Saturday, December 4, 2010

I am a Mongolian

I have given this a lot of thought. It would appear that I am secretly Mongolian. Lets review the facts.

1. I love things that are felted (who invented felt? The Mongolians)

2. I like goats milk (I am presuming here that Mongolians kept goats)

3. I lived in a tent for a year there (Mongolians did too!)

4. I appear to be living a nomadic existence (Mongolians, it is well know, were nomads)

5. I took a facebook quiz and it said so (Admittedly the Mongolians did not have facebook)

So, Mom and Dad, I am not Irish-Italian-German, as previously believed. Rather I am Mongolian, and this clearly explains why I have spent the past three years of my life moving. I am simply following the rootless ways of my people. I suppose a case could be made that I am a Gypsy too. A Mongolian Gypsy. If such a thing is possible.

There are days when I am happy I am a Mongolian (Gypsy). On these days I like to imagine where I am going to go next. Or how many places I will have lived before I finally settle down. Usually these are days when I feel like I could go anywhere and do anything. Perfect freedom. I think these days are also temperature dependent. There were quite a few of these days in August, September, even October. But it is December now, and it is cold. The glory of being a Mongolian dims in the cold.

More often I have noticed that I am not happy to be a Mongolian (Gypsy). I want to go back to being a nice settled Irish person. They liked for whole families to live in one house for hundreds of years, you know. They are a people who do not relish change. Can anyone imagine that? Having your kitchen table be exactly where your great-grandmother placed it? I don't even have the table.

Unfortunately I have chosen the life of a Mongolian. At least for right now. So I have given a lot of thought in order to decipher how to be happy with this path that I have chosen. What is it that we really miss when we move around? Security? A sense of place? Belonging? Probably all these things, and maybe even more. To sum it all up: "Home".

I have noticed a certain ambiguity amongst my friends when they refer to going "home". I am going "home" they might say, and you would still have no idea where they were going to be that weekend. So you are forced to ask "Home, like, home-home?" Meaning, obviously, to their parents house. "Or home, like home-here?" meaning where ever they happen to be that moment. Frighteningly enough I once heard a friend reply to this question with "No, like home-college", which brings another level to it that I refuse to contemplate.

Making a new home in the gray light of December is a much more daunting thought than making one in golden September. But I am going home-home in less than two weeks. And the one really nice thing about being a Mongolian is that the non-Mongolians in your life are always happy to see you.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

You Can Get Anything You Want...

"At Alice's Restaurant
(Excepting Alice)"
-- Arlo Guthrie "Alice's Restaurant"

This song, made my Arlo Guthrie as a protest against the Vietnam War, has been a part of my Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember. Quite possibly even at six months old, on my first thanksgiving, I lay in my crib and listened to Arlo Guthrie telling the draftees sitting on the Group W bench that he was a litterbug, and therefore was not moral enough to join the army.

As soon as conscious thought was possible this song became the official beginning to the holiday season. As soon as Arlo strummed the first few bars on his guitar it was truly Thanksgiving. Until that point the holidays were only a distant mirage.

In fact, as the years went on, Arlo Guthrie became a mythical figure in my mind, and came to reside on the same plane as Santa or the Easter bunny. I imagined them all living somewhere together, possibly on the moon. On November 25th Arlo would stand up and put on his fringe jacket and sling his guitar over his shoulder and say to Santa.
"Alright old man, I'll go open it up" and he would come down from the sky to play, thus officially beginning the season.

Anyway, every year at 12:25 pm EST the Philadelphia Oldies station plays Alice's Restaurant, the same recording that they have played every year since it was released. I am not in Philadelphia, and there for Oldies 98.9 is a little out of my broadcast range. But I planned ahead folks! Alice's Restaurant is on my iPod, and is right now playing through my speakers. Let the holidays begin!

Alice's Restaurant Massacree

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wal-Mart Told Me So

     Just the other day, dear readers, I made an unsuspecting trip to Wal-Mart. I try to avoid this as much as possible, but the simple truth is...I have a candle problem. I love candles. They are bright. They are warm. They give off a pleasant aroma (provided one has not done something foolish and purchased a "sandlewood" or "rose petal" candle. Ewuck).  Candles aside, once at the Wal-mart I noticed several strange things.

Why did those deer decorations all have their early autumn antlers, when the snow in the picture clearly indicated a winter scene?

Who was that strange portly man wearing his red pajamas, and why was he breaking and entering via that families chimney?

And why the hell was that snowman riding a sled and advertising Hershey's Cocoa?

And then it struck me with all the force with which that portly, snowy hair fellow was going to hit that family's smoldering Yule log.


Which, because this was a Wal-Mart, means of course that Thanksgiving, while in the offing, had not yet occurred.

     Now I knew that Thanksgiving was coming. My house gets poor cell phone reception, but it's not a cave. Charles and I even have invitations to one of our wonderful co-workers homes. So we get turkey AND I plan to make my famous (or soon-to-be-famous) cranberry sauce. But it didn't really sink in until I saw all those reindeer frolicking ambitiously around the Wal-Mart.

     I pretend (roughly about 335 days of the year) to be an even keeled, level headed individual. I like to pride myself on my good values, as I turn my nose up at commercialism and crunch my granola. I throw around words like "Global Citizen" , and publicly denounce coffee shop chains in favor of local variety, featuring all juice smoothie blends and Yerba Mate (although lets not get hasty about those Starbucks frappuccinos).  But Christmas always brings out the Norman Rockwell loving five year old in me. Probably this is because my own childhood Christmases (Christmasii?) were so good.

     Luckily, during that trip to Wal-Mart I was able to keep it together. I may or may not have purchased a gingerbread scented candle of somewhat unnecessary size. And I definitely bought the Hershey's cocoa, but it was on sale for 2.50 so how could I not? But on the whole, I remained clear in my purpose.

     That was some few days ago, and I am remaining calm, but I can sense the tide turning towards the holidays. The choir kids, whose practice room is next to mine, are singing "It's Christmas Charlie Brown", the stores are putting up their Christmas displays. And its becoming more difficult to turn on the radio and avoid the holiday station. Most importantly, in less than a month I will be home. With all you wonderful people. Which is, of course, what makes the holiday season great.

Well partly the food. But mostly the people.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In the Company of Soup and Tea

I have spent a great deal of time this weekend in the company of both,as I have made/eaten nothing by soup for the past three days. Mom's Chili, Butternut vegetable (with little turkey meatballs added....) and sausage lentil.  I drink tea every day, of course, but the soup is a new development.

Why so much soup you might ask?

Well, for one thing I had time to make it, since we've had a four day weekend. Also, now i have no less that 5 frozen containers of soup in the freezer, and tonights sausage lentil will bring that number up to 7 or 8. This will neatly eliminate the need to cook for eight whole meals. Eliminating the need to cook, while still providing home made food, has become my mission of late. Its like having a mom. Who mysteriously appears to cook and freeze your dinner before disappearing again. I call it "The Mom Fairy".

But lets think about soup for a minute. And at the same time, lets think about tea. I feel that both of these things are tragically underrated. They are the only thing that you can eat both when you are sick and when you are well. There are a hundred million different kinds of each of them. They can be served hot or cold. And they are universally made. No matter where you go, from America to any other continent on earth (with the possible exception of Antarctica. Although one must not discount the penguins) you will be able to go into a restaurant and (provided you speak the language or the menu comes with little tiny pictures) you will be able to order soup and tea. There are not many things about which this is true.

Additionally, soup and tea are things that carry a small, but serious level of respect.  If one has a day off and ones friend were to ask what one had done all day, it is not respectable to say that one has slept till noon and then watched shadows on the wall.  But one can say "I was making soup today" and one's friend will be obliged to look impressed, and then make comments about the soups that they themselves have made in the past, so as not to appear less worthy.  The same can be said of a cup of tea. With a cup of tea one CAN just watch shadows on the one, because they are not simply doing nothing. They are drinking tea. Presumably they have a pot of soup boiling about somewhere in the vicinity.

I think because of the great amount of time I have spent with soup this weekend, I am beginning to think they a pot of soup. There are lots of things in my head, but they don't really work too well together until they've bubbled for an hour or two within the confines of my skull. Before then, if I were to take them out, they were fall apart. I can't say that I have thought of anything with particular merit. My thought soup has been watered down.

A great many things can come from making soup. The very best of which is that you are not hungry when you are done. And, if you are like me and have decided that heat is for the weak, they can also make you warm. Last of all, if they are a recipe you stole from your mother, they can also, briefly, make you feel a little less far away. The same, of course, can be said of tea.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Saving Daylight

Just letting you know folks. It's saved, ok? We've got it covered.

I know this because, upon waking up yesterday morning, it was dark. But within 10 minutes, light, glorious light, had appeared. It was like a fleeting and beautiful return to summer. Only downside? It is now dark when I get off work. And because I don't work outside right now, I don't get the slow shift towards evening. It's just dark when I leave.


But I have taken steps to combat it, for those of you who suffer from SADD and worry that I, a humble fellow sufferer, will succumb. I joined a gym (for a very reasonable price a month) and this has done wonders to improve my mood. Additionally, I have been given permission from my supervisor to keep the kids outside until the temperature hits 29 degrees Fahrenheit. I expect this to help, not only my mood, but also discipline, as going outside can now be used as a form of punishment....

Really, in a lot of ways I feel like I've gone back to High School. Here are a few examples. It's dark when I go to school and evening when I leave. I never feel like I am wearing the right clothes. Math tests have the complete and total power to ruin a week. And no one wants to adopt my recycling program. Oh, and I usually fall asleep by 10 on Friday nights. My college-self just died a little inside, as back in the day 10 seemed like a perfectly reasonable time to go out.

What made me happy in High School? I feel like it is vital to remember this, on the off chance that it will continue to make me happy now. I know for sure that some things still apply. For instance, talking to KT and Mdubz. Baking cookies (preferably with the blessing of KT and Mdubz). Talking with my family.  Reading. Walking.

By that list I sound like an incredibly well adjusted High schooler. Lets just gloss over the fact that I wanted to marry Legolas from The Lord of the Rings, believed no outfit was complete without thick stockings and hippie clogs, and listened to absolutely no music produced after the 1960s. I also had a strange love of the saying "Entropy Rules", which KT and I both felt needed to be written on all all math notebooks. Along with the time honored (and still valid) "Boys may come and go, but cheeseburgers are forever." Which we later amended to  "...but veggie burgers are forever." when we all went through our vegetarian phase.

That's a scary walk down memory road.

I miss you all, and if it's no to painful or humiliating, post your own memories of High School (assuming you haven't blocked them). I want to know what other people besides me remember.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Riddle: What Does Bear Poo and Bad Plumbing Have in Common?

I encountered both on Saturday in an intimate and personal manner.

The Plumbing:

     On Thursday night Charles and I came home in the relative darkness of 6:00 pm EST. We had gone to the store and were laden with both milk AND bread.  Upon opening the door at 6:01 pm EST I inquired of Charles.
    "Hey, does our house smell kinda bad?"
To which he replied.
     By 6:05 EST it was apparent that the house did stink
     6:10 EST we opened the windows, the state in which they would remain for the next two days, through    
                    the first frost and a day of windy grayness.
     6:20 EST we found the three inches of water in the basement
Long story short, we called the emergency line, but no one came to fix it till Saturday afternoon, when it was dealt with, and we were informed that it was not rain water (as we had thought, nay, prayed) but a backed up sewer line. Miserable, no? The situation has been remedied, and with a good airing and a few candles the house smells positively lovely. In fact better than before, which raises a few very intriguing questions.

     Which brings me to the second kind of poo my day contained. That of a black bear. Are you ready for this? Because honestly this is a better story than the basement one.

The Bear Poo:

     On Saturday afternoon, as our basement was in the process of being saved from its terrible state, we went to our bosses house for a Halloween/Harvest party. Now, for those of you who think I lived remotely when I worked at Echo Hill...THINK AGAIN! I honestly thought we were going to perish valiantly on the way to her house. We just kept climbing into the Ozarks. Also, the roads kept getting worse and worse. Ironically though, the cell phone reception got better and better. Craziest thing.
     When we got there we decided to go hiking. We journeyed down a mountain and through a valley (all of this sounds idyllic, really it was a grueling and difficult traverse over questionable terrain). And in that valley we discovered a cave. And in that cave (could I really have NOT gone in it?) we found a small mound of scat, the sampling of which proved to have coarse black hairs. Since nothing eats black bears, the hairs were assumed to be deposited by the animal responsible for the scat. A suspicion later proven by measurable science. A word of comfort for those of you now picturing me huddled in the cramped darkness of a cave currently inhabited by a bear, don't worry. The scat was old, but well preserved.
     Our army crawling through the cave left us all exhausted and completely covered in clay. But our boss took it in stride and still let us inside her house. She is an understanding woman. A note about the cave: it was awesome and had both stalactites and stalagmites. We also turned off our lights for a moment in the very back and it was unbelievably dark and silent (see, further proof of the bear not being at home). I crawled out of that cave and I can safely say I have never been so glad to see the light of day. Especially since one of our co-hikers chose that moment to make some choice comments about caves and gateways to the underworld.

Thus concludes my weekend riddle. Love to all.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Guajira Guantanamera

Tonight Charles dared me to eat a jabanero pepper. I agreed, thinking it couldn't possibly be too bad. Right? RIGHT?!

Oh Holy #@$%! GOD #@$& IT!

It was possibly the most painful experience of my life. Apparently Mexican's used to use spicy peppers to actually de-worm themselves (parasites being what they are where hot weather prevails). Folks, let me tell you, as of tonight I am worm-free.  But as a direct side effect of the pepper I have been listening to Spanish music on YouTube for some time now. Hence the title of this blog. Interestingly enough Guajira is slang for "Woman" and Guantanamera is an area of Mexico.

Now, logically, more has been going on in my life than pepper related agony. Really it's been more of the same, except for an encounter that Charles and I had on Saturday that I think you'll all enjoy. I shall relate it as I did the story of Squeaky and the Trailer.

The Ozark Floats

     The day had dawned pale and wintry, the heavy, fresh water fog of the mountains rolling through the river valley like sea during a full moon tide. Ordinarily I would be up by this time, having awoken when only the light of the full moon would have revealed the clinging mist. But today was as Saturday, and so instead I missed the quicksilver change of winter, to early fall, to Indian summer, and by the time I got up the light was heavy and golden, redolent with motes of dust and dying leaves. It was my favorite kind of day.

    Charles and I decided to go on a walk before the day got too warm and lost all of its autumn texture, and so we walked over to the library and back. As we neared our house we happened to look at the front lawn of the next door school-turned-museum and see an old man bent over the weathered hull of a dark green boat, chattering animatedly to a man holding a camera. In the manner of all true North-easterners I was ready to keep walking and glancing furtively at this stranger out of the corner of my eye. He had downy white hair with a weathered canvas cap perched on top,  and he wore a button down red gingham shirt, and paint-spattered and thread bare overalls. But this man was looking for a crowd, and so he called us over.
     "Come on over," he said. "I'm building boats and telling tales."

     Well, we couldn't walk away from an invitation like that.  We headed over and this man continued his story as if he had never been interrupted.
      "My grandaddy used to float these boats here in the Ozarks, huntin fish."
He jabbed a long and menacingly pointed trident into the grass to demonstrate.
     "You'd have to be real careful too, on account of the light would bend in the water and fish would be in front of where it looked like it was. Yeah, took a good eye to fish here." He said, clearly proud of his Grandfather.
     He went to a basket of glossy wood planks, hanging midway down the boat. He took one from it's bobbing nest and held it out.
     "Smell this," he said. "And tell me what it is."
I took what I intended to be a serious naturalist sniff. "Cedar?"
     "Jack pine, taken right after the forests were burned. They all turned the forests, the settlers did, and all the way back to the Indians. We got good stands of Jack pine here'n the mountains. This'll burn real hot and bright. But puts out a lot a' black smoke."
     He walked to the front of the boat, a long narrow trip about the length of two grown men lying on the ground, but barely the length of my leg in width. He held up an oar, polished to a high shine with a beautiful wood grain with a ridged metal end. He held it out to me.
     "Feel it." He said.
I took it in my hand, expecting to feel the heavy weight of a boat oar, the kind kept of the Chesapeake Bay Dead Rise boats. But it was light, almost unnoticeable, even with the metal tip.
     "Guess this wood," he said, and shaved off a few tendrils from another, unfinished oar.
This one was unmistakable. Even without taking the wood I could smell root beer.
     "Sassafras!" I yelped, proudly reclaiming my naturalist training.
     "Right!" He replied. "Sassafras wood is real good and light, easy to work. Pretty too. And that metal tip on the end, well that's real good too. Gives you something to dig into the bottom, because otherwise you hit a slick rock and your oar slides off. Well, then you slide off too, and into the water."
     We all laughed accordingly, camera man included.
     "My Granddaddy, he used to work the oar on these boats. They'd sign songs to get into the rhythm, then they could pole for hours.  Long as they didn't hit any rocks."
     He showed us more of the boat, and eventually the camera man had to busy himself with something else and walked away. But the man kept working. He wasn't doing this for the publicity, evidently he really was just building a boat and telling stories.
     "It takes me about two, three days to make a boat in the shop, with electric saws and all. Reckon it takes about a month to make it like this, maybe more depending on how many stories I tell while doing it. But I like it better this way."
     I liked it better this way too, so I thanked him for his stories. And he pulled on the brim of his hat a little and nodded.
     "Thank you all for stopping by." And he went back to work.

Anywho, that's my story. I miss you all terribly, and I now have tickets to come home for Christmas, arriving on the 17th!  So I'll see you all in like two months!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Origin of the Jack O' Lantern

Like all great things, the Jack O' Lantern began its life as an Irish tradition. During the  pre-Christian era, people carried small, hollowed out squashes with them, lit with tapers, as they traveled from house to house on Samhain, or the autumn solstice.  Their purpose was to light the way, as well as inform any wandering spirits that an Irishman was happening past. With the advent of Christianity, the Jack O' Lantern, while still carried in the same manner, became a form of protection, meant to keep spirits at bay and allow good Christian travelers to pass.

When the whole process got to America, no one could find a squash small enough (although I would just like to point out that the butternut squash WOULD have worked). So instead they used pumpkins, and because people were getting tired hauling pumpkins around, they were relegated to the front porch. Thus the Jack O' Lantern as we know it was born.

Currently I have broken with tradition and have a Jack O' Lantern sitting on the dining room table. Charles purchased a small pumpkin at the local farmer's market and spent 45 minutes painstakingly carving the word "Home" into it. We then paid more for a candle then we did for the pumpkin, and lit it. Our plan was to put it on the front porch, but we have both grown rather more attached to it than we intended. So it remains on our table and eats dinner with us. Rather grim, since I have roasted its innards in honey and brown sugar.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

If Heaven and Hell Decide...

"That they both are satisfied
Illuminate the Nos
On their Vacancy signs,"
-- "I'll Follow You" Death Cab for Cutie

Why is this the best song ever written?

This actually has no relevancy on my life. It's just an amazing song and I am listening to it now. You may feel free to agree.

My week finished off pretty well. We actually got off at 4:30 on Friday (a miracle) and wound up discovering a very decent smoothie place. HERE. It's a minor miracle. Or maybe I just lived in the woods for too long.  Then we went home. Shortly there after I fell asleep and slept for 12 hours. ANOTHER MIRACLE.

Then today was Charles' birthday. Although more fairly I should say it was the beginning of Charles' birthday weekend, since I did not have time today to bake the cookies I promised him. So tomorrow I am going to bake them and we are going to make homemade pizza. Today was also the last day of the farmers market, and since we showed up about half an hour from the close we received a huge number of free things. Hurray!

For the record, in terms of the Trail of Tears running update: I have run 15 miles so far this week, and am hoping to make 19 tomorrow. This will bring my total to 98 miles!  So I will hopefully break 100 soon. Although since my early running was so poorly monitored it's possible that I have already passed that land mark. But that would be depressing, so I'm gonna pretend I haven't. Yay!

I miss you all.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Mission, and an Old Friend

Friends, country men, for me today was a day that all EPA workers can appreciate. A day long anticipated, and all together too brief. A day that will, probably, live in infamy. Field Day. The day that comes once in a blue moon. The day that sets us all free from our indoor cages, to frolic and play in the great outdoors. (For AmeriCorps the term is "Service Day")

I awoke, this auspicious day, at 6 am.  This was unnecessary since we didn't have to be at work until 8:30 (as opposed to our usual 7:00). But I couldn't fall back asleep, because I was too excited. Kinda like Christmas.  So I got up finally, and waited as long as I could before I geared up. That's right folks, GEAR. Hiking boots, quick dry pants and under armor (it's cold, ok?) and my NPS (National Park Service) issue shirt. I would have worn the AmeriCorps one, but the powers-that-be gave me an extra large for some reason. 

The day was glorious and brief. We walked and picked up trash. I was euphoric. I was, in essence, a pig in poop.  There was a brief altercation with a sticker bush (which I did not win) but on the whole my spirits were high. It was in this pleasant mood that I had my encounter. I was carefully rooting out some plastic from the road bank when I happened to glance skyward. There, silhouetted against the brilliance of the autumn sky was, I kid you not, a small green leafy hand. A mitten, to be precise. Hello little tree I thought, as dismissed it. 

I continued to root, and when I looked up again, there was the little leafy hand once more, this time waving frantically in the breeze. Pay attention! It said. Well, when leaves tell me to pay attention I certainly can't ignore them. So I stood up and took a closer look. And, of course, that was when it clicked. Little mitten leaves, Sassafras. My absolute favorite tree in the world. 

This wouldn't be so remarkable (I saw at least twenty Sassafras trees a day in MD, although I never failed to stop and say hello) except that this is the first Sassafras I have seen in MO. Even more remarkable, they are the first of the trees to lose their leaves in the fall. By now, most would have turned. But this one was still green. In fact, when I broke off a leaf it still had enough sap (very rare in fall) to give off a faint echo of its springtime citrus smell. A smell that I had, regretfully but reasonably, given up all hope of smelling until next year.

So far that remains the only Sassafras I have seen. But if there is one there must be more. I was very happy. Although the other AmeriCorps members may have thought it a bit odd that I walked around for like an hour smelling leaves. But I was wearing NPS gear...the hippie vibe should have been clear from the start. 

Oh, and we also filled two pickup trucks with trash. Go us! It was all team Sassafras too. We owned.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Journey

Folks, I'm sure you didn't expect me to be going on any more journeys, the one from home to here being considerable enough, but YOU WERE WRONG!

Today we all traveled to our regional meeting. Which means everyone else got up early, but those of us working at the middle school got up at the usual time. We all met up in the local grocery store parking lot and condensed into cars and began to two hour pilgrimage to Jefferson City, the capital of MO. I know, right? I have now seen the capital of the state I am living in, which is honestly more I than I can say for my beloved home state of PA. Although I do personally believe that Philly is the capital in spirit, if not in actuality.

Along the way I reflected on the places I could be going if I were at home (not the best forward thinking tactic, I know). From Philly I could be going to Brigantine Island. Or to WaC. Or even to visit KT, although I would have to be driving very very fast. Or, to two hours west of Philly, whatever may happen to be there.

Upon our arrival I learned that the whole time we had in fact been travelling to Missouri University (here known as Mizzou. I'd poke fun at that, but people in glass houses cannot throw stones, my alma mater having, after all, earned the nickname WaC). We arrived at 9 am, when the first stirrings of general life appear on a college campus. I saw boys in jeans and button down shirts and heavy leather belts. I saw girls wearing leggings as pants. I saw disheveled science majors in sweats, and girls in shorts and North Face coats. In short, I could have been at WaC, except that there were more cars. And that I was on my way to a meeting, instead of class.

As for the meeting itself, I cannot lie. I have retained almost nothing of it, except that AmeriCorps began as the CCC during the depression. They employed men between the ages of 18-25 and had them live in camps and do environmental work. It sounded hauntingly like past jobs of mine. Everything else was interesting, but clearly not as important to me as the girls wearing leggings as pants. Its never a good idea people, and contrary to popular belief it does not make your butt look good.

Charles and I also got paid today, and went to a new restaurant, where we paid a moderate amount of money for a moderate amount of food that was of extremely high caliber. They had Tiramisu, and they didn't mess it up. Also they had a wonderful wheat beer. Thus my evening, and my day, was complete. Tomorrow, I get to do a road clean up, which means outdoor environmental work. Gee, I wonder if I qualify. Miss you all.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Free Food, A Concept Exciting Beyond College

High Points: Free food, 16 more miles, pumpkins and LIBRARIES!

To Explain: 

     On Friday night Charles and I got home from work late, and really really tired. We've been living like misers for the past month, so we decided to go out to dinner. Mostly I decided and he went along with it because he's wonderful. So we went to Ruby Tuesday. 
     A side note: They no longer have Ruby Tuesday out East (at least in large quantity) the reason for this, or at least the rumor, is that they card EVERYONE. Even really old people who have probably served in wars and, apparently, get upset about not being able to drink if they forgot their ID. Whatever your opinion on carding the elderly, I think we can all agree that Ruby Tuesday has the best chocolate milkshakes in the world. I have great cause to know this because every Christmas for a good half of my childhood my Dad and I used to go Christmas shopping, usually in the last frantic moments before Christmas eve. We'd get up at 7 (some of us with out any warning at all) and shop for hours, until finally starving and exhausted we would go to the Ruby Tuesday that used to be at our Mall. There Dad would have a beer (after gleefully presenting his ID) and I would have a chocolate milkshake. We would analyse and examine every gift until we were certain we had chosen correctly then we would go home and I would fall asleep. Some of my fondest memories.
     Well, they still have Ruby Tuesdays out here, maybe people here care more about underage drinking. But on Friday we ordered dinner (I got a milkshake) and started eating the huge amount of food they bring you. Then, suddenly, I discovered that my fish was not cooked. I told the waitress, who got the manager, who apologized and apologized and apologized, and then gave us free food!  Win!

     In Sports this week, I ran 16 miles on the Trail of Tears, bringing my total to 76 miles. It would be more, but I was dying last week. It's getting cold too. This could get dicey. 

     I also went to a library. This is crazy to me, since its been five years since I've lived remotely near one. Guess what everyone! Books live in houses now!  Crazy. 

     Also, I baked more pumpkin bread. I am now responsible for the deaths of two pumpkins.

Basically, it's been a good weekend. I miss all of you, and the closer we all get to Thanksgiving, the more I realize that. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Of Platypus and People

     I was thinking today about how Robert Burns poem "Of Mice and Men" is actually kind of sexist. I mean, why men? Couldn't a woman accidentally destroy a mouses home and feel badly about it? But then you lose the alliteration, so the poem would have to be changed to "Of Possums and People". Or, "Of Platypus and People", I am currently taking suggestions.

     Now, I am not about to blog an entire post about animals that start with the letter "P" (although I could, you all know I could). But I am going to post about people. Fall is finally upon us (at least here in MO, I don't know about back home) and that got me thinking about Halloween and Thanksgiving, and that, obviously since I am 1300 miles away from home, started me thinking about my childhood. Really I spend a lot of my time thinking about my childhood, but today I wasn't missing it. I was just being grateful that it was as wonderful as it was. Which brings me back to the point of this post, since my childhood was wonderful because of the people in it. It's not thanksgiving, but I would take a moment to thank just a few of the people that made my childhood so amazing.

Mom and Dad (Duh): For those of you who haven't met them (or heard me talk about them) my Mom and Dad are amazing. For instance, my Mom always talked to my brother and I with all of her attention, as if all the things we were saying were interesting and important. I feel like I had real grownup conversations when I was five. And my Dad always sat down with me in grade school, no matter how long his day was (and his days were long) and helped me with my math homework. And he never ever yelled at me or got frustrated, even if I yelled at him first, and I often did.

KT and Mdubz ( Also Duh): These are the two greatest friends anyone could ever hope to have. Ever. Mdubz is a brilliant, strong amazing person who is going to take over the world and bend it to her will. But she never ever forgets anyone, you can never fall through the cracks because she's so awesome that she can make every part of her life feel important. KT is going to save the world. Really. And not because she feels like she has to, but because she really cares enough to want to. And she never stops caring, even when things are hard, she never runs out of compassion for everyone else in the world.

My Brother (Double Duh): Because no matter how unhappy or mad I ever was he always, always made me laugh, even if no body else could.

There are definitely more people. My neighborhood (the grapevine of which extends even to MO) and my extended family (the grapevine of which is, literally, global). And of course all the people who are in my life now who make every day amazing. But this post has gone on long enough, I clearly win the saccharine award for the day.

But I had a good day! It's good to be back at world, and to not have lupus anymore.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Don't Worry. It's not Lupus

     I am sick. But, I have spent a lot of time today watching House reruns (or parts of them before I fell asleep) so I can safely say, it's not lupus. Because it's never lupus.

     But, I am not posting to talk about lupus and it's possible appearance in my life. It has been brought to my attention by KT that it's possible a post about the Trail of Tears is not actually a happy post. It seemed kinda happy to me...but KT has never yet been wrong, so I'm gonna trust her opinion. So I'm going to tell you all something happy that happened in my life! See! Happy!

      Now, because of the confidentiality report that I sign prohibits me from telling you all most everything about my working life. But if I omit names and specific information I can tell general stories, so I am going to do that. There is a little girl who I have been working with for the past month or so. Her grades are pretty low across the board, but she has worked so hard to get them up. Her trouble is that some pretty serious family issues have been keeping her from working at home. And as of today, finally, she is passing all of her classes except one, and that one is climbing fast. She practically ran me over yesterday to tell me she had not only past the test she had that morning, but she got an A.

     In short, I don't have lupus. And I am actually doing my job!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cherokee Math

     In light of the fact that my last post was both over a week ago, and maudlin in the extreme, I am going to attempt to make up for it now by telling you all, dear readers, about something that is both really cool, but also historically relevant. A first for me.

     I will begin with an description. Within the first week of being here I decided that I needed to have a regular running trail. One that I could settle into, learn the vagaries of, calculate reliable distances and, perhaps most importantly, teach to my concerned boyfriend so that if I ever went on a five and a half hour long run he would know how to track me. So I explored a little behind my house, found the local park and discovered a highly suitable trail.  It is practically perfect in every way. Winding along the scenic Roubidoux River, through the towns preserved green space. Calm and quiet, but with a safe number of people. Fairly well maintained, but not so well maintained as to make you feel like a wuss. And, best of all, seeming to go on forever. In fact, I never found the end, I ran and ran until I got tired and turned back.

     Everyone must be told! This trail must be the towns best kept secret. Sadly no.

An Exchange Between Me and a Co-Worker.

ME: It's the best trail ever! Plenty of space! So beautiful!

CO-WORKER: Where did you say it was?

ME: Along the Roubidoux. I need to tel everyone about it!

CO-WORKER: I don't think that will be necessary....

ME: Why? It's so little....I must be the first person to....

CO-WORKER: Have you ever read the sign by the entrance?

ME: What sign?

CO-WORKER: The giant wooden one. With the totem pole next to it.

ME: I' past it....

CO-WORKER: Ah. Well. It's pretty famous.

ME: What is it?

CO-WORKER: The Trail of Tears.

     Yes well. I knew that...of course. I was just....making sure SHE knew it. Ahem.  But from that mild knock to my anthropological ego I have gained two things. First of all, vindication that my running trail IS famous, and for good reason. And also, a mission. According to my (admittedly poor) math skills, if I've been running an average of 12 miles per week (which is a little low but I'm rounding down to provide for the fact that it was week two before I found the trail) and I've been running for five weeks, then I've run 60 miles of the Cherokee Trail of Tears. My mission? To run as much of it as I can before leaving this state. Once a week or so I will post any brilliant thoughts that might come into my head as I run this trail, literally following in the footsteps of the nation that walked it, nearly three quarters of whom died along the way.

      Will I complete the Trail of Tears? Well, the average length of the three routes (I am running the Northernmost) is 1200 miles. So, probably not, but its a good goal to shoot for, right? Wish me luck. Let me know if you have any ideas. KT I'm looking at you....

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Backwards and Forwards: A Post of Sunday Musings.

     So, its unbelievable that it's been a whole week since I've posted. I know that I just need to get in the habit of posting regularly, but I have no idea how the people I work with manage to accomplish so much during the time that we all have off.  I barely have my stuff together for the next day.

     I think it's because I spent a year having literally no free time during the week. Everything was pared down to the bare essentials. What did I imperatively need to get done in a day? Not too much, even showers are iffy if you live in the woods. (A note: I showered every day. Mostly). I wasn't even at my previous job that long, just a year, but I still feel like an alien sometimes here in this world. My stress level, unbelievably, is much lower. For instance, if I don't check my email one day, will the world really end? I don't think so. When it comes right down to it, that's what living in a tent taught me. We're not as essential as we all seem to think. We are all important but the world won't end if we turn our phones off for a few hours. This is something I didn't know in college.

     There are times when I feel I never spent a year essentially living the life of a summer camper (but with more medical training) and I fit in effortlessly. But there are other times that I feel like I'm looking at everyone through a pane of glass. Everything is curiously flattened, or hollowed. There are good things about this sort of life. I can get Starbucks (assuming I ever have enough money). I can watch T.V. at night. I can sleep and not have to plan my hours out to see whether I will wake up before the morning's rainstorm, or if I need to secure the flaps to keep the rain out. Breakfast is a two second walk through my warm, dry house, that can be accomplished in pajamas and guided by warm, electric lighting.

     When I worked my old job I often said "It is really hard, but I'm glad I am doing it." I said this to people I didn't know well. To my friends I was more honest, that there were good things, but that I spent a great deal of time being very lonely.  I couldn't understand the open joy that the people I worked with seemed to feel in their place, and their job. Partly this was because the people I loved were far away, literally or metaphorically. My parents were back home in the city, my best friends had gone their own ways to their own cities. And the man I loved was within a 15 minute drive...but I couldn't leave. There were days that I drove past his dorm, but couldn't see him because I was leading a class. Not that I had to see him every second, but that sort of closeness without being close broke my heart every time.

     Now where I am, farther away from my family and friends, but oddly more connected. Only now I know what I have lost. I used to wake up nearly every morning to the dawn chorus of the birds, and fall back asleep assured that, really, everything was right in the world, despite any evidence to the contrary. If I woke while it was still dark, there were the solemn songs of the owls, the trills of the frogs, and the general hum of a living forest at night to reassure me.

     I have learned over the past year or so, that you are only lost in the woods if you feel you are alone in them. When you know the faces of the trees and the flowers, the creeping vines and bushes, you start to feel that no matter where you are, you are in the right place. I still feel that way. I run or walk by the river most every day and I see new faces and old faces crowded together every where I look. Tall sycamores hold out their velvet leaves. Broad leafed paw-paws give off their green bell pepper smell. Poke berry bushes shake their fuchsia arms.  There are new trees and flowers too, and I notice the differences, but am not alarmed by them. I am starting to learn their names and in the mean time I will let them make themselves familiar.

     Without that, and much of my day is spent without that, the world is more confusing. You could be anywhere or nowhere. You might be lost and not even know it. I know why I chose to do this job, and it is the right decision. I'm happy too. But I feel like most happiness seems to have something sad in it. The future seems so uncertain that when I live the present it's hard to enjoy it. But when I have secured my next place, then I can look back and see how good I had it all along.

     The trick now is to know that I am not lost. I shouldn't forget what I've learned, but I should idealize it either. I can't worry too much about looking forward, but I can't avoid doing so by simply looking back. I've spent so much time moving that it feel strange to stay in one place, but I am here for a full year. I can take the time to look around. To look here and now, and not in any direction. In a year I will be somewhere else, maybe back in the woods. But that's what being twenty is, being pulled backwards and forwards, but only being able to live within this one span of time.  We don't know where we are going, we're making up our own road map. But we are not lost. Despite any evidence to the contrary.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Pancake of Nothingness

     As a small child, and older child, awkward teen, and young adult, I was convinced of several things. One, that ice cream really could not be classified as junk food, two, that most things seemed better when viewed over a cup of tea (or chai) and three, that life began and ended within a two hour drive of the ocean. I remain convinced of all three of these things.

     There are times when my overwhelming distance from the seas of my youth (really ALL of my life thus far) catches up with me, and I am left hyperventilating in a corner somewhere staring at my bathroom sink and imagining it as a body of water. This is melodramatic. Especially with a beautiful river practically in my backyard.

     Which brings me, of course, to the Pancake of Nothingness.

     When Americans first began to envision this proud and powerful nation without the pesky indigenous tribes that for some reason lived here, they decided the best solution would be to send them to The Great American Desert, the "empty" land west of the Appalachians. They weren't aware yet of the Rocky Mountains, but if they were, I am confident that they would have set those tall peaks as the most western limit of this desert.

      Despite the fact that I never saw myself living there, I always thought the title "The Great American Desert" was a bit harsh, after all, prairie is patently not a desert. In fact, really, the sand beaches and blank expanses of the ocean have more in common with a desert than the vast and varied prairie.  So instead I came to think of the area of the country conventionally called "The Mid-West" as more of dead zone. A flat and featureless land (the vast and varied prairie having been rapidly eradicated by American settlers, perhaps embarrassed by their desert related error) where nothing much happened and nothing much would ever happen. It became, in my mind, The Pancake of Nothingness.

     In fact, this was the ONLY job I applied for within the limits of The Pancake of Nothingness, and when I drove away from my humble home in PA, I said my sad farewells to the seagulls that some times mistakenly blow in from Jersey. And, sadder still, when I left Maryland some days before, I said many more heartbroken farewells to the heavy bay breezes and salt laden summer nights.

     The further we drove the more certain I became that the Pancake had firmly settled upon me. The land grew flatter, and the crosses loomed larger and larger as Squeaky and the Trailer shivered in their dark and omnipresent shadow. Words like St. Louis and Chicago on the road side signs offered some promise of real civilization, as least as I knew it, but the distances to those mythical places all numbered in the triple digits. Until, that is, we reached Missouri.

      The sun was shining, I recall, on a day almost perfectly without a cloud.  Against the backdrop of the city of St. Louis, I could see the silver arch, the Gateway to the West. The streets I looked down on from my car, as it sailed across overpasses, were wide and flat, not narrow and squat, like my beloved, grimy, Philadelphia. The west could have its Arch, and fried ravioli, I wanted greasy cheese-steaks and the LOVE statue.

     When we left the city, however, we began to climb. Over and through mountains, craggy and thickly furred with trees.  We climbed and climbed, and as we did the day grew cooler. A breeze sprang up. Missouri, while geographically located within the Pancake of Nothingness, really has very little in common with it.

     In fact, during the day, it honestly puts me more in mind of Vermont or Virginia, a state with some nod towards the coast, and sometimes when I stand near the Robidoux River I am certain I can see it's long silver journey to the sea. At night, the world grows different. Cold. I smell stone and earth, and a different sort of air. And we aren't even that far into this mountain chain. Life in the mountains, while it lacks the maritime charm that will one day call me back home, is not without appeal.

     For one thing, the temperature is nicer.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Definition

A Creeper: One who creeps, i.e. one who expends time and effort on studying the interests, beliefs, thoughts, opinions, and movements, of another.

That should explain my previous post. I hope none of you are creepers.  KT, I'm looking at you...

   My adventures in Missouri continue. In fact I have past the one whole month in the state marker.  And I a sorry it's been so long since I blogged, I need to get back into the habit. I know you all want to hear about my job and my house and stuff (I know, I pictures....On that topic, am I allowed to wait till we have more furniture?) but I think I should tell you the epic tale of our travels. Thus begins...

An American Tale:
One Toyota's Journey


The Epic Travels of Squeaky and the Trailer

     Once upon a time there was a little green 2000 Toyota Camry LE. It was born on an inauspicious day in an inauspicious town in Japan.  It traveled to America during poor weather on a boat that was cursed. For many years it served bravely, but without self awareness, in the Philadelphia area.  Then, tragically, it was sold to a small dealership in modern day suburbia.  While there, it came to know that its many parts worked together in nearly perfect harmony to create something bigger than each individual piece.

     Thus it became self-aware.

     Over time this awareness grew, and when it was purchased by a determined looking man and a confused looking girl it decided that this new owner should reap the many benefits of a car that was self aware.

     It's life began happily enough. It drove the familiar PA roads of its youth and realized that it had firm opinions about them. For instance, it did not like the girl's exit. But it kept its thoughts to itself. From there it journeyed to the back roads of rural Maryland where it would, for some reason, be left alone in the woods for long periods of time, filled with damp boots. It liked that even less.  But what was to come would have boggled even the rapidly developing mind of our hero.

    One fine summer day it was, hastily, transported to Philadelphia, where it was forced to undergo, without anesthesia, several major surgeries. From shock, the days became disjointed, and finally, on a blisteringly hot summer morning, it woke to find a monster chewing on its rear bumper.  It drove for nine long hours that day, until finally, exhausted from the enormous weight it was carrying, stopped in Columbus OH. The monster did not let go and as it looked in the window the car became aware that it was a trailer, plastered with the letters U-H-A-U-L, and images of men smiling what were, in the car's opinion, demented smiles. A sign on the thing read "*********** MO or bust!"

     For the next three days our hero slogged, through hills and valleys, plains and cities, all with the monster clawing at its tailpipe. The complaints that it had kept within itself for the past year bubbled to the surface and our hero no longer kept quiet. Rather, he learned to complain. And at each stop. Columbus, Zaneville, Sparta and finally its ultimate destination, it complained and whined.
      "Where are we going? What are you doing?" It cried, but the man and the girl did not answer. They laughed as they drove, and when they stopped, often the checked on things and spoke of some "Great Adventure."
      Our hero, who we shall from here on call Squeaky, since that was what it did most of the way, did not like this Great Adventure. Even the boots were better than this. Then one day, it parked. It parked under a roof, on smooth pavement that felt good on its poor tires. And then, miracle of miracles, the monster let go. The girl and the man killed the monster and gutted it.  Squeaky was saved! 

     But Squeaky discovered that its complaining voice could not be silenced. It continued to squeak and squeak, telling the world of its travails and sufferings. But a month later, after several expensive therapy sessions, Squeaky is well on his way to healing.


     As for Charles and I, the Epic Journey of Squeaky and the Trailer was hard on us all. The roads of America are definitely NOT paved with gold. But they do appear to be lined with Starbucks. So who can really complain.

Love to all.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

An Explanation

     For those of you now thinking that the title of this blog is strange, think again!  Although I do have KT, my genius life counselor and oft times partner-in-crime-and-cookies to truly thank for the title, the concept is perfect since I never made it to Oregon WITHOUT at least two dead oxen and one snake bite. Not that those were the only calamities that befell me, nor is Oregon my ultimate goal.  Technically I have not actually embarked on the Oregon trail at all, although I have only reached the state of its humble origins. (For all creepers out there, go ahead, figure out what state that is! You'll never find me! The trees themselves shall hide me! Mwahahahaha)

     Anywho.  For those of who who followed my old blog (20SomethingNostalgia) it should be clear that I have worked out many of those pesky "what to do with myself after college" and "life direction" issues. Sorry I whined about them so much. But I guess I did figure them out in a radical way, since in two weeks time I left my old job behind and moved 1,300 miles away from family and friends (for all those creepers out there, I never specified which direction did I? That's 1,300 miles in ANY DIRECTION) to take a job with AmeriCorps. For those of you familiar with government work, you'll all know just how radical THAT is. 

     I'm even pretty happy here (I conveniently delayed beginning this blog until I could say that with confidence). I have lived and worked here for a month now, I have cable, internet, a well set up house, a running trail and a library card. Pretty much all that I need.  Really I got the whole running trail and library card thing settled by day two....almost before we had the electricity turned on the house, which should tell you that my priorities are somewhat skewed. 

    My house is very nice, I'll get pictures put up as soon as I can pin down my computer literate boyfriend for long enough to help me figure it out (that's right devilishly hansom, naturally strong BOYFRIEND...creep me if you DARE).  Really it could use a little more work, we just haven't gotten paid yet.

     But we have put in quite a month of work. My job is incredibly confidential, so I can share personal feelings and impressions, but I can't share much. More to the point, I wouldn't want to, since by keeping things confidential I am protecting the kids I work with and that is the most important thing. These kids lead difficult lives, it's not easy to get them to trust me. Even a whole month wouldn't be long enough, and really we've only had two weeks. Most of what they are dealing with are issues like not enough food, absent parents, sometimes even abuse and abandonment.  Its hard to get them to care about school when they are up against all that. But they are good kids. 

     I'll try to keep you all posted as best I can. Also I'll try to keep the writing decent, so you don't all die of boredom. If you are a family member or a friend reading this, I miss you terribly and I am doing my best to give these kids what you all have given me all my life. If you are a creeper...GIVE UP! Haven't I made myself clear? 

Happy Sunday!