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 ...


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.


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.)


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.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Full Circle

 A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.  
Mignon McLaughlin

Thirty-six years ago next week, I got married. 

Fresh out of college, I brought a ten-speed Fuji bicycle, a student loan bill, and a saucepan to the new marriage. Bob had an old four-door VW 411 that ran only if it felt like it. Undaunted, we began a life together. 

Earlier that year, I decided I'd rather have a honeymoon than an engagement ring. We wanted to do something unusual because when real life took over, who knew if we could travel. Jobs - they take up so much time, you know. Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway -- Washington through California was our plan.

Of course, we didn't have any money for a honeymoon either. Or camping equipment. We figured we'd pillage the wedding gifts to make that happen. Bob's stepmom, Barb, decided that was a stupid idea and called us over late one night before the wedding. It was like Christmas. A new tent, sleeping bags (which then served as our bed for the next eight months), camp stove, even a clothesline and pins to hang our laundry. She'd gone through her kitchen to gather needed cooking supplies. We were set. 

The other issue before us was that we were married in Michigan. The Pacific Coast Highway? No problem. Just fire up that old VW and start driving 2415 miles to get there. 

We were young? What did we know?

We did the big wedding thing and then parked my parent's car carrier on the top of the VW, filled it with our camping supplies and headed out. 

We made it from East Lansing, Michigan to Lansing, Illinois. The VW decided to die right there in five lanes of rush hour freeway. After the dealership proclaimed it dead, Bob called my parents to thank them for the wedding. Told them how much fun it was and wanted to know if they wanted more fun by driving down to Chicago and towing us home. (My father was well versed in towing that VW.)

Well, my mother -- she said, "I never had a honeymoon and by God my daughter's gonna have a honeymoon."

My dad and my oldest brother each drove a car down to Chicago. After switching the car carrier onto their three-on-the tree Chevy Nova's roof, we hugged goodbye and Bob and I were back on the road. 

With only an hour stop in Austin, Minnesota to see my grandparents at the rest home, we drove straight through to Yellowstone National Park. We used flashlights to read the directions for setting up our new tent. Boiled water in freezing weather to wash ourselves before falling into deep sleep. When we awoke in the morning, 

it had snowed. In the middle of August. We packed up and drove straight through to Astoria, Oregon and Fort Stevens State Park. Set up camp, made an egg and pancake breakfast, then slept for hours. We had found the Pacific Coast Highway and our adventure had begun.

We can't recall why we started in Astoria other than since we lost a couple of days in Chicago, we might have eliminated Washington state.  We obviously knew how to read maps, purchased at gas stations, as we found our way to Oregon and all the way down to Big Sur in California. Then time and money ran out and we headed back to Michigan -- 6000 miles by trip's end.

Couple weeks ago Bob and I took a trip. Even though we have been to many, many places in the past 36 years, I'd still never been to Washington state. I'd seen it across the Columbia River way back when, but you can't count it unless you've stepped foot in it. 

Two weeks ago, I stepped in it. Seattle Washington. And, as an added tidbit - my 50th state. Fitting, I'd say.

After 11 days of driving and ferrying around the state and Victoria and British Columbia, we finished by driving down to Astoria, adding that section of Washington on HWY 101 we'd not navigated on that first trip 36 years before. 

We drove out to Fort Stevens State Park and walked the beach.

 The beach hadn't changed, the wreck of the Peter Iredale still there. 

But a few things had changed. Instead of camping, we stayed in a hotel.

with wonderful beds.

and a rooftop view.

Ate food prepared by someone else.

Yes, that is poutine in clam sauce. Had to try it.

Other changes from our previous trip? 
We cheated - flew to Washington. Rented a car.
Had a better camera - digital. Focus. No more 24-picture Instamatic exposures in red. 4-cube flash.
We've gained weight. 
Our hair is shorter.

But, hey,

we still fall in love with each other. Some days. Most days.

Happy Anniversary, Bob.
BTW, I still don't want an engagement ring. Where you want to go on the next trip?


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