of heart(h) and home

Tonight I came home late after my second 10+ day at the office (long story, but it’s temporary) to find Kyle and friends putting the finishing touches on the mad Halloween decorations that spilled over to the inside of the house this year (spoiler: it’s creep-out-the-neighbor-kid-just-enough AWESOME!). A sink full of dishes (even though I did all the dishes late last night and haven’t been home to cook since), and the chaos that is often our house when I work too much (and sometimes even when I don’t) everywhere. When I work like this I could let Taco Bell make my dinner every night (ok, not every night), but I don’t. Just last night.

Instead I grabbed the wild-caught salmon I’d defrosted for Sunday dinner but abandoned last minute for lasagna, smothered it in Teriyaki sauce, and tossed some frozen petite peas in the microwave, noting it was already well after 8. I hesitated. It wasn’t likely anyone but me would eat it and leftover salmon is always a disappointment. But I needed nutrition and the salmon needed to be cooked and eaten, so I set the marinated salmon under the broiler and contemplated what to do with the leftovers and how badly my coworkers would hate me if I heated leftover fish in the microwave for lunch tomorrow.

As I sat down to eat, I hear someone burst through the front door. It was Luke, running in on his way home to grab his wallet, which he’d left here earlier. Sometimes here is still home base when he and Emily find themselves with a break in between classes and no time to run to their new home in Alpine.

“Where’s Emily?”

“In the car. I’m in a hurry. We’re just now heading home.” It was nearly nine pm and clearly I wasn’t the only one having a long day.

“Want some salmon? Does Emily like salmon?” Aside from knowing that her favorite pizza is BBQ chicken with pineapple, I don’t yet know much about my new daughter-in-law’s taste in food.

“We both love salmon.”

“Here, take some home,” I say as I get up to wrap some still-hot salmon in foil.

“Thanks. We haven’t eaten since 11.”

I grab a paper plate instead and rustle up a plastic fork. There is only one, so they’ll have to share. They don’t mind. I can tell. Luke dishes up some peas and I feel content knowing that they’ll have something warm and good to tide them over.

“Bye. Tell Emily I said hi!” In my heart I just said, “I love you. Tell Emily I love her, too.”

I pack up the remainder of the salmon (my coworkers will still hate me tomorrow) and put away the peas, then head to my room. In truth, the dishes need to be done again and some of the chaos corralled back in, but I’m done for the day. My job is mentally challenging and today it was emotionally exhausting. I’m just done.

As I settle on my bed to get some writing done, I reach down to pull up my quilt. It’s the Underground Railroad quilt I made for my grandmother and inherited back from her when she passed away. My hands come up empty. I wander back into the living room to see if Kyle borrowed it. It’s there. Tossed over the arm of the sofa. I realize Luke must have fetched it for Emily and she would have curled up in it during their brief layover here earlier in the day.

This thought fills me with peace and contentment, even amidst the chaos. Maybe especially amidst the chaos. My life is not perfect. My home is not perfect. I am not perfect. But here is warmth and here is love. It’s in my heart. In my quilt. And in the simple and accepted offering of warm Teriyaki salmon and petite peas on a paper plate this cold, late October night.

The warmth and the love are often unnoticed, overlooked, or unappreciated for all the imperfection. But that does not diminish their worth. They’re constant. And happy are the hearts that allows them in.

Reading, writing, arithmetic…and gymnastics

photo courtesy of Guillaume Guérin

I stumbled across this question on some personal history memory prompt: “Did you do well in school? What were your successes and failures?” So here goes…

Somewhere between doing well but being out of my league socially in elementary school in Eugene, and being voted “Most Likely to Succeed” and graduating second in my high-school class at Junction City, High School, there were, incidentally, a few stories.

Because I’m a good-news-last kind of girl, we’ll start with my most difficult subject. Gymnastics. Part of the reason gymnastics was not my friend was because my fault. I still remember one day filing from the cold gloomy hall into the warm well-lit library¬†and realizing as I looked forward and then behind me that I was at least a full head taller than my entire class. I was tall. And awkward. That can be a lethal combination in gymnastics. The higher you are the further you fall. (The rest of the reason gymnastics was not my friend was simply because gymnastics hated me.) I remember loving the surge of power that builds while running towards the large, sturdy, immoveable vault. But the balance beam was my nemesis.

Awkward as I was, I was also–and still am–a little stubborn. I decided I wanted an A during the gymnastics portion of P.E., as it was the only class in which I wasn’t earning an A, and then I set about perfecting my beam routine. To this day I don’t know how I did it, but I do remember practicing at lunch and after school working on my routines and trying to nail the dismount. And I eventually got my A.

And then there was Math. My favorite math teacher was Mr. Hagen. He was as tall as Gandalf and was a wizard at math. He must have loved math, because he instilled in me a love of math, too. And that was nothing short of a miracle for this distracted, angst-ridden teenager. As a side-note, angst and distraction aside, I realize now how fortunate, even blessed I was, to–right there in the middle of the seventies–live somewhere where girls were encouraged to succeed in math and science.

I lived for Mr. Hagen’s lectures and for the way he taught math not by rote, but in such a way we understood not just what to do, but why. It almost became instinctual. Mr. Hagen was also very patient. So forgiving when I showed up late to class after lunch, meaning well, but struggling not to giggle through class sitting next to one of my best friends, Cyndi Smith.

The next year Mr. Hagen was followed by new teacher, someone who had transferred from another school. I don’t recall his name, but he had short reddish hair and wore glasses. Almost a little Kevin Kline-ish. One day he came into class and wrote an equation that took up the entire blackboard. (Yeah–remember those? Probably not.) He promised to give an A for the entire semester to any student who could solve the equation. We still had to turn in our work, but we would have a guaranteed A.

It took us a couple of weeks, but two of us eventually solved that big old long equation. Oh man, I loved solving equations! And I loved earning that A.

My love for math died a cold cruel death just the next year, on account of my trigonometry teacher. Having been spoilt by the in-depth explanations and understanding provided by Mr. Hagen and his successor, I was anxious to understand the whys behind trig.

“Because that’s just what you do,” was the brusk, unsatisfying reply I got from my instructor. I don’t recall even finishing the course, but I tested out of college math and have never taken another math course since. Although I like to joke now and then with a sarcastic “math is hard,” I miss being able to solve equations. I think I loved math because the rules are finite and predictable. And I much prefer problems I can solve to those I can’t.

Since I went from bad to good and then good to bad, let me end this with another recollection. At some point during high school I had the opportunity to compete with other high school students in regional college-bowl type competition. One of my favorite moments of the event was when I was battling it out with a tough competitor and the questions got a little tricky. The entire audience grew silent as I quickly slammed the button almost before the following question was completed. “What is a four-letter word for social intercourse that ends with “K.”

Talk!” I exclaimed.

A huge sigh of relief eased its way out of the adults in the room, along with a few snickers from the peanut gallery.

They thought they had me.

But they were wrong.





Post edit: Lest I present the past through rose-colored glasses, might I add that also in between my not-enoughness in elementary school and my likely overrated accolades as a senior, there were plenty of awkward moments, dateless Saturday nights, broken heart(s), mediocre writing assignments, a geeky prom date, being stood-up for the homecoming dance by the bad boy who wasn’t looking for a nice girl, being humbled by the barbed and forked tongues of mean girls, and the authorship of a really bad rhyming couplet poem about mute swans (somewhat forgiven on account of a couple of decent haiku.

That thing formerly known as NaBloPoMo

If you’ve been reading here for awhile, you know that while I am sort of hit and miss, there is one thing I do fairly consistently and that is flood you with daily blog posts every November. I used to call it NaBloPoBlahBlahBlah. From what I can tell, BlogHer has hijacked NaBloPoMo and, for some reason, like the FlyLady and e-Bay, has banished me (read, made it impossible for me to register/login). Since I’ve been relegated to rogue status, I’m going to start a bit early to get warmed up. Also, this year, I’ve decided to at least attempt a theme. I’d like to use November to turn some memories and stories into words before I forget. Disclaimer: Like those of my dear grandmother, some of my memories may or may not be true or entirely accurate. But they are real to me.

This is a photo of the upper part of my Grandpa’s ranch. To be more accurate, it is my Grandpa and Grandma Rex’s ranch. Or it was. The part from which most of my childhood memories come has been sold. But the sagebrush is the same pale green/grey and the sky the same clear blue, almost as deep as my grandfather’s eyes when he looked straight up into yours on the rare occasion when he spoke to you, and the dirt. Well, know you know from whence comes my love for red dirt.

I wish I had a picture of my Grandpa. But think of an old (so therefore now), nearly silent Harrison Ford, wearing a plaid polyester cotton western shirt, a broken-in offbrand pair of work jeans, worn and dusty cowboy boots, which he could rightfully wear, and a straw Stetson.

In my mind Grandpa’s truck was the color of ranch road dust. But it must have been tan or yellowish or maybe not. I just remember the red-dirt dust. I remember the first time Grandpa told me to drive it back up to the ranch house to get something or other. I have no idea how old I was. Only that I had never driven a car or a truck before. That my little sister was with me. And that neither one of us could hardly reach the clutch with our feet and see out the dusty front window with our eyes at the same time. I can’t tell you how many times we killed it. Or how we possibly got it from wherever we were back to the ranch house. Maybe we didn’t. I just know that even now, at 50 years old, I can still feel that stone cold panic one feels when someone one doesn’t dare disappoint requires the unknown and impossible.

Another memory that comes to mind when I think of Grandpa’s truck is of riding in the back of the truck. This was, of course, back in the day when riding in the back of a pickup truck was just as accepted as riding in the front without a seatbelt. In other words, we did it all the time.

I have no idea how old I was. When on the ranch, we were as ageless as the ranch was timeless. But I remember being in the back of Grandpa’s truck with at least two of my siblings. I was sitting on the passenger-side edge of the truckbed. As one did, even though common sense dictates that sitting on the top edge of a truckbed while bouncing down an unpaved, wheel-rutted old ranch road is well, either stupid or crazy or a little of both.

Grandpa went around a turn and one of the rusty old 55-gallon drums that for some unknown reason were also in the back of Grandpa’s truck came rolling straight at me. So, clearly valuing limb over life, I lifted both my legs straight up and let the barrel run right under them. Harmlessly, or so I thought. Until the barrel stopped and the rest of me preceded the trajectory of my legs and flipped right over the side of Grandpa’s truck.

Of course Grandpa wasn’t driving very fast (driving fast on a ranch road is darn near impossible, but that’s not to say there are some, mainly the young, who haven’t tried it). He must have watched me go right over, because he stopped the truck. I’m pretty sure I hit my head on the cold hard ground. Because I don’t remember anything from the moment I started to fall back–like a trust fall only with no one there to trust–and the moment I remember waking up and looking a long way up into my Grandpa’s face.

Now how my head likes to the tell the story, there was a rattlesnake right near where I fell and my grandpa killed it with his two bare hands so as to save my life. My grown-up self now (only just now, in the past couple of years) questions my ageless child-self about these details. In fact, the entire memory reeks of an asynchronous Louis L’Amour novel/Hallmark movie mashup. Or something.

But that’s what the little girl in me remembers when she thinks about red-dirt dusted pick-ups, old metal drums, red-ranch dirt, pale green-grey sagebrush, bumps on the head, or the warning rattle of a western rattlesnake.