Plans are in place. Only one more day before I am free.*
I’ve tried to hide my growing excitement. I still swear like a drunken sailor whenever I step on crayons in the yard.
I only hope I didn’t give it away earlier. Boss Baby was playing in the rec room. There’s this scene where the kid is grounded—his bedroom is his prison. When the kid’s talking, wizard alarm clock tries to grab a shank to make a break for it, I about died laughing!**
Man, if that isn’t a sign I need to get out of here, I don’t know what is.
It wasn’t always this way; I used to have a life.***
Okay, so maybe casing the Gem and Mineral show isn’t the act of a repentant criminal, but can you blame a gal for seeking any kind of distraction when serving a life sentence?
All I want is a little clarity…cut, color, and carats! And what do they give me? False hope diamonds!
Breaking rocks in the hot sun would be so much more pleasant if we were hunting out sparkly specimens that look like dragon droppings!
When I get out…I might even try my hand at a little fancy re-marketing. No longer will I be the chauffeur who slavishly drives the ‘Boss Baby’ wherever his heart desires. No! I will be the wild, carefree road warrior women envy and men want. (Hey, if we’re going to fantasize…)
I will hit the interstate for places unknown. I will decide my fate. Or, at least, I won’t default to Highway 196 and exit 41 as the corrections officer insists we take every time we do roadside clean up.
My parole hearing is coming up, so I baked the warden a mini devil’s food cake. I know…shameless pandering.
I even invited the corrections officer to supervise so he wouldn’t suspect anything.
I have to say, they didn’t turn out so bad–for prison food.
After slaving away for, like, forty minutes, we have a decent product, if I do say so myself.
The warden scarfs the thing down and I ask him, “So, wasn’t that fun?”
You wanna know what he said?
There’s no respect in this joint. No loyalty. None.
That’s why I’m oughtta here tomorrow. I’m gonna Easy-Bake my way into my own ‘early release.’
This time, I won’t forget to put the file into the cake.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*…to have a nervous breakdown.
**True. This happens. In a movie about a baby there is a reference to a shank. And I did laugh loud enough to be rolling on a floor except movie theater floors prohibit that kind of enthusiasm.
***Okay, that’s a stretch. Only Webster’s would call what I do on a daily basis, ‘having a life.’
__________You’ve read this far bonus:_____________
In case you wondered how it is I–an adult with a boy-child–have an Easy Bake Oven, here’s the story behind the best Christmas present I ever got.
This is a blog post I wrote before I ever became a blogger. Posted on The Green Study–who is to blame for giving me my first taste of fame and is responsible for my continued life of blogging crime:
Aging ain’t pretty and, sometimes, it gets downright ugly. You are forced to evaluate yourself for flaws and failures. Blogs are no different from people in that respect.
Facebook’s insistence that everyone in the world wish you a Happy Birthday resulted in people I haven’t spoken with in years contacting me last week when I became a quinquagenarian.*
In one exchange, an old friend asks me how I’ve been doing and I oh-so-subtly direct him to the wonders of my blog. His response?
“…Blogs are so passé…”**
I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I put my heart and soul into what I write. This off-hand dismissal of my craft resulted in the following poetic interlude—performed in the key of é.
Critique Not-so Enchanté
My writing is passé,
Or so you say!
Perhaps you are no devoteé?
Or maybe you are just a protégé without caché?
I may sometimes, How do you say?, write a hit out of the park!
Sometimes it’s a swing-and-a-miss—or manqué.***
My writing may even skirt the edge of cliché!
But always, I churn the brain frappé
To scoop out a little grey cell pâté.
A luscious, literary canapé!
No hard-boiled reporter am I, producing the latest exposé!
But I do not deserve to be roasted a lá flambé!
Mayhap you will reconsider your communiqué?
But as for me, I am très désolé.
So there you have it. A damning condemnation that not only am I unoriginal, practically staring down the barrel of obsolescence, but so is my writing medium. (Not well done!)
Turning half-a-decade makes a person stop and think! Where exactly am I headed? Have I missed my chance to reinvent myself when I haven’t even invented myself yet in the first place?
Have I’ve officially reached a plateau that says: “Nothing new, innovative, or fresh expected. Move along!!?”
Perhaps it is fatalism of creativity? Maybe I suffer ennui? But I will steal from a kindred spirit—a voice who calls from the realm of the dead. I will lick the pen of a poet and echo Stéphane Mallarme :
Je me mire et me vois ange! et je meurs, et j’aime —Que la vitre soit l’art, soit la mysticité— A renaître, portant mon rêve en diadème, Au ciel antérieur où fleurit la Beauté.
I can see my reflection like that of an angel! And I feel that I am dying, and, through the medium Of art or of mystical experience, I want to be reborn, Wearing my dream like a diadem, in some better land Where beauty flourishes.)
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*L is the new XL (I’m talking Roman numerals, people, not size!)
**My immediate response? “Oh yeah? Well…your face is passé!”
***I noticed the odd appearance of accented ‘é’ words and cleverly sensed a theme. When I saw Manqué on a list of words ending in é, I had to use it. And then, there is the neato twist: where the definition for manqué conveniently defines how it feels to turn 50!
Man·qué (mäNGˈkā/) adjective:
having failed to become what one might have been; unfulfilled.
The oily sheen is what gets me. Just within reach, prodigious produce entices vices. I’m checking out at check-out; I ogle the goods less taken. Griping the cart handle with sweaty hands, I think, “Oh man, I wish I’d picked up a green pepper to call my own.” If only I were brave enough to snatch it when nobody is looking. My fingers itch. In my heart of hearts, I’m already legging it to my car with the shouts of “Stop that woman—she’s got my pepper!” ringing in my ears.*
I’m standing in line one day, loading my groceries onto the black sander belt that drags them to their plastic-bagged doom, when I find myself looking at what the schlub behind me has selected.
“Hmm, they have just as much produce as me. But, look, they have a collection of processed snacks made with asbestos and nuclear orange, cheese powder. I win!”
I’m awash with self-satisfaction, when, suddenly, it strikes me, I am a grocery conveyer voyeur. I feel superior to the guy with the Lipitor prescription and deep-fried pork rinds. Are those Twinkies? Outrage! There is no Twinkie defense! If you buy canned soup, be prepared to be judged! What does it say about my nature that I have to compare my worth in such a way? Am I alone in this? Am I a solitary, smug-worthy opportunist or is everybody guilty of shopper’s gloat?**
I decide I need to find out. I make a Facebook announcement to my friends and family requesting images and receipts. The idea I have is to see if, given a task to shop and knowing it will be posted online, would people change what they buy? What I discover is random journalism is really hard to organize and people are even harder to define. And sometimes, you find out something shocking.
[To maintain everyone’s dignity privacy, I am using cutesy nicknames to identify each respondent.]
After getting the receipts and photos, I asked each participant this multiple-choice question:
If you take a banal activity like shopping and turn it into an assignment, would this effect the activity and make it: A. More exciting? B. More of a chore? C. Influence what you bought in any way? D. I forgot about it until I was at checkout!
I wasn’t sure what I would find. But I definitely got more than I expected.
I wait a week to get enough responses. I receive some photos texted to me along with a few receipts from various states. In answer to my multiple-choice question, I get varied answers. My Philly Friend is the first to respond; she also is the only participant to answer “D”—meaning she forgot about it until she reached the cashier. She sends me a text of the items and her receipt. I’m looking at a motherlode of snacks; I have to ask the question:
Me: “If you had remembered this was going public, would you have shopped differently?” Philly Friend: “If I’d seen it earlier I might have made different choices – although I really was planning on getting the crackers, nuts and raisins – might have skipped the Cheetos. LOL” Me: “Hah! Is that a Cheeto-in-Chief concern or just the utter lack of nutritive value embarrassment?” Philly Friend: “Heehee! total junk food, no the DVD was a total last minute addition, too – on sale for less than $4! Wooooo!!
We chat a bit longer, but mostly about the merits of the DVD she purchased. We agree that Cloud Atlas was fantastic—if Tom Hanks was a bit hard to understand at times.
Me: “I think the only disconnect was when Tom Hanks spoke with the odd, futurist dialect and it was so hard to understand him.” Philly Friend: “Yeah really! Took a bit to understand all that, but that’s why I often use subtitles nowadays. I’m OLD.”
We are the same age, but I suspect the fact that I have both bi-focals and a hip replacement clinched my geriatric status years ago. I am in no position to argue that fifty is the new thirty. (Hah!) I will feel slightly superior about not letting Cheetos touch my lips in nearly twenty years, though.
The California returns are a little slower in coming. One respondent in sunny San Diego provides a mostly-honest consumer profile. She remarks that her haul is a ‘light’ shopping expedition. Sunny D spent approximately $87.00 on thirty-four things. I smile when I realize the most expensive item is $12.99 for whey protein beating out the price for actual steak. Also, it turns out a fresh Del Monte pineapple in California is more expensive than it is here, in Michigan. My father would have been pleased to point this out—and then he would have bought ten of them to increase his savings.
I ask her whether the assignment affected her attitude:
Me: So, how would you answer the multiple-choice question? Sunny D: “C definitely C but just a tiny bit, I told [husband] he could not fill the cart with beer! And I had a coupon for the Kleenex and then the store had a buy 6 and save sale so I had to stock up 🙂 ”***
I speak with another California participant. I’ve dubbed her LaLaLand—although she lives outside of Hollywood proper—she’s just a bullet’s ricochet away from the famed city. Her multiple-choice answer is ‘A’; she feels that shopping with a mission is more exciting. She sends the prettiest picture and, since we’ve been roommates in the past, I am not surprised by her haul.
Me: “Did you shop for anything differently?” LaLaLand: “Well, I kind of thought, ‘Would Kiri like this?’ I was shopping for you.” Me:*blush* “Aww, gee. Thanks.”
I don’t let her attempts at flattery stop me from asking the hard-hitting questions:
Me: “Was this because you didn’t want people to know what you typically shop for?” LaLaLand:*laughs* “No. My life is an open cart.” Me: “That would make a great book title.”
LaLaLand makes a few non-committal remarks before blurting a small confession:
LaLaLand: “Sometimes I look at people’s stuff in line and think, ‘Somebody is going to have a party!’ based on what they’ve got there.”
I suspect she isn’t referring to an excess of cake and balloons. We exchange laughs at our shared voyeurism and then she says something more serious:
LaLaLand: “No, mostly when I’m shopping, I am thinking how much is this gonna cost me and can I afford it?”
Our conversation swerves to the topic of finding low-priced food in a state as expensive as California. LaLaLand is originally from Michigan, so I am surprised to find she is daunted by having to drive to get her groceries to save money. She does have her standards, however. While there is a nearer Walmart, she pooh-poohs that idea outright.
LaLaLand: “I don’t like to shop for groceries there.”
Her opinion is final and immovable in the face of economic need versus personal preference. Apparently, it is worth going a little further afield to avoid Wally-World. My next interview brings the issue of economic necessity to a head with a whiplash-inducing, 180-degree veer off the conversational cliff.
It’s Monday, I’m compiling the scraps of my data seeking a theme for the post. Comparing the lists and wishing I had a few more participants, I check Facebook for inspiration and send a private message to one of the people who’d said they were interested in taking part. Periwinkle is a fellow parent in the autism community and, though I do not know her well, all autism families share a pool of similar experiences that makes for an immediate bond.
I try for the breezy-but-I’m-not-needy approach:
Me: “Periwinkle – Hey, just checking to see if you had the chance to get to the store and take a picture of your groceries. No worries if you didn’t. K”
After a few minutes, I get a reply. It’s short and it knocks me on my metaphorical butt.
Periwinkle: “I didn’t forget – I thought I was going to get some money to be able to buy food but am unable to buy food for my family currently.”
If instant messages came with crickets—fields would be chirping to fill the void of my initial lack of response. The crickets continue to chirp while my mind races to process what I just read.
“…can’t buy groceries…?”
I’m ashamed to admit, my first thought was, “How am I going to write a humorous article knowing that?” The answer is, I can’t. There is absolutely nothing funny about people struggling to get by. The only way we can function in real life is we don’t actively know someone is in need unless we ask. Well, I’d asked.
Over the next hour, we exchange instant messages that are frank and, on her side, a mixture of embarrassment and fear. Her typing is awkward and a little hard to read. She injured her wrist recently and it is difficult to do everything with one hand. I can just imagine trying to cook this way! Periwinkle’s husband needs surgery and is seeing a doctor on the seventeenth of this month. You wouldn’t think you could read emotional distress in a typed message, but it comes through in staccato phrases. Periwinkle admits it near the end of our discussion–she’s reached a point of despair.
Me: “I know my questions are intrusive, so if this is hard to talk about, I can respect that.” Periwinkle: “Sorry I just unloaded on you – I’m very frustrated.” Me: “I would be beyond frustrated. I would be scared and worried.” Periwinkle: “….I don’t mind. I feel like I’m drowning so it’s nice to share a little…. I am scared and worried and honestly quite done with existing.”
I may not know much, but I recognize a cry for help. I’ve had that kind of moment myself, not for the same reasons, but that empty sense that the world is going on merrily around you–unaware that you are drowning.
We exchange a rapid-fire series of messages identifying ways to get food in the local community. I suggest she set up a Go-fund Me page for the current financial stress and need for groceries. I check my cupboards and admit to myself my impulse shopping in bulk might have finally paid off. I have groceries to spare.
I promise to bring a few bags by after I’ve taken my boy to his oh-so-reluctant music lesson. As we leave the center where he has therapy, the snow, which had been gracefully wafting as we went in, is now swirling madly as if dancing to a demented waltz.
Driving is dizzying and the roads are slick. At one point, I see a car make a sharp left at a corner and drive straight into a building. Fortunately, the driver had been crawling through the intersection, but it forced me to reroute from our destination. I’ve never been so grateful to make it to someone’s house.
Periwinkle waves her uninjured arm from the door, but sends her older son to grab some of the stuff. I admit when I hand mine off to her, “If I hadn’t already promised to come, I would have saved this for tomorrow.” I indicated the near-blizzard swirling around us. She thanks me, but we are both a little awkward and make quick goodbyes to get in out of the freezing cold.
I have no great end to this bizarre, journalistic turn of events. I began this article with lighthearted intentions—before I spoke with Periwinkle. I have no illusions about my acumen as a reporter; I just know that there are some things I can’t ignore. I prefer to write about laughter and whimsy—it is my cure for the dark that tends to lurk. But, I can’t stand by when someone else is drowning. Can you?
If you want to help Periwinkle, here is a link to herGoFundMe
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
* I’m the covetous bad girl at the Lane 6 register.
**Feeling superior because of other people’s poor food choices, would the German for this be ‘Schaden-Foodie?’
***Sunny D lives in California where, apparently, emoticons are used instead of punctuation marks.
You’ve read this far bonus:
The Lure of Vegetation
By A. Voyeur
Glistening skin Polish shining like wet frogs Deep green, tightly stretched and crunchy. Bulbous stem jutting up, Curling a beckoning finger. Call me Peter Piper sans the pickle GREEN PEPPER!
The neighborhood squirrels had something juicy to gossip about this weekend. I invite you to consider how it went–I imagine it looked something like this:
Bushy-Tailed Theater Presents:
One Nut Too Many
Squirrel One: “Chitter chitter, chitter chit…(hang on, translation matrix is running slowly)…there…she’s at it again. First, she brought the plastic bags filled with yummy goodness to her giant not-a-tree house and then she moves it all back to the smaller not-a-tree house.”
Squirrel Two: “It’s about damned time. I can’t understand why she stored the food in a place so close to where she sleeps! Doesn’t she know that’s the first place other humans will look for food?”
The squirrels watch for a few minutes as the human wheels more and more bags filled with yummy goodness to the smaller not-a-tree house to feed it to the white beast living there.* They watch as she attempts a game of Tetris—trying manically to shove all of the stuff into a place too small to fit it.
Squirrel One: “What is she doing with it now?”
Squirrel Two: “Putting it in the white beast that hums in the smaller not-a-tree house…hmmm, she is terrible at packing nuts. She is doing the human equivalent of a bushy-tailed dance of frustration…what do you suppose ‘sonofabeak’ means anyway? Humans don’t have beaks!”
Squirrel One: “Who knows with humans? She’s obviously got too many nuts. She should get rid of a few.”
Squirrel Two: “Well, you can forget about getting any of the sweet snow. The human boy is eating it straight out of the carton for dinner. We’ll be lucky to get to lick the leftovers when the trash goes out six suns from now.”
Squirrel One:“He can have it. I tried the yellow kind once and it was terrible.”
What the squirrels do not realize is that the human—me—is very shortly going to realize that the not-humming-any-more white beast in the house—the refrigerator—is not actually broken. But I won’t find this out until the next morning. Someone who shall not be named unplugged it in a genius work-around of the “Do not turn the dial in the fridge to off!” rule.
For those keeping count, the game stands:
Autistic Child – one. Clueless Parent – zero.
The squirrels do not know what to make of the human’s reversal of the previous night’s move.
Squirrel One: “Chitter, chitter…screw it…Hey, Frank get over here. She’s back.”
Squirrel Two: “What? I was watching the boy human create a nest. He is really marvelous with his use of scissors on various media. I wish I had opposable thumbs.”
Squirrel One: “Never mind that, I’ve seen that episode before. It ends with the mother human yelling at the boy human, making him clean it up…and then the boy dumps it all out again when her back is turned. No, you want to watch and see what she’s doing now.”
Squirrel Two: “What…hey!…didn’t she just move all that stuff yester-sundown? Why would she move it all back to where she stored it in the first place? Was the smaller not-a-tree house invaded?”
Squirrel One: “Nah. At least, not on my watch. She just wanted to repack it all, I guess. She gave the white, humming beast in the big not-a-tree house a bath. She was very tender and loving toward it. Though, she didn’t lick it or anything. She cut the monster into pieces and washed each section in the small silver lake in the food room.”
Squirrel Two: “Was it some kind of human magic? Was she trying to prevent a curse?”
Squirrel One: “No…but maybe she was trying to inflict one. I heard a lot of cursing going on.”
Squirrel Two: “Who was she trying to hex?”
Squirrel One: “The boy human, I think. She chittered at him on and off all sun-time. Though, I don’t think they speak the same language. He kept indicating he wanted something to eat and she just kept making him help bathe the giant humming beast that’s hogging all the food. She’s only encouraging him to try and kill it again later, from what I can tell.”
Squirrel Two: “Humans are weird.”
Squirrel One: “Like I said, there’s one nut too many in that place.”
Asterisk Bedazzled Squirrely Footnote:
*I don’t care how labored the effort is, I find squirrel speak hilariously funny. Be grateful I limited it to household descriptions.
I should have been a bear. Really! Every time January rolls around, I eat a houseful of food and then want to curl up in a ball and bury my head under the covers until June. I look at everyone else around me who seems to be inordinately energized—bothering to wash laundry and cook meals, for example. Whereas I considered bribing my son with an ice cream sandwich this morning if only he’d get himself up and dressed for school on time.*
Winter break wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. However, lazy days have their side effects. I slowly devolved from a marginally-together person into an Amazon-Prime-channeling slug. The thought of reading anything besides junk-food thrillers or sexy, slithery beast men who woo their sexual partners with a combination of near-abuse and copious amounts of testosterone-soaked pheromones is un-bearable. (Pun intended. You’re welcome.) This is anything but Prime reading! If you think I am kidding, check out a few of the titles available for “Free” on Amazon Kindle Unlimited.**
By the way, I am NOT recommending these. I just searched a random term in Kindle unlimited and grabbed the worst-sounding titles I could find in under ten seconds.
Mid-winter lethargy shows itself everywhere. This post is the first thing that I have written in nearly a month. I’m so lazy, I’m even giving up on double-spacing after the period at the end of each sentence based on the fear it will mark me a geriatric writer of old-school sensibilities. Hmm, that gives me an idea of novel spin-off possibilities:
Sentence and Sensibilities
Definitely NOT written by a Lady
When Elinor and Edward meet–the after-school special begins! First, he drops his participles when she walks past; then he omits his Oxford comma. How ever will she tame his wild ways? Prim school marm, Elinor, disciplines her most recalcitrant student, Edward, for his pitiful punctuation performance. He then turns the tables on his teacher when he changes into a ferocious werebeast and lectures his proud school mistress in love. Who will punctuate improperly after this naughty remedial class?***
(If this sounds more like Pride and Prejudice—blame my limited knowledge of Jane Austen novels.)
I can’t say whether the plot is Prime-worthy, but musing about it at least whiles away the time between naps. Until the next chapter…I’ll be reading between the sheets.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*Child got waffles instead. You’d think the act of depressing the toaster was tantamount to preparing a full-course banquet the exhaustion the prospect gave me.
**“Free” means it only costs your dignity if anyone catches you reading it.
***Their conjugation brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “Teacher’s Pet.”
I am suffering a cookie backlash. It’s something like the brain freeze you get from sucking down a super-sweet slushie too fast. I ate nearly a whole plate of cookies before realizing, “Hey, I am apparently hungry for dinner and cookies…though delicious…sadly, are not dinner.” I blame my son and his cookie-niverous habits for setting a bad example.
I am supposed to be writing about my personal philosophy of life as part of my DBT group therapy* Part of my instruction is to “Learn and do challenging things that help me grow and mature as a human being.” So far, all I have managed to do is throw my agnostic self into the holiday spirit like a drunk at an open bar.
In the past week, I have walked the neighborhood enjoying the random display of holiday lights that sparkle and invite; I’ve frosted enough cookies to qualify as a half-baked mad woman; and, I’ve sculpted a snowman and pelted snowballs in pursuit of the perfect snowy day. Perhaps I can find a personal philosophy herein?
Let There Be Light!
The majority of homes in our neighborhood have no decorations at all.** So, as my son and I walked, we passed rows and rows of quiet, well-behaved buildings in order to find the rowdy and unruly ones clad for a festive night life.
There were Simplistic Scenes:
Perfectly Balanced Perfections:
The Whimsical and Charming:
Hazardous and Slap-dash Efforts:
And Truly Dazzling Displays:
And then there was the show-stopping efforts we traveled to Lansing to admire. I can’t even imagine where one shops to find a Jabba the Hutt inflatable Christmas display.
Have a Very Star Wars X-Mas!
I don’t know whether the way one strings lights says much (or anything at all) about one’s mental health—but my philosophy says the least amount of effort brings the greatest pleasure. That, and you really can’t enjoy your own outdoor decorations. So, it is better to live opposite the house that puts one up—which in my case, is what happened. I get to admire the beauty and they foot the bill! It’s a win-win, really.
No, to find philosophy, one has to go deep into the kitchen. Perhaps all philosophers start out staring at the world around them to find meaning. This is what I discovered while getting baked…er…I mean baking.
The Cookie Maker’s Manifesto
No matter how well you follow the recipe, you are going to forget how many cups of flour you have painstakingly scooped half-way through. It pays to buy enough measuring cups for a double recipe.
When you go to roll your dough, be prepared for breaks, cracks and just plain wrong efforts.
You will burn the first batch. Expect failure.
Cute, mini gingerbread houses are bound to be just as hard to construct as real ones.
The walls will not want to go up right the first time; you will put them on the wrong way each time; and, you will definitely break a wall pressing too hard.
Frosting plus cinnamon red hots make a handy-dandy, makeshift chimney to hold up a house and hide foundation-wide cracks.
With enough frosting—even badly rolled, overly-floured cookies are edible. And, even if they aren’t, with enough sugar candies, they are at least pretty.
If you can’t find the sweetness of life in your cookies – perhaps you can find it in sublimated aggression otherwise known as snowball fights.
It always starts off innocent:
“Let’s build a snowman.”
Soon you are bundled to within an inch of your life wondering how the suit that fit last year is so snug? You waddle into the yard and start scooping snow.
You mean for this to be a nice, fun experience…but before long, the balls are flying! (Not pictured because, duh, flying snowballs.)
What have we learned from all this? I can’t really say. Perhaps in all the madness of the season hides the reason for the madness?
Shine the Light on Your Anxieties?
I’m not sure if I’ve found the meaning of life in all my wanderings this week. Is it like a colorfully lit, snowy landscape? It can look pretty on the sparkling surface, but the minute you scrape away the white layer the dirt-encrusted reality is unearthed? No…that’s not it.
Cookies as a Panacea?
Can philosophy be found in an oven? If you see a cutesy cookie cutter at World Market—put it down and back away slowly—it is bound to bring you hardship and grief! Nope…I don’t think that is quite right either.
Snowball-ism! Is violence really the answer?
No matter how well-intentioned, every snowman creation ends up being a frigid brawl dressed like an inflatable sumo wrestler! Ahh. That’s it. That’s my philosophy for the week: Don’t fling the frozen water if you can’t take the cold!***
Of course, when the fair weather returns, I’ll be shopping around for a new mantra. I suspect innate sand castle mortality and nagging mosquito bite b-itchiness are in the offing. Until then, avoid the chill and wait out the winter with a good book and hot cocoa. Everybody cool’s doing it.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*Right about now that philosophy would be “Don’t eat just one more! There is no end of ‘just one more’ when it comes to cookies.”
**These are the homes of people who fear giant electricity bills.
***It helps if you pick a seven-year-old as your opponent. Even if you can’t outrun him, you can always squish him in defense.
It is my one day off this week—a Monday filled with unfettered freedoms. At least, it will be just as soon as the window guy finishes up giving an estimate of the possibility of installing one more escape route for my child to threaten my sanity with.*
I should write.
But first I will rake some leaves. And then there is the pile of socks to sort and fold along with approximately 1 billion pair of underwear that, for some reason, are all inside out when they come out of the dryer.
I want to be a writer…but I need to return the clothes that didn’t fit and pick up the prescription at the store. Plus—as always—groceries.
I should WRITE!
Instead, I have managed to fill seven tiny plastic bags with assorted non-edible goodies for Halloween treats for my son to take to class—a class of children who really couldn’t care less if they get stickers and pencils instead of sugary products to rot their teeth. I will try to feel virtuous and not imagine the rubber duckies winding up in a landfill instead.
If I write, will it be of the grandiose imaginings that drift through my mind? Will I finally dig up the series this blog’s title is based upon? Will I manage to untangle the Gordian knot of plot threads that are choking the life out of the beastly thing? History suggests: NO! I won’t.**
Maybe I will write today, but the clock is winding down. Time is a super-stellar suck of obligations, an enemy to creativity. It whisks away the should-have’s and could-have’s and leaves me with unfolded laundry and indecision.
I ShOuLDWrITe, dAMmIT!
But will I?***
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*So, how does everyone feel about egress windows? Thoughts? Opinions? Dire predictions of home invasion or child escapism?
**My friend suggested a numbered list of reasons why I don’t write. I hate the click-bait ploy of lists, so I opted for this rambling mess instead.
Fall is here. The farmer’s market is overflowing with knobby, thick-skinned vegetables. The pumpkins are a little lopsided and I am drawn to long, creamy-skinned butternut squash.* When I pass mounds of earthy cabbage, I am haunted by my father.
I have a distinct memory from childhood of my father, out in the front yard, kneeling in the grass and chopping cabbage with the savage ferocity of a Mongol Horde bent on conquest. Why does this memory stick, you may wonder? He would buy cabbage in bulk, you see. A head of cabbage probably cost something like 60 cents back in the day—but if you bought a bushel, you’d get ‘em for a steal.
If you buy even a half-bushel, like my father did, that’s still a lot of cabbage. That means a lot of coleslaw or–gag–sauerkraut.** Nearly every weekend, my father was outside wearing plaid shorts, a white undershirt, black socks and work boots that he left unlaced, crouched over a butcher’s block cutting board committing cruciferous homicide. He would do this for a good hour or more. He did this with sufficient repetitive monotony that it has become one long reel of boring dad-moments, with only a minor variation on a theme if the bushel contained an elusive red cabbage–which made for an extra-bloody looking pile when he got done.
We have no pictures of my father hunkered in all his glory, but it is burned forever in vivid Kodachrome on the part of my brain where random, goofy memories are stored.
So now, whenever I visit the farmer’s market to check out the goods, I linger for a moment before the veiny, green-white disembodied heads…and remember.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*And before you go all phallic on me, I like to chop them into cubes and broil them until they cry for mercy. Try to make a sexual innuendo outta that!
**I survived several winters’ discontent of consuming sloppy, homemade sauerkraut by vomiting dramatically whenever forced to eat it.
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.”