January 31, 2009

What I learned in second grade

My second grade teacher loved to dance. In the afternoon when we’d come back from lunch, she’d have us push back the desks to clear the middle of the classroom. Then she’d stand in front of us, pulling up her black robes so that we could see her feet, and demonstrate the steps. Crowded with the other kids against the blackboard that smelled like chalk, I’d listen to the jingle of her beads and the swish of her clothing and the squeak of those sturdy black shoes.

Sun came in the big windows, and our bodies made shadows as we moved. Sister Dancing Marie taught us the jig, the waltz, the foxtrot. She put us together in pairs, usually arranged by height. I’d look down at my legs, skinny legs in green kneesocks under a plaid uniform skirt, to make sure I was doing the right steps. I never looked at the boy I was dancing with, even when he tried to talk to me. He was always trying to talk to me.

Then Sister Dancing Marie would select an album. When she dropped the needle onto the record, music filled the whole room, surging over the desks and under the edges of the spelling tests that hung from the bulletin boards. I forgot all about my feet or the boy who kept trying to talk to me. I tossed my braids back and let the rhythm take over my legs, my arms, my body.

That’s mostly what I remember about second grade. The way the sun felt coming through those big windows, the jingle of beads as my teacher danced, and the way it felt to move my body to music.

January 30, 2009

Friday Extra Kid Blogging


Ponytail is four years old. She lives down the road with her mother, her eight-year-old brother, and a baby brother. Her two older siblings and her father are sometimes there and sometimes not. Every afternoon after school, she and her brother knock on our door and ask to come in and play. Sometimes she brings her doll.

January 29, 2009


My great grandfather was fifteen when he came over from Country Shaped Like a Boot. By 1896, he had married and settled down in Snowstorm Region. He and my great grandmother had a bunch of kids, seven of whom lived to adulthood. One of those kids was my grandfather. When the seven kids grew up, they didn’t move very far away. They pretty much all lived near their parents in an Italian neighborhood on the north side of Snowstorm City, even after they started their own families. That’s where my father lived when he was a child.

The youngest of the seven kids was Great Uncle Artist. A quiet man who kept to himself, he never married. One of his oil paintings hung in the staircase of my parents’ house all while I was growing up, and my father always talks admiringly about what an amazing artist he was. Great Uncle Artist made a living as a commercial artist: in those days, department stores and furniture stores would hire artists to draw ads that would run in the newspapers. Except the time he spent in Iceland as a soldier during World War II, he lived his whole adult life in the same house, next door to the house he’d been born in.

He died this week, at the age of ninety. He was the last of his generation in my father’s family, the last of the seven kids.

The group who gathered at the wake yesterday afternoon were mostly my father’s cousins. My father’s generation, most of whom lived in that same neighborhood as children, have since spread out across Snowstorm Region, and even across the country.

I drove with my parents to the wake in a snowstorm, which meant we were moving very slowly. My father always points out places he remembers as I drive along. “There used to be a dance place on that corner.” As we passed a big brick building, he said to me, “That used to be Saint Mary’s Maternity Hospital. That’s where you were born.”

Today, as we gathered at the cemetery, I brushed the snow off the tombstone I was standing next to and realized that it was the grave of my great grandparents. I use my great grandfather's last name, although it’s an Americanized version of it.

At lunch after the funeral, one of my cousins told us the story of how he flew to Europe and went back to the little town where my great grandfather was from originally, the first family member to return in over 100 years. Another cousin said to me, “Hey, let’s find each other on facebook. The younger generation is congregating there.”

Note: It didn't seem right to take photos at a funeral, but then I noticed that there was a stained glass window inside the bathroom at the church, so I quietly took a photo where no one could see me.

January 27, 2009

Sabbatical scarf

Sabbatical scarf

My writing has always been relegated to leftover bits of time — a few minutes here and there — when I'm not teaching or going to meetings or caring for kids or doing housework or spending time with family members. When my kids were younger, I wrote poetry because it was easy to pull a poem up on the computer screen to work on it when I had a minute or two. Most of my blog posts are written while my kids are at music lessons and I’m sitting in the car, waiting for them. Writing has always been something I’ve done during stolen moments.

The most difficult part of being on sabbatical has been sitting down at my desk and giving myself permission to work on a manuscript without that nagging feeling that I should be doing something else. I have to keep reminding myself, “I’m on sabbatical. I’m SUPPOSED to be writing.”

So I’ve developed some rituals to make space for myself. One thing I’m doing is charting my progress — writing down what I accomplish each day. I’m not counting by words, or pages, or chapters, but simply writing down how much time I spent working on the manuscript. And I’m giving myself an hour in the morning to catch up on emails, eat breakfast, and meditate before I begin.

And then there is my sabbatical scarf — a long, beautiful, crazy scarf made by Blogger Who Loves Cake. After my husband and kids leave for school each morning, I get dressed, put on the scarf, and sit down at my desk. Every time I look down at the lovely lunatic fringe, it reminds me that no, I don't need to do housework, no, I don't need to respond to emails, no, I don't need to make a plan for supper. The scarf is my reminder that yes, I can spend this time writing and NOT TAKE CARE OF EVERYONE ELSE.

It's a wonderful, warm reminder.

ETA: For everyone who has emailed me to ask about the scarf, she does sell them at her Etsy shop. Here is the link.

January 26, 2009

Above the sink

Above the sink

Last November, when a bunch of us helped move my friend Makes Bread into her new home, I noticed that one of her potted plants had a wonderful spicy fragrance. After I moved the plant into the moving van, the whole truck smelled great. She called the plant “bush basil” and that’s when I realized that yeah, the scent made me think of basil, one of my favorite smells.

That night, I ordered some seeds, and a few days later, I planted some bush basil to keep on my kitchen windowsill. Every time I walk over to the sink to rinse out a cup or wash my hands, I admire the green that’s beginning to grow. Outside, my yard is frozen and white, but inside I’m gardening in a couple of clay pots. I think the leaves are edible, but really, I’m not growing it to eat. I just want my kitchen filled with that wonderful smell.

January 25, 2009

Backwards glimpse

Backwards glimpse

In January, the landscape is mostly white and grey, with dark trees hunched near snow-covered roads. Even the sky is often grey, with swirling whiteness that blurs houses and fences. As I drive along a country road, I find myself looking for bits of colour: the purple coat of a young woman walking out to her mailbox, the bright green helmet of a snowmobiler crossing a field, or the red barn I glimpse in the rear view mirror.

January 23, 2009

Foggy Lullabye

Foggy lullabye

And yelled

Shaggy Hair Boy had a birthday this week, and family members have been sending their favorite anecdotes about him over the family email list. He’s the most emotive of my kids — very different from his two brothers, who tend to be the strong, silent type.

Shaggy Hair Boy has a very expressive face: when he was little, you could actually see the freckles dance. When he’d get frustrated, he’d lose his temper and scream, a high-pitched noise that was as jarring as a smoke alarm. We were all relieved when his voice finally changed.

Red-haired Sister, who lives about 250 miles away, tells a story about the time we were staying at her house for a few days. Shaggy Hair Boy was about seven years old.

The visit was going along peacefully until the morning that she heard loud shrieking coming from a bedroom. She rushed down the hall, thinking that one of the kids was getting hurt.

When she opened the door, she found Shaggy Hair Boy, who was all alone. He smiled at her happily.

She looked around, confused. "Did you hear that awful screaming?" she asked.

“Mom said I couldn't scream at your house unless I was in a separate room," Shaggy Hair Boy said.

He beamed at her. "Boy in Black took the last piece of bacon so I came in here and yelled and yelled and yelled."

January 21, 2009


Yesterday afternoon when the two little kids from up the street came over, I was still watching the inauguration day events on TV. They crowded into the boys’ bedroom with me (that’s where our television is) to watch the parade. Little Biker Boy was bursting with the new stuff he had learned at school that day.

“Barack Obama!” he yelled the name proudly, as if he’d been practicing it. “Barack. Barack. We have a new president.”

He looked at me importantly, “Our first brown president.”

He was fascinated with the Secret Service men we could see on the television screen. Ponytail, who is only four, looked on wide-eyed as we talked about the role of the Secret Service in keeping our new president safe. It was obvious that whatever his teacher had said had made an impression.

The talk made me nervous as I looked at the screen, and I felt relieved when our new president and his wife got back into their vehicle.

“Did you hear of Martin Luther King Something?” Little Biker Boy asked.

“Martin Luther King, Jr.” I said.

“Someone killed him.”

“I know,” I said quietly. “I remember. I was about your age.”

He looked startled.

After a few minutes, the two little kids disappeared downstairs. When I came down to check on them, they were marching around the living room, smiling and waving, as if they were the President and First Lady while Shaggy Hair Boy played "America the Beautiful" on the piano.

“I could be president,” said Little Biker Boy. Ponytail piped up, “Me too!” When it got dark, I walked them back to their trailer, and they marched down the middle of the road, practicing their royal waves the whole way.

January 20, 2009

The times they are a-changin'

The times they are a-changin'

It's a Tuesday morning. I'm wearing sweatpants and an old sweatshirt, and I'm drinking ginger ale and eating crackers, as I recover from yesterday's stomach virus. I'm sitting on a beat-up couch in the boys' bedroom, a messy room filled with blankets and books and crumpled white socks. I've just spent a few minutes adjusting the rabbit ears on an old television set that is propped up under a big black-and-white poster of a young Bob Dylan.

The boys are at school and my husband is at work, but I'm on sabbatical. I should be down at my desk, writing, but I'm not. It's very rare for me to have the television on, especially in the daytime — it's something I reserve for momentous occasions. My laptop is on, and I am reading messages from friends, family members, and former students. As it gets closer to noon, my daughter wanders in sleepily in pajama pants and a t-shirt, and sits next to me on the old couch that Boy in Black sawed in half, carried upstairs, and rebuilt.

Outside, it's cold and the ground is covered with snow. I look around the room. A homemade R2D2 is shoved in the corner, bandanas hang from a lamp, a cat pounces on the couch, a DVD set of Heroes sits on the edge of the bookcase, and my daughter stares at the television set while we both listen intently. I memorize the details. This is a moment I want to remember.

January 19, 2009

Before the dark times

The weapon of a Jedi Knight

the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice.

That's Boy in Black in the photo, practicing with his light saber. In our living room, of course.

January 18, 2009

The way home

The way home

Desolate is the word visitors sometimes use to describe the winter landscape of Snowstorm Region. “I can’t imagine living here,” a friend once told me when she visited in January. In subzero weather, the trick is to search out pockets of warmth and colour to combat that seasonal desolation.

I spent the weekend doing just that. Friday night, I went to a movie with my husband, so that we could eat popcorn and drink lemonade, and imagine what it would be like to keep getting younger while everyone else is getting older.

Saturday morning, my friend Beautiful Hair picked me up, and we drove across glittering white hills to the small town where Gorgeous Eyes lives. In her cosy kitchen, we drank tea and ate spicy tomato soup and talked about our lives, while a yellow Tibetan prayer flag flapped in the icy wind outside the big glass doors.

Saturday afternoon, my husband and I went to the home of Monking Friend and Contagious Laugh to hang out with a dozen friends and play silly games in front of the fire. We came home in time to join the gang of young people at the house for a candle ceremony in honor of Shaggy Hair Boy’s eighteenth birthday. By candlelight and saberlight, we told stories about the freckled-faced little boy who has turned into a young man.

This morning, I brushed the snow off the car one more time, so that we could drive past red barns and white fields of corn stubble to get to the ski slopes. We spend the day snowboarding down the slopes in about a foot of fresh powder, and in between — eating french fries and hot sauce in the lodge.

It was a busy weekend, filled with friends and families, and the warmth of the fire. As we drove home from the ski slopes, the wind whipped snow across the fields and roads, a landscape of desolate beauty.


January 17, 2009

Ice dancer


When the weather gets very cold, the snow crunches under my boots, making a squeaky, crackling sound. Our cats sniff the air and choose to stay inside. Nothing melts. The icicle on the lilac bush near the back door dangles precariously, like a ballet dancer holding a position.

January 16, 2009

Don't Wear This. Ever.

When I was staying with Red-haired Niece in Big City Like No Other, we had a couple of quiet evenings on the couch with our laptops — and a television set. Since I don’t normally have access to cable television, I told Red-haired Niece I wanted to see a reality television show that my friends keep telling me about. It’s called, “Clothes You Shouldn’t Wear” or “That Looks Awful on You” or “What not to Buy” or something like that. I can never remember the exact title.

Red-haired Niece obligingly taped a couple episodes of the show. I told her that my friends kept threatening to send my name into the show, and she warned me, “Um, that’s not a compliment.”

Here’s how the show goes: two fashion know-it-alls descend upon an unsuspecting person. They announce to her that they’ve been secretly taking all kinds of unflattering photos of her, which they intend to show on national television. Furthermore, her friends are all in on the secret.

What happens next is truly bizarre. Does Unsuspecting Woman Who Wears Unflattering Clothes get angry at her friends? Does she demand that close-ups of her butt in pink flowered hotpants be deleted forever? Does she throw a temper tantrum and threaten to kill the next photographer who comes near her? No. She acts like she’s happy to see the Fashion Police and would just love to be mocked on a television show. Yes, that’s right. Perfectly normal reaction.

The Fashion Duo ask her to choose her favorite outfits, so that they can make her stand in front of a mirror and mock her. Then they throw most of her clothes away. I think I’d like that part of the deal. I’d have a whole lot more closet space when those two got through with my wardrobe, let me tell you. Then they give Poorly Dressed Woman enough money to feed a whole village of starving people and tell to go buy some new clothes with the money.

Next, Badly Dressed Woman wanders helplessly through stores in Big City Like No Other, knowing she’s not supposed to buy the unfashionable crap she’s been wearing, but acting pretty clueless about what she should buy. She mutters things like, “God, I hate buying clothes.” (This is what makes my friends think I’d be perfect for the part.) The Fashion Duo watch her on a small screen and make snarky comments, sometimes screaming things like, “Oh, no! Why would you even try that on?”

The horrible part is that they make her go shopping ALONE. I mean, really. Who goes shopping all by themselves? Where are her girlfriends? Her sisters? Her mother? No wonder the poor woman can’t remember the rules and is trying on those narrow walking shorts that make her thighs look weird. Come on. Even I know enough not to go into a dressing room alone. It’s like entering a dark alley in the city or swimming in the ocean. It’s dangerous without a friend.

Of course, in the end, Snarky Fashion Duo come to her rescue. Mostly, they offer wide-legged pants to “create a flattering silhouette” for all those times she’s going to be posing on a pier in front of sunset. Then they always add a jacket. These two really like jackets. And they make stupid comments like, “And here are some fun shoes.” Fun shoes? How are shoes supposed to be fun? I mean, unless they're tap shoes or roller skates, it's hard to see what could be fun about footwear.

I almost forgot the best part. She goes off into another room and this guy does stuff to her hair. He doesn’t let her look at what he’s doing, just swirls her away from the mirror and starts cutting away like crazy. Since I hate making decisions about my hair, I think I'd like that part. Except for one thing: he always wants to dye the hair. That means in just a few weeks, the poor woman is going to have roots. Then her friends will send her name into the show “What Not to do to Your Hair.”

January 14, 2009

Learning to balance

Learning to balance

Ponytail, the four-year-old from down the street, in my front yard.

A wild goose, perhaps?

I flipped a coin with my husband — and lost. I tried to pass the task off on Boy in Black, but he came up with some excuse. (I’ve long suspected that he has the same fear of malls that I do.) My daughter was sadly unavailable. And so that’s how it happened. Suddenly, I was headed to the mall with With-a-Why, my quiet, long-haired baby-of-the-family.

In the car, I tried to convince myself that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. We weren’t buying clothes. Nothing needed to be tried on. We simply needed to buy a present for a friend. For a birthday party that started in an hour.

Me: (cheerfully) Let’s make a plan! What do you want to get him?
With-a-Why: I don’t know.
Me: You must have some idea.
With-a-Why: (fiddling with the CD player) Where’s the Wilco CD?

Me: What kind of gift would a fourteen-year-old boy like?
With-a-Why: (shrugging) How should I know?
Me: Um …. you ARE a fourteen-year-old boy.
With-a-Why: But I’m not like most people my age.

Me: But you do KNOW him, right?
With-a-Why: He sits at my lunch table.
Me: So what do you talk about?
With-a-Why: He likes granola bars.

I looked at my watch. This was going to be a long hour.

January 13, 2009

I like to see it lap the miles

I like to see it lap the miles

Last week, I spend days walking around the crowded streets of Big City Like No Other, going into museums or cafes when I was cold. I saw huge paintings and giant statues and glass cases full of delicate jewelry. I wandered around ChinaTown, admiring all the bright red and gold decorations that hung for sale from racks in front of stores. No matter where I went, people were rushing about, hurrying to work, or walking their dogs in the park by the river, or crowding to shove their bodies into packed trains.

The scenery on the train ride home was desolate in comparison. By the time the train emerged from the tunnel, we’d already left behind the crowds, the yellow taxis, the stands of bright-coloured fruit, and the city folks hurrying along sidewalks. All I could see was a river rushing along under tall bridges, and fields of snow.

As we moved west and north, the weather changed. The river was filled with ice and the trees along the track covered with snow. We were driving into a storm, a blur of whiteness shaped by cold wind and the rush of the train. I couldn’t even see the small towns that I knew were there, just trees and clouds and snow. I spread my winter coat over my legs and ate the apple I’d brought with me. I could hear the guy behind me talking on his cell phone, “Yeah, it’s some kind of storm. Like … a lot of snow.”

Most of the other passengers seemed to be sleeping, or at least lulled into numbness by the rhythm of the movement or the sight of the whirling snow. I fell into a daydream in which I was traveling to the north pole on the Polar Express. How cool it would be to pass deep forests and wolves and then glittering fields of ice.

Suddenly I recognized the rusty metal of a familiar bridge. “The green bridge!” I said aloud. Everyone in Traintrack Village calls it that, even though most of the green paint rusted off long ago. My announcement stirred the other passengers, who began getting up, looking for their coats, and taking down bags and suitcases. We were almost home.

Promises to keep

January 12, 2009

All that white stuff

On our way up

The driving was terrible yesterday — the kind of winter driving I absolutely hate. Cold winds had dumped a foot or so of fresh snow onto the roads and fields over night, and despite the efforts of the big heavy-duty snowplows we have in this region, loose snow was still drifting across the roads as we drove along. But we left early anyhow, because I knew the tension of driving on snowy roads would be worth it.

What makes for bad winter driving makes for wonderful snowboarding conditions.

The lift lines weren't crowded at all; the bad driving had kept some folks away. And all the trails were open, even the ones that curve through the woods, far from any snow-making machines. I snowboard faster and more confidently when we've got all that fresh powder: I know that even if I fall, it won't hurt. But I didn't fall very often because new snow is easy for making turns, for carving back and forth. There were no patches of ice to send me crashing to the ground.

Perhaps what I love most about snowboarding is that it leaves me no time to think. Well, there are thoughts in my head, but they are immediate in nature: "Oh, no! I better head back the other way. Wow, this feels fast! Where did that skier come from? Oops!" Just staying upright takes all my concentration. I have no time to worry or obsess or think about anything stressful. Snowboarding is far more effective than meditation in just emptying my brain until it resembles a long expanse of snow.

January 11, 2009

Sweeping the clouds away

Sweeping the clouds away

It might be cheating to call it a blogger meet-up, because I knew her for years before she had a blog. Mostly, we see it each other at conferences, which means talking for hours in lobbies and bars and hotel rooms. Sometimes we will walk all over a strange city to find a place to hang out and chat. But last Sunday, I took a train from where I was staying in Big City Like No Other to visit Sarah Sometimes and see her home in Borough Where A Tree Grows.

We sat on her cinnamon couch, letting sunshine drench us with warmth. I looked out at her street, where buildings grow side by side with no space in between and tree branches hang over the stone staircases that lead to each building. The scene seemed so familiar I felt like I'd been there before. Then someone clanged a garbage can lid, and that's when it hit me: Sesame Street! As we talked, I kept peeking out to see if a large furry animal would come along, but I guess it was too cold for Muppets that day.

We had a lazy afternoon, drinking hot tea and looking at a photo album and catching up on all the details of our lives. We wandered around the neighborhood, took pictures of a famous street sign, and ate sandwiches and fries served by a waiter who kept teasing Sarah Sometimes for the way she uses the phrase, "I guess."

Sarah Sometimes has often mentioned to me that she lives near a park, but always I pictured a tiny little park, just big enough for a volleyball net and maybe a sandbox. Of course, since her neighborhood is named after the park so I suppose that should have given me a hint that the park was of some importance. It turns out the park is huge — 585 acres altogether. We walked on winding paths along big lawns overhung with giant trees, took a trail through a wooded area, and ended up at a pond, just as the light was beginning to fade into dusk. Since I'd promised Sarah Sometimes I'd take a new facebook photo for her, I took out my camera and began snapping photos, shouting instructions the whole time.

"Yes, that's great! But maybe take off your coat."
"Perfect! Just ... take off the sweater."
"The light's just right. But you don't need that shirt."

Too quickly, she caught on. "It's winter time! In a public park! I'm not going to pose naked for your blog!"

Perhaps if it had been warmer, I could have talked her into it. But by the time she was down to her short-sleeved shirt, goosebumps were already creeping into the photo. And we were losing the light quickly. So readers will have to settle for the photo I took of Sarah Sometimes on her couch, looking out to see if Big Bird was around.

Late afternoon light

Searching for colour

Searching for colour

On a grey day in the city.

January 10, 2009

Up close


When I see famous bridges in photographs, they seem small somehow, fitting nicely into a frame of water and sky, fitting onto a postcard or into a magazine ad. In real life, I was overwhelmed by the size of Famous Bridge That Leads to the Borough Where Francie Nolan Lived. When I got close, I could barely fit any of it into my viewfinder. I'm not even sure if the arches in this photo count since they were more like an overpass leading to the bridge.

Famous Bridge Leading to Borough Where a Tree Lived always makes me think about the story North Country Girl told me about her parents getting engaged. They've been married about fifty years now, and their kids and grandchildren all know the story. In those days, the social expectation was that the man "propose" to the woman, and her father felt all this pressure to do the right thing. He had planned to be all romantic and make some speech about love while standing in just the right spot on the Famous Bridge, but he was so nervous that what he really said when they got to the spot was, "Oh, here. Just take this ring before I throw it off the bridge."

January 09, 2009

Pausing to people watch


On a winter day in the city, after walking briskly through the cold wind, I like to step into the warm air of a museum and thaw slowly as I look at works of art. At the Famous Circular Museum Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, I walked around and around, my hands feeling less frozen at each level. At Small Museum that Hosts Art Collected by Some Guy Now Dead, I sat on a bench in the courtyard of a mansion the art collector once made his home, a building with lovely windows right near Central Park. At Huge Art Museum, I meandered from room to room, from wing to wing, from floor to floor, feeling overwhelmed by how much there was to see.

After about an hour of looking at artwork, I'm usually saturated with colour and imagery, and that's when I take a break to sit on a bench and people watch. Museums are wonderful for people watching, because everyone is so focused on looking at artwork that they don't notice if you stare right at them.

In a room full of Egyptian art, I watched people posing with the statues, friends taking each other's pictures — for facebook, I presume. "I'm going to pretend I'm friends with the pharaoh!" Near the sandstone temple, two women sat with sketch pads, working furiously. They would stop to look at each other's drawings and talk in low voices, in that intimate way that two close friends do. In a lovely room of the Mansion-Turned-Art-Museum, I watched two young men study a painting intently. The curly-haired man seemed to be the expert. "Note these edges," he'd say in a low voice, and the other man would nod seriously.

Couples sauntered around statues, arm in arm. A father held his daughter's hand as he pointed to objects in a glass case. A group of friends clustered around a tapestry, talking and laughing and teasing each other as they admired it. Even in a huge museum, filled with throngs of tourists and herds of school children, with so many floors of artwork that it would take a lifetime to look at each piece carefully, intimate conversations take place — on benches, in corners, or often just in that little piece of floor dominated by a favorite work of art.


January 08, 2009

Below the mast

Below the mast

On a street shaded by tall buildings and filled with yellow cabs honking their horns, I looked east towards the water and caught a glimpse of a four-masted barque. I could just see the rigging of the sailing ship amidst the steel and glass of the skyscrapers.

On this cold winter morning, the usual tourists who flock to the South Street Seaport weren't there. But the boats were.

I wandered the quiet pier, gazing up at the Ship Made Famous by Irving Johnson. Standing below the huge steel hull, I could imagine it rounding Cape Horn in treacherous winds.

Besides the workers who were doing some kind of construction on the nearest street, I saw only one other person, a woman sitting by herself on the pier, reading an account of a famous sailing voyage. Every few sentences, she'd stop and look up at the boat, as if to assure herself that it was still there.

January 06, 2009

Big City Blogger Meet-up

We walked for blocks and blocks, sometimes in circles, talking the whole time. In a burst of misplaced confidence, we helpfully gave directions to a tourist, who came back and said to us cheerfully, "Hey, you were wrong! Uptown is THAT WAY!" We got kicked out of two places, although I am not at liberty to disclose the nature of our crime. Clearly word had gotten out that we were in town: at every restaurant or coffeehouse we entered, the candles had been removed from the table. My companion, you see, has a history of setting things on fire.

Yesterday, I spent the day with Pilgrim/Heretic, a blogger I've known for almost four years. I have spent many evenings hanging out at her blog, which has an uncanny resemblance to a virtual bar. Although we've exchanged emails and talked on the phone, this was my first time meeting my favorite virtual bartender face-to-face.

We moved about the city, meeting blogging friends at every turn. Phantom Scribbler gets the prize for coming the longest way (for what was sadly the shortest visit), but it was so totally wonderful to see her again. S from Rhymes with Javelin drove in to see us, taking the time to walk in the park with us, and she brought with her what is absolutely the best chocolate I've ever tasted. Magpie sneaked out of work to meet us on her lunch hour. Ianqui and Pilgrim got the chance to meet a character on my blog: Urban Sophisticate Sister, who entertained my friends with the story of how she found my blog by accident.

I cannot possibly reproduce the conversations that took place during this incredible day of blogger meet-ups and blogger reunions. We spent a ridiculous amount of time, for instance, discuss the best way to steal 30 chickens. (I say you can herd chickens quite easily — no need for a rolling suitcase with thirty holes in it for thirty clucking heads.) We told stories about things we'd set on fire — usually deliberately. We considered skinny dipping in Central Park, but decided it was too damned cold.

We talked about relationships and blogging friends and real life partners. I had that usual shifting of narratives inside my head that happens whenever I meet a blogger for the first time: "Hey, that story sounds familiar. I just read it somewhere. Oh, wait. It was ON YOUR BLOG." We covered all manner of topics: siblings, fireworks, mangos. I realized, to my horror, that I don't have a good mango story, a serious failing which I intend to overcome in the new year.

In between, we wandered City Like No Other, admiring architecture and strolling through parks and walking into alleys decorated with bright awnings and colourful merchandise. In a city that is laid out in a simple grid, where the streets are numbered and in order, I still managed to get us lost. I can get anyone lost. It's one of my talents. The strangest thing was the way Broadway disappeared mysteriously when we were trying to find it ... and then kept reappearing when we weren't looking for it at all.

Eventually, we gave up trying to find our way anywhere, and simply followed the path of least resistance — the little white man symbol that signals that it's okay to cross. ("Yes, that's a good idea, " S said. "Following the white man has worked out so well for civilization.) We switched, after that, to the blinking orange mitten symbol, which represented knitting and colour and warmth.

It was a wonderful day, filled with conversations and sightseeing and friendship. Pilgrim turned to me on the train and said, "Do you realize we've just spent 12 hours together?" But really, the 12 hours was way too short.

City wildlife

City wildlife

On my early morning walk in the city, I wrapped my scarf around my neck to keep warm and headed towards Eastern Tidal Strait. Always, my instinct is to go towards water. When I emerged from the deep shade of the tall buildings, I could feel the sun shining down onto the sidewalks and pathways of the little park that runs along the river. I saw a man practicing some kind of kick-boxing moves along the curving sidewalk. A runner went by, listening to music that only he could hear. I stood near the railing to watch the boats go by: tugboats and barges and little boats too. Seagulls and pigeons barely moved as I approached. When I heard a frenzy of barking, I wandered over to the dog park, where a woman had put a leash on her big brown dog and was yelling, sternly and repeatedly, "No humping! No humping!" Clearly, I had missed some kind of photo op.

January 04, 2009



In the neighborhoods of Big City Like No Other, discarded Christmas trees are everywhere: leaning against wrought iron fences, propped against brick, piled together at the bottom of staircases. When wind rushes between the buildings, they roll across the sidewalks and brush against parked cars, their needles the only bit of green in a landscape of brown and grey.

January 03, 2009

By train

On the train

When you come through a town by train, you see backyards and stockyards and bridges covered with graffiti. It's like visiting family. Instead of walking in the front door like company and stepping into a living room where the pillows on the couch have been plumped or the dining room set with fine china, you sneak into the back door and step into the kitchen, where the counter is piled with dirty pots and pans, and the broom is leaning against the wall.

On my train ride today, I saw cranes and cement mixers and piles of dirty snow. I saw boarded-up sheds and broken swingsets and rusted old cars with bushes growing over the fenders. We passed towns where Christmas trees had been tossed onto curbs and marinas where boats were lined up in rows and shrink-wrapped for the winter. For miles and miles, the train followed Dead Explorer River, which was filled with chunks of floating ice that had melted and re-frozen into all kinds of fascinating shapes.

And now I've arrived in the Big City Like No Other, where I'll be staying for a few days with Red-haired Niece and then for a few days with Urban Sophisticate Sister. I've decided to begin my sabbatical with a little vacation to visit family and friends and some of the best museums in the world.

January 02, 2009

Leaving campus

Leaving campus

The library on campus was closed today. I used my access card to slip in the back entrance and walk through the empty rooms, past all the round tables and shelves of books. In my office, I cleared off my desk and filed folders from last semester. Then I put a sign on the door and locked it. I didn't see a single other person as I walked the snowy sidewalks back to my car. I won't return until August. I'm officially on sabbatical now.

January 01, 2009

Bits of colour


A few weeks ago, Quilt Artist gave me an ornament that she had made from buttons. I smiled when I saw the ornament because it so reminded me of her studio, which is filled with bright, rich fabrics, and boxes of ribbons and buttons, and just piles of colour spilling everywhere. When I took the ornament off the tree, I didn't pack it away with the Christmas stuff, but hung it from the bulletin board above my desk, near the photo she had also given me. The photo shows eleven women sitting on a stone staircase, all smiling into the camera, after our annual October weekend in the mountains. I'm sitting in the very middle of the group, surrounded by friends. During the winter months, when I'm at home at my desk in a quiet house, and everyone I know is at school or work, I'll take a moment at the beginning of the day to look at these bright buttons.