December 22, 2010


We can all let loose our collectively-held breath, now that winter solstice has passed and the sun won't be quite so shy each day. With that combo of dark and cold, it's no wonder that bears and other critters opt for hibernation- every once in a while, I hardly want to leave my apartment, let alone my bed.

But for some, this season has the opposite effect. Families construct backyard ice rinks with the precision of a suspension bridge. People shovel snow away in clean rectangles near lake shorelines, and the Tetris layouts expand farther and farther out as the water freezes thicker and the Saturday games fill faster. Every evening, along my path home from work, a retention pond nestled in the curve of a highway on-ramp hosts a small herd of cars and teenagers hockeying away until they can't see by the intermittent light of headlights any more.

And this, I suppose, is the essence of winter in Canada.

December 18, 2010

merry and bright

"Why do you people think this is funny?"

My first mitten attempt, using this book. Although these won't have the flamboyant Musketeer sleeves- just a little longer than wrist length. I might keep these, but if I manage to get them done in time for Christmas, maybe they'll get gifted instead.

Your eyes do not deceive you. Toby's mutant saliva is practically his superhero secret weapon. But just when he's running in the snow.

And here's a little Christmas cheer from She & Him, courtesy of Conan. I could listen to Zooey's voice all day. Merry merry!

December 14, 2010

A rant in the name of library love

This post needs more stats so I sound like I know what I'm talking about. I don't have them. Sorry about that.

I just got an email alerting me to the new policies being implemented in the libraries where I used to live in Colorado. I'm not so great at keeping up with news, local or national or international, so I was a little bit heartbroken to learn that 4 out of 7 Arapahoe county libraries closed a little over a year ago.

The techies and whippersnappers can commence their monologues, now. Go ahead. I will wait to make my point.

Okay, enough. I know the world is changing at warp speeds. I know newspapers are shriveling up and businesses are increasingly paperless, as well as academic institutions (and if textbooks went paperless I'm sure college students everywhere would rejoice). But the thing is, what percentage of the world's populations can actually afford iPads or Kindles? I'm uneducated in this area, but isn't the basic social goal of literacy a step that has to come before the general population can afford e-readers?

I suppose we'll get there eventally, but the fact is most of the world is poor. And most Americans live on a modest income; 68% of the population makes between $25 and $50K per year.

The point? We need libraries. And not just for the books and the movies. They provide more than the archaic, outdated, gasping-their-dying-breath-medium known as books. They are full of community-oriented resources, events, meeting spaces, and materials that the average person doesn't have easy access to. As a taxpayer who literally lives paycheck to paycheck but does her best to stay responsibly out of debt, and who also happens to love to read, I can't praise the institution and rich resource of libraries enough.

I don't want to criticize the County's aim to provide services primarily for their taxpayers. This is understandable and fair. What troubles me is that there is even a NEED, to begin with, to separate taxpayers from non-taxpayers PER COUNTY in order to lighten the load for the libraries that remain.

That's depressing enough, let alone charging an annual $100 fee to those non-taxpayers to enjoy the same benefits that same-county residents enjoy. Why don't the aliens have their own libraries in their own counties? Why aren't the same resources available to them, such that it's worth it to them to wander miles outside of their own communities to find them?

Now that I have pounded out my anger and frustrations on my frail keyboard, I don't know how to conclude this. I'm sad that, whoever voted these decisions through, such people don't see (or see, but don't prioritize) the need for libraries in communities. Negative Nancy says those same people probably list "watching tv" as a primary hobby. I'm inclined to agree with Nancy.

December 13, 2010

In defense of early winter

It's getting a bit late to post this, in terms of the shift of seasons (because the seasons are rarely as clean-cut as the quadrants we categorize them in, are they?), but I guess it's been rolling around in my brain for a while without me realizing it.

I don't love the shortness of the days this time of year. I feel like I arrive at work in the dark and leave work in the dark; this must be what it feels like to work the night shift. I'm lucky to sit along a wall of southeast-facing windows at work, and like some sort of plant, my body inclines to the light as the sun passes by. I hate the typical office, soul-sucking, complexion-wrecking fluorescent lighting so much that I will avoid turning them on until I can't read anything on my desk any more.

But, short days aside, there is a particular kind of beauty to be found in late November and early December. This pocket of the continent doesn't see much happen with the weather, for the most part, and everything is cold and clean and stripped bare. All very hushed and sleeping. Nothing to distract from the sunrises and sunsets, when the moon is at its slightest, hardly distinct from the pale sky.

It's a quiet and spare beauty, at a time of year so often associated with death, but I like to think of it as the earth retreated and hibernating, hinting to us that maybe a little peace and calm, and even a nap, isn't such a terrible idea.

November 29, 2010

Tooth Trauma

Roughly two years ago, I had a bad cavity that unraveled in a series of tedious and horrifying trips to the dentist, and over the course of six months or so, involved the yanking of an otherwise happy tooth, chipping away at surrounding teeth, and installation of a bridge to make up for the lack of molar. I'm pretty sure my dentist spent a week at a Sandals resort as a result of my payments, and I may still owe him an additional pound of flesh. Because he wouldn't accept my gallon of tears or bushel of minutes of sleep lost/nightmares collected as payment.

For some reason, at each turn and twist of this saga, I turned into a weepy puddle of anxiety with each update. When they told me the tooth would have to go, I cried. Every time I made a payment, I cried. Every time an assistant said something kind and reassuring, I cried. Oddly enough, I never reacted this way to the painful parts- just the mental shocker parts.

It was probably the cost, plus guilt for sabotaging three years-worth of torture in the form of braces, combined with straight-up fear of the unknown and my bad habit of imagining the worst possible outcome. For example, I was given the choice between the triple-tooth bridge to cover the gap, or an implant which they attach to a metal bolt screwed into my gum and jaw.

The implant carried the risk of breaking through the upper palate, and as soon as my dentist Dr. Ebenezer Scrooge mentioned this, all I could see was my sad, collapsed face, unable to eat or drink or laugh again, all alone because my husband couldn't possibly love a crater-face wife. This, of course, made me cry in self-pity and horror. And so I went with the bridge option.

You'd think making a decision would calm me down a little, and when it came time to pull the troublemaker tooth I was mostly fine. The oral surgeon used local anesthetic and the whole procedure took less than ten minutes (although it's a little disturbing just how little effort it requires to yank out a molar).

But then, he left the room with my tooth full of emotional baggage, and I let out the breath I had been holding for two hours. As the assistant asked me a question I found I couldn't form a coherent sentence, what with the gasping sobs coming out of my mouth.

I felt bad for alarming her- "Are you okay? Does it hurt?"- and all I could do was shake my head while I cried. As I tried to choke out "I'm fine! I'm fine! I was just scared!" she wrapped her arm around my shoulder and patted my head, shushing me like a small child, consoling in her Russian accent, "Ch-ch-ch, it's okay, it's okay, don't cry! Your husband think we beat you!"

This made me laugh, and calmed me down pretty quickly. Even though the saga of dentist trips was just warming up, the worst of the weeping fits were over, since I had finally managed to wrap my head around the process.

A couple months later, me and my husband went to get our first tattoos together. Halfway through mine, the tattoo artist asked if it was hurting too much, and I informed him that four hundred dentist visits made the tattoo needle feel like puppy snuggles and angel kisses. No comparison.

November 26, 2010

reset button

This past week has just been a beat-down. Nothing dramatic, just feeling like each good thing got smacked in the back of the head by two bad things right behind it. I blew a tire on Monday, one of the tires my compassionate dad had bought for us five weeks before, just as the circus known as Driving in Winter is set to start. And I didn't even have to really deal with it; my saint of a husband spent the next 24 hours on a laughable, under-60-km-per-hour tire replacement hunt. And things sort of just sunk from there.

Thanksgiving is the first holiday I have noticed and felt a difference living outside of the U.S., and it felt a bit strange. Not really sad, because I don't really have much nostalgia or sentiment attached to it; but, when I thought about giving the thankful train a wave from across the border, it just felt forced. This week has been a doozy to pretend to be grateful for, and giving thanks for the standard food-shelter-family-freedom just rang hollow.

So, it is good we did not sit at home on Thanksgiving. Because we were tempted. It sounded really good to just wallow and eat some junk food and drink a half a box of wine and go to bed at 8:30. But we dragged our asses out the door and went to small group.

It wasn't earth-shattering, or anything much more than ordinary, but it triggered a small thanksgiving for me. Despite setback after setback lately, it's still marvelous to me just how many of God's small mercies are all over the place. Our own tornado of life changes could have dropped us anywhere, dizzy and bewildered, but it dropped us here, in a pocket of warmth and generosity and people who love Jesus. There is so much richness in that alone, and even Negative Nancy can't deny that.

Tonight we'll probably have a mini-Thanksgiving, and roast a chicken instead of a whole turkey, but there will still be stuffing and green bean casserole, and if I have anything to say about it, an apple tart I am already thankful for. And I am grateful, as Anne Shirley says, that "tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it."

November 15, 2010

He can't be bought.

If nothing else, reality tv has given me the following gifts: "The Bachelor" consistently reaffirms my gratitude for my husband, and “The Dog Whisperer” reaffirms my gratitude for my dog.

Not that my dog is a shining beacon of canine behavior, because he’s not. Or, I’M NOT, because if Cesar Millan has taught me anything, it’s that any and all wackiness and psychosis on the part of the dog is all my fault, directly or indirectly. If there is no Calm Assertive Pack Leader, it’s all shot to hell because I didn't get my act together.

He really is a wonderful dog though; whoever owned him before we adopted him gave him some basic training, and he obeys and listens 100% of the time at home and 70% in the outside world where overstimulation fries his brain with 800 electric shocks every half a second. He’s funny and goofy and has a boundless energy we have yet to scrape the bottom of.

I love him, but he is a freak. And here is my proof. He is the only dog I have ever known who, when offered either a walk or a game of fetch, if I throw him a treat he will catch it and Spit. It. Out. On the ground.

There is no bribery juicy enough to win him. You can’t reason with that kind of fanaticism.

Toby vs. tube from Anna Dyer on Vimeo.

wanna go for a walk? from Anna Dyer on Vimeo.

November 11, 2010

Today's Playlist

The radio station at work today served up no fewer than three Justin Biebers, two Avril Lavignes, and three Taylor Swifts. I know, they are all tiny and shrill and harmless, but they just about sent me over the edge.

As you might imagine, I am ready for the weekend to get here already.

In order to balance the music scales in my life today, I resorted to Christmas music for the drive home. And you can't even get mad at me- know why? I live in Canada, where Thanksgiving happens in October and therefore there is no universally accepted green light for the Christmas music and the commercials and the oversized mall decorations.

Just think that through. No one to rain disapproval on the pine scented candles or strings of white lights or the viewings of 'Elf' and 'It's A Wonderful Life'. Too early? SAYS WHO? Not Canada, that's for sure!

And, seeing as we received our first official Christmas card at work on November 1st, I'd say we're in a free-for-all.

(Christmas 2008)

November 9, 2010

Let me paint you a picture.

Here's a metaphor for you.

Say one's complexion is like a fresh, dewy lawn of grass.

And, in this scenario, that would make acne a rampant infestation of dandelions... sometimes blending in with the grass, and sometimes exploding all over the place.

Therefore, I find myself with two (and maybe even a third, time will tell) of these:

And that's pretty much what they feel like.

You're welcome.

November 5, 2010

The Very Worst Missionary

I don't know this person, and I can't even retrace my steps down the internet rabbit hole that led me to her blog, but I love this post. Her words resonate with me. (Plus, she's pretty funny.)

"I believe, whole heartedly, that Jesus Christ, himself, wades knee deep in shit to save me.

Not that he did. But that he does. Because I am not yet wholly restored, I am not fully healed, and not nearly perfected."

I think I (and most people) hold people like missionaries and pastors and church staff to a different (and somewhat impossible) standard, and I find her honesty and vulnerability refreshing and necessary.

November 3, 2010

greens & blues

Well, a knitting update is as good as any, right? It's not like you want to hear about the sort of day that involved forgetting to set an alarm; a thwarted attempt to buy desperately needed gas because, apparently, we don't live in a paperless society quite yet; flinging half a bowl of soup against the wall at work and a thwarted attempt at cleaning it up with the breed of paper towels that don't absorb anything and push the soup around instead. That kind of mildly negative day. I would have had a little more respect for today (and a much better story) if the day had some gumption and stranded me on the side of the highway with an empty gas tank or something.

Therefore, what follows is a series of uncomfortable self-portraits. Let the awkward posing commence!

This yarn is a beautiful silk/baby alpaca blend that was a birthday present several years ago.

I was hoping this hat would have a more slouchy fit, and sometimes I can mash it around so it looks that way, but to be honest by the time I bound off, I just didn't have the heart to rip it all out and start over. It's a weakness. Kind of like thinning carrots in my garden.

I had some of the same yarn left over, and I couldn't figure out something more clever, so I made a wee triangular kerchief/scarf thing.

I forgot that the lights inside are just no good, so here's a self-conscious one in natural lighting. And I should probably add a button or something eventually, because right now (because I'm still wearing it, right now) the ends are held together with a bobby pin.

Apparently, my laziness makes itself known in just about every thing I knit. Huh. Never noticed that before. Can't quite shake it, nasty laziness monkey.

Here's my attempt to make something I could wear with leggings.

I'm not trying to look unhappy; I'm just busy trying to decide what to look at and where to put my arms and how to not look like a moron.

The collar has a cable, but the yarn didn't quite take to it- not sure why. It was the last piece to knit, so I was content to leave it as a chunky roll. Again, the laziness monkey.

Lastly: 3/4 of a sock!

Unfortunately, this is the first one, so if laziness monkey has his way, there might never be a second. Christmas is coming, after all. I have some people to knit for besides myself.

October 26, 2010

Twelve-hour Twitchfest

Well, the other night I made the questionable choice to watch a scary movie with my husband. He likes the zombies and the bad guys, and I waver between moderate disgust and feeling bad that he doesn’t have any campy-gore-loving friends to watch these movies with. So, with a plea of “but it’s Halloween!” and a compromise on the selection, we picked a movie neither of us had seen: Paranormal Activity.

Now, I am all for suspense. I, like many peaceful-first-world-living people, don’t have to deal with actual terror and/or danger on a daily basis, so the whole experience of adrenaline and pretend danger without any real risk is totally enjoyable.

As the dumb guy is tiptoeing down the stairs into the basement with a candle, I am simultaneously yelling at him to WAIT UNTIL THE POWER COMES BACK ON, and squirming, and also loving that horrible endless span of time between the descent and the “BOO!”

Can’t take the gore, though. If a sharp implement makes contact with anyone’s neck area, that’s a good indication of a Movie Anna Won’t Watch. You just file that one away for the future.

In any case, I would rate my reaction to the movie as Pretty Okay. Hardly any gore, enough anxious anticipation. And I felt mostly calm afterwards, although I did sort of swing between Fine and Paranoid: turning all the lights on in the apartment, but not closing any curtains on our ground-level windows; afraid to close the bathroom door while I was peeing in case something jumped me when I opened it, but not checking behind the shower curtain (OBVIOUS DANGER).

I even fell asleep pretty quickly, without any nervous stream of chatter to my husband to distract me from the basement-nighttime-darkness.

I did, however, check to make sure he was breathing several times throughout the night.

Actually, I do this on a regular basis anyway. I am not kidding. It ranks in my Top 5 fears. Not every night, but several times a week I listen for the breathing (often not a problem; I could be deaf and still feel the vibrations from the log-sawing next to me) or feel for the heartbeat. I even do this with the dog. I feel his bellows of a chest for warmth, or hold my hand in front of his nose to test for air movement. Is that creepy?

Lesson? I don’t need violent movies to give me nightmares. Apparently my subconscious is sufficiently morbid all by itself.

Tense Icing on the Anxious Cake: either I am not a very talented sleeper, or I channeled all my stress into my left shoulder, because right now it feels like someone jammed in a wine corkscrew and wound it about 12 rotations. When I press the right spot I feel dizzy and nauseated all at once, even without the five glasses of wine I used to dull the memory of Paranormal Activity.

But, it could also be because I was trying to pinch my playing card of a phone between my shoulder and ear while baking. Come on, I don’t like speakerphone! It’s like trying to talk to someone who doesn’t understand English; I just end up repeating myself in English anyway, louder and LOUDER, which is no help to anyone.

Sorry. This post sort of spiraled into a dumb, semi-prejudiced joke. This is what happens when I don't plan ahead, I guess.

October 17, 2010

public display of affection

"Why don't we turn beautiful colors when we die?" - my brother

Well, autumn has spread out her welcome mat. Literally, in our case.

I wish I could tell you I've spent my time away fully enjoying every minute of it, busy with seasonally appropriate adventures, but that's just not the case. I've just had a lull, and haven't gotten out nearly as much as I mean to, so now of course I'm grieving the quickly fading sunset that is fall.
I even love the chilly, rainy days, because they are the perfect excuse to eat and wear and do all things cozy. And really, I don't mind so much when they fall on outing days either, even on an excursion to Toronto (first time for me) for a Sufjan Stevens concert.

So, today was an attempt to soak up that rare combination of clear, cool air, thin sunshine, and confetti-littered forest floors.

My plan A fell through, but after a bit of wandering, Toby and I meandered down Mountain Brow Road (it doesn't get any more promising than that name) and picked up a segment of the Bruce Trail, which runs along the Niagara Escarpment.

It was just a slice, but just the portion I needed.

Autumn, or at least the traits of autumn that I most love, is so brief compared to the other seasons. Really, autumn is still happening long after the last maple leaves have flared out, but the excitement is pretty much over after Halloween. And because no camera lens is wide enough, or sensitive enough to light and to color, or comes with scent-capturing technology... I will just have to enjoy pinches of autumn at its most potent, wherever I can.

September 16, 2010

where I'm at

A steady rain commenced at 8:00 am today, and has not stopped for five hours straight. Relentless. And because I am crabby that I can't be home to snuggle in bed and knit and watch a movie (rain-appropriate activities), I have had two cups of tea, one cup of coffee, one sesame bagel, two butter pecan cookies, and one chocolate chip muffin in protest. I anticipate a sugar coma anvil to come crashing down on my head at any moment.

September 14, 2010

goodbye to a friend.

You pet people out there will hear me when I say: Charlotte, my childhood dog of over 16 years passed away today, and it's tough news to take.
16 years is a long time for a pup, and she had declined a lot recently--deafness, harsh arthritis--and when she lost the use of her hind legs yesterday to some mysterious ailment, my family knew her quality of life had about run out. And I'm grateful she didn't end her life in pain or in fear. Because she was a runner, always had been, and none of us would have been surprised if it was a speeding car on a dark street that took her out in the end.

She was the dog to make me into a dog person, and planted the joy I feel from a dog's burst of excitement every time I come home. Because, how great is it that they are excited every damn time, whether it has been 10 minutes or eight hours? Such a simple and pure affirmation, with no bias or tinted motivation.

And despite that tendency to squeeze through any and every hole in our ragged fence, leading us in a frantic and frustrated chase, I loved her and her craziness. One of the many times she ran away, a day care down the street called to say they had found her, and told us not to worry because the kids were giving her water and graham crackers.

She was a companion and a reassuring presence in every way a dog should be, especially for a kid stumbling through adolescence in the most insecure ways. Dogs are uncritically, unapologetically and enthusiastically loving, and it was good to have in my life then-- and hopefully I'll keep a dog in my life as long as I can.

Love you, sweet girl. You were a great one.

September 6, 2010

Superior Susie lurks in the wings

What, did you think Negative Nancy was my only alternative personality? She's not even as vocal as Bitter Betty. Superior Susie makes mostly silent appearances, as most judgy critical inner voices do.

In this instance, I'm a little worried that she could turn up since I'm not convinced she has just yet. Here's why: I am all for thrifting. I think our consumerism is out of control (both in terms of overpricing and volume), and I think we're remarkably wasteful the minute we can afford to be so. Thrifting just makes so much more sense in terms of giving products a few more go-rounds instead of sending them straight to landfills.

There are a handful of things I can't bring myself to buy at thrift stores: anything faded, anything that qualifies as an undergarment, shoes that can't be easily cleaned. What I wonder about is when (if?) our money situation changes for the better (because 'paycheck-to-paycheck' is about as minimal as it gets), if my perspective on thrifting will shift with our income. That is to say, it's easy to support it right now because our options are slim. I can let out some Superior Susie chatter, but really, I'm not making much of a choice or a sacrifice. And I hope once it becomes an actual decision to be made, when I could afford new things if I wanted, I'll stick with my convictions where I can, and not prove myself a hypocrite.

But I WILL buy new shoes.

August 25, 2010


Slowly the evening changes into the clothes
held for it by a row of ancient trees;
you look: and two worlds grow separate from you,
one ascending to heaven, another, that falls;

and leave you, belonging not wholly to either one,
not quite as dark as the house that remains silent,
not quite as certainly sworn to eternity
as that which becomes star each night and rises—

and leave you (unsayably to disentangle) your life
with all its immensity and fear and great ripening,
so that, all but bounded, all but understood,
it is by turns stone in you and star.

- Rainer Maria Rilke

August 17, 2010

Garden chats, in four parts

My garden is at the bursting point, a phase I missed out on last year when we had to move juuuust as the good stuff was coming in. So, some observations.

I. 'When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds attached to it the rest of the world.' - John Muir

In that moment, there is nothing more marvelous and unbelievable than eating a tomato, fresh from its earthy bed, still sun-warmed. It's good to be reminded that this is where food comes from, not in piles of identical flawless clones in grocery store bins.

II. Aliens

All of a sudden, my garden is their nursery. And the problem is, between seed exchanges and the odd additional plants I bought when I thought my seedlings weren't going to make it, I have no idea exactly what kind of tomatoes these are. Besides killer ones, of course.

The CD serves both as a reference for the size, and to date myself.

And how crazy are THESE?

Same story, with the mysterious grab bag seeds and the limited space and when it came down to it, I had to choose just one single plant. Because squash plants like to basically swallow you whole if you stand still for 10 minutes. So, this was the one I picked, and it spat out these. Google tells me they are "scallop" or "patty pan" squash, which brings to mind Little House on the Prairie for some reason.

III. Lesson: learned.

This is how you know I'm a novice gardener: I hate thinning plants out. I'm told I need to do it, so they can grow to their fullest potential and not be cannibalizing each others' nutrients, but I feel terrible pulling up perfectly healthy, wee baby plants. They didn't do anything wrong! Except decide to get all clingy and share the same square inch of dirt! But I learned. Because if you don't thin, this is what happens.

By the time I pulled out three that were tightly wound together, I got the point. Digging them out was like trying to pry a cork from a bottle with your fingers, they were so crammed together. But I left some behind, so hopefully they are breathing tiny carrot sighs of relief and sprawling out a little.

And how beautiful are they, really? With their full heads of hair. (It is so weird to me that we eat the leaves of some things, the fruit of other things, and the roots of everything else. Who ever looked at a pineapple and thought, 'I bet there's something delicious under there!')

IV. Dinner.

I don't have any pictures of this final part because I was too hungry to wait any more, but: curry + carrots + squash made a lovely soup. It felt a little early to be eating squash soup, something definitely autumn-oriented, but it made me excited for fall and also relieved that the patty-pans weren't going to waste. They did not disappoint.

August 14, 2010

and the world spins madly on

I have gotten into this strange, slightly creepy pattern of discovering a blog (although usually it’s one with a huge readership and didn’t require much ‘discovery’), becoming interested and curious, and reading mile after mile of its archives. Usually it’s the things she has to say, or the way she says them, that pulls me in and makes me want to learn more about her (and so far, these have all been women anyway, so the ‘she’ is accurate). (I know I go a little crazy with the parentheses, but it makes sense to me. Sorry if it makes it more confusing to read. There is no easy way to organize my brain.)

In the case of my most recent time-sucker, it was a tragic event and the unfolding story around it that caught my attention. This couple unexpectedly lost their first and only daughter before she even hit two years old, and both of them (although more so in the wife’s case) documented the subsequent deluge of grief in their writing.

This is where I mull over the fact that grief is a strange phenomenon, but not so strange between strangers. Everyone’s grief is different, so much so that to categorize and file it away under that one word—the mental, physical, and emotional toll; the ebb and flow of feelings; the ‘time period’ (with no definite ending); the altered reality—must have been dreamed up by someone who hadn’t ever grieved a beloved person. Like so many emotional experiences in this life, someone tried to stick a word to something that can’t be named, like running after a wicked thunderstorm with its label on a post-it. Almost too ridiculous to bother. But to someone who has never watched the sky turn green and a funnel cloud touch down in their backyard, it’s simple to slap that post-it to the photo and move on. Labeled and filed. Done. I have progressed through the Seven Stages Of Grief and I am done. Check the box and continue on my merry way.

Nine years ago today my mom died. Nothing at all like losing a baby girl. But so much of what I read from these two mourning people was a true and accurate testimony of what it’s like to be the one left behind. To be the one left in the wake of someone’s inexplicable vanishing. I found myself in tears or letting loose sighs I didn't even realize I was holding in at the end of many of their posts because I have shared those same thoughts or wished those same impossible wishes. (C.S. Lewis and Nicholas Wolterstorff also put relatable emotions into words; I’m sure there are many more out there I simply haven’t read.)

I know it sounds weird to identify so closely with strangers, but with loss, you either get it or you don’t. You either think at some point you ‘get over it’, or you know that no one ever does. The individual who came up with that cliché ‘time heals all wounds’ was misinformed, because it doesn’t tell the whole story. Time heals the skin visible to the world, but leaves you with a tender scar and a quieter, unseen hurt, like a low-lying, slow-moving stream. The torrential flood does drain away, and sometimes you can go a while without a ripple in the current, but it’s still flowing, steady and silent most of the time. That loved one may not be present any more, but their very absence has its own presence. An empty hole is still a hole. And the timeline of your life is forever divided into the time before and the time after.

Eventually, I will have lived more of my life without her than with her. More people will know me in a context with her absence than a context with her presence. The reality is that time lurches steadily forward, but tiny parts of my brain and my heart just won’t buy it, and float along that deep smooth current, quietly looking backwards all the while.

August 12, 2010

razor burn is for girls

So, for who knows what reason, the most contentious discussion topic in my family lately is that of shaving; specifically, women's legs. Even more specifically: why women's legs.

There are those of us who think it's a ridiculous, unnatural, misogynistic social construct; there are those of us who are grossed out at the thought of leg stubble in any amount; and there's my youngest stepbrother, who asked me why girls just don't shave their arms, too. I was speechless at that one. Because we're not all little Michael Phelpses and don't grease our whole bodies in olive oil in an attempt to be the first human body to break the sound barrier? Because I don't want to spend more time in the shower than I do sleeping? Because you don't have any hair on your face yet, let alone your body, so you don't yet know what contortions you'll put your face through for the rest of your adult life, therefore I can't tell you to multiply that square acreage by 2,000 and you get my to-do list in the shower?

To be honest, there are bigger problems to me than the moral arguments to be had around shaving and not. And I'm sure there are valid points to be made. But those points are not the point of my story. The point of this whole thing is this: I have been using crappy $2 used rusty machetes to hack away my leg hair all spring/summer. And then yesterday, buried in the half-used shampoo bottles I couldn't bear to throw away and insanely opted to haul 1,500 miles across the continent, I found my GROWN-UP RAZOR. With extra replacement blades. And it was like rubbing buttered peach skins against my shins in comparison.

Give it a week. Maybe ten days. I'll be back to hating shaving like the rest of you, don't worry.

August 11, 2010

coming up for a breath

I was going to do a "here's our summer so far" picture-post, because I have more of those right now than I do words, but then I looked up and it was August 11th, which is hardly midsummer.

It's more like the time most kids are really reading their summer reading assignment (too little too late, munchkins!) and if you don't have a tan by now, don't even bother. You won't work up a decent base in time to nicely contrast all those white clothes that have been out of storage since May. Although, no matter how my summer goes, white is usually like camo to me, anyways.

Every store has already forgotten summer even happened, despite the evidence of the temperature outside and the time the sun goes down and the number of tomatoes my garden is burping up. Unrelated: does anyone have a good recipe for homemade tom
ato sauce? Anybody?

Another thing preventing me from doing previously mentioned picture-post is that I've been using my decrepit old camera more lately, which requires film and does not allow you to see the photos until you run them through chemicals in the dark, and that whole process demands a few more loonies and toonies than I care to part with. Now will one of you go get granny her slippers? But really, some of our outings this summer have been captured on both cameras and I'd like to have all the pictures together before I post anything.

Just to reassure you I'm not dead or collapsed in our apartment from the weight of the humidity in my hair, here's a picture from this past weekend when my dad, stepmom, and youngest stepbrother came to visit.

July 25, 2010

how to throw a great party.

After attending what may have been the loveliest wedding I have ever seen (and felt, inside & out) (sorry to be so gushy), it makes me wish I had done a handful of things differently at my own wedding. I mean, this is bound to change with the years passing and seeing so much creativity with each successive wedding I go to. But taking part in such a celebratory and meaningful ceremony, followed by a relaxed and meandering reception on the soft lawn of a family lakehouse, backed by cool woods and spilling down to Lake Michigan- it was perfectly lovely. The lanterns above the dance floor, the long communal dinner tables, the delicious variety of desserts that far exceeded the dry term of "cake", the pause in the checklist of events to soak in the sunset... rarely at a wedding does one get to savor each passing moment without spans of boredom or waiting for the next thing to get checked off the to-do list.

But this wedding and reception was not boring. It was sweet and loving and rich in so many ways. It's the kind everybody dreams up, one way or another, although if your budget is more than the cost of a car, maybe it's not for you. (there were a lot of bare feet before dinner was even served.)

The only thing I would have added, down on the beach after the sun went down, would be some of these:

(I first saw these in a festival in Guayaquil, Ecuador, but they seem to be common in Asia too, based solely on what I saw in YouTube videos. Also, at least one source makes 100% biodegradable ones, because it would suck to send a lot of flaming paper and metal and wax into the world.)

July 11, 2010

not in Kansas any more, Toto.

While making the 250 mile trek from Hamilton to Saginaw on Friday night (3rd weekend of 4 in a row!), I had a most unexpected Technicolor moment. And not just Technicolor for your eyes- the kind that hits your nose and ears and skin all at once, too. It happened in an unlikely place, too- after the border crossing in single-lane construction traffic as the sun was on its way down.

It was the whole mix of circumstances, I suppose... the first bearable car ride I'd had in a week, considering my car's air conditioning isn't in top form. (Anyone who loves summer should spend half an hour in my car with me, in rush hour traffic, in the kind of weather we had last week. It'll cure you.) A near-perfect mix of Ryan Adams, Eva Cassidy, and Sigur Ros. A miraculous 10-minute wait at customs, which has taken as long as 1.5 hours in the past. So looking forward to seeing my husband for the first time in a week, without a trace of the resentment I was braced to be feeling, since I had made the drive home & back alone, and worked long hours, while he spent the week reading and writing at his parents' house.

So, after cruising through the border, my trek more than halfway over, I was feeling grateful and calm. And even as we funneled down to one lane of traffic, flanked by orange barrel cones, somebody threw a switch somewhere, and suddenly everything was lovely. I couldn't remember the last time the air felt so cool and delicious. Every surrounding field was thriving with crops, hemmed in by lush woods as thick as brick walls. The sinking sun beamed rays of light through the dust stirred up by construction equipment earlier in the day.

And as fickle summer evening skies sometimes do, for the next hour, the slow sunset was epic in every direction. There's nothing like a little atmospheric upheaval to make summer sunsets some of the most dramatic and color-saturated of the year. I wish I had taken pictures, but I can hardly talk on the phone and drive at the same time, let alone operate a camera without killing anybody.

I suppose life is made up of endless subtle, pleasant moments like that hour was for me, but the gift of it was the simple beauty made so plain. A small portion of that loveliness slipped through my normal, flawed filters, and for a little while I could absorb and revel in it, rather than letting it pass by unnoticed as so many do.

July 6, 2010

Negative Nancy Epilogue (or, my husband is great)

My husband is in MI for the week for various and sundry practical reasons, but I have to work so I am not in MI. At least until this weekend when I go back to pick him (and the dog) up.

Yesterday, near the end of the work day, this image appeared in a text from him:

...with the accompanying words, "Christmas in July!"

He found it while rearranging his parents' kitchen cupboards, which means I must have used it a few times when we lived with them last fall. But he didn't know it was THE mug. He just thought it looked like me, okay not LIKE me, but you know what I mean, and checked if his mom recognized it. Which she didn't. Which makes it my hopeful-frustrated-longing-mug. I do love that wee (impractical) round handle and the irregular shape of the whole mug.

Yeah, I won this one. Or maybe he won it for me. Either way, it makes me happy.

July 3, 2010

Public Service Announcement

Sorry I failed to mention this sooner, guys- but I recently changed the privacy settings on this blog and on the Nomads one. Now when you leave a comment, I first have to approve it before it is posted publicly. Just a little heads up!

July 1, 2010

in which Negative Nancy shuts up for a second

There is a particular blog I have been stalking recently, and in a nondescript post in a slew of pictures of small children and shoes and things cooking, was a particular photo of whoknowswhat with a blurry mug in the background.

I have that same mug, which I bought in my last days at World Market last year, which is not in this apartment as we speak, which means it is hopefully hibernating deep in the other half of our belongings that resides in our attic storage unit, aka My In-Laws Who Are Too Nice.

At least, I hope it is in said storage unit, because it could easily have been lost along the path of our long and messy exodus from Colorado last year. This has been a source of much frustration and helplessness and even maybe a few tears for me (directly followed by crumpling to the floor, surrounded by taped and untaped and retaped boxes, in total defeat). If I had known how this whole series of moves was going to pan out, I would have planned differently. That statement can be applied to every event in life, probably, but you'd think something as strategic as moving could be a little more organized.

But it just didn't happen that way. We brought some things we needed which were packed along with nonsense like all the cards I saved from our wedding (ALL of them), 85 mugs (but not the one mentioned earlier), a camping lantern, our wedding china (without owning a dining room table with which to host, mind you), and so on. We also brought a few things that failed to fit down the stairs, instead of, oh, a vacuum cleaner or a kitchen trash can (using an office one now) and turned around and drove it all right back over the border.

This would not have been as big of a deal if it wasn't snow squall season along our route, and if we hadn't already made three full trips moving crap, and if my father-in-law's trailer pretty much threw in the towel and DISENGAGED ON THE HIGHWAY at 65 mph. You get the picture, I hope.

All this to say: half our stuff is not here. Which is remarkably easy in a way, and wicked annoying in several other ways. But this is not the point of this post.

The point of this post is: I scrolled through this other blog. Saw the mug. Identified the mug. Experienced a sense of longing and confusion for a few seconds. But THEN, instead of going the collapse-in-a-teary-tantrum-heap route, I thought: "It will be so great when we finally do settle down in a normal sized house, with all our stuff under one roof, because unpacking it will feel like Christmas." You know, when you pack belongings away and forget you have them? That's half my stuff! INCLUDING everything literally Christmas-related!

This is a big step for me. Believe it.

June 22, 2010

the company I keep

This is my view at work:
It is open and bright, which brings to mind a museum or an art gallery, except there is nothing on the walls at all, and the only things in the room are me, my desk, and a sad fern in the corner. Sorry. I'm bored just typing that. Moving on.

Now that summer has settled in and every manner of creature is running amuck, all sorts of drama unfolds in front of those windows. Spiders seem to love this spot and every morning, I have to clear a web or six away from the doors, although I can't reach the highest corners.

The neighborhood sparrows are cool with this, though, because whatever spiders I can't dispose of are their snacks. All day long they clatter at the base of the metal doors and hover in the corners, pecking at the elusive spiders until they have to drop to the ground. What the sparrows really need is a hummingbird's structure and heart rate, but they make do, swooping in and out.

Once in a while, one will land in the crook of the door handle and perch there, give the glass a rattling peck, and lift away again. What's even better is when one swoops in and comes back with a shred of cobweb stuck to its beak, and proceeds to completely freak out, flailing around like a toddler with scotch tape clinging to her fingers. Who hasn't experienced the trauma of blindly walking into a spiderweb in the woods?

I guess what strikes me is that we humans have to keep up our structures and living spaces constantly, because the moment we stop, the moment a building is abandoned or forgotten, nature begins the slow and unrelenting process of reclaiming it. It may take a while, but sun and wind and moisture and critters take our roofs and walls apart brick by brick. The spiders and sparrows would carry on their wee food chain contentedly, with or without my comings and goings every day.

June 17, 2010

an indicator of my future

Two nights this week, I have crawled in bed while neighborhood birds are still chattering outside our well windows.

I'll let you know when I start eating dinner at 5:00, and try to answer the remote when the phone rings.

June 15, 2010

a little more nonsense for you

You know what's good? Homemade sweet tea with a slice of orange. I could suck it down all day.

You know what will be good? The solitary Dr. Pepper that made it back from Michigan untouched that I am hoarding for an emergency. I'm sure you know the sort of emergency I mean: the kind that involves stress or a hot, shitty spell in rush hour traffic or a sweet tooth attack. If the sweet tea isn't cutting it already.

I also enjoy the cheapo flags sprouting out of car windows everywhere. The vibe I get is that, for some people and maybe even whole nations, the World Cup is a more unifying event than the Olympics, and almost definitely more exciting. I've tried to watch a couple of games, and I'm starting to think soccer is like baseball or hockey for me: fun to watch live, a ritual-filled event in itself, but impossibly mind-numbing to watch on tv. But maybe I need to give it more time.

Another good thing is that I think I may have a cute dress or two to choose from for weddings this summer, but that leads down a treacherous road because my gut has convinced my brain that none, and I mean NONE of my shoes are good enough any more. My gut is saying the shoes are fine for what they are, that there's no shame in it, and I can go ahead and settle if I want to, but I should not forget that there is probably something better out there. Shoes cuter, sparklier, more stylish, and paradoxically more comfortable. My gut is a troublemaker.

June 10, 2010


- so many days of near-torrential rain that I haven't needed to water my garden in about twelve days.
- when, on an ordinary walk, Toby spies a squirrel in his path and switches into Hunter Mode. His head and torso glide along parallel to the ground, while his shoulders pump like greased pistons- even though he's on a leash and never actually goes for it, he makes me believe he could nab that cheeky rodent. No problem.
- Mr. Dyson. I have a serious crush on this man. Not sure if it's because of his accent or because maybe I just want one of his vacuum cleaners. Either one.
- it has been so cool lately that we can sleep under a sheet, blanket, and comforter. With the windows open. A rare thing in my past experiences of June.

June 5, 2010

knit update

Since these have delivered safely to my sis-in-law, I'm not spoiling any suprises. First, a lacy leafy blanket that looks orange, but it's really more the color of watermelon:

And, since this cotton yarn just goes on and on unbelievably, a couple wee hats:

Did I mention she's having a girl? No?

As always, my blogging has lagged because we can't seem to stay put for more than five days in a row. We spent Victoria Day weekend in Grand Rapids, seeing my brother graduate, and then Bryan took off for an extended Memorial Weekend while Toby and I carried on with our daily lives.

Mid-summer, I will head to Michigan FOUR WEEKENDS IN A ROW, which I know sounds insane but will be for all good reasons. I'm not looking forward to that repeated stretch of highway in a car that appears to be starting menopause and has surging hot flashes in bad traffic- but I'm excited for each of the events and that will pull me through. A cottage weekend with dear friends, a wedding, a preaching opportunity for Bryan, and another (what promises to be lovely) wedding. All life-affirming and encouraging events to take part in.

In its own strange way, being so much closer to friends and family has prevented a true, consistent settling where we are, or at least that's how it feels to me. It's tricky to plan ahead and commit to things when our travel schedule is so flexible and unpredictable. Mixed blessing, I guess? But it's also summertime, so maybe that's part of the flurry of activity. It just feels like I shouldn't bother putting my suitcase away for a long time, which isn't exactly reassuring. I just have to take each week as it turns and work with the time I've got.

May 26, 2010

why summer is not my soulmate.

So, this is the moment in the year when people start gushing about the fun, early phases of their relationships with Summer. They can't shut up about Summer, how dreamy he is and how long they've waited for him, and then they go and display sloppy, nauseating PDAs all over the place.

I don't blame them, really. I can see the appeal. See it, but definitely can't feel it. Summer and I have this strained relationship where he is the little brother who follows me around and smothers me the minute I sit still, and I just put up with him and wait for him to get bored with me, because I'm too nice to yell at him to lay off with all these other Summer-lovers around, ready to judge me up and down for not liking summer.

This is the norm for me, but this week at work is amplifying it because the two-story, 100-square-feet reception area I work in is the only section of our building that has inexplicably decided to go on strike. The summer air in every other office area is whipped into submission, but in mine it's allowed to run amuck. Or, not so much run amuck as plop down and unpack its 18 suitcases all over the damn place with no regard for anybody else's personal space.

I'm told the landlord has been called to evict the insensitive punk, but in the meantime I sit in the 81 degrees and perspire. A lot. And what's worse is, I get sleepy. I'm sure I sound a little bit drunk when I answer the phone. And you can only cut back the layers of clothing so much before it starts to get problematic.

Maybe it's the time of year, but today the sitting and perspiring and the buzzing of my wee fan brought back some vivid memories of elementary school. I spent 1st through 4th grade in an ancient, dank, prison/labyrinth of a school, complete with desk-and-chair combos with seats worn shiny by thousands of squirrely kids' butts. Boys had to wear slacks and girls had to wear skirts at this school, and the feeling of sweaty legs sticking to those wooden seats will forever live in the corner of my brain that also houses The Trumpet of the Swan, times tables, cursive, and phonics. Going to school was always just a hair more impossible when you had to sweat the whole day long, knowing summer break was just within reach.

Now, when I'm sitting and sweating, instead of wanting to eat a popsicle and climb a tree and ride my bike around, I just want to take a nap.

Okay, I'll still take the popsicle.

May 13, 2010

I have
immortal longings in me.
- Shakespeare, "Antony and Cleopatra"

I have in me:

An 88-year-old Jewish woman who plays mahjong and saves her tea bags and knits and says things like "six to one, half-dozen to the other" and "whippersnapper" and "Lord willing and the creek don't rise..." (okay, maybe she's not Jewish.)

A 62-year-old hippie who wears multiple loud floral prints at the same time, wears too much jewelry, talks about composting too much, and throws an unforgettable garden party.

A ten-year-old book-swallowing nerd. Although that's really just the same as the current 26-year-old nerd.

What's funny is, most days I don't feel the age that I am.

May 7, 2010

no judgement, please.

Okay. Confession time.

Today felt more like the Ides of March than the first week of May- chilly and steadily raining. And for some reason, my day at work just draaaaaaaaaagged. I'm already bored just trying to come up with a way to describe how slow it was. So, it being miserable and boring and Friday, I was anxious to get home and take off my stupid clicky work shoes and wrinkly work clothes and put on pajamas. (It may be disturbing, but I go straight to pj's at roughly 5pm every day of the work week. I need to get out more.)
However, be it the rain or the Friday crazies, traffic was uncooperative and frankly, a little belligerent. (No idea if I spelled that right.) Traffic and I have a tense relationship anyway, but there's no reasoning with it when it gets in a mood like that. Incorrigible is a good word for it. So I called my On-star (read: husband) who gave me the most reasonable route home from the nearest exit off the highway.

I wasn't sure where I was at first, but then I recognized enough landmarks to realize I was near the Hamilton Cemetery, so out of curiosity I pulled off the road to check it out.

Tangent: three things. 1. The cemetery is old. And crammed. And really lovely. 2. On the City of Hamilton's website, the cemeteries are categorized under 'Parks'. Um, I guess? A really quiet one? 3. I guess they are parks, because outside each entrance are signs depicting dogs on leashes, and people picking up after them, which implies walking your dog through the cemetery is totally cool.
So, I'm rolling around this vast collection of concrete and marble chunks, and that's when I see the lilacs. Along the back edge of the cemetery chain link fence, as far as I could see were frothy, fragrant lilacs in full bloom. And I know exactly where I am; over the fence and down the hill lies my usual route home from work, and I've looked up the hill coated in lilac bushes and wondered how to get up there. And I had got up there.

I've always loved lilacs. In the wild, unkempt back yard of my childhood (well, somewhat kempt, okay Dad?) we could always count on an abundance of three things: lilacs, peonies (GLORIOUS peonies!), and sycamore twigs. The first two I loved; the latter was the bane of my existence every Saturday morning, as we were drafted to gather them all lest they choke and kill the lawn mower. Like that would have been such a tragedy.

But anyways. It took me about eight seconds to decide to park off to the side of the quiet road, and scamper around soaking-wet in my stupid nice work shoes, snapping twig after twig of heavy blossoms. It's the smell. That smell will fill a room in a few hours, did you know that? Those things smell so sweet and light and rich, they're practically spun sugar. Or meringue. Or something. I think it makes me go a little mad, hence the thievery.

And I'll be honest: I stopped and checked over my shoulder, in every direction, a few times. And I even had brief thoughts of what I would say to some horrified elderly resident stopping by to pay their respects... I considered picking out a family member whose grave I would pretend to be picking the lilacs for. Braithwaite was a contender, just because it's a pretty name. But I digress. I just didn't want to get caught like a guilty eight-year-old.

Now, they're clustered throughout the rooms of our apartment, and they're delightful. Dare I say I would do it again? Here's the thing: I don't think the dead would begrudge a bit of spring to the living. The dead can't exactly enjoy them, anyway.

May 2, 2010


The notion of having, one day, our own place is occupying more space in my brain lately. All this gardening going on around me is probably why. The metaphor of lengthening, anchoring, sprawling roots is obvious. It'll feel so good to live in a way that isn't tentative or temporary.

Also, because I have a ridiculous amount of book reports from third grade and every photograph I ever took and every book I've ever read, it will be fun to have it all unpacked (or at least a designated storage home) and together under one roof, because our belongings are officially spread between three roofs (and maybe more, who knows). And let me tell you, books are a bitch to move. And it's worse when we BOTH like books, so there are twice as many. I know I've written about this before, but since 2002 I have moved 13 times. THIRTEEN. Of course, this included college which is highly transitory anyway. But still. You get good at moving books. Free tip: pack them in small boxes. I know that means a LOT of small ones instead of less big ones, but your back will thank you. Your arms and shoulders and knees will appreciate it as well.

Point: one day I would like to unpack all my books in built-in bookshelves with a rolling ladder, for easy access when I want to take one to read out on the front porch, possibly in a porch swing, definitely with a gin & tonic. I would also like to take our food scraps out to the compost bin after dinner (eaten at our hypothetical dining room table, with a dinner party of friends, with our wedding dishes currently in hibernation), and weed my vegetable garden to my heart's content, knowing that if something turns out pear-shaped I'll have many more summers to practice. A bonus might be nice neighbors to share all the harvest with, too.

I feel old when I say this, but I want to just settle. Stay put for enough time to care about the walls we'll paint, to gut the bathroom that needs redoing, and generally putter about the house. I look forward to puttering.