty this year. But I also take heart that life offers healing, and I’ve had that this year as well. As broken as I feel tonight, I know that I’ll feel better tomorrow. I know that tears are cleansing and I need to let them out. I'm becoming stronger, more open to the healing that life continually offers me.

As this year comes to an end, and 2006 begins, I ask of myself to be gentle with myself and others, as gentle as I would the most fragile of children. To know what causes pain and to seek healing – in myself and others. I ask myself to let go my expectations others cannot possibly meet, and to deliver those I know they have of me. I ask myself to continue to address the this grief but also to step into the fragrance, music and light of life that is always there. I ask myself to remember that everything is in the round – the moon, the stars, and the curve of the earth. So too our lives. The moon comes and goes but I ask to hold on to my heart. Sadness is there but so too is happiness. I am glad for all that I've had and still have. I ask myself to remember that we’re all in progress, it’s all part of the round.

This is not something for a new year, but for the gift of each new day. I ask myself to remember this. And I ask it of you as well.

Beauty Morning Serenity

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The wonder of it all

My flight is on time. I board the plane, USA Today, and Maya Angelou's words in hand. I settle in and look forward to two and a half hours of comfortable nothingness. Another traveler, another flight. Just going home, nothing more.

The plane turns on the runway and from my window I catch a glimpse of the long line of lights leading our path home and imagine we're on a giant palm about to be blown into the sky with the fairy dust of a wish.

The light out my window changes slightly and I turn my head to see. We're above one level of clouds, beneath another. The sunset breaks through a hole in the lower shelf and the sky appears to be on fire. I gaze at the deep red and orange stretching out before me and coloring the clouds above. I wonder if I have ever seen these colors before and think I have not. I smile to myslef and imagine jumping from the plane and landing on the warm cotton tufts..

Then the sky is empty, no clouds to be seen. Dark as dark ever was and ever could be. Beneath me though, the lights. The lives. Clusters of life below. I see a city like a heart bright with life, veins of pulsing and illuminated highways leading to and from. Neighborhoods on a grid, strip malls, hospitals, churches and office parks. Homes and dreams we pass over. There below someone is met at the door with the eager face of a child just waiting to wrap her sticky hands around her father. And there, someone waits for someone else to return. Someone is working towards a dream; someone else is trying to escape a nightmare. Over there someone is cooking dinner, and across the tracks someone else is wondering where in the world dinner will come from tonight. Down the road, someone is planning to leave. Across town someone is figuring out how to arrive. Someone is reaching for a drink and someone else is swearing this will be the last one. Someone is giving birth, and someone will be nine months from now. Someone is glowing in the promise of love and someone is just on the edge of it, while someone else is thinking they'd do anything to get the feeling back. Someone is paying the bills, and someone is taking out the trash. Someone is feeding the dogs. Someone is dreaming, someone is hoping, someone is worrying, and someone is praying.

You could knock on any door and find a story waiting for you there, and we slice through the skies above it all.

I return to Ms. Angelou and read, Don't the moon look lonely shining through the trees?

Your cold cold heart

Dear Chicago,

Remember me? I wrote you in January. We had only just met but I told you then that I was intrigued. The only thing that stood between our getting to know each other better was how cold you were. I admit, I have returned in the winter but you could have at least offered me some warmth. Decrease your winds a bit, or maybe - and this isn't asking a lot - have the heat working in my hotel room. I did appreciate the gesture of lights when I arrived. The twinkling and glittering white lights in seemingly every tree, and so many homes lit up and quaint like a village of Gingerbread houses along Lake Cook Drive, but given that Christmas has already happened, that's a bit of a leftover effort, now isn't it? And that cab you got for me? I must say that I failed to see the humor in that gesture because it's getting real old for me, these cab drivers who ask me for directions to my destination. I look out my window this morning and am tempted to be seduced by the idyllic scene of snow on the ground and flurries in the air, but still all you can offer me is a paltry 29 degrees? It's just like you, charmingly pretty but with an impenetrable and cold air about you.

Lady, you haven't changed one bit.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

3 8 6 3 5 7

Beside me, my niece stands holding the evening program before her. But she is not singing.

I lean into her a bit, whisper, Sing, Peanut, it's good for your heart.

She lets out a little laugh, whispers back, I can't sing.

Asking her to sing is asking a lot. She's doesn't make too many outward moves that could get her noticed.

It doesn't matter, I can't sing either.

I wave my hand through the air and whisper, Nobody here can sing. But that's not what it's about. In church, you just let it out. Just sing out. You'll see, it makes your heart feel good.

I turn back to my program, find my place and rejoin the singing.

I hear her singing too, barely, timidly, but it's there. Glancing over, I can see her smiling. She feels it.

My heart is happy.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In the morning, I walk Cheyenne. There's not a car or a person to be seen. It's Christmas morning and she runs ahead of me up the middle of the street, scattering the fallen leaves.

My heart is happy.

Morning IMG_1195_edited IMG_1192_edited Seasonal

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

We have waffles and bacon at my brother's house. We want Mom to get some rest and sleep late, so she is at home still. Carl asks Kathy to bring a certain gift out for me.

I open the box and lift the cotton inside. Beneath is a sterling ID bracelet with Ensign and my father's name engraved on it. A number series, 3 8 6 3 5 7, etched on the inside.

I have never seen this before.

I look at my brother, What is this?

He tells me that the bracelet was our father's Navy ID bracelet.

Dad gave it to me when I turned 18. I want you to have it now.

I'm beyond touched. I'm floored. I'm proud. I'm loved. I feel connected.

I put it on my wrist and it feels good.

My heart is happy.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I leave to pick up Mom and while we are gone, friends gather at my brother's house. This is a slight change in the day's plan, one that might have been too much for Mom but she walks in the house and smiles at the familiar faces. She sits down and begins chatting. We are relieved.

I sit outside with Doc. He is one of five sons my father's best friend brought into this world. Each unique but all remind me of his father, Bill. Doc smokes non-stop and that reminds me of his mother, Cleo. We've known each other all our lives but these days seem to only see each other at funerals and Christmas.

He tells me a story of a hunting trip he was on with our fathers long ago in El Paso. His face and voice are familiar and warm.

He pauses in the story, tosses the ball to Cheyenne, says, You know, they were the original Odd Couple, our fathers. Dad liked hunting but he hated being in the mud, so he was in a little John boat. And your father, he didn't care at all. He had a bunch of rope looped over his shoulder and in his giant steps he was pulling my father in that damn boat all across the marsh.

He mentions Pintails and Greenheads, shakes his head and tosses the ball to Cheyenne again. I study the familiarity of him and think how easily I can see our fathers doing this.

My heart is happy.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Cheyenne has had a big day. From the early morning walk to the squeaking bouncing discoveries in her stocking to eating all sorts of food handed to her throughout the day and, later, chasing the tennis ball in my brother's back yard.

I glance under the table to find her sound asleep. Exhausted.

My heart is happy.

Happy girl! Tired girl

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Later in the evening, we open gifts and have dinner. Some tears are shed, but Mom holds on through this first Christmas without Dad. We all do.

After coffee, I drive Mom home, get her gifts inside and unpacked, and put her in bed. She's unsure what day it is and she's unsure where Dad is, but she's falling asleep as she wonders. With her safe and sound and the house locked up, Cheyenne and I head home.

Instead of the freeway, I drive through the neighborhoods, looking at the Christmas lights and yard decorations, listening to Christmas music on the radio. I feel good. Somehow, someway, the magic got inside. This was a special Christmas, tender and sweet. All week, I've felt my father in my heart, in who I am. I've felt his presence, his generosity, his patience and his love. I've felt him all around me. In the sky, the trees, the church, the familiar faces. I've heard him in the music and the memories.

I feel him. I feel him with me, reaching back and taking my hand, leading me across the lonely places, keeping me safe. We drive through the night and I realize that at this moment, for this moment, I am at peace.

At home, I remove the jingle bell collar from Cheyenne's neck and put it away with the Christmas things in the closet downstairs. I take off my necklace, rings and earings. I look at my father's ID bracelet on my wrist and decide to keep that on.

My heart is happy.

Christmas Angel Christmas heart

Like mother, like dog

Cheyenne's boyfriend Isaac knows just what to get a girl for Christmas - a nice squeaky bottle of Dog Perignon champagne. She's not too happy that I'm making her save it for special occasions.

Dog Perignon

Sunday, December 25, 2005

A house is no place for a snowman

A whole stocking filled with stuffed toys and squeaking toys, squeaking balls and bouncing balls. In the end, again, it's the snowman who gets it.

Christmas stocking I Christmas stocking II
Christmas stocking III Snowman

Saturday, December 24, 2005

What song will we sing tonight?

Can you feel it? It's in the air, it's on the wind. It's in my heart. Tonight, the Reverend told us to visit Christmas. And he said that we should have Christmas visit us. That's key, isn't it? Let it in. It was the most magical service I've experienced. Indeed, it was holy. When the service ended, the lights were dimmed low and we sang Silent Night in candlelight. A tear fell onto my cheek because the beauty and the feeling were too much to contain.

I thought about the Christmas songs of my life. When I hear them today, I hear them as if I were five or 12 or whatever age I was when a particular one was my favorite.

Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, and Jingle Bells

I was a child - they were the first songs to which I could memorize the words.

Rock'n around the Christmas Tree, and Silent Night

The Little Drummer Boy, stayed my favorite for years. Bob Seger's version. And also the unique collaborative version between Bing Crosby and David Bowie.

Blue Christmas and Feliz Navidad were favorites though college.

Hymn for the Gloria, and Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Today, it's Little Drummer Boy, and O Holy Night. I reach for the volume and sing right out loud.

Still, the world is not the sweet and perfect thing in my perfect Christmas song memories, is it? Which is why this is the song I sing tonight. I say a prayer for those who are fighting for our freedom in a country that isn't, and for some reason we cannot understand, they're doing so on behalf of a country that is. That said, for all of us...

Someday at Christmas men won't be boys
Playing with bombs like kids play with toys
One warm December our hearts will see
A world where men are free

Someday at Christmas there'll be no wars
When we have learned what Christmas is for
When we have found what life's really worth
There'll be peace on earth

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime

Someday at Christmas we'll see a Man
No hungry children, no empty hand
One happy morning people will share
Our world where people care

Someday at Christmas there'll be no tears
All men are equal and no men have fears

One shining moment my heart ran away
From our world today
Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime

Someday at Christmas man will not fail
Take hope because your love will prevail
Someday a new world that we can start
With hope in every heart

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime,
Someday at Christmastime

Stevie Wonder

O Holy Night

Fall on your knees
O hear the angel voices
O night divine
O night, O night divine

Thursday, December 22, 2005

That snowman, he didn't stand a chance

The beginning of the end The end of snowman II The end of snowman III
The end of snowman I The end of the line Mass destruction

This moment brought to you by LBD Happy Lab

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A face and a night that call me home

She walks in the door and I smile. She's the familiar face that has been in every single house I've ever lived in. My grin broadens as she walks toward me. She gives me her familiar smile and we reach for each other and hold on. It's the same hug I've been getting from her since high school only with much more meaning now, weighted by the passing calendar pages. I recall my yearbook and realize we meant it when we wrote, Friends 2-gether 4-ever.

We marvel at the lights and decorations in and around the restaurant. The sparkle of thousands of white lights shine in our eyes. We chose this spot for that very reason. We're happy; this is our night. We take our time. We talk of my father, of her mother. She tells me she understands and I know she does. We bring my Dad and her Mom to the present with our memories. I sit back and drink in her memories. She knew him when we were scolded for being late at my front door. She knew him when she hid in the closet because although I was home before curfew and she wasn't supposed to be there, we had every intention of going back out. And we did. She knew him when he called me Fink. I knew her when her mother sewed the most amazing clothes. I knew her when her Mom would ask to take our photos before we went out on a Friday night. We would squirm and complain. Yet, it's those photos we poured over tonight laughing and remembering.

I remember the kisses we stole, the lights we ran, the beers we drank, and the clothes we wore. I remember the fake ID's. The football games and the spirit. The boys we loved. Our happy hearts and our broken hearts. I remember the clubs we flirted our way into, and I remember the dance. I remember one foot in high school and one foot in college, not wanting to leave the former but excited about the future.

I remember the rent car I had in which she threw up her entire spaghetti dinner all over the back seat but I'm only mentioning that to make her gasp when she reads this.

After dinner, we go to my house and stroll through the photo album I started my senior year and finished three years later. It's falling apart and we handle each page gently and gracefully, turning them with the same care as if we were lifting a veil. We point and laugh at the photos, remembering every image captured. We call our friend. She's in California, thank God, so for her it's early enough. Ginny screams when she answers the phone. We scream back. (To think I never joined a sorority for this very reason and yet here I am screaming as if I'm wearing a skirt and knee socks and catching a first glimpse of Paul McCartney.)

It's good to see her on my couch squealing on the phone with our friend. Has the calendar turned its page? Has time moved forward at all? For a moment, it doesn't feel like it. It feels like holding my baby shoes. It feels like posing for a graduation photo. It feels like the impossible teenage crushes we had on boys we were too shy to speak to. Or like holding my breath while the bouncer studies my ID. It feels like the handwritten and xeroxed party invitations when someone's parents were out of town. It feels like the Open House my parents used to throw on Christmas Day, when we'd sneak a cup of the Fish House Punch and, as much as we wanted to like it and prove we were adult enough to enjoy the taste of alcohol, we'd still gag because we just were not there yet. It feels like exchanging five dollar gifts or hand-written notes. It feels like I could flop on my bed and call her if I had a bad moment, twisting the coiled phone chord in my hand and talking endlessly when I was supposed to be studying.

It feels just like home. Not returning there tonight, but being there tonight. And that? Well, that feels good.

The prettiest, the cutest, the meanest

From the weekend retreat on that little spread in the country, a few more pics I want to share:

Cool scene II Cool scene I Cool Scene III
Cuteness Adorableness Splendor in the grass II

And, saving the best for last, the photo that I'm pretty sure you can look at and completely imagine the speed with which I moved my ass off that fence when he headed my way with turned horn and a snort. His name is Star but I think he should be called Fatty Lumpkin Mean Ass Pudge, though I'd never say that to his face.

Tough guy III

Merry Winter Solstice, baby

There is something about this December morning, in which the sky is clear, the air crisp, the moon holding on. Everything around me lies quietly under such a sky, peaceful and serene. I turn to the silence and feel the tranquility surrounding me smother the stress and rush of the season. The sun rises in a pink and yellow yawn above downtown. It's absolutely still but for Cheyenne's jingle bells ringing through the park.

I get a feeling that God puts the answers right where we can find them.

I'd like to wrap this moment in pretty paper, tie it up with ribbon, and send it to you.

Monday, December 19, 2005

You know Dasher and Dancer, but you ain't seen nothing 'til you've met Nevin and Star

I spent the weekend in a little piece of Texas heaven. It's a land of pastures and barbed wire fences, of windmills and brands. And grass. No matter if it's blue, brown or bright green; it's blowing in the breeze and looks like what you think heaven might reflect. I gaze over the expanse and my friends apologize for the color. No need. Beauty is beauty. Before me, Oak Trees with branches spread wide and low dot the land. All around me twittering birds, the breeze and occasional low drone from a cow. The hum of life. I take a deep breath. And another.

It's Chips of Flame, SK Shannon, Evan's Miss Duchess and so many others who have clever and purposeful names but are just an edgy ton of flesh to me, with damn cute noses but horns that seem to get longer as I get closer. It's a big bull named Nevin who acts like a puppy and wants his head rubbed, and a fat lazy pudge of a bull named Star who has a wicked side glance and tossed his head and horns in my direction, making me jump off the fence with a speed of movement I didn't know I could pull.

IMG_1145_edited IMG_1144_edited IMG_1156_edited

It's small town Texas where the shop owners greet my friends with familiar smiles and warm voices. It's a lady who regrets she has no wine-a-ritas made but offers us a cheese ball instead. It's a restaurant named The White Leghorn Inn, that features Chicken Gizzards and Livers, Frog legs and Quail, has a cooler full of Pearl beer, and displays a homemade fruitcake for sale on the counter.

It's white cotton skies by day, deep and somber blue at night. It's cold outside but there's a fire in the pit, our chairs pulled close to the warmth. There's conversation, laughter and a couple burned boot toes among friends. It's a full moon and a spread of stars making a late appearance in a wide open sky.

It's a weekend that every bit of me needed, and every bit of me enjoyed.

The grace that is me

Even though I am able to help a stranger in the Ladies Room start to breathe again - which I did last night - apparently I am not able to safely navigate through my own house. When I got home from dinner last night, I went upstairs to my bathroom and walked right into the open cabinet door. Right into it with my head. I put ice on the bump but when I woke this morning, I had a purple and blue knot the size of a goose egg on my forehead.

You might say that I need to remember to close the cabinets, and I wouldn't disagree with you. But seeing as this is not my first in-home accident, I say I need padding on all sharp corners. After, of course, I say Ouch.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Just west of home

My cell phone rings. I recognize the name of a friend I've known since I was five.

Hey, I'm going hunting this weekend and I was wondering if there was anything of your father's I could bring with me.

He's had a date with J. Daniels tonight. He's missing Dad.

I ask him, Where are you?

North Houston, where are you?

I tell him I'm with friends, at their ranch somewhere southeast of San Antonio and north of Victoria.

He continues, You know, your Dad taught my father and me how to hunt. Today's the first day of the season.

[Forgive me, I forget the particular season, there's so many.]

I wish I could bring something of his with me. A cap or hat or something?

I tell him (and mean it): I wish I could give you something of Dad's. Mom's at home but she's sleeping by now. Cat's at mine watching the dogs and, well, the things I have, aren't things you'd take hunting.

[Audible sigh]

I have the memories and should be taking them, shouldn't I?

Yes, yes you should.

I miss your Dad, Alison. I really miss him.

Me too, Phil. Me too.

Today's happy insanity is brought to you by the letters B for Brown and J for Jingle


Thursday, December 15, 2005

As the saying goes?

Long and very boring conference call this afternoon. I'm in the kind of mood where I want everyone to just get to the point already and that simply is not happening. I mean, I woke up late this morning after hitting snooze too many times. I was in a funk, threw on the sweater I wore out last night and it smelled of cigarette smoke but I did not have the time to worry about it, so I drowned myself in way too much perfume to cover that up but instead smell like a nauseating combination of clean citrus and stale smoke. I'm tired, emotional, and stink like a bar. Not my favorite things to be. Still, no reason to cancel lunch with Mom. I pick her up at her house, help her into the car and we drive to her favorite restaurant. When we pull up to the restaurant she excitedly asks, What movie are we going to see?

You know how it goes, some days just start you out in a mood and do their best to keep you there.

So, as I said and I think you can now understand, I'm in the kind of mood where I want everyone to just get to the point already. No such luck. The conference call dragged on for a painful hour, and just before the dreadful thing ended, someone piped up with this: As the saying goes, we need to make sure we have the camel in the tent. What camel? What tent? What saying???

Somebody, anybody, please tell me what the heck that saying means. Please?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


I'm tired. I'm sure that's no surprise but I really am tired. I'm tired of trying to figure out how to go through this on my own. And I'm tired of realizing that I cannot. I'm tired of reaching out. I'm tired of hesitating to reach out. I'm tired of being vulnerable. And I'm tired of being vulnerable in front of the wrong people. I'm real tired of being susceptible to friends by history but not present who really couldn't bother to blink my way much less ask, How are you? I'm tired of paying the price of friends extending themselves to me and, knowing better, taking that comfort but ultimately watching them moments later have to answer for the attention paid. I'm so tired of it.

I don't want to be a wounded bird because this is my first Christmas without my father. I don't present that I'm that way.

I'm tired of knowing the noose of grief. I'm tired of feeling as if I'm a burden because I've lost my father and that has changed me. I can't help but know it every minute, and I can't help but feel that I am the wrong color in the painting.

I'm tired of understanding and extending and making excuses for people. I'm tired of seeing the lack of return. I'm tired of trying to be convenient, of trying to fit in. I'm real tired of bending.

I'm tired of needing and I'm tired of asking. I'm tired of not asking.

No, no. I'm fine. Really, I am.

Bells on Labradors ring, making spirits bright

Jingle Bell Pup I

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

What stands between me and ring-ting-tingling is that PetCo chick who likely is not on the fast track to her MBA

Her: Good morning, PetCo River Oaks.

Me: Hi. Do you have dog collars with jingle bells on them?

Her: Um, you mean, like, dog collars with jingle bells on them?

Me: Just like.

I put myself through the pain of that phone call this morning because I cannot locate Cheyenne's jingle bell collar. I've torn the downstairs closet apart looking for it. It's not in the garage, nor in the kitchen drawer where all small items not locked down eventually end up. My friend thinks it might be at her house, feeling sure that if I brought Cheyenne over wearing it last year that she would have removed it immediately.

I normally pull out the collar the day after Thanksgiving but since her surgery in October, we've not been able to go on our walks. I've missed it though. I like the sound of Cheyenne jingling about. And she, well she goes nuts when she hears the bells, dancing about in a feverish circle, doing the breed-defining butt-tuck around the living room. It's difficult to get her to be still long enough to put it on.

This morning her surgeon called with the all-clear for the next step in her post-surgery rehabilitation: We can start our morning walks again! Beginning with four blocks and doubling each week.

Tomorrow morning, 6:45 sharp, listen for those sleigh bells jingling, ring ting tingling too.

Monday, December 12, 2005

It'll nearly be like a picture print from Currier and Ives

I open a notebook to last year's Christmas list. Written in blue ink in my hand is a gift list in order of hierarchy: Dad, Mom, my brother, my sister, niece, nephew, friends, colleagues. Check marks by each one. It's the only way I know how to shop, list in hand. Seeing last year's list, I can tell you that if you're a list-maker, it's hard to face the particular detail on paper of reducing your family recipients by one.

I've bought all the gifts now, and am blissfully finished with my shopping two weeks before Christmas. But my wrecked heart can't help but unravel the thought at the seam with the feeling that something is missing. It's asks, What are you going to get Dad? My heart can't help it. This is new.

What about that red canoe at Orvis?

I've had my eye on it for years.

I drive past the store and glance over at the building. I wish I had reason to go inside. I think about going in for, well, not for the fun of it, but to look at the canoe a while. To be near it and think about when he changed his favorite color from blue to red, and we scrambled for red gifts. But a red canoe, that was a find.

The gift that was never given.

These wonderful things are the things we remember all through our lives.


Saturday, December 10, 2005

To clarify

Let me be clear. Not for the comments, but for the emails and phone calls.

The post was not about my sister. It wasn't about my sister-in-law. It wasn't about my friend in Vermont. And it wasn't about my friend in New Jersey.

It was about my friend right around the corner.

We worked hard for it. I felt it, and I felt like celebrating it.

That is all.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


She's different from me. She's patterned and timely. She's obligated. She obeys the rules, but only the rules that she justifies as worthy. I'm scattered, a mess, always pushing the clock, screw the rules, I'm cutting out early. We know each other's music but not each other's libraries. She's her own politics. I'm blindly devoted to the previous generation. She's obligation at the last minute. She's loyal, but not loudly so. I'm devoted and make no bones about it. She's on fire. When the mood suits her. Which is most of the time.

Everyone recognizes it, but no one bothers to really understand it. She knows; I know. What else matters in the equation? We didn't seek this but we'll take it. At times we feel rewarded by it. We are the remnants left from the tornadic paths of others. We said hello with a cautious eye. We bothered to pay attention. We were threatened. We hated. We loved. We dared. We reached. We trusted. We betrayed. We reached again. We forged through it. We got through it. We discovered. We danced. We have the scars to prove the path. We found a home in each other. Forget the road that led us there.

It's not what we asked for, and it's not how we asked for it, but it's what we got.

It is what it is.

She's who I call. Success or failure. She's the first one at my door. She can orchestrate a parade or fight the world off and present a single quiet shoulder. She's indefinable, a sexy mess of contradiction. A beauty you've never before seen the likes of. Try to get in, I dare you. It takes that long to get to know her. You have to cough up a lot of patience. And you'll have to prove yourself when she's not at all interested in doing the same. Stick around though, the journey is worth it.

She's ice and fire. She's anger and compassion. She's a preacher but she refuses to listen. She's a little girl who needs your love. She's young but she's an old soul. You better accept it because otherwise she'll leave you in the dust with your arms thrown upwards in the air wondering what just happened. She'll leave you doubting your last conversation. But she'll call you in the morning and say, I'm so sorry, I don't know what got into my head, I hate myself today.

At a time when you thought you better apologize or she'll never speak to you again.

It's strange when you realize that you have so much in common. It's strange when you realize that she can hurt you and sit detached, watching you bleed. Or you can hurt her and not find a word, and she won't bat an eye. But you know; she knows. It's stranger still when she turns her head to you, gives you the world in one quick look, and you realize you both know exactly what's going on in a night when it seems that no one else has a clue.

She's made of steel, she's made of cotton. You're of brick and flowers.

You know each other by now. You both respect the steel and bricks, and you both have compassion for the cotton and flowers.

You realize she's little and observing through the window, excited about the flurry around her. Excited but not trusting. You know she just wants to be calm, settled. You know she just wants to be home. But you also know there's two sides to this woman. She's more clever than most people you meet. She can't help herself. Sometimes she can be like hugging a cactus. But you know her and you call her your friend.

You know that at any given second she can throw your entire argument and all your emotions back in your face. But you also know that you're both a bit worn in your tenure together, so you just count your blessings and go on. And a tremendous flicker ignites between your connection. It's a flame that pushes you or comforts you or dares you to jump because it says you have a net. And with that net, you can fly because you'll be safe.

It's who the two of you have become. Sisters without the blood; friends because of the bleeding.

Nothing is real, and nothing to get hungabout


I remember the apple on the label, spinning round and round in a green blur in the middle of the record that was spinning round and round on the player in my brother's room. I wasn't a day over eight. Forward a couple years later and I can remember sneaking into his room, taking the album from its sleeve, careful not to put my fingerprints on it, setting it on the turntable and oh-so-carefully placing the needle to the beginning of Strawberry Fields Forever.


We caught the train into the city. We had a list of things we wanted to see.

I want to go to Central Park and see Strawberry Fields.

It was raining that day. Soggy yellow leaves were everywhere flat and lifeless on the sidewalk. Someone had placed three red roses in the circle along the top of Imagine. We stood in the rain and stared at the word and roses as if they were an answer to a question.


I'm at the boat with my father. The radio is on but the music stopped. The song is interrupted by the dj announcing that John Lennon had been shot. And had not survived. My father shakes his head, lets out a long breath and says, That's a damn shame. He doesn't understand or even care for John Lennon, but he is defeated by the times. He speaks of JFK's assassination, of the futility in it all. Even though we know who did that, he says, Who would do such a thing?, and walks out onto the deck, still shaking his head. I am stunned and sad, but unsure what right I have to feel so personally affected. Still, everyone will take this personally.

In my young life, there was such speculation the band would get back together. Always hope. One day. Maybe. That possibility ended forever with his murder. I didn't care too much if they got back together or not but I was affected by the hope being gone. And I couldn't stop wondering about all the music that died with him. The songs he would never create, that we would never hear.

Months later, but a new year, Reagan would be shot, the Pope would be shot. My father's words echoed, It's a shame. Who would do such a thing?

This is new, confusing, sad. This is what the zealots are doing.

One week ago

There's a prayer box in the dark candle-lit interior of Notre Dame. It's a box about five feet high and four feet wide, with pads of paper and pencils scattered about the top. A sign beside it reads, Please write your prayer for peace. Last Saturday I wrote down the lyrics to Imagine and jotted a note that, although a song, it was also serving as my prayer.


It's hard for me to believe that it has been 25 years. I hear his voice as loud and clear as it ever was. Give Peace a Chance. For more than one generation he was, of sorts, a musical messiah. A Pied Piper of Peace. I think it's Imagine that is saddled with the unfortunate timeliness. I bow my head when I realize that Imagine is still necessary and applicable today.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Some good advice, trust me

If you're out and about on a chilly, or actually downright cold, London evening, and you find yourself wanting to get, I don't know, even colder, may I suggest the Absolut Ice Bar? It's kept at a comfy five degrees below zero but you'll be okay because they drop a 40-pound silver and fur parka/cape thing over your head before you can open the door and have your mind think, How cool, the entire place is made of ice, while your body thinks, Holy crap, the entire place is made of ice.

Inside, everone looks the same in their capes and fur hoods. Maybe you'll think that you all look like you just stepped in from the Iditarod. Or maybe you'll think it's a bit odd that you suddenly have no individual identity because you look like every other person who was of the same questionable intelligence as you to pay fifteen Pounds Sterling to essentially freeze their asses off in exchange for the sucker consolation prize of one free drink and the thrill of being able to say, I've been there.

The bartenders will serve you right up with a colorful and powerful vodka concoction in a glass made of ice and your warm lips will melt their imprint into the glass, which is very sexy in a way but it's too cold for those thoughts. Still, the drink is strong and suddenly you're not feeling so cold anymore. Well, except for your feet which you will find are freezing to the point beyond pain that is known as numb. But don't dare sit down because the seats, like the bar and the walls and the tables and the sculptures, are also made of ice. Oh, and looky there, a giant Absolut bottle also made of ice. You can go inside and see what it's like to be, well, inside a bottle. Something everyone wonders.

When you've had your turn inside the Ice Bar and are now in complete understanding as to why there's a 45-minute rule, and at this point you're grateful for it, and you step out into the street to hear your friends say, Let's go to the Living Room, don't think for a second that that translates to someone's couch by a fireplace because boy are you in for a surprise when you discover that the Living Room is a bar with long red leather couches, prompt service, and the world's most challenging bathroom doors. But you manage. And (JOY!) everyone in your little group is so happy to be alive after their sub-zero experience, that you each end up buying a round.

Maybe you should go home now.

If you've done all this and you're invited to go Salsa dancing, refrain. Seriously, catch a Black Cab and head back to the hotel for a good night's sleep. Because if you do go salsa dancing, you're going to have to take a lesson since you can't really salsa dance, and your wobbly legs will tell you that you're asking a bit much since your Vodka and now Champagne(s) are flowing through your veins, but you, you lout, you will likely try anyway, and then initiate and participate in a couple rounds of shots. If you do all this, there is a solid chance that in the morning you'll wake up to find in your purse a membership card to the London Salsa Collective. With your name on it, baby.

If that's not what you're after, then my advice to you is to stay away from the Ice Bar.

London Ice I London Ice II In a bottle

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

As familiar and comfortable as that old sweatshirt Sass is wearing

I admit that when I'm away I suffer homesickness - something I never was afflicted with in childhood at camp or sleepovers, but as an adult I've somehow made up for it tenfold. So while I was happily traipsing about on the other side of the Atlantic, there still was a part of me that yearned for the comfort of sunrises and routines familiar.

It's more than sleeping in my own bed again or having coffee that doesn't involve room service or my remembering to say, for take away, so that I get it in a to-go cup and not a heavy mug. It's more than recognizing the money in my wallet or knowing how to dial a local number. When you're a foreigner, things are just that: foreign.

This morning, as I walked through the park, the sun stretched through the trees in pink, orange and white-yellow, and Cheyenne scampered across frost-covered grass after the squirrels, I breathed deep and thought to myself, it's good to be home. These are my streets, that's my neighbor, over there is my corner store. It's just a neighborhood like any other, but it's my neighborhood. There's the pile of laundry that needs to be washed, and a stack of mail that I need to go through. Mundane household chores that aren't a chore this time. In my heart, this is a reunion and I embrace it all. It's the comfort of home and the familiarity of where my life lives. No matter where I go or how long I am gone, whenever I return home, there's always a new shine on the old, the familiar, the routine.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

What's left to say

People gushed, You'll love Paris, there are cafes and brasseries everywhere. I'd ask them to recommend something, and the responses were consistently along the lines of, That's not necessary, you'll see. True.

Everywhere, cheese and bread. And champagne.

To dispel the rumors, at least in personal experience: Everyone I crossed paths with was friendly. Then again, that could be their amusement at the accent I was presenting from my French learned in 7th and 8th grade.

The short of it, but the longest walk I've ever taken:

La Sacre Couer
Eiffel Tower
Arc de Triomphe
Champs Elysees
Musee de Louvre
The River Seine
Notre Dame
And then some

I have discovered that I love train stations. While I've been in Penn station and Central Station, I've only been in and out, our through, not speant any time there. Not checking my bags in a locker, or asking for directions, or hearing so many accents, or having a cup of coffee and watching the platform signs flutter with new destinations and times, while watching the people below rush to their platforms, and high above the pigeons flew through shaft of light, from rafter to rafter. Waterloo, Victoria, Gare du Nord, beautiful stations all. I have more photos of Gare du Nord than the Arc de Triomphe. You go with what moves you.

I have finally been to a place where there is not a Starbucks to be found. After having my first cup of cafe au lait in a nondescript cafe situated along the Seine, I'd say that's a smart move on the part of Starbucks.

The hottest shoe trend in London and Paris is Cowboy Boots. There should be an international law against it. I've seen purple suede ones, ones with flowers and beads sewn on them, pink ones, and even lime green ones. That has wrong written all over. I didn't eat pizza with my fingers, nor that sandwich in Paris for that matter, so on behalf of all Texans everywhere, hey Europe, you have a lot on us with your architecture and wonder but I'd like to request that you get your own darn boots. Decorate those as you wish, but, please, leave ours alone.

I've prayed in two of the most incredible churches I've ever seen, and walked through stone wall corridors saturated with hundreds of years of prayers, one by one, prayer upon prayer, each bleeding through to the other, each one not unheard. I felt it. And then I walked along the very cobblestones upon which thousands on thousands of lives have traveled before my own. To say it's humbling misses the mark but it's all I can think of at the moment. Life is enormous, but sometimes it's small and linear and perfect.

Gare de Nord View from the window La Sacre Couer
La Sacre Souer Eiffel Tower I Eiffel Tower II
Paris park Notre Dame Gare du Nord

I'm tired and I've missed that dog of mine, the one who danced around me forever when I walked into the door and who is currently snoring at my feet. It was good to have the company of my friends J&C at dinner tonight, to share stories, and the Mexican food I have missed. It's good to be back on Texas soil. If I didn't have this, that trip I just got home from, well, it wouldn't be worth a thing.