Monday, October 31, 2011

#11 In '11 -- Congratulations St. Louis Cardinals!

My son at the end of the World Series parade in 2006.  I couldn't join the half-million red-bedecked fans
along the parade route this year because of my surgery

Things are good here in Cardinal Nation.  My last post was just two days before the surgery on my neck and two days before my beloved St. Louis Cardinals began the improbable ride that was the 2011 World Series Championship.  While I wasn’t good for much else during these first two weeks of recovery, I could at least revel in all the magic that is baseball.

I know that football is now supposed to be America’s most popular sport, with Superbowl Sunday practically a national holiday, but there can never be a football story as great as this World Series run.  It’s the stuff that makes us all feel like kids again and makes us believe that our dreams can come true.

On Aug. 25, one month before the season ended, my Cards were 10 ½ games out of first place, a statistically almost impossible gap to bridge.  One game at a time, though, they kept chipping away until they stood on top of their division.  Then in the first round of playoffs so many thought this was the end because the other team had a better record.  But one run, one out, one game at a time they proved everyone wrong.  The same for the National League Championship round.  Nobody believed that they could do it.  Nobody, that is, except for the players and all the rabidly devoted fans of Cardinal Nation.

And then they were pitted in the World Series against the Texas Rangers, who were making their second consecutive trip to the Series.  They battled like never before.  In fact, during game 3 I thought my pain meds were playing tricks on me when I awoke from dozing once, twice, three times to find our favorite slugger, Albert Pujols rounding the bases on home runs in a 16-7 blowout.  And then three times in game 6 they were only one strike from going home as forgotten post-season contenders when they rallied to finally win big in the 11th inning and force the final game that clinched their place in baseball history and the hearts of their loyal Redbird fans for their 11th World Series title.

In St. Louis EVERYONE is a Cardinals fan
Not only does baseball give you three strikes and three outs each inning, but because the game plays without a clock, it also gives you unlimited innings to get things right.  You might lose in the regulation nine innings, but other days if you keep plugging away, coming back and coming back with hit after hit, you can play on and on until you have your victory.  It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.  And it’s never to late to be a hero.  Just ask Lance Berkman, the Cards’ rightfielder, a veteran (some might have said “over the hill”) player whose career was seen as waning until he joined my team.  Even the youngest have something to contribute.  Just ask David Freese, who won the Series MVP award although he had played fewer than 200 games in the major leagues while most previous award winners had averaged about 1,200 games.

I love baseball because it reminds us how many different ways there are to win.  It can be won by the hitting, the pitching, or by one diving catch in the outfield.  It reminds us all that if we work at something consistently and neither sit on our victories nor wallow in our worst defeats then there is always another game or another season for us to make our own luck.  There is no clock counting down the minutes to success or failure.  Anyone on the field can be the hero of the game on any given day.  We just have to be ready when opportunity opens the door.  So now that my short period on the disabled list is coming to an end, I’m back at the computer to work at my own chosen sport of writing.  Every day I’ll hone my fundamentals or perhaps get confident enough to swing for the fences this season.  See you at the ballpark, er, online.

I’ve been off the computer for two weeks so I have a lot of catching up to do with comments that came in on my past posts and reading the wonderful posts written by other bloggers.  While I’m busy with my make-up work, please share any of your own “World Series”-sized successes or dreams – or whatever else it is that inspires you to keep going when you’re 10 ½ games behind and the season seems over.
Enjoy George Carlin's classic routine about the difference between baseball and football:

“People Will Come” -- Revisit the inspiring speech James Earl Jones delivers in Field of Dreams, reminding us of the eternal nature of baseball.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Autumn's Children

The French do love their flowers

I’m a child of autumn.
Sun hot chrysanthemums and fiery Missouri sugar maples
Compete in me with dark winds prowling the night, moaning of the oncoming cold.
The sidewalk snap of discarded summer shade pops with each shuffling step until
Silent, jagged flashes light the night,
Announcing a dogged veil of rain
To wash away what once had been bright and warm.

My daughter is a child of autumn, too,
   both of us born on the same crisp morning.
Thirty years and an ocean separated us, though, waiting eight years for the moment
   when we would meet in a hot Russian play yard.
We were born just missing both All Hallow’s Eve and
All Saint’s Day.
We are neither demons nor saints.
We share both summer and winter inside.
We flash hot and cold
Like a late autumn dance with nascent winter.

We children of autumn embrace
All seasons
As the last bright windflowers bob their white faces above delicately arching necks
Fall’s purple and umber pansies hug the ground,
Staying out of winter’s way
To survive ever so slightly longer.
And the last bright sign of the season
Cascades from on high, one dropped leaf at a time
So that in one quiet sleep --
Without so much as a chance to say farewell to our time --
Winter greets us at dawn.

This poetry attempt is the result of  another writing prompt by Write on EdgeFor you, what does autumn evoke?  Show us in 300 words or less.
What does autumn evoke for you?  What season defines you?  Share it in the comments.
And when you’re done telling us about your personal autumn, click on over to this piece I wrote in the fall of 2009.  I was surprised to see how today I echoed writing I had already forgotten.

The colorful Burgundy tiled roofs mimic the autumn
10/18/11 - Autumn3 

I may not post for another week because on Wednesday I have the surgery for my neck and arm I had mentioned in an earlier post.  It shouldn’t leave me incapacitated; however, the medications might make it difficult to put two literary sentences together for a few days, so I’ll use that time to catch up with reading all the great blogs out there.  See you online soon.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Tipping My Hat to Some Thoughts on Reinvention

Hat stores abound in Dijon, France

Today you are being sent to read something better than I could have written, even though it says exactly what I would want to say.

This week has been a difficult one at the computer.  I’ve had problems with my arm, shoulder, and neck for a long time and next week I go under the knife to see if they can be improved.  This has been a week of spasming, tingling, and other ailments that made it difficult to type for long or work a mouse.  As I was wondering how I was going to get through a blog entry, I clicked on a new piece posted by Nadine Feldman on her site, A Woman’s Nest.

She writes about transformation, travel, creativity and all kinds of things good for the soul.  This week she talked about a hat, a hat and how what the world sees changes how we see ourselves.  With wonderfully poetic language she wrote about how we so easily let others limit us.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to be so unencumbered by others' images of us?
10/14/11_tipping hat2
If I were to choose one thing that fences me in, that puts me in a box, it it's probably my genes.  I think I’m genetically predisposed to put everyone and everything else first.  It seems to be a trait handed down in the DNA of the women in my family.  I wake up almost every day and say, “What needs to be done?  Who needs what?”  It’s hard to imagine a different sense of self like Nadine describes if I don’t take time to ask what I want and how I’ll get there.  I can’t reinvent myself if I give all my time to making sure someone else achieves what he or she wants.  I’m trying to work on it, to find a balance between me and “them.”

So today I’m sending you over to read Nadine’s post because she wrote exactly what I’d like to say if I had as much insight and mastery of the language as she does.  Enjoy.

You can find it here:  Sometimes It’s More Than a Hat

Be sure to leave a comment on her page to let her know you stopped by.  Then come back here and let us know what you feel limits you from the outside.

Maybe one day I'll be bold enough to think I deserve to wear gladiator sandals
10/14/11-tipping hat3

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My First Time

I go on the principle if the line is long, it must be worth the wait

Pale pig heads with their staring eyes and chickens with their brightly feathered necks wrapped around their goose-pimpled body as if taking an afternoon nap line up in the glass cases, waiting for me to choose.

It’s Tuesday morning, the main market day in Dijon, so all the lines at the boucherie counters are long. This face – the one racing back and forth under the Jean-Francois Chenu, Maître Boucher sign – seems to be smiling.  I see him throw his head back and laugh at something the old man with the wicker panier said.

BoucherieChacouterie. Volailles.  I guess it tells me something about the kind of meat they sell, but it’s too hard to balance my market sack filled with vegetables and my dictionary.  Viande pour braseradeMagretCanardCuisse de grenouilleGigot d’agneuEntrecôteSteak à hacher.

There are no tightly-wrapped packages of pork chops or a pound of ground beef.  It’s all just large hunks of unidentifiable meat cut to order.  And suddenly I’m six years old, sitting on the floor of the butcher shop on Jefferson Ave., waiting for my mom to laugh at something the man in the blood-stained apron behind the counter said.  I wait patiently for her on that dusty linoleum as the long line of customers buy pork chops for dinner that night and roast for Sunday.

Monsieur Chenu smiles broadly.  I point to the pile of ruby red meat that says “entrecote.”  I recognize that word from restaurant menus. He wields his cleaver.  Voilà, it’s steak.  Then I point to something I’m sure is veal or lamb.  With that same warm smile and energetic Bonne journée he’s given all his regulars he points me toward the cashier where I can claim my first purchase from a French butcher.

10/5/11-conjure change3
This story is another writing prompt from Write on Edge.  The directions were:
In “On Writing” Stephen King wrote, “The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.”  Write a memoir post – first-person and true – inspired by that statement.  Word limit is 300.

Master butcher, M. Chenu -- never without a smile for this tongue-tied alien

Do you have a first time for something?  Share it in the comments box.
Go here if you want to read more about my meat-buying challenges in France.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Empty Nest Syndrome? Pffffffft

Back when I thought he'd never leave -- or I'd never want him to leave

My son moved out this weekend.  A week and a half ago he sat in his bedroom buried in three feet of quick-drying cement so that we couldn’t blast him out of the house.

Why would he want to?  Hi-speed wireless for streaming movies.  HD channels on television.  A refrigerator filled with yogurt and berries.  A mom who liked to cook full dinners most nights.  Even if he paid us rent (oh yes, he did), he still got to put most of his paycheck in the bank for his own use.

Finally, however, my husband said, “Get in the car.  We’re looking at apartments.”  Voilà, the dam broke and they found an efficiency that cost not much more than the rent he paid us, plus it included heat.  He rounded up a friend from work who had a truck to move his mattress, he went out and bought some basic supplies (“I just spent 88 freakin’ dollars on bathroom curtains and stuff, Mom.”), he grabbed three rolls of toilet paper out of the hall closet, and then he was gone.

So basically we are now empty nesters, what with our other child far away at school and with no inclination to return home.  No sad songs here.  No feelings of emptiness that extend beyond figuring out what to do with the extra bedroom we just acquired.  No longing for my children to stay young just a moment longer.
Proof that he's gone

About this time last year I was talking with a woman at church who has six children.  Her oldest had just started college and my friend was in distress over her firstborn leaving even though she had five others at home to keep her busy.  She wanted to know how I had handled it when my daughter had left for school.  I told her, “Enjoy it.  Your job is done.”

Yeah, I’m not dancing a jig that my son is gone, but I’m not in mourning.  I did my job.  I raised a young adult who went off to make his way in the world.  Even as I type this I can feel my brain space emptying out like his bedroom upstairs.  Where it had been filled with worry as I listened for him to come in at night, concern that he wasn’t eating enough “real food,” or frustration over household chores left undone, I now have new space in my own upstairs chamber to fill and decorate as I please.

I don’t have to waste any more emotional energy getting mad because he sat at my dinner table eating my food and using my hot water but refused to listen to all the sage advice I showered on him like golden confetti.  He’s paying his way.  My job is done.  His choices are his.  He’s made some lulus.  But he’s made some good ones.  He has a job.  He wrote a check for the down payment without asking us for money.

I gave him some grapes, a box of cereal, the yogurt, and a hug.

So sue me.  Having my children gone doesn’t fill me with “what now?” angst or send me in search of online support groups.  I’m excited for me.  If I couldn’t imagine a brand new path for myself at this third stage of my life, how could I really imagine the possibility of one for my own children entering young adulthood?  It will give us so much more to talk about when he comes by to do a little laundry, or see what I’ve cooked for dinner, and watch the baseball playoffs with his dad (Go, Cards!) because he’s too cheap to get cable TV.

All I can say, though, is he still better pick up that phone when his mother calls.  Some things will never change.  And don’t forget to eat your vegetables.
Have you gone through this yet?  Did you dread it?  Are you looking forward to it?  Share your reaction to being alone in your own home in the comments box. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

What I Read - A Paris Wife

Young love along the Seine in Paris

I’ve finally gotten myself on a defined reading schedule – memoirs, travel tales, essays.  Occasionally I’ll highlight one piece that deserves your time.  The first is Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife (2011).

At the end of Ernest Hemingway’s memoir about his early time in Paris with his first wife, A Moveable Feast, he wrote one of the most perfect and perfectly sad lines about love I had ever read.  He pulls into a train station in Austria after spending time in Paris with his lover and sees his wife and young son waiting excitedly for him.  About this moment he writes, “I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.”

While the book was a loving tribute to his first wife, Hadley Richardson, it did little to explain how he could leave behind what he had treasured so much.  The novel The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain, tries to fill in between all of Hemingway’s lines and tell the story that he, himself, didn’t cover in his memoir.  Her novelized “memoir” tells the story of this Jazz Age couple from the perspective of Hadley Richardson Hemingway, the young wife swept up in the energy and ex-patriot life of her soon-to-be famous husband and the other literary bon vivants of Paris.

I was never much of a fan of Hemingway and his self-centered, insufferable characters or his outsized machismo.  McLain’s book made me no more inclined to return to all the books I swore to never read again after fulfilling my requirements as an English major.  However, she made me infinitely more fascinated with this protected, Midwest young woman who longed to escape the circumscribed confines of her family and her society at home.  Hemingway was a way out.

McLain draws a well-rounded portrait of this young woman thoroughly devoted to her young husband on his way up in the world.  She is not a Jane Austen character to whom everyone else looks to for wisdom and commonsense.  Even in this story about her, she often sits marginalized in the background.  She is the silent one observing Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and other glittering creatures of the Lost Generation gossiping, arguing literature, discussing the finer points of bullfighting.

One of the more telling episodes that makes clear her outsider status occurs on one of the many holidays with their Paris circle.  Hemingway has been traveling across Europe on writing assignments, so Hadley, a young mother with a constantly fussy baby, decides a change of scene might make her loneliness more bearable.  She heads to the south of France for a visit with their Paris friends, but shortly after her arrival, her son is diagnosed with whooping cough and she’s asked to vacate her room at the villa of her hosts.  Everyone is gracious and full of the ultimate politeness, but she and her ill son are deposited in another villa where she spends her days in isolation, tending to his whooping cough, waiting once again for her husband to return from the dramatic world of bullfights or war, or from the arms of his lover.

The Hadley that McLain outlines could easily be dismissed as some weak-willed creature who would do anything to hold on to her husband or who is in way over her head with this celebrity lunch table.  The portrait she paints, however, is not one of a desperate or flighty woman.  Hadley is interesting because she is always thinking.  She’s not impulsive, which makes her a fine balance to the other characters in her story. It gives her a clear eye with which to describe and evaluate the less-than-admirable everyday lives of this people who will be so revered on the world stage.  When she realizes that her husband has started an affair with the one woman she had thought was her own personal friend and not part of Hemingway’s club, she wrestles with tolerance as well as self-preservation.

She’s spent her years in Paris and Europe surrounded by those eccentrics for whom casual relationships, ménage a trois, open marriages, and all forms of relationships are accepted without a bat of the eye.  McLain’s attention to Hadley’s struggle over what to do about her particular situation and her growing realization of who she is and what she wants brings this woman long known only as Hemingway’ Paris wife into her own.  She loves her husband, but begins to question who he’s become and what it has cost her,  “I knew Ernest’s bravado was almost entirely invented, but I hated to think of all the good friends we’d lost because of his pride and volatile temper . . . .  Just how many others would fall, I wondered as I looked around the candlelit table.”

McLain creates such a distinctive voice for Hadley Richardson that a reader can forget that this is not actually a memoir by Hemingway’s Paris wife.  She gives historical depth to this world at the cusp of a new age.  She creates a story about how a love can grow so strong and fade so quickly, even if it never really ends.  Even if the heroine of this tale had not been the wife of an historical lion, The Paris Wife holds a reader enthralled for the intricate dissection of a marriage that began with so much energy and promise.

What's the story behind this Paris window without a building?
If you've read the book, tell us what you think of it.  If you haven't, then give us a recommendation in the comments box for something we don't want to miss, fiction or non-fiction.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Conjure Some Small Change

Fall is bursting forth in Wolfach, Germany

It sits pregnant with its summer of growth.  The pulp oozes through the ragged split on one side.  A plump harbinger of autumn, its flashy orange competes with purple asters, lemon yellow waxy bells hanging pendulous over dark leaves, the bright blooms of a fall windflower waving in the breeze, suspended over all.  Soon it will bring color to a wooden table around which the family gathers, or with sugar and spice it will help celebrate another year of thanksgiving, or it will glow from within to conjure up devils while chasing away the gloom.  It signals the coming cold.

(This scene is brought to you by this week’s Write on Edge prompt to conjure something -- an object, a person, a feeling, a color, a season, whatever – in 100 words.)

I’m in a mad race against time right now to clean up my garden as best I can in the next two weeks.  At that point I head in for some surgery that I hope will alleviate long-standing problems with my neck and arm.  With each yank at the volunteer saplings that took root while I was in France, I feel a twinge in my shoulder or a spasm in my upper trapezius. Zinnias I didn’t plant but that buried themselves safely in the soil at the end of last summer’s crop brighten the chilly mornings when I look out my kitchen window.

This whole thing of transitions and change (physical and seasonal) is making me eager for my own purposeful transformation.  The first one came when I said goodbye to fast food.  But now I think I’ll up the stakes a little.  At least for these last two weeks before I become slightly incapacitated (goodbye yoga, I’ll miss you).  I’m trying to live a healthier and more stress-free life (hence time in the garden) as a way to prepare for a speedier recovery – go in healthy, things work better.  Right?

Blogger Amanda West provided a way for me to channel this good energy outward.  She writes with enthusiasm.  And the beginning of this month she came up with an idea of how lowly bloggers can join together to do some small thing to help others in need.  You can read all the details here in her inspired post.  The gist is give up something for a week (or more) and donate that money to the charity of your choice and blog about it.

I couldn’t think of what to give up to earn money.  I don’t drink coffee, so no expensive lattes to abandon.  I’ve already given up fast food, if you recall.  I’m cutting way back on soda and sugar along with the fast food.  I write at home, so I can’t brown bag it at work instead of going out.  So I got creative.  How can I do something that is good for me that can earn money for others?

What I waste the most of is not money; it’s time.  And that is time I’m not writing.  So between now and Oct. 19 (D-day for surgery) I’m going to challenge myself in two specific ways to stop wasting time and get productive.  First, every time I click over on my computer to some useless bit of gossip about a celebrity or piano-playing kittens or other news-I-can’t-use I’m going to put a quarter in a jar.  Maybe this way I can break a horrible habit.  Second, I’m going to commit to writing 500 words each day.  On blog days, that’s no problem.  However, I find myself slacking off on the other days, especially weekends.  I will write at least 500 words seven days a week.  Any day I don’t I’ll add a dollar to the jar.

Where will the money go?  The Outreach program at my church raises money for the Millenium Development Goals.  It’s a United Nations program to end poverty and hunger, educate every child, develop plans for environmental sustainability and other actions.  If I end up with a pot of money, my church group will get it.  If I actually succeed, and therefore I have no money in my jar, I’ll still donate at least $20 for my two-week challenge.

If you want to join Amber’s challenge, you can jump in any time between now and the end of the month.  The Twitter handle is #gowithout if you want to see what others took on.

This is only one of many beautiful bridges in Wolfach, Germany

What makes you feel a change of season the most?  Do you have any season-changing rituals?  Share your thoughts in the comments box.

Monday, October 3, 2011

What Would You Do If You Didn't Work?

10/3/11-what i'd do
Maybe I'd start a collection like this resident of Natchez, MS

In response to Mama Kat’s weekly writing prompt I spent the weekend thinking about 10 things I’d do if I didn’t work.  Now, whoa, wait a minute, some might say.  How can you make a list of things you would do if you didn’t work if you don’t actually have to get in the car and drive to an office to make someone else fabulously wealthy while you yourself are ground under the millstone of department productivity charts?  Well, point taken.

No, I no longer have to worry about the 9-5 life, but there is more than enough hopping to make me wish I had another three hours in my day.  I mean, it takes Herculean efforts to stay glued to the All-Law-and-Order-All-the-Time channel just in case a stray episode I haven’t see might be aired.  But since much that occupies my time now is stuff I make up to avoid doing the stuff I have to do, it’s worth contemplating what I’d do if I weren’t trying to avoid anything.

So what would I do if every hour of every day were wide open for me to decide how I wished to spend it?  The summer in France gave me an inkling of this kind of freedom.

Without further ado, here’s what I’d do:

10)  Make my computer files more organized than the Library of Congress. 

9)  I’d become fabulously toned, tanned, and athletic again.  Face it -- stress, chronic fatigue, and meals on the run take a bit of toll on the ol’ bod.

8)  See at least a dozen Keith Urban concerts a year with my KU friends across the U.S. (and, no, they’re not all the same; that’s what makes him such a great entertainer)

7)  I’d become fabulously fluent in a multitude of languages so that

6)  I would be ready to travel across the continent and the globe three or four times a year.


5)  Read when I’m not tired so I actually read in coherent chunks instead of in the five minutes I can muster before my eyes slam shut and the book crashes to the floor beside the bed.

4)  Learn to draw and use the manual settings on my camera.  Why not?  Art seems an endeavor that could keep me occupied for a lifetime.

3)  I’d definitely use the time to stop being the insufferable witch I become when I’m weighted down by all the things not on this little list and kept from doing what I really want to do.

2)  I would focus my mind intently on my writing, with the leisure to let ideas incubate, find the exact phrase instead of the almost-right one.  I’d have no more excuses for not getting words on paper.  And I could do it at 1 p.m. instead of 1 a.m. Preferably while drinking hot chocolate loaded with whipped cream while eating a pain au chocolat at a French café.

1)  In Edith Wharton’s masterpiece The Age of Innocence, her protagonist Newland Archer sits surrounded by family and friends chattering about all their duties and obligations for the day.  At one point another character asks him (I don’t quote exactly), “Well, Newland, how are you going to spend your time?”  Newland answers, “Oh I think I’ll just save it instead.”  The #1 thing I’d do if I didn’t work is nothing.  I don’t mean “nothing” in the sense of wasting it surfing the internet or updating my status.  No, I’d do nothing by strolling, letting my mind wander and contemplate, take time to watch, to see, sit, be in the moment.  I wouldn’t try to spend my capital of time.

I'd have more up close and personal time with guitar god Keith Urban
10/3/1-what I'd do2

Tell me, what would you do if you didn’t have to work?  Share it in the comments box.
Related Posts with Thumbnails