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.

We all scream for ice cream

I’ve spent the day cleaning my writing room and am getting close to being done. I have a definite “paper problem” and hold on to all sorts of unnecessary stuff which means it’s a relief when I find an expired coupon because . . . EASY DECISION!

I unearthed one gem, though. On the surface, it doesn’t appear to be anything special:

I was getting ready to put it in the donation pile when I turned to the last page.
Apparently, Zebu’s one and only favorite rhyme was:
Ice crem smis crem

Makes perfect rhyming sense to me and, in fact, Zebu and Zippy both immediately decoded the inventive spelling when I showed it to them.

(This reminded me of years ago when a friend was plotting a weekend getaway for the two of us and I reminded her of my responsibility to my young kids. Her reply? “Kids, schmids.”)

Who’s laughing now?

I’m in Florida with Zebu, visiting my mother (his grandmother). Today we went to the beach in Honeymoon Island State Park and I brought my camera in hopes of seeing lots of shorebirds and maybe a pelican or two. The only birds I saw were Laughing Gulls and I snapped a total of three photos.

When I saw this, I thought it was a freakish and somewhat unsettling image because it looks as if the head was pasted on another bird’s body. But when I showed it to Zebu (who doesn’t have a great appreciation for birds in general and even less appreciation for gulls because  of “their beady eyes and shifty behavior”) he thought it was a great shot.

Go figure.

Tree Legacy

Give fools their gold, and knaves their power; let fortune’s bubbles rise and fall; who sows a field, or trains a flower, or plants a tree, is more than all.
~ John Greenleaf Whittier

Happy day to me

I’m so happy Zebu’s graduation weekend coincided with Mother’s Day because Wildebeest came back to help celebrate his brother’s milestone. We haven’t all been together since January.

Here we were on Friday.  The sun didn’t shine much that afternoon, but the happy, proud, and goofy smiles from everyone on the CU-Boulder campus lit up the place.

One year ago

Last year at this time Zippy and I were in Uppsala, Sweden, visiting our son Zebu. He took us to his favorite place to fika. In Sweden, everyone takes a daily coffee (and pastry) break with friends, family, colleagues, fellow students, etc.  Unfortunately, we went during a non-fika time so the place was empty. Still, it was easy to imagine the rooms filled with students drinking coffee and eating enormous cinnamon buns.

As I write this, Zebu is in Colorado finishing up his third final final-exam. He graduates later this week and one of my hopes for his future is that he always makes time for such a mid-day break. Fika strikes me as a very sensible path to health and happiness.

Oh baby baby it’s a wild world

Marcel is the four-legged member of the family voted Most Likely to Open a Closet, Drawer, or Food Canister. Which is why it was particularly dumb for me to leave only a sliding screen door between him and the great outdoors before I left today for a lunch date. To make matters worse, it wasn’t until a couple hours after my return that I noticed the screen door open about six inches.

Zippy and I began dashing about in a panic, calling Marcel’s name. Zippy checked under furniture and in closets as I ran around the front and back yards looking under bushes. I ran across the street (which hosts a fair amount of traffic) to ask the neighbors if they’d seen him. They hadn’t, but promised they’d let me know if they did. I started to wonder how I’d ever break it to Zebu that Marcel was gone.

I was making another round of the back yard when I heard something. I stopped and listened. I heard it again and followed the sound. There was Marcel, curled up in a corner of the neighbor’s yard, crying and frozen in fear. Zippy climbed over the fence and brought him home.

The good news is that Marcel’s already gotten over the trauma from his big adventure. Just a few moments ago, he was messing with the latch on the food canister.

Update: And right after I posted this, he opened the closet in my writing room and climbed into a box filled with bubble wrap.

Monday, Monday

Spent the entire day with my friend as she received her first “spa” (aka chemo) infusion treatment. We’re outta here in another 30 minutes.

Whew. I’m feeling whupped, which reminds me how exhausted Zippy was after I labored for 26 hours to bring Zebu into the world. I’ve teased him over the years for being more tired than me.

Today, I get it.

In art nothing must resemble an accident, not even movement.*

Sometimes I read a scene I’ve written and think, “Whoa, that’s way too much choreography. You’re doing a play-by-play of your character’s every move.” Then I cut some verbiage, chastising myself for cluttering yet another scene with too much distracting movement.

Today, I came across this photo of Zebu and me taken last spring in Uppsala, Sweden.

 

 

 

 

There’s a whole lotta movement going on in this slice of real life and the photo is a good example of what I want from the choreography in my scenes. I want the movement to tell a story.

* Edgar Degas

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.

Twofer Tuesday: rebel hikers edition

When Zebu was a high school senior, he brought home a paper outlining the “rules” for senior photos. In addition to sensible guidelines such as “Do not wear sunglasses,” and “No props such as guns or weapons or other offensive material,” was “Students’ heads should not be pressed between two trees.”

October 13, 2017

Ever since reading that, we take every opportunity to photograph ourselves with heads wedged between two trees. Granted, Emma and  I are nowhere near wedged in this photo, but it’s the thought that counts.

Zebu would approve.

So much more to a book

This photo hangs on the wall at my brother’s house. Here he is with the smiling Wildebeest and Zebu, many years ago. I’m not sure any of them remember the exact moment the picture was taken, but love and happiness are written all over this image. It’s no coincidence that a book’s involved.

There’s so much more to a book than just the reading.
~  Maurice Sendak

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.)

Remember the Vasa

I photographed these carved figures with my phone while visiting the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, and have held onto the bizarre image for months as I waited for the right time to display it here.

Today feels like an especially good day in the Corporate States of America to share these figures from the Vasa’s prow.

I’ll let Wikipedia explain:
[The Vasa] was constructed at the navy yard in Stockholm under a contract with private entrepreneurs in 1626–1627 and armed primarily with bronze cannons cast in Stockholm specifically for the ship. Richly decorated as a symbol of the king’s ambitions for Sweden and himself, upon completion she was one of the most powerfully armed vessels in the world. However, Vasa was dangerously unstable and top-heavy with too much weight in the upper structure of the hull. Despite this lack of stability she was ordered to sea and foundered only a few minutes after encountering a wind stronger than a breeze.

Militarization.
Privatization.
King’s ambitions.
Dangerous instability.
Greed and arrogance.
Epic failure.

The Vasa sank after traveling just 1300 meters.

Today I’m indulging in a little wishful thinking.

(NOTE: As a writer, I’m also thinking about how there’s truly no such thing as an original plot line. Greedheads gonna be greedheads, from the beginning of time…)

Drama in the backyard

I was working here at my desk, next to an open window, when I became aware of frenetic activity in the yard below. A split second later, another fact penetrated my brain fog: squeaking/screaming.

I jumped up and looked outside. Emma had a squirrel in her mouth. More shrieking (this time, from me).

Fast forward to Emma inside with me while Zebu went outside to check on the condition of the squirrel. He found it, alive, but motionless. It then took off running for the fence. Zebu came back inside to give the shocked animal some space. As we watched from the window, the squirrel tried climbing the six-feet-tall wooden fence. The bundle of fur made it halfway and then dropped to the ground. We agonized for the squirrel.

And then Zebu’s brain kicked in.

“That’s not a squirrel. It doesn’t have a tail.” Pause. “That’s a prairie dog!”

We were SO happy! The “squirrel” wasn’t failing to climb the fence because it was injured, it was failing because it wasn’t a fence-climbing creature!

Zebu leaned a timber against the fence for the prairie dog to use as a ramp. Didn’t work. He then opened the gate that lets out onto the wild hillside behind our house. Unfortunately, the prairie dog ran past the open gate, multiple times, and tried climbing the fence at the other end of the yard.

By then, Zippy was home. He and Zebu tried “herding” the frantic prairie dog to the gate. It was pretty stressful for everyone. Obviously, it was most stressful for the poor prairie dog.

He hunkered down and froze in front of Zebu. Right after I caught this shot, I was enlisted to help with the herding. By the time I put on shoes and got outside, the prairie dog made one more sprint.

This time, he went out the gate!

The three of us celebrated the liberation and apparent good health of our visitor, and wished him a safe return to his burrow (wherever that might be). Some days (and today is most definitely one of those days), it’s important to embrace the roles we play in setting things right on our little patch of the planet.

 

Thankful Thursday: Zebu’s Big Adventure edition

Last August, my 20-year-old son left for Uppsala, Sweden. He lived and studied there for two semesters. As I write this, he is flying back to Colorado. His study abroad adventure is nearly over. (The adventure continued up to the last minute: He and nine other passengers were caught in a long, passport line and arrived at their gate just after it closed, so Iceland Air stopped the plane  out on the runway and had a bus deliver Zebu and the other nine passengers to the plane.)

Zebu in Stockholm when we visited in May.

Over the past several months, Zebu has said that his study abroad experience has been the best year of his life. It didn’t start out so well.

When he arrived in Uppsala, he discovered that TSA had locked his suitcase. Half his belongings, including his raincoat, were inside. He paid a taxi driver way too much to drive him into the city and then spent an entire rainy day hauling the 50-pound suitcase around the cobblestones, trying to get it unlocked. Kind people in luggage stores tried different keys, with no success. Someone finally directed him to a shoe repair store where the man cut the locks off the suitcase.

Zebu later confessed that that day, as he struggled with language barriers, a lack of wifi, hunger, and jet lag, he wanted nothing more than to turn around and fly back home.

Obviously, he’s very glad he stayed. And here he is in May, standing outside that shoe repair store.

I asked to see that store when we visited, because it felt symbolic. I was privy (via phone call and texts) to his frustration and panic as he couldn’t get his suitcase open, and tried to help from my end. He ended up finding his own solution. And ten months later, a confident young man is returning home after the best experience of his life.

For that, I am very grateful.