Like the Weather

Runners plan. God laughs.

Times I listened to the 10,000 Maniacs live version of “Like the Weather” to get in the mood for this post: 5

Layers I sometimes wear when running in the winter: 4

Layers I wear when running in the summer: 1/2

[First of all, isn’t this an awesome picture? My uber-scientist/manager/DIY extraordinaire husband is looking to illustrate life, if there are any jobs available out there. Then we could move to The Islands, mon, and I could run in more predictable (hot!) weather.]

The way I view weather is the same way I feel about most other things: it should work properly. You may be surprised to note that it doesn’t.

We live in a climate that has a distinct spring, summer, fall and winter. Problem is, the seasons themselves are moody.

I have been to four college graduations in May at my nearby alma mater, and they varied between me sweating in shorts and a tank top with graduation robes on top to me in a dress and light sweater sitting on bleachers wishing I had a fur coat and balaclava.

The first week in December has been, alternately, 80 degrees when my husband’s mom and sister came to visit from England one year (they sat out on the deck and tried to soak up all available rays of sun) and calamitous ice storms another year (I was in the hospital giving birth to our daughter and trying to stay warm while the generators fed electricity to those on life support).

Our winters are not the sort that my bloggy friends describe in eastern Europe or Canada where runners are forced inside to the dreadmill. Here, we don’t get feet of snow or sheets of ice on a regular basis. The streets and sidewalks are open and fuctional, and we are not allowed to whine (much) when faced with what could be.

The other day, my running partner and I watched the same weather forecast the rest of the city watched: the one that said showers should start around noon. As I drove my son to his orthodontist appointment at 8:15, it started pouring. And it didn’t stop. At 9:30, I checked the 40-degree temperature and pelting conditions and considered my running attire: capri pants? No. Leggings? Yes. Short-sleeved shirt chosen when the sun was out? No. Windbreaker/hopeful rain slicker? Yes. Beanie hat? Sure. Sunglasses? No point.

Even though the weather guy had been wrong, the rain at least remained consistent. And it turned out to be a pretty good run. For a Monday.

Back in January, we headed out for an epic 11-miler that had all the markings of a gorgeous spring day: bright sunshine, warmer temps and all the bulb flowers poking their heads out of the ground. We headed out as innocent as little Easter bunnies, smiling at God’s benevolence.

A couple of miles in, a breeze kicked up. An unexpected breeze. We had not planned for that breeze.

And then, the optimistic skies were replaced with fat gray clouds that seemed to hover over our (admittedly uninspired) route.

Then, rain.

Chewing my ShotBloks was like gumming wet jellybeans.

The rain was not a gentle mist, but pelting, thick drops that fell behind our sunglasses and saturated our now-squelchy shoes. When I got home, I had half a mind to throw some laundry detergent on my running tights and toss them out in the front yard. The washing machine couldn’t get them any wetter.

And don’t even get me started on early morning spring runs, when the air chills as you step outside, so you bundle up in warm layers, only to strip them off at the end of mile one.

Is weather truly the last frontier? The one thing we can’t control with apps and calendars and well-stocked handbags?

I, for one, will probably keep trying.

But after all we’ve been through, weather and I are like this. So close.

I guess you could say I’m grateful that after hours spent in climate-controlled conditions in front of a computer screen, real life and unexpected weather conditions continue to surprise me.

 

Stuck in a Moment

En route. (Image compliments of my talented hubby!)

Age I got my first Barbie: 10

Barbies I owned: 3

Hours it took to get to the U2 concert: 3.25

I came late to the Barbie party.

I really liked Barbies and all of their accoutrements: the torn vinyl wardrobe, the vast shoe collection and the fun, open-air Jeep… but my mom was a Feminist. It was the ’70s, people, and Barbie was way, way too into her hairstyles. The only time I could enjoy Barbie and her carefree, California lifestyle was playtime in someone else’s split-level. There, Barbie and her clones were tossed neglectfully under the bed, at times headless… or worse, with a very bad haircut.

By the ’80s, I was almost too old for Barbies, but my mom had a change of heart. My sister asked for a Barbie, as if just asking can get you what you want, and… she got one.

Of course, I had to have one, too. My mom’s thought process about how her Feminist rhetoric had influenced me thus far probably went something like this:

“Well, I was trying to prep her for a career, possibly as a doctor or physicist, but she read Little Women and identified with Meg. She also skips around in circles and sings and likes to wade through muddy creekbeds. I heard her say recently that boys are better at math. I’ve failed. Heck, let her play with a doll that has no motivation other than a nice bra and her next date with Ken.”

By the time I got a Barbie, I was 10 and heading on to middle school in the not-so-distant future.

Mine was the prettiest Barbie, with waist-length, cooperative hair and a button on her back to make her arthritic, perma-folded arms move. But her face was kind, and she had a pleasant demeanor. She wasn’t one to cuss out the maitre d’, and she didn’t need a Ken in her life. She was happy with the journey, this Barbie was.

We designed Barbie mansions under the dining room table and spent hours getting her ready for parties. Sometimes it was a pool party, and she needed the perfect bikini and matching cover-up. Even though my mom thought heels with bathing suits were the dumbest thing ever, Barbie knew the right accessories could make her feel beautiful.

Perhaps best of all, we were happy with the process, the moments of anticipation while still inside the mansion. Her home and clothes and friends were all she needed to have a delightful afternoon. She never attended that party she was prepping for, but she was still smiling in her super-cool duds. She was a Woman Living in the Moment.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago.

My sister, a U2 SuperFan, was going to miss the concert in our town. She thought she could handle it, but she couldn’t. So she called me saying she had two tickets and did I want to go?

Well, sure. I never get out to concerts anymore, and I love them. Plus, the place where U2 was playing was only 20 minutes away. What could be easier?

I told her to meet me at my house around 5:30, we’d leave by 6, be there easily in the middle of the opening act.

We got there at 9:15.

I love where we live, but it’s not a city. It wasn’t ready by half for the excitement generated by the 360 Tour.

We got on the highway along with thousands of others in what became known (to me) as U2’s Highway Parking Lot Tour.

But this was the best part: I didn’t care. Then again, I wasn’t the SuperFan. My sister might have cared, just a smidgen. We got giddy, we waved at fans in other cars, we watched as people left their cars on the side of the highway and prepared to walk several miles.

They got there before we did.

We cranked up my satellite radio on the ’90s station and sang angry songs like, “You Oughta Know” and “Nevermind.” I found out that we both love Jane’s Addiction and that she knows all the words to “Jane Says.” She also adores the live version.

After three hours in the car, we parked at a doctor’s office, skedaddled over to the outdoor arena and sat in the bleachers on the most perfect autumn night in recorded history. Bono sounded great, and my sister was happy.

I try to remind myself daily that writing and running and raising children and becoming the person I want to be is a process. Even though there are goal races and novels to be written and levels to be achieved, my mom would be happy to note that Barbie set a good example. I can be happy on the journey, whether I make it to the party or concert or not.

But just in case, I’ll have on a nice pair of shoes.

Open Letter to The Hunger Games

I heart you.

Age when I read a book that changed my life: 11

Age my son is now when he can’t stop reading the Hunger Games trilogy: 11

Ways good books can make your life better: 32,001

Dear Hunger Games trilogy and Ms. Suzanne Collins,

Thank you for dreaming up a book for kids about a reality show where people kill each other. While death and post-apocalyptic themes are not the first thing I would seek out for an 11-year-old, I am thankful for the extent to which my son has been submerged in your world.

I read the Hunger Games trilogy in 5.2 days this past December, and I loved all three books. I had also read the Gregor the Overlander series to my kids a few years ago… so good.

Quite frankly, I was getting concerned about my kids, who love to read. When I read Harry Potter #6 out loud to them, there were tears.

Mine.

“Kids? Kids? (sob sniff sob) Did you miss the part about Dumbledore? The tumbling over, and the splat, and the never coming back, and the tomb part? Kids?”

“Yeah, Mom, it’s sad.”

“But the death part? (wiping eyes, voice scratchy from poignancy)”

“Yeah. Sad.”

Both of my kids read books, and there have been several they’ve really, really liked. But this. This, Ms. Collins. Remember The Once and Future King?

Oh. Maybe you don’t. I got The Once and Future King the summer when I was 11, a few weeks before it all hit the fan. I mean, the death of my rabbit, my cat and my grandmother, all within a week? Everything was changing.

And I was ugly. Please don’t remind me about my cloud of hair. Or those painful braces. The one thing I had going for me was a Bain du Soleil tan from a summer spent in the sun, and even that was cursed, since my eyelids, tanned and weathered like an ’80s goddess, now sit atop my eyeballs in the manner of an 80-year-old.

But I had King Arthur. And England, and towers and knights and fate and good and evil. And I didn’t even think ol’ Lancelot was all that great. Guinevere made some bad choices. I can’t even hear “Fortress Around Your Heart” by Sting without being transported back to my bed, with the curtains blowing in with the breeze and the long summer days giving me extra reading time. As hungry as I was, King Arthur was way better than tuna casserole with potato chips on top.

And now Hunger Games. When I see tears on the edges of my son’s eyelashes as he reads about [bad thing expunged here], I know he is feeling the power of a great book.

Thank you, thank you, Ms. Collins, for all of your compelling writing about good and evil and Peeta (Arthur) and Gale (Lancelot) and scrappy female characters both boys and girls can relate to.

Yours in Panem,

Anne

The Blame Game

Why did you hurt me when all I do is show you love?

Times I have been injured while wearing running shoes: 2

Times I have been injured while wearing any other kind of shoe: immeasurable

Times my son has run into a stationary object: at least 5

I have a love affair with shoes. And boots. Sandals, too.

But like a few bad choices I’ve made in my life, my affection was misplaced this week.

When I walked outside before heading on our long car trip the other day, the ground was a little wet. I walked back inside on our wood floors, and one foot started to slip out from under me. I did catch myself, then went along on my merry way, driving three hours there, then three hours back. By nightfall, serious pain. Unrelenting pain.

I find the pain unfair. The boots I wore were chosen with care. They are my favorites: flat, not tight, none of the “wow, I can’t believe you’re wearing heels that high! Don’t you worry you’ll fall?” issues some of my shoes might cause. These were my safety choice. And they failed me.

What does a runner do when she can’t run? She blames her horrible boots and swears never to wear footwear again. I was once barefoot, and to bare feet I shall return. Well, not really. Shoes are so pretty.

My kids like to blame each other when something doesn’t go their way.

“I didn’t get my piano practiced because she went first, and I didn’t have time!”

“I fell because after I pushed him, he bit my arm!”

And finally, “They shouldn’t have put the mailbox right there.” (More on that in a minute.)

Because my sister lives 30 minutes away, I don’t get to blame her for things that go wrong. I find this unfair; isn’t this what siblings are for? So I blame my husband. He lives here but is usually at work, so I can mutter under my breath about the ways he has wronged me.

Sometimes, I can’t find the scissors. I use scissors a lot, and I can’t even tell you how. I don’t craft, I don’t use those particular scissors for sewing, and I don’t make paper dolls (much). But there are times when I need my scissors, and they aren’t there. This is when I start muttering under my breath and pacing around the house like a crazy person. Until I find them, and they are in the guest room on the floor where I was wrapping a birthday present. And my husband never, ever wraps birthday presents. Maybe I can blame him for that, too.

I also find it helpful and fun to blame my husband for genetic defects in our children. When they are horrible, I like to think about how his English genes, long trapped on an island, are wreaking havoc inside our otherwise perfectly lovely children.

And although their need for braces can be tracked right down through my fourth and fifth grade photos which are now posted on Facebook by some malicious classmate, I decided recently that their weird right canine teeth must be a direct result of my husband’s genes. I told him this. And then I looked at his mouth, really long and hard. Dangit. His teeth are perfect. And he never had braces. But he did point out that my right canine tooth sticks out just a bit. To his credit, he did not try to punch it back into place.

Our children also have a tendency to run into stationary objects. I have tried not to think about how this will impact their futures, but I can’t help but worry when I yell, “Be careful!” And they yell back, “Oh Mom, I’m not going to get hurt!”

Hmm. Tell that to the mailbox. And that parked car on our street. And the sidewalk.

My son has biked into the mailboxes on our street a total of four times. They are not especially large structures, not the richie-rich stone-with-gargoyle variety, but a simple wooden cross with black metal box on top. Despite the overwhelming expanse of asphalt, he has plowed into these innocent postal boxes at full speed again and again.

While entranced with my husband’s new GPS watch, he managed to plow into a parked car on the street. Luckily, the car was not in pristine condition, and the impact probably served to straighten out an earlier indentation.

Owner’s thoughts: “I won’t ask them to pay for the damages, because this kid’s future is uncertain and obviously costly. Although maybe another incident like that will push that wacky canine tooth back in place.”

My daughter has also hit the mailbox with her bike. (I just realized this may be the reason that the door hangs open in a slight breeze.)

But worse than that, she took a bad fall along a flat stretch of cement a few years ago.

When I asked her what happened, she said through her tears, “I don’t want to tell yououououou… hoooo hoooohoooo.”

“Why not?”

“Because I was… I was…. running with my eyes closed. Bwawhooowhooowoo…”

“But why?”

“It’s just so, so fun. Bwajawhaowoooaooooo…”

They get it from my husband. I’m sure it’s his fault.

Except that I can remember a time, in a very, very tight space in a college town parking garage, when I was backing out. A nice, good ol’ boy type was helping guide me from the safety of a few feet (yards) away. When suddenly, I felt a small, slow impact. (It was very slow.)

“Well, that’s why they have those breakaway mirrors, I guess,” he said, with a slight shake of his head.

I think it’s stupid that they put cement posts in the middle of a parking lot.

And I think that I am very angry at my foot for getting hurt when it was really my hip that was the reason I was taking a couple of days off running. That probably sounds like an old woman. In which case, I am blaming old age.

Baking as Love: What My Grandmother Taught Me

Be prepared. Someone might need sugar.

Cake tins I own: 9

Pieces of pound cake my grandmother sent home that caught me a husband: 2

Dessert options, on average, that my grandmother had in stock when we visited: 14

The kids were off school yesterday, and I took them to visit my grandparents. The house, with a few updates and changes, is the same one I visited with my mother. The windchimes are the same, and she keeps the candy bars in the same corner cabinet. One slight change: lots of desserts, but now they are Entenmann’s and Oreos, Keebler and Chips Ahoy, instead of her famous poundcake or freshly picked blackberries in a pie straight from the oven.

When my grandmother was a child, she said one of the desserts they had regularly was biscuits with Karo syrup. I don’t know if this was the reason she went on to surround herself with desserts, but it always made the visits to her house that much sweeter.

My mom was a terrific baker, trying out new recipes and adding orange flavoring and orange juice to pound cake just for a new twist. But she didn’t believe in dessert on a regular basis, which is probably why my sister and I grew up not having to worry about our weight incessantly.

But dessert at my grandmother’s house was a given. I would walk in and scan the countertops for the various options: pound cake with chocolate frosting, peaches with copious amounts of sugar and fresh whipped cream, strawberry shortcake and blueberry pie. There was always ice cream, plenty of flavors.

Not only did we get dessert after dinner… we also got Bedtime Snack. She would spread a blanket on the kitchen floor, and my sister and I would come in with pajamas on. We could choose whatever we liked, and there weren’t many limits. Sometimes she would even suggest an add-on, “Would you like a little ice cream with that? I’m gonna have some,” she would say, and lean up against the counter with a small bowl of Heavenly Hash or Cookies’n’Cream. It was a kid’s version of heaven.

“Always have food ready in case you have visitors,” she would tell me. “What if someone stops by? They’ll tell you they’re not hungry, but they probably are.”

That was her life philosophy: people don’t think they are hungry, but they probably are. And they probably will feel a little happier with a freshly baked treat.

I knew, even at a young age, that my grandmother looked forward to our visits, that she planned out the desserts in advance, that she stood, passing by the kitchen window, mixing butter and sugar and flour and vanilla in her trusty mixer, anticipating our smiles when we shoveled the results into our excited mouths.

Today, when I think about visiting, I know there is no gift I can give her. She is well taken care of and content in her space.

But I anticipated our upcoming visit and pulled out some butter and sugar, vanilla and a couple of heaping cups of chocolate chips. I did want to show up with one thing when we stopped by for lunch: a Ziploc bag full of homemade chocolate chip cookies. Just thinking about her eating them makes me smile.

Our Family Has a No Compete Clause

This means war.

Times we have fought over Pictionary: 8

Times I have won Settlers of Catan: 0

Times I have thought I was going to win Settlers of Catan: 13

Pictionary is off-limits in our family. When we head to the beach each summer, a multi-generational, extended family affair, my brother-in-law has declared Pictionary a no-go. My husband would tell you that this is because my drawings all resemble alien feet. But it is really because the arguments conversations go something like this:

“But why would you draw a globe if the word is earlobe?”

“Just the rhyming, you know, the actual ear drawing didn’t work…”

“That’s an ear? It looks like a treble clef. Seriously.”

“Treble clefs are hard to draw. Give me some props–high five…”

“There are no high fives for epic failure. Earlobe. Earlobe. Earlobe.”

The issues are not restricted to two people, or even four. There is dysfunction in the whole set-up, except of course, for my 9-year-old daughter, who is a wonderful artist and looks at all of us with disgust. Did I mention that cocktail hour begins at 4 p.m. at the beach?

In Pictionary, my dad is the liability. We take turns having him on our team, because as the timer is turned, his pencil hovers over the paper while the sand trickles inexorably to the bottom of the glass.

“Draw something, Dad! Anything.”

And then the random guesses begin as we stare at the blank page.

“Costa Rica!”

“Arm!”

“Saltwater taffy!”

My brother-in-law is not an alcoholic, but he probably wishes he were.

I try to help. “Another beer?”

He shakes his head sadly and points to the puffy, benevolent clouds outside. “Looks like a storm might be rolling in.”

Everyone ignores him.

We have also tried poker, which my mom will not play because of some unknown aversion to betting. No money is ever used in the playing of our poker. It consists of me giggling, my husband telling me to find a poker face, and my brother-in-law and sister dealing each other the best cards. Or maybe they just know how to play better.

One of my favorites is Settlers of Catan, where you try to build settlements and use resources like sheep, wood, wheat and brick to dominate the board. My husband won’t play it anymore.

Problem #1: My husband wants to win. And he never does.

Problem #2: My sister has a Ph.D. in some complicated science-y thing, but I suspect now that it may be board game-related. She always wins. Effortlessly.

Problem #3: I always think I’m going to win and still have a chance. My son does, too, and we continue to cling to the wreckage of the sinking ship with looks of hope on our faces. We are the golden retrievers of board games.

I always thought that I wasn’t a competitive person. I never played sports in school and shied away from direct confrontation. But when my children were young and wanted to play Chutes and Ladders, I scared myself.

“Ha! Take that! Back down the chute with you!” I found myself saying to my 3-year-old daughter.

She did not often ask to play board games with me.

The whims of the chutes were so unexpected, so uncontrollable. Maybe my kids didn’t understand how mercurial the winds of life could be. By controlling and beating ol’ Chutes, success in life would be mine. Mine!

The only game that works for us now is Apples to Apples, Junior Edition.

For a writer, it’s a great game. You turn over an adjective, and everyone has a hand full of nouns. They have to play a noun that they think the judge will like best as a match for the adjective.

My son goes for silly.

“Fresh.”

His choice would probably be, “Helicopters.”

This throws my grandmother off a bit when she’s judging. “Helicopters?” she’ll ask.

My son will snicker, and she gives him a “hmph.”

The perfect multi-generational game. No right or wrong answers, and a little bit of guessing about how people are likely to judge.

But I’ve been working on my alien feet, and I’m hoping that someday, we’ll all be mature enough to try Pictionary again.

Planning the Happily Ever After

Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

Times I thought I had life figured out: 57

Times I did: 0

Times I thought I had writing figured out: 98. But didn’t: 135

I was lucky enough to get to interview YA author Jordan Sonnenblick yesterday for work. Not only was he gracious, but humble, too. He has published eight books so far, and he wrote the first four in four years while still teaching full-time. He had some advice to pass along. As always, being in the presence of greatness makes me think about my own writing and how to improve. I thought I’d pass along what I’ve been mulling over since we spoke.

Picture the end of your novel before you start page one. Sonnenblick said this was advice he’d give to middle school students who hoped to become published writers one day. As an aspiring novelist pushing forty, it spoke to me in a kind of “duh, why didn’t I think of that before I went on a meandering, character-developing goose chase?” way.

When I was in my senior year of college, I had some major soul-questioning moments. There was a recession, and I couldn’t figure out how to get hired doing anything journalistic. Or, let’s be honest, how to get hired doing much of anything at all. In my college town, my peers seemed polarized into those who were already hired as assistants to the President of the United States the second they graduated and those who were going on to graduate school. I fit into neither category. My hometown of Atlanta was gearing up for the 1996 Olympics, and when I tried to get a job in public relations there, a family friend said that she had gotten several resumes from people with 15 years experience who were willing to intern for free (no money!) just to be close to the scene of the action.

I’m a planner, and I was ready to know how my life was going to turn out. If I could have, I would have flipped the pages of that book and discovered, stat, if the heroine ever gets a backbone or a clue.

Fast forward to my thirties, and applying that floundering lesson to my long projects didn’t take. I had left my characters bereft, floating on a (symbolic) raft, with no distinct goal. Or at least a rather amorphous one.

Lesson learned. Sonnenblick’s advice makes perfect sense. If only I had interviewed him a few years ago.

Head for the deep water. Sonnenblick had the good fortune of being blessed with Frank McCourt (of Angela’s Ashes fame) as a high school English teacher. Sonnenblick, already proficient at writing humor, wowed his classmates. But McCourt kept telling Sonnenblick to “head for the deep water.” As Sonnenblick said (and I’m paraphrasing here), humor without poignancy doesn’t last. True, dat.

But here’s the thing: deep water is very scary. You don’t know what’s under there. Even though I love boogie boarding in the waves, I’ve heard the stories about rip tides. That, and my mom still stands by the edge of the sand and yells, “Don’t go out too far!” I’m almost forty. Read into that what you will.

The uncomfortable bearing of my soul and the fear that no one will really relate are probably behind my adherence to the breakers. Let’s just say I’m working on it.

If Frank McCourt had been my English teacher, I would be an award-winning novelist today. Only kidding, Mr. Sonnenblick. What I remember from AP English was that my teacher, a pinched, narrow, Englishy teachery type, favored long silences punctuated by pushing her cheeks in on either side as she considered any comment. It was distressing.

As we studied the Book of Job and all the horrible things he had to endure, I had no trouble making a personal connection to the text. English class was a hair shirt that I pulled on once a day to atone for my sins. My teacher wrote only one thing on my papers that year, “Be More Specific,” or more disturbingly, “Specifics?” I never asked her what she meant.

I found my way back to writing by late freshman year. My salvation was journalism school, a refreshing change from five-paragraph essays. But please note that news stories lack, even encourage, no solid conclusion. Bingo! I can now blame both bad luck in the English teacher lottery and journalistic style for my unpublished novel.

We writers must plot out our own courses, and I’m back to the feeling of wanting to flip to the end of the book. Will I ever get to be a published novelist? I’m going to plan on it.