23 November 2011

Before and After

Abbey got her braces off yesterday.  We celebrated, a new outfit, a haircut, Breaking Dawn and a sleepover with Mackenzie.

13 October 2011

Tree of Life

Voice Over
The nuns taught us there were two ways through life - the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you'll follow.

Grace doesn't try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries.

Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things.

The nuns taught us that no one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end.

17 September 2011

Play ball.

This story is a long time coming.  It's one I really like.  Not because it's written beautifully, or because it means something big, but because it's a fun one to relive.

The first day of school Jake asked, "when does baseball start?"

"Nobody starts anything the first week of school.  We'll hear from someone soon," I assured him.

Later that same evening Coach Robert called.  "Practice begins tomorrow," he said.

Jake started catching imaginary pop flies in the air, and I imagined this: practice tomorrow and he doesn't own a glove, a bat, shoes, socks, pants, or a hat.

He jumped out of bed on Wednesday morning, eager to start the day.  Every sentence uttered included some form of base or ball.  "What do baseball players eat for breakfast?"  "Can we get a ball when we get my new bat?"  "Will I get to steal bases?" "Should I slide on every base?" And on and on.

At the end of the second day of school, while headed to the sporting goods store, ready to surrender my weeks pay on equipment for yet another sport, Hope called.  She probably really didn't want to know what I was doing when she asked, but I told her all about Jake's baseball dream and my lack of equipment.  "Come by here," she said.  "I have a closet full of baseball gear."  Hope shows up when I need her.

Hope who mentored me as a first year teacher.  Hope who wanted to visit me in New Jersey.  Hope who came to me when Jake struggled into the world.  Hope who accepts me on my very unfair terms.  Hope who gets my hyperbole.  Hope who trusts me.  Hope who prayed with me when George took his last breath.  Yes, that Hope.  Again, giving me exactly what I need.

Her son's equipment inventory for Jake: new Nike cleats with changeable logo colors, two bats, a helmet, 3 pairs of baseball pants, batting gloves and a bag.  At home, he changed into his gear and practiced sliding through the kitchen and down the hall.  Jake showed up at that first practice looking like a pro.

He hasn't played a sport since 2008, the spring that his dad died.  He played T-ball then, but a fog hovered over that season.  He never asked to play again.

But now he wanted to play ball.  He watched the Braves with Alex this summer, asking questions, learning the players. He asked me to take him to my hometown to see the Pittsburgh Pirates play.  In September my parents took him.  He brought books about baseball home from the library and read them.

On the way to practice, Jake said, "Well, I think I'll be one of the top two players on the team."

I hesitated, then carefully explained that these 9 & 10 year old division boys had probably been playing for 4 years or so.  Jake at 8, the youngest boy on the team would do just fine if he listened and learned.

As we were walking up to the field, one of the coaches spoke to Jake.  Jake responded politely with a "yes, sir."  His enthusiasm was drifting, I figured he was on the down side of his late lunch French toast sugar high.

In what appeared to be an abrupt energy shift, he moseyed onto the field.  After a few lifeless tosses, he came out to the stands and said, "mama, I don't feel so good."  The humid air formed droplets on his forehead.

"Go on," I told him.  "You're going to be just fine."

He went back out to warm up.  A few more minutes went by, he came back.

"Mama, I think I"m gonna be sick," he said as he drug his little body to the men's room.

He came back out, not looking much better.

"Go back out on the field and play," I insisted.  "You'll be fine."

He walked through the dugout door, onto the field, turned back around, with his head hanging low, rushed toward the bleachers, and threw up all over me, my school papers, the bleachers, and the concrete.

"I'm so sorry" he cried, as I rubbed his back telling him it was all going to be okay in my gentlest voice while he continued to vomit all over me. 

After cleaning and disinfecting Jake and me, I returned to spray down the bleachers and the concrete.  First I threw my student's English 101 essay away.  Then I hosed the area.  The coach's brother Mike watched the whole scene unfold.  He told me Jake said he was nervous when he got there.

Jake sat in the dug out for a few minutes.  I finished cleaning.  I walked over, bent down on my knees, and told him that he was a part of this team, quitting wasn't an option, he had nothing left in him to throw up, and he was going to be fine.  I told him we were staying, and he could sit in the dug out the whole time if he wanted to, but if it were me, I'd go back out on that field and say, "coach, I don't feel so good, but I really want to play, so I'm going to give this another try."  I walked away, and gathered the papers I brought to grade.

A few minutes went by.  Jake picked up his glove and jogged back onto the field.  The coach hit him a few balls.  Jake made a few stops and throws.

Then the coach said, "come on in guys, we're going to run some bases."

This worried me.  Jake just finished vomiting all over me.  Run?

As each boy rounded first, the next one would begin.  The goal was to catch the guy ahead.  Jake was fifth in line.  He passed the fourth boy around second, and passed the third runner too.

Jake had their attention now.

The coaches explained the positions and plays, and Jake listened.  They encouraged him when he listened and instructed him when he didn't. 

In Jake's first game, he got an infield hit, but he outran the throw.  The coach told him not to watch the ball when he hit it, just run hard to first.  Jake did, and he was safe.  They gave him one of two game balls.  The other went to Sam who made an unassisted double play.

In the second game, 5 of the 7 runs scored were because of Jake.  And one of his hits was a double to right field.
He loved practice, and now he wants Alex to teach him how to pitch.

Jake's baseball season had more losses than wins, more walks than hits, and more errors than plays, but he had so much fun.  In his last game, he got a great hit to left field and made a great play from second to first.   The team lost the game, but Jake had a winning season.

Good People.

I have some friends who have people.  You know, cleaning people, hair people, financial people, insurance people.  George used to have errand people.  I often wish I had some people.  Yesterday, I did.

Jake plays baseball now.  

Last night on the way to practice I asked him where his glasses were.  He thought for a minute, and very confidently told me they were in his desk at school, right where he left them.  Lucky for him, Abbey left all of her school clothes in a bag at the gym after volleyball. 

So we dropped Jake off at practice, and Abbey and I headed back down town.  First, we called Christy (the volleyball coach) to see if anyone was still at the gym.  She was still there, but ready to leave to have dinner with her family.  She didn't see the Steelers duffel bag anywhere.
Abbey called Ansley who had picked up the bag in an attempt to help.  After many phone calls and mixed communication.  Ansley gave the bag to Christy, and the coach brought the bag from the gym to the school - where we were headed for Jake's glasses.   We found the glasses, retrieved the bag, and headed off to Jake's practice.
Abbey and I discussed how many people needed to get involved to fix our problems.

We delivered Jake's glasses and he could again see the ball. 

Jake's coaches are these 3 really great guys, all positive, all encouraging, all showing special interest in Jake's success.

At the end of practice, Jake's glasses were missing again.  At 7:30, dusk falling, the coaches, their sons, a few other players, Jake, Abbey and I all began the search again.  Jake's tiny black rimmed glasses were somewhere between the red clay and the plush grass.  With the stadium lights out and the last of the sun setting, we were out of luck. 

Coach Robert and his brother Mike wouldn't give up though.  They grabbed a flashlight, retracing Jake's steps to the water fountain and the woods where he went to the bathroom (which incidentally weren't woods at all, but someone's shrubs in their back yard.)  Still no glasses.

It was dark now and it was Friday night.  I was finished.  I thanked everyone for their efforts, but we surrendered. 

Coach Ray offered to go back in the morning and look again.  I thanked him for the kind offer.

Again on the way home, Abbey and I discussed the ridiculousness of the amount of people involved in our lack of responsibility.

We went to bed and I did some financial calculations in an effort to order new glasses at the beginning of the week.

At 8:30 on Saturday morning, Coach Ray's wife Linn called .  They went over to the field and found Jake's glasses.  They were even willing to deliver them to me.

Who are these people?  I couldn't believe what I was hearing.  I just rolled out of bed and this family had at the crack of dawn combed the baseball field and found my son's glasses. 

Grateful?  I think yes.  Inspired?  For sure.  Hopeful about humanity?  Indeed.

I know some good people in Charleston.

21 August 2011

Charlotte A. Cavatica

John brought this black widow spider into my garage.

13 August 2011

"Sing to Me Oh Muse"

Evenings I sit on my deck and watch the August thunderstorms roll down the river. The light spectacle and the symphony of wind howling, boats racing to the dock, thunder roaring, and fish flipping, my wind chimes harmonizing, cars motoring across the bridge, and the silence of the birds flight, all entrance me. These signals mean something very familiar, something as familiar as the crickets chorus, peak August and back to school. Thus begins my compulsive ritual for reentering the real world.

For weeks, I’ve watched the status updates of teachers preparing to start a new year. The study, the structure, the devotion impressed me but did not inspire me. My nerves start catching mini waves just under my skin, and I wonder, do I know what I need to know to start this year? I haven’t really read all the new books I intended, but I did read Usain Bolt’s autobiography at the library last week.

Fortunately, I had the foresight a few days ago to finalize the Abbey and Jake preparations. I shopped online, ordering rain boots and tennis shoes. I traveled to the uniform shop and made a trip to Staples. A tactical strike, I’ll be about the business of planning English lessons in no time.

With a major task accomplished, I rested my mind some, thinking of nothing deliberately and everything accidentally.

After sufficient decompression, I planned a few days rest, nothing on my schedule, just me and my children. And they have their own special end of summer rituals, usually involving the sentence, “she looked at me.” Followed by, “he looked at me first.”

Only days now until I have to show up to work; days filled with meetings and team building activities. The hour of opportunity has passed and Zeus’s daughters elude me.

My vision for cleanliness and organization has arrived, so I purge all half empty bags of perishables, sanitize the refrigerator and organize every cabinet, shelf and drawer. Who could think clearly with half a foil wrapped block of cream cheese in the refrigerator?

Once order is in the house, I detox. A total mind and body cleanse, including my gratitude prayer and meditation for creativity, Epsom salt baths, and green tea.

I move easily into the next phase: closet organization. It will help me decide what to wear when I show up unprepared for work. I color code all my shirts, pants, and dresses, mostly primary colors, blacks, browns and grays. The unlikely print gets its own section. I shop online for khaki pants, and now I too am almost ready.

I have books to read, and news, and blogs, and magazines (September’s Vanity Fair is now available on my iPad.) Not to mention, I should be researching videos and websites for information to incorporate into those lessons I haven’t planned. I take copious notes and make lists in mini notepads. Occasionally, I get sidetracked and start planning my fall break trip.

And then I must write about the experience as though it’s profound.

For me to work all day like this would not be fair to my children, so I also schedule some bike riding, surfing and swimming each day.

There is also the business of eating every day, which means carefully studying recipes and making trips to the Farmer’s Market and Whole Foods.

After I make dinner, Peas and Pasta, I’ll have to check Jake’s summer reading and math. Then the full moon tonight, so I’ll need to kayak. It appears as though Urania has arrived. By then it will be time to decompress again. I think Calliope might show up tomorrow.

12 August 2011

Selflessness Poetry

Sincere and lovely poetry of the self, the loss of self, oneness and otherness, and essence of the infinite. Every phrase, every mannerism, every thought familiar, distant, and real.

Watch the Ted Video of Thandie Newton: Embracing otherness, embracing myself.

25 July 2011

Nothing Ever Sounds So Profound in Words As It is in Reality.

I've climbed a few metaphorical mountains in my life.

On July 23rd I climbed a literal mountain, Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak East of something.

A week before the trip, I started packing. The day before the trip, I thought about quitting. Not because of the mountain, but because of the social experience.

Climbing mountains is supposed to be about facing fears and mental strength. While I tried to deflect my fear of humans onto things such as black bears, snakes, and ticks, my greatest anxiety was always about hanging out in a cabin with 5 other women. Even more daunting, was the idea of walking 5.6 miles into sky through the thick forest with other people who might talk. I was so hoping that I would resist the urge to push someone over the edge.

Three of the girls drove together from Charleston, I drove myself. It took me 6 + hours to get there, but I didn't mind. Alone with my head, I listened to lectures from former Princeton Professor Robert Solomon, The Passions: Philosophy, and the Intelligence of Emotions. Not the stuff of small talk with Jim Beam and a campfire. I also listened to the Foo Fighters "Walk" on repeat for a windy drive to the cabin.

A combination of excitement, fear, anxiety, and racy anticipation raged in my stomach, my throat, my eyes, and my crown chakra, Sahasrara.

My strategy was simple. I'd be a listener, not a talker. And by listener, I meant that I would appear to be listening and contemplatively hike my mountain.

When I arrived at the cabin, the girls immediately walked me across the street to the mountain stream. We crossed the cold creek in flip flops. My only thought, "step on the rock to see if it's loose - there may be snakes under it." Every rock was wobbly.

Thirty feet or so on the other side of the water, was a 3 sided shanty, fairly well kept, with a Guns n Roses T-shirt hanging from the roof, a few porn magazines rolled in the rafters, a bench, random camping gear, and most impressive a chimney made of trash cans on the outside attached to a homemade oven and cooktop on the inside. Who built this? His or her shack became a focal point for much story telling. Something about a message left on the answering machine at our cabin and a warrant for Seth.

notice the trash can chimney

I chose the sofa to not get any sleep on. The other girls shared the bedrooms. They didn't sleep much either.

Flip flop heard me coughing and came out offering to "bang on my back or punch me in the chest."

I respectfully declined.

At 4:00 am, Lightning woke up, used the bathroom and chatted a few moments with me about worries and prayers. I enjoyed the company and the commonality of sleeplessness.

By 5 am I decided to shower and get ready. We agreed to leave around 6:15. Lightning feared the pending afternoon storms. We started on the mile walk to the trailhead around 6:30.

As we crossed the bridge at the campground, some creepy dude had his eye on us. Click Click Clock (think African tribal clicking language) and I both noticed and agreed to keep an eye on him. I had bear mace, and I was ready to use it.

In my research about my faux fear of bears I learned that 5 was the magic number of hikers. No reports of bear attacks in North Carolina for groups of 5 in the last hundred years. As a matter of fact, the number of fatal black bear attacks in North Carolina in the last hundred years was zero.

Lightning lead the pack; trip leader, trail leader, she exuded confidence. She sprint hiked the first 30 minutes straight up. All I could think was 'I am never going to be able to do this for 4 hours.'

I underestimated the real meaning of extremely strenuous as described in the Mt. Mitchell literature. The beginning was hard core, straight up, fast for an hour.

Click Click Clock lead for a while, still setting a strong pace. Yay Yay (short for Hell - to the - Yay) kept track of altitude on her GPS, while Lightning kept track of time on her watch. I kept track of my legs and feet. When Yay said we had climbed only 800 ft, I thought 'seriously, I'm never going to be able to do this for 4 hours.' Then Lightning said, 30 minutes had passed.

I needed to do something about the mind game this mountain was already playing with me. I knew it was just being a bully, standing there for all these thousands of years, indestructible, even acid rain hadn't defeated it. So I decided, whatever crazy thought jumped into my head about distance, time, or space, I would ignore it like a girl in the cabin. I would flip it around to it's opposite. For instance, if I was thinking, "only 800 feet?" I would say, "damn, we just scaled 800 feet in record time." Or if it was, "30 minutes passed," I'd say, "only 3 hours left, cause 4 hours is the average time, and we are making record time." So this is exactly how the next 3 1/2 hours went. As the mountain tried to intimidate me, I puffed up my chest (after coughing and spitting), and said, "Hell Yeah!" So much for my vow of silence and listening skills.

Believing that we must have just conquered the hardest part, I continued to encourage every small accomplishment, spinning every obstacle into a moment of greatness.

These things factored into every step:
1. I focused on each place on the ground that I put my foot.
2. I spent a lot of time looking down and directly in front of me.
3. When I wanted to stop, but everyone else was still moving, I stopped thinking about it, looked up, noticed the terrain, and cheered, "Hell yeah!" which morphed via Flip Flop's East Side slang into "Hell - to the - yeah!"

Almost unbelievably, not only did this mind game work for me, it seemed to encourage the rest of the group.

Occasionally, I wanted to say bad words, sit down right on the tree stump that probably had a family of ticks living in it and pet the snakes hiding under the rocks, but I stopped instead, gave the mountain credit for messing with my mind, and confidently declared, today I will conquer you.

I didn't really need to tune anyone out like I had planned for two reasons:
#1 - no one was talking much, and when Click Click Clock spoke it was typically hilarious.
and #2 - I was at the back. I found it easier to keep up than be pushed. I also had the meditative bear bell keeping my mind in the zen zone.

We didn't see much wildlife, an orange salamander and some wild mushrooms (not gonna lie, I thought about eating one, a mushroom, not a salamander.)

One of the natural highlights was definitely the bear footprint. We actually saw 2. The first one was much bigger than the second, so we decided it must certainly be Sasquatch. The 2nd was definitely the footprint of a bear. I figured the bears and cougars, coyotes and snakes were all watching us, but they had no interest in interacting either. My fear of wildlife was conquered when I realized we had similar desires to be socially distal.

Around this time, Click Click Clock hurt her groin. She spent the next 1,000 feet grabbing and shifting her shorts. We decided then that the sound of her name must translate to Crotch. We vowed never to publicly tell anyone her trail name translation.

We kept moving, and fast, Click Click Clock leading the way. A few times we stopped to look at the map, take a picture, catch our breath. Yay Yay told us we had climbed 2200 feet; our goal was 6684 - the top.

We started at about 2200' so we were about 1/2 way there. We found a clearing, which was bad, because we could see the mountains across the way tormenting us. The view deflated me; we had a long way to go. So I said, "Ladies, do you see how far we've come? I love my life!"

Lightning reminded us we'd been hiking for about an hour and a half. "Record time I reminded them."

As each switchback rounded to another rocky, rooty, steep trail up, I celebrated what we were about to scale with a "hell to the yeah."

After the Higgins Bald Split, we found a mountain stream, a watery flow, over and under some large rocks. We stopped. Click Click Clock and Lightning frolicked in a thin layer of fresh water sliding down the stones large flat surface.

I reminded everyone the well known fact that we must be getting close to the top because we were seeing more rocks.

In the distance we heard voices.

We yelled, "Hello! Hello!"

Two men and a boy about 13 approached, yelling back, "are you bathing?"

"You wish" I replied.

"No," came the voice, "I was just hoping you weren't getting the fresh water supply dirty."

They were thru hikers on their way down the mountain, average in every way. The oldest of the 3 had a beer gut, which is fine, except his bright blue athletic shirt had a zipper split up the middle, and it was open so his hairy belly poked through. He informed us this was one of two fresh water supplies. There was another near the top. The other adult, asked when we started, we told him 6:30. He said we were making good time. Then he continued, maybe a little patronizing , "the last 1.6 is a doozey."

I couldn't listen to this discouraging chatter, so I replied, "maybe a doozey for you, but obviously you don't realize what we've just climbed."

To which Flip Flop gently informed me, "Uh, yes they do, they just told us they climbed up yesterday, weren't you listening?"

I muttered something about 'just because 2 middle age men and a boy think it's hard doesn't mean it is. None of them has ever given birth, we all have."

Before leaving I asked if they had trail names. The fellow in the blue shirt said he liked all things blue so they called him Bluesman.

Not long after we left them, I reminded everyone about perception. Those men made assumptions about us through men's eyes. They made subconscious decisions about our capabilities. I will not be defined by a man's perception of me. Blah, blah, blah, more positive smack talk.

Every hill we traversed, I echoed, "well maybe that was a doozey."

Then we arrived at the Commissary trail. We paused to read the large sign, which in great detail spelled out the possible courses. "Mt. Mitchell summit" it said, "1.6 miles, 1600 feet, approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes to the top."

'Devastating,' I thought. We haven't even done the doozey yet. Lightning told us it was 10:00 now. "Remember," I reminded them, "that's for average hikers, we are kicking this mountain's ass. We will be at the top in like 20 minutes."

It was also here that I realized I was out of water. 100 ounces of Camelbak water, gone. Lightning gave me another 20 ounces. I thanked her for carrying it up the mountain for me.

Two more day hikers appeared here, Sketch and his buddy. They left the base @ 6:15. We were 30 minutes behind them, (we actually walked 15 minutes to the base to begin), and we caught them. Record time.

We told them to go on ahead of us. They hollered back that my bear bell sounded like a dinner bell. The bears would know where I was. They didn't realize the bears and I had an understanding, we really didn't want to interact with people.

Click Click Clock rounded the next switchback and said, "Let's stomp this out."

I declared, "that I liked these girls, all of them, and that was no small thing."

Flip Flop assured them it was rare.

Yay Yay kept the altitude countdown going. When I didn't like the distance, I declared that the GPS was having trouble locating us.

Lightning said, "6 minutes and we'll stop, that will be 4 hours exactly."

All I could think was 'can't we climb 3 minutes and stop for 3, that would be 4 hours exactly too.'

Then we passed Sketch and his companion. See you at the summit. Again, I reminded Lightning and the gang, "we are not your average hikers." Again Sketch's companion made some comment about my bear bell. I continued to meditate.

We kept on, and at 10:30 we were less than 500 ft from the top.

I wasn't as focused now. Anticipation was colliding with numbness in my legs. I was following a perfect line carved out by Flip Flop in front of me, when I thought a fall into existence.

The trail was indeed a doozey, slick, slanted, moss covered rocks, roots, and mud; barely a single track lane was my next obstacle. Instead of following Folly Girl's tracks at the edge through the mud, I thought I might step on the slanted slick rock, playing out the possibility of slipping and falling in my mind. And before thinking another thought, I did just that.

I caught myself with my right knee and chin, leaving a drop of blood instead of a flag near the top of this mountain.

Flip Flop shared her cold wet cloth. I dusted myself off, embarrassed that my mind was that weak, and walked on.

Just ahead, we could hear the voices of tourists and see the tops of trees.

Since the earliest planning of this trip, I expressed that I had no desire to hike back down the mountain like my four companions. I did not need the t-shirt that said "I went both ways on Mt. Mitchell."

I arranged for Compass to meet me at the top in my car. She and I would go skip along some paths to swimming holes and waterfalls while the others hiked down, hurrying to avoid a thunderstorm.

The end of the trail was a wildflower nature walk.

Compass wasn't at the top, and we quickly learned that the restaurant we agreed to meet her at wasn't either.

We ran into Sketch when they made it to the top, and he declared we were his heroes.

After buying a souvenir hat, we walked out to find Compass waiting for us. Compass and I decided to drive the mile down to the restaurant, while the others began hiking the descent. The clouds overhead were brewing and Lightning wanted to hurry.

Compass ordered some appetizers in the scenic restaurant while we waited for the others. After thirty minutes, they arrived, with a new set of tales to tell.

Lightning, being the meteorologist in the group, knew the dangers of this storm.
We called the park ranger over to our table to ask about the radar. He said, this wasn't his mountain, but 8 people were struck by lightning on his mountain this year.

We decided to drive to the ranger station to check out the radar. Lightning and the gang made the call; hiking down was too dangerous in the storm.

We piled in the Escape, set the GPS for Seth's shanty, and started our scenic 15 mile drive down the mountain. Compass was navigating and told me to turn on a gravel road. The GPS recalculated and Click Click Clock noticed. "Hey," she said, "the GPS just went from 3 miles left to 30!" Compass assured us that this was the road. Again, I reminded everyone that the GPS was just having trouble finding us. There would be no turning around. The gas tank was full. We were all together. And I didn't want to drive anyone off a cliff. I don't believe there is such a thing as going the wrong way in the mountains. We're just going a different way. Two hours later, and a scenic drive around the entire mountain, we declared, "we circled it, we own it."

Flip Flop invited me on this trip. We trained in hiking boots on the beach, walking to Morris Island and back, and took two at a time on the stairs at the Washout. We kayaked in 20 mph winds to test our will to survive. Our feet feel better in flip flops.

I don't know if I overcame my issue with social situations on Mt. Mitchell, but I found five people I don't mind hiking a mountain with.

If I could describe climbing Mt. Mitchell in one word, I would steal Click Click Clock's word: Cleansing.
from Foo Fighters "Walk"

For the very first time
Don't you pay no mind
Set me free again
You keep alive a moment at a time
But still inside a whisper to a liar
To sacrifice but knowing to survive
The first to find another state of mind
I'm on my knees, I'm waiting for a sign
Forever, whenever...
I'm dancing on my grave
I'm Running through the fire
Forever, whatever
I Never wanna die

18 July 2011


It must have been 24 years ago now, maybe 25, my first summer of real adventure. My brother Jim was stationed in Texas, and his girlfriend Kristin and I were going to visit. He came home to Pittsburgh for a few weeks, and we rode back with him in his 1968 red International Scout. We drove 1400 miles with no air conditioner, but we had a tape deck, and Bruce Springsteen blaring above the open windows and the loud engine, Pittsburgh to Ohio, Missouri to Oklahoma, (I vaguely recall those arches) and our destination: Kileen, Texas average July temperature 95.

It was there that I met him. Trip, we called him, Charles Robert Reincke, the third. We became instant friends, hangout partners. He taught me how to laugh. He said kind things to me and made me feel pretty. He told me I was perky. He represented a freedom, until Texas, unknown to me. And I loved him. He was smart, witty, and very laid back. He was learning how to windsurf, so we went to a lake near Austin for his training test. I remember him not knowing the answers very well, but coercing another adventurer, a pretty young girl to help him on this test. We spent most of our time in Texas laughing.

Leaving was difficult, both emotionally and physically. We booked the cheapest flight we could find out of Texas, and it left from Houston. The only problem was we were 250 miles away, in Kileen, much closer to Dallas. Our adventure ended with a 4 and ½ hour early morning car ride, in Trip’s Toyota Celica (9 hours for them including the return drive). Trip drove very fast, making record time, until we were pulled over by the police. Then the cost of the speeding ticket solidified that we should have paid the extra money to fly out of Dallas.

That ride in the Toyota Celica was my first time in a sports car, maybe my first time in a car with an air conditioner. That flight out of Texas was my first time flying. I remember exactly what I said as I heard that whirring sound of progressive energy building and the plane lifting off the ground into the air, “oh, shit.” Not so profound, I know, but I was inexperienced, uncultured and ending the first amazing adventure I would ever take. I was 16, and these were all new things: being unsupervised, being 1500 miles from home, staying in a hotel, flying in an airplane, and being with a young man that made me feel worthwhile, that made me feel alive, that made me smile in a summer, more than I had in my lifetime.

We kept in touch, Trip and me. He sent me cheesy one-liners on the back of envelopes filled with letters that made me laugh and feel valued. He said, “if girls were cars you’d be a jaguar.” And “if girls were rocks, you’d be a sapphire.” He was so close to right; I’m really an Escape with a roof rack and a skipping stone.

One year he came to Pittsburgh. We were still kids. I didn’t have a Toyota Celica to show him around North Huntington in, but my sister did sport an old brown Plymouth Fury police car with missing back door handles on the inside. The three of us raced up Route 30, only long enough to again get pulled over. In our fear and panic, we listened as he concocted the plan. He did all the talking and convinced the policeman that he had actually been driving the car and while traveling at unsafe speeds, with the blue lights behind us, he switched seats. He declared he knew he was wrong and it was foolish, but he couldn’t let my sister take the fall for his recklessness. Recollection of the exact way this event unfolded escapes me, but I remember this: in a moment that ordinarily would cause a complete panic attack, his absurdity handled it, and once again, we laughed.

I could write about the sporadic and unpredictable other times we crossed paths, but none matter as much as the summer of 1986 when my world opened up to sunshine, laughter, independence, and joy. When I think of the web of events that shape the independent Missy, the girl who couldn’t get out of the box quickly enough, they really begin here.

Two weeks ago, through a friend, Trip contacted me. He wanted to talk. I called. He was happy, though weak. I listened. He talked about souls, connections, experiences, living, loving and dying. There is an overwhelming sadness in this: 24 years later, when my friend was letting go of his earthly existence, he contacted me.

Grieving is not something that I get better with the more I do it. Quite the opposite actually, it's harder every time. Is this my selfishness? Is it my desire to no longer know the things I once thought I might want to understand?

Today, I grieve the loss of my first real sweetheart, a friend, a smile, a time of innocence and loss of innocence and a life that changed me for the better. In 24 years I may have only seen Trip Reincke a dozen times, but I felt his presence in every one liner, in every slapstick comedy, in every silly adventure. I’m simply not sure if anything was ever funny before I met him.

07 July 2011

I wonder what else I'll teach them...

A few years ago I learned how to hit a speed bag and installed one in my garage. I use it regularly, as exercise, as a release of energy, and as a meditation zone. Jake and Abbey never pay much attention to me and my speed bag. Until yesterday, Jake asked if he could try.

When my son grows up, he's going to say, "oh that... my mom taught me."

23 June 2011

Jr. Sea Turtle Patrol

Jake participated in the Turtle Training @ Folly - check it out.

22 June 2011

The Bullet

Jake, John and I threw the football while the sun set over the river and the aroma of the drunken chicken escaped from the grill. I officially gave Jake permission to play organized football in a few years if he chooses. While I might like him to be the kicker, I think he has quarterback in mind.
One more bike ride around the west side and dinner would be ready. Jake jumped on my Ellsworth, a real treat indeed, and declared, "Call me the bullet. That's my new nickname."

11 June 2011

Ukulele Songs ~ Eddie Vedder

"Can't Keep" Eddie Vedder from Ukulele Songs

i wanna shake, i wanna wind out
i wanna leave this mind and shout
i've lived all this life
like an ocean in disguise
i don't live forever
you can't keep me here...
i wanna race with the sundown
i want a last breath that i don't let out
forgive every being
the bad feelings, it's just me
i won't wait for answers
you can't keep me here...
i wanna rise and say a-goodnight
i wanna take a look on the other side
i've lived all these lives
it's been wonderful at night
i will live forever
you can't keep me here...

24 May 2011

Zen and The Art of Moving Often

The key to moving is less stuff. I enjoy purging more than acquiring. I sold everything I could from my current house, the sofa, the washer and dryer, two beds, and some bar stools. I made daily trips to Goodwill. Nostalgia isn’t worth as much as cash in your pocket. I bought new furniture. I saved on the moving expenses because the furniture company delivered. I also occupied both places simultaneously and moved in stages, creating the ideal conditions for sterilizing the new home.

Strategically, the first thing I moved was recycled wrapping paper, three thin totes of it to my bedroom closet. Next I moved a plant, a big one. I left it on my kitchen counter, hopefully doing some kind of carbon dioxide, oxygen exchange thing to the air in the place. Of course I cleaned thoroughly first. Not a nice organic clean, but a chemical spill instead. The idea of living in someone else’s stale germs caused shallow breathing, racy blood swelling in my brain, and a dull ache in my left breast.

I usually have a cleaning person handle this, but my wallet suggested I do it this time. After a few hours on my first mission, with plastic gloves and facemask forgotten in the bag on the kitchen counter, entrenched in the depths of my stand up shower, I mixed the concoction, and then I remembered when I was younger on The Today Show or maybe Dateline, a report about people who died from mixing cleaning chemicals in improperly ventilated places. This new anxiety compounded with the bleach, mildew spray, Comet cleanser, and steam drove me from the house in a full blown sweaty palm, call 911, panic attack. After a series of meditative breathing exercises and a healthy self talk, “I don’t want to die today, I don’t want to die today…”, combined with curling up in a ball on my bed, I felt better.

I returned every day for 3 weeks, carrying one thing or another. A Pier One shelf made the cut. Amazon shipped me a front door mat. I bought new seagrass area rugs from Celadon. I mopped the floors and placed a bucket of Murphy’s Oil Soap and an open box of baking soda in the middle of the room.

In keeping with the staying high on household chemicals theme, I spent a few days reviving my wicker porch furniture. Six cans of white spray paint, indented and stained white pointer fingers, and some new cushions, this will be worthy of my new space. I thought a lot about my mother. She made chicken salad out of chicken s@*t every day. I start with organic chickens, no wonder I make gourmet meals. My teacher was a master.



I repainted and carried over a toy bench George made for Jake.

John started moving the garage: kayaks, bikes, tool boxes. All very neatly organized in a wall mount system.

Jake walked in and said, "Welcome to Jake's Sporting Goods."

Drilling holes in concrete and hanging toys might be addictive.

Then the 4 Christmas totes for the attic, and a keepsake box for both Abbey and Jake. New blinds, new toilet seats, and more plants bring life to the vacant rooms.

A box or two moved, and a bike ride on the beach. Another box, and I sat on my deck watching the sunset.

Jake and Abbey helped at first. Using his toolbox, Jake removed all the old toilet seats, Abbey installed the new ones.

Abbey wasn't so invested on moving day. Instead, she played paintball for 6 hours with her friends. The next day, while everyone worked...

Abbey retreated to her virtual world.

And Jake wished for his iPod and wi-fi.

Vegetable container garden, beach toys, and winter clothes, all moved in one day.

Container Garden

Beach toys

Alex and John spent the weekend moving my heaviest pieces of furniture, a pine roll top desk, matching armoire, dresser, a cedar chest and two, extra-cumbersome beds. They moved boxes of miscellany and the dining room table too. Alex’s superhuman strength and John’s spidery superpowers made it look… actually it appeared extraordinarily difficult.

At one point Alex had the very heavy armoire resting on his chest and knee. Notice John straddling the banister?

My move in date is tomorrow. My new furniture was delivered today.

Ahhhh, settled in for summertime.

12 May 2011

Trading Sunrises for Sunsets

My new house is very much like my old house; instead of watching the sunrise though, I'll watch the sun set.
When I was a child 40 seemed old.
Monumental birthdays have never had much power over me. Sweet 16 was bitter, 21 was dark, 30 was like 60, so I didn't expect much from 40.
Forty means I look like a teacher on a college campus instead of a student, but this time I like the way I look.
I have more medical screenings now.
I make choices like bangs or Botox.
I think seriously about retirement and my children moving out. Both make me cry.
I forget things on purpose now.
And I don't need a large social circle at all. No more Pampered Chef parties running rampant in my circle, and first weddings and babies and all the parties that go with them are gone. I like 40. I'm not trying to be twenty something.
I'm half way to 80. I wonder how many people get there.
I don't ride my bike without a helmet any more.
And I don't need to prove my self physically, mentally, financially, or any other way.
I eat healthier because I know people battling disease instead of hangovers. Although my closest friends still battle hangovers.
Exercise is for health now, not weight.
I know the difference between what I want and what I need, and at 40 there's not much difference.
All the years that led up to now have taught me that not much matters beyond experience and the lessons woven into them.
At 20, I was in the dark, jumping off tall buildings without a safety net, running, and hiding, seeking someone to fix me. Dangerous.
At 30, I was in the future, hijacking my own dreams, manipulating, and failing, a lot. I needed everything. Insatiable.
At 37 death glared at me, laughing at all my misunderstandings.
I gave up on fixing me and started being me.
At 40, I'm in the present, moving through moment by moment, accepting everything as it is, expecting nothing, having faith, and choosing happiness. Skipping stones across a river. Contentment.

04 May 2011

What did we used to do for fun?

I remember coming home from the hospital with Abbey.
She was born in Summerville, and we had to bring her home to West Ashley.
George drove in the slow lane and never accelerated over 15 mph.
I remember feeling so safe, glad he understood the significance of this car ride.
I remember counting her toes, studying every inch of her skin, learning the expressions, sounds, and smells of this gift.
I remember her father and I arguing over whose turn it was to hold her, whose turn it was to rock her to sleep.
I remember asking, many times, what did we used to do? How did we spend our time? What possibly could have mattered before this fairy, this pixie, this sprite started casting her spells on us.
I remember when Abbey was 4 years old. I told her I wanted to freeze her. She would always be my little 4 year old girl. She promised she would stay.

Everything changes.

She's 12. I want her to stay 12. She still likes me (sometimes). She asks for my advice (occasionally). She giggles (often). She jokes about everything. She knows she's beautiful, but doesn't let it matter. She's changing into a woman. I cry at night wishing my baby would stay, childlike, or at least with me.

I want to bottle her joy, her laughter, her sincerity, her kindness, her love, her wisdom, her humor, her gentleness, her faith and her hope.

I celebrate her life, everyday. She's my little goose, my baby, my mini, her father's joy.

13 April 2011

My Gypsy Soul

I'm moving again, 15 times in 23 years. This will be my 16th move since I left my parents house.

Every move I've made except one has been an upgrade, about living well on a budget; about experiencing more than one perspective and not getting too attached to anything; about realizing and accepting where ever I am, there I am; about not being responsible for one piece of earth, but immersing myself in the beautiful parts of it.

I've lived at antithetical spectrums of comfort, and I know for certain, I am capable of happiness or escape. Home is whereever my love has air to float and silence enough to illuminate my smallness.

Not all of my moves were centered around peace, but progressively they lead to it.

In college of course I had a different address every year, first the dorm, then the Towers, then to Oakland, and then Greentree. The first time I lived alone, evaluating empty space, hearing the beauty of planned silence, was Bridgeville. Alone felt right.

I left blizzards and break-ups for sunshine and solitude. In my post graduate school move from Pittsburgh to Summerville, I lived with my sister, then on my own so briefly before I opted for the rent free relationship with George in Mt. Pleasant.

George and I moved into the condo in West Ashley before Abbey was born.
Her birth prompted the move to the pink house, lasting 3 years.

Then the New Jersey debacle, Hopewell, lasting only 1 month, while 8 months pregnant with Jake, without question the move that altered my perception more than any other single living situation. 3000 square feet of a Norman Rockwell painting on an eclectic street near the swanky town of Princeton and the least happy I've ever been in my adult life.

I felt enormous, bloated, trapped, hollow, desperate, and alone. Not the alone of my youth, but an alone in my bones, my muscles, my veins. I was sharing my space with Jake, and I was suffocating from the weight of the New Jersey winter air. Nine months pregnant, I chose homelessness and left as quickly as I arrived. I felt no shame, no need for explanations. My dreamy New Jersey home was every lie I ever told, the turning point, the collapse.

Returning to Charleston, I sought pity from my sister, again. Abbey and I stayed in her spare room just before Jake was born.

Next we tried and failed at owning a precious red brick cottage in Byrnes Downs. Leaving there, in a big freedom move, I landed at the beach, a condo on an island.

In a groundwork laying situation for the cataclysmic events that were to become my next experience I moved back to the neighborhood with the pink house. We chose a little yellow bungalow on the lake. While in the post death fog, I set the kitchen on fire in that house. The landlord thought it might be best if we didn't continue our relationship. I was only there for 10 months, and I brought ghosts.

Not without realizing the lake move was by divine design, I surrendered and let fate carry my J. Crew Peace bag back to the beach, a condo on a secluded little island on the river with a dock and a pool. Three years in paradise, I called it our healing place, but even there we moved. I started on the marsh side, but within a year I moved across the street to the deep water side in a deal that actually saved me money.

Change and movement, far from frightening, keep me in a place of faith. I don't try to hold on so tight anymore.

It's time to move again. Abbey knows it. The owner wants to sell. I've been working on my temporary PhD. in the rental market. And we waited patiently for alignment, the rush of fortune and certainty. Everybody expresses what features are important to them, a pool, a neighborhood, a view, our friends.

The condo at the edge of the river, 3 blocks from the beach, with a pool and a dock, for yes, less money, will do. I sometimes think I'm a criminal. I must be a con artist or maybe a sorceress. I'd rather the magic than the manipulation.

Abbey surged with excitement as she reduced her possessions for the move. Purging is part of the addiction. Moving this often requires a minimalism and detachment, selling anything of value and converting it to something ideal for our new space.

It's fresh, an extra spring day, an extra morning hour, one more view, no homework, an empty bag, and an insatiable appetite for what's next.

I won't have the last box unpacked in my new place before my curiosity searches for what might have been.

The universe has opened up for me, again. I'm trading the sunrise from my bedroom balcony, for the sunset from my living room deck. I'm trading an island trail, for the entire beach. I'm trading river and marsh, for river and ocean. And my friends, the Spahrs, will be 2 blocks away.

31 March 2011

Moms do have favorites.

Abbey cleaned the kitchen for me last night. This morning when I went to get my tea cup out of the cabinet, this is what I found:

"Ha!" she half laughed, "does that mean it's no good?"

She continued helping by emptying the dishwasher this morning. We chatted about family names, middle names. She knew grandma's was Anne, Carole Anne. She knew Kiki's was Anne, Kimberly Anne. She knew my middle name, Lynn. She didn't know Nicole's. I told her, "Lea."

She giggled. She usually does, then replied, "Kiki's the lucky one; she has it perfect. The great hair, the good middle name, you can tell she's favorited."

In a reenforcing moment, on the way home from Clemson, we decided to stop in Columbia and have dinner with Kim. She was on her way home from Orangeburg with Alex; the timing was perfect. Filled with excitement to see my sister, Abbey announced in the car that of all the grown ups in her life, Kiki was the best, her favorite.

Jake said, "no offense mom, I have to agree."

Maybe they were expecting disappointment, envy of sorts, but I simply explained, "I lived the first 16 years of my life in the same house as her, and I've been trying to stay that close ever since, and a couple times I worked my way back into her house, I get it. She's my favorite too."

30 March 2011

Everything matters. Nothing matters.

I am insignificant, a dot mixed in with all the other specks
eggs hatching into breakfast or birds that will learn to fly
and yet I care to matter.

Love gives
my daughter,
holding her, staring, smelling, caressing, humming promises of perfection
chi, karma, others before self
I don't deserve her, gentle, kind, silly, balanced.
giggling over a nonsense word, crying because of a frog
Doing everything and nothing and not caring to matter.

Sons own their mothers. My mother makes sense.
A glance up from an unfinished dinner plate
piercing blue through my skin to the soft layers
of muscle that wrap around him
banishing the monsters from this moment.
Dark places exist.

Less stuff is better than more space.
My head is crowded; my house is not.
Flexibility, Mercy and Forgiveness

Money makes life easier, paper and
nothing stays,
liberation initiates changes
accepts it on its terms
moves through it with ease

The mirror doesn't create an image;
the mind does.
Broken, blood dripping from my knuckles, Drowning,
out of town, my ego behind me
books before me, Tolle, Buscaglia, Throreau
spinning into the next dimension
cartoons for acquaintances

Integrity pushes through for a front row seat
sitting behind arrogance, greed, duplicity

Truth tarnished by reputation cries
a voice dangling under the sea,
gasping at delusion, pride, myth
just doing right

If I should have a daughter...

29 March 2011

Results of Clemson Triathlon 2011


Started Mt Bike Course and Crossed Finish Line
Clyde Wood0:59:56m60
Tommy Wilkinson Relay1:12:02relay
Douglas Bonnoitt1:12:10m30
Melissa Butts Relay1:12:19relay
Zachary Keister1:12:56m20
Bib #981:13:00m40
Erin Browne1:13:04f30
Adam Bennett1:13:51m30
Luke Weimann1:13:58m20
Richard Spahr1:14:48m40
Boddy Wood1:14:59m30
Randee Bagwell1:16:53f30
Aaron Motley1:24:16m20
Bib #1001:25:44m40
Team 2.5 Ray and Katie Felton1:26:57relay
billy mccracken1:27:06m 40
Bib #991:30:39m 40
sandy johnson1:33:29m 50
Derrick Webber Team1:34:09relay
Purpose Driven 21:34:20relay
Edward Kizer1:36:04m40
Eric Goodwin1:36:44m30
Michael Kennedy1:37:04M50
Purpose Driven 11:37:46relay
Joe Ettershank1:37:56m40
Todd Lausch1:41:14m40
Steven McBride1:43:23m40
Clemson Tri'ers1:45:08relay
Larry Griffin1:48:10relay
Dennis Barr1:49:44M50
Christopher Lausch1:50:41M40
Lucy Wilkinson1:54:24F30
Jonathan Viklinetz1:55:15M30