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Aquarius Calling

What is your favorite song?

Google “music and memory research” and there are one hundred sixty-four million hits. But there is perhaps no more immediate proof that certain musical pieces from the past deliver a memory wallop than that moment when a song you’re not expecting starts playing on the radio. The most recent song to stir my memory banks made me smile: “Kiss You All Over,” by Exile. A number one hit in 1978, the synth-pop success never struck me as a particularly good song then. This week when I heard it while driving through the early spring sunshine, the convertible top down and the wind ruffling my hair, my reaction was: “Oh, I love this song.” And I turned up the volume.

In 1978 I had an avocado green touch-tone slimline phone with an extra-long cord in my room. Although not a dedicated teenline, it was a second number at the farm (I’ll always remember these digits: 319.683.2656 (of course don’t call them now—they may belong to someone else)), so it felt like mine. I was not allowed to be on it after 9pm and no one in those days called anyone before 9am, unless it was an emergency or a work/school-related matter. But who called whom after school was an important social register, and I looked forward to hearing that phone ring.

My longest-standing friendship is nearly the length of my lifetime, and it began when a girl finally arrived, after four sons, at the farm adjacent to ours to the west. My mother gave her mother my crib, and since we could talk we’ve said we were crib sisters. Because the district line scrolled weirdly right through our property, my friend and her brothers attended the country school system; my brother and I went into town. Nonetheless, we saw each other weekends and spent much of the un-air-conditioned hot, humid Iowa summers cooling off by floating together in inner tubes on our pond.

My friend—I’m going to call her Aquarius—spent many a night at my house. We’d go to my room and listen to music and sometimes we browsed the phone book. Young people who had their very own phone lines were often identified in the phone book under their parents’ listing as “teenline.” That meant if you dialed such a number you were likely ringing the phone of a teenager in his or her room. If anyone was going to answer, it would be the teen. There were no answering machines, no caller ID, no hold button or call waiting, but there would be a busy signal if the person were already on the line. In those days, you dialed the number and you got the person or you didn’t.

I feel a little chagrined to confess that Aquarius and I found a great deal of delight in making crank calls, specifically to teenlines. We took turns, dialing the numbers, waiting with a catch in our breath for the phone on the other end to ring, hoping that someone would answer. We’d say something we were certain was tremendously provocative, listen for the reaction and then hang up and laugh, our hearts racing.

One night Aquarius, who I suspect is still far braver than I, called a teenline and waited. When a male voice answered, she dropped her line on him. I don’t remember what she said, but the response she got was not an angry slam; it was a groggy, “What?” She looked at me with big eyes and then kinda shrugged and said, simply, “Hi.”

She had caught the attention of our call recipient and they begin to talk. His name was Kurt, and he was a college student, living at home for the summer. Just junior high girls, we were thrilled to talk to this older guy who seemed content to while away some time chatting. We handed the phone back and forth, laughing and talking for some time.

It was not the last time we would call Kurt. The next time we were armed with a list of questions. For years I had the canary yellow legal pages on which we wrote his answers in green ink. Even though I can see the pages like a snapshot, other than his first name, the only thing I can remember is that his favorite song, he said, was “Kiss You All Over.”

Was it really? Or was it just what was playing over and over and over and over on top-40 radio? Aquarius and I listened the next time we heard the song—with five older rock-n-roll brothers between us, we couldn’t imagine a guy who would pick such a schmaltzy pop song as his favorite. But we decided we liked it because Kurt did.

So many years later the song ends and I’m pulling into my destination, awash in memories of Aquarius and farm summers and innovations like push-button phone pads that my children wouldn’t even see as technology. I’m not aware of anything even similar to crank calling in their world, although I supposed “friending” or “following” someone you don’t know might give you a similar opportunity for the thrill of touching a stranger. Then again, today such interactions are discouraged because you don’t know who’s on the other end of the connection or where in the world they might be or whether they are who they say they are. And even though neither one of dials into their favorite station on a clock radio in their room, as I did endlessly during my teenaged years, I am certain, that the music they listen to today will be the music that evokes the Oh yeah, I remember when that happened memories they will cherish a few miles down the road.

Happy new April moon—it’s time to sow seeds, metaphorical and actual. What seeds are you planting? With much love, Rxo

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The seeds we are sowing this spring will arrive in surprising and mysterious and colorful ways, sometimes when we least expect them. Yes—this farm girl knows tulips come from fall bulbs not spring seeds, but these tulips were a gift from a friend I met at the most ill-imagined, uncomfortable party ever. The party was thirteen years ago; the friendship is as strong as ever. 

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Go Ask Alice

Go Ask Alice

Who needs Wonderland?

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Thirteen, a Cheshire Cat in the recent junior high production of Alice in Wonderland

 

One school year we left the farm and moved into town—my parents rented a ranch house on a little-traveled street in a neighborhood where I had school friends within walking distance. The house showed every sign of being a flower child, complete with a car port, shag carpet and avocado green appliances. That year, one of my prized possessions was a plastic record player, orange, that I could carry around when it was folded like a brief case. I would set it up, plug it in, and play full-sized LPs, either Terry Jacks’ Seasons in the Sun or a complete recording of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The latter was four records, the unabridged text, and took about three hours to listen to all the way through. I listened over and over until I could recite the story line-for-line from just about any starting point in the book.

Alice was one of my childhood heroines, more friend than literary character. Just as I felt with Dorothy’s Oz, I never fully bought into the “it was all a dream” framework of the story. Wonderland was real to me, the intro and ending added, I was certain, to appease adult sensibilities.

A few years later my seventh grade Language Arts teacher, Mrs. Ostrem, would forbid us from ending our work with any intimation that the foregoing had been a dream. It was, she instructed, an authorial cop out. If we asked her about Dorothy or Alice, I don’t remember her response. But hers was one of those lessons that taught me to compartmentalize—I loved the stories I had always loved even as I worked to discern the literary merit of crafting a fantasy world that held sway without the dream device.

At the end of her romp through Wonderland, Alice—grown back to her right size that is enormous in comparison to the creatures who wish her beheaded—stands up to them all and asserts, “You’re nothing but a pack of cards.” In the traditional John Tenniel illustration of this moment, Alice stands sideways, her head ducking, her hands raised against a flurry of playing cards that are ineffectually leaping at her even as a menagerie of animals scurries out from under her feet. In the next moments her sister is brushing leaves from Alice’s hair saying, “My, what a long sleep you’ve had!”

That illustration came to mind again and again as February, launched by a broken ignition coil, turned into March: the barrage of pesky cards kept flying at me. While I refuse to complete a financial tally, by the time the injured-reserve list included the washer, a toppled pine in the backyard, the vacuum, the radon-abatement system, and Cooper the squirrel, we had also been derailed by stomach flu, bronchitis, and worrisome maladies in the extended family.

In the depth of it all, even though I could barely catch my breath to do so, the time arrived to share the news with the Radiant Om Yoga community that ROY will close this year. There is no good time to deliver disappointing news, and with life already spinning through an unpleasant Wonderland, the timing felt destabilizing at best. The email (click here if you’d like to read it) went out and another barrage of reaction ensued. Holding space for everyone to respond, I thought: Who needs Wonderland?

And then the answer came: I do. Because making a point of attending Alice in Wonderland in which my Thirteen played one of a chorus of Cheshire Cats, once for dress rehearsal with my mother and again on closing night, being able to make painted-rose cupcakes for the IMG_6059concession stand, having the wherewithal to remember to purchase real roses for my actress, and being granted the escape of a couple of hours of live theater are what it’s all about. As there were junior high students at the production helm, they chose to blast “Welcome to Wonderland” before and after the show. My ears picked up just enough of the gist: Welcome to Wonderland/This is your new address/You’ll love it more or less/…Everyday it’s something new/Problems up the old wazoo/…Life can be fantastic every minute/For as long as you can just stay in it/…Welcome to Wonderland. And I thought, Yup. Theme song, and added it to my playlist. And no, I’d like to tell Mrs. Ostrem, none of it—not the weird, worrisome, disappointing, nor delightful—has been a dream.

Happy full moon—can it be spring already? Wishing March is marching along with gusto wherever this finds you. Thanks, as ever, for reading, xoR

February, Have Mercy

Hey, Robin, have you got bats in your belfry?

When I arrived at home between teaching a yoga class and driving Thirteen to Wednesday night dance, I had about thirty-five minutes to scramble dinner together, serve and eat, and head back out the door. My mother, Ninety-one, sat across the kitchen island from me brimming with a story. “We had a small incident,” she started, “you can see the cats are still riled up over it.” I looked where she was looking and welled up with concern—had there been a really bad cat fight? The peace among them is tenuous. But that worry didn’t wash with the reality that all three cats were sitting sentry near the hearth.

“What happened?”

“There was a squirrel around the fireplace; it sounded like it was underneath. It’s gone now, but it made a terrible racket.” Our smallest kitty, Katie, was sitting with her shoulder pressed against the hearth, Leo was peeking out from under the philodendrons, and Starling was at attention on her watching perch, the corner of the sofa. “You see?” Ninety-one indicated, “they think it’s still there.”

For the past year or so I’ve been hearing squirrels too close to my head in my office, a four-season room that juts out from the side of the house. Understandably, Ninety-one and Sixteen had concluded that the squirrel near the fireplace had somehow worked its way from that discrete roof through the walls to the fireplace. I walked over to investigate.

All it took was a touch to the handle of the fireplace door for the frightened squirrel to kick up a ruckus. I jumped back, “The squirrel isn’t gone, Mom, it’s very much still there.” She came closer to listen and we both heard the squirrel, thoroughly distressed, skittering around within. “He’s on top of the fireplace. He must have fallen down the chimney.”

Our fireplace is in fact a wood-burning stove with a two-story metal tube chimney that ascends with two bends around Thirteen’s closet. You’d never know from the outside where it looks like we have a large, rectangular chimney. From the inside what you see is a solid glass door.

The squirrel’s renewed chattering sent the cats scampering in every direction, so I did the only thing I could think of at that moment, shut off the light, finished dinner, and took Thirteen to dance. Driving away I just kept shaking my head, “how is there a squirrel in my chimney?”

Tired, scared, maybe dazed, the squirrel made no more noise until morning. In the meantime, I left two increasingly panicked messages on the machine of the company that installed the fireplace and woke from a dream in which the squirrel had morphed into a rabbit that I somehow managed to catch and then tame. In my waking mind, there was no scenario that I could imagine in which the story had a happy ending.

The next morning connected me with Wade of Critter Control. Wade arrived with nets and gloves, a tarp and a long pole. He told me he retrieves five or six squirrels a year from fireplaces. Sometimes he even lowers a special rope down the chimney, a rope he’s knotted every foot, and, he reported, most of the squirrels find their way out.

But the set up of my stove and chimney gave Wade pause. A series of baffles direct the smoke into the chimney; there is no flue. Usually, he explained to me, he’d hold the net in place, open the flue, and out would drop the squirrel. But in my fireplace we ran a distinct risk that the squirrel would bolt. Into my house. He shook his head, giving himself a less than fifty percent chance of catching the squirrel, maybe.

“I hate to say it, but we may just have to let him die in there.” Wade was managing my expectations, but he must have seen how distressed I looked, because then he presented his idea. “What I’m thinking is that maybe we can help him save himself. I’m going to drop this part of the baffle. I don’t know as I’ll be able to put it back right after. I’m going to drop this down and put a trap in. Maybe he’ll come down on his own.”

It seemed as good a plan as any. I must have looked hopeful when I said, “Oh, can we try that, please?”

So Wade set the trap, showing me precisely how it worked and how much food he was loading it with. Then we surveyed the squirrel issues on the outside of my house and he set some traps there as well and outlined a plan to seal the vents where they’ve been getting in. It was at this point that my neighbor, seeing the Critter Control van in my driveway, came over to inquire about bats. He, too, was nonplussed to learn that a squirrel could end up in the chimney.

Giving me his card and writing out a handsome bill for the visit, Wade said: “If you see the trap is sprung, you just call me. I’ll come get him.”

The squirrel was quiet and I alternately worried off and on all though another night that he was dead or barely living. On Friday I waited until the morning bustle was over and then I went to investigate. The trap was sprung. I peered in with a flashlight—all I could see was my squirrel’s tail—he was curled so deep in the trap. I danced to my phone to call Wade. Less than forty-eight hours after Cooper—the squirrel I only allowed myself to name once he was freed—had his fall down my chimney, he was released to live happily in the country north of Bondurant, and Wade was my new hero.

Cooper

Cooper in his trap awaiting transport to his new life. 

Stories from real life aren’t always so neat and even this happy ending has two tags. The first is why I named him Cooper—no, not because he was cooped up. I wanted to name him Alice, because the line from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland kept playing in my head: Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, because she had plenty of time to look about her as she went down and wonder what was going to happen next. But everyone had been saying “he,” about our squirrel and while we have no confirmation, a gender change didn’t seem in order. Then I thought of Alice Cooper, certainly a boy, and made a little mental leap so that Cooper the squirrel had a fitting name.

The last piece is a different tangent, but in some ways the most important part. Shortly after Wade came to collect Cooper, Sixteen and I picked up a few items at our local HyVee grocery store. In the express lane we were behind an elderly lady with a wispy cloud of white hair. She was paying for her groceries when I set our grapes on the counter. The sight of them made her stop and reach for my grapes: “Don’t those look nice,” she said, her fingers lightly touching the bag. “I didn’t see those.” She returned to her transaction and after stood watching the grapes go on the scale and into a bag.

“Would you like me to get you some of those grapes after I finish this order?” The cashier inquired kindly. I sent my son, “Sixteen, can you pick out some grapes for this lady?” He was around the corner in a flash and back just as quickly, “These okay?” The lady looked pleased. “Put them on my order,” I told the cashier. “Oh, no, you don’t have to do that,” the elderly lady said. “It’s my pleasure,” I told her, “my treat today.” The cashier put the grapes in her cart and smiled at me. Sixteen said to me, as we walked out, “That was nice.” I leaned toward him, my heart open and full, “I am happy I was able to do something in honor of Cooper and Wade and all the people and critters who have done the right thing today.”

This month … this month has been a roiling challenge from the beginning. Mechanical things have failed, members of my family have been ill, my house hasn’t been a fortress (there were even ants, ANTS, in my basement last night), and of course my heart is still sad about Bugsy (The Bugsy Blues) … I am ever grateful for the gifts of kindness, compassion, and safe squirrel removal, for the connection this blog gives me to you, and so much more. A special tip of my chapeau to SGW who celebrated her birthday recently. A shout-out to each of you who so lovingly read my words and extra gratitude when you let me know how they touch you. Thank you for sharing my journey and inviting me to be a part of yours, Rxo

Anything but Routine

It’s what time?

A couple of weeks ago, in the days before, the battery on the little clock near my treadmill died and the clock, predictably, stopped. Equally predictably, it didn’t much matter. I’m a creature of habit. So long as I’m on my treadmill by 5:30am (alarm: 5:05), I’m back upstairs by 6:20 and while it’s a frenetic twenty-odd minutes, I can get Thirteen’s lunch made and shuttle her to the bus stop by 6:45. Back up the hill and into the garage, the next hour focuses on Sixteen, his departure for high school on a full belly with a lunch box full of leftovers. My own morning routine threads through the minutes in between, and by 8 the day is on schedule and well underway.

I’ve been thinking a shift would come when Thirteen no longer rides her early bus to junior high. But in my imagination, the break would not mean altering the order of things, just the time at which it would all get rolling. I should insert here that I’ve been walking on my treadmill first thing weekday mornings since March 2001. When there have been breaks in the routine, they’ve always been those kind of gaps where something feels a little out of whack all day long.

That doesn’t mean I don’t take a day off once in a while. I did just that last Monday, Sixteen’s first day as a civil servant. Leaving high school early to “serve his country” (as his band director put it while excusing him from the semester final), Sixteen started his new gig as a page in the Iowa Senate. The first day of the legislative term was his first day on the job—a whole new reality of getting up, getting washed and brushed and pressed in his dress clothes and heading east into rush hour traffic to commute from our house in the western suburbs to the gorgeous Iowa Capitol. I opted to lend him my support from the alarm clock on, so skipped the treadmill and was happy to be on hand to wave him out the door.

The next morning, versed in the experience of the day before and knowing that this day two lunches needed to be ready by 6:45 (the food at the Capitol is decent but expensive reports our Page), I woke early enough to hit the treadmill and stretched, turned, and snuggled deeper under the covers. I let the day roll around in my head, thoughts emerging for things that needed attending to, ideas forming, and, when the cacophony of alarms started sounding down the hall, I got up, jotted down my to-do list, and headed to the kitchen for tea. The peeps were out the door with lunches and thermoses, Thirteen complete with her viola and almost warm-enough clothing for the weather, Sixteen on the way to day two of his job.

I stuck to my Tuesday rounds—the grocery store, the bank, the pharmacy, my desk—finding my way onto the treadmill about 3:30 in the afternoon.

On Wednesday, it was 1pm. On Thursday, shortly after 2. Friday, even though the resident civil servant had the day off, I opted to continue my delicious morning lie-in (yes, it feels like sleeping in when I don’t get up until 5:45), and headed to the basement for a walk only after I’d had enough time to digest the delicious breakfast Sixteen and I enjoyed together.

At one point I looked at the clock: the little hand was on the ten and the big hand was on the two, in the classic formation of clocks and watches for sale. My first thought was the clock had stopped again—didn’t I just replace that battery I wondered? Could it have been already depleted or from a bad batch? Had I put it in backwards? It took a few steps for me to realize, no, wait, it really was ten minutes after ten. And with that dawning of understanding came delight. Too often in the past when the routine changed, I had let my treadmill time or other things important to me go in favor of the to-do list or, even more likely, meeting everyone else’s needs. But this week I didn’t do that. I walked, instead, every day, including Saturday when I never do, and hit 18 miles for the week. And even though the time never correlated with my internal idea of when I should walk, it worked. I found myself looking forward to my walk, whatever time it happened.

Another week and the timetable hasn’t gotten any less topsy-turvy. Walking around the clock still feels a bit off to me, but I’m pleased that I’ve embraced the shift and prioritized the time anyway. I started walking first thing in the morning years ago because it’s important. But in the literature surrounding just about any self-care practice, that is always the advice: do X first. Want to build a good exercise or meditation habit? Interested in drinking lemon water in the morning or getting organized for a successful day? Trying to write a novel? No matter what you’re hoping to accomplish the advice is always the same: do it first thing in the morning. The reality is I can only do one thing first thing, so I am learning to prioritize the activities in a day that are important to me. With twenty-four hours available each day, selecting how I will best live them is what’s important. Rather than routine or schedule, I’m subscribing to rhythm and liking all the possibilities of each moment24 hours

The full Wolf Moon of January shines all over the world—if it’s not behind the snow clouds. Hoping wherever you are, you and yours are safe and warm and digging your own new year’s rhythm. Thanks for attending my journey with me, xoR

The Rhythm of Life

The Rhythm of Life

Why don’t your jazz band directors appear to be conducting the jazz bands?

The summer after freshman year, I shared a basement sublet with my bat-shit crazy Resident Advisor and worked three jobs to pay for spending the summer in Washington, DC. One job was driving a bus, the gig I loved all four years of college. The second was babysitting a research assistantship for a friend who was away that summer, working under a journalism ethics professor; it was a job for which I was hugely unprepared and under-qualified. The third was perhaps the most normal job I’ve ever held—I worked at Affairs of the Heart in Georgetown Park mall.valentines_symbols_hearts_set_1

If you were around in the mid-eighties, you likely encountered a heart store, a store where literally everything on the shelves was emblazoned with one or a hundred hearts. We sold heart tee shirts and heart sweatshirts and heart stickers and pencils whose ends swirled into a heart. We sold heart-shaped erasers and mugs that bore hearts and mugs in the shape of a heart. The shop wasn’t large, but it was bright and smelled all the time of chocolate chip cookies that baked next door at the cookie store. Those were new delights in the eighties too.

Although for the most part I clocked in, worked my shift, folded tee shirts, made change for tourists, clocked out and left again, three utterly memorable things happened to me in my tenure at the heart store.

  1. One Sunday, the other young woman working and I completed the entire New York Times crossword puzzle, the only time in my life I’ve ever succeeded in that particular endeavor.
  2. One afternoon when I was at work by myself, a young man from Yugoslavia named Zoran came and lingered all afternoon talking to me about America. At the end of my shift we went to the zoo together because he had not yet been and it was one of my favorite DC experiences. We would be pen pals for the next several years until his letters, written in sloping hand on thin airmail stationery, eventually stopped coming.
  3. One day my supervisor handed me a brand new stack of one-dollar bills, still banded, and invited me to crumple them up so they wouldn’t stick together. I sat on the floor behind the cash-wrap station (admittedly, we didn’t actually wrap anything, but we put things in red tissue and stuck the flaps closed with heart stickers), scrunched the bills in my fist and dropped them in the cross of my legs. Fifty brand-new dollars crumpled up make quite a pile and I moved my legs under the bills like I was covered in crisp fall leaves. When I was done playing, I straightened the bills back into a stack and handed them to my boss. She was co-owner of the shop.

These three things sprung to my mind in rapid-fire order sitting next to my mother who was at a routine cardiac appointment where it takes longer to put the electrodes on sticky pads onto her chest than it does for the EKG to record her rhythms. They were a loose association for me to the first thought I had when the nurse purred to my mother, “it takes longer to hook you up and take the electrodes back off than it does to get the reading, so much better than it used to be …” which is: Yeah, there’s nothing like the sight of your seven-day old son hooked up to a color EKG machine.

Whenever I tell the story out loud, the story of my infant wailing in nothing but a diaper, electrodes all over his body, the test taking much too long, I inevitably get glassy-eyed, because as hard as it was learning that my brand new baby had a heart issue (two, actually), there’s no way I could make this next part up. I was sitting there in that kind cardiologist’s office, watching the pulsing of my son’s heart and hearing about ASDs and PDAs and things it would take me some time to fully comprehend, and in the pocket between heartbeats I realized that right at that precise moment my father was undergoing open heart surgery 1100 miles away. To the alarm of the doctor, the nurse, and my son’s father, I burst into a torrent of tears.

Fifteen years later I sit across from my teenager, headphones in his ears, intently typing on his laptop. I think about the things that we’ve talked about in only the last twenty-four hours, the things that he has taught me and the very-nearly snarky pseudo-compliment he handed me the morning I was urging him and his sister to get moving for their last day of school before Thanksgiving Break: I complained that they only had two days that week; that I had a full week as usual. He said, before his eyes had fully blinked open, “Well, you’re already a much more fully competent human being than we are. We need more sleep.”

In the moments when he and I were putting on our shoes and coats to head out an hour later, we were speculating about theme songs for our cats and decided that they could each have a part of “The Rhythm of Life,” one theme song, three cats. Done. And just the night before it was he who explained to me why his jazz band directors, so conductor-ish when the concert bands play, don’t have as much to do when the jazz band is playing. It’s the rhythm section that keep everyone together—the bass plays at the beginning of the downbeat, the drummer plays at the end, and the wind section is supposed to play in the pocket.

A lot can happen, I think, in the pocket of a heartbeat. The heart fills with blood, the heart moves the blood on, and we thrive on its rhythm and we remember all manner of moments and we learn new things and we grow.

When you see the full moon on Saturday, I’ll be looking up at the very same moon—my absolutely favorite rock—and thinking of you, too. Rxo

Kindness Counts

What else can go right?

One minute you’re singing along to the radio, the volume a little too high, and the next you turn it off because your twelve-year-old daughter has climbed off of her bus and piled into the car with all of her school day bits and pieces and you don’t want to miss anything she reports in the precious few minutes it takes to drive down the hill, up the circle and into your welcoming garage. A scant hour later, your sidekick—now decked out in one of her bright blue leotards, ballet pink tights, her hair coiled into a bun—tumbles back into the front seat and you scan to make sure she’s put on enough outer wear for this day when the low is fifty degrees below normal. She hasn’t, really, but rather than fuss at her you turn up the heat a little and seeing the yellow streak of your son’s high school bus zip by down the hill, you rev the engine just a little in order to pick him up, circle back up to drop him near the warmth of the house, and head back out, glancing down at the electronic clock to register whether you’re really going to maybe be on time for dance for once.

And that’s when you notice that there’s no clock.

In fact, there’re no lights at all. The heat still works, the dash is lit up, but the stereo is nonresponsive. The Bluetooth button on the steering wheel elicits no response. Pressing the button off and on and pushing all of others have no effect. At dance you turn the car engine all the way off and on again, because it’s a computer after all, and still nothing. Your daughter leans her head toward you for a kiss and lightly bounces off, and you wince a little because you know this is the day she has to wait an hour after her class releases in order to accommodate your teaching schedule, but she’s got a book and she claims she doesn’t mind. As you’re driving away you notice the next thing: the odometer is flashing even as the miles mount. You call your service advisor, his name and cell phone number memorized in your phone but, you think, you sure don’t want to resort to putting him on speed dial.

The next day at the enormous dealership under the even more enormous American flag, he agrees: “You don’t want to get to know my children’s birthdays,” he says. He’s right. You love that this young man has children and you’re even glad to ask just now about their ages and genders—when he reports that his little girl is six months and his son just turned two, you understand completely why you need to refresh his memory about who you are even though you were just in the week before.

You leave the car and catch a ride with the chatty courtesy shuttle driver back home where you retrieve your unreliable car and proceed to the grocery store. There’s a whole other little family of people there who keep tabs on you, who know that if you’re not there at 8am on Tuesday as you weren’t this morning because you were dropping off the car there’s something wrong, who will listen, shake their heads, and even make a gift to you of the reusable grocery bags you’re purchasing. You thank them for listening and head off for the rest of your day.

Before the sleep-deprived service advisor calls with a report that—and here’s a surprise—your radio isn’t functioning, your son arrives home from school ill for the second time in two weeks. You have to run out to teach again, so you leave your daughter to care for him and she covers him through his chills and a hard sleep while she does her homework and doesn’t practice because she doesn’t want to wake him up. A quick supper for her and it’s out the door to ballet again while her brother sleeps on. When you get home and go to check on him, he’s burning up. His temperature climbs up to 103.5.

Now you find a substitute for your class in the morning with the knowledge that no matter what happens next it’s going to be a wakeful night. You breathe a sigh of relief as the fever drops to around 100.5—no emergency room, you’ll call the doctor in the morning—and you leave to go get your dancer a little before her class is over so she won’t be waiting for you in the dark. You crawl into bed still fully dressed, not caring really. It’s been a long day.

 

At the end of the week your car is back in your garage, even though the radio has yet to be replaced and your son is on the mend, even though he’s missed three full days of school. Your to-do list for the week has been entirely derailed, you missed some of your regular activities, and you’ve woken up feeling like you haven’t slept at all. You know this has been a week of missteps and small concerns, but you think when health and basic transportation are at issue, it’s something more than petty and it all feels a little too enormous, so it’s a week from which you require some healing. You start by reflecting on kindnesses, little and big, because these are the things that go right and the gestures that keep you going: the friend who brought you two kinds of Wheat Thins; the grocery store employee who gifted you free reusable bags; the teacher who leapt in to teach for you; the yogi who texted “Happy Friday” just because; the woman you barely know who offered to loan you her car; the friend who wrote that you’re a “super Mom;” the opportunity to write it down and send it out there under the new moon. You breathe in, you breathe out, you move on.

Namaste & big love, Rxo

My dancer, dressed in her Nutcracker costume ... a rat to love

My dancer, dressed in her Nutcracker costume … a rat to love

Write to My Heart

Have you written about Zephyr yet?

Writing partners who know how to put their heads down and write, the tip-tap of the keyboard blending into the rush of cars, natural sounds and conversation snippets on the Starbucks patio, are treasures. I’m lucky to have several delightful companions; I got especially lucky this summer when my peeps and I spent time together every week, writing.

Earbuds in his ears, Fifteen writes with a focused intensity that belies any writer’s block or other stalling, although from conversation I know he has experienced great pauses in his production. Nevertheless, he started out in March writing a short story in honor of his sister’s spelling challenge victory. After six years of getting every word right in her elementary school’s spelling challenge, Twelve faced her final year with the hardest list available. Learning the list in just two weeks, she correctly spelled all fifty of her words and earned pledge dollars for her school. Her reward from her brother was the promise of a story, featuring all of the words she had to learn to spell.

What he didn’t count on is that the compelling characters he would invent to use such unrelated words as cordillera, multiculturalism, and pancreas would take off on an adventure that includes time travel across 200 years, a small town in Minnesota, and colonizing alien creatures. He also didn’t know that the story would grow and grow and grow until it morphed into a novella.

But morph it did and with it came a number of lessons about writing. The first is that writing quickly becomes something of an addiction. When it’s going well, it calls to you. Come. Sit down. Put words on the page. Ignore whatever requires doing because the next idea, the one that’s swirling just out of focus in your brain, will be the one. It’ll be the idea that moves the story, that cinches the plot, that lets you know your work is the most lively, engaging, creative piece ever.

He learned, too, that writing can offer intense challenges; he kept at it in spite of the frustrations. He learned that time spent in the chair is the best way to overcome the times when the plot doesn’t turn as the writer intended or, worse, something simply doesn’t work.

My son learned the value of working with an editor, even if she is his mother. With my support, he was able to navigate the distance from first draft through developmental editing through line editing, to see the importance of each of these stages, and to understand that a part of writing well is incorporating distance into the process. Each successive draft gained in authority, even as the cuts both benefitted the plot and made the author cringe.

Fifteen, the author, learned that he could invent a life for his fictitious characters in a real town, and with a fait accompli, visit the town himself and see that his imagination hadn’t been far off, and the town as it actually exists fits nicely with his imagined form. Our summer stop in Milaca, Minnesota, was an unexpected joy. The cover of Fifteen’s book is fashioned from a photo he took outside the town’s history museum.

Of course, he’s not the only one who learned things. I learned, from watching him, that I can be every bit as proud of something he writes as I can of things I write. I learned that it’s not hard to format a book for Smashwords and that I really ought to bite the bullet and put my book out in the eworld too. I learned that an afternoon spent together, side-by-side, formatting his book and proofreading the line-edits and finding the discrepancies (when is a truck a car? in this book, after editing, never), was one of my favorite days of the summer.

And so I learned something else: My peeps are easy to promote. They’re clever and academic, funny and attractive. They can move, dance, sing, laugh and hold forth a conversation; they are emotive and swiftly empathetic. We go through a lot together every day, and I have nothing but the best intentions and wishes for them. Their successes are theirs, while I have the privilege of watching them thrive. As their mother, I understand something about mothers, that unquestioning, unwavering support my mother always gave me, even if she didn’t always understand my choices. Props are something I can give my peeps easily and frequently and whole-heartedly. And I do. Just like this:

Twelve’s Garnet Granola, delicious homemade granola she sells at my yoga studio, will be featured (spoiler alert) at the third birthday brunch for the studio at the end of September. Most days you can stop by and purchase a bag, and I bet she would do a batch mail order if someone were interested. She also makes and occasionally caters delicious brownies and the family chocodot pumpkin cake recipe. I feel certain future forays into entrepreneurial adventures are in her future and thus, yours. Fifteen is available in our neighborhood for watering and pet sitting jobs. He’s responsible and reliable. And then there’s this: Today, I’m delighted to suggest that you purchase his book. Right now. Go to Smashwords and download Zephyr’s Crossing.

Purchase your very own copy of Zephyr's Crossing at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/468461

Purchase your very own copy of Zephyr’s Crossing at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/468461

If enough people do (like 100,000), he’ll be able to put himself through four years of college. But when even a few people do (at post time he had sold 16), I can see the light in his eyes and the wheels turning—how many more sales until he receives his first-ever royalty check? That’s up to you.

The last of the summer super moons shines over this week. Enjoy the full moon energy. Enjoy Zephyr’s Crossing. Enjoy the spectacular young people in your world. As ever, you have my love & gratitude, Rxo

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