Posts Tagged ‘A-Z’

H – Home

Posted: 15 October 2007 in A-Z, observations, writing
Tags: , ,


Today is Blog Action Day.  Although I could say much about the environment, I risk starting a manic moment that will involve the throwing out of every household cleaner we own and, if you’ve seen our bathroom lately, you know that isn’t a good idea.  Between you and me, we’ll consider this Blog Action Day as “action on your blog, for once!” day and as a trade off, I give you this Lifehack post to take you in the right direction.

I’d like this H blog entry to be about H for Hippie, which I sort of am and which my parents certainly were and, boy do I have a lot to say about homemade baby food and diapers, no fast food and no tv, but instead, it’s about Home. 

For you, home is New Jersey, right?  Or that tiny little town of St. Pete’s in upper Minnesota where people hunt ducks and no one is ever angry.  Maybe you call home Berlin, after all, it’s pleasant there and there’s that perfectly preserved stone bench where you used to flee the corporate world and eat your lunch.  But it’s a place, I know.  Or a concept that you cherish.  Mom’s terrible tuna casserole or your sister’s late-eighties punk music.  Some of you are stubbornly thinking that home is “the place where I feel most comfortable” or some other platitude like that just to throw a wrench in the works.  That’s okay, I get what you’re saying.  Home is different for everyone.  But my point is, we have have one – even if it’s a theory you haven’t proved yet. 

I’ve always wanted one place.  I’d even settle for one complicated thought about home.  Instead, I have dozens.  I’m overwhelmed with homes.  I have a city (A particular bakery on Main Street in Evanston, Illinois has served me a particular kind of cookie since I was old enough to chew.  The arching trees, the green grass, the spring tulips, the old houses, the money, the education, the lake, the street names.  They are all part of my home.)  I have a smell or two (fog mostly, in a variety of places.)  A sensation (a humid desert and sharp, warm wind on a desolate mesa).  A set of rivers, some nice and some not (in Bad Tolz, Germany; Xai Xai, Mozambique; Sao Paulo, Brazil) that act like tremendous magnets pulling me to them.  I have feelings (loneliness, independence, love) and unexplained predilections (the deep south, the southwest, the Rift Valley, Kansas prairies) for no reason at all.  That is just a pinch.

So when you ask me where home is, I won’t have trouble lying to you.  I’ll tell you that I was born in Arizona or grew up in Illinois.  I’ll tell you that my family lives in the Southwest, mostly.  I’ll say Virginia.  You certainly don’t expect to hear “on the side of a lake, in a wooden house with big glass windows and a white, fluffy rug and no one around for miles.”  You’d expect me to know which lake, where I bought the rug, how much the house cost.  But they don’t exist.  They are just home.



Posted: 30 July 2007 in A-Z, writing
Tags: ,

I wrote last one year ago.  I didn’t go off to do anything exciting and I didn’t make a vaunted, dramatic announcement about this blog going on hiatus.  I didn’t because it wasn’t just this blog.  It was a mental, physical, practical, necessary hiatus.  I’m constantly plagued with self-doubt about the quality of what I write anywhere (I consider myself an expert greeting card writer, but the title came with painstaking years of practice); I turned out to be unstable than I thought and less stable than I needed to make a routine of anything; and, I simply ran out of things to say. 

 Jon at one of my favorite blogs to follow – the Chocolate Runners Blog – has taken to finding the dead blogs among us.  Part of me, I’m sure, simply didn’t want to be called out as a dead blog.  What else would you call it though, with the most recent entry dating from August 2006?  I find I have more to say now.  Perhaps not enough to make a practice again, but enough that if I don’t start saying things soon, my mind will be full to over-flowing.  You didn’t know you were a release valve, did you.  Soon enough I’ll be hissing onto the page again, whether motivated by Jon or by the pressure of an unexpected hiatus.

G – Gooooooooooooool

Posted: 1 July 2006 in A-Z, joy, the fantastic
Tags: , ,

I love the World Cup. When I was first in training for the Foreign Service, we would bribe our Portuguese teachers to let us out early to go to a neighborhood bar and watch the games. We’d bring them any Brazilian treat we could think of, even going so far as to buy Romeu e Julieta from the expensive, import market near the school. We would almost never get out in time to see the first few minutes, in fact, I’d bike faster than I thought possible just to get to the meeting spot before the chance of an early goal. Arriving hot and sweaty didn’t bother me; the cold restaurant, the icy beer in the middle of the afternoon and the fact that all of my friends would be more interested in the game than the way I smelled assured that it didn’t matter if I arrived in a sheen of heat and bike dirt. Four year later, at a small town fourth of July parade, my childhood friends and I gathered around a fist-sized tv set to watch Cameroon shame a powerful European team as floats and bands trooped down Main Street. In Mozambique, while the early games were showing, I’d rush home for a long lunch and turn the TV toward the window so that the guards could watch the game as well.

This year, I’ve had to contend (pitifully) with a full time job. I haven’t been able to watch most of the games. I’ve tried to bring D. into the soccer fold, showing her how the game works and what to watch for, much like she did with me during the NFL season last year. Unfortunately, with most games falling during the week, we haven’t had much time to follow the teams. Of course, we watched the US avidly (that is until the riotously unfair calls by the ref in the Italy game and the subsequent stomping in the Ghana game) and we’ve followed Brazil for the sheer joy of it. We’ve missed most of their games, getting only to see recaps and watching the occasional Telemundo replay (even though we knew the score and none of us speak sufficient Spanish).

But my love for Brazilian soccer goes back almost a decade. My first assignment was to Brazil. I spent two beautiful years in Sao Paulo. I travelled extensively, had Brazilian friends and saw my fair share of local games. As an honorary Paulista, I cheered for the Corinthians and was firmly against the Palmeiras (sorry, links in Portuguese). The stadiums in Brazil are impressive. Huge cement structures with no chairs (why give anyone incentive to rip them out?), just cement risers appropriate for standing, singing and screaming. The Brazilians have a list of songs for every occasion, all memorized, none published. I think you must be born knowing them if you’re native to the area. Every match is a chorus of supportive song, each teams’ fans singing as loud as possible. There is nearly always showing off on the field (unlike in cup games) and there is inevitably an argument or two, if not with the ref then among players. Fans are fenced off from each other – each section is team specific, separated by high fences – to keep them from killing each other. At the end of the game, the losing teams fans are dismissed first while the winning teams fans remain kept in, chanting, singing and surging down the cement platforms to the front. This prevents fights outside of the stadium (in theory) but promotes trampling inside the stadium. Friends of mine bruised ribs underfoot, one broke a wrist. I always fled as soon as possible, in part because of claustrophobia, in part because of articles like this (English). I miss those events a little (saudades, nao e’?) but am getting my fix this year watching Brazil.

Bonus points if you, too, are cheering for Brazil.

F – The Foreign Service

Posted: 3 August 2005 in A-Z, work, writing
Tags: , ,


The Foreign Service tries to pack as many brilliant people into its ranks as possible. Existing officers have a long, luminous history of building up incoming officers’ egos and raising them to a level on par with Winston Churchill, Abe Lincoln, Indira Gandhi and then squeezing and condensing that ego into a compact little package of confidence during a three month training period before shipping them off to packs of wolves in countries of cannibals, lung-eating pollution, vibrant fevers and diseases and, of late, IEDs. They are routinely told that they are the “cream of the crop”, the “elite”, and the “best that our country has to offer”. Leaving aside for a moment the argument that recruitment for the Foreign Service is so dismal that this group of creamy elites is only drawn from universities, families with existing Foreign Service or other government experience and impressionable interns and as such practically rules out entire groups of brilliant individuals that might more fully represent our country overseas, the new officers really are an elite bunch.

I didn’t go to the Georgetown school of foreign service. I wasn’t at a targeted university. No one in my family works in the government. I hadn’t ever been to DC. The aptitude test I took my junior year of college said I should first consider the lively art of Funeral Home Management and a distant second, think about being a Foreign Service Officer. So essentially, if I hadn’t changed my major six times during undergrad (finally landing on Anthropology in hopes of boosting my GPA), I never would have heard of or known how to get into the Foreign Service. I could rail on at length about the heavily male, heavily white tilt in the organization, but I do recognize that they are making an effort to change things.

Now I’m getting the opportunity to take on part of the training. In a mere seven shifts, I’ll leave the 24-hour a day work behind and slip thankfully back into 8-5 reliability. No more 3am nights spent listening to the rats in the ceiling panels. No more days spent anxiously checking CNN hoping that everything is still okay in the world. No more stress at being on the front line of response when an Embassy is attacked, an American missing, a terror threat reported. I’ll be guiding groups of new officers into the service, taking them through that first three month course, encouraging their excitement and tempering their perceptions with a touch of experience. I have no idea how they’ll take to me, but I hope they’ll take something from me. It’s the best assignment I’ve had since I joined almost a decade ago.

E – Eeeelizabeth

Posted: 24 June 2005 in A-Z, other folks, writing
Tags: , ,


From the time my sister was old enough to talk, she ferociously fought back against the nicknames folks bestow on cute little tykes with long cumbersome names. The teachers shortened her to Lizzie, our neighbors chopped her off at Beth. Even her own family subjected her to names like Lu, Bit, and (in one ill-guided and fiercely defended moment, Eli). To all of us she responded politely and emphatically that her name was E-Lizabeth. Frankly, you could have been the President of the United States and she’d have corrected you if you went for a diminutive. She relaxed as she grew up, allowing her sorority sisters to call her Liz, consenting to a fatherly Lizard and a grandfatherly Strawberry (a reflection on her coppery locks) and accepting gracefully the parade of nicknames her sisters dumped on her. We cycled through hundreds, some lasting longer than others, and confusing the folks to whom she insisted she had to be Elizabeth.

Six years younger meant I was out of the house before she hit high school. Although close as children, she became a short, stocky admirer that I didn’t have enough time for as I juggled boyfriends, girlfriends and the VVM on short trips home. She was always just out of my line of sight, quiet, and I got the sense that she spent each visit waiting for me to leave so that life could return to normal. We didn’t have much to say to each other until I moved overseas and she was in high school. We were always much closer than I was with my other sister and leaving her each time to grow older, more graceful and more beautiful always made me cry harder than I expected at goodbyes.

She moved to DC two years ago to attend graduate school. She freely morphed from little sister to friend and back again, embracing D. and bringing her into the family, sponging for dinners and movies, calling for job advice and doing liberal amounts of cat sitting/plant watering and caretaking (of the house, D and myself). She went practically everywhere with us, more than once prompting D. to groan at another lost afternoon in bed. She’ll be the first to tell you she’s good times and she is. She races from dry wit to children’s knock knock jokes indiscriminately and nearly always has a side-splitting insight on the oddity of the day.

Then, in a fit of insanity, she applied and got into law school in Arizona. So she left, packing her apartment and sending boxes to our parents. She’s always considered Tucson home and when the U of A accepted her, there was no chance she’s be staying in the Capital with us. I don’t think it sank in until we dropped her off at the airport. I handled her departure so badly I’m not entirely sure how I ever left home to begin with. Filled with older sister genes as I am, I wish I could make her stay here, or at least within driving distance. At this rate though, it looks like D. and I are going to be buying a lot of plane tickets if I ever want to see my far-side of the Rockies family.

I miss Elizabeth.

D – Dharma

Posted: 28 May 2005 in A-Z, writing
Tags: ,


I was raised Presbyterian. While not Scientologists or Charismatics, it has its fair share of dogma. I fought the VVM regularly every Sunday morning until I was 15 as she tried to force me into an Easter dress/Christmas velvet/Sunday best in order to sit on a hard pew and listen to a stodgy, white, straight man tell me all about God (when I turned 15 I developed a crush on a boy in Sunday School and changed my fightin’ ways). The worst years were the ones when there was no Sunday School and I had to sit through the whole sermon, thinking about my father at home mowing the lawn and everything I could be doing while I was supposed to be admitting sin and pleading forgiveness.

About the time of the crush, I got shipped off to confirmation classes weekly, a chat time with the pastor in which I was supposed to search my soul for god’s light and subsequently become a member of the church. You could describe my devotion to religion as ambivalent at best, but the reverend did nothing to help me along the path of righteousness, providing half and canned answers to my questions about sin and acceptance under the cape of Christianity. I got confirmed, but mainly because I didn’t care enough not to. Eventually, the VVM let up on demanding I go pray every Sunday.

In college, I went to mass with my Catholic friends, mostly because I liked the singing, but also because the Catholics on campus were more laid back than the Presbyterians. I flirted briefly with the idea of converting, oddly enough because I appreciated the Catholic way of confession (accounting for actual sins committed) rather than the Presbyterian way (admitting a huge range of general sins in a group recitation each Sunday, committed or not). But the rigors of converting were too daunting and I resigned myself to being a religious floater.

But, the idea of Buddhism brought me instant peace. The fact that I could practice privately, as much as I wanted, in a quiet way was appealing to me. I explored and studied it, casually as opposed to fanatically, and tried to bend my life into its principles. On a day to day basis, I consider whether I should give in and find a local center where I can practice with others. I cope with the recognition that my wife doesn’t think my tilt to Buddhism is anything other than a convenient excuse for my laissez-faire approach to religion. I accept my family’s gentle ribbing (at least they didn’t disown me). I know though, with certainty, I am more Buddhist than I am anything else.

My wife has a cozy, personal relationship with God. She appears comfortable within religion and is able to reconcile the teachings of the Catholic church with her own life and emotions, carrying on conversations that guide and comfort her. I often wish I felt comfortable in a religion with a cadre of holy beings, ones that I could pick to pray to, light candles to, wear emblems for. But nothing compares to the peace of meditating and the lightness of acceptance and release that I reach my way.

C – Control Freak

Posted: 10 May 2005 in A-Z, therapy, writing
Tags: , ,


Or so my ex therapist, Brenda, said. I pointed out that I didn’t think therapists generally used expressions like that and she laughed at me. Funny though, she’s right.

I’ve always wanted to have a therapist on retainer, just in case I had something that needed processing. I’m sure that desire in and of itself probably screams therapy. Before Brenda, I went once to another woman just to be sure brain surgery wasn’t a lark I was taking for the hell of it. After listening to what I had to say with very wide eyes and a semi-tilted head, she told me there was nothing wrong with me. In fact, I was extremely well adjusted, despite seeing monkeys on the side of the road. About a year later, when everything that could go wrong did, I went to a new therapist, certain I’d been through enough to have something wrong with me this time. Apart from my disastrous ex girlfriend and the control factor, Brenda spent 4 months with me determining there was still not much wrong.

She’s right though. When I’m neurotic, it’s because I haven’t had time to brainstorm all the possible outcomes to a situation and all the potential actions and reactions that could occur. I hate it when cars coast to a red light, not thinking that someone behind them might be trying to get to the turn lane in order to catch the arrow. It drives me crazy when I have to stay at work late because someone else didn’t get their part of the problem resolved. Even now, I’m reluctant to wrap up the paragraph without thinking of all of the ways in which I try to control things. I wouldn’t have considered this control freak-like though, without Brenda pointing it out to me (Thanks, Brenda).

So now, instead of going through life ignorant of my shortfalls, I spend a lot of time trying to control how obnoxious I am while exercising them. It’s a good thing D. is incredibly patient.