Sunday, February 15, 2015

Scavenger Hunt - February


I met a lot of people in Europe.  I even encountered myself.  

James Baldwin

One of the items on my Things to Do Each Day list is to read a short story or essay. I've found this a valuable addition to my day. On my To Be Read bookshelves  and chair side tables I have way too many unread collections of short stories and essays - Best of series, food and travel essays, OHenry and Pushcart volumes.  When attempting to read them in one setting as I do a novel or non-fiction book, they overwhelm me. They also never get my full attention when only picked up here and there. Nor can I remember which parts I've already read.

Focusing on one book at a time and one piece of writing from it each day has rendered a most satisfying experience. At present I'm reading the Best American Travel Writing 2014, edited by Paul Theroux. I've vicariously been held prisoner in Somalia, fly fished for dorado in Brazil, and  ridden a Greyhound bus across the US. I've reread a lovely essay by David Sedaris about a family gathering on the North Carolina coast and hung out in New York City, Bombay, Paris, Sarajevo and a host of other locations.

Today I enjoyed a piece by Thomas Swick entitled A Moving Experience. It talks about his perspective as a travel writer. Much to ponder in this essay, but one observation he discusses is how lonely the travel writer can be. Yet in the solitude, he becomes more aware.

Apropos as my real-life travel today involves a solitary walk, a list in hand. A couple weeks back I ran across a blog entitled Made With Love. The Sydney based writer, Greenthumb, posts a monthly-themed Scavenger Hunt for photos. The hunt sounded like fun and today was my day to attempt it.

Having just read Swick's essay, certain lines remained in my mind. "... freedom from distraction; when you're by yourself, you're more attuned to your surroundings. Less discussed, but just as important, is the fact that, alone, you're also more sensitive. You not only notice your surroundings more clearly; you respond to them more deeply."

Perhaps that is why I often find perspective when I walk or go someplace alone. Or find myself in tears with my thoughts. Or discover marvels while sauntering that I never would have noticed if I only looked down the road and concentrated on sweat. (Could also be why my Active Minutes on my Fitbit rarely goes seven minutes before a stop.)

At the end of his essay, Swick stated "It was in Lisbon that I discovered the secret of travel writing, which is also the secret of memorable travel: you approximate, as best you can, in the short time allotted you, the life of a local."

Join me. Today, you get to be a local on Impala Isle. I hereby present my February Scavenger Hunt. Twelve photos: Flowers, Love, Number, Something Beautiful, Your Favorite Color, Bird, On the Road, Tap, Price, Heart, A Corner of Your Home, and Whatever You Want

Found while alone. Shared with sensitivity and deep joy.

Flowers
From my sweetie. (And not much other than store-bought available in terms of color in February.)

Love
Took three walk bys to get this photo of mama and baby. Baby kept sliding into the lake.

Number
Wanna play?

Something Beautiful
Indeed

My Favorite Color
Any shade of blue. Aqua, too.

Bird
Neighborhood Regular


On the Road
Fun find.

Tap
Gonna figure out something to do with these one of these days.

Price
Tree for sale

Heart
Nothing to say about that.

A Corner of Your House
Gotta spy on the world from somewhere.
Whatever You Want
Day's End.

Anyone else up for a Scavenger Hunt? Click on that Scavenger Hunt camera in the righthand column to find Made with Love. Most fun.


Friday, January 30, 2015

Dot to Dot

Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another. 
John Dewey

A few weekends ago I spent my time with a pen, a Dot to Dot book, and two pairs of reading glasses so I could see the dots.

You may recall these books from your childhood. Dot to Dot provided a good way to learn our numbers. A good way to stay focused and find a means to an end, to follow the progression and discover in its completion a recognizable picture.

A colossal waste of time for an adult, some might think. Especially since in order to complete this venture, 1000 dots need connection.


But since I quit substitute teaching last October, I've spent my time slowly deciding how to spend my time. Even though I didn't work everyday, it was enough to discombobulate life. Not knowing exactly which days I might work didn't allow me to create any patterns. To develop a rhythm.

Instead I hoped for Mondays off as that day often proved my most productive. One where laundry, grocery shopping, something else on my list and some form of writing (often only a half page in a journal) came together. Often some form of exercise. The promise of a new week, perhaps. Hopeful for maintaining that level of energy throughout the week.

That never worked. By Tuesday, I was either ruing my decision to accept a job and forcing myself into bed at a decent hour so I could fight the alarm clock in the morning or preparing for that in the next two days and angry that my lists would just grow. Always uncertain how to spend my time that was so short. Mad that when I came home from school, I had no desire to tackle anything. My energy exhausted. My nights spent sitting in my chair. No desire to pursue my lists or anything else.

Where before my purpose for working out of the home had been to contribute to my children's education,  I only went now for the very few bucks it added to our coffers and out of dedication to those devoted teachers I met along the route. Dedication to the middle school PE classes (which meant I didn't have to feel guilty not going to the Y after six periods of Kickball.) Dedication to the special education students who knew me. That when I came there wasn't a disruption in their days as I was someone they didn't have to mess with or fear.

But I found no joy in Substitute Teacherland.

It was past time for that decision and I didn't regret it for a moment. With the holidays before me, it was easy to manage my days. To clean my house. To prepare for family meals and events. To arise in the morning when my body said it was time. To do exactly what I wanted, along with what had to be done, on my own schedule.

I wanted to attain a point where I had no commitments (other than to my husband) so I could determine how I wanted to commit myself. I hoped I might begin to get a picture in my mind of what was important to me. How I wanted to spend my time in the next few years. My goals.

Yes, it was all about me. Finally.

After putting myself through college, my husband through college, moving around the country for my husband and our family's livelihood and beginning a new career each time, raising three kids, volunteering thousands of hours, and then returning to the workforce by scoring essays and then substitute teaching, it was finally all about me.

I liked it.

With that freedom in hand, I was inspired by my weekend of completing Dot to Dots. I decided to take a dot to dot approach as to what came next as I'm easily overwhelmed. Like by that UNFINISHED NOVEL that has followed me for years. Or the two-tiered filing cabinet of FINISHED/UNFINISHED essays in need of a good culling.



Or all the scrapbooks and photo albums I want to construct. The cupboards and drawers in need of decluttering. The compost bins I want to refresh from 16 years of stagnation. The garden that needs more than a "That Will Have to Do" effort.

My Dot-to-Dot weekend didn't only proffer a few completions.

Twisted Alfred Hitchcock

Bob Marley - His music makes me happy

Would be difficult to figure out Salvador Dali's work via dot to dot.
It also tendered a plan for my goals. As each personality became distinct on the page, I understood only by connecting the dots did I get to that recognizable stage. That for my life, I required the same connection.

I began.

Dot 1.  In the pages of my journal. A commitment to three pages every day. Something that I did for years, but fell by the wayside either because life was going too well or not going very well at all. After I check the New York Times on my phone to make certain the world still exists, I pick up my pen and spew three pages of my thoughts. I also paste cool pictures and articles I've come across or quotations I've jotted down on slips of paper and left around the house.

Dot 2.  I write a one page story or essay in a notebook. Sort of like a timed writing, but I limit it to one page, unless the story runs over.

Dot 3.  I read a short story or essay.

Dot 4. Some form of exercise. Either a walk, a visit to the Y,  or a series of lunges, squats, weight lifts, crunches, etc.

With those four dots embedded in each and every day, I progressed to Dots 5, 6, 7 and 8.  I went to a matinee. I bought tickets to Stevie Wonder - on the floor! I sent off the first few pages of my novel to a contest I coordinated long ago--just to make certain I still knew how to present a manuscript. I planted some peas, radishes and spinach. Just a few rows of planting as I'm not in any hurry to inundate myself with those tasks. Just enough to get some dirt under my fingernails.

That is as far as my Dot to Dot life has expanded and so far I return to those basic four each day before I find my place and go from there. I long ago learned that if you do something for 21 days in a row, it will become habit. I strive for that habitat.

What dot comes next I'm not quite certain, although committing to two worthwhile blog posts a month is definitely a possibility. But I've been around long enough to know that sometimes you lose your way and connect the wrong dot. That life can change in a moment's notice and we have to backtrack. That's just life.

In the meantime, I'm having no trouble entertaining myself.

Dot to Dot.



Tuesday, January 6, 2015

To Be Read - The Double Dog Dare

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by. 
Douglas Adams

When the beautiful disorder of Christmas retreats into boxes tucked in the closet, I view my home with new eyes. Floors are swept and vacuumed, the mantle and tables dusted and free of the past year's collected clutter.  I relish the minimalism. The possibility for something new to fill the empty spaces.

Empty spaces which upon further perusal reveal an inordinate amount of books -- all over the space.

I ponder my piles.

This basket.

This stack.
That shelf.
Plus the ones behind the above.
Crap, I forgot the ones on my Kindle.
The ones I'm currently reading.
On the end table, a book of Mary Oliver poems, a Dorothy Parker reader and my Book Club book due this Thursday (forgot about that deadline.) Also to add to the stacks, an upcoming book from a bad bet I made on the Cowboy/Lions game. (You had two and a half minutes at the end of the game to score, Lions. Just saying.)

Blogger James Reads Books  offers up a yearly challenge/dare in regard to unread books. He calls it the TBR Double Dog Dare. For the first three months of the new year, only books on your To Be Read shelf can land in your hands.

I'm in. Thinking I'm a good candidate. Double Dog Dare be damned.


I will avoid all trips to the library, favorite bookstores and late night perusals of what's up at Goodreads and Amazon. No distractions.

Torture.

And I'm never distracted.

What's on your reading shelf?


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Dear Mom

To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.  
Phyllis Theroux


November 20, 2014
Austin, TX

Dear Mom,

I know it's been a long time since I've written to you. No particular reason other than I couldn't. But today, while walking, I thought of some things I needed to tell you. So here you go.

Four days ago on the 16th, it was your birthday. You turned 89. Funny, but in my mind you don't look a day over 85.

Been working on getting my body back in some kind of shape. I started this week. Four for four so far. The YMCA on Monday and Wednesday. Long walks on Tuesday and Thursday. Three miles each day. I'm slow, but I get there.

My knee, that stupid knee isn't so good. Last year at this time, I couldn't walk to the end of the driveway. Not that I walked all that well three years ago either, but back then it was my foot and, now, with the exercises I do, both knee and foot are operating at a much better capacity without too much pain. How I wish I'd inherited your feet rather than Dad's. And, oh, how I wish I hadn't let that horse wipe my knee off on that gate so many, many years ago. Meniscus be damned.

So, I'm more physically fit since last you saw me, yet haven't really dropped any weight. I'm certain you would remind me of that if you were here.

"I just can't get used to seeing you fat."

Hmm, thanks Mom.

"Don't wear that dress ever again. It makes you look like a sausage."

Got it, Mom.

Making a concerted effort in that vein, Mom. Have the food part down, most of the time. Just need to keep up with the exercise and give up a lot of that wine I love so much. Wine, that's my downfall.

"You're turning into a wino."

Yes, Mom. It's those girlfriends of mine. They make me do it.

Vices. Weekend wine and staying up late. I thank you for that one. I do enjoy the quiet of the night. 

All is well with the kids. Everyone out on their own and financially independent. All happy at the present time. Can't ask for more than that.

Bob considering retirement in a couple years. May the gods be with me on that one.

Planning a trip. Contemplating how many years left for adventure travel as opposed to meandering around the country in the car, with a tent. (And a very nice air mattress.)

Quit substitute teaching (my heart just wasn't in it anymore and the pay was so good, you know. No Substitute Teacher Union in Texas!)

Trying to get my house and writing space in order.  Organizing my writing files to figure out where the hell I am in that venture. Lessening the stack in my To Be Read pile. Oh, the books we could discuss! And, Outlander. Outlander is on TV and they cast it so well and ...

yeah.


Every so often I allow myself time to consider what I miss most about not having you here, but that moment pretty much stops right away. I still can't do that for I feel you are with me. Beside me.

AND!!! I hear you in my head, all the time.

When I'm cooking. "Put some salt in it, for God's sake."

When I'm working in the garden and chopping the tough Texas soil with my trowel, I recall the first garden space you gave me for my very own. (Rich, black Minnesota soil that I now have to pay out the ass for in Texas, in a plastic bag.) "Gently spread the roots of each plant before planting."  I recall my planting of verbena, snapdragons and pansies. So plentiful I cut them everyday to bring to our neighbors.

When I'm sitting on the end of the dock, watching the water. Contemplating. Quiet. Remembering grace.

When I'm rowing at the YMCA. The rowing machine is very easy for me and I'm reminded how you could row a boat for hours. Hours I sometimes wanted to be somewhere else as you continued down the lake rather than back where we started. Even into your 80's you could row.

Not as much fun to sit on a machine grasping the pulley and going nowhere with a view of the wall in front of me, but I think of you.

Must be some kind of muscles in our arms intrinsic to Eklund women. Your mother who rowed out to fish. "Poor little fishies," as she ripped the hook out of their mouths, her fishing string ready for the next baiting and toss off the rowboat.



You, rowing for hours.



Me, thinking it is too easy for me, that I need to move onto the spin bike.  But I like the ease of the motion, recalling the oars gracefully entering the water. Pulling the surface water away, gently or vigorously depending on the waves.  Back turned to the bow, not certain of the destination, but going slow enough that the course was easily altered. The peace restored by the simple motion of using one oar to regain the proper course.

Today, while walking, my IPhone played a rather eclectic mix. I either swayed down the road to In The Mood or laughed through The Book Of Mormon soundtrack or strutted to Stevie Wonder or sang along with Robert Earl Keen.

Then Bring Him Home from the Les Miserables soundtrack played and tears ran down my face as the houses I passed blurred in my vision. Tremendous regret came over me for not having watched Les Miserables with you the last time you were here. You brought the DVD to the lake and with all the goings on out there -- the people coming and going -- we never got to it. I saw it on PBS a few months after you died. I cried when I listened to the beautiful music. How could I not have seen it before? How I would have loved crying with you while watching it.

Instead, I wept with  myself while I twisted my way through the neighborhood. Saddened that you won't ever know that I now love it as you did.

I don't want to think of what I might also regret. I'm too thankful for having had you.

I'm off to buy a pair of boots. My favorite thing as you know, shopping. How I wish I could just order a pair online while sitting on my bed. We're headed to NYC to see your youngest grandson on Christmas Day. Need something warm for my feet and I'm thinking my hiking boots won't suffice at Ian's fancy restaurant. Haven't bought a pair of dress boots in a hundred years. Don't know if I ever have. Frye boots when I was in college. Remember those? All the rage back then.

Not in style boots this time.  Oh, to not have Dad's bad feet.

All for now. Will write again soon. If I can.

Love,
Julie

Monday, September 15, 2014

Catbird Scouting While Traveling


She is a friend of mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It's good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.
Toni Morrison, Beloved

Last month I went on a Road Trip with some of my girlfriends. Three of those Bunco Bitches* I've known for 25 years. We had a purpose. One of those bitches recently bought an apartment in Portland for seasonal use. She wanted a car up there for her visits. Always up for an adventure, three of us volunteered to help navigate.

*For those of you new to my blog, or not aware, the Bunco Bitches are a group of 14 women that met 25 years ago at the neighborhood park. Not only new to the hood, (most of us from other parts of the country) we were also new at being moms and staying at home. We began meeting the second Tuesday night of the month, sans children, to play this stupid game called Bunco. It saved us from having to rely on babies and toddlers for keeping up our communication skills.

Another Bunco group in our neighborhood formed and those women were much nicer than us. They hugged and remembered each other's birthdays. They called themselves the Bunco Babes.  My group all looked at each other and said, "Wow, we don't do that. That must make us a bunch of bitches." Hence, the Bunco Bitches. It just stuck.

Although we haven't played Bunco in over 16 years, we still meet the second Tuesday of every month (or for an occasional weekend somewhere else) and we're still a bunch of bitches.

Back to the story, we began our trek in Los Angeles and meandered along the Pacific Coast Highway (HWY 1 and 101) through


Santa Barbara


Big Sur


Santa Cruz


San Francisco


the Sonoma wine country

and a sea glass beach.


 We marveled at the Avenue of the Giants and
the incredible Oregon coast






before driving into Portland and a little beyond.



Armed with guidebooks and maps, we didn't plan it all out and I must say, some of our spur of the  moment hotels proved rather interesting and fun. 



We stayed at The Bluebird Inn.



The Coastal Inn and Spa had an herbal store in the lobby, Korean clay on the ceiling and cell phone service if you walked behind the hotel and hung out by the herb garden. I think the hot tub was the spa part.


Our Crescent City hotel had a very organized trailer park behind it, plus, a view of the ocean.


The Fireside Inn faced the most beautiful, lava beach complete with a four-woman bench to watch the incoming tide.

Since we were cramming all four of us into one hotel room and splitting the cost, that left more room for great meals. Whether someone else made it for us 

Duck Confit

Artichokes (Artichoke capital of world nearby.)

Steamers

Best Oyster Shooters EVER!

Fish and Chips

Marionberry Crisp

Pok Pok Wings
Or we shopped and prepared it ourselves.
Leftover Pok Pok in scrambled duck eggs








What would a Bunco gathering be without wine? Okay, so we broke it up with a martini here and there.


However, road trips don't always have to end upon arriving at the final destination. 

On my last day in Portland I stood in front of my friend's apartment house while a car pulled up and stopped right in the middle of the street. Someone I'd never met before, who looked just as I knew she would, jumped out of her car to give me a warm hug.

 Yup, in the flesh -- Catbird Scout -- one of the finest essay writers I know.  Known only to me through blogging and email.

With a quick introduction and wave to my girlfriends hanging out the apartment window above, I climbed into Catbird Scout's car. Just like that.

Two people who had never met. Two people who knew each other very well.

Catbird Scout had a plan for the day. Off we went. Off as in walking my ass off - literally. That catbird scout lured me by parking at a restaurant and then walking in the other direction. I caught up to her and kept a pace I hadn't reached since my days as a sauntering jogger. By the time we finally landed back at the restaurant door, the pedometer in my pocket had registered 8800 steps toward my 10,000 daily goal (rarely reached.)

Catbird Scout and I did not lack for conversation. So quickly the time flew, the conversation fueled by topics far beyond what we already knew about one another.  Writing, teaching, family, travel, pain, sorrow, love, laughter. Even my mom. Catbird followed my mom's blog, Old? Who? Me? and they were friends as well. I found I talked of my mom as I hadn't since she died. I liked that.

By afternoon's end, I wished for more time, that we lived closer for I delighted in her company. The ease of talking and sharing with her. That she knew my mind.

Even that pedometer in my pocket was happy. With my walking in Portland that night, my little meter was acting like a jumping bean in my pocket. By day's end it registered almost 14,000 steps. A little figure next to that magic number was jumping up and down and I could hear it saying "Julie, oh Julie? If you did this everyday, you wouldn't look the way you do. "

I took offense to that. But I must say that after all the walking I did on the trip with my husband and then this trip with all my girlfriends, there does seem to be a little extra room in the ass of my shorts. I hate that. Exercise. Why does that have to be the answer?  Especially now that I'm back to my 4000-6000 step most days.

I've lost my train of thought and all my essay training is screaming at me that I really have two or three essays here and I need to pull it together. Probably not possible, but I don't want to separate these trains too much for the only complete excess in this discussion is the discussion of my ass. The rest all relates to friendship.

Especially to those that know my mind.  

Friends, be they bloggers, book clubbers, writers, men, neighbors, old classmates and old roommates, family or bitches, I'm grateful for how you share your lives and wonderment, your questions and answers, and the worlds around you. I can't imagine any journey without that.

How incredible is that.

  Thanks, Catbird Scout. Sucha and Shucka. Bohemians.


Thanks Bunco women. Enjoyed the ride.

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