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throwback thursday: happy birthday

That photo was taken on my birthday, when I turned 2. I remember the tea set.

Today would’ve been my grandma’s 100th birthday. Our birthdays are two weeks apart — first hers, then mine, then my mother’s. The three of us would usually go out sometime in the middle and celebrate all three, and my grandma would always say she couldn’t possibly eat a whole dessert, but then her sweet tooth would take over and she would inevitably eat two-thirds of whatever we ordered to share.

Today at lunch, I had a piece of pie (key lime). I would’ve been okay if my grandma had been around to eat two-thirds of it, but instead I got to eat the whole thing myself. This day was going to be a big deal, but then it wound up being a Thursday.

Might as well have pie, yeah?

Speaking of pie, here’s a picture of balloons, because non sequitur.

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 preset

Happy birthday, grandma.

hi

forget me not

The photo, that’s of forget-me-nots from my grandma’s garden, taken ages ago, when I was into flower macros.

I’m here. A bit on the pensive and sad side, now that I have time to be both pensive and sad (last week, with its funeral preparations, was far too busy for either). Every day on my way to and from work, I drive past the exit I’d take if I was going to visit my grandma. I drove past it twice a day before, and I realize now that it was where my brain would shift over to her and think about what she was doing, the answers being, depending on whether I was going to or coming from work, either a) sleeping, or b) eating supper. I still think those thoughts when I drive past, just now I have to remind myself that she’s not there. And I get a little teary-eyed. And I keep driving.

It’s funny, going back to life as usual, after life has tilted to the side a little and everything looks the same but it isn’t. It’s working and driving and eating and sleeping just like before, but it’s not anything like before because it’s after. And I know that after becomes normal, becomes a new before, and that’s how it works, but there’s that time, however long it lasts, before it becomes anything else, when it’s after, it just is, and it’s weird.

Good luck making sense out of that paragraph.

Not sure where I was going to go with this, but that’s okay. And I’m okay. And I suppose that for now, that’s enough.

mary, full of grace

my grandmother

My grandmother passed away yesterday. It’s been a weird time warp since Thursday morning, when I learned she’d had a stroke, and now — it was forever and much too fast all at the same time. As much as I’m glad she went peacefully, and that she didn’t linger indefinitely in death’s waiting room, it all seems to be over too soon.

She lived nearly 100 years, but when it comes down to it, there is never enough time.

My grandmother has been there for me since I was born, and I’m not sure how the world works now that she’s no longer in it. Years ago (seven of them, if we’re counting), she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She wanted to tell me one on one, because she knew I’d be upset. I took the news okay as she spoke, then I went home and cried for two days. Not because I didn’t believe that she could beat cancer (she did), but because it was the first time in my life that I had to confront the idea that she was mortal after all. It’s hard to learn that your heroes are susceptible to death, and I hadn’t considered the possibility before that she wouldn’t actually be around forever.

Over the past few years, I’ve watched Alzheimer’s change her from the sharp-as-a-tack, memory-like-an-elephant, never-misses-a-trick woman I knew into someone different. The truth is that I have missed her for years now, missed the person that she was, even as I continued to love who she became. The grandma I had known all my life was different, gone in a lot of ways, but sometimes the disease would let her loose long enough for the old her to peek out from the shadows with a joke, with a nagging question about when I was getting married, with a comment about my hair (because my hair was always apparently cause for concern).

I have missed her for years, and at the same time, I didn’t miss her yet. She was still there, still present, still available to be visited on the weekends, to tell stories, to eat chicken strips.

And now she’s not. I spent much of the past few days keeping vigil with my family, but I wasn’t there when she died. I got the call, I left work immediately. Every other truck on I-94 had to pass every other truck on I-94, and I missed her last moments by just a few minutes. This is probably for the best, although I know she went peacefully, and fortunately I had already spent some time the night before sitting with her alone and saying my goodbye, there is still a part of me that thinks, “Thanks 94 for always being the absolute worst.”

What to say? There are so many things. I could write nonstop for days and never get it right. Should I write a funny story? Should I write something else? I don’t know. The world’s a little darker now, and I am a little more rootless.

My grandmother was beautiful. She was stubborn, she was smart, she was opinionated. She could do math IN HER HEAD (so, clearly, she was also a magician). She was not particularly patient. She liked to be on time. She wasn’t good at sitting still. She could grow flowers like mad. She once stabbed a snake hanging from rafters in a barn in the head with a pitchfork, which is — let’s face it — a pretty incredible level of badass. She was a Godly woman who wanted the best for the people in her life.

She was a lot of things, could do a lot of things, but the reason she was so loved by so many was because she loved them back. She wasn’t one for particularly grand gestures or flowery words. Her highest praise took form in phrases like “That’s pretty good,” or “Not too bad,” or “That’s alright.” But she showed love by serving others, by doing. It would frustrate me to no end when I was a kid on spring break and she would call me at 8 a.m. to come over and rake leaves in her yard, because I shouldn’t still be in bed and I shouldn’t spend my time being idle, but now that I’m older, I understand that she would come over early on her day off (if she wasn’t retired before I was born, that is) to do something for me, because doing stuff was how she loved, and doing stuff was how she felt love back.

If I needed help, she was there. If I walked out of school with a group of friends in tow and asked her to give them all rides home, she would do it. If I showed up at her house, she would feed me. If I showed up with anyone else, she would feed them too. She drove me around, she bought me stuff (including pantsuits when I was 15, to which I finally said I was not 80 and didn’t want to dress like I was, so she was going to have to stop buying me clothes). She worried when I traveled, she liked when I called, she said whenever I was ready to leave after a visit, “You hurry back.”

She taught me how to make a pie, how to embroider flowers, how to sew a throw pillow. She was proud of me, and she liked to tell people I was her granddaughter. Her single granddaughter. (She really really wanted me to get married, and used to say she couldn’t die until I did; I apologized to her for never getting there, and promised I’m ok just the same.)

And, in the middle of all this sap, let me take a moment to point out she was also a little weird. She had this hanging in her garage for years:

weird things in my grandma's garage

Later, she embellished it like so:

weird things in my grandma's garage redux

It took her awhile to realize that her clothespin holder looked like a quilted pair of underpants, but still. That never stopped her from using it, because hey, it worked. Practical. She was always practical.

I loved her for all of these reasons, and for others too. How do you sum up a life? How do you explain why you love someone? It’s a task beyond me and my ability to manipulate words. She was an incredible little powerhouse, and she’s gone. I am glad she no longer has to fight against disease and decline. I am sorry she couldn’t stay forever. I haven’t truly realized yet that I won’t be able to visit anymore and see those beautiful blue eyes of hers sparkle when she said something she thought was terribly clever. I will realize it eventually. I’m not looking forward to it.

The best I can do is remember her, and remember the things she did and said and tell her stories, because telling a person’s stories is how you keep them with you.

And Grandma, I just want you to know I am truly sorry about my hair.

(…)

Yesterday, which happened to be three weeks from her 100th birthday, my grandmother had a stroke. Today brings the news that she is dying. Exactly when is unclear, but it will be within the next few days.

When I was a kid, I used to watch the Today show in the mornings with my grandma before she took me to school, and would take delight in Willard Scott wishing a happy birthday to all the folks who turned 100. “Will you be on TV like that someday?” I’d ask. “Yes,” she said.

Jinx.

There are a lot of things I could write about the woman who helped raise me, and I will, either here or somewhere else. But this morning I remembered a photograph, and I dug it up just now (the quality isn’t the greatest… it’s been a bit damaged):

photo(46)

I’m 3 in this photo. We’re in her bedroom, and you’ll note the floor was covered with red shag carpet. Why did she ever think red shag carpet was a good idea? I don’t know. I used to roll around on it and when she’d tell me to get off the floor, I’d say “I CAN’T! I’M TRAPPED IN THE SPAGHETTI!”

So many memories, so many stories, so many things to tell you about my grandmother, the snake slayer, the proper Southern lady, the woman. I am blessed that I got to spend my life around her, that I grew up to be like her in so many ways (and just enough her opposite to be frustrating myself). She has done so much for me all of my life, and now, at the end of hers, there’s nothing I can do to pay her back, except to be near and to hope there is mercy in her passing.

And my god, I’m going to miss her when she’s gone.

what do you do when you have the day off and no plans?

If you’re me, which you’re not, but if you were, the answer is to get a tattoo.

photo 1(2)

I was sitting at home, and I thought to myself, “Eh, I don’t have anything to do this afternoon, so why don’t I call that tattoo shop in Ann Arbor and see if they have any free time today?” So I did, and they did, and I drove to Ann Arbor. I’d been thinking about getting another tattoo for awhile, kind of in an unfixed, conceptual way, like “Maybe someday I’ll get another tattoo.” And I had a couple of ideas in my head, but hadn’t settled on anything specific. And when I got them on the phone, they asked what I wanted, and I said a firefly.

If you know me, then you know my love of fireflies is enormous. They are my favorite thing about summer, and the reason why, when people bitch about this season, I want to question their sanity (well, one of the reasons). Are the neverending February nights full of magical insect-fairies? No? Your argument is invalid.

And since my dad died last summer, whenever I see fireflies, I think of him. I think of the night I found out he died, watching the marshy grassland in the park sparkling with fireflies. Since that day, I’ve been thinking of a way to do a memorial, and I have a bracelet modeled after his signature, but I wanted something I could carry with me all the time (I don’t wear the bracelet as much as I thought I would; the S in his name catches on everything). So yes, a firefly tattoo. Why not?

The artist drew it up for me, I liked it, and he inked it on.

photo 2(1)

It’s inside my ankle, right above my heel (a spot which, I have now learned, hurts like a sonofabitch to get tattooed). I love it. And getting a tattoo sure beats sitting at home reading the internet all day. So, all in all, a total win.

i made cherry salsa. you won’t believe what happened next!

That was my attempt at a ridiculous click-bait title. Did it work? Should I start writing headlines for Upworthy? Ahem.

So, one of my co-workers decided that we should have a salsa day at work sometime in the summer when there was lots of fresh produce to choose from, and we should all make awesome salsa. Somehow, this morphed into a salsa-making contest, and while I am one of the most competitive people alive, I prefer my salsa-eating to be done in the warm glow of my love of salsa, and not to be all about winning. But then, having a competition is okay, because did I mention that I am one of the most competitive people alive?

I am.

More competitive than you, anyway.

See? I can’t stop myself.

Back on track. So, yesterday, I took stock of the produce in my fridge, and thought about what might make a good salsa and decided on the bag of cherries. I decided I would also need some other stuff, so I went to the grocery store yesterday afternoon (after going to Target with my mom to pick up a vacuum cleaner because have I ever mentioned that my life is basically a non-stop excitement-fest? IT IS) and bought a jalapeño and a yellow bell pepper and some shallots. Then I came home and commenced to salsa-making. And since I’ve been asked for a recipe, and I didn’t have a recipe because I like just making things up and recipes aren’t the boss of me, I’m going to attempt to write one. So, here goes:

1 pound of fresh cherries (Maybe, or maybe a half pound. Some amount of cherries, anyway, enough so that when you have them all chopped up you say “Yeah, that’s plenty.)
3 shallots
4 cloves garlic
1 medium yellow bell pepper
1 large jalapeño
8-10 fresh basil leaves
1 lemon, juiced
sea salt (to taste)
fresh black pepper (to taste)
cumin (to taste)

So, you start with your cherries:

image(2)

I pitted them by slicing them in half, twisting them open, then removing the pits. I realize there are much easier ways of doing this.

Then chop the ever-loving hell out of the cherries:

image(4)

Yes, that is a Fitbit. Combine walking with statistics and I am in love.

Yes, that is a Fitbit. Combine walking with statistics and I am in love.

Chop the shallots:

image(6)

You could also use a sweet onion; I just thought that the flavor of the shallots would work well. And it did.

Mince some garlic:

image(7)

You can use more garlic if you want. I’m not here to tell you how to live your life.

I didn’t take a photo of the yellow bell pepper, but dice that somewhere around now.

Finely dice a jalapeño. Seed it if you don’t want heat, but go seeds and all if you do. You are free to use more than one (if I were to make this again, I think I would):

image(8)

Chiffonade your basil leaves:

image(9)

To do this, put all your leaves in a stack, roll them like a cigarette, then slice. Use a very sharp knife. (Which I didn’t, and the leaves are bruised.) I recommend sharpening your knife several times during the slicing and dicing process. It makes life so much easier.

Roll a lemon on your cutting board or countertop, then slice in half. Squeeze the juice (over a colander to catch the seeds) into your salsa. You can also use a juicer if you want, but I like to make juice with my bare hands. Just because I don’t have a juicer.

Add salt, pepper, and cumin (with cumin, a little goes a long way). And you have salsa, baby.

Winning the salsa contest at work is the next step (optional).

image(11)

Enjoy!

Happy birthday, Litkicks!

In honor of its 20th birthday (only one more year until it can buy beer!), I have a guest post up on Literary Kicks today. Bonus: it includes a photo of what I looked like when I was 16.*

 

*That is not actually a bonus. 

oh, girl….

It's a food baby!

It’s a food baby!

Last week, I was hanging out with my friend Missy. We’d just gone to Relay for Life so she could walk the survivors’ lap, then we had dinner and we decided to go downtown to have some frozen yogurt from Sweet Kreations, because although I am generally opposed to places that have intentionally-misspelled names (does the K make it cute kute?), their frozen yogurt is basically the best thing in life, so they get a pass. So, we were sitting on a bench, eating our yogurt, when we were approached by a man who needed $10. Missy handed him some cash, then he looked at me and this happened:

Him: Oh girl, is you pregnant?

Me: No.

Him: Well, you are gonna have a future boy.

Me: [Hands him a dollar.]

[And scene.]

Now, over the course of my life, I have been fat and I have been thin. Currently, I’m kind of… middling. Like, nobody’s going to tell me I’m too thin and talk behind my back about how they should force feed me a cheeseburger, but I’m not obese, either. Just kind of… eh, middling.

Speaking of middles, I have one. It is where I carry weight, because the universe is an inherently unjust place and I couldn’t just get fat in my boobs. Fine. And since I have terrible posture, my middle tends to be more pronounced than it would be if I would ever just sit or stand up straight. But one thing I know for sure is that even on my slouchiest, most bloated day, I don’t look pregnant. Because pregnant women look like they are carrying a baby, whereas I look like I’m carrying some excess weight. So, this guy, having never seen a pregnant woman before, jumped to the conclusion that all that frozen yogurt I’ve eaten this summer had impregnated me. Fair enough. Also, he was high.

The morning after this happened, I took this photo in the mirror at Missy’s house:

This is me and Missy's dog Odin. He thinks he is my boyfriend.

This is me and Missy’s dog Odin. He thinks he is my boyfriend.

Granted, Odin photobombed me and got his head right in front of the area of my body in question, but still.

So, I have something to say:

When is it okay to ask a woman if she’s pregnant? The answer is never. It is never okay. It doesn’t matter if she really looks pregnant. It doesn’t matter if she really looks pregnant and is wearing a t-shirt that says “ASK ME ABOUT MY PREGNANCY THAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW!” because you know, she could be two weeks post-partum and that’s the only shirt she has that doesn’t have baby spit-up on it. Or maybe she can’t read and she got it at a yard sale. Either way, don’t ask. Because the truth is that it is always open season for commentary on women’s bodies. She’s too fat, she’s too skinny, she looks great (so she must’ve lost weight), why did she leave the house in that dress doesn’t she know it makes her look like a sack of potatoes, she looks pregnant, she’s six months along and she’s not even showing, that ASS, that RACK. Good or bad, compliment or not a compliment, walking out of the house in the morning is like BRING IT ON, WORLD, PLEASE TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT HOW I LOOK. And you know what? Shut up.

And the next guy who asks me if I’m pregnant is not getting a dollar.

back when art garfunkel was the mayor of new york

I think this was after I almost accidentally set her on fire with a sparkler.

I think this was after I almost accidentally set her on fire with a sparkler. Photo by Levi.

This past weekend, I drove to a place in Indiana that you’ve probably never heard of to surprise my friend Caryn on her birthday. I drove a lot of miles, was all “Yo, surprise!” and then I ate some cobbler. With three layers of crust. Who invented cobbler with three layers of crust? Because whoever you are, I love you so much.

It was a good time, and it was great to see Caryn and Levi again — up until this past Friday, I hadn’t seen them since their wedding in 2008, so it had been awhile. There was a time when the three of us ran Literary Kicks together and did some live events and some online events and it was pretty cool, you know? It was also insane, but we had fun. They’re a pair of great people.

So, in honor of old times, here is a poem I actually wrote back in those wacky Action Poetry days when I didn’t know how to use the Shift key. It may or may not be any good, and may or may not have been influenced by bourbon, but it does read like a fever dream. (It was a response to a piece by Caryn also called “back when art garfunkel was the mayor of new york” because that’s how Action Poetry worked.) I read this aloud at a reading at the now-defunct Eclectic Gallery back in 2003, when I looked like this:

Wherein I am cooler than Gertrude Stein, because she didn't have a LitKicks t-shirt.

Wherein I am cooler than Gertrude Stein, because she didn’t have a LitKicks t-shirt.

Here goes:

back when art garfunkel
was the mayor of new york
i wore my hair long
to the parade
that day when it was so windy
and the sunlight streamed
like lemonade
for fifteen cents
from the kid on the corner
who wanted to buy a pet turtle
and name him buddy
i kept postcards from
west virginia
in the pocket of my overcoat
as a memory of a place
i had passed through once or twice
and it was me in too-large shoes
struggling to keep up
with the ringing phone
in the booth on the corner
calling while operators
were standing by
waiting to connect me
to the confetti and streamers
billowing down to the streets
back when art garfunkel
was the mayor of new york

the day, saved

This guy.

tim howard

timhoward

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