Wednesday, April 26, 2006

It'll make you proud to be a woman

Click on "original collection" and then click on some of the cards. I guarantee your eyes will spurt tears or your money back.

web page hit counter

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hello Morning

At 5 am this morning, our bedroom door clicked open and little feet padded through the darkness to my bedside. After I scooted over to make room for who I realized was Hayley, I couldn’t go back to sleep. This is a rarity, just short of the miraculous. I do not do mornings. I especially do not do sunrises except by default at the tail end of an all nighter roadtrip. Today’s aberration is partly due to hunger. Our refrigerator went out at the end of last week and the repairman won’t be here til later today. I refrained from buying foods that need refrigeration and I got tired of munching on crackers and protein bars. So I got up, thinking, “This is great—I’ll do a Houston sunrise from our patio, one last time, or for the first time, before we move.” It would have been a shame not to.

It was still dark when I made the coffee. I poured milk into my mug from our one small cooler which made me feel like I was camping. That, and the fact that I was up before my camera could take a photo of the sky without a flash. So I struck out to the back patio for my adventure.

Then I remembered one of the reasons why we are leaving. Houston has no sky. Not from where we sit—hemmed in by structures and trees on every side. I admit, I am enjoying the twitter of tunes from birds I’ve not heard before. This must be the Morning Edition. I’m walking softly as if I’ll wake the city, as I do with my children, when I want just a moment more of peace before the world ratchets into high gear. I hear the far off jangle of a dog’s collar, the fountain sputtering, the tide just bringing in the swells of highway surf a half a mile away. Automatic sprinklers are fizzing on the lawn. A pair of squirrels are giving chase in the vines overhanging the fence. There goes the siren of an ambulance. Yes, all too soon, Houston is waking up.

And now the sky, the jigsaw puzzle piece of it I see when I look straight up, has gone from dark bruise to Robin egg blue and clouds just a shadow darker, are brushing its chin. The din of highway noise has overtaken the fountain and the birdcalls are receding. I’ve done a Houston sunrise. Which is a bad imitation of a true Texas sunrise. I know, because after living in Lubbock for four and a half years, I became a connoisseur of skies. I thought I knew the sky when I moved there from Dallas. But I knew nothing. The Dallas sky is a distant cousin.

In West Texas, the sky is addicting and no sky since has ever measured up. When I finished college and moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, I anguished for sky. Like here, I was hemmed in by buildings and trees and felt utterly claustrophobic. I was also carless and at the mercy of the Red Line. I’d ride it out to its end, just to get a bit past the crowds and to where sky was a little more accessible. I ached for the plains, for the mesas, for the caprock that showcased the sky like a table draped in linen, serving up every hue of infinity. The towns around Boston were quaint and green and treed and lovely; they had a charm of their own. But I missed the grit. Under my feet, and between my teeth when the wind blew for too long. How do you ever get over that kind of sky?

When I finally did have a car of my own, I’d fly up 93N along the coast, to Gloucester, an old fishing village, and find a place along the sand and rocks to sit with my styrofoam cup of coffee and another styrofoam cup of fried shrimp. There I could finally look out on an uninterruppted horizon, in a different light, a gray blue light, and be somewhat satiated. But this horizon had movement. This horizon had sound. This horizon seduced with its voluptuousness. It was very outspoken, in that Yankee kind of way.

In West Texas, the landscape pays homage to the sky. It offers no sweet murmurs. It broaches no backtalk. It offers only the sound of your own feet, crunching the dirt, reminding you, quietly, you’re here.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Goodbye Memorial

Errand number two was buying some new rollerblades. My wheels have been shot for months, rotated so many times I was practically skating on rims. They are still in the box, the wheels pristine. I hate to scuff new shoes. Once I step off the carpet onto ashalt or concrete I cringe, as if I can feel their pain. It’s like keying a new car or throwing a live lobster into the pot. Anyway, later today, I will head down to the park and get the deed over with.

I’ve been skating in this park since the early 90’s, when my friend Maleah suggested we give rollerblading a try. We bought skates and practised on the roof level of a parking garage near downtown where, under the gaze of who knows how many unseen eyes, we went in many circles. After an hour or so of this, we felt ready to take on the public. We met up on the following Saturday, eager to skate the 1.25 mi. paved loop inside Memorial Park like real skaters. It was blasted hot, as Houston is most any day of the year, as we started out, equipped with water, walkmans, and resolve to keep our butts off the pavement.

On weekends, the park’s many picnic table and grill sites, set back under the towering trees, are occupied by working families, mostly Hispanic, and the track is lightly utilized. It’s fiesta time and the pine scented air fills with smells of lighter fluid and charcoal, fajitas, burgers and hot dogs that announce, “Work is done. Our family and friends are here. Let's celebrate!” On weekdays, the picnic sites stand abandoned and forlorn but the track is choked with swarms of lycra clad bikers riding tandem, whizzing around the loop within a five o’clock shadow of the skaters who stick periously close to the edge of the asphalt. On weekdays it’s all about competition— increasing speed, burning calories, pumping muscles—corporate America’s rendition of having fun.

On this, our first Saturday, with only a fellow skater or two out on the track, we came around a bend on the back side of the loop to see a Hispanic man, wearing skates, lying flat out on the ashalt, a boy beside him on a bike, and a skater frantically waving us over. Whether the man was dead or unconscious, we did not know, but the skater who’d happened by didn’t want the boy, apparently the man’s son, to be alone while he went off for help. We immediately went over to the boy who looked to be about seven, obviously terrified and unable to speak to us in English, and tried to soothe him in our very limited Spanish. “Donde esta su familia?” we tried, to no response. The boy would not speak, or move from his post, straddling his bike just a foot from the body of his father as if by keeping guard he could protect him from further catastrophe. Or that the nearness of his father’s flesh could, for some lingering moments, stave off their being separated by the chasm that had opened up at his feet.

The skater returned and the EMT team arrived within minutes. The boy, still mute, was forced aside so the EMTs could work on his father. We tried to keep the child distracted from the process at hand until a female cop arrived and lead the boy away. She did not hug or comfort him. The family had still not been located within the park and the man, who had never moved, was taken off by ambulence. The skater later found us in the park and informed us the man had gone into diabetic shock but was wearing no tag that indicated he was diabetic so he’d been treated as a heart attack victim. He did not think the man had survived.

We’d watched the boy go with broken hearts. Sorry for everything he lost that day when he went for a bike ride with his dad, like a seven year old is wont to do when he’s celebrating in the park, safe and happy in the love of his family.

That was not the last time I was to circle the loop in rungs of grief. In over a decade of skating there, I’ve added rungs for all that life will fling at you: despair, confusion, anger as well as joy, peace and contemplation. I prefer to skate alone, except for my music, and it’s my space, whether the track is clear or not, to think, to dream, to ponder. To sing—the walkman now upgraded to ipod—out loud, knowing any passing ears will be subjected to my Linda McCartneyesque solo for no more than seconds. It’s where I come to process this life in all its dirt and glory and pain.

I’ve skated past the spot where the man fell that day hundreds of times. I sometimes wonder about the boy, now somewhere a young man, and if comes back here. What he remembers about that day. At least he knows the last earthly act his father did was to get out on the track for some sweaty fun with his boy.

We all come to grief eventually. Life spares none of us. This park has been a haven for me in all my highs and lows. And many days I’ve been thankful that sometimes a day in the park can simply be a day in the park.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Goodbye Ikea

Yesterday I got to remove a couple of errands that have been on my blackberry to do list since February. The first was a trip to Ikea for bookcases. Piles of books and journals have slowly overtaken the shelved by subject books in my porch/office. They are stuck indiscriminately in every available nook and cranny. Anyone who knows me knows I am NOT a pile person. Piles make me hyperventilate. The house we are going to be living in has a room that will be my new office and it’s lacking windows on three sides. I’ve already drawn the room to scale and placed my existing shelves along the walls to find I can afford one more full size “Billy”—the quaint moniker with which Ikea has christened its shelving system. So I went in pursuit of a Billy, having already negotiated its additional poundage with the five different moving companies bidding on our move to MO based on the current contents of the house. Okay, remember, there will be ONE more bookcase. The guesstimates of weight ranged from 19,000 lbs to 26,000 lbs. “You guys have a LOT of books.” The “not to exceed” prices quoted will become null and void if we do any stealth shopping before the movers show up. Wayne is very freaked about this. But I TOLD the movers I would be buying one more bookcase. Plus, the bags of clothes I gave away will help offset its weight. And I still haven’t gone through the two tons of kid’s scribbles, paintings, notes, cards, schoolwork--basically every mark they’ve made since birth (I even have their, yes, I admit, bellybuttons). I’m sure I can get rid of a notebook or two.

I wanted to have all t he shelves I needed in place so that, upon arrival, I could sort and shelve books with efficiency and be spared the anxiety of even temporary piles. Ikea is a canvernous warehouse (it’s doubled in size since I last went there). Iif another hurricane bore down on Houston, it could easily house 3/4 of the population of the city and provide Swedish meatballs to boot. If you don’t know Ikea, and I found out yesterday that they DO NOT have stores in either Kansas City or St. Louis so it’s not as ubiquitous as I had assumed, it’s a Swedish store that has everything you could possibly need to equip home and office. It’s contemporary stuff and it’s priced well below stores selling similar items. The catch is you have to build all the furniture yourself. And fill out an order form and wait for your items to be deposited at the checkout area in huge cardboard containers, like Best Buy on steroids. We have screwed together basinetts, bookshelves, desks, chairs and Billys into a many a late night.

I found out that not only will there not be any Ikea stores where we are going, they will not even ship Billys there! So, my dilemma in Ikea yesterday, seeing that my book buying career is far from complete: get more Billys now or do without. But I told the movers ONE bookcase. This bookcase alone weighs 84 lbs. I guess we don’t really HAVE to have a dining room table...and the two 100 packs of pink and orange striped bendy straws and the three packages of summery cocktail napkins I picked up from the bins at the Ikea checkout will have to fit in my purse.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Green Acres is the place to be

You might wonder what would entice one to trade the city where you met your husband, where your children were born, where you started a business, where you worshiped, where you bought your first home, where you studied and where you lost your wisdom teeth for a tiny town you can’t pronounce in the middle of the middle of America. Especially knowing you’d spent your entire adult life in major cities, apart from the undergrad stint you did in Lubbock, Texas (although it’s a stretch to rate that as adult life) and considering you don’t know a bean sprout from a dandelion. Why would you think that you’d suddenly find yourself at home in a house where you can’t see your nearest neighbor when, apart from the 8 ft. fence that separates you now, you could see the color of the stripes in your neighbor’s toothpaste through her bathroom window?

It is, in part, a nagging pull to be in a place where you can be aware of your relationship with this great ball flung in the sky, with this ground beneath our feet which, as opposed to the presumption of my six year old, was not formed by God from concrete. She assumed grass was an afterthought. Our lives are loud, fast paced and reeling by all too quickly. In a minute or two, our girls will be gone--lost to malls and cell phones and fashion magazines. We want to rescue them before it is too late and show them a night sky where it’s dark enough to see the stars. We want them to know seasons and what it smells like to dig in the dirt, what it sounds like to rake leaves and how to skip stones in the pond. To work on the land, to work with the land. To know God through knowing His creation. So. Their mother is going to learn to grow tomatoes and squash. She’s going to take her hands off the keyboard and stick them in the mud. We’re going to listen to the wind in the trees absent highway surf.

I remember being in CCD class--the Catholic version of Sunday school except it was held on a weekday evening--and contemplating the only lesson that left an impression through the years, at least that I’m conscious of. The lay person assigned to instruct us this night in the basement of St. Joseph’s was clad in a short sleeved shirt of dishwater hue and pastel tie, his comb-over inviting speculations as to his means of defying gravity as he stood at the chalkboard under fluorescent lights, inspecting us from behind thick, black rimmed glasses. Decades before Sex in the City would become a smash hit on American television, his topic could have been aptly titled, “Sin in the City.” He argued that the person who chose to go off and live as a hermit in the woods would not be subjected to much temptation and therefore could not possibly sin as much as the person who lived in a big city and was thus surrounded by endless ways to sin. How much offense could one give to the deer and antelope? So even if you attained a blameless life in the forest, you really wouldn’t rack up much credit in comparison to the schmuck who was required to navigate urban enticements and entanglements twenty-four seven and come up smelling like Pine Sol.Was it my imagination or did I detect a residue of bitterness indicating that our instructor, living in close proximity to NYC, might be fed up with enduring such trials and would like to strangle our exemplary woodsman?

Now these decades later, on the cusp of abandoning the metropolis for an idyllic little town, I have the feeling I’m cheating. That any goodness my life might seem to exhibit henceforth will be unearned, an empty illusion, because just to be in such a setting is to be unable to be anything but good. I won’t have to swallow homicidal threats at world class obnoxious multi-lane changers. I won’t have to feel like a capitalist pig if I decline to give the guy panhandling in front of Walgreens a few bucks for his “flat tire.” I won’t buy so many lattes.

But what I won’t do anymore is less of a concern to me than what I will do. I feel guilty that we will enjoy such a setting. We’ve worked hard; we could suggest to ourselves we’ve earned it. But many people have worked much harder than we have, under much worse conditions and their options will remain concrete and noise. Why should we be able to do this? Should we do this? What will it mean in the end when we give a reckoning for the lives we lived and where we lived them?

We go in hope of living simpler, quieter, even holier, lives. Wearing the world like a loose shirt and being willing to share it with whoever needs it. Hopefully it’s about more than resisting the bad than pursuing the good, wherever that may be.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Leaving Houston

Last night a reading for TimeSlice: Houston Poets 2005. Wayne, the girls and I walked down on a warm spring night to the bookstore. It’s close by, the jasmine and hibiscus are blooming and it’s National Poetry Month. I’m doing my civic duty. By the time we had to slip out just before the end, having already blown school night bedtimes, I had grown nostalgic for this city I will soon leave. The city I’ve endlessly berated for everything from its deep sea disregard of aesthetics to its foul air, ever punishing heat and humidity, endless road construction and traffic congestion. In the crowd were a couple of familiar faces from grad school days at the University of Houston, now just breaching the decade past mark. “This is the last time I’ll ever (go to a reading at the Borders on Kirby, see so and so, walk the side streets with the girls, etc.” So, another ending.

Why do I feel sad when I walk by a home in our neighborhood and see a “for sale” sign in the yard? When a local business closes its doors? “Wait. Don’t go yet,” I want to say, words laden with a sense of lost opportunity, of an acquaintance not yet made, the familiarity, the “givenness” of a place no longer a given. I feel abandoned, left behind. I feel betrayed.

I’ve come to realize it’s not the small circle of close friends in Houston that I’m going to really miss. Those friends are dear enough that whether on this end or that, we will meet again. Unlike our compact 80 year old Montrose bungalow, the house we’ve bought in Columbia, Missouri is big enough to comfortably host small crowds and we intend to do just that. What I will miss are those other faces, the ones seen on occasion, the people who notice you got a haircut when you pick up your dry cleaning or photos or prescriptions at the pharmacy. The ones you bump into at the restaurant or movie theater or someone’s birthday party. The ones that tether you to the concrete and brick and remind you that there’s a soul with your face on it in this city of four million of your fellows. When we arrive in Columbia I’ll have become a ghost. No one will recognize me, no one will miss me if I don’t show up.

I’ve been here longer than I’ve ever been anywhere else. I arrived on the cusp of thirty and stayed long enough to see friends’ grade school kids sprout beards and girlfriends and leave for college. They’ve witnessed the dusk of my youth dissolve into middle age. They’ve watched the wrinkles pinch up little by little and know exactly what wrought them. I have a story here. I arrived with a prologue, they’ve helped write the chapters but they will not be there to see how it all ends.

When I arrived in Houston I did not yet know who I would be. I knew who I wouldn’t be and needed to leave Boston and the betrayed ideals of my youth. Houston was where I landed. I was leaving from, not coming to. I was at the end of and therefore at the beginning of. I didn’t know what I would do with my life. And although I again am at the end of, this time choices have been made. This I do know: I married; I had two daughters. I started a graphic design company. I went to grad school and studied poetry. I will never have a son. I will not be a rock star, a psychiatrist or a nun. I will not spend a year backpacking around Europe or Tibet on ten dollars a day. I will not run for office, win an Olympic medal or lead a revival. I won’t be the first of my mother’s children to die.

Every choice we make invokes our mortality. As illustrated in quantum physics, there are infinite ways to a destination. We make a choice and the possible becomes the actual; every choice we make negates a thousand alternate endings. There are limits to our dreams. Houston became the mother of my invention. Because I was here, not there. Because I made these friends, not those friends. This profession, not that. Saw this sky, these sidewalks, this shade of green tinting the trees and lawns.

Leaving is loss. Previously, it always seemed like gain: onto the next new thing, the familiar shed like a dress gone out of style. But no matter how willfully unattractive your mother might be, all you can do is love her.

Palm Sunday Benediction (after the fact)

So I was prompted to actually utilize this free cyber journal I've had parked here for two years by my friend and blogger extraordinare, Mark Bertrand, who suggested I start a blog so I could post the benediction I wrote and delivered at ecclesia for Palm Sunday. Here goes, my first post:

The God who breathed life into you,
not once, but twice,
and breathes on you still,
morning by morning,
opening your ears to the whispers
of Heaven’s logic,
has called you to be His own
and chosen you to belong to each other
in this hour, in this day, and in this city,
to walk together as a living text
of His love for each of us and for our broken world,
to resist the undertow of self interest
in order to love and serve each other
in direct contradiction to every impulse
of our fallen humanity
and to display with one heart and one mind
the beauty and fullness of Christ
in the unfaltering love of our God.
Go in peace.

I guess that wasn't so hard.