Archive for the ‘liebling’ Category

Hat Trick

15 June 2009

Dear J-

School Time 3283 -sm

They say a Gordie Howe hat trick consists of a goal, an assist, and a fight. Today was no exception, as we did end up making it to Monterey (just an hour away) for a visit to the aquarium — the goal — with a stop for lunch where I bought wildly overpriced noodles that figgy ended up rejecting anyway — the assist — and not before quarreling with theVet over reading each other’s minds — obviously the fight. Three adults and three children fit neatly into our little van, but at the end of the day it’s the adults who are exhausted and the kids who need judo to work out those last bits of aggression — twelve hours of fun make for a long day.

The Assist 3418 -sm

In between we had the chance to go strawberry-picking, one of those activities that seem faintly ridiculous — don’t we pay other folks to do that for us? — until you see the effect it has on kids, entranced with heavy fruit, the sweet scent filling your head, and the obsessive quest for the best berries. We passed by the supercritical plant at Moss Landing on the way from Aquarium to field, a fitting reminder of how the industrial world keeps intruding on what was a rural network of farms and towns. I had a vision of San Jose being an impenetrable maze of similarly-named freeways and houses huddled behind concrete sound walls, but the truth lies somewhere south, in the garlic-scented air of Gilroy, by the roadside stands lines up from Watsonville to Castroville; like the Boston of my mind, the edge between city and country is abrupt and dramatic. Beauty is never where you expect it.

Downstairs Ahoy 3238 -sm

My nephew is quite fond of pigeons; the last visit to San Diego, we found him chasing the ones in Balboa Park without much luck; at the time I assumed it was the cruelty born of youth, but now I suspect it may have been to hear the dry rasp of feathers ruffled through hurry. Today sitting on the wharf and eating our leftover ham sandwiches (he, feeding the strays with bread crusts) our fellow picnickers disgorged a child who was, with limited success, actually trying to kick said pigeons. My first instinct was to see what kind of parents would encourage sociopath-in-training tendencies, but as it turns out, they either didn’t care or didn’t notice — not sure which was worse; so while I sat and fretted over what to ask them, my eight-year-old wise nephew told the kid to stop, asking how he’d feel with a giant pigeon kicking him (come to think of it, said pigeon would probably just eat the kid raw — at least that’s how Roald Dahl would write it). Smart. Our future is secure.

Round Shuffle 3467 -sm

After dinner we headed off to watch nearly the whole family participate in judo; figgy sat on the bench and snapped her arms in unconscious imitation. The life — her life — is fast-approaching and it’s not always clear where we should be going next; just as the class started shuffling in orbit of the mat I was struck by a clear memory of that morning, watching a small school of fish flying in formation through the big kelp tank. We could do worse than to encourage the group dynamic, pushing her in boisterous celebration of life.

Urban Forest 3468 -sm


Enemy Protozoa 0027 -sm


Two Year Revue

3 May 2009

Dear J-

I keep making excuses, although we don’t have that much further to run — figgy’s real birthday is Wednesday, but weekends are much easier to observe these things. The second birthday isn’t as big in any culture, I think, except to mark the transition to the terrible twos. My personal hypothesis for that has to do with developmental issues — you’re somewhere between knowing what you want and not being able to say it; the cliché of “use your words” is actually pretty accurate. Therefore, the two-year review:

  • 200 gallons of milk consumed (mostly soy)
  • 150 extra trips around the block trying to get her to fall asleep
  • 100 weeks with at least one tantrum
  • 75 steps, average, taken before asking for UPS, UPS, UPS
  • 50 dollars usually spent on toys quickly discarded in favor of a rock, or a leaf
  • 30 seconds, nominally, until the next request
  • 20 years wondering what life would be like with a figgy
  • 15 percent, time, money, and effort spent trying to guess correctly
  • 10 hours a day worked means no time for figgy, terrible for all of us
  • 5 different ways of pronouncing Daddy, depending on what’s needed
  • 2 cupcakes destroyed today
  • 1 more heart won, as usual



Prom Apologies

20 December 2008

Dear J-

So to the downtown Spokane Bon Marche store Santa, 1976, let’s just say that the nearly-two-year-old that was plunked down on your lap wasn’t the most pleased to be there, so late at night anyway, and can we just sweep that meltdown under the table and let bygones be bygones?


But seriously, something that’s been stewing in the back of my mind for fifteen years or so — and I hate saying it, it sounds like I’m one of those people who never got over high school; it’s not something that kept me up at night, just more that I lost the chance to say anything at the time and in what’s becoming a trend for me, I lost track of, well, everyone not in my current life.  As a side note, I spent half an hour cleaning carpets this morning because I forgot to walk the dogs; theVet despairs of how easily distracted I am by the immediate task — this is why I’ve spent a small fortune on electronic brains that I invariably forget to update.

The point is that my relentless narcissism excluded any thought that hey, maybe it took TWO seventeen-year-olds (skip down to the Allman Brothers song, here) to multiply awkwardness into some perfect storm of silences and mis-communications.  It made for a memorable prom, but perhaps not the memories that most pairs take away from that particular night.  For my part, I left a lot unsaid; I wish I’d explained how long I’d waited — nearly three years, from the moment she’d walked in to homeroom — and that I didn’t care if there was no future in it, just to be there tonight with her was magical enough; all the steps — here for pictures, there for dinner, then back to the dance — all the rituals of tux and corsages and shaking the father’s hand — all that blurred together, all matching and missing the visions I’d had in my head for that night.

I’ll leave it there, but hasten to add that my contribution to it was not insignificant; as I’ve noted before, I chose inaction over initiative every time I had the choice.  My life was full of structure at seventeen; the next sixteen years have been filled with terror and learning at having that safety net slowly but surely cut away strand by strand until I learned (am learning) how and why to enjoy the moment for what it is, not compared to some ineffable ideal.


Water World

17 December 2008

Dear J-

We’re moving in slow-motion here in Southern California; a day of steady rain has reduced the view of the world out our windshields to a steady rhythm of red brake lights punctuated by wipers unwisely retained through another season.  We’re so spoiled by our weather that anything other than sunshine falling from the sky is cause for dark, apocalyptic thoughs.  When it rains it rains hard here; between the passing spray and headlights you watch the drops rebounding and redoubling.  Standing water litters the streets and warns us off going to the beaches, as our storm systems are always overwhelmed by the slightest hint of moisture.

On our street, athwart a canyon, the gutter trickles merrily with simple sprinkler runoff and car wash suds every weekend, but tonight there’s nothing but the steady drone of water water running skipping water water gurgling cooing water water alluring and beguiling with promises of cool slumber.  It’s the character of rain that makes it cosy or cold; we travel home in our metal boxes and rubber galoshes but there’s still the anxiety of un-ordinary weather falling falling into your eyes.

I dream at night of a world under water; I dream of placid paces, languid spaces.  My daytime thoughts are soaked with brine and the sea’s air brought close.  We live on our watery planet, safely behind our shelters, now dashing out to the water’s edge, now dashing back.  We dare the water to claim us as its own; we defy the sky.  Drama looms large under beetling clouds.  We find ourselves tonight under rain again, shapes blurring through drop lenses, colors indistinct and wan; we fall into a world of water on skin on skin and never attend the borders.


Moving Week

24 October 2008

Dear J-

The long week comes to an end; I look forward to several calm, numbing hours in front of the TV scanning odd channels for coverage of improbable NCAA Football upsets.  I always end up, at the end of the day, reflecting on the distances traveled and comparing where I woke up with where I lie down.  It’s easy with the lens of distance to note the changes, just as it’s easy when you make the millionth round-trip to where-ever you call home tonight to dismiss the everyday as pedestrian.

With the rare opportunity to be up and awake just past midnight (this, courtesy of my brother and his Wii), I bunked down in my nephew’s bed, which forced all kinds of musical sleeping arrangements — and was up by five to experience the promised ninety minutes of Bikram Yoga.  I’ve never practiced Yoga before, and the opportunity afforded me insight on the flexibility it lends its practicioners (“Okay … now bring your other leg behind your head …”).  The overall experience — held in a room kept at near-sauna conditions, to better replicate the conditions of India — left me drained and sopping wet, but as my brother explained, it’s more about the meditative experience you gain as you progress through the poses, rather than a competition to find the next human Gumby.

I’m not sure for sure that it lent me some perspective on the following internment ceremony later, but I certainly saw things in a different light than I did yesterday, flying in to San Jose.  I got to learn more about my aunt’s life; I got to see how she touched my family in numerous ways.  Best yet, I’m now most familiar with the portrait of her as a warm, vibrant woman, not as the past few years had left her.

We all came together with few exceptions, with few gaps, this mob of a family and all its cousins.  We may fumble over the right words and produce something nonsensical, but that we’re all willing to pause our lives and gather, that speaks volumes to how strongly the feelings pull us together.  Once again, humbled, amazed, in awe of the things that keep us family.  And a long Friday closes with nothing but surprises.


Island Mind

14 July 2008

Dear J-

I’ve had Hawaii on the brain for the last couple of days and I think I finally understand why:  we got married in 2000 and promptly ran off to Maui; in 2004 we’d had enough of not having real vacations, so we went to Kauai.  Yet this year, nothing; we’d rather not subject figgy to the sensation of spending five hours strapped to a seat when she’s just getting up and mobile.

Hawaii’s significant to me as the first place we took an extended trip together without the schedule-planning influence of older folks or school or fitting in around someone else’s desires; we went with no plans other than having a car and a place to stay and no to-do checklist.  Back up for a moment, now, to 1981 and somewhere between Calgary and Banff.  There’s four adults and four kids crammed into a car that’s designed for six, a contemporary Ford Fairmont, and we’ve got an itinerary.  Must see.  Lake Louise, Vermillion Lakes, glaciers, Continental Divide.  I remember several things from the trip, but the opalescent jade glacier-melt lakes were not among them, instead, sneaking way too many people into a single room, being jammed up next to grandma for hours at a time, and the feeling of being on the road.  Forever.

When we went to Kauai four years later there was even less planned out, but the moments we had still sparkle in comparison:  I remember getting up what felt like insanely early thanks to still being adjusted to mainland time and getting out to the trail at the Na Pali shore just after sunrise and hiking that rugged path without seeing another human for what felt like hours.  Afternoons, we’d hit up a rental shop and find someplace to snorkel (the Tunnels near Hanalei being a particularly nice spot).  It’s not to say that I wouldn’t enjoy traveling with my parents, but  I think I might be too spoiled to.

It was less about the place and more about reveling in freedom — no schedule, no pressures, just finding something to bum around with for a few hours and then back to the hotel, back into the water, swimming every afternoon and knowing the biggest decision of the day was coordinating all the meals together to avoid eating the same thing twice.  Yeah, we can handle a shift in schedule.  We’ll pencil that in around the snorkeling and napping.

Yesterday we’re slathering on sunscreen and preparing to head down to Mission Bay.  Sun.  Sand.  Warm water, palm trees, shoreline gently sloping into the water, public-access parking and I look at the odometer:  only five miles from home, only five miles to that Hawaii state of mind.  We’ll be back, I promise.


Memory Day

26 May 2008

Dear J-

Look, all I’m saying is that if I’m flying two THOUSAND miles for holiday, I expect it to be sunny and warm.

— overheard in the crowd at the San Diego Zoo, roughly 10am

This Memorial Day we decided to get off to the Zoo, maybe not so early (it opens at 9), but early enough to avoid the big crushing crowds on major holidays, summer weekends, and sunny afternoons. May is, as so often around here, capricious: cold in the mornings, warming up to you and finally letting you know what Southern California’s all about. We ended up leaving around noon — not so hot that toting figgy in a backpack up some of the Zoo’s canyons (simple route this visit: around the Children’s Zoo, down Bear Canyon, and back up Cat Canyon and taking a twirl around Elephant Mesa) wasn’t more than invigorating, not enervating.

Two years ago Memorial Day fell on the first weekend after the miscarriage; we spent that particular holiday at Point Loma, Cabrillo National Monument after having passed numerous well-dressed mourners observing the holiday going through Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. We had our own somber agenda to pursue, hoping that we could take our minds off of it and seeming to run into every single pregnant woman or newborn baby in the greater San Diego region instead. We found ourselves alone in the crowd, marked out by what seemed like a silent, morose brand amidst all the joy and sun. And I reminded theVet that this wasn’t forever and indeed, less than a year later, there was figgy to greet us with thunderous voice (I distinctly remember that she pretty much cried for the first hour of life or so: outrage, indignation, and how-do-you-have-the-gall).

We forget how easily we forget. We pack it away inside somewhere and manage to stumble over the right words for the occasion when it falls out of the mental closet and scatters pieces everywhere; put them back in the correct sequence, now, and tidy it up by precariously shutting that overstuffed door. But worst of all, we forget what really matters and read malice into action, deliberation into accident, and prefer reaction to patience. I need constant reminding of how we felt that long day in May 2006, knowing that things would be all right and still not believing it; saying the right things and not listening to them; the desperation and regret of hearing there was nothing we could have done differently and feeling placated. We stand stronger together. And the sun eventually wins.


Icarus Touch

16 March 2008

Dear J-

These things I know: how well do I know them?

These things I learn: how thoroughly have I learned?

These things I believe: how deep is my belief?

Tell me the truth again, tell me your truth, help me make mine. Everyone sees red differently, and everyone has a different tolerance for saturation. At each extreme of the tonal scale, notes and shades alike blend into one; it takes a trained eye to pick out each individual in isolation when it might be a simple task if they stood next to each other.

Twin Peaks 3755

The clouds grumble to themselves early this morning. “Let them sleep,” counsels the sheltering earth. But they continue to argue, here because Icarus dared to touch the face of the sun, there because we still pierce the heavens on rockets and shuttles to gain better perspective on our world as a whole. The earth whispers to me to let them fight it out, the sun is due up and the clouds will end up slinking away like curfew-breaking juveniles under bright lights, but it’s done: I’m up, I’m around. I’m thinking again.

I wonder about the borders we draw for ourselves, the lines we will not cross. How do who you are and your beliefs integrate into your actions? Who’s lost sight of memory: me, for remembering again imperfectly; you, for forgetting (or growing) away from it? As the earth spins do we find ourselves in the same place every twenty-four hours or is there a daily shift, a gradual accretion of change? Does the core remain? Or is it irretrievable?


Analysis Report

27 December 2007

Veto You

* * * * *

Baby Analysis Report

***** CONTENTS *****

fussy ........... 9%
poopy ........... 5%
sleepy ......... 20%
hungry ......... 10%
angry ........... 0%
busy ............ 5%
love ........... 50%
belly lint ...... 1%

Old Man of the Mountain

25 September 2007

This is one of my favorite stories theVet likes to tell — I don’t believe there’s a direct Western equivalent, maybe Hansel and Gretel with its theme of abandonment. I’m not sure, J-, if while you spent that year in Korea you heard the tale either, so I wanted to share.

* * * * *

One day the patriarch of the family returned from hunting. The cruel winter had driven all the game into hiding and worse, left his father with a nagging cough that no amount of boiled cabbage could put right. Snow fell as the days marched to a peak, where even the turnips carefully stashed away became rooty and inedible, yet not quite so desperate as to make the animals come out again in their search.

“Wife,” he declares, “wife, it’s come to this choice. We have four mouths to feed — us, our son, and my father. My father, he’s had a good life, but I don’t think he’ll see the flowers bloom this year. I’m sure he wouldn’t want to take the food out of his grandson’s mouth. It’s time for the mountain.”

She acquiesces; the world spins relentlessly on its axle, and that’s just life. Her father went to the mountain and his father too before him. And her father’s father’s father too, stretching on beyond counting, the mountain has seen them all and eaten the end of their days without hesitation.

The next morning, he sets to work, gathering the materials he needs to make a sling and snowshoes; the old man is never going to make it up the mountain alone, and he’ll have to haul him up this time. He’s cutting strips from the old deer blanket to weave into something supple and strong, supportive and restrictive. It’s a long journey up the mountain, and in the midst of this industry, his son, far removed from diapers and milk but still amidst kites and hoops, comes questioning up.

“Daddy, daddy, whatchoo doin’?”

“I’m making a basket.”

“What’sa basket for?”

“I’m going on a trip tomorrow.”

“How come you’re makin’ it now, can I help?”

“No, you’re too young, and I need to use my strength to make this one extra-strong and sturdy.”

“Okay,” the son says quite seriously. “Okay, okay. I get it. I unnerstan’ now.” He runs off; besides the ache in his stomach there’s duties to be discharged to his friends, snow forts to build, puddle-ice to be broken, and that mystery to unravel, of how the running stream never froze in this winter’s landscape. It’s a busy day for his dad, now finishing the basket and moving on to the snowshoes that night.

Later then; early dawn. The family arises; the grandfather, having seen the sling-pack take shape all day yesterday knows his fate, choosing instead to savor a last morning’s warmth under the covers; the father, knowing the route handed down father-to-son, rouses his sleepy boy and presents him with a cunningly small pair of snowshoes.

“Whuzza, daddy, I get new snowshoes today?”

“That’s right, you’re going with me on the trip.”

“Oh, and mommy too?”

“No, she’s got to stay here, we’ll be back tonight. I’m just going to get grampa and we’ll leave soon. Do you need me to show you how to put the snowshoes on?”

“They’re just like my old ones, right?”

“Yes,” he says, pride swelling to see his lessons remain taught. “Yes, my clever boy, yes.”

They’re all bundled up, the old man, precariously light and secured on the dad’s back making for an odd, lumpy sight greeting the boy as he walks outside into the first wind of the day. He frowns, thinking.

“Daddy, isn’t grampa sick?”

“Yes, we’re taking him up the mountain.”

“But …” pausing, pondering, “but, if the mountain is cold, an’ grampa is sick, he’s not gonna get better. You always tell me to stay near the fire when I cough like grampa does now.”

“My son, you’re old enough to know. This world is not fair, this world is hard and this world demands we have to cut our hearts once in a while.” These words, rehearsed last night and the old man hears his echo ring true. “Grampa … grampa isn’t going to live with us after today, he’s going to live on the mountain.”

“So we can go visit him?”

“No, he’s not going to want us to visit.”

“Oh, so he’s coming back down to see us?”

“No, not that either.”

He frowns again; you can just make out the furrow that’ll grow into a I’m-thinking line ten years from now. And the storm breaks as his brow relaxes. “Oh, grampa is old!”


“And he’s sick!”

“Yes, I think you know it now.”

The son turns and tugs at the straps, nodding approvingly. “Yes. It’s good. Yes, good. Good good good.”

And now it’s the father’s turn to perplexedly ask, “Good? Is what?”

“Oh, daddy, you did a good job with this pack. It’ll last and last and that way I won’t havta make one when you’re old and sick.”

They burned it that night, three generations watching the flames leap higher into the sky, all-consuming silence swallowing talk of the mountain.