I get to hug my son

Zebu in summer of 1998

Today is Zebu’s birthday and I’m feeling especially grateful. He (and our other son) spent their entire childhoods with Zippy and me and while those years certainly held challenges, we remained intact as a family. The four of us were never forced to seek asylum, we were never denied refuge, and our children weren’t ripped from their parents’ arms. That kind of unspeakable trauma was never part of our lives. Not because we’re exceptional or more deserving, but because we were fortunate enough to be born in the United States. That’s it. Sheer luck.

Today is Zebu’s birthday and I get to hug my son. I’m weeping for those who can’t.

Sunday Confessional: thirsty edition

I’m working away on my manuscript, making progress and feeling a distinct sense of accomplishment. However, I’m also looking forward to when I punch out for the day and can enjoy this parting gift from my brother-in-law:

Two of my favorite things — hooping and hoppy beer. Thank you again, Bob, for the Palisade Brewing Company’s Hula Hoppie Session IPA. This beer is already making me smile.

Safe travels on your drive back east!

 

 

 

Still standing

Wildebeest, Zebu, Tracy, and Zippy on this New Year’s eve.
It’s been a hard year on the planet, but we’re still upright.
There’s definitely strength in numbers, and I’m grateful we have each others’ backs.

Happy New Year to you and yours.
Here’s hoping we kick every ass that needs kicking in 2018.

Listen up

Tonight Zippy, Wildebeest, Zebu, and I are going to watch the Nuggets play the 76ers. I’m excited because one of my favorite former Michigan State players, Gary Harris, plays for the Nuggets. Also, I love basketball.

However, that excitement doesn’t mean I won’t be packing a pen and notebook. Yes, I’m a basketball fan. But I’m also a writer who likes to be prepared, and as Tom Waits says: Any place is good for eavesdropping, if you know how to eavesdrop.

Even a basketball arena.

Thankful Thursday: box-of-Marcel edition

We’re headed to Zippy’s sister’s home for a belated Christmas gathering. I was wrapping some gifts in my writing room when I looked up to see Marcel wedging himself in the box of ribbons. I carried the box out to show Zippy, and asked him to take a photo.

That face is a Christmas miracle all its own.

Honoring Michelle

Today Zippy and I went to Berry Patch Farms in Brighton, Colorado.

Michelle’s mother and sisters arranged to have a bench and stone placed there in her memory, seeing as it was one of Michelle’s favorite places to visit with her young daughter.

 

At the top of the stone is a quote from Michelle: “Now this is what a strawberry should taste like.”

Note: the rooster windchime on the tree was there before Michelle’s bench. Can you say SERENDIPITY?

On their frequent visits to the farm with the old red barn, Michelle and her daughter would watch the chickens and roosters.

They’d pick berries together and take home bouquets of cut flowers.

Today, Michelle’s mother, sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews, and friends gathered in her memory. For the past two weeks or so, the weather has been uncharacteristically cold and rainy, but today the sun was shining in a blue, blue sky. The morning was lovely, and I suspect Michelle pulled some strings to make it so.

It was bittersweet being at the farm without Michelle, but here I am warming her cheery red bench along with three of the Writing Roosters, the critique group she lobbied to include me in its membership. Michelle’s generosity lives on.

Jenn Bertman, Tracy Abell, Jen Simms, Laura Perdew (Vanessa Appleby & Claudia Mills were unable to attend)

Every creature fast and small

Every creature is better alive than dead,
men and moose and pine trees,
and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.

~  Henry David Thoreau

Over the past weekend, we were in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. My two sons, Wildebeest and Zebu, got into a lively debate over running ability and were finally coerced by those sick of listening to that debate into running a short race. While their uncle got ready at the finish line with his camera to capture their final steps, their father (Zippy) lined them up at the starting line. But just before Zippy shot the proverbial starter’s pistol, he saw a tiny creature on the race course:

Horned Lizard aka Horny Toad

After moving the Horned Lizard to safety, the race commenced.

 

(NOTE: Wildebeest won by a slim margin, pulling a quad muscle in the process. The two agreed to switch “lanes” and run it again, and that time Zebu won by a whole bunch. I’m guessing the Horned Lizard is as happy as the rest of us that the two of them have, at least temporarily, moved beyond that whole running debate.)

Shout-out to my nephew

Today, my nephew left for his stint in the Peace Corps. For the next 27 months, Jamie will be working in Ecuador. I’m so proud of his generous and adventurous spirit.

This photo of Jamie was taken in 2004 when we visited my sister’s family in NYC and PA.

Buen viaje, sobrino!

 

Sunday Confessional: I just want a couple nice rugs

We moved into our home twenty years ago this weekend. We bought the house from the original owners and, in addition to the roof and walls, we also purchased a few furnishings from them. We still have one of the large braided rugs (the other three rugs have gone to the big loom in the sky), and it is way past due for retirement.

Over the years, six dogs, five cats, and four humans have walked on this rug (and that’s not counting the orginal owners’ years of use). I don’t even want to imagine what’s trapped between the braids. I very much want a new rug and have spent a huge amount of time searching stores and online for something decent that we can afford. I’ve already returned two (we also need to replace a tired wool rug in the living room) after the dye came off on our hands.

I realize that my rug search qualifies as a small-potatoes-problem, but that doesn’t stop me from wishing I could summon a Rug Fairy.

 

Day 8: Friday Haiku in three-part harmony

Our family is rich
so how did I end up with
this big onion head?
~ Tracy

This picture makes me
think little girls in dumb hats
is super cool shit.
~  Zippy

Children lose their smiles
pose for a picture; realize
head is an onion.
~ Zebu

(NOTE: Despite the no-talking rule as we composed our haikus, mother and son both went the onion route. Nature or nurture, hmm?)

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It’s a family affair

Yesterday morning, Wildebeest woke up early to drive the six hours back home. At the same time, Zebu was on a flight out of London to Denver. Wildebeest got here an hour before Zebu landed at the airport.

Zippy and I haven’t seen either of them since mid-August and we all have lots of catching up to do. In the last 24 hours, there have been many overlapping conversations and bursts of laughter. Both sons are introducing new topics to the discussions, touching on the lives they’re now living, but we also keep to our usual “script” which includes Arrested Development references and cat jokes. And basketball. Always basketball in the script.

basketball-1288961_640

This morning it was a spirited debate re Michael Jordan vs LeBron James as Best Player of All Time. We’ve also discussed the way college player Grayson Allen trips other players as compared to Golden State Warrior Draymond Green’s kicking players in the crotch, and who deserves to be suspended. Right now, one of Zebu’s high school basketball teammates is here and they’re talking about basketball intramural games at their respective colleges.

Basketball. Basketball. Basketball.
A familiar song I’m happy to hear.

 

 

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Hanging with Stu’s chickadees

Zippy and I are celebrating Christmas today with his siblings and mother. It’s the first Christmas without my father-in-law Stu. There will be a layer of sadness, but all his chickadees will be together.

chickadee

Maybe someone will fall asleep and begin gently snoring, and we’ll put a rubber duck on their head before taking a photo. Stu would like that.

 

 

 

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#SeaLionSaturday

Zippy has started the task of scanning photo negatives from long ago. Right now he’s revisiting July of 1992 when we lived in Alaska and one of his sisters was visiting. We did a boat tour in Kenai Fjords National Park where we saw this handsome sea lion:img068

Because we have approximately one metric shit-ton of negatives we haven’t looked at in years, I’m guessing we’ll unearth more sea lion photos from our time in Alaska. That means there’s a very good chance I could begin posting one every Saturday, and #SeaLionSaturday could become a real thing. (Especially if 50 people started joining me in posting sea lion photos each Saturday. Friends, they might think it’s a movement!)

All I’m saying is that #Caturday isn’t the only catchy hashtag.

 

 

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The best and most beautiful things

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.
~  Helen Keller

As per my last late-night post, yesterday we were evacuated due to a fire in the open space near our home. We hadn’t experienced that before. The only other time there was a big fire, we were out of town. (Our former neighbors took it upon themselves to come in the house to collect a crate full of framed wedding and family photos. They also put a sprinkler on top of our shake-shingle roof. Good neighbors.)

So last night as we watched the fire out our windows, we had to start thinking about what we should take in case of evacuation. Zippy and I believed it would be easy to grab the basics (the animals and the same framed photos plus passports, social security cards, etc and a few clothes) and get out. But by the time we received the automated call telling us to get out, we’d amassed more than that.

I gained some insights into my personal world view.

  • Jog bras (Bra shopping is a horrible experience, and I’d be damned if I have to go through that again)
  • An entire box of project notebooks and journals, including those containing quotes from young Wildebeest and Zebu plus one from my three weeks spent with Marilynne Robinson at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop
  • Every single photo album
  • Binder filled with negatives
  • Gratitude journal (that I’ve been actively resenting and willfully neglecting for the past couple months)
  • New container of raw cashews
  • New bottles of nutritional supplements
  • New bottle of tequila
  • Huge suitcase of family-of-origin photos recently brought back from Mom in Florida
  • Laptop, current fiction project notebook, current nonfiction project notebook
  • Camera and lenses
  • Binoculars, bird books, birding notebook woefully out of date re sightings
  • Medical records for Zippy, Wildebeest, Zebu, and myself

That list makes it seem as if I brought every single thing I owned. Not true. All sorts of stuff was left behind. Objects that caught my eye as I passed through rooms, shuttling stuff to the cars.

jesus-lizard

  • My brother’s gorgeous painting of a Jesus lizard walking on water.
  • The denim jacket that first belonged to Zippy’s sheep rancher grandfather and was passed down to Zippy’s father (Stu) and now Zippy.
  • Stu’s hat that became mine after he died last February because I’m the only one in the family with a head small enough to fit.
  • The metal rooster that sits on top of our piano in honor of friend Michelle Begley who died in January 2015, and which also serves as mascot for the monthly Writing Roosters critique group gatherings.
  • Books, many of them signed by the authors.
  • The ceramic penguin doing a power salute (and showing off underarm hair) made for me by Wildebeest in high school.
  • Zebu’s sticker-bedecked water bottle that’s been at his place at the dining room table since he left for Sweden in August.
  • The poseable Batman featured in many blog posts over the years.
  • An enormous plastic bin filled with photos that have been put in chronological order, but have not yet made it into albums.

But my decisions are a moot point. The fire was extinguished and we’re back in our house with all our stuff. Or, as George Carlin would say, all our shit.

 

 

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Traveling vicariously

Just finished a two-hour Skype session with Zebu. Haven’t talked much in the last couple weeks, so he was getting us caught up on his studies and travels. He and two friends just got back this morning from a trip to Oslo. Their favorite experience was at a sculpture park, Vigelandsparken.

Sculpture by Gustav Vigeland

Sculpture by Gustav Vigeland

He shared photos he’d taken, and this is one of the sculptures he’d especially liked. I found this image online, and posting it here helps me feel even more connected to my faraway son.

His travel is broadening all our horizons.

 

 

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I’m leaving on a jet plane

Heading off to see my mom.

I don’t anticipate an Albert Brooks-Debbie Reynolds kind of visit (if for no other reason than Mom and I aren’t quite as funny as Albert and Debbie), but this movie tag line from MOTHER feels appropriate:

No one misunderstands you better.

mother-poster

I’m eminently qualified to joke about such things. One: I’m a daughter. Two: I’m a mother. Pretty sure my sons gird their emotional loins for visits with me, too.

 

 

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Fold here

Zebu is studying in Sweden for two semesters and has been there just over a month. Phone calls are expensive so we rely on texting and Skype chats to stay connected. He’s eight hours ahead of us so our Skype sessions are usually at the end of his day. Today we talked as he folded the laundry he’d just washed and dried at the student housing laundromat.

He told me about the pick-up basketball game he played last night, in which he was (at 6′ 3″) one of the smaller guys on his team. All communication by his teammates was in Swedish, but because Zebu is taking Swedish classes he now knows how to count which meant he knew the score at all times last night.

He also shared an anecdote about his German friend who speaks nearly flawless English with a penchant for old timey expressions. Apparently this guy recently described something as “a hoot and a half,” which made Zebu and a Canadian friend bust out laughing, and then a bit later the German described something not-so-good as “no hoot, no half.”

Skype allows you mobility and we often move out of camera range as we continue talking. I started the session sitting at the kitchen bar counter but as I watched Zebu hang shirts on hangers and match socks, I felt unproductive. So I carried the laptop/Zebu downstairs to the laundry room to retrieve a load of my clothes from the dryer where they’d sat for over a week (I know, I know). Then I came back upstairs and folded in unison with my son who is nearly 5000 miles away.

Disclosure: The product placement was inadvertent and I received zero compensation from HP.

Disclosure: The product placement was inadvertent and I received zero compensation from HP.

The family that folds together, stays together. Or something like that.

 

 

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Knock-Knock

Zippy and I just returned from a family picnic at a park that had a playground. I spent time on a teeter-totter with three nieces, two of us per end.

(This teeter-totter from a long-ago Minneapolis park is much higher than ours today.)

(This teeter-totter from a long-ago Minneapolis park is MUCH higher than ours today.)

The rule was, whoever was up in the air had to tell a joke in order to be lowered to the ground. Here’s a sampling:

Knock-knock.
Who’s there?
Interrupting cow.
Interrupting cow–?
Moo!!!

What do you call a pile of cats?
A meowntain.

What do you call an alligator in a vest?
An investigator.

I rarely attempt telling a joke because I inevitably screw up either the set-up or the punchline. Case in point: I messed up the Orange Knock-Knock Joke today.
I kid you not. But none of them called me out on it and they still lowered me to the ground.

That’s a win.