Friday, September 29, 2006

Legume Launch

I think that a little humor is called for around these parts and interestingly enough, the material for that landed in my lap last night. Literally.

It should have been so simple, peaceful. The night air was cool, groups of people sitting at the restaurant patio tables happily chatting away, and the table with the little boy playing with his truck as the adults conversed. Idyllic evening. We sat at our table, sipping our margaritas and having our own conversation.

Behind me, I heard a woman complain to her partner that their waiter had at least five other tables and was not paying enough attention to them, these two women. Then my favorite waiter at this particular restaurant came to their table with their check and this woman let him have it. About the service, about their drinks, about how she didn't appreciate having to wait, and who knows, probably about global warming as well.

Favorite waiter Ray then turned to our table to check on us. I looked at him, patted him on his chest, and told him it was okay, that we loved him anyway.

That should have been that.

But it wasn't.

Irate Woman number 2 (the partner of the complainer) stood up and yelled to me to stop talking about her behind her back. Well, that's the gist of the message, in between the peppering of expletives. I told her that I was not talking about her. At which point Irate Woman number 1 stood up and told me to stop talking to her girlfriend. I believe she said I had no right to talk to her girlfriend.

(If ever there were a can't-win trap to enter.) I believe I laughed.

Do you think that we were stunned? Absolutely. Who were these women and how did I suddenly find myself being called a bitch and, more importantly in my world, being told about my rights?

I'm not a fighter and even though I usually walk away from heated situations, I can be a smart ass and I can earn that name she was tossing my way. Last night I felt the need to defend myself and my rights. So I did.

Sue me.

No harm done, just an exchange of really mature strings of words like "she talked to me first" as they left.

And then... And then... as they walked to their car, I smiled, waved, and said "Have a good night."

And that's when it hit me. Epiphany. Some people are a little closer to the edge than I think, and sometimes a smile will push them right off that edge. I figured that out when before you could even think to say "Duck!", she got her fingers around the beans and guacamole in the cozy corner of her To-Go box and hurled the handful of muck at us. And suddenly the entire patio was oh-my-goshing and laughing because, honestly, having a stranger throw beans on you after calling you a bitch after you told a waiter that you appreciate him is, well, funny. In a way that is both odd and ha-ha.

My friend's back was covered in beans. My arm and my shirt were splattered. And my hair. Beans and guacamole in my hair. My friend's hair too. We took it in stride. A woman wiped off my friend's back while I went to the restroom to wash off my arm. The table next to us joined us and shared a beer and the general wonder of the night's events. We laughed some more.

Favorite waiter Ray was beside himself. Me too. But with laughter. I don't care if I had beans and guacamole in my hair and my friend's shirt was splattered, it felt good to laugh like that. To laugh until my eyes watered. It felt damn good.

Sometimes - and you need to trust me on this one - when the world gets a little too serious, I suggest a food fight. Or, at least a few beans in your hair. Works wonders on the funny bone.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Shout out

Today is my friend Carrie's birthday. I phoned her this morning to tell her happy birthday and during our conversation, she told me how beautiful the sunrise was this morning. We both agreed that September's morning skies are the best in show. That's all, really, just a nice way to start out - with a picture-perfect dawn, and saying "Happy Birthday" on the first phone call of the day.

Monday, September 25, 2006

That which doesn't kill you

Robyn gathered the reins taught on the bit, gripped the inside rein against the neck of her pony, changed her lead and turned her eye ahead to the jump, guiding her pony out of the turn and into a straight five strides before the spread, or a long four, or a short six. Out of the turn, Robyn must have hesitated her leg. Rosie was a 13.5-hand pony, a short strided, stocky, broad barrel of mottled red with a feisty shetland attitude carried out with a long-legged grace normally seen in horses of taller stature. Robyn hesitated; Rosie hesitated. Long four? Short six? They chopped two strides after a too-short fourth and crashed through the three-foot oxer with a solid three-foot panel, and a six-inch solid pole behind the brush.

I remember the dust clouds, red and thick, blocking me from her. I remember Rosie tumbling over and scrambling from her back, standing up and shaking off. The reins over her neck, lying still on the ground, the saddle slipped down onto her rib cage, her neck arched to the ground, stunned but taking the opportunity to graze. The front panel of the fence was shattered like glass and Robyn over and across the back rail of the spread, snagged as if tossed and caught there. Dangling loose, lifeless.

Between that moment and the next time I saw her, a lot happened. I don't remember a minute of it. I've been told what happened, been told I tried to get her off the rail, been told the volume of my scream, my instructor pulling me back. I remember being told so many times that the words have become the memory itself, but the truth is that I do not remember living it.

For eight weeks I visited Robyn every day in the hospital. Bless my mother for the routine that was ours after school. She'd taxi me to the barn where I would school my horse, then she'd taxi me to the hospital where we would visit Robyn, then she'd taxi me home. Seven days a week for eight weeks.

Robyn was not wearing a helmet. Her head hit the solid back pole of the oxer. Her brain was swollen from the impact. She did not know who I was, who her mother was, who she was. She'd glance up from her hospital bed, her long hair falling across her eyes, her face, and look at me like an intruder she did not fear but wanted to ask What the hell are you doing here? She was 12 at the time, as was I. I dutifully made posters of horse show results, clipped photos of us from the barn, glued pictures I'd take of her beloved Rosie in her stall. Robyn would look at my weekly poster boards, look at me, and look at her perfectly still and curled feet as if they were all foreign. Not a glimmer of interest in her eyes.

And then Robyn would scream. She'd scream loud and high, terrified and angry. Her fists would go round inside themselves and she'd toss her head back, and kick her legs against the covers. The first time it happened, I froze. Staring at her, hearing that scream, I could have sworn that the Devil himself had crawled inside of her and made himself at home. Mom grabbed me by the shoulders and in a movement she would call guided and I would call thrown, I was suddenly out of the room. Nurses rushed in, the door shutting me out.

It happened often. Robyn's mother would come out to the hall, worn and tired, her hair falling from the barrette she always wore neatly at the nape of her neck, an order she couldn't achieve elsewhere in her life. She'd lost her husband years before in Vietnam, alone raising Robyn, their only child, she was tired in a way I couldn't begin to comprehend at the time. She would step outside while the nurses subdued Robyn, and run her fingers through my hair, tears in her eyes, and tell me that everything would be okay. She'd explain each day to me that Robyn's brain was swollen, she couldn't understand what was going on but it meant so much to her that I was there. Robyn's mother meant to say it meant so much to her, but she directed it to me that it meant so much to Robyn.

As quickly as Robyn's brain swelled, it returned to normal. Over night. Everyone said it was a miracle. I walked into her room, newly made poster in hand, and she was sitting in the chair. Hey, she said, with a smile. She didn't remember anything she'd been through, not even the accident. She did not know the eight weeks that had passed. She knew Rosie, she knew me, the other horses and riders at the barn, but not the detail of that day. We swallowed it whole, the other riders and I. Not a word was spoken. We had instructions and we followed them to the honor of our 12-year old ability. Not a word, ladies, or it could upset her.

The thought of upsetting Robyn gave me pictures of a swollen brain cracking through her skull, while she screamed that scream. I never said a word. Not even years later when I saw her stoned out of her mind at a Heart concert. I bought her a beer, but spoke not a word of that time.

This morning at the rehabilitation center, the therapist gently insisted that Mom stand up and use her walker to get to the bathroom. Mom gripped the arms of the wheelchair, tried to stand up and could not do so. She cried for a minute and then screamed a scream I hadn't heard the likes of since hearing Robyn. A scream of fear and anger, frustration and desperation, loud and bloody and angry. Everyone on the floor looked up and I imagined birds flying from the trees outside the building. I imagine cars screeching to a stop, traffic lights blinking, my own heart stopping. I remembered Robyn's mother with her fingers in my hair, telling me it would be okay, that Robyn's brain was swollen and she couldn't understand but knew I was there. I looked at my mother and realized why I went through this with Robyn, that I was years and years ago prepared for this moment.

In a calm voice, I told the Physical Therapist to let me take care of it. It's okay, Mom, I love you. I need you to look at me and stand up.

Mom looks at me and stands. There you go, I have you, don't worry. There you go. It's okay, I have you. Mom looks at me, and decides to trust me. It's more mental than a feeling, but she chooses nonetheless.

In my hair, I feel Robyn's mother placing her fingers as I guide my Mom in her walker, arm around her waist, shuffling to the bathroom. I hear Robyn's mother tell me it will be okay, as I tell my own mother, it's okay Mom, I have you. I'm here, it's okay.

The Mary Forecast

Today is the birthday of an ex of an ex. I recall it each year because of the day that my ex said that we always have our first cold front or at least cool front before the ex's birthday. I don't know why I remember that particular string of words being spoken, but I do. Each year around mid-September, I think of my ex's ex, Mary, and not in a way of dredging up the past or even wondering how she is, but more as an annual weather prediction that I can count on - The Mary forecast.

A friend and I used to make annual bets in early September as to whether or not the temperature would dip to or below 55 by this day. Although we'd shake hands on it, to call it a bet isn't exactly true. It was more like our shaking hands on an agreement that on September 25th or shortly thereafter, I would hand over the sum of money to her, or pick up the tab at a at a too-pricey restaurant. After several years of annually coughing up her winnings, it finally dawned on me that the only sure bet was my losses.

September is usually a joyful time for me. It's in my soul to relish the change in the air and light. I haven't felt much of that this September, but to my surprise and completely without my planning, I did feel it this weekend, and this morning. I found that the sunset spreading rouge and orange across the sky was a reflection of heart and soul, of hope and peace. I found that the lower temperature was in direct proportion to my rising spirit. This morning, I was at the park with Cheyenne, watching the golden light break through the trees and spotlight the leaves, highlighting the edges of the picnic tables and tree trunks. Standing there, I found upon my face a smile. So simple, the upward curve of my mouth. And it felt so unusual and so good that I became equally as mesmerized by its presence as I was by the view and the air.

The lighting of late September talks to the spirit in me, and this weekend and this morning, that spirit over-ruled the physical and mental and pleased me. No fanfare, no wagers won or lost, just the simple feeling of feeling good. Perhaps the Mary Forecast should be cooler temperatures and a few smiles on the horizon.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I don't pay no Union Dues

This trip started off with a lot of confusion on my part, more sadness and desperation than what I previously thought my own flavor of hell would be like. As tempting as it was, I couldn't quit. My life or my plans. I crawled out of that hell to honor them - my life and my plans. Slowly.

Some tired eyes and a little Tom Petty were due.

My time in Chicago included a long walk to and around Millennium Park where the aptly named Cloud Gate can be found.

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And the enormous Crown Fountain walls. And buildings of steel and purpose, yet soft, reflective and magical.

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My time involved a Blue’s Bar and a girl named Andrea who showed me a brave face as she carried on with the hand dealt her, without complaint or pity. She had the kind of flawed but strong beauty that turns your head and drops your jaw. In that night, it likely came from her parents and best friend, they who guided her into and out of my life. A passing that shook me. Sometimes you have no idea the answer you’ll get when you ask a simple question. Sometimes you have no idea what you'll face when you step out the door. Or answer the phone.

Chicago included a Detroit fan telling me I had electric blue eyes. Those eyes rolled on cue at that. Whatever.

It included a boat ride on a reverse-flowing river, where architectural words like contextualism, movement and international design standard were used more than once as we motored beneath 24 bridges.


There were meetings and dinners and lunches spent in conference rooms that denied the sun. There were LCD projectors, training sessions at my voice, and a morning where I thought we would never get to where we were supposed to be, because we were driving east then west and even I knew that north was that way, towards Canada.


Some trips take me to myself, some take me to new dreams. They all take me home, slightly changed. Every single thing I saw, every single thing that moved me to a pause, inspired me or sorrowed me, touches me in that way I seek, that way in which I feel connected to the world through what I see and experience when I travel. The way that leaves everything all summed up and hopeful - at least for a moment - and sends me home, where home is at least on return a blend of sunrise colors and twilight sounds.

There are times lately when I think I'm crazy - as in, well, crazy. But I realize that as long as I hang on, then by that alone, I've got a grip. I'm not ready to let go - sometimes it's tempting, but it won't happen. The truth is, while I may not be ready to face tomorrow, I think that, I believe that, ready or not, I can.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Forty degrees of separation between me and home

I'm wearing a grey sweater, with a long-sleeved t-shirt underneath. Black corduroy pants and knee socks. A scarf is wrapped around my neck.

The sky is dark with low grey clouds. A chilly breeze swirls around my face and a light cold rain falls on my cheeks. I shiver and bury my hands into my pockets.

The heat is on in my room.

Outside my window, several Serbian Spruce trees of dark green stand firm, and a tree I can't identify glows with leaves of dancing bright orange.

Downstairs a fire burns in the fireplace.

I'm on the edge of Fall and it feels like Winter. I'm in a suburb north of Chicago, where I've found a little bit of seasonal heaven. A little bit of peace, a little bit of quiet.

And a whole lot of me liking it.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Of note, these things

One thing necessary for myself today.

One tree with bright orange leaves seen today.

One door held open for a stranger today.

One favor for a friend today.

One happy to take care of that for you, even though it has nothing to do with what I do, at work today.

One phone call across the miles today.

One promise to my Mom today.

One I love you to my niece today.

One moment staring off into the clouds today.

One list of things I'm thankful for today.

Small stuff, true, but the stuff of me today.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

By any other name

She says the year is 1965. She says she has three children, ages 10, 9 and 8.

Did I ever tell you about your name?

Yes, Mom, you got it from Canterbury Tales.

That's the spelling, with one el, that's the proper way to spell your name. Did I ever tell you why I named you Alison?

No, I guess not. I'm puzzled. Honestly, I always envisioned her reading the story and liking the name.

Turns out that my Grandmother's best friend had a daughter named Alison. Mom says it out loud in her memory of the girl, Alison Coleman. When I was a little girl, I loved the name. I always knew I wanted to one day have a daughter and name her Alison.

This I had not heard before. I smile at her, picturing her as a child, and picturing myself with her. In the minute I feel chosen, feel that I've known her that long, that as a young girl, she was reaching out to me in her future. And somehow my own hand today reaches back to her young self in the past. It's warm in my heart. I lean over to her, kiss her on her cheek.

For good measure, and as a nod to the little girl she used to be, I kiss her on the cheek again.

I love you, Mom.

She smiles at me, I love you too, Alison.

Monday, September 11, 2006

One of 295,734,134 stories

The call came in at the hotel. I looked at the fluttering red light, thought it must be a wrong number or the front desk, but I recognized the voice on the line. I'm sorry, I hope I'm not bothering you but (a friend's) mother died. I thought you'd want to know.

She was right.

I rescheduled my return flight from Boston to Houston a day earlier than planned, from the 11th to the 10th of September.

Who knew?

On Tuesday, I walked Cheyenne early in the morning, relishing in the rising sun. After a week away, I was happy to be home, back to my familiar. We had walked the Freedom Trail in Boston that weekend. So the irony is that I was feeling patriotic. In my head the song, City of New Orleans.

Good morning, America, how are you?

As was the morning norm, we watched the Today Show. Suddenly saddened by the switch to live news, but trusting it was a tragic accident.

I was in the shower, my door closed. She called out to me from the hall. Are you watching this, you should watch this. Her voice was higher than normal, an urgent tone I'd not heard from her before.

Oh my God!

The second plane hit. I stepped out.

Dripping wet in my towel, she in her robe, we hugged in fear and shock. We stood before the television in my bedroom waiting for someone to pull the plug, announce the mistake.

It cannot be confirmed at this time but it appears that we are under a terrorist attack.

That's all, really. With those words, and the live images, it began to seep in. We watched as what seemed unreal became factual. We watched in frozen horror and disbelief. The more we understood, the more we cried out. We called our fathers; she called her girlfriend. Both of us terrified but reassured by the voices on the other end of the line.

We're being attacked.

We paced. We made the dogs nervous. Our hands were shaking. We lifted our coffee cups to our mouths and held them there unable to take a sip. The tears came. They would stop as we digested more news, and they'd return again. And again. I don't know how many times I said Oh no out loud.

We weren't at all sure what to do, but we needed to be with our families, our loved ones. I remember saying goodbye to her that morning. The two of us about to set out into a suddenly unfamiliar and dangerous world. The two of us marked, changed within a few moments. Along with everyone else in the country. We hugged before leaving. I held on. It seems a bit alarmist now, but I honestly was not sure I would see her again.

Never have I felt so devastated but so broadly connected at the same time.

It's not at all often, but every now and again - like on the phone this morning - we talk about that day, that morning. It doesn't feel good or even feel better, but on my individual scale, in my individual story among the millions of stories, I am reassured at least that neither one of us was alone when our lives changed, when the world changed.


Sunday, September 10, 2006


He's on his boat off the coast of Croatia. I'm in the hospital room, sitting beside my Mother.

My hurricane breaks through: I just wish you were here, babe. Beside me, under the stars eating pizza, drinking beer. I'm thinking of you.

Perfect timing, that's his. My perfect storm.

Friday, September 08, 2006


She was born in 1986. Early on a Monday morning. MTV preceded her and so did AIDS. The internet and MS Windows as well. All but MTV were mysterious and not too widespread at the time. Reagan was in the White House. That night, I was in a Montrose bar with a suspect fence and a painting of Edie Sedwick on the west wall. Waiting.

I used to hold her in my arms and wonder, just wonder about her, what was going on in her mind, behind that piercing stare she had. I used to hold her in my arms, her tiny fingers wrapped around my single finger, her eyes locked on mine, her stake claimed on my heart.

She is not my child, but she is my baby. She is modest, often shy. Practical, kind. She's fair, that one. She's a peace-loving flower child, to be sure. She has graceful hands, big eyes and experimental hair color. She loves to be behind the camera, and she's talented in that spot. She smiles often and laughs loud. She's not easily swayed. She's her own girl, that's what I admire most about her. To the word, she is joy.

Happy 20th birthday, Peanut.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


After work this evening, all I wanted to do was get home, shut the door on the world, sit on my couch and deny that I have a life and I have choices. In a nutshell, wallow in the hollow. But, driving home, some little voice in me, some fist-raising girl who is fighting for the leading voice, rose up and said, No, not tonight. And I listened.

Putting the collar and leash on Cheyenne, lacing up my tennis shoes, the majority of me was going through the motion. Just a couple blocks, I thought, she needs to get out. When we set out though, there it was, waiting for me. The colors, the cool air, the reminders that life is out there, it's going on. With or without me. We walked and walked. It was a good choice.

Everyday we have choices. We may not like what they are, but we have them. The thing is that if we don't choose what we want in our lives, life will choose for us. That's a fact. I haven't been voting by proxy; I've not shown up at all.

I know that I've been clinging to a rock when I should be swimming upstream. I know that more times that I care to admit, I've said to myself, I never thought it would be this hard. And that is true but it is not true that I should freeze in fear and sadness. Because there's a little girl in Australia who has lost her hero father, and a neighbor who is fighting to prove she exists after having her identity stolen. I have a friend who just lost her job. Another who recently lost her mother. And my own mother sits in bed wondering where she is and how she got there. Yes, it is hard, but it's hard for all of us. We're all swimming upstream, making choices at every moment whether to cling or swim on. I think that's called life.

That little voice of mine? I'd really like for her to rule the show for a while. Only through the effort of movement, the effort of choices, will we find our solutions.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Peas in a pod

This is a true story of two lovable, big-hearted, four-legged masses of excess hair, Cheyenne and Isaac. Two Labs who inexplicably adore each other in ways we are amused and touched by, as when you see an elderly couple doing something you think is precious, like eating ice cream cones and holding hands. They have a lot in common, those two. They have bottomless stomachs, for one. They also share Obsessive Compulsive Disorder when it comes to tennis balls or any object that can be tossed and caught. When sleeping, they shake the walls with their snoring.

Although I've known them both all their lives, until this morning, I did not realize how much they had in common. Reading called me from the Ranch to tell me that when her father-in-law (so to speak) took Isaac with him out into the cow pasture to investigate a hog, the boy was all too willing and happy to trot alongside in this male-to-male companionship. That me-and-you, just-us-guys buddy system went out the door when her father-in-low shot the hog, however. At the sound of the gun, the big brave boy ran in the other direction all the way to the pasture gate in a flash of yellow blur, tail safely tucked between his legs.

Five minutes after my friend called to share that laugh, I was dialing her number back to tell her about my brave girl. Seems that while I went into the house for a glass of water, Cheyenne sat by the door waiting for me rather than retrieving the ball I had just tossed into the pool. When I returned, she went to the edge of the pool ready to dive in but came to an abrupt halt when she saw that a big bug was sitting on top of her ball. Her hackles up, she paced back and forth along the edge, stopped, extended her head towards the ball but with front legs locked in place, and looked at me with a Please do something to correct this frightening atrocity look on her face. More pacing, more whining. The ball is currently floating un-retrieved in the pool.

Sadly, she is also terrified of birds.

People often refer to Labradors in general as Bird Dogs or Gun Dogs, implying a certain outdoorsy toughness. The thing I learned about Cheyenne and Isaac today is that no one will ever refer to either of them that way, at least not with an ounce of seriousness.

Brave girl Brave boy

Friday, September 01, 2006


Most people have pets that weigh in well below, say, 200 pounds on the generous side. My friends are not most people. The girl in this photo is one of two friends who share a love for pets that can gouge you with their six-foot horns, or shatter every single bone in your foot if they accidentally step on you, or drench you in slimy grossness if they lick you or God forbid, sneeze. They share a love for pets that travel in herds. Pets who didn't start out as pets, they started out as a business, but after weekend upon weekend of time spent at the ranch, the bond between human and beast has become undeniable.

Below, one tiny precious baby of which they are particularly fond.