Saturday, December 25, 2010

What Do You Mean Your Apple Doesn't Have A Jacket?

My folks aren’t big on tradition. In the last few years, though, we’ve started a Christmas practice of drawing names and buying a gift (with a $30 limit) for that person. Part of the impetus for this system was to simplify the shopping . Also, we figured that the money we’d spend on the other gifts could go to charitable causes (we used to pool this but now everyone’s on their own).
The number of names in the drawing is small: my parents, brother, and me. The ceremony happens at the end of the summer, when we write names on slips of paper and choose our Christmas destiny. Often we have to draw more than once because someone will choose his or her own name (this is not a terrible destiny, but not in accordance with the rules).
Another Christmas surprise: a Wii! My
brother teaches our Nana how to work it.
I should clarify, too, that my grandmother Hazel and all pets and cousins’ kids are all fair game for presents and not in the drawing.
Although one year my brother forgot whose name he drew (three cheers for the all-purpose gift!), and one year I lamed out and just got my mom some face cream, 2010 proved that we’ve hit our gift-giving stride.
I drew my brother’s name for the first time and enjoyed picking out gifts under $30 that would be practical but also whimsical. The winner? An apple jacket and a water-bottle cozy shaped like a shark, of course. How has he made it through 2.5 years of college without them? What if your apple gets cold? How better to keep the contents of your bookbag from bruising its delicate flesh?
My dad had my name and bought me a Camelback running pack. I’ve had my eyes on these for years but have toughed it out with my dorky fanny pack/water bottle accessory.
Very late this Christmas morning I woke up with leaden sinuses. I was going to skip a run with my childhood friend Desiree, who was in town for the holidays. But I’m glad I popped a Sudafed and some Aleve and went for it. She, her fiancé, and I ran on a snowy path that was almost deserted. And then we sat at my parents’ kitchen table for nearly two hours, drinking coffee and eating chex mix and clementines. Much of my life I would classify, in the argot of Facebook, “it’s complicated.” But there’s a pleasure in falling back into step with a longtime friend (I’m careful not to say “old” because she and I are the same age). I’m grateful for my new friends waiting for me in Spokane. I’m also freshly aware of how there’s no substitute for knowing someone for decades.
(You’ll forgive me, dear reader, for my abstract thoughts. In the last 24 hours I’ve been introduced to Wii and watched Inception for the first time. It's been an expansive holiday!)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Professor Zephyr

Past the train and the dinosaurs was the face of a white-haired man exhaling a blue, three-part breath. I assumed he was a disembodied Old Man Winter, but I also liked thinking of him as Professor Zephyr or Icy Zeus.
Some of the light arrangements in this Kentucky park are more readily identifiable with the holidays: for example, a teddy bear, an enlargement of the holiday bear I had as a kid, whose plastic heart on his lapel would flash red in time with the music he played. Some lights are a bit more of a stretch (an LED-light two-tier fountain).
Near the park, two elves and Santa stood on the sidewalk nearby until they climbed into their red Jeep Cherokee.
Dickens poses next to a groovy new bag I bought
from a Spokane crafter. The bag tag is a cookie
recipe from an old cookbook.
My folks and I were going to drive past the nativity scene, reindeer, train, and lonely menorah, but we decided to walk instead. In less than two weeks, I’m teaching a course on pilgrimage for my school’s Jan term. Walking is on my mind. 
“It is solved by walking,” wrote Saint Augustine. I repeated this my mom this as we passed the ice rink and illuminated snow flakes.
I like that the “it” could be a lot of different things. Could be my brain fog of the last few days. Could be the trough of pork enchiladas and a vat of queso dip I ate for dinner.
Mom and I walked arm in arm while my dad and brother sped ahead.
I haven’t been home since July. My parents have strung the porch and living room with lights and fashion-forward shiny metal trees (one spiky white, one purple and blue ribbon). The seven-pound dog has outgrown last year’s Santa suit. In winter, my mom wins the Thermostat War, so the house is much toastier than my quirky, antiquely- and many-windowed apartment in Spokane.
Yes, it's true I don't have any holiday themed photos.
Dickens is chewing on a card I bought from Maggie's
cool collection.
In Sheets family fashion, no one had a camera on them when we sauntered around the park, so you’ll have to imagine the down-home splendor.
I am behind in reporting some of my latest acquisitions. At a recent arts-and-crafts show in Spokane, I came away with a lovely card made by writing, craft mogul, and blogger, Maggie.
And previous posts attest to my deep and abiding affection for bags, so I couldn’t help take this one home with me. Molly, mastermind of UhOhGo, made it from vintage fabric found by her mom, an art teacher. She had a bag in a similar shape made from a blue Hawaiian shirt (the shirt pocket formed the bag’s inside pocket!). In the shortest, gray days, though, I can't resist a splash of orange and yellow.
Where would this blog be if we didn't have Dickens
to try out all the merchandise?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Heat Wave Burning In My Heart


Gone is the snow hump down the middle lane of First Ave! Gone the icicle outside my window!
It's a Spokane heat wave.
I didn’t even need my puffy coat tonight on my way to the evening service at Holy Trinity. Night church is not a new thing for me. I grew up attending church Sunday morning and night, and youth group on Wednesday nights, as well as the twice-yearly revivals (which would usually involve church every night that week). 
Now Night Church is a way to squeeze in some Advent fun if for some reason (say, brunch. Thanks, K!) I can't make it to venerable Morning Church.
By the way, I like the idea of a special “Night Church” song (sung to the tune of Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” or Liz Lemon’s “Night Cheese”).
And you’ll have to admit, dear reader, that I haven’t indulged in much church stuff. I know this is supposed to be a blog about thrifting. (AndiIn my last post, I rocked out with the photos. It appears I’ve lost my photo mojo. But I bought some cool handmade loot at Artfest last Friday on campus, especially a rad knit hat, and a bag from vintage fabric. Pics forthcoming.)
Anyway, the material is often a gateway to the spiritual.
Such as: the stars inside Holy Trinity’s sanctuary. They’re asymmetrical bundles of branches that look like they’ve been scribbled above the altar then strung with lights.
And a girl who couldn’t have been more than two or three years old, in pigtails and a fabulous pink velour sweatsuit. She really held it together through the service, and as a reward she helped the priest blow out the candles.
The priest and I talked about how the long nights make one think heavy thoughts and eat heavy food. There’s some psychological health in the liturgical year. I can’t muster up much jolly feeling right now, but Advent is mini-Lent. Jollity not required. The heavy thoughts are just fine as we approach the shortest day of the year, when light is at a premium.
Toward the end of the service the priest asked us to join hands as best we could with our neighbors as we recited the Lord’s Prayer. My right neighbor’s hand was rough, and it shook a little.
My left hand doesn’t always know what my right hand doeth, but at the end of the prayer I gave both neighbor hands a little squeeze before we righted ourselves again toward the altar.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Dash More Photo, A Little Less Text

In the beginning (of this blog) was the word.
My blog is still quite young, still trying to get a sense of its identity. Yes, Thrippie is at the helm, but where is she going? Does she have enough citrus to ward off scurvy? And do the stripes of her sailor suit make her look like a ringed potato?
As I apprentice in the art of the Blog Post, I wonder about such things as: How much text is too much? How many tangents can one Post hold?
I must admit, in my study of the art of Blog, that I love blogs with thoughtful text but also with good pictures: pictures of food, pictures of crafts, pictures of clothes, all of it.
As the semester draws to a close, I also sense that every teacher-type person I know is up to his/her armpits in grading.
So, it's seems like a fine time to back off of the words a little, and catch up on photos of my Thrippie Accoutrements. Enjoy!
Dickens the cat poses with the festive tablecloth I found at the Union Gospel Mission Thrift Store in Spokane.
I bought a small, narrow table from Target to use as extra prep space when I'm cooking, and this tablecloth
transforms it into a serving space, too, when the party gets started. It's not really supposed to be a kitty
platform, but I'm not good at setting boundaries.
This photo looks a little bit Wicked Witch of the West,  but I wanted to show my biker boots from
Buffalo Exchange (which I wrote about in October) and my H&M sparkle knee socks from my friend Erin!
I wore these (under many layers) to a coffee shop yesterday, and I felt tough and festive. One perk about being disorganized is that you have the pleasure of being reunited with your own treasures! The sparkle socks still had their tags. No more! Now theyare mine forever. And it's hard to beat the feeling of a fresh pair of sparkle.




Permit me one more photo of Dickens. He's starting up a nap next to the bring marimekko bag I found at a Goodwill near campus. I've been riding the bus some mornings to work, and a bright floral tote feels like a fine way to defy winter gloom.


Friday, December 3, 2010

The Age of Asparagus

One of my colleagues gave me a Christmas ornament this afternoon. He said he usually thinks of ornaments for professors with young children (and showed me the corresponding fire truck and school bus models). But he saw this glittery bunch of asparagus tied with a red ribbon, and he thought it would fit in with my office menagerie.
I told him it was perfect! A gift for my inner child! Green stalks with pointy hats look like the evergreens out my window, or the Christmas trees around town, but surprise: asparagus!
It’s the season of gifts. I walked to the mall on my way home and had a barbecue bacon cheeseburger (with those onion straws, too!) from Cruisers in the food court. The cook accidentally made it a double. “It just tastes extra good,” he said when I picked up my tray.
I sat alone in the food court and stared at a TV and the convection currents of people buying movie tickets. 
Dickens the cat investigates my pink Christmas tree. He doesn't
much care for asparagus in real life, so I think the ornament is safe.
I'm finding that given the choice between a good photo without
cat, and a blurry photo with cat, I will still choose blurry with cat.
Downstairs, a line formed outside the gated Nordstrom's. Santa posed for pictures with well-dressed kids at the base of the four-storey Christmas tree. A quartet in Dickensian period dress (hoop skirts, top hat, all that) sang like mute figurines: I couldn’t hear them over the mallish din. 

On Wednesday morning, I received a gift of a different sort. My spoon was poised over my oatmeal when I spied a police car cruising up and down my street, flashing not its red-and-blue but its traveling amber light.
Muffled messages squawked from the police cruise, as if the teacher from Charlie Brown had been a dude: Wonk ha wonk a wonk.
The flashing amber light ran its track as though along the edge of a marquee.
Was there an armed robbery on my street? Was The Man seeking a fugitive?
Wonk wonk…must move car…
Oh, no.
My car was snowed in while I was gone for Thanksgiving, and I figured I’d dig it out come April.
The police officer saw me chipping away at the snow mound at least half the size of my car. I was wearing a rainbow hat and my deer in headlights/little lost lamb/ woman on the edge look.
Rod, the snowplow driver, also witnessed my tiny seesaw motions with the shovel. With one swipe of his mighty blade, he scraped away the glacier in front of my car. 
“You don’t even need a push,” he said. 
Not only did I not get towed, but I didn’t have to spend half a day digging out my car.
Thank God for Rod.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Winter, I Feel You!

The sun is, strictly speaking, up before 7:30, but it’s muffled somewhere under the covers and not shedding much light. The middle lane down First Avenue is a snow hump. A forearm-of-Thor icicle glistens outside my bathroom window.
When I moved across town from my job, I knew the day would come when I’d surrender my car keys and hop a bus to campus.
And that day is here.
I recognize that riding the bus is not a higher-order thinking task. Why should it cause anxiety? I rode public transportation all over Eastern Europe, ciphering Cyrllic metro station names in Kiev, monkey miming in Odessa to get a taxi ride to a seafood restaurant.
When I rode the bus last week, for the first time since moving to Spokane, I felt a little lost, a little nervous that I’d look like the designated airhead who doesn’t know that (duh) you pay when you board. I worried that my exact change would fall out of my coat pocket and into the snow.
The bus takes me a way through Spokane I’d never traveled before, past an “office machine” store called Abacus, past Donut Parade with marching fritters and éclairs painted outside the shop.
Plus the bus is prime people-watching time. A woman boards with a Warhol-ish Betty Boop four-color tote bag. Two men sit on opposite sides of the bus and carry on a loud and punchy debate about the efficacy of labor unions. (Who has energy to be so loud so early?)
I am not winter’s biggest cheerleader (I really might not drive again until April). But when the trees are lit and thickly frosted, and men and women board their busses in hoods and scarves like tall schoolchildren with lattes, well, there’s something a little magical about it. (Also, I went to a yoga class recently during which the instructor reminded us to feel each season. Winter, I feel you!)
The short walk from the station back to my house reminds me that I live in a city, so I’m not a shut-in, even in a storm. The bus plaza, I might add, is a couple of blocks from Macy’s, Banana Republic, and a 20-screen multiplex movie theater.
This could be dangerous.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Two Heads Are Better

Happy Thanksgiving!
Last weekend I hosted a little dinner party for my upper-level students. You can imagine that Dickens the cat was in heaven, with ten maidens cooing over his winter coat and climbing skills.
I could have made the evening a potluck affair, but I wanted the challenge of cooking for a dozen. Could I do it? Answer: yes!
The white bust joins Kitchen Hermaphrodite
as guardians of my computer. I wonder what
they talk about when I'm gone!
I kept singing Ingrid Michaelson’s lines I’m a big girl now/ See my big girl shoes, which have become my newest mantra. (In case you’re curious, dear reader, my particular Big Girl shoes of the day were my hot pink easter crocs: everything you want in footwear while you’re cooking and making multiple runs to the trash, recycling and ill-fated compost bins outside.)
For this party, I worked out my Thanksgiving impulses a few days early. The meal wasn’t Thanksgiving in the sense of a big golden poultry orb full of breadcrumbs and butter. But I enjoyed spending my few hours of daylight peeling, defrosting, frying, and baking. Plus I got to use my new-to-me tablecloth (red with a white and silver retro snowflake pattern. I can probably use it past Christmas, into January).
The night before the party, I made a last-minute stop to the Northwest Christian Schools thrift store to buy more plates and bowls. A bonus: I found a bust of a dreamy-eyed boy in a ruffled shirt. This bust joins the color bust already guarding my office computer. I like the idea of two heads for winter. Isn’t January named for two-headed Janus, who looks toward past and the future? 
Hey, who's that Thrippie
shrugged into her neck gator?
I hereby proclaim the message of two.  I might get a new cat, for a total of two. I might not always live by myself. There could be two.
The dishes I bought at Northwest Christian thrift (including a Rapunzel Barbie heart-shaped bowl!) will fill out my Party Box. Brunch for 10? No problem, now that I have a Party Box.
When I taught in Moldova a few years ago, I marveled that all of the women I knew had been minted from the same Hospitality Machine. Everyone had multiple sets of dishes, an armory of glassware and cutlery. Most houses and even apartments had a “casa mare,” a big room full of hulking cabinets and rugs that was used for entertaining.
When I attended my first wedding party in Moldova, I realized that that’s where the dishes come from. People brought the bride stacks of gilt-rimmed plates wrapped in cellophane. Pillows, blankets, table linens were all part of the dowry (the bed linens needed, of course, in case the elements are too strong, or one’s dinner guests too immobilized to face the night).
Looks like I’m making my own dowry. I’m a big girl now….
So long as the thrift stores stay open, I think I’ve got this one.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

All That Glitters

My grandmother Hazel is 92 and wears gold shoes.
Viva Solid Gold Ziploc
Limited Edition containers!
Mine poses with new cacti and
contains apple lentil salad.
I feel a sense of pride when I realize I’ve correctly answered the question What Would Hazel Do?  Would Hazel buy gold tupperware instead of regular old tupperware? Yes. Yes she would.
I bought a set of Ziploc Limited Edition square gold boxes, and a few days later I bought Ziploc Limited Edition gold tubs. They motivate me to bring my lunch to school and to send food home with friends when they come over for dinner, though I do feel a little silly paying for empty plastic boxes. I’ve developed the habit of hanging on to food containers, especially the fancy salad ones from Safeway or the more robust opaque tubs of sour cream or yogurt.
But how can I resist these? They’re Limited Edition! Solid gold! And I’ve already outed myself as a shopper for whom cuteness trumps principles. For example, my Target backsliding chronicled in the last post. To be fair, John had Target gift cards to use up, so I figured the money was already spent. My shopping far outpaced the cards, though, which foiled my plan to stick it to the man.
I’m thinking about plastic and packaging, and how much I pay for it just to get to my food, because I watched the movie No Impact Man over the weekend. What commitment by Colin and his family to generate no trash! I found his wife to be an especially compelling character. What strength to give up caffeine (because coffee can’t be grown locally) and shopping (because you’re trying to examine your consumer habits) for your man and his project of sustainability!
Closer to home, meaning my new Spokane-home, my friend Katie has vowed not to buy anything new for a year, and is 3 months into her challenge.
And as blog leads on to blog, I'm finding many other cool projects like the 30 for 30
challenge, for which you're supposed to take 30 pieces from your closet and mix them into 30 different outfits (with no shopping for 30 days). I missed the official beginning of the challenge, but I like the spirit. (Notice how I'm letting myself off the hook here? In my defense, it's hard to avoid shopping when I'm still settling into a new town, and making the jump from squirrelly grad student with no dress code to a Professional Type Woman Person). 
And speaking of projects: With all these new nighttime hours, I’m catching up on my Project Runway, which always inspires me to take risks and aim for style under pressure.
And speaking of inspiration: On my drive home last night, I saw a driveway flanked by four-foot-tall red and green illuminated candy canes. It must be awfully fun to park inside a board game and know you’re home. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Facing It

I found these brown-eyed ladies
among the common dinner plates.
Last weekend I found a pair of what I’ve been calling "face plates" at Value Village. Face plate sounds more like a printing term than a kitschy accessory. In the dishes aisles were two plates with fluted edges and portraits of women with brown eyes and what looks like tastefully Aqua-Netted hair. There were no names on the back of the plates, just a price tag. I looked among the other plates, dinner plates trimmed in floral or country cabin or geometric designs, to find other face plates for this set. No luck.   I was on a fruitless mission for some pyrex baking dishes (part of an onset of Lasagna Fever), but I knew these brown-eyed sisters/cousins/friends/muses would come home with me.
And they wouldn’t be used for salad under my watch.
Of course I can’t help wonder about the provenance of these face plates. Are there other orphaned plates out there from a larger set that once spanned a Meemaw’s mantel? Were these women the instigators or the recipients of these plates? Or both?
John hung the plates for me near the sink, so I lock eyes with these ladies several times a day. I like thinking of them as mirrors, or portals. With a bit of craft and polish, I might pass as one of them.
Also, my high school training in yearbook design has paid off. Remember the giant grid paper you’d block out with pencil? Remember how your elements had to face the gutter (now there’s a printing term!), the trough between pages, part of which would disappear in the binding? In this case, my many-paned glass door is the gutter. The face plate ladies look toward the door from the left, and Latchhook Jesus faces it from the right (His gaze also tilts upward, awash in the sun and honey stripes beamed from the yarn sky).
My glass door was missing a pane until Friday. Begone the duct-taped cardboard cover!
I also bought a pink glitter styrofoam skull last weekend. (I confess, dear reader, that I bought it at Target, which is on my bad list for its unsavory political contributions and also for its ad campaign hating on homemade Halloween costumes). The skull now sits on the file cabinet in my office, next to a white Styrofoam head topped with my velvety pirate hat (used for pedagogical purposes, as in wearing the hat means you’re the discussion leader). The Kitchen Hermaphrodite head (which definitely did make the cut of Things to Move 700 Miles Even Though They Came From A Thrift Store) is also in my office, though I don’t call he/she by that name anymore, not least because he/she is no longer in my kitchen.
The glitter skull is a fitting emblem of the melancholy stitched into this season. There’s the pink sunset that comes so early now, spread thin above the evergreens. In the encroaching darkness, fiery colors of maples thin and extinguish themselves.


Dickens investigates the specter of mortality.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sometimes Life Really Does Feel Like You’re Walking Around In A Dream (Fortunately You’re Clothed And Have All of Your Teeth But Unfortunately You're Not Riding A Unicorn Or Taking An Elevator Into A Layer Cake)

If you sang karaoke, you'd get $5 off of your purchase! Was I dreaming? No, I was just shopping at a Buffalo Exchange in L.A. last spring. If I had to write an essay about My Favorite Shopping Experience, I would choose that one because it's a venn diagram of two of my favorite things.
More recently I made a pilgrimage to Buffalo Exchange while in Albuquerque, which was fitting, because that was the very first BE I ever met. Yes, I'm still writing about that trip three weeks ago to Albuquerque. Dang if that place isn't a Thrippie Goldmine! Just wait till I go to Seattle! I'll come back poor in dollars, but rich in material.
BE has a copious selection of new and gently used men's and women's clothes. They play funky music. The employees project an inclusive rather than hipper-than-thou coolness. Maybe if you grew up with BE, it doesn't have the same allure as it does for those of us who bloom late.
I'm having trouble uploading photos, but I want to talk about a look I call A Little Bit Neiman Marcus, A Little Bit Rock and Roll.
At the ABQ store, I bought a pink wool-blend skirt suit. The suit reminds me of something my Nana Sheets, longtime schoolteacher, might have worn. Perhaps it's also an attempt to be a little more Peggy in MadMen latter season 2 (in a sartorial way, I mean). I think I was so stunned that it fit so well, that I snapped it up. It did stuff into my carryon, but I need some of those vacuum bags before my next trip (at the risk of sending my thrippie self into overdrive).
This suit is truly a pink suit. Will I be able to wear the pieces together? Stay tuned.
At BE, I also bought black fake-leather biker boots, with four strands of chain looped behind the ankles.
I hoped they weren’t too costumey, and that I could temper the sweetness of flowered shirts and pink wool suits with some tough-looking kicks.
I like the boots with jeans. I like the boots with tights. I strongly resist the trend of tailored, wool, winter shorts, but if I wore them, I’m sure they’d look fine with these boots.
Repeat after me: Shoes can change your life.
I knew I had to have them when their chains glinted.
My heart quivered.
Later, colleagues would say they liked them. A student would pronounce them "sick."
In my waking shopping dream, I wanted to be a girl who'd wear those boots. A girl who'd look fresh while grading papers, kicking ass, and taking names.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Prom of the Dead

After the heartbreak montage from my last post, you may be relieved, dear reader, that I’m trying Halloween again. I got invited to a party that’s happening soon! In fact, I need to put down the laptop and get dressed right now!
The friend who invited me as her guest is sick, so I’m flying solo. I know a few of the people who’ll be there, though. Plus, I’m in a new city, so I’m a new Nicole. The Nicole Who Isn’t Afraid To Show Up And Party With Strangers.
I also have a new coping strategy. (Not booze. That’s an old strategy.) I have a mask that entirely covers my face!
I found a prom dress yesterday, with sleeves like floral velour puff pastries. I also found a cherry red jumpsuit with pockets and fierce shoulder pads. The top part of the suit is arranged in flattering polyester ripples. The suit is clearly designed for someone with a shorter torso, but if I slump a little, it fits!
My initial thought was to be Prom Zombie tonight. When I rolled into the Value Village to find a zombie headpiece, though, they were fresh out. The place was mobbed. A few people were checking out with carts of everyday thrift store fare, like slacks and lamps. But most of us had a witch hat or handcuffs or a skull mask in hand.
Zombie: out. Plan B: a creepy skull mask with a black hood that I realized later is a nun’s habit (with a beige band instead of white. I guess it’s hard to keep the whites white when you’re buried then exhumed). The accessory is labeled “Sinister Sister,” which makes me like it all the more.
The skull still has most of its teeth, though they're a haunting shade of peach rimed with paprika/fire cheeto red.
And I just noticed a design flaw: there’s no opening for the mouth! See, I will be on my best behavior.
It takes some doing to be undead.
My usual party strategy is to stand by the food table and talk to the foolish folk who make eye contact with me until they find an excuse to leave (“hey, I promised my friend some cocktail weenies, so, uh, nice talking with you”). With my face obscured, at least till I get hungry, I can stand like a silent, creepy sentinel wherever I like.
Tomorrow morning, the Monster Dash 5k in Manito Park. Might bust out the red jumpsuit for that one. I’m not so sure about running in a skull habit that obscures my Gatorade-hole.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

First-Line Theory and Halloween

This Frida is another treasure from
old town Albuquerque.

The last time I put any muscle into a Halloween costume was three years ago, when I fashioned a Frida Kahlo outfit using things lying around my house (including a turquoise peasant skirt I borrowed from Hazel, my grandmother, and a stuffed monkey whose paws attached with Velcro). I also scouted the Dollar Tree and Michael’s. I tend to have panic attacks in Michael’s or any store with a scrapbooking section. But I had a vision for this costume, and I come from a line of schoolteachers and crafters, so as they say on Project Runway, I had to “make it work.”
            My Frida was anachronistic, post-accident in a partial body cast but mobile enough to shake it on the dance floor. The internet wisdom about do-it-yourself torso casts is geared mostly toward pregnant women who want to take an impression of their watermelon bellies. Maybe if I’m ever in the family way I’ll understand this, but from the outside, these sites look an awful lot like the expectant parents subset of Awkward Family Photos.
            Last Halloween was a cancelled Dinosaur Jr. concert.
            The year before I borrowed Harmony’s purple velvet jumpsuit at the last minute to be a Mom at a Holiday Party.
            The Frida year, though, Harmony and I had just moved into a new apartment. A few friends had helped us unload the moving truck, and then that afternoon I was driving around town for ribbon and Rigid Wrap. I was also falling in love, though of course now I would tell my earlier self not to bother.
            Your average romance: He was a robot and I was Frida.
            These days my students and I talk about the First Line theory of prose and dating: can you know what you need to know from the very beginning?
He was a robot with a gutted television head and crinkly pipe arms. In my new living room full of boxes, he taped Christmas lights to his pipes in case he could find an outlet at the party and plug in. He was a punctual robot, and I was not. I knew the party would go on till 3 or 4 am or until the ambulances arrived. I was Frida, plastering my bodice, taking my time, gluing silk flowers on my headband, grooming my unibrow glued to my face with craft glue (endangering my eye area, not to be recommended),
            With the robot, did I know what I needed to know? Did the first sentence give me enough information?
We walked together to the party at our friends’ house. My hand was warm in the robot’s hand as we entered a loud room full of friends I barely recognized.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Apothecaries, Safe Journeys, Other Luminous Things


Full moon!
As I write this, a dear friend is driving through Montana, convinced that, in her words, "geography is relative," and Spokane is on her route back to New York City.
Luminous!
I ran last night under this big moon with the Flying Irish running club. Right after I moved here, I ran with them once; I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to join them again. Each week they run a 5k, and this week’s was the Stair Master, so named for the many stairs we trotted down and then back up near Spokane Falls. (Permit me an aside: When people ask me if I like Spokane, I tell them 1. that it’s too early to tell and 2. that I live within a short walk of a waterfall and a Nordstrom, and this seems about perfect to me.)
Speaking of other luminous things: I bought this San Rafael icon in a little shop in Albuquerque’s Old Town last weekend. I’m pretty bumbling and new to hagiography, but I like thinking about the saints. When I lived in Moldova, I was delighted that people celebrated their Saint’s Day (ziua onomastica) in addition to their birthdays.
This store had loads of Virgin Mary (especially Our Lady of Guadalupe) and Frida Kahlo merch, and rows of dangling saints attached to pinholed tin. I’ll put this San Rafael in my office. The room is homier now, with a latchhook butterfly rug, my Ikea white boards covered with notes, and shelves of leftover books from the department’s fundraiser sale last spring. 
San Rafael is not my saint (I suppose that would be Nicholas), and his feast day (Sept 29) is not my birthday (March 10). What swayed me is the description of his powers on the back of the tin icon: “Patron of lovers, safe journeys, apothecaries, pharmacists, happy meetings, health inspectors, young people leaving home, invoked against blindness.” Plus check out the guy’s wings, fetching cape, and rustic legwarmers! Is he carrying lunch, or a whimsical handbag? Either way, I’m on board!
A Correction:
A vocal member of my vast readership (heh) asked if Estancia’s festival (described in my last post) was actually Punkin Chunkin, not Pumpkin Chunkin. I thought I paid particular attention to this detail on the freestanding sign at the turnoff for the dusty field. I think what happened is that I so wanted the sign to read “Punkin Chunkin’” that I mistrusted my reading. Here’s a photo of a sign near the cannons:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Pumpkin Chunkin

     When you’ve got dust ground into your Steve Madden flats, and powdered sugar smeared on your lap and your mouth, you know it’s been a good time.
I liked these long-legged pumpkins featured in a student art
 exhibit at the Pumpkin Chunkin festival.

      I’ve been in New Mexico for a conference, and I’m ending the weekend by visiting my friend Barbara and her parents in Albuquerque. This afternoon we attended the Pumpkin Chunkin contest in Estancia, NM. Pumpkins on the smallish side were “chunked” into the air with slingshots the size of small hammocks and a fleet of pneumatic cannons with names like El Launcho Grande and The Patriot.
The goal was to chunk one's pumpkin through a tire suspended between two poles out in the nearby field. Some pumpkins were launched with such force that they split in midair, or were impossible to detect before they hit the ground.
     Barbara’s dad launched three pumpkins, and the second one nearly sailed through the tire.
     Chunkin seemed too athletic for me. Or rather, I took chunkin in a different direction, as I ate most of a funnel cake (“funeral cake,” as my dad calls them) and tried not to get powdered sugar smudged all over my camera.
     Barbara and I are racing tomorrow, so carb loading is in order. She’s running the Duke City Marathon, and I'm running the half.
These rad headcoverings were
for sale with other accessories
 and foodstuffs at the festival.
      Although I’m far away from home, any of my homes, I find something comforting in a small town festival. 
      My carryon luggage is already stuffed from yesterday’s thrippie haul at Buffalo Exchange (more on this another day). I couldn't help but browse the booths offering luxury sets of sheets, Pampered Chef, local jam, bread, honey, pinto beans, and, of course, pumpkins. 
      I wished I could carry a pumpkin back on the plane.
      I did not know which to prefer, watching the large, warty pumpkins sun themselves in a truck bed, or cheering for the smaller ones shot into the sky. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Teaching, That's My Bag

For the last two days, I’ve been carrying homework and books in a Rosauers grocery bag in addition to my overstuffed turquoise purse. To be fair, the grocery bag does have handles (the bag actually labels them “(Love)Handles.”
This afternoon, books and folders emerged from my ratty purse like clowns out of a circus car.
Oh my god, that bag, a student said.
Pink ahola and new
teaching bag rest
comfortably.
I love my turquoise purse with its racy zips gashed down the front. The purse is the color of a diner booth. Its soft vinyl body is stained from dragging it all over the West this summer. The shoulder strap is cracking.
It was never meant to be a Teaching Bag. 
At the reading group with some teachers last weekend, while we ate ice cream sundaes in the kitchen before discussing Martin Luther, I looked at my sad sad bag. I’d dropped it on the floor by my feet and drifted across the kitchen. Why I didn’t leave the bag in the living room, I don’t know. But in the bright kitchen light, my purse slumped like a flaccid, obese Easter egg. Two other teachers were standing with the bag at their feet, while I chatted by the ice cream cartons and bowl of candy corn.
I pretended that one of those guys brought the bag, the bag with cobwebs of old tissues, clots of receipts, loose change, stray tampons, and allergy pills that spilled out of the bottle last June but were never rounded up.
I pretended not to know my own purse.
True to my thrippie roots, I am open to the treasure of a pre-owned work bag. But I confess that thrift stores have their limitations, and I have yet to find a bag at a thrift store that I didn't carry out of irony.
I had visions of trotting down to my nearby Nordstrom and treating myself, upon deposit of first paycheck, to a hip young professional work bag. It’s time to make the investment, I said, in my Image.
That was in August. Now we’re practically at midterm.
And I’m choosing paper over plastic.
I hit up the TJ Maxx last night after work.
I bought a new bag, I told my students today, but I haven’t quite moved into it yet.
You won’t even recognize me when you see me with that new bag.
Like the last few teaching bags I’ve had, this one is OK. It’s gray, with tasteful patches of studs near the handles. It will get me through the next few months, and it won’t show dirt like the turquoise purse.
I’ll cut the tags off of New Bag tonight while I'm packing for a conference. And I’ll load up my loyal wheeled carry-on. I call it the baby pink turtle. When I flew to California with John and his two younger kids last March, his daughter insisted on pulling this bag all over LAX, even though she had her own duffle to carry.
The bag is that cool.
Pink Aloha, that’s what L.L. Bean calls that pattern.
Aloha—where I come from, that’s another word for classy.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Spooky Boo

I can’t remember how “spooky boo” entered our family lexicon, but I’m guessing it was through one of my grandmother Hazel’s seasonally themed answering machine messages. “Boo” alone is spooky enough, I think, unless one is using it in the sense of boyfriend/honeypot. As Halloween approaches, I should question whether or not I have limited myself to only one kind of Boo, when so many are possible. Glitter Boo. Spotted Boo. Nonstick Boo. Free Boo.

I caught a glimpse of these scary dudes
in Spookane's Garland district.
A couple of hours ago, my friend Jessie emailed me a picture of her new short short haircut that “just happened” as a response to some heavy feelings. She’s an upside down Samson, flexing her biceps and a liberating ‘do.
Shorn Boo.
I told my brother that sometimes I eat some of Dickens’ tuna from the can and it feels like we’re sharing a meal. “That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard,” he said.
Kitty Boo.
My brother also suggested I get a Neti pot for my sinus stoppage-uppage. We discussed how odd it was that there’s nary a neti among my hippie accoutrements. “I’m surprised you don’t have one with a sun on one side and a moon on the other,” he said.  “I think I should look for one shaped like a uterus, with fallopian-tube handles,” I replied.
Womb Boo.
Driving down Ash Street tonight, I saw a pink and white bra strapped across the wide parts, the hips if you will, of a crosswalk road sign. I thought of an exercise my writing students handed in a few weeks ago, in which they kept lists of specific things that pleased them and angered them (without explaining why). Crosswalk bra would go in "pleased" or (write-in candidate) WTF.
Secret Boo.
*Spoiler Alert* I bought my dad a(n unused, sealed in the package) mullet wig at Value Village last weekend, thinking he might add it to his Halloween headgear rotation. Dad, are you reading this? Did you get past "uterus"? Sorry.
Achy Breaky Boo.
I feel behind on my work (and my wee blog!), but Sara gave me free tickets to hear NPR superstar Howard Berkes at the Bing Crosby theater tomorrow night. I have season tickets (ahem, what’s that sound? Oh, that’s me walking through the door labeled “bourgeois fabulous”) to off-broadway South Pacific on Thursday night, and then I’m supposed to meet with a group of smart and kind professors on Friday to talk about some Martin Luther.
Busy Boo.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Rock and Sling--The Grotto

Rock and Sling recently posted a little creative nonfiction piece of mine on their blog: http://rockandsling.com/
Viva Portland!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Laughing Alone

In the back corner of the Teen Challenge thrift store, I found this treasure: Latchhook Jesus. He’s now hanging over my stove, presiding over my timer, leggy Easter bird, a couple of Marys, and two smoking cupcakes (not pictured).

Is it blasphemous? Blasphemy, like humor, is a thin dotted line separating the LOL lane from the Please Please Stop Talking lane on the conversation highway.
Is it blasphemous? Well, I’m a Jesus fan, and the rug’s design reminds me of my illustrated children’s Bibles and pictures on the Sunday School room walls. 
The rug picks up the colors in my furniture assortment. The plushyness of it even rhymes with Dickens’ cat tower that’s in my line of sight. I think what swayed me, if there was any doubt, is the Savior’s black bean eye.
My mother once made a semi-circle latchhook rug that must have been three feet in diameter and used to sleep on the floor by my bed. From a creamy white background bloomed three flowers, purple and burgundy, larger than cabbages.
I’ve never found my craft, but I had a latchhook phase, laboring on an owl pillowtop while watching TV. This was less demanding than cross-stitch, which I also tried for a season, even procuring a sewing basket and a clear plastic embroidery thread organizer with matchbook-sized flat cardboard spools around which you’d wind your skeins.
But back to blasphemy/humor: I’ll be the first to admit that plenty of my attempted jokes fall flat (just ask my students). My definition of fun(ny) might be way off. 
For example, you and your date go out to hear some swing music. You've been in the club for all of 30 seconds, and a guy you don’t know asks you to dance. You say that you don’t know how to swing dance. You just have to fake it, he says. He feels very strongly that you should try dancing. So you do. You hang your bulky purse on the shoulder of your date and proceed to the dance floor with a guy, in sandals, who you just met.
Funny? Was it a glimpse of the new and impulsive Nicole to be laughed off with an I-can’t-believe-you-did-that-you-crazy-girl smile?
Not this time.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Three Ladies, Two Moose & One Lonely Suitcase

We caught these rocks at Lolo Hot Springs, MT, in a
growing contest, kind of the NASCAR of nature.

Questionable guacamole: check. Camera: check. Books that will likely remain untouched in the tote bag: check.
Pink Aloha suitcase? Um.
K, B and I were headed to Lolo Hot Springs, Montana, for a weekend of taking the waters.
We left Spokane later than planned (mea culpa), so we didn’t get to Lolo before the soaking pools closed. I’d made a reservation for a camping cabin (no running water but electricity and groovy bunk beds), but we didn’t have a way to check in once the place was all closed up. I’d called the pool guy before we hit Missoula, though, and after a mild freakout involving a scramble for pocket change and a lonely payphone, we realized that pool guy had left a cabin unlocked for us. Success!
We unpacked quickly. I searched for my Pink Aloha bag, that wonderful rolling duffel unmistakable on luggage carousels far and wide. Warm fleecy tights? Clean socks?
I brought lots of food and work, which I’d arranged in my back seat and then loaded in K’s subaru.
I’d packed a suitcase with swimsuit, towels, Easter crocs, fashion mags, and pajamas, but in my haste I forgot to get it out of the trunk. So now it was waiting for me in K’s parking lot in Spokane.
It was one of those moments to remember that worry doesn’t help. The universe was telling me to lighten up. K and B were telling me that they could patch together a Montana-worthy bathing costume, so it was time for some hummus.
I took this photo near the picnic spot of
 two moose.

The weekend charged by quickly, even though we were only faintly aware of the clock.
We sat outside like suncatchers and read at our picnic table, on the patterned blanket, in a folding chair.
We soaked some crisp autumn smells. And sulphuric, church-camp-shower smells in the indoor hot pool boxed in with a clear corrugated roof. Teen girls in two pieces and earrings tantalized a tweeny boy who wasn’t allowed to go in the deep end of the cold pool outside. A guy downing his single-serving Sutter Home blush in the hot pool looked like his head might explode. I tried to decipher tattoos, to coax my shoulders out of my ears and into the mineral heat.
In the late afternoon we hiked along the creek.
The weekend belonged in the best-things-in-life-aren't-things montage that plays in my head.
Did I miss my toothbrush? I ate an apple, nature’s toothbrush, to counteract the dozen marshmallows roasted over a fire and bubble-crusted around the gooey innards.
Did we miss the two moose grazing? No way.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Contra Indications

It’s exhausting to have so many partners in one night.
But I couldn’t resist my new teacher friend’s invitation to a contra dance. She told me it was a little bit square- and a little bit line-dancing, and that the group usually has a lesson before the real action begins. Turns out it was jam night, too, so the stage was packed with a dozen musicians and their fiddles, banjos, accordions, and whistles.
            There wasn’t much of a crowd when we arrived, but there was an open box of white stickers, those labels on paper with perforated edges for the broken teeth of ancient printers.
            I knew not to expect too much from myself on the first night. I told myself it was ok to be clumsy. I didn’t get a Ph.D. in folk dance. Hazel and David, my mom's parents, were serious square dancers in their day, though, so I do have a genetic predisposition for this kind of thing.
            I found an inclusivity to contra dancing that I hadn’t really experienced since my days in Moldova, when everyone who could stand or stumble on two feet got roped into the widening gyres of the hora in the blocked-off streets of a festival or in the stuffy banquet hall of a wedding party. Contra steps aren’t terribly complicated, though once the caller stopped talking us through it and the music took over, I had a tendency to grab the wrong partner and mistake left for right. I was wearing a cute dress, though, so I was banking on that for a little help.
            There’s an anxiety for me in the steps of a dance because they’re unfamiliar. “I long for the imperishable quiet at the heart of form”—I've been thinking about that Theodore Roethke line. Dance is like counting out the rhythm of a song before you can just play it without thinking so hard. But there’s a relief in a dance form. One, it’s beautiful and orderly in a way that a free-for-all booty-shake mosh pit isn’t. Moving through the Virginia Reel or Sarah’s Journey both sounds and feels like dancing a quilt pattern. The designs can be basic, but the repetitions and variations are pleasing, interesting in a restful way.
Contra dance is also a smart social invention. I met everyone in that room in less than an hour. I locked eyes with them or right hand starred with them or let them spin me in a courtesy turn (nice term) back to my rightful place.
            And though the dances are strung together from a fairly small vocabulary of steps, each person has their own style. I guess it was clear enough I was new, so some men took the lead, spinning me and even throwing in extra turns so I could feel fancy, without any extra smarts on my part, while I figured things out.  Some of the dancers offered helpful hints: look your partner in the eyes so you don’t get dizzy while swinging. “Always place your right hand behind your back on a courtesy turn,” one guy explained. Why? “So I don’t grab your butt by mistake.” I hadn’t thought of this, but of course I noticed that once I started folding my arm, several partners reached for my hand. It was not unlike the moment I read that you’re supposed to take the communion chalice with both hands and drink for it, not wait for the lay Eucharistic minister to pour the wine daintily into your mouth.
Weezil was my first partner, and he always threw in an extra spin before the swing. “Only I do that,” he said. It was a cool move, and like a good teacher, he made me feel competent even with my minimal skill. When we crossed paths in other dances, he might say “I see you’re back.”

Monday, September 13, 2010

Busting Out All Over

I knew something was up when I saw a van from an assisted living community pull up to the terminal. And the marching band clustered near baggage claim. And a guy in Revolutionary War getup talking to women in neon yellow t-shirts.
John’s flight was leaving in a bit, so I was already on the weepy side.  
The band of high school kids played a verse of “God Bless America,” and while I thought of the bumper sticker “God Bless All Nations—No Exceptions,” I also started crying. 
If you know me, you know that crying in public is something I do expertly, and airports are just asking for it. I’m good with restaurants too, especially ones that play upbeat music like calypso or bluegrass.
“God Bless America” is best performed by my grandmother Hazel. She records a new answering machine message every month and sings a few bars of a season-appropriate song in her quavering alto. “June is Busting Out All Over” for example. You can imagine the December options.
The song for this past July was “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” but I’m sure “God Bless America” is in her rotation.
Hazel dances once a week at the senior center. I’ve picked her up from a dance a few times when I’ve been in town. Toward the end of the evening, everone sings a song together. “God Bless America” is a popular one. I mutter the words I don’t know and hope Hazel doesn’t notice (Hazel is big into memorization, and can still recite poetry she learned in school. If you didn’t pay attention in the “who’s on it?” game, she had no compunction about withholding the Lincoln, Hamilton, or Jackson she was all set to give you).
Yesterday, a woman at the Spokane airport told me the fanfare was for Honor Flight, a program that provides veterans, especially from WWII, with a free trip to D.C. so they can tour the war memorials. Men with American flags created a walkway near the luggage carousels for the arriving vets.
John left for his flight. I stood in the airport for a while, hoping to see this returning group. Without planning it, I was dressed in a patriotic way Hazel was sure to approve of: blue shirt, jeans, and red and white polka dot shoes. I waited for over half an hour, and forgot about my parking meter (the County of Spokane did not), and then I went home.
Sundays are prone to homesickness. At a new church, I missed the choir back at St. Mark’s, their sterling voices and kindness. I missed John, and he'd only just left. I missed my grandpas, both of whom would have been eligible for this Honor Flight business. They’d have made great really old guys. I missed my grandmothers, one who’s gone, and one who lives across the country and who likes to dance and talk on the phone.
I’d better call her.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Chaise your dreams

The middle-aged woman singing along to “Part-Time Lover” at Value Village gave me a sense that all was right in the world. I was wearing a leopard print cowboy hat on a trial basis, failing to steer clear of the store’s Halloween and knickknack sections and keep my eyes on the prize of furniture. I don’t need more kitschy figurines. I need a couch.
That afternoon I’d visited a couple of other furniture stores, consignment places with nice stuff but nothing I couldn’t live without. I had a mini-meltdown in a record store that used to sell quite a bit of furniture. I pointed to a chair in the window, one of the few pieces left in the store’s inventory. The guy working register quoted a price, then scoffed at my “Really?” There’s nothing like closely packed stacks of vinyl records to make me feel uncool in my marrow. I don’t like to bargain, and the window chair just wasn’t worth it.
I felt even farther from Operation Dinner Party.
Would all the furniture I need be either too expensive or too hip to belong to me?
I visited a couple of thrift stores to console myself. I say “I,” but it was “we,” because John has been in town this weekend and he’s supportive of my goal to achieve a baseline level of civilization in my apartment. Enough civilization to host a small dinner party.
As of this weekend, though, I am one step closer: I now have a bathroom door.
And also I have somewhere else for potential guests to sit. While I taught my Friday class, John assembled my IKEA chaise and little yellow table. For a couple of months, the components of the chaise languished as a 48 kg box in my moving pod and then in my living room.
Last fall I went through a period of trying to prove my independence by assembling IKEA furniture. Remains from this period include a white bookcase with a backwards shelf showing its rough rather than finished edge, and a white rolling file cabinet that came apart when I moved it out of my old apartment (I could put all the pieces back together again, though).
John holds a squirmy Dickens in my new old chair.
I didn’t want to mess up my chaise with legs coming out of the sides or the cushions hopelessly screwed to the frame.
IKEA furniture is like baking, I’ve discovered: there is a tipping point of no return. The cookies become charcoal, or the table faces its destiny as a stubby forlorn hat sorter.
For most of my life, I’ve been indifferent about furniture. This chaise, though, chose me and wanted to help me start my post-student life.
Thanks, John, for helping me realize my dream of corduroy lounging! 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I Teach in the Key of Rock



I’m settling into my new office. This also means I’m settling into the idea of having an office, not a cubicle or a choice table near an electrical outlet at a coffee shop.
In my office, I'm using as a bookend this rock I collected on my last hike in Utah. I should write a little song about it. It would start something like this: I hiked at Albion Basin/ with Harmony, Johnny, and Jason…” After a view of Mt. Timpanogos from the seam of Alta and Snowbird ski resorts, I swiped a light pink jagged rock (granite?) and this speckled egg and stashed them in my tiny pack.
A velociraptor (or maybe Benjamin’s dream bird, boredom, mentioned in my post a couple of days ago) might hatch some day when I’m grading papers or typing up a handout.
“Stones” and “bread” are stashed in the same file folder in my mind, in part because of the Sermon on the Mount (“what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?”) and also because of an essay by Anne Carson about the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. “Stones” and “loves” are the ring and echo of the same bell.
Sometimes I look at this rock and think it’s moldy prehistoric bocce ball bread.
Speaking of moldy:
I’m trying to leave my office door open as much as I can (unless I really need to concentrate on reading, and then I just have to close the door). One of my fellow teachers, a fine poet, stopped by my office yesterday. We talked about a cat I might adopt. Then from the depths of her bag she pulled out a shriveled, blackened ghost of a banana, fringed with gray fur. It was a brittle, singed finger from the underworld. It was a snack she forgot in April that sat in her teaching bag all summer.
“It’s post-rotten,” I said.
It’s a symbol of what teaching can do, we decided. Right now we’re taut, yellow fruit, no, we’re green and just beginning to ripen. But by the end of the spring semester? Yikes.
In other news, I got two gigantic wasp stings this afternoon on my way to sharing some pizza in the garden.
And a dozen shirtless undergraduate guys and a few women in sports bras ran full speed in the loop around campus. Like goats in an old world village, the runners for a moment took over. I had to stop my car to let them pass, and I more astonished and tickled than annoyed.
I hear the double rainbow guy on youtube: what does it mean?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Photosynthesis: My New Dream Hobby


Dickens the cat darts after the arc of the airborne mouse toy, a kitten habit I thought he’d forsaken in his emerging neutered dudehood. He skids on the painted wood floor like a Risky Business Tom Cruise in orange fluffy pants and white toesocks.
Today I ran along a bit of the Bloomsday course and then hooked into the Centennial Trail. My carne & carb loading this weekend hasn’t translated into speed or strength, just an intense desire to curl up like Dickens or a crescent roll in a big square of sunshine. If only I could photosynthesize in my spare time, how efficient I would be!
But I'm tossing the ratty yellow mouse toy across the room and thinking about my mood.
I like that yoga teachers get to say things like “observe the texture of your mood” (smooth? grainy? knotted? silky? Yes, I’m in a silky mood. Remember back in the days of myspace when you didn’t update your status, really, but you could indicate your mood?)

In yoga, we’re instructed to watch our thoughts and feelings as though they’re images on a TV screen. We don’t have to respond to the thoughts but just watch the parade. 
In a couple of classes, I’ve pictured my thoughts as fireflies condensed like dew on grass. The lightning bugs shine like jewels, and they are my thoughts. Well, there they are: this is what my mind offers up by way of a mantra. Yes, thoughts about pizza and homesickness and the lint on my yoga pants are blinking, but I don’t have to listen right now, or ever.
In the class last week, I imagined my thoughts were feathers, royal blue and berry pink. Some dream bird must have shed them ("Boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience," wrote Walter Benjamin, though I feel unafflicted by boredom here except when driving). 
The feathers were my thoughts, falling in a gentle see-saw slow-mo onto the floor of my mind. Probably they were collecting in a soft duffy pile, and someone was going to have to sweep that big colorful nest off the floor, weren't they! But I didn’t see the floor, just the feathers falling. 
Fireflies and glam plumage--the pictures of my thoughts were beautiful. Not dust bunnies, eye crusties, dirty socks, moldy lunch, gum on a sandal, the drips from the hole in the trash bag.
I don't always think kind thoughts about my thoughts. But maybe my mind has a mind of its own, and my mind wants me to know my thoughts, dang it, can be silent, delicate things.
I like where this is going.

Last night I found out that my new teakettle’s built-in whistle produces two tones. It’s a pleasing interval, and sounds like a harmonica, and sings along sweetly with the flutters of my hobo soul and the wails of nearby trains.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

One Degree of Separation

“Are you free? Are you vegetarian?”
Ths txt ws vry promising.

I wish I could say I whipped up the feast pictured here, but I only lucked into it thanks to a friend of a friend (who henceforth I think I can consider my own firsthand friend).
Indie-style teacher and homeowner Harmony (of last month’s posts) put me in touch with Sarah, a college buddy of hers. Harmony is my Kevin Bacon.
After a couple of weeks of email tag, Sarah and I managed to meet tonight when she and her fiancé were cooking up steaks and shrimp. The menu sounded decadent enough to get my attention. 
Am I vegetarian?
I explained that I try to be 80% vegetarian, but I could easily count the seafood and beef toward my 20% omnivore. 
Am I free? Well, sometimes I'm my own worst enemy, clipping my own wings, smothering my own joy, that kind of thing. But yeah, I had no plans.
I should clarify that the “shrimp” mentioned in Sarah's text invite were not little anemic commas with spicy ketchup. These were food-pleasure-coma-inducing bundles wrapped in prosciutto and basil to be eaten by the skewer-full. Well, and there was the steak. And potatoes. And green bean salad studded with pecorino.
Oh, dear.
Left to my own devices, I might eat a wedge of Costco cheese and drink a Diet Coke and call it dinner (though not always—see last night’s post about the Kale Thing. Look at me taking care of me!)
But a meal with others is something to get excited about. A “potluck” exceeds its parts. And really “potluck” suggests the specter of casseroles and crockpots and mayonnaise-based salads.
Tonight’s meal was a merging of gourmet minds.
Earlier today I had lunch at The Elk, a nearby restaurant, with a new colleague, his wife (who preached this morning), and their infant son (wearing this season's rainbow leg warmers).
I think I’m going to like it here. 

Kale yeah!

Sometimes I sit at my round white spaceship dining table, look at Spokane’s riverfront skyline, and think “I am having An Urban Experience!”
Tonight I made a kale/quinoa/corn/pesto/roasted cherry tomato concoction from the treasure trove of 101cookbooks.com, then sat on my balcony with a full plate. Technically the balcony is supposed to have a railing. But I appreciate my landlord’s laidback approach: just don’t fall. I told him I was planning a back-to-school rave out there. 
Today was perfect hot weather. I spent most of it putzing indoors: firing up the Swiffer, unpacking some books, hammering nails in the wall to hang a small diptych by my friend Emily. The first panel shows the back of a billboard, and the second panel extends a marbled sky. I didn’t realize until today that the panels are a little asymmetrical, which makes me like them even more. "Landmark" is now one of the first things you see as you enter my apartment.
I met Emily when she lived in my hometown. She and her husband Eric now live in Ohio. Last summer I stayed with them for a weekend in their blue house, walking around their pond, eating roasted pork and a caprese salad, I believe, outside with neighbors under the trees and stars. I was still a wreck from a breakup earlier that summer, and so grateful for Emily and Eric’s hospitality and easy company. 

I was going to take a picture of the kale tonight, but Dickens is cuter in his makeshift playhouse. I fear this blog may not escape the gravitational pull of kitty photos! I can argue that Dickens is part of my life-stuff, way snugglier than my tea kettle. The best things in life aren’t things, isn’t that what they cross-stitch on little samplers or write in big font over an inspiration-in-the-cubicle photo of a boy in overalls hugging a puppy? In his essay “Asymptosy,” Patrick Madden calls clichés “sceneryless shortcuts” of language. But it's late, and dark outside, so the scenery doesn't count so much right now. I’ll let my sentimental proverb stand.

I posted last month that I couldn’t decide about the coffee pot situation, but as you can see from the photo, I swerved for the cheapo one. I can always demote this to the office and spring for the fancy ones if I have a change of heart. The coffee almost doesn’t taste like plastic.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Shelf Help



Tonight I was “installed” as faculty at a service in my new school’s chapel. I felt a flicker of embarrassment while standing up front with the other new folks. But my better self said to enjoy this moment. The feeling was a little like graduation. I almost didn’t go to my ceremony last May, but my advisor talked me into it at the last minute. And in the moment she draped my doctoral hood over my head in front of the crowd in the arena, I realized she was right to urge me to go. Ceremony is important. It gives us a way to cope with change.
In general, I’m finding that going is better than not going. I’m trying to say yes whenever possible, to accept all invitations.

Yesterday I bought a shelf at Goodwill in hopes it would fit under my sink and house my growing collection of dishes. Of course I could have measured the area under the sink, and measured this shelf before I wagged it all the way home in my car. But my eyeballing was pretty close. The shelf is about half an inch too tall. I may cajole my landlord to use his workshop tools and saw off the excess trim. Likely I’ll just move the shelf to another room. Dickens seems to have accepted it as another playhouse (complete with a patch of wheatgrass I picked up for him the other day).

The shopping I did tonight was just a quick run through Safeway on the drive home from campus: seven tins of cat food, a big carton of organic half and half, and a shingle of ready-to-bake cookie dough. “I’m becoming that woman,” I thought. “Yeah, that doesn’t really look like much of a party,” said the cashier. “Where’s the catnip?”

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ice Ice Breakers



I had dinner with some new colleagues and their partners this evening. It’s funny how small social cues can change the feel of an evening. Our instructions: sit in small groups, eat wontons and drink punch, and then every 20 or 30 minutes move to a new table. Kind of like speed dating. Speed friending. And it was speedy—I had more meaningful chat with new folks tonight than I might have had in 3 months just left to my own devices. Tonight’s prescribed social shuffling was a relief to someone like me who has trouble mingling, especially when flying solo, especially without a splash of liquid courage to even my keel.

I think I have some genuine friends in the making, and certainly some mentors. I’m really grateful for the warm welcome here. Though it’s cold! OK, 50 degrees, but rainy, and cool enough to merit a second layer of clothes. Today I wore my cute permapleat summer dress that Esther gave me. I wore summer to spite the weather. Guess who won.

One new colleague and his wife offered to give me a (redundant, they discovered) microwave they moved all the way from the midwest. Very sweet! So now I can reheat that soup I made yesterday.

Also, I’m picking out checks for the first time in a long time. I think I’ve found my winner.

Feelin' Souper

Autumn bringeth forth her bounty in Spokane. Not the farmers market, which I have yet to investigate.
Rather I’m amazed that I’ve lived here less than two weeks, and I’ve already crossed paths with many intriguing and generous people:
The guy peddling his Rolling Cones ice cream bike on Riverside, adjusting his speakers for the tingting calliope music.
The new friend who names her houseplants after famous female gymnasts from former Communist countries.
The yoga teacher who asked me to think about my higher self and taught an energetic 90-minute class even though I was the only student who showed up.
My new neighbor who wasn’t sketched out when I approached him on the sidewalk and said “You’re a guy. Can you fix this?” because I couldn’t get the rusty gate closed on the back of a truck I borrowed. Tyler and Frances, if you’re out there, I owe you dinner!

Also I reaped some autumn harvest gold at yet another thrift store in town.
I scored five of these plates. The design is a perfect backdrop for Morningstar Buffalo Wings heated in a toaster oven: a detail from the Flemish tapestry, "The Hunt of the Unicorn Circa Late 15th Century." I'll keep my eyes peeled for the Narwhal Series!
And now I’ve made my first soup in this apartment. The recipe is a favorite, Red Lentil, from 101cookbooks.com
This Corningware bowl with a handle was another of today's finds. I'm pretty sure my Nana Sheets had a casserole dish or two with this same ca. 1975 pattern. 

I’m still short on counter space. And spoons and forks. Secondhand stores in this town have tons of knives, bins of knives, but little else in the cutlery way. Alanis Morissette might find Spokane thrifting downright ironic.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Somebody Autoclave My Pants!!!

Paint, wayward infant formula, White-Out spill, French vanilla ice cream shooters, snot balloons, ecru paintball, weeping egg white, angry pigeon sticky—I’m not sure what all was blotched on that used chair, but I sat on it anyway. Once upon a time, the chair had been velvety periwinkle, with a light wood frame. Now it was a pattern I named Bad Dairy Calico.

I sat on this chair. I rocked it forward and back to test the chair’s sturdiness. Then I hoisted it back up to the high shelf and gave my butt a cootie-cleansing shimmy.

I wondered if there was some kind of five-second rule I could apply to my germy pants. I guess it would have to be a 25-second rule because I'd tried to be ok with really sitting on the mystery-spackle, not just hovering.

Remember that episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force when Master Shake sits on a dirty toilet seat and becomes infected with mind-controlling hypnogerms?
I was a little afraid. I longed for a paint roller soaked in hand-sanitizing gel that I could casually apply to my general buttock area in the store parking lot before I sat in my car.

Problem was that earlier that afternoon I’d spied the perfect dining table in a fancy furniture store’s clearance basement. Before I made my move, I needed to weigh the cost. I cruised a “gently used” furniture shop, which didn’t have the kind of round, white, retro-yet-futuro table I wanted.

One thrift store housed the sad, stained chair. The second one had Gospel praise music on full blast, and I knew one of the songs from my Evangelical heyday. The Gospel praise store did have a funky old dinette set. The manager observed my Giddyap Rollicking phase of chair testing, which advanced this time to Dreamy Repose. He offered to knock 10% off the price. One of the turquoise vinyl chairs wouldn’t have passed Giddyap. But the dealbreaker was the chair with split vinyl patched with a thick stripe of clear tape.

I’ve passed through a new threshold in my life. I can’t do clear tape as a furniture repair strategy anymore.

I’m a card-carrying Thrippie, so little hearts cascade from my eyes when I see “clearance” or “seconds,” “irregular,” or, lo, “thirds.”

But the Thrippie creed involves calculating an item’s real value. Will I use it? And, considering my few homemaking/husbandry skills, does this item work?  It was difficult to pare down my belongings before this move to Spokane; will this item just rebuild my Beloved Stores of Clutter?
And, newest criterion: Do I love it? Will this shirt/chair/dish/boondoggle keychain make me happy to see it in my apartment every day, especially those cold cloudy days that are my Pacific Northwest destiny?

So I bought the white round retro spaceship dining table and two decommissioned floor-model chairs from the fancy store’s clearance basement. They look great. And I did buy a white retro diner-ish chair from the Gospel store. The chair is discolored, but still cushy but svelte, and it fits right in with its fancier chair cohort.

I’ve detected no ill effects from sitting on the Throne of Filth. Maybe love is good for the immune system.