They say the Early Birdgets the worm…sometimes, however, you get the best nest you’ve ever tasted.
I went to lunch with a friend yesterday. She suggested the recently re-imagined coffee shop located on Lake Street in East Town Grand Rapids. Formerly the Kava House, I remembered the place as a hip pastry shop where 20-something college students wondered how a middle-aged mom had wandered into their tech-savvy locale. (I was surprised I wasn’t stopped at the door for lacking a laptop.) I liked it when the building was a coffee/tea space but I love what the new owner has done with it. Especially the food.
If you join me at That Early Bird, expect the unexpected.
I had a hard time picking.* Look closely at the sign board above and you’ll see why.** My inner six year old wanted the baked French toast stuffed with blueberry compote, but I’m stuffed enough as it is, so I passed. I ended up picking the Avocado Smash and boy, was I not sorry.
If you had asked me that morning what I thought of combining soft boiled eggs, avocado, raw cabbage, grilled corn and an English muffin with lime creme, I would have laughed at you. After the above benediction from heaven, however, I don’t have time to laugh. Too busy wiping up the drool.
Now my friend asked me, “Why are you posting about something that sounds like a Facebook post?”*** Mostly because it gives me one more post to put off writing a long-overdue piece evaluating my literary efforts. (So, basically a win-win for us all.)
Lastly, I would have included a picture of the enormous (I’d use ginormous, but I don’t like to encourage deviant linguistics) biscuits and gravy my friend finally decided on, however, she’d already dug into a fair portion of the mountainous food before I got my camera ready. She enjoyed it immensely and I think lumber jacks would have found the portion satisfying. I was happy with my lighter repast.
So if you like fine–and truly unique–dining, there’s no need to get up at dawn to enjoy a meal with the Early Bird crew. And you can rest at ease, there are no worms allowed at this establishment.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*With things named as ‘vertical paradise mustard greens,’ who can blame my confusion?
**I have to wonder if they offer marriage counselling to go with the Huevos Divorciados? Ditto, I have questions about what the two sauces represent: “Green” suggests separating you from your moolah and “Red” signifies your beating heart torn from your chest?
Depression is contagious. Fortunately, there are now squirrels for that!
I read an article today by a mom who describes herself saying, “When Did I Become Broken?” As she lists, point-by-point, her mental health challenges, I find myself lifting an imaginary glass saying, “Amen sister!”* After summing up the depressing qualities of life as a single mom with autism flavorings, I am thoroughly gruntled.
But, like the mom above, I too am enjoying the thrills of DBT Therapy. I decide to do a homework assignment and galump outside—grumbling the entire way, thinking “f*ck positivity” and dragging behind me a thick cloud of despair like a cloak of wet cement.
As I practice breathing–inhale, hold breath for a few seconds, breathe out–my eyes close and I felt the sun hit my face like a welcoming benediction. I muscle past the pain of echoed despair and drift toward the nearby farmer’s market.
On the way, I pass the same corner house I always do–the one with the scraggly white fence and a host of plants trying to escape through the wide, chipped painted slats. An enormous maple tree dominates the front corner and I am further distracted from my gloomy funk by the chittering of a familiar friend.
High in a crook of the tree, the squirrel gives me a concerned look–the kind that just invites you to start talking to him.
“Look at you! So brave. So bold. Not bothered by me in the least.”**
The squirrel is all nonchalance, flicking his head up and back down to me as if he has pressing things to do and I’d better cut to the chase.
I’m admiring his calm when the dog in the house intrudes on our conversation:
No doubt the dog is letting me know I am in imminent danger of doggy justice…just as soon as he figures out how to use the doorknob. I think he also told off the squirrel, but I might just be imagining the eye roll the squirrel gave me.
“You are certainly braver than me.” I tell the squirrel. “I know he’s behind glass and I’m still scared of that dog!”
The squirrel gives me the bush-tailed equivalent of “What Evs” and scampers away.
I make my way to the farmer’s market which is closing up its stalls slowly enough I am able to grab an impulse cabbage and a bag of reasonably priced Honey Crisps. Just before I leave, I snatch up a tiny pumpkin for 75 cents.
Back at the office, I place my orange gourd du season on the desk and realize, I’m feeling better–not fixed 100%–but definitely better. I have to wonder that no one has figured out a way to use squirrels as therapy animals.
So, if you haven’t heard from me in a while, don’t worry. I’m working through some issues. And if anyone asks, I’ll be with the squirrels. Apparently, it’s all the rage:
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*All beverages quaffed on this blog will be imaginary unless otherwise designated. They also will come with tiny umbrellas and fruity names like: “Divine Intoxication Infused with Chocolate Dreams.”
**No, I did not say “Squeak….squeak…chitter…squeak.” I do not speak squirrel. What kind of idiot do you take me for?
***Or words to that effect. I don’t speak dog either. But I can recognize “Fuck you and the horse you road in on!” in many languages.
_____________ You Read This Far Bonus_________________
You want to read more about squirrel potential? Great! Look no further than a nomination for president to be found at:
I highly approve the furry-tailed candidate’s promise to make therapy squirrels available to everyone! The no-parole until they graduate stance on children’s education might be a mite rigid. But, his nutty stand on gun control will at least make you smile.
On the heels of my last post “Tempest in a Teapot, ” today follows the story with an introductory Haiku—poorly crafted poetry that tries to sum up a day in seventeen syllables:
As tea steeps, rain weeps
Water fills both bowl and sky
Prepare to drink deep.
I leave the Japanese Tea House buoyed with happiness and a certain sense of rightness with the world. It doesn’t last long.*
I take my complimentary shocking-yellow umbrella from our Meijer Garden’s guide—I almost bow from recently-acquired habit—and pause to pose in front of a font for a photo. (Hit *like* if you love alliteration.)
As I am leaving, the guide casually mentions that a ‘storm’ is headed this way and I should make sure to head in by 2:00.
I scramble around the larger Japanese Garden to admire the lush-to-the-point-of- heaving-bosoms blooming flowers in the rain. I ‘Cecil B. DeMille’ a few of them with dew-laden close-ups. I might have asked a few of them to “Come on, show a little stamen and pistil.”**
I stalk the Bonsai garden—a human sequoia in a land of miniature conifers. I took several snaps of the plump, if bruised, pear growing on its tiny parent. It struck me funny that I was giving produce the paparazzi treatment when I pass it up with barely a blink at our local grocery store. (I am high on centuries of tradition, what can I say? I am a wild woman.)
The rain is steady–not too heavy but definitely a presence. My shadowy, wet companion. At one point, I am juggling the umbrella and trying to photograph the Korean Hornbeam*** when I drop my iPhone. Fortunately, it hits the rocks glass-side up, or I’d be crying in the rain.
I stop in the rock garden on my way out. The nearly invisible poetry etched into the massive boulders is made visible by the downpour.
RAIN FALLING IN SPRING
AND I AM SORRY
NOT TO BE ABLE TO WRITE
I’m eating lunch in the Meijer Gardens’ café, surrounded by raindrop streaked windows and Chihuly glass installment on the ceiling, when I turn my phone back on to check for messages. There is a mildly alarming inquiry about my son from the babysitter, so I call to check on him.
That’s when I get the news…they are in the basement…there is a tornado alert for the area. I should seek shelter.
We exchange a few frantic words before I head to the front desk.
“Uh, are you all aware that there is a tornado alert?” I whisper this as if I’d cause a stampede if overheard.
The huddle of women with grey-to-frosty-white hair helmets look up from an iPad and confirm they’re tracking its progress.
“Don’t worry. We’ll let everyone know if we need to move to the shelters in the basement.”
I shrug, I’ve done my part. But in my head, I’m thinking. “Don’t tornados move pretty fast?” I make my way to the basement to grab a seat before anyone else does. Because…priorities!
Pretty soon, everybody else with an iPhone or other device is making their way down there ahead of an official announcement. If there is ever another mass extinction it will be because someone decided to wait until they were sure disaster was heading in their direction before taking action.
It’s getting crowded and suddenly all of our phones are going off announcing the approach of the storm. The officials finally make it official and start herding people into the area that is the ‘actual’ storm shelter. (Apparently they don’t consider a need for access to plumbing with the same level of urgency I do.) A service door leads to an unfinished concrete cavern filled with twists and turns and lots of unused equipment and staging material. We are urged to move as far back in the space to make room for everybody. I’m surprised by how calmly everyone is taking this. Inside I wonder if we really ought to be more concerned.
I spy a few of the people I ran into while walking the garden. I’m glad they made it back—but I do wonder about the second tea ceremony that was supposed to start at 2:00. There is a really evil part of me that whispers “Aren’t you glad you signed up for the first showing at 11:30!”
I pass members of a wedding party, one of the women is still holding a glass/candle concoction which would be an excellent thing if anyone wanted a light. (I see a future market for wedding planners —decorative flourishes that function as emergency provisions in the event of a disaster.)
I finally choose a spot that circles back to a secondary exit. There is light spilling in from the corridor so it isn’t totally scary if it is a bit cold.
Across from me a family—two grandparents, a family friend, and two children—are trying to get comfortable on the floor. I look around. Nearby there are folded chairs and a huddle of employees who, by their uniforms, work in the kitchens upstairs.
“Would it be okay if we got out the chairs?” I ask one of them. I have to repeat myself because it appears the young man isn’t used to actually talking with the visitors to the Gardens.
Minutes later, our area is much cozier with scattered seating. I quash any guilt I might feel because the woman across says, “Oh, that’s so much better.”
We exchange a few pleasantries before settling into a tense wait-and-see. The children are scared. You can tell by the way they clutch the toys they’ve brought with them. I honestly don’t feel that much fear—probably because I have no clue what kind of damage a storm like this can do. You see…
I am a tornado virgin.
I have never lived through any major storm—beyond the huge snow storm of 78’ when I was a child. And all I remember from that week was the isolation—school was canceled and we were unable to leave because the roads couldn’t be plowed. (One of the joys of living rurally.) I do recall my brothers and I deciding that the four-foot drifts were an invitation to jumping off the roof and sinking over waist deep in snow. We had to swivel back and forth to worm our way out. Oh, I’ve had to hide in a few basements on occasion, but they had always turned out to be false prophecies. So, I had a cocky optimism that this time wouldn’t be any different.
Minutes creep past. The littlest girl across from me is crying with that suppressed sob-hiccup combination that can be so cute even when they are earnest tears. I can’t make out what she is upset about other than it involves someone or something called…Balthazar?
So, I ask. Partly to hopefully distract the child and, well, because I am curious.
“Who is Balthazar?”
The little girl blinks tear drenched lashes and utters a nearly incomprehensible string of words:
“I…I…he’s…I left him…and…he’s in danger. I…I…what will…I do…if…” She trails off with more tears and no doubt a snuffly nose.
Her grandmother brushes a strand of hair away from her flushed pink face and leans toward me.
“It’s her toy…I think it’s called Bulbasaur. Or something like that.”
“It’s Bulbazar, Grandma!” This comes from the second little girl ensconced on the other woman’s lap.
A discuss pops up about the pronunciation, but Grandma shakes her head.
“No, I think it has S.A.U.R. at the end—like a dinosaur.”
“What exactly is a Bulbasaur?” I ask.
If I had known the torrent of information that was about to rain down on me, I might have tried to save myself. But then, again, there was no Wi-Fi signal and there really wasn’t anything else to do. So, I took an unscheduled course in Pokémon 101. The little redhead across from me apparently had a masters if not a doctorate.
At one point, she tells me her name is “Kay”
(Names changed just because.)
I tell her, “My name starts with a ‘K’ too!” She beams at me; we are now friends for life.
She points to her sister, “That’s Dee.”
“I recognize that is Pokémon.” I say, pointing to the yellow pillow-type thing Dee is holding as if someone were threatening to take it from her. Then I point to whatever lump is in Kay’s hands. “But what is that?”
Kay giggles. She holds up a lumpy, terry-clothed thing.
“It’s a towel! ‘Cause I did a ‘Dee’!”
And then she plops the thing against the side of her head.
Of course. This make perfect sense. No doubt my expression says as much.
Her grandmother laughs and explains. “She bumped her head earlier and they got her a cloth with ice in it.”
Kay holds back her bangs to reveal nary a bruise. The ice must have done its job or the strawberry hair is hiding the evidence. Kay is now picking through the washcloth and slips a sliver of ice into her mouth with her grandma none the wiser.
Grandma smooths the bangs again, adding, “Anytime we bump our heads, we say we are doing a Dee because she used to run into all sorts of corners and things when she was little.”
Kay pipes up again and points to her sister. “Yeah she bumped her head a lot! So we say ‘We did a Dee.’”
Everyone is nodded and smiling. Then Kay adds, “And when we fart we say we did a ‘Kathy’. Because Grandma farts a lot!” And she points back at her grandmother, who is now laughing—though a tiny bit mortified by this announcement.
Grandma Kathy murmurs something about maybe sharing too much information but she isn’t really mad and her granddaughters know it because they are both laughing, snuggled safe in loving arms.
Kay pops back up from this to launch into a detailed explanation of Bulbasaur’s relationship to Pokémon.
I learn there is something called the Rocket Team—and they are definitely bad guys. And someone named Ash who spends a lot of time in the gym.
The grandma throws in a comment to clarify a point Kay is trying to make with hand gestures that look like something is exploding.
“The Pokémon can evolve.” She says.
But into what is never clearly explained. I picture something like a Transformer—which is my cultural experience with toys that are more than meets the eye—but rounder and cuter.
I learn that the Pokémon can fight. That Pikachu has a secret weapon—something called a ‘Thunder Shock.’ And here, Kay puffs out her cheeks and demonstrates:
“His cheeks blow out really loud and he says, ‘Pikachuuuuuu!”
Apparently this devastates his enemies.
The girls are laughing and chatting back and forth when all of our phones go off at once.
Some of the alerts are voiced announcements notifying us of a Tornado alert in our area and to seek shelter. There is something really unnerving about the shrill cacophony of notes chiming throughout the cement block room. No one is laughing now.
There is a human instinct to huddle. To crouch low as if to make a smaller target. I find myself looking at the little girls across from me shrinking back and arms that had been holding them loosely now tightened. Reassurances are whispered and Grandpa is a stoic figure who rarely says a word but is a calm presence in the face of the unseen.
I try to comfort them, knowing I am helpless to be there for my own son tucked in the basement with a babysitter who definitely deserves more than I pay her.
“So, the alarms are like the ‘Thunder Shock’ Pikachu makes. It’s just a reminder to be careful.”
Then a little girl in a frilly dress toddles past and loses a bow. The pink ribbon falls near my feet and I seize the opportunity.
“Look she lost her bow. That’s a bow alert!”
Kay is delighted by this idea. When an oblivious little boy in an adorable suit trundles through bumping into nearly everything in his path, she calls out, “Baby Alert.”
Soon Kay is reciting once again the episodes and even an entire theme about her favorite TV characters. She sings some sort of anthem—it went on for about seven verses—and it is too fast and her voice is too high for me to do more than pick out one word in ten.
I’m reminded of the scene in Finding Nemo where Nemo’s dad is listening to the baby sea turtle explain the way to get to the East Australian current. After the pipsqueak voice winds down, Marlin says:
“You know, you’re really cute, but I don’t know what you are saying! Say the first thing again.”
For whatever else I miss, I understand that this language is helping Kay and Dee to deal with a frightening situation. No one can call out. All attempts to text and get replies are blocked by the surrounding concrete cocoon that keeps us safe from tornados as well as causing wireless signal fatigue. So, while we sit and try not to worry about the ominous thumps we occasionally hear overhead—we share our stories to distract each other.
Instead of spending our moments anticipating whooshing air signifying imminent destruction, we find the strength to laugh, to find the humor and our humanity in the darkness.
Eventually, the crowds that had been loitering near raw plywood and collapsed tables usually only seen fully clothed with the ruched skirts to protect the legs’ modesty, start to part. People drift away and cheers go up as we realize the danger is past. With very little fanfare, the crisis is over.
I say goodbye to the girls and soon the crowd separates us. We are all ready to be done with the claustrophobic space.
The wedding party is making its way back to their celebration. I spot a woman who is still clutching her slice of wedding cake. I can’t help but comment on her foresight.
“Well, I didn’t want to miss out if it was gone when we got back!” she says with a smile.
“I am just surprised you didn’t eat it while waiting.”
“I didn’t have time to grab a fork,” she replies.
I laugh, “A little thing like that wouldn’t have stopped me!”
Before we part, we agree, this is a wedding no one is likely to forget!
Outside, there is little evidence that a major storm front has gone through.
“Another much ado about nothing!” I think.
It’s not until I am nearing home that I spot the devastation. Trees that had survived sixty to a hundred years of bad weather were torn and scattered on front yards and crushing cars and houses like giant match sticks dropped by a careless hand. I’m not even a mile away from home and it suddenly strikes me how close it came. How violent the winds had to have been to snap oaks and other hard wood like dry kindling. I later learn this was a weak system–only a category EF-0. I don’t want to ever see what something stronger could do.
My house and family are fine–two city blocks west of the path of destruction. I pay the sitter and she shrugs off the seven-hour ordeal caused by our separate vigils in the dark. Thankfully, my son was totally oblivious of any danger.
I didn’t really face the dragon—but I felt his breath on my neck. I survived his reign of terror and I can imagine how differently things could have turned out.
Thus ends my tale. The only thing left is an appreciation for Japanese culture which creates a tea to feed the soul and a Pokémon to calm the tempest in the pot.
I leave you with a final haiku:
Trees dance and bow low
Thunder applauds with fierce claps
Making dancers fall
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
* It never does
**Floral porn, take one—“Come on, you know you want to bee pollinated!”
***You were expecting a dragon ala Harry Potter, weren’t you?
Saturday, I fulfilled a long-awaited, death-defying pleasure—learning The Way of Tea (Chadō) at the Meijer Gardens’ Japanese Tea House in Grand Rapids, MI. Allow me to take you on the journey…
[Insert wavy time machine effect here.]
The day has a mugginess to it that only people of equatorial descent can appreciate. Occasional breezes cause drops in temperature that turn skin from sweaty to clammy in a soggy instant. The air practically vibrates with thermal shifts.
Ten or so participants mill around a bench at the matchiai—the waiting area outside the tea house. Fellow guests discuss the progress of the formation of the Japanese Garden—opened just last year—as well as the availability of tea houses in the surrounding area.*
The Meijer Gardens’ tea house is surrounded by lush greenery and the walkway leading to the building is paved with irregular stones. Discrete signs warn visitors to watch their step. A guide explains the unevenness of the path is intentional—so that you pay attention to where you walk in a thoughtful manner.** She also warns us to ‘bow low’ as we cross the threshold—both to humble ourselves in preparation and to prevent head injury in the taller guests.
Our hostess appears, a slender woman in a yellow kimono, beckoning us with a soft voice to follow her.
We duck under the low gate between the matchiai and the cha-shitsu—or tea house proper. Near the entrance, a wash basin gurgles. We are told it is intended for guests to purify and refresh themselves before entering—though we are asked to admire it from afar. We remove our shoes before slipping into the small building.
The tea house was built in Japan, disassembled, shipped here, and reassembled on site. It is modeled on Japanese specifications—with some allowances for Western comforts. The floor is not entirely made of tatami—and we are not required to scoot in on our knees as proper guests would expect to do. Once seated on square, silken cushions on benches along the wall, we meet our hostess, Yumiko Narita and her assistants: Tomoyo Koehler, who plays the role of ‘guest’ in the demonstration and Miyuki Muramoto, who afterward helps to serve the visitors.
Anita Savio, the Public Affairs Director from the Consulate General of Japan in Detroit, narrates for us throughout the chanoyu (tea service). She says that, typically, the exchange is presented in silence with rare scripted exchanges between the hostess and her primary guest.
Acceptable questions the guest may ask include the origin of the bowl that is central to the ceremony. The chawan at this service, we learn, comes from the Shiga Prefecture—which in Japan is the sister state to Michigan. The bowls and utensils were commissioned there specifically for this reason. Much admiring of the bowl is required before, during, and after the tea is presented and drunk. Additionally, the guest might comment on the weather…this would have been helpful in the hours to come…had we actually discussed this.
Names and steps for the tea service whip past in swift progression. I do my best to follow each detail, but at one point I decide it is easier—and more in keeping with the spirit—to witness rather than try to capture the experience in my cramped notes.
Anita Savio describes the honors of being a guest—approaching on one’s knees to kneel and offer respect to the scroll which has been chosen particularly for this occasion. Later, Miyuki copies the artistic Japanese swoops into my notes. She explains the sentiment “Ichi-go, Ichi-Ay means “One Time, One Meeting.” This seems like an appropriate statement for the rare pleasure of watching a centuries old art form. Or you could say:
“One only has the present moment—the future is not a promise.”
(How do you like that foreshadowing?)
We learn that the outside world rank does not signify—that all are equal inside the tea house. Thus it is very bad manners to wear jewelry or other signs of wealth. (I surreptitiously sneak my necklace into my bag upon hearing this.) No doubt we are breaking many rules but, as foreigners to the art, we are forgiven our ignorance.
A red silk cloth is used to purify already clean utensils. We learn that the scoop used for pouring the water is called a kagami—the same word the Japanese use for ‘mirror.’ The hostess holds the kagami up and looks into it before using it, as if to measure her soul for readiness for the ordeal ahead. (Although there may be poetic license in this interpretation—everywhere I have since looked online the scoop is called a hishaku—though there are various schools of chanoyu.)
About half-way through the ceremony, rain begins to fall. Each plink of water hitting the tile roof accompanies the delicacy of movement as first the bowl is tempered with hot water and the whisk is similarly primed to make it flexible.
I watch the graceful movements between the hostess and her guest—every bow, shuffle, gesture and placement of utensils marks appreciation for the craft and respect for all in attendance. The bowl for serving tea is rotated clockwise in several stages. It like a ballet for a beverage. As you watch, you realize this is an act of love; for no other reason fully explains why anyone would devote this much time and effort to perfecting an ancient tradition.
We are given a round, pink sweet that is served before we drink. It is completely unforgivable to add sugar or honey to the tea, but the sweet—or wagashi—serves the function of balancing the bitter. Made of azuki bean paste, it is an unfamiliar taste though not entirely unpleasant and similar in texture to marzipan. It is beautifully shaped to mimic a ‘botan’ or peony flower.
Nature suffuses the tea service. There are special teas held at different times of the year. A garden surrounds the tea house where guests may take their repose before or sometimes during the services at a longer ceremony. It is carried into the space in the art of chabana—the flower arrangement that is crafted to complement this day. It is in the errant wind that blows through open windows.
After the ceremony, we visitors are given our own bowl with a unique design. Of note, the bowl is turned until the ‘best side’ faces the guest. Bows are exchanged and before the guest can taste the tea, the bowl must be admired. In the ceremony, there are multiple stages of sitting the bowl on the tatami and admiring it and asking questions of its heritage before the bowl could be returned—beautiful side facing out. Fortunately, as witnesses, we are not required to be so precise—a simple bow suffices both in receiving and returning the treasured tea bowl.***
As the tea ends we are free to ask questions.
We learn that both the hostess and first guest are wearing the kimono of married women—long sleeves are reserved for maidens for the length is better for flirting. The kimono has no buttons, zippers, or pockets. This raises the question ‘where do you put things?’
Tomoyo Koehler demonstrates the usefulness of sleeve folds where she stashes her fukusa—or silk napkin. For larger items, she shows us a rectangular fabric purse that she turns and slips into the drum-style obi she wears at her back. The greatest decoration can be found on the obi. Some ways of tying the material can be very elaborate in shapes like fans, bows, and butterflies.
The tea we attended is only the smallest portion of a full-length ceremony. A full-blown service might take four hours or longer and involve a first tea—a thicker Matcha tea—and a meal of sumptuous cuisine (Kaiseki-ryori) in bite-sized portions. We are offered the lighter, final tea. In truth, what we were given seems thick enough. I thought it looked a bit like blended wheat grass and tasted like an herbal remedy rather than the clear green tea I am familiar with.
We also learn that the fan that is brought by the guest is strictly ceremonial and is never opened. It represents the weapons that Samurai warriors would leave outside the tea house—eschewing violence in favor of humble accord with all guests. The small fan is presented on the tatami, the guest bows to the scroll and, once seated, the fan is placed behind the guest the entire time.
The chado—the art of tea—stems from a tradition brought back by a monk who visited China. At the time, tea was considered medicinal and served a holy function to help the monks stay awake during meditation. When the expensive habit was adopted by the aristocracy and then later was taken on by the Samurai class, the formality of tea preparation and service ascended to a cultural tradition which lasts to this day. It is an art which takes a lifetime to master.
“One must first study to be a guest before one can learn to serve.” Anita Savio.
There is no way to truly convey the gravity and generosity of these women in inviting us to this experience. Yes, we paid a fee to attend, but the intent when participating in the tea is that one is personally invited to a sacred space. And by the end of the chadoyu, you certainly feel honored.
My first epiphany of the day is—one can either experience or observe—you cannot do both.
My later epiphanies will blow you away. But that will have to wait for the next installment entitled “Tea with Tornados.”
Once upon a time, I was a dreamer. I had an absolute faith that life was going to be better because I willed it so. I also wanted really hard to believe in unicorns and fairytale endings. Then that unicorn took a massive dump on my happiness.
You would think I was talking about a point in my early childhood—that moment you learn Santa Claus…(spoiler alert)…isn’t real. GASP! You’d be wrong.
I joined the Army at age seventeen and tripped off to be All That I Could Be.* I survived the brutal, non-reality of basic training and apparently fit in well enough that no major alarms were sounded to clue the Army into the fact that I wasn’t all there to begin with.
They hadn’t seen my graduation photo apparently:
[Read herefor the story behind how this unicorn is a metaphor for the pursuit of happiness. It’s one of my earliest posts and I am ridiculously proud of it.]
Before I joined the military, I enjoyed the bravery of the clueless. I would dress up and play costume characters and if I cared at all about anyone’s opinion, I can’t remember it now. I was courageous in a way that doesn’t win awards or ribbons. Perhaps it was a stupid kind of courage, but at least I could say I had a bravery of sorts.
While stationed at DLIFLC, my mother sent me a much-longed for cabbage patch doll. I had asked for this for years when I was a kid…and not until I am a hardened soldier does she finally come through. Do I hide it or give it away? No! I have BDU uniform made and put it out on my dresser.
I am unphased when fellow soldiers snatch the orange-haired mascot and hang it on a chopstick cross:
Slowly, my naiveté was battered by other people’s opinions—either by deliberate attacks of cruel humor or possibly just as the result of bored human beings finding a target—I became embarrassed about being who I was.
I only dressed up for Halloween and then, I stopped even doing that. There was no occasion besides theater that was an acceptable outlet. I allowed the world to whittle away at the personality that made me who I am. I changed from an eager, enthusiastic person to someone who expected criticism, rejection, and small-minded hostility. It is like having the happiness cut out of you with a rusty spoon and then force-fed back to you in the form of a bitter pill.**
I became unhappy with the parts of me that used to make me happiest. And that is about the saddest thing you can let other people do to you.
At some point we all grow up—skinned emotional knees and all. And while it is painful to remember the idealistic youth who had no problems dressing like her cabbage patch doll and carrying it around as if the world wasn’t waiting to make fun of someone for doing it, it is also empowering. Looking back, I realize I was a lot stronger than I ever knew…in my own, spectacularly goofy way.
The happy ending here is that, eventually, I found my way back to my silly side. I dress up for any reason I damn well choose. I not only march to the beat of my own drummer—there is an entire chorus line of drum majorettes spinning flags to boot. And cow bells. You can never have too many cow bells.
So to all you dreamers out there, let your weird flag fly. Ignore the derision and ugly hostility that stems from others not able to understand where being yourself is more important that anyone else’s vision of who you should be–Cabbage Patch Dolls and Unicorn dreams and all.***
*This was before the slogan was changed to ‘Army of One’. I am absolutely sure this change had nothing to do with my becoming a soldier. Or, at least, I’m pretty sure.
**The FDA should put warning labels on people who do this, so you can recognize a toxic substance and avoid exposure.
We hadn’t known each other long. Eight, nine months, not even a year. I confided all of my secrets to you. You introduced me to DropBox and Amazon Prime movies. You made me laugh.
I’m sorry I let him hurt you. He’d been so good for so long. I thought I could trust him. It was just one game of Where’s My Water. I wanted to spend time with another friend. I didn’t mean this to happen.
It was all a blur. He got angry. He threw you across the room before I could do anything. I am so sorry!
I know there is nothing I can do to make this un-happen. I can’t blame it on him really. I knew what he was capable of and I let him take you anyway. I am more sorry than you will ever know.
I understand that you don’t want to talk to me. That this means the end. I just hope, someday, if the backups work and the hard drive is saved, you’ll forgive me.
You may all hum “This Is The End Beautiful Friend” I have no facility in doing all the fancy stuff like inserting links on my cell phone.*
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*The Dust Season will be offline until I can get me a new digital friend. I may have to pass a background check or a psychological profile. This is my third computer in as many years. (The first one languishes in desktop obsolescence the second had motherboard issues.)
We cross Lake Michigan from Ludington, MI and discover exactly how big the ‘Great Waters’ really are. Overly excited child keeps a thrilled eye on the cars and even boats being loaded onto the S.S. Badger. The ferry has a proud history serving transit needs of travelers on the lake. I’d tell you all about it, but people took up the space in the history lounge sleeping on every surface, making it hard to take notes. This is our first non-vomitous boat ride (for child and, by extension, me). Hurray for Bonine and sea bands.
Deposited in Manitowoc around noon (we crossed a date line so I’m can’t remember if it was Michigan or Wisconsin noon) we head to a park recommended by a fellow blogger!* Fritse Park is well worth the bizarre detour from the highway—I think I took seven turns in about two miles. The playground is impressive, though my twelve-year-old apparently had reservations about the incredibly long slide built into a hill. We walked the bridge that spans two cities and enjoyed the view and the stern breeze which threatened to swallow my hat until I just clutched it there and back. I’m just glad I hadn’t read this article before visiting.
It was a brief stop on our journey to Wautoma where we traveled the back roads to find relatives who live so far off the grid, the GPS tracker wished us good luck and shut itself off. A home-cooked meal of cheese sandwiches and salad and a nice long conversation about mutual relatives and photo admiration capped the day. On the way to our cheap-but-clean accommodations at Motel 8 a giant rainbow spanned the sky as if welcoming us to a brighter, more beautiful journey than the one we set out on the day before.
Day 3: I see dead people. Lots of dead people.
Two cemeteries and about three photo albums worth of ancient German heritage abounds in Merrill, Wisconsin. A lie on Ancestry is revealed and I am scandalized that someone co-opted the wrong grave markers to claim a heritage that isn’t ours. Either that, or my distant cousin, Lee, is wrong. But with his facility at naming generations of Krueger/Latzig family members, I doubt it. That he visits the graves weekly and tends their flowers suggests he had more vested in the memorial than just capturing a photo, like I have. (See photos below of the true headstones.)
We visit a former convent/girls school to reminisce with one of the last matriarchs of my father’s generation—Joan. She is 87 and, despite admitting she has memory loss, seems pretty sharp and witty during our visit. She even tolerated my giant twelve-year-old sprawling on the tiny floor of her assisted-living quarters. She shows off the photo albums she compiled. In them, pages and pages of documents identify the family tree. I see pictures of my father in his infancy and grandfather dressed for hard work, welding pipeline in unidentified states. I meet new relatives in grainy black and white and faded Kodachrome color. The photo album’s shiny pages make for poor copying, but I do my best to snap pictures on my cell phone. There is a comforting sameness to the faces—sturdy, kind, loving. Family.
Day 4: Get up and enjoy continental breakfast at Quality Inn & Suites, Menominee, WI. Son insists he wants to swim, so we wait the half-hour for it to open and he dips in it for about 5 minutes before saying, “All Done.”
I review our options and consider a nature walk, until I step out and see the rainy weather. Oh well, we did make a stop at a really good gas station.** If you haven’t heard of these, Kwik Trip was just about the best gas station I’ve had the pleasure to stop. So, here are pictures of its glorious selection. May you all be so lucky in your travels.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*I will happily give credit to said blogger, just as soon as I figure out who it was.
**You may take pictures of your cultural landmarks and famous fountains. Me? I’m impressed with a gas stop that has fresh produce and every recharger you could hope to find in stock!
It happened, just before bed last night…the first of the signs.*
Omen Number One
It’s nearing 2:00 a.m. I’m scrambling to get ready for our trip to Wisconsin tomorrow. My cell phone, as usual, was down to its last, flickering percentage. I plug it in and it tells me, “This is not the Android recharger you are looking for.” I shrug, unplug and plug it back in. Again, “Please use original Android equipment to recharge device, you wompa-breathed buffoon.”
There is nothing I…or anyone at this lonely hour of the night…can do to save me. Obi Wan, it’s hopeless.
The next morning, the phone chirps a pitiful wake-up call before giving up its last percentile ghost. I’m swamped with a to-do list longer than my will to live. I shove my child on his 2 ½ hour tour bus for what they call “summer school” and I race to get a few boxes checked off.
The Verizon Death Star won’t be operational until 10:00 a.m. (stormtrooper reviews are more elaborate than a Broadway Musical) so I run to the mall to pick up the new pants from Fu Alterations. I stopped to visit my boyfriend.** And then I’m off to take on the Empire…and pick up my new pair of glasses. I have one hour left.
(Cue the aforementioned, footnoted ominous music. You all know the tune: Da Da Da, Dah Dah Dah, Dah Dah Dah…)
The heartless drone at Verizon takes my name and leaves me to stew and search fruitlessly for a clock to make sure I don’t miss the bus. I go through withdrawals as I have no way to play Words With Friends, so I decide to exchange words with a stranger instead. It turns out, I sit down next to a member of the resistance force who is holding her notes about the Rebel Alliance just up the street (aka Sprint). We get to chatting:
Rebel Leader: “Sprint is offering a phone deal and lower rates. I’m checking to see what Verizon will offer before switching.”
Kir-Leia: “Phone won’t recharge…mumble mumble… the guy said I have to wait in the Samsung Galaxy for tech support…So I told him to shove his blaster down his Aldaran belt and fire!”
Rebel Leader: “Come over to the Sprint side and save!”
Or words to that effect.
I’m finally brought before the Sith Lord…scarlet scourge of the Verizon Empire. After a brief back-and-forth about the problematic port, this is what he offers:
Darth-Insidious: “The best I can do is to ship a phone to where you will be tomorrow.”
Kir-Leia: “If I’m getting a new phone, why can’t I just get one from the store?”
Now he drops the thermite-detonator:
Darth-Insidious: “We don’t keep replacements in stock. It will be a ‘Factory Certified’ Android phone.”
Kiri-Leia: “I get a used phone? I only had the Samsung for about five months! It’s not even paid for yet! Why can’t I get a new phone?”
Darth-Insidious: “It is not our way. Get back Rebel scum!”
Kir-Leia: “I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board!”’
Darth Insidious: “How charming…but wrong movie.”
Of course, I storm out in a huff, swearing that I will never darken the doors of Verizon again.
Over at the Sprint Rebel Base, I have enough time to toss my phone at Jedi Master Trevor and swear allegiance. (Fortunately, my midichlorians are off the scale.)
I dash to get the child before the bus leaves him wandering in search of a better parent. I send an emergency signal through a cousin to my mother and she agrees to watch my Padawan Learner (boy child). I race and to get my new iPhone…but it’s not ready. They have to match the geosynchronous orbit, or some technical mumbo jumbo I don’t understand. So, I dash back to home base, stopping to get a thank-you pop and scratch-n-win ticket for the Grandma, when the universe speaks to me again…
The Second Omen
The swinging door of the Coca Cola cooler was obviously programmed for stealth attack. As I turn and let the door swing shut, it takes a huge bite out of my ankle.
Mom patches me up, listening to the entire tale. Wishes me well, and I’m off once more. Dashing back to pick up the phone, dragging the child in tow.
Then, I learn something wondrous…the deal I signed my life away for included a second phone! And the Rebel Leader and I can declare ourselves friends and get a $50 rebate…if we can ever figure out how to sign up for it.
Things are looking marginally up. I’m battered and limping, but I have my new phone and…shit….look at the time.
The next few hours are a blur of manic packing, driving, and arriving at the RV Park & Campground where I have reserved a teepee for the night.
You heard me a teepee. Did I mention it’s raining? Have I also mentioned it is an authentic structure with a hole in the center and the floor has running water? (But the bathrooms are located in another building.) No matter. I will find the fun in this. I will overcome a most inauspicious start to our vacation. I will ignore the dreadful music that implies otherwise.
I’m trying to tell myself that I can relax about the small stuff. So, there’s a little water on the floor? So what? I move the electric cords to a table to remove the possibility of a third and fatal sign. No electrocution for me, no sir!
The Third Omen
As I’m leaving the teepee to gather the bedding for the unauthentic mattresses, I don’t clear the odd lower lip of the oval door way. I trip in a most graceless fashion, landing hard on my left wrist and both knees. I break a blood vessel in my hand.
I raise my uninjured fist and shake it at the universe.
“Why? Why? For the love of all that is Jedi…why?”
Somewhere, the dark side is taunting me. Or it could just be the croaking frogs. I’m not sure. It sure sounds like the universe laughing.
So, if I die on the boat crossing tomorrow, you’ll know why….
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*Why does no one ever heed the signs? In real life, I blame the lack of ominous music.
**One of these days I’m going to write the blog post to explain this remark, but this is not the day.
***I should have gone with Kirbaca as I did scream like an enraged wookie today, but it did not fit the scene.
Sometimes, you just need a little encouragement. Welcome to a journey I’m calling “The unintended road trip on the serendipitous path of lung-wrenching discovery.”
It is the Fourth of July and the crabby son needs quelling; so into the car we hop. My child barks directions: “left,” “straight,” “more” from the back seat. We drive south along Highway 196 headed nowhere in particular–when someone suggests ice cream.*
We brave the lovely town of Saugatuck packed to the gills with red-white-and-blue spangled holiday goers. Quirky shops nestle along the Kalamazoo River. While the pre-teen scarfs gelato as if I hadn’t fed him in weeks, I manage a quick interlude at the Saugatuck Tea Company. Decorative teapots and art-inspired mugs lure shoppers in. A huge Russian Samovar painted in bright, enameled colors squats in a corner behind a room divider–the space manages to be bright and airy despite its modest dimensions.
In addition to tea paraphernalia, one entire wall offers loose-leafed teas with elaborate names like ‘Dragon Tears’ and ‘White Monkey Paw.’ I exchange words with the proprietress. She waves me to the wall of glass jars and lets me sniff the various contents. When I mention a favorite tea I purchase from a rival gang Teavana and how expensive it is, she suggests I get the list of ingredients next time I’m there and she can try to reproduce the results.
After smuggling my score out of the store in an attention-getting paisley bag, my child and I meander. With no great plans, we are unbound by expectation. It is very carefree and relaxing. I suspect this is what leads to the eventual cacophony epiphany to come.
We pass the gazebo in Wick’s Park and I can’t help myself, I have to stop and photograph the beautifully painted cinder block building that houses the public restroom. Who wouldn’t want to pee here?
Then, it is along the water to the nearby point of local interest–the chain link ferry. I brought my son here many years ago, when he was just a little guy. In a fit of nostalgia, I drag him to recreate the experience.
College students busk for tips, joke with passengers, and lure small children into photo ops turning the hand crank that churns the small boat across the river on a rickety chain. It is a swift journey and we are deposited on the other side to seek the experience that will make our day: the climb to Mount Baldhead.
As we leave the small boat, the crew encourages us to: “Be careful as we disembark.” And in passing, they say, “Oh, enjoy the 302 steps up! Don’t worry, it doesn’t get hard until the last two!”
Join me in the ascent. And like the experience itself, I will let the view speak for me…mostly because I am wheezing and turning magenta as I make my way up the vertiginous climb.
My son quickly leaves me in the dust. He prances ahead a spastic, loping blur of red–I am struck by the fanciful notion that for once, the sun/son rises in the West. Hypoxia sets in very quickly it seems.
As if climbing a sheer-faced cliff, the higher up I get, the less oxygen there seems to be–despite the valiant effort my lungs make imitating a wounded bellows. I get dizzy by the fourth flight and feel as though the signposts are talking to me***:
Cautionary warnings mark the trail, if only you know where to look:
I pause frequently to admire the view/find peace with the inevitability of death.
Before long, the signs of the prophets speak their words of wisdom–no subway walls required:
Many have come before us…
Some found love to hold and keep them strong–quite recently it seems:
Some return with their love to mark the passage and constancy of their union:
Some are a bit defiant about it:
Step-by-gasping-step, life lessons are revealed…though the truth is somewhat debatable:
Some who wander the path share their pain with the world:
She has a lot in common with a fellow traveler:
And then, there is the impetuous voice of youth speaking to the ages:
The stair treads pass slowly. I pause more frequently and try not to feel as if one quick shove would send me over the edge. The signs urge me on….
I reach the top victorious where my son hands me his lemonade to open. I stagger over to admire the view which is truly spectacular–if somewhat buried in the surrounding trees.
I get mere minutes to enjoy the splendid view before my child hares back down the path as if gravity has no greater significance than a propellant to urge him onward. I am more cautious–and cognizant of how difficult it would be to get a gurney up to retrieve my broken ass if I fell.
There you have it. Wooden aphorisms mark a trail for the intrepid explorer to follow. You can be your own Magellan–circling the world to find answers to life questions. You can take the wisdom of others–picking and choosing to see what fits.
You can wear your epiphanies on your chest–much like my son’s perspicacious porcine persuasion.
Or you can wander off the path to make new discoveries and record them in out-of-the-way places to be discovered or not as the universe sees fit.
As for me, I follow the signs that speak to my heart:
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*It might have been me.
**I now have ‘connections’–so, if you need some prime, illicit loose leaf, you know who to call.
***Actually, I did not see most of these signs until I was making my way back down. Call it ironic hindsight.