Saturday, November 8, 2008

1000 Words Meme: "Home"

Joey stood on the sidewalk with her fists straining against the insides of her jacket pockets, her cheeks rosy as she gasped against the autumn wind. Sternly informing herself that another trip around the block (over oh-so-familiar cracks in the sidewalk and the black wrought-iron fence that she'd always admired) was NOT necessary, she pressed her lips into a grim line and walked up the newly painted steps, past plump, cheery pumpkins and stopped to knock at the red door.

There had been a time when she had scrambled breathless up these steps and burst through first the porch door, and then the more substantial front door calling, "I'm here! Nana! Grandpa, are you home?" She remembered hurtling forward, sure of her welcome. She wasn't sure why she'd come now. Now that this house no longer belonged to her family; now that her grandparents were beyond her reach. The new owner of the house was equally out of reach currently, as no-one had answered her rap on the glass of the storm door. Pressing the levered handle of the door, she felt like a penitent in a house of worship as she stepped onto the enclosed porch to knock more forcefully on the inner door.

Joey's heart hammered in her throat and she had to grasp the door frame for support at the familiar sound of dog nails clicking against the hallway floor and staccato barks followed by a woman's voice calling, "I'm coming!Charlie, no! One minute, please..." When the door swung open, a young blond woman stood just inside, her right hand grasping the thick collar of a large taffy-colored mutt who strained on his hind legs against the strength of the woman's grip as he struggled to sniff Joey and wag his whole body at the same time. The woman said laughingly, "You'll have to excuse his manners, he's had no upbringing! Can I help you?"

Joey had rehearsed what she would say on the drive over, and then again as she found a parking space, lost her nerve, and walked around the block. It was just now she realised that nothing she said would keep her from feeling stupid. "I used to live here. I mean, my grandparents used to live here and I was wondering if I could walk through the house because I heard that sometimes people can do that!" she finished in a rush. The owner of the house appraised Joey for a moment through narrowed gray eyes, and seemed to time her decision to the moment when Joey's hands instinctively moved to cup the dog Charlie's face in an attempt to soothe his increasingly wild gyrations.

"I suppose that would be alright, though we weren't planning for company today. You'll have to excuse the mess," she backed into the house, grunting, "My name is Quinn!" as she struggled to pull her recalcitrant canine companion across the floor to allow Joey's entrance. Joey smiled, and the butterflies that had taken up residence in her belly the last few hours subsided considerably. "I'm Joey Maegestro. Don't worry about the mess; Nana always said, 'An immaculate house is the sign of a misspent life.' "

Inside, Joey saw a Big Wheel in primary colors parked halfway between the entryway and the living room, a far cry from the classy old-world-style elements that the room had entertained in Nana's time, but charming none-the less. Two small children, one fair-haired and the other brunette, stared solemnly through their mother's gray eyes as they stood arm-in-arm in the kitchen hallway. Joey couldn't determine the age or sex of either child, having no experience in that sort of thing, and was relieved when Charlie turned his attentions away from her to jump up and lick their faces, making them laugh and forget about her, too.

Following Quinn through the house, Joey felt herself letting go of the past a little more with each redecorated room, until she stood in the little postage-stamp of a backyard and surveyed the bright, thick expanse of grass. "I'm so glad that you chose to make this a lawn. I always hated the brick patio and how bare the vegetable garden looked most of the year."

"We installed a swing set behind the garage. You can't see it from here, but it's a perfect play area for the girls, and I can watch them easily from there," Quinn nodded toward a white Adirondack chair near the opposite fence corner.

Joey turned and squinted up at the second and third stories of the house. "You installed a rail on the balcony! That was always 'my' room, you know. We were always forbidden from going out that door, but my cousin Stephanie and I always did anyways."

Quinn shivered, having foregone a jacket for this quick trip outside. "Do you mind going in? I don't like to leave the kids unattended for more than a few minutes, especially with Charlie. They're all fairly well behaved, but I try not to tempt fate. There's always the possibility that today's the day they'll forget to use their powers for good and not evil!"

Once inside, Quinn's daughters fell into trailing the grown-ups as Joey led the way back to the entry way and up the stairs that rose along the wall opposite the living room. Running her hand along the wall, which was now bare but had once been home to a replica of Mozart's death mask, Joey smiled at the creak in the seventh step, smiling over her shoulder to say, "I'm glad you didn't have that fixed." Where the stairs turned, she spun and put her hands on her hips before asking, "Do you know the secret?" Quinn and the children didn't.

Placing her hands lightly over two of the items displayed on the built-in bookshelf on the landing, Joey asked, "May I?" Quinn nodded and looked increasingly curious as Joey carefully placed first the decorative figurines, then the books and lastly the lifted-out shelves onto the risers of the next flight of stairs . Joey glanced at Quinn's reaction as she released the well-hidden catch, and the back of the bookshelf swung away from her, revealing a tiny hidden room. After sitting on the lower, stationary portion of the bookcase, Joey pivoted on her backside and swung her legs into the secret nook. Bending at the waist, Joey lifted first one girl and then the other into their newly found play area before turning to open the box full of photographs, letters and, at the very bottom of the box, bonds that had been left behind, waiting for her.

Friday, November 7, 2008

I Dig Dahlias

Yesterday I finished the week-long task of digging and storing my dahlia tubers, which is a good thing since morning light revealed our first snowfall of the year. There are lots of spiffy tutorials on-line with instructions, but I thought I'd document my process (and progress):

First I dig the tubers clumps, being careful to dig at a diameter that tubers won't be sliced by the spade. (Most gardeners use a garden fork, but I'm cheap and have a spade, so I use the spade):

I spray down the clumps with the garden hose, and then take them inside to divide them:

Each tuber must have an eye (like a potato) to be viable. The eyes are usually located on the ridge where the tuber joins the stem, and dividing them can be anything from soothing to maddening depending on how each clump develops. I use a bypass pruner, an old kitchen knife and an exacto knife, primarily. Tubers with thin necks are iffy, as they're more susceptible to rot, breakage and drying out, but sometimes you've gotta take what you can get and hope for the best-lol! The "mother" tuber (original tuber planted) will look darker/older and most of the time will not produce a plant next year, so I discard it along with tubers that don't have eyes (some dahlia enthusiasts use the mother tuber to take cuttings from the following spring.) I trim all excess material from the tuber, including roots and "rat tails" at the ends to discourage rot. Here's a close-up of tubers that have "eyed-up":

Watch out! Scary big-eyed tubers comin' atcha!

I soak the tubers in a mixture of one cup bleach per three gallons of water for 15-20 minutes to kill any fungus or creepie-crawlies. ( You can coat them with sulfur powder or another fungicide, but again, I'm cheap and use what's on hand!) Also if you use reasonably warm water and leave the water in the sink an extra 40 minutes or so, you've just completed the first step of Shiny Sink 1o1! Multi-task, baby!

Then I lay them out to dry for several hours before bagging them (2-3 cups of vermiculite and 5-8 tubers per gallon zip-lock) or wrapping them in saran wrap (I use both methods). Bags go into a cardboard box that's been lined with newspaper and the box is then placed into storage (anywhere cool and dark between 40 and 50 degrees is good. A fridge works great if you have an extra one as long as you don't store produce in it as well. I don't (have an extra fridge) and so use the storage closet in our art room, which gets quite cool, but doesn't freeze.

This was the last of them, white waterlily dahlias that were my least favorite this year, as they don't hold a candle to my favorite white-a dinnerplate dahlia from Lynch Creek Farm. I'm storing them anyway to give to my sister to jazz up her veggie garden.

The experts say that you should check on the tubers monthly to remove any that are beginning to rot, and to mist with a little water if they're beginning to shrivel. I say, "Faggedaboudit! Live or don't!" and enjoy the holidays and winter-time pursuits until the first week in March, when I will pull my box from storage and plant them indoors under lights March 15th to give my 2009 dahlias a head start!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Recollection

Up until the last election, when I was shocked to find myself crying at the announcement that John Kerry had lost and Bush Jr. had been re-elected as our president for another term, I have never been what you could consider a political animal. In fact, I remember students cheering at our arts high in '93 when Clinton first took office and having to ask the person I'd been talking to which political party our president-to-be belonged to. Happily, I am far more enlightened these days than I was back then.
Today my husband took a vacation day from work with the sole purpose of making it easier for us both to vote. My beloved was kind enough to let me vote first (ah! sweet half-hour of solitude and freedom!) and as I drove to the polls I was reminded of many things.

In order to reach the elementary school where I was to vote, I had to drive past the apartment where Jesse and I lived for 12 years prior to purchasing our house 2 1/2 years ago. It's a pretty drive that I don't usually take anymore (though it's only minutes away from our current home) and as I passed "my" Holiday gas station and "my" intersection-from-hell, I felt a true longing, if not for our cramped apartment, for the lovely little neighborhood that saw me from my teen years into my 30's. (My God, that looks even worse in print.) Driving past, I could see the windows of our old apartment, shutters drawn as it hasn't been rented out since, and regretted once again forgetting to take the window boxes that I'd installed on the little 3rd floor balcony with me when we moved.

Across the street from my voting station sat Jesse's and my one-time dream house. 8 years ago when it went on the market, we were given a tour by the owners, and fell in love with the great-room kitchen, built-in spice drawers, tile hearth, tiny little bedrooms and honest-to-goodness tower. The house was built in the early 1900's and carefully moved from Anoka to Fridley years ago. Even knowing that we couldn't afford it, Jesse and I drove past it together at night long after it sold to someone else. As I parked on the curb before heading in to vote, I couldn't help but think about what I would do differently with the front yard were it mine. (I would banish the cheap plastic Adirondack chairs for one!)

Making my way to door #6 as indicated by voting signs, I passed children at recess on the playground, and smiled at a little girl that skipped past dressed in a red skirt and sweatshirt, white bobby socks and black Mary Janes. She reminded me of who I was really voting for. I placed my votes for Obama/Biden, Senator candidate Barkley and the MN environment levee and proudly affixed my red "I voted" sticker to the lapel of my leopard-print dress. To me, this is an honest-to-goodness rite of adulthood. It's right up there with wearing the cross-shaped smudge of a Catholic on Ash Wednesday. On my way back to the van, I complimented a little girl's funky pastel argyle knee-highs. Sadly, animal-print and argyle do not mix. Sigh.

On my way home, I remembered that once when I was a girl a family member (my dad or an uncle maybe?) asked me dubiously if I even knew the names of the political parties. I was eager to please and promptly replied, "I think so! Isn't it Democrats and...Prostitutes?" A roar of laughter went up among the grown-ups and someone said something along the lines of, "That's about right!" while my face flamed and shame snaked through my belly.

Once home, Jes' ran out to vote, just as later my sister would come by to drop our nephew off at our place long enough to cast her ballot. When I picked my daughter up from school she took note of my sticker and asked incredulously, "You voted!?" I assured her that indeed, I had. "Who'd ya vote for?!" she blurted guilelessly. I remember asking my parents the same question and being told that a person's vote was private and, when pressed, that they were neither republicans or democrats, but independents. Remembering how disenheartening that answer set was to me, I smiled and told her, "Barack Obama and Joe Biden!" "Oh!" She said off-handedly, "I voted for John McCain, but then I realised that he doesn't want to bring our troops home from Iraq until 2013!" (This is an issue near to her heart, as her godfather, Sgt. Travis Knudsen, is currently serving his second year in Iraq.) This statement gave me pause until the obvious came to me, "Did they have an election at school?" Of course they did. Very cool!
Off to work I went, and I resisted the urge to check the early returns online, thinking that it would be more fun to hear the news from my husband after my shift. The second that I got into my van, I dialed home with my cell phone and asked Jesse for an update. He answered, "I dunno. Haven't checked!" WTF?!! I explained that I'd been waiting all night to share the moment with him and he said, "Tell you what: I won't check until you get home so that we can find out together!" I took a fast food order from him and then had to tell the guys at our local Arby's, "Don't tell me, don't tell me!" before driving home to be with my man.

We cheered, hugged, kissed at the news that Barack Obama and Joe Biden will be our next presidential team, listened to Obama's acceptance speech (which gave me chills and brought tears to my eyes, alternately) and checked the news regarding MN's levee and the Senatorial candidates (Norm Coleman and Al Franken were neck and neck, so there will certainly be a recount). We checked back with Obama in time to see Michelle's kick ass dress (gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous! I want it!) and smile at the appearance of Joe Biden, the darling Obama girls and Biden's cutie-pie grand-daughter.

In the end, I am happy and exhausted and feeling sympathy for John McCain, who is a wonderful and admirable man, a good politician and an asset to America by any definition of the word! (Psst! President-Elect Obama, wouldn't McCain make a great Secretary of Defence?! I think so! But then, it was Jesse's idea, and I tend to think that most of his ideas are good.) Peace out, fellow Americans!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Square Pegs, Round Holes

My sister has a bumper sticker on her Facebook page that says, "One of the toughest things in life is deciding when to give up and when to try harder." A shameless perfectionist, I can totally relate. Somewhere in my early years I developed an unwavering policy, an absolute refusal to participate in any activity that I did not clearly rock at. You can't make me roller blade, just try! I tried it, I sucked at it, I moved on. (I can do a great jazz square, though. Like Ryan in HSM would say, "Everyone loves a good jazz square!") "But Angela," you say,"what about practising, improving, being proud of your progress, however meager?!" Uh, no, sorry, couldn't possibly.

The razor edge of this vain and impatient side of me drives me to madness. I have spent the majority of my life telling myself that if I just work longer, try harder, everything will be...perfect. My sisters and I share a strange personality trait. We have a tendency to plan everything out in our heads so intricately, in such minute detail down to what will be said and who will say it, that every accomplishment, every event, party and important moment can only pale by comparison, falling flat in the shadow of our lovely fantasy world. Painful and frustrating, these "lacking" moments incite me to push ever harder until I break, only to begin the cycle again almost immediately.

Even now that I recognise this behavior as the self-torture that it really is, I spend far too many moments struggling against an invisible brick wall, because while I know that this will not bring me peace or happiness, I do not know how to re-wire my brain. My husband tells me to, "Stop. Let it go. It's okay." A dear friend of mine has a saying that was a revelation to me the first time that I heard it: Italic"You're just gonna have to love me where I'm at!" she said, stepping over kid's toys and a plate with buttered toast on her living room floor. It felt like I'd been struck by lightening upon hearing it. My brain quickly translated: "The people who are most important to you love you regardless of all this external crap, and the people who don't can go f!@* themselves!" Wow. In trying to be all Mary Poppins-like (Practically Perfect in Every Way) I'd overlooked that at the end of the story she is alone (unless you count the sarcastic talking parrot's head on her umbrella, which I don't.) No Bert. No Banks' children. Right.

I used to hear, "Let go and let God" and sneer. I've always been more of a, "God helps those who helps themselves," kinda girl, but now I realize that the moments when I stop trying so hard, when I sit back and let it go, let it flow, when I stop selfishly focusing on my own expectations and desires and look to the people around me (you know, the people that I'm trying to be perfect for, because I love them so damn much) is when the magic happens.

Michael J. Fox says, "I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God's business." I'm trying, Mike, I'm trying. (Seriously, how great is this guy?! First he provided the women of my generation with Alex Keaton and Marty McFly to moon over, and then he matured with us into this amazing example of strength, intelligence and wisdom.)

I'll end by saying that I know these things are true:

1) The more/better you do, the more those around you will expect of you, leading ultimately to the high likelihood of disappointment all around.

2) There is no such thing as "getting everything done," and I should be grateful (I'm trying to be grateful) because each new day and new goal brings purpose to my life.

3) Those who've come before me have already developed concepts to see me through. Embracing concepts such as hozho, a Navajo-honored quality that incorporates intentional imperfections in textiles and more as a reminder that only the Divine is perfect, can bring a measure of peace and grace to my reaching heart.