If You Click Your Heels Three Times, You'll Still Be Here

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about home.  Not where, but what it is.  Living in transition is full of considerable challenges and carries with it bits of joy and heartbreak, and this has only heightened my sensitivity to the comforting notion of being at home.  Yet the miracle that we can find it and experience its fullness in almost any place under almost any circumstances is stunning.  Home is inescapable. 

If you were to uplift a great animal, say, a panda bear, and transplant it to another country, another climate, and another forest, it would never survive unassisted.  It would have moved outside the radius of its resources, its habitat.  If we let our minds fall prey to the fickle messages around us, I think we would also expect to be able to travel outside the reach of our home.  During the first 4 years of our marriage, C and I moved four times.  I’m sure this kind of transience is dwarfed by the mobility of military families or kids in foster care, but to us, it felt incredibly jolting.  Each time we settled, I experienced a deep and troubling dilemma.  Do I put down roots?  Do I love my community?  Do I allow myself to build relationships, or do I withhold and wait for the next transition?  I’m sure many of you can relate.

During Easter weekend, I went back to my former place of work and was able to see friends whom I have missed since moving north.  I told C that I was filling my hug-tank, and found the experience surprisingly overwhelming.  Years ago in an undergraduate communication theory class, my professor explained that every initial human interaction, if you were to strip it down to its fundamental level, is a question of how one person can serve another.  What can I do for you?  What do you need?  How can I help?  Despite my college-senior brilliance, I didn’t fully understand his point, but it did and does get clearer all the time.  Being renewed by the warmth of a friend’s embrace is no different than sharing a smile in the grocery store with a stranger; It is only a matter of scale.  How could I help you?  Will this meet a need?  Can I lift your spirit?  However, this will only satisfy if we can let down our armor and let our tank be filled by the kindness of a stranger.  Self-preservation keeps joy at arm’s length.

In a sense, home will always be the brown cape on Morrill Street that I grew up in.  It will always be my father, mother, and older sister.  Home is the embrace of my lover, my husband; the voice of a friend.  But the place I go to when I think of home and close my eyes is really no place at all.  It is so much more than that, so far beyond the constraints of time and space, of sheetrock and city streets.  So, what is home?  It is the deep, resounding awareness that I am loved, that I am of value and have purpose and contribution, regardless of where I am.  That if I were to fall away, I would leave behind hope and joy, and that my life would have left a mark, small or large.  So in truth, if I relent and allow myself to engage the world I am in right now, I will find that I am, always have been, and will always be



A Little Rain Never Hurt Anyone

Speaking of firsts, about a month after C and I were married, we decided to go on our first overnight hiking trip together.  There are a few things in life that are guaranteed to provoke relational gunfire:  long periods in small spaces (planes, automobiles, family gatherings), tandem kayaks, bicycles built-for-two and bad weather.  We were about to experience two of those four.  And it wasn't the bike or the kayak.

We drove to Adirondack Park and parked at the trailhead to Snowy Mountain.  We laced up our boots, strapped on our packs, and took one of those “before” photos that is still a clear reminder of how naïve we were.  First, we had no idea the adventure about to be had, and second, those self-taken pictures are never as good as you think.  Soon we were ambling up the rocky trail toward our doom.

The hike up was pretty enough.  It was October, and the trees were lit in rusty orange and yellow – peak foliage was behind us.  We stopped to have sandwiches on boulders in the middle of the trail, a fact that should have surprised us.  When a trail is heavily used, one would rarely break for lunch in the midst of a thoroughfare.  We were alone.

We came to a rockslide near the peak, and as we were about to amble up it, C decided (wisely) that we should find some firewood before we got too much further.  While I was gathering twigs, he was strapping a tree limb to his pack with nylon string.  The thing could have held a tire swing it was so big, but it seemed to satisfy his need, so we pressed on, crawling up the rocks to our final destination. 

Upon reaching the ledge on which we would camp, we dropped most of our gear and ran to climb the fire tower on Snowy, which was rapidly becoming engulfed in thick fog and a light mist.  We got there just in time to see a gorgeous view of the surrounding hills and mountains, and got back to our ledge just in time to see that the clouds had moved in and feel the air misty with rain.  We quickly built a fire (this wet wood fire was my first proud achievement as a married woman).  Luckily the small tree that C dragged up the mountainside was breaking apart, so we boiled water and finished setting up our tent on a patch of grass nearby. 

And then it began to pour. 

We ate our soggy dinner and climbed into our tent.  It was about 5:30, and we didn’t realize we wouldn’t leave its walls until the next morning.  We spent the evening reading aloud (Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye), and hoping that the rain would mercifully cease, which it didn’t.  Finally we fell asleep, probably at around 8pm, and we awoke to another world.  We were both sleeping in at least two inches of water.  Our Thermarest pads were practically floating.  This makes for nasty cleanup.  Muttering under our breath, and wondering why on earth we hadn’t checked the weather before leaving home, we struggled to cram our sopping wet gear into our packs before eating cold oatmeal and stumbling down the mountain. 

At one point, I, with my now-heavy pack took a step down the trail only to find myself hip-deep in rushing water.  I stood there a moment in the icy river and laughed out loud, because really, how much more awesome could this trip get?  We soon emerged at the trailhead and slopped our way to our car that sat alone in the downpour.  I couldn’t believe no one else was out hiking – I mean, come on, the trail is all yours.

I’m pretty sure we made the drive back to the cabin in our underwear for the sake of being less drenched, and had to empty all of our gear before setting foot inside the building.  I took a bath that could have boiled pasta, wrapped up in the remaining clothes I packed, and fell asleep on the couch.  I don’t know what C did.  I’m not sure I cared.  

If you’re looking to for a good time, take a hike.  But if you’re looking to enrich your relationships, take a rainy hike.  You could always rent a tandem bicycle, but that seems like a shortcut to me. 


The First Time; The Best Time

This past weekend, my mom, sister and I had a girls’ afternoon.  This consisted of going out for pedicures (a first for my sister, Renee) and lunch.  Renee picked me up at eleven so we could drive over to meet mom at a local mall.  When I say that we went to get pedicures, I don’t mean the kind of spa service you have to schedule.  We went to a place in the mall with a cartoony neon sign, not unlike another establishment near us of the same category: O.K. Nails.  Who wants okay nails?

Really, who?

Anyhow, it was a fabulous affair.  Like I mentioned, my sister had never had a pedicure before and was feverish over her foot calluses.  What I mean is that she was militantly determined that no one touch them.  She is convinced that if they are filed down, buffed off, or otherwise tampered with, her athletic prowess might be diminished (there will be some impenetrable clinical study sent to my inbox the instant she’s read this).  I think she’s crazy, but if she believes she’s the Samson of foot-calluses, that’s her dilemma.  We sisters have to choose our battles wisely. 

So the three of us cross the salon’s threshold and we’re instantly hit in the eyes and nostrils with that pungent, tear-jerking smell of acetone and chlorine, not to mention probably a million other hazardous chemicals that we’re about to get intimate with.  One of the nail technicians is even wearing a mask.  I would have liked one too.

Can I get you a complementary beverage, Miss?  Water?  Coke?  May I activate the heat on your leather massage chair?  Would you like help strapping on this free gas mask?

Yes to all.

We each chose a nail polish (except for mom, who had dutifully brought hers) and were ushered into our massage chairs (which could be another whole post because only mom’s was fully functioning, and my sister and I found ourselves suddenly creeping backward in the middle of our service, like sliding back the drivers seat, only you’re not driving, and someone’s holding on to your feet).  The poor young man in charge of my pedicure seemed as though this may have been his very first, which brought me an irrational immediate joy.  He looked about 19, was incredibly nice, and spoke probably the best English of the three working with us, so he and I were able to carry on some good conversation during and after the episode. 

Despite my enthusiasm for his trial by fire, his cohorts appeared less than thrilled at his performance.  While they asked my mom and sister what kind of pedicure each would like, he failed to ask me anything.  I was getting whatever spa service he could conjure up at that moment, which made me wonder what C would do in his shoes. 

That thought made me laugh silently but maniacally - this was going to be a scream.  The other two were scrubbed with salts and oils; I was scrubbed with a washcloth.  Their bubbling footbaths looked warm and soothing; Mine (and I take my share of responsibility for not speaking up) was scalding, and every time I removed a swollen, lobster-red foot from the bath, there was a frighteningly well-defined line where the water level had been.  The others had flip-flops placed gently and appropriately on their feet; I had an unwieldy foam trap jammed onto my right foot so that I was really only wearing one side of it.  The other thong was flattened underneath my big toe.  I was flip-less.  Flop-less.  Has this guy worn flip-flops??  Ever??  Mercifully, the ladies were still darting their eyes at my feet.  They started yammering at him in another language with such speed and consequence that even I felt horrible when they were through. 

In the end, all was well.  My flip-flop was adjusted.  My little pigs looked beautiful.  He started my pedicure first, and we ended last, but at least we got to talk about the Celtics and fishing, so that helped.  I tipped him well too, because he was working under more stressful conditions than anyone I’d ever seen, and also because I knew instantly that I would tell his story later, which I’ve done.  Lunch was good, company best, but that pedicure will live in infamy, like a first kiss gone horribly wrong. 

Oh wow, I missed your face [and kissed your sister].

That kind of wrong.


And The Winner Is...

I have a whole new appreciation for the effort that goes into a major Peep diorama contest.  This past Sunday, we undertook the challenge of constructing an artistic masterpiece from sugared bunnies and chicks, a candy treasure chest, and leftovers from Easter dinner.  And it was HARD.  Each team had 40 minutes and was instructed to use all available resources to create something that would successfully transport us - the viewers – to another place.  Well, let me tell you, if you’re looking to reenact the battle of Gettysburg with sugar and you only have 40 minutes, you might as well try to ride your bicycle to the moon.  It ain’t gonna happen.

However, we did emerge from the mist with some wonderfully inspired designs and plenty of applause.  Our show may not compare with the Washington Post event, but I’ll bet a hundred bucks that it was the best show in ten square miles, which is good enough for me.

Here are some photos from our contest.  I took out the shots of people getting maimed at the candy table in case there are children reading this.  We only bought two containers of frosting, and they were in extremely high demand.  There would have been more bloodshed if the contestants hadn’t been too hopped up on sugar to focus for more than three seconds.

The Bounty.

Some Peeps go on Hawaiian getaways and to air shows.

Ours have Olympics.

 My favorite dioramas were made to mimic movie scenes.  The first was a compilation from the recent Pirates of the Caribbean films.

It was like Davey Jones was right there in the room with us.

Also, Jack Sparrow and Will Turner made an appearance.  Two words: broccoli trees.

It's not the best shot, but look at Indy run from the apple boulder!!  This Indiana Jones themed model was done by a 7 year old and his dad, and was my official favorite.  Here are Indy and Marion tied to the post as the Germans open up the ark of the covenant gummy worms. 

So next year, plan ahead and ask your friends and family to get their hands dirty.  It’s best if you don’t actually offer them a choice in participating, though.  Just show up with a stopwatch and start counting down with Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run playing in the background.  Their hearts will start pulsing before you even utter the word, “Go”, and you’ll need an army to stop them at the buzzer.  Unless you run out of frosting, that is.  Then the army will be there for you.

Good luck, friends. Now, go out and gather some discounted supplies for next year.  

Shop carefully.  Shop well.


Shhhh.... Weaw Hunting Wabbits.


It tastes like a spiral ham and jellybeans, and sounds like the rustling of spruce boughs.

Despite my enthusiasm for egg hunts, I'm not really what you'd call an expert.  That's more my sister's territory.  She is the recognized queen of Easter at our traditional family gathering.  For as long as I can remember, she has been climbing up trees and into large shrubs to retrieve as many eggs as could fit in her bag, generally until it bursts.  My approach was always of a different nature.  As a child, I would search for eggs just like every other kid, but my pattern of find-open-eat-discard-find-open-eat-discard left me with a strangely smaller bounty than my friends.  And a serious sugar rush.  

Challenging eggs just aren't my style.

I look for weak and wounded eggs - those that get separated from the herd.  Here I am, pawing at the rhododendron for some snacks.

If you massage the branches just right, the eggs fall right to the bottom,

which is where C is waiting to snatch them up.  We're the scavenger Dream Team of the egg world.

 There were some small children hunting alongside us.  These pink eggs were strategically placed for the youngest of our group.  

By the end, I was taking hers too.  

There was one very interesting surprise found in the heat of our adventure.  No one knew where it came from, but we all immediately understood that this was a special egg.  

No one stuffs a black easter egg with melted candy corn.  

Most importantly though, who started having Halloween egg hunts and didn't tell me??!!

 This next egg appeared to be from our 1995 hunt.

Check out that creamy candy center.  Just think of this sweet morsel melting in your mouth.  


Luckily, our easter victory this year was sweet and worm-free. 

Another egg hunt success down in the books.  

Tomorrow, we'll talk Peeps, because ours put on quite a good show.  

You know you can't wait.


Grab Your Fork, a Roll of Antacids, and a Towel - It's Game Time

Easter dinner has always been good to me.  An avid diner, I will generally suck down holiday foods like a Dirt Devil. But today, I’m compiling my all-time, best-in-show, first-class, blue ribbon, dream-weaver Easter dinner.  Strap on your seatbelts and be prepared to get hungry.  They might never appear on a menu together, but these are my all-stars.

Honey Baked Ham
O.M.G.  I had this at my sister-in-law’s Christmas party a few years back, and ham has never been the same.  I think it had a maple brown sugar glaze, and I’m telling you, I could’ve snacked on that crispy skin for days. 

Julia Child’s French Onion Soup
Do not skip the cognac.

Emeril’s Creamed Spinach
I’ve made this one, and if you like spinach and love butter and dairy fat, you will adore this recipe.  It’s aromatic and salty and is made with heavy cream.  That’s how you know it’s done right.

Mom’s Salsa
This might seem like an odd piece of the pie, but one of my mother’s biggest contributions to the world will be her salsa.  I write this with no sarcasm whatsoever, because I know that she has contributed to so many lives and so many causes.  But to be fair, her salsa is unbelievable.  I’m pretty sure that she swayed my then-boyfriend to take the marriage leap if only to secure lifetime access to that salsa.  This is on the table at every meal, even breakfast, and we get a gallon for Christmas each year.  It only lasts a week.

Romano’s Macaroni Grill’s Rosemary Bread
It oozes rosemary, which if you’re like me, is one of your favorite herbs.  They just keep bringing these perfectly hot loaves to your table, and I have never been able to say no.  I would slip them into my pants and down my sleeves if they weren’t quite so big.  Bottom line: keep eating them.

Coldstone Birthday Cake Remix


I used to get this with my roommates when I was in college.  You'd be mistaken if you thought that  meant that we would share one.  This desert is actually perfect for this list, because there are tiny pastel sprinkles in the cake batter ice cream (on top of the fudgy chocolate brownie), and nothing says Easter like pastel.

So there you have it, folks - my ultimate Easter dinner.   I’d probably round it out with some of Julie’s squash casserole (butter, brown sugar and pecans = the golden trifecta), and a generous helping of my mother-in-law’s baked mac and cheese, but barring a few changes to the roster, this is it. 

This would also make a great Earth Day dinner, I think.


She Works Hard For the Money

My sister and I have not always been close.  These days, we are happiest when we’re making dinner together or trying on go-go boots at the local T.J.Maxx.  We have been disruptive members of our co-ed volleyball team for the past few years, snickering and dancing when we’re down by ten points, and we both have a shameless addiction to coffee and sushi, which we usually entertain in tandem.  She’s like the yang to my yin, the soy sauce to my unagi. 

Of the many experiences that took us from physically maiming one another to real friendship was a summer we spent working together during our college years.  We both interviewed at a public interest group that was responsible for canvassing neighborhoods on behalf of organizations like the Sierra Club, plus a few other national and local non-profits.  Because these employers set up shop in May and shut down in September, have 10-12 hour workdays, and involve miles of walking every day, they don’t turn anyone away.  They just wait for you to quit.  

We were in.  We spent the summer months, clipboards in hand, walking the streets of our towns and cities, getting screen doors slammed in our faces and obscenities screamed at us as we scrambled down the driveway. In reality, it wasn’t all like that.  I met a man who had a squirrel for a pet, and a woman who showed me what were the most beautiful herb gardens I have every seen, even to this day.  That was when I tasted chocolate mint for the first time, and was also given fresh lavender cuttings that I tucked into my pocket, only to pull them out when I needed an emotional pick-me-up, which was often.  Dogs became an important part of life that summer as well.  I can still remember one yellow single-story cape guarded by three bloodthirsty Rottweiler’s, clearly hungry for the taste of a 19 year-old brunette.  I skipped that house.  But I also had the chance to get slimed by a happy pair of St. Bernard’s, and met a Great Dane who could look me in the eye.

I made plenty of mistakes that summer, too.  There were plenty of days when I didn’t meet quota, got completely sunburned, or wore the wrong shoes.  I also made some generally unwise choices.  Remember, we had thrown the whole “don’t talk to strangers” policy to the wind, so when someone says, Come see the bar I just built in my basement”, it doesn't sound so bad.  I took opened drinks and glasses of lemonade from far too many people, but thankfully none were spiked. 

Rule #3: Unicorns don't talk to strangers.  Well, this unicorn does.

Spending entire days outside also presented a urinary dilemma.  My strategy was to hunt out the coolest house on the block and canvass it, with the sole intention of asking to use their restroom.  But this wasn’t always successful.  It can be hard to find any real forest in suburbia, and when the Hoover Dam is cracking, a rhododendron bush starts looking like a pretty good potty stop.  In one memorable case, it was almost pick-up (9pm), and things were reaching critical mass, so I ran off into the woods opposite the entry to a cul-de-sac.  The woods weren’t very dense, but all critical thought had halted 90 seconds earlier, and I wasn't concerned.  So there I am, squatting in a sparse forest, about 100 feet from the mouth of a road, and it’s not dark yet.  All of a sudden two headlights appear, and I realize that a car is exiting the cul-de-sac, has its low beams centered on me, and my pants are around my ankles.  I was scared stiff, hoping they would mistake me for a misshapen tree or a wild beast, and not a vagrant or thief hiding in the woods.  I was starting to hear a police siren and could almost feel the cuffs go on, when the car turned and drove off.  It felt like an eternity.  

After a summer bonding over experiences like these, and an amazing trip to the Delaware Water Gap for Independence Day (think campfires and social justice sing-a-longs), my sister and I became closer than ever.  And though our experiences now are not quite as concentrated or bizarre, we still try to keep it real.  Like, by having a Peep diorama contest on Easter, for example.

Here's to keeping it real.


Throw Another Log on the Fire

"Winter Storm Warning: 6-10 inches possible"

I don't even know what to say.  Or how not to vomit.

I suppose it could be worse.  I could be stranded on an ice floe.

No, a smaller one.

That's better.  With killer whales circling in the water.

And I smell like fish.

And it's sunny, and my ice flow is melting.

And I chose this day to leave my rocket pack at home.

Ugh.  It's even sunny on my imaginary ice floe.  Spring can't come soon enough.


Someone Get Me A Paper Bag to Breathe Into

Our cabin has a moose theme.  There are so many eyes on our furnishings that sometimes I feel like I'm being watched.

We have moose lamps, both electric

 and oil.

We have moose in our drapes.

and on our walls.

We have moose that tell us how warm (or terrifyingly cold) it is, both inside 

and outside.

We have moose things sitting on other moose things.

We have moose holding our keys

and ready to hold our drinks.

These moose are walking all over our walls.  I counted 12, but I'm sure there are more hidden in drawers and behind cupboards.  

We can consult an old moose calendar if we need to.

We even have some real moose.  These do not live in the house.

I think that with all of this moose-mania, the obvious next step is to get this.

I'm thinking a full-back portrait, with the antlers creeping up my neck. 

Also, I'd like the moose tattoo to have its own tiny moose tattoo. 

Layer upon layer of awesome. 


Another thing - and this is totally off topic - what are some good ideas for an adult Easter basket?  


Ten Ways to Make Your Week Awesome

  • The NBA playoffs.  I don’t know if you watch basketball, or if you even care, but trust me, it’s worth it for those 60 combined seconds of inspired play.   I can usually only stand to watch football on television, but last nights Celtics v. Knicks game was heart-thumping.  If you’re not really into the idea, I guess you could stab yourself with your kid’s epi-pen and watch the highlights instead.
  • Get your hands on some Marshmallow Peeps.  Yes, it’s the season.  Go buy a variety pack, and see what you can't do with them.  Check out the Washington Post's annual Peep Show
  • Download the FatBooth App.  Then use it on pictures of your sister from childhood.
  • Observe the state of current commercial advertising.  I have a deep love affair with the way that marketing firms are taking on today’s television audience.  Dairy Queen doesn’t just have rainbows; they have rainbows on fire.  They don’t just have bunnies; they have old fashion shaving bunnies.  Old Spice features a man rising out of beach sand, strumming a guitar that opens to reveal a “romantic puppy surprise”.  Genius?  I think so.  Welcome to my mind.

  • Dress for success.  By this I mean that you should, at least once this week, take a walk around outside in shorts and a t-shirt.  Or your bathing suit.  If I can do it with a foot of snow on the ground, and the possibility of my flip-flops slipping on the ice, you can do it wherever you are.  I want to win Mother Nature over on the idea of spring, and the best offense is a good offense, right?  So help me show her what she’s missing.  Are you with me?!
  • Plan an imaginary vacation.  This is what I’m going to do this week.  In my imaginary trip, we’re spending 10 days in St. Lucia to snorkel and sunbathe and eat bacon every hour, on the hour.  What’s your plan?
  • Host an adult Easter Egg hunt.  Now, I don’t mean that the eggs will contain something adult-oriented, which would produce an entirely different event.  What I do mean is that you should gather some friends and have an egg-hunting party that is physically, relationally, and emotionally challenging.  A small amount of eggs placed in outrageous locations is enough to make even the best of friends become violent adversaries. Eggs in trees?  Yes.  Down snake holes?  Uh huh.  Eggs filled with coffee gift cards or expensive stinky cheese?  Your friends and family will be like hyenas around a dead water buffalo. 
  • Grill out.  This is easy.  Get it done.
  • Start a garden.  This is for those of you who can.  Get to your favorite home and garden store, and get your green thumb on.  If I were you, I’d plant haricot vert, jalapeños, butter lettuce, snap peas, heirloom tomatoes, and mangoes.  And none of them would live past May.
  • Try something new.  Get out and go rollerblading.  Volunteer at the SPCA.  Have some Guinness ice cream.  Rent a Segway and drive it down Main Street.  Go to a yoga class.  Eat a different donut every morning (unless you do that already, then step it up to duck liver and brie).  Say hello to everyone you see when you’re out walking.   Go out walking. 

I hope this list gives you the drive it takes to make it through another week with a smile on your face.  Remember, we only have today, so rock what your mama gave you and make some memories with your week. If you actually do any of the above, please share your story with the rest of us.  Now, get busy making the next seven days awesome.  I’m rooting for you.

Popular Posts