Wednesday, June 29, 2005


Last night my family and I went to Euclid Beach Park in order to frolic in the water and get some fresh air. The trick was, finding the dag-gone place. It took us an hour to drive what amounts to about a 12 miles. But, on the way home, I found a more direct route and you can bet we will be returning with less trouble next time.

It was such a joy to float in the water and hear the waves and seagulls, without the fear of caustic salt water attacking my eyes, nose and tastebuds or of vicious sea monsters having a go at a favorite extremity. I helped Riley into the lake and held her in my arms and walked slowly, part-way submerged so that she was practically weightless. Occaisionally I would do a deep knee bend and get us wet up to the shoulders. We were entertained by the gaggle of geese not 50 feet from us as well as the many children swimming and playing and screaming at each other.

I thought about how I might teach her to swim. I tried explaining basic kicking technique, but she just kicked wildly. So, I tried to think back further. What first got me delighted and interested in swimming? It was this: Being held by my Mom or Dad under the arms and being swung around in the water from side to side, while they said "Whee!" The pleasure of water rushing over my skin and the rush of moving faster than I was capable of under my own power combined and I never wanted to get out of the water. Also, being close and having fun with my parents made me feel safe and unafraid, which is key to success in swimming, or anything, I guess.

So I started swirling her back and forth and around and around and her face lit up. As a parent, I believe I enjoyed it as much as she did. For me now, I got to enjoy holding my three year old for as long as she wanted, since her weightessness was not a strain on my body. I also got to feel the joy of the water again, cool and refreshing. The sound of the waves and my child's peals of glee made me want to burst into song. We have found a summer activity that we can both agree on and enjoy.

Sadly, our first swirling lesson was cut short as mother nature chose to interfere again. I began to hear thunder and could see rain clouds rolling in from the West Side. South of us, lightning began to strike. I decided reluctantly to lead us out of the water. We joined Shawn and Lucy on the beach blanket and got dressed as he gathered our things and collapsed our beach umbrella. The wind picked up and we beat feet back to the Jeep.

We made it home without ever seeing the storms that blew through, but we did see what it left behind: flash floods, downed tree branches, and our poor backyard pavillion was knocked over and wounded like a fragile, reconstructed T-Rex skeleton in the back yard. But, it was nothing a little duct tape can't repair and I'll take my 30 minutes of joy at the beach and leave it at that. After all, nobody likes a whiner.

Friday, June 24, 2005

I May not be in a Band, but I am a Rock Star

Recently, I wrote a proposal for an organization that was looking to outsource a leadership development program. It was really no big deal to do; it came together very easily. I found out last week that they wanted to meet with us to discuss our proposal. So, we met with our big boss and he pointed out that there were a few things that we might need to explain further, but overall he thought it was a very nice proposal.

We had to be there Thursday morning at 8:00 a.m., which caused me a little dismay. It's clear across town and much earlier in the day than I care to do business. But I got myself spiffed up and dragged myself there, after a night of very little sleep. When I arrived I was pretty calm, cool and collected. Then the room began to fill up with the upper eschelon.

After we had all introduced ourselves (3 of us, 10 of them), the questions began. And all of a sudden I realized: this is a job interview. We are being interviewed for this outsourcing job! Once I realized this, rather than freaking out, I leaned back in my chair (a sign of confidence in poker) and went with the flow. I was even able to use my outsider status in this industry as an advantage.

When it was over I was absolutely dumsquizzled by my grace under pressure. I went in there and rocked! I've never faced anything that big without first realizing it was that big and without sweating it for weeks in advance. I think I'm hitting my stride professionally. It was my sold out performance at Madison Square Garden.

Friday, June 17, 2005

The Swing Time Jazz Band

Every summer our fair city holds free concerts at the local middle school. There is a nice variety: jazz, swing, orchestra and ending the season with a blue grass festival. Last night I took Riley and Lucy to see The Swing Time Jazz Band. We had a delightful time.

I packed the girls in the stroller and we were ready for anything. We hiked to the middle school and got there too early. The band had decided it was too chilly to play outside so they were moving into the school's new auditorium. We headed into the building and found ourselves some seats near the stage where there was room to spread out and dance if we felt so moved.

The girls were quickly restless and running in different directions; Lucy up the stairs to the stage, Riley to the back of the auditorium where the drinking fountains were. But we managed to hold it together until the band started up. Little did I know that we would soon be the belles of the ball. All of the families with young children showed up right around the start of the show, and before I knew it I was riding herd on about 7 girls ranging from ages 1 to 14.

I didn't have much trouble, though. The girls were nice to each other and spent their time running back and forth in front of the stage, dancing and running up and down the aisles. No one seemed to mind too much. Mostly the room was filled with the elderly and the parents of these wild children.

Lucy was driven to climb the sloping aisle towards the top of the auditorium, play with the little boy and his mother who were sitting up there and then plod back down the aisle to try to make another go at the stairs to the stage. Every now and then she'd stop to dance with the older girls.

Meanwhile, Riley was fitting in just fine with a group of four-year-old girls. She was best friends with a girl named Sarah. They were holding hands and running around the auditorium. Riley even convinced Sarah to let her try on her black, patent leather shoes. Riley kept telling her how cute her shoes were and Sarah just sat down, took one off and handed it over to Riley. Riley tried them on, expressed her wish that she had a pair just like them and then took the shoe off and gave it back to Sarah. Once they were both shod the way they came, they grabbed hands and took off for another lap around the auditorium.

Oh, yeah, I guess the band was pretty good too. Although they were not as quick with the music as the girls would have liked. The band leader was a fair to midlands MC, but due to the fact that the average age of the band was comfortably settled around 65, he felt compelled to mention that this member had died or that one was about to die. Their singer, a older black gentleman who styled himself after Frank Sinatra, was very charming and wonderful.

The only downer of the night was running into an old flame who didn't seem to know who I was. His little girl and Riley were fast becoming friends, though. He didn't seem to be very happy, and I've since found out that he had recently been in a motorcycle accident and before then a divorce. So, I guess I don't begrudge him a case of the grumps. I just usually feel so delighted to run into people from my past; it's such a novelty after living so far from home. It kind of feels like I'm an actor and I've run into an old cast mate. "Wasn't it funny how tragic we were in that play where the chipper, optimistic young girl falls for the serious, studious, loner?" I'd say, and we'd laugh over a cup of coffee. But, it seems to me that most people don't put that kind of emotional distance between themselves and people who, in their minds, are tied to uncomfortable or tragic events.

Oh, well. La La La. I had a great time and I hope he had some fun too. Anyway, all Riley can do now is ask, "Is it time to go to the concert again?"

Monday, June 13, 2005

Smitty! Get Me a Cutch!

I was chatting with Big Orange this morning when he mentioned building a "cutch" for his boy, Sol. From what I was able to gather, this is kind of a small, enclosed space in order to get away from it all; imagine a cupboard under the stairs, for size. Check his link above as I am sure, very soon, there will be a post about cutches, what they really are, what the etymological roots are, and how to pronounce it if you are Trafalgamarian. The best I can do is to say that it's official usage has something to do with abandoned oyster shells or tanin extract. But today isn't a great day for me mentally. For all I know, he didn't say cutch at all, but rather he called it a hobby-hole.

Anyway, today, while we were chatting, Big Orange asked me what I would put in my cutch. I started to explain it when he got distracted and had to leave. But, after a day like I've had today, I think I'll spend a moment listing them for the sake of savoring them:

  • King-sized feather duvet, with a plaid, flannel duvet cover
  • Paperback books. If I had to pick one book: Son of the Circus, by John Irving
  • Mead
  • Non-flourescent lighting
  • Tempur-Pedic pillows and mattress
  • Clay Aiken, Johnny Cash, Mozart's Requiem, or King of the Road piped in at the volume of elevator music, just below normal hearing range
  • A serenity fountain
  • Some lilacs or lavender
  • My picture of Buster from TV's Arrested Development
  • Some wind chimes or wilderness sounds such as hawks and owls and the wind.

Man, I am a girl, aren't I? All that's missing is a bubble bath. But I don't like taking baths. I bathe however. I just prefer a hot, steamy, shower with extremely high water pressure pounding on my skin, making it red. Maybe I'll add that to the list.

I believe what I really need to figure out is what it will take to restore my overstimulated senses. The idea of a cutch sounds so amazingly like what I need right now, but it also seems so impractical for me. I know as soon as I would open the door for my very first visit, I would be instantly bored. If not instantly bored, then perhaps bored after 30 minutes. Then, I'd be looking for the phone or stepping out to talk to someone about how cool my new cutch is. I'm getting better about daydreaming and not being so frenetic, but the mania is still there. The introverted part of my personality thinks a cutch is the perfect solution. Unfortunately, the extroverted part is very demanding and difficult to ignore.

Maybe I can find peace if I could just shut up and think for a little while.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

American Idyll

This past weekend, Riley and I planted flowers and a small vegetable garden in the front of our house. She, Lucy and I had gone to the flower store Saturday morning and bought the plants, top soil (enriched with plant food) and all of the tools that we would need to create a lovely landscape that we could see and enjoy from our front window. Riley chose some pretty purple flowers that look kind of like exotic petunias and I picked orange and yellow marigolds in order to keep the bunnies at bay and to please my Dad; they are his favorite flowers.

By the time we got home from the flower store, Lucy was ready for her nap and Riley and I began to create our garden. We were both stylishly prepared for the activity. I was in my favorite Milwaukee T-shirt, denim capris, canvas and chamois gardening gloves, knee pads and sporty flip-flops. Riley was wearing a periwinkle blue, sleeveless, three-quarter length sundress and a cute little sun hat.

We started with the smallest bed, which is located to the left of the front porch. This four foot by four foot bed contained a sad little shrub that was losing its grip on the earth and tipping at a dangerous angle over the driveway. With Shawn's help, we were able to remove it without much trouble. Once it was removed, Riley and I tilled the soil, removed the rocks, and mixed in some top soil. Well, I did most of that; she spent much of the time using the trowel to move dirt from the flower bed to the driveway and provided running commentary on the wildlife that we uncovered, which was very entertaining. Soon, we were ready to plant our vegetable garden.

We started by planting three big boy tomato plants along the brick wall of the porch. My neighbor, Ethel, gave me the plants and they were the catalyst for starting the garden that day. Anyway, I would dig the hole and Riley, Master of the Hose, would fill the hole with water. Then I would count out the pumpkin or watermelon seeds into her tiny hand and she would plant them in the row. Riley is very excited to watch them grow. We then surrounded our small garden with marigolds, alternating back and forth between orange and yellow plants along the red brick trim.

At the base of the stairs of the front porch is a small, two foot wide by six foot long sloping sidewalk that travels down to the driveway. On the opposite side of the sidewalk from the vegetable garden is a 4 foot by six foot flower bed. It already contains a small, ground-clinging shrub and a rose bush Shawn planted last summer. Riley and I weeded the flowerbed and added the soil. As we did this, I looked over at the street while taking a breather. I noticed a stalled car at the end of our treelawn.

I called over to the stranded motorists (two women, four children) and asked them if they needed help. They didn't seem to know what was wrong with their car and asked me if there were an auto parts store or a gas station nearby. I tried to direct them but both options seemed a bit too far for hoofing it. So, I offered to get Shawn to see if he could help. He went over and talked to them while Riley and I resumed our work in the flowerbed. Before I knew it, the kids bolted out of the car as Shawn offered them drinks and candy. The littlest girl, Maria, came straight over to me and Riley and started helping us with the garden. She was Riley's age (three) and shared her fascination and deftness with the hose.

Not much later, a man arrived and started giving the lady behind the wheel a hard time about not getting gas, like he had instructed her to. I assumed that he was her husband. The problem was solved and the car was started. They gathered their children in the car, all yelling thank-you's and good-bye's. We finished planting the exotic, purple petunias and Riley, who was starting to turn pink, went inside.

I returned to finish the larger flowerbed that is located under our front bay window. It is approximately six feet deep and fifteen feet wide. There were some hearty shrubs planted there and I intended to fill in the blank spaces with marigolds. But first, I needed to remove the stray plants that sprouted from the seeds the birds and squirrels dumped from the two bird feeders that hang from a two-sided shepherd's hook in the center of the flowerbed. By this time, the sun was beating down and I could feel it burning through my t-shirt and jeans. But it felt really good after such a winter that we had this year.

I removed as much of the extraneous plantlife as I could and began to fill in the blanks with two rows of marigolds in alternating colors along the red brick border of the flower bed. First I'd dig a hole, then fill it in with water, then select a marigold and put it in the hole. I'd fill in the hole with dirt and build up the soil so that the flower would stand up straight. I'd offer my little marigold of the moment words of encouragement, like, "drink up, little buddy," or "you'll get lots of sunshine here."

I surprised myself with the amount of fun I was having. I even began to whistle and sing the song Singing in the Rain as I saturated each flowerbed methodically with the hose. It used to be that I loathed and dreaded working in the garden. But ever since I spent the past few years apprenticing at my mother's side putting in flowerbeds, I've gained the know-how. Now that Riley, who has also done a small apprenticeship of her own with my Mom, is old enough and passionate about flowers and gardening, I've caught the bug. Either that, or I've been smashed into submission by the two strongest forces in my life: my mom and my daughter. But, really, I just want to be with them. I really don't care what we do, as long as they are happy. So, gardening it is, among other things.

By the time I planted all I could plant, cleaned up all I could gather, and mowed the front lawn, I could barely move. Shawn was gesturing to me from the front window to come inside. I began to drag my tools into the garage and paused at the back faucett for a drink of water. I noticed that he had sweetly kicked on the air conditioner in order to entice me back into the house. Smiling to myself, I filled my glass up and started to chug. As I was finishing, Shawn came around the corner and I nearly jumped out of my skin. He told me that I'd better quit and everything looked great. Thankfully, he agreed to finish putting away the lawn refuse bags and the mower, while I went inside to collapse.

It took about four hours to complete the front gardens, and, I must say, they look beautiful. I can't wait to watch as the marigolds spread out and the seeds sprout pumpkins and watermelons. I'm not as thrilled about the tomatoes, but maybe I'll find a good recipe for marinara and put them to good use. Riley asks me everyday if our pumpkins are grown yet. I look forward to watching the progress of our garden with her, and eventually Lucy too. I'm already planning next year to start some pepper plants inside. Farming and gardening are a tradition that I have a new-found respect for. I hope to pass on to my girls the satisfaction of growing their own food, the joy of playing in the dirt, and the creative thrill of painting a picture with flowers on the largest canvas I've ever seen.