Life in the Pen(sion)

“Life in the Pen(sion)”

Here are the facts that got me 10-to-Life (I was totally framed–circumstantial evidence!):

1) We’re in Turkey, hanging out in the same pension (read: small hotel run by a family, kind of a hostel meets B & B) for nine days. Because the average turnover of guests seems to be 2-3 days, our longer stay is allowing us to tap into the rhythms and arcs of our fellow travelers. Already, in this short while of ours, we’ve seen ’em come, and we’ve seen ’em go. This casts me into the viewpoint of the pension owners, who watch Sunburned People In Shorts Wheeling Suitcases Behind Them While Wearing Sunglasses on Their Heads get into and out of taxis, shuttles, mini-vans in front of the place for six active months of the year. Such a mass of clacking gawkers quickly loses any individuation for the weary native. As part of that mass of clacking gawkers in my own way, I have realized how anonymous I feel here and how that reality rather irons me flat. If I have a rare quiet moment in the presence of the pension owner, for example, I am empty, without comment, not sure how to open a conversation with her when I am hyper aware that I am just another warm body easing through her warm spaces, spaces she has created with profit–not companionship–in mind. On occasion, I start to feel I am actually flat and empty, someone who is capable only of staring vacantly and twittering about the weather; then I shake myself and chide, “Girlfriend, really. You do have things to say back home–you know, when you’re not baking, and you’re not spending huge parts of your day trying to find clothes for the family members, and when you have a house with a kitchen and feel like you have some control over the structure of your life. Honestly, you are someone who can ask questions and make appropriate responses. This current malaise is just a bad case of Pension Head.”

2)  While I am fairly uninspired externally, I am on the intake.  As I watch guests flowing through the door, being introduced to their rooms and the locations of the bathrooms, booking their tours, and belly flopping into the pool, I am eating them up.  But I’m here to tell you, Smiley Father from Britain with the Funky Glasses Frames Who Spent an Awfully Long Time Next to the Pool Today for Someone Who Never Entered the Pool, that I noticed you noticing my funky glasses frames, noticed you thinking–however briefly–that if we were living in the same place for any time at all, we’d probably compare frittata recipes.

3)  While Funky Framed Fathers from Britain provide good spectacle (hahahahahahaha), my people watching the last two days has been dominated by a large and annoying-as-Fran-Dreschner’s laugh group of 20-year-old French youth.  Now, I’m trying not to swear here, as my mom has let me know she’s sent out this blog address to everyone she’s bumped into in recent years, along with a cadre of those she hasn’t, and I would hate to offend a dedicated quilter or Red Hatter, but hell if I can stop myself nevertheless:  Mon Dieu, mais The Young Frenchies are a crapass group of mo-fos.  It’s not the smoking that gets me, as I’m well aware we’re not at The Mall of America anymore, Toto.  That noted, smoking around children, particularly my children, will never cease to peeve me.  What gets me is:

the noise;

the jumping in the pool with a scream at 2 a.m. and at 8 a.m.;

the doing a running cannonball into the pool quite literally on top of families with small children who are already swimming;

the blocking off of every possible walkway while gesticulating wildly and broadcasting a lack of clothing;

the yapping until all hours on the balconies;

the knocking on the bathroom door when a friend has just gone in to take a shower, yelling comments and insults through the entire shower while continuing to knock loudly, as though the act of knocking loudly and yelling comments during a friend’s shower somehow makes The Knocker clever;

the laying all over any seating available in the lounge area; the taking up of every breakfast table even though there are only 8 in the group;

the rumpling of every possible rug, floor mat, or curtain in the joint so that all future passers-by trip;

the careless tossing of the roll of toilet paper onto the floor so that it is completely drenched by the end of a shower (Aha!  It’s their friend in there, so they should make sure they knock and yell, oui?) because the bathroom is just one undivided room wherein the shower is not sectioned off in any way;

the emptying of all provided shampoo bottles before 9 a.m., which is not so egregious, as it does happen, but why leave the empty bottles stacked in the sink so that a person who might like to brush her teeth has to scoop them out before she can spit?;

in short, why are they so young, so French, so jejune, so acting like Jocelyn’s last nerve is their own personal discotheque playing the extended dance remix version of “Riding on the Metro”?

4) The thing about bad manners, especially Bad Shared Bathroom Manners, is that it puts fellow travelers into a pickle, and by “pickle,” what I really mean is what the bajeebus am I supposed to do about the hair in the drain that looks like a weasel crawled in from the Sahara, in search of its last sip, but it arrived a bit too late and expired from heat exhaustion right there on the grate?  Seriously.  Yesterday, I was sitting on the toilet, not at all having Day 5 of eye-averting diarrhoea so shut up already, thinking a shower might be in order.  Already feeling a bit fragile, I quietly contemplated la douche.  Wouldn’t it feel good to shed the day’s worries, to rinse off the dried sweat, to freshen my lank hair?  Wouldn’t it feel good–OH SWEET HASSELHOFF, WHAT IS THAT IN THE DRAIN?  Eyeing the dead shrew clumped over the drainage, I emitted a whimper strangled by a shriek.

So, what?  My options were to:  a)  not shower because eight French youth had just stood in line for 45 minutes outside this bathroom, knocking and gibing and gallumphing during their wait to shower…and then when each had his turn, he somehow Nair-ed off 4 ounces of bodily hair?  No wonder the poolside garcons had chests smooth as air hockey tables!  The hair was all laying upstairs on the bathroom floor; b) not let them Frogs’ denuding clog my opportunity for Shower Happy…which would mean ME removing the hair from the drain, for no suds of mine could exit the bathroom with a dead marmot stopping up the drain.

I opted for c):  go for the restorative shower, but stalk the other floors of the pension for their bathrooms, leaving the strangled hedgehog there in the drain for the poor underpaid maid to deal with in the morning.

5)  The beauty of my longer-term stay at the pension is that I’ll outlast The Frenchies.  Their requisite three days will come to an end tonight when they gallivant off to catch the bus to Istanbul, yet I’ll still be here–for a whole ‘nother day–ready to stake my flag of triumph (maybe building an Arc de Triomphe would be more appropos?).  As their bus pulls away from the village, I’m planning to take their breakfast forks, thoughtlessly discarded onto the floor where a baby is crawling, and stab them into the towering laundry pile of their smokey, grubby, hairy bed sheets.

Au revoir, poodles.  Va te faire foutre!

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We’re in the Throes of a Frustrating Search for a Home and Have Only Two More Nights in the Pension, Which Means I’m Both Disheartened Yet Still Enjoying the Spectacle…Hence, I Call This Post ‘Snippets’

“We’re in the Throes of a Frustrating Search for a Home and Have Only Two More Nights in the Pension, Which Means I’m Both Disheartened Yet Still Enjoying the Spectacle…Hence, I Call This Post ‘Snippets'”

I woke up the other morning to the voice of a balloon pilot calling out to our neighbors at the pension, who were sitting out on their balcony, taking in the morning balloon launches. The pilot, hovering incredibly close to the pension, called out, “Can I offer you a cup of coffee?”

The celebration of Ramazan (as it’s called in Turkey) starts today: 28 days during which devout Muslims neither eat nor drink during daylight hours. They have one meal just before sunrise and one just after–and if that’s not an occasion for gluttony, I don’t know what is. Everyday’s Ramazan for Jocelyn, in that respect.

Anyhow, due to Ramazan, the village bakery was pulling fresh loaves out of their ovens at 6 p.m. last night, so that folks could load up on good food on their way home from work, shopping, gouging the tourists… We scored a steaming hot wheel of sesame bread, already a favorite of mine. When I took the picture above, though, I looked at it and thought, “Wow, it looks like Domino’s delivers in Cappadocia.”

A Turkish tradition during Ramazan is to have crews of drummers walk the streets in the hours before sunrise, banging on huge olive oil cans. As they pass each house, they call out the names of the inhabitants, along with words to the effect of “Roll your hungry belly out of bed, you layabout, and have a stack of pancakes. Then have an omelette. Maybe tack on some sesame bread and feta. Plus a nectarine, some figs, some mulberries, and a Snickers.”

Thus, between 2 and 3 a.m., the streets are literally being pounded by the feet of hollering drum crews; at 4:30 a.m. the first Call to Prayer echoes across the valley; and at 5:00 a.m. forty hot air balloons fire up their roaring propane jets and take off.

But get this: sure, I’m waking up for some of it each dawn, and a few times I’ve just stayed up, but mostly, I wake up, listen, register the activities, and then fall deeply back to sleep. Even my bones are tired.

All right, back to the day now. It’s market day in Goreme, and we need to ask every single person we encounter if they’ve heard of any rentals. So far, it’s looking grim, but we’ll expand our search to neighboring villages starting tomorrow.

More anon!

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Home Again

“One never reaches home, but wherever friendly paths intersect, the whole world looks like home for a time.”
–Herman Hesse 

Sometimes, 5,700 miles from Minnesota, 480 miles from Iraq, a person scans the landscape and thinks, “Jump back, Mehmet, and crumble me with feta: this place looks just like central Montana!”

Admittedly, there are some dramatic differences, particularly in that Göreme, Cappadocia, has cave homes and towering rock “fairy chimneys” whereas Billings, Montana, has rimrocks and dazed-looking people sporting Black Sabbath t-shirts.  Ozzy Osbourne worship aside, however, the places share remarkable geological similarities. 

Since I’m an English major whose academic career was designed with great precision around avoiding science classes, don’t expect me to know what any of them are, though.  Probably the words “volcanic,” “erosion,” and “sedimentary rock” should be used.  Mostly, my humanities-bound brain wants to wax lyrical about “forty shades of brown,” “scrub with a backdrop of striation,” and “nestling in the palm of a valley.”  To punctuate these sentiments, I am contracting tuberculosis and coughing blood genteely into a handkerchief as I type.

Indeed, it would seem I’ve come home, at least topographically, to this arid place of dust and hoodoos, this place that resonates with the American West, that reminds me not only of Montana but also of Utah and Arizona, that blows with the hot winds of my youth (hesh up with your comments that Jocelyn’s Hot Winds continue to blow unabated).

In every other way, of course, I’m agog.  ‘Cause I’m in TURKEY!  And the people here are Turks!! And they speak Turkish!!!  And some books say the Star Wars scenes of the Lars Family homestead on Tatooine were filmed right here in Cappadocia, but they don’t know what they’re talking about because my husband’s telling me that’s a myth and that they were actually filmed in Morocco!!!!  But then I googled this pressing issue only to discover it’s a myth, indeed, that the scenes were filmed in Cappadocia because they were filmed in Tunisia and who ever knew I’d have to come all they way to Turkey to discover my husband doesn’t even know the difference between Morocco and Tunisia, and he’s even been to Morocco, but maybe he thinks he went to Tunisia, but I’m not going to bring up this point right now because he has bags under his eyes and is waiting for the kids to fall asleep in the hotel room before he goes in, and while he’s waiting, he’s playing Super Mario Brothers on the DS, which kind of gives me a reality check of “Holy Atari, I married a grown man who has taken up playing Super Mario Brothers, and that feels like a weird betrayal since he was all about pointing out the first trillium of spring when I first met him,” and suddenly the whole thing seems like an onion whose layers I’m not ready to start peeling back which is not even an Islamic phrase but it sure seems like something they should say here because they do have onions.  And hands.  For with which to do the peeling. 

All of which is to say that coming to Turkey has been really good so far because it’s got me considering George Lucas films and the bedrock of my marriage is actually pumice.

To be honest, I’m also spending about three wakeful hours each early morning fretting, “Nowthdhubillah, what have we done?”  Then it gets really hot, and we jump in the pool about three times, and then we lay around in our room at the pension feeling all dopey, and then the sun sets, and the village comes to life, and, as we walk about in search of food and cold drinks, spirits and eyes lift, and I’m left with a feeling that all will be well once heat and jet lag are banished, once the tourist season ends and we have more options of a home to rent, once the four of us aren’t living in one small room along with twelve pieces of luggage,

once I can find a pair of clean underwear without spending ten minutes out on the balcony in the unrelenting sun, sifting through the stacks of suitcases, because pretty much this method means I’m dripping with sweat before I ever score the undies, and so then, Hanes in hand, I have to spread out on the bed like a sea star for another ten minutes just to let the sweat dry off before I slip into the much-sought-after pantaloonies, and if you ask me, putting twenty minutes a day into getting myself into a pair of clean unmentionables (prudes, nuns, and Dr. James Dobson:  ignore the places where I just mentioned them) is twenty minutes of my day that could have been better spent watching French backpackers smoke and take a single lap around the pool in their mini swimwear that reveals they come from a culture that may eat small portions and sip anti-oxidantizing red wine but doesn’t give two whits about toning upper arm flap.

So, um, yea.  It’s hot, and we’re here, and we’re acclimating bit by bit.  My husband’s got his comic Website up, which will feature panels graphicizing our time here; if you’re interested in seeing his etchings (I sure was back in ’99, which resulted in an impressive baby bump a few months later)–or even if you’re not but have always wondered if his parents actually named him Groom–go here:  If you do visit his site, maybe leave him a comment about the differences between Morocco and Tunisia. 

All right.  My intention when starting this post was to announce I was really tired and then say, “But here.  Look at some pictures.”  As it turns out, I was so tired, I went to bed several nights in a row instead of typing “But here.  Look at some pictures,” and now it’s been a few days, and I’m feeling a bit more on my game–save for ailing with a little case of Turkish Tummy today–so I’m starting to think I might actually type something in this post after all.  Raise your hand if you think I should type long, rambling paragraphs about underwear and Star Wars.

Okay.  Put them down now.  I’ve followed your wishes. 

Having responded to popular demand, I now tell you that here are some pictures of the last few days, which I’ll hardly comment upon at all because, really, I’m just too tired, having awakened this morning before the first Call to Prayer at 4:30 a.m.   After laying there for more than an hour, I decided to go out for a run–something Not Done here–and although it was delightful to explore dusty, winding roads that ended up in pumpkin patches flanked by cave homes, and although it was a trip to holler to all the staring early-morning tractor-driving Turks, “Yea, that’s right.  We call this running, and we do it so we can go to the Olympics, like I did.  Just look me up in the record books:  Marion Jones.  Yea, look that one up for some big surprises”–the fact that I’d done entirely too much by 7 a.m. has left me a bit out of sorts for the rest of this day.

Which is why I’m only giving you some pictures to look at now.

This first picture is of Paco and Girl as they boarded our flight to Istanbul; even after a flight from Minneapolis to Chicago, even after a three-hour layover in Chicago, even after Paco had spent days protesting how much he hated Turkey and that we had to do this thing and that he just wanted to go home to his home, and even after Paco then hummed and jumped and spun and sang his way through the entire day of travel,

they started the long flight over the Atlantic with a fair amount of vigor.

Naturally, ten hours later was a different story because, HELLO, the airlines put a seven-year-old boy in front of a personal screen and gave him a remote control and license to watch about 15 different movies and tv programs, and what kid in his right mind and with restricted technological access otherwise could possibly sleep when HORTON HEARS A WHO is on?

Less than an hour before landing, his head toppled into my lap, and he was nearly unrevivable as the plane emptied.  Resultingly, there was some tugging, some dragging, some crying (I only wept for about five minutes, though), some near throttling, and some furiously whispered, “I know you’re tired, but you need to get it together and get off this plane because we only have an hour and a half before our next flight, and we have to get our visas and go through passport control, so snap to and get marching, Friedrich!”

After buying him a can of pop in the airport, the fatigued trooper announced, “I’m better now, Mom.  All I needed were some bubbles, and now I’m good.”  With everyone’s attitude improved, AND THANK YOU, COCA-COLA LIGHT,  we hopped on the flight to Keysari, at the end of which we retrieved all 8 of our suitcases and wandered outside, where we were met by our pal, The Hospitable Expat, she who helped motivate and shape the entire plan for our year abroad.  Hospitable Expat had arranged for a 16-seat mini-bus to meet us, for a reasonable fee, and drive us the hour to Goreme, whereupon we were deposited nearly twenty-four hours after launching the trip, at this small hotel:

Since most pensions don’t have rooms bigger than triples, a guy we call Stoner Shaun dragged in an extra mattress for us, through the door on the left:

The room is so small that our luggage has to live out on the balcony, as does Groom when he starts rambling about Morocco.

This next picture should be entitled “The Day After HORTON HEARS A WHO”:

Paco was so wacked that he slept through the first Call to Prayer that next morning, but Groom, Girl and I woke up and stayed awake, which provided the side benefit of watching the take-off of nearly 40 hot air balloons (one of Goreme’s tourist mainstays).  While the recording of the Call to Prayer kind of cracks me up because it ends with a static-y “thump,” as though the singer of the meuzzin is a sort of Johnny Rotten throwing the mic to the stage and stomping off after an encore of “Anarchy in the U.K.,” the sounds of the propane fires in the sky at 5:00 a.m. are more mystical, like dragons raining down to invade the village.  A person not sufficiently worn down by Seussian adaptation could hardly be expected to sleep, really.

In case you got confused because I didn’t caption each photo, those were all pictures of hot air balloons taking off to explore the valley.  Duh.

In our three days here, we’ve spent more time in the pool than anywhere.  Basically, we make it a few hours and then require a core temperature cool down.  Then we try to find a pair of clean underwear and have to go jump back in.

Despite the row of beds that makes our room feel like an orphanage (guess who gets to play Miss Hannigan?), the room does the job, and the overall vibe of the pension is laid back and comfortable.  In the photo below, you see Paco demonstrating “laid back” and “comfortable.”

Every now and then, braced by a cooling swim and a Bitter Lemon-flavored Schweppes, we head out for a meander around the village.

In many ways, in addition to reminding me of Montana, this place reminds me of Central America, with its stone buildings, heaps of crumble, satellite dishes attached to seeming hovels, and trash-littered streets.  This morning, out on my run, the sight of an empty Red Bull can outside a cave house carved out more than a thousand years ago made me lurch to a stop and marvel, “Yup.  That pretty much summarizes the place.”

Goreme village

The village.  Duh squared.

If you’ve ever wondered what troglodytes did, it was to transform these things into homes.  Vast numbers of them are still inhabited.

Kind of makes a person want to be a troglodyte.

High season for tourists means scooters for rent, speaking of things this troglodyte-wannabe would like to do but probably won’t, thanks to heat and expense.

I once had a thumbnail that looked like this.  Not too sure how that happened, but gin was involved.

Don’t you think these places must be a bitch to vacuum?

Oh, yes.  We will be buying carpets.  I mean, you know, because we have to.  Supporting the local economy and all.

I haven’t read the newspaper in years, but the Zaman Daily might convert me back to the occasional sitdown.  How else will I know that it’s hot?

The article Groom is reading in this photo is entitled, “INNA LILLAHI WA INNA ILAHI RAJI’UN: INTELLIGENT ADULTS SNARED BY MARIO BROTHERS.”  In other news, Morocco declared its independence from Tunisia.

I don’t make the news, just report it. 

(Incidentally, check out our PARADE magazine supplement, in which splashy photos of nectarines bought at the Avanos village market day are contrasted with the mighty castle in the village of Uchisar.)

Ah, hell, why make you leaf through the supplement?  Here’s the castle right now, along with the nice ladies who invited us up to their roof so as to get a better view of the valley:

Which one do you think drinks Red Bull?
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No More Hustle: All Flow


The research papers were graded; the discussion posts logged. The nine day slow-motion swoon of goodbyes and “short visits” was drawing to a close. In the fridge, the crisper drawers had been emptied and washed out. At midnight, the windowsills received a vacuuming. Blessedly, the kids had sleepovers at friends’ houses, so we’d been able to make thirty uninterrupted trips to the basement, carrying fans, chairs, baskets, tubs, Legos, balls, bedding.

By two a.m., I’d entered my grades for summer classes with the registrar and wiped off three years of dust from the molding behind a bathroom shelf.

Nearing packing completion, paperwork in order, a salutary sunset run through the trees completed, torso covered with dried sweat,

I eyed the house’s one remaining in-use mattress and marveled at the peace that accompanies lack of stuff. Spartanism charms.

A simple pan downwards, though, reveals the barely-contained chaos

of a family’s possessions, massed,

enjoying new intimacies.

May the next year for them be as it will for us–

peppered with new friendships–

daring the unexpected leap–

realizing the interconnectedness of all things.

I sagged into the mattress and marveled one more time at the stack of luggage, staged and ready to be loaded into a trailer, pulled behind a mini-van, and driven south for a few days before ricocheting much further east.

Sleep evulsed consciousness, but not before I noted to the congregated suitcases, “Wow, you boys are hecka lotta stuff for a family of four to be dragging around. Are you sure some of you wouldn’t rather go have a nice, stimulating year in the basement, maybe join a fraternity, hit a few parties?”

Taking their stolid silence as a vote for enriching world travel over beer bongs, I faded to black,

arising a few hours later to push the mattress down the stairs, mop the floors with vinegar, and help my husband sit on and compress our overflowing garbage can in the alley.

When we pulled out of town some hours later, tshirts still wet with perspiration, we kept our eyes glued to the double yellow line of the road ahead–

resolutely refusing to glance back and see if the ravens were already pecking through our leavings.

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Clearly, Every Applicant Underwent a Criminal Background Check


Imagine you are a renter, entering our house this Sunday on Move-In Day, acquiver over the fact that you get to live for the next year in a house with stainless steel in the kitchen, a playset for the kids out back, and a jacuzzi tub upstairs.

You might not even care that you’re paying $400 more per month than the actual mortgage. You might think the dimmer switch in the tv room renders that cost an out-and-out bargain.

Still and yet, you’d have no idea of the deal you’re getting. Although the owners of the house are out larking around Asia Minor, chomping on kebaps and pistachios, you are clearly the winner in this transaction.

Sure, that travelin’ family is getting raw experience in haggling over kilim prices at the bazaar, squatting occasionally over a good old-fashioned Turkish toilet, and listening to the home-schooled kids whine that their teachers yell too much,

but one quick trip down the stairs assures you, Dear Renter, that all the best adventure is found in the unfinished, moist basements of the American Midwest.

Do it. Walk down the stairs. Don’t rush the descent; there’s some lovely wood paneling demanding that you run your fingers over its knotty texture.

At the bottom, take a moment to glance to your right, to the rectangular space where Travelin’ Family has stored most of its household goods–save the couch and futon they gave away, the bunkbeds they loaned out, and the tin of octopus (thanks, Mom!) they tossed into the trash–and stifle your shriek of marvel at how much beer-guzzling it must have taken to pack and haul all that junk to the basement in the height of summer mugginess.

Then head left, Young Renter, towards the laundry area. At first glance, it doesn’t register that the area is freshly cleaned. The initial appearance smacks only of concrete, drainage, and pipes. You consider the gold medal run Shaun White could put down between the washer and stairs, were the place coated in snow.

Once the first impression of “crappy industrial” recedes, though, a quick sniff test turns up a mixture of Shout, Murphy’s Oil Soap, and Redhead Sweat. Yes. Yes. Scrubbing has happened here. That healthy rent is seeming more and more worth the extra hours you’ll put in measuring flooring and mollifying customer complaints about splinters there in your job at the home supply store.

But, Renter, oh, Renter. The true treasure of The Rental still eludes you. Carry on.

Not there yet.  You’re still too far off.  At this distance, you hardly can make out the dehumidifier (recently wiped down!) in the corner.  Keep shuffling.

Not that the basement ever took on water, but, um, if it did, the Clever Renter might be able to trace its trajectory.

Yes.  Now you’re closing in on it.  No, I don’t mean that source of natural light on the right, that thing called “window”–discovered only today by a sweating redhead when she cleared off the cobwebs and pulled down the rags (curtains!!) framing the glass.  Nae.  Look left, Dear Bank Account Filler.  There is a different piece of glass, also recently Windexed.

What ho, Cher Renter!  See those strange things running along the bottom of that sparkling glass?

More importantly, what unearthly apparition in a blue tank top has appeared in Glass, with one breast oddly cradled inside a camera strap holster?  Is an exorcism on the agenda?  Or a trip to Victoria’s Secret?

Ahhh.  Wait.  Who can ponder ghostly breasts when–whoooooeeeeee!–the line of objects is coming into focus.

Could it be…

…that someone is greeting you, the newcomer, with a hearty “Welcome Back”?

…that any amount of rent is worth it, if it means living in a house that features “Mr. Kotttttt-air” above the laundry sink?

Who knew snappy one liners were built into the lease?
Who knew Vinnie Barbarino would be the basement-dwelling bonus…the silver lining of agreeing to handle snow removal in a city that averages more than 80″ per year?

Who knew, dear Renter, that simply by moving in,

by acknowleding that your dreams were your ticket out,

you’d become an honorary member of a lifelong club?

Admit it, Horshack:  the first time you walked through this house with the rental agent, you could not have envisioned the day when you would reach down into the laundry sink, grab the tube extending from the faucet–so useful for cleaning paintbrushes and muddy running shoes--and initiate your spouse into the new abode by quipping:

“Up your nose with a rubber hose, honey.”

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I Only Know He’s Human Because Sometimes He Smells


My husband and I have a dynamic in our marriage predicated on his innate superiority and my unwillingness to be fazed by it.

Since I’m someone whose self-esteem can be shaken by a student commenting casually, “You sure have been an interesting teacher” (What the hell does “interesting” mean?  Did no one ever teach you to use precision in language?  Cripes, but you should take an English class once, Junior…hey. wait. a. minute.), I have to believe my confidence–my Blind Eye–within the marriage stems out of the magical ju-ju called Luff.  My groomeo is awesome at everything, and somehow I’ve decided that means I’m great, too.  I gather his abilities around me into a swirling crinoline and take the bow for both of us.

Someone has to.

The truth is that I weasel myself into his achievements by promoting them, by doing the talking, by pointing out that the dinner at our house is always amazing because he makes it.  There was actually one time when Groom ran by during a snowshoe race, and a reporter for the newspaper asked, “Who was that man?  Does anyone know his name?”–at which point I provided the information as though I’d birthed him myself (in a grueling 36-hour labor that ultimately took my life).

Listen, the guy is so good that a few months ago, at the request of our former realtor whose daughter was getting married to a Frenchman, he baked TWENTY BAGUETTES IN A SINGLE DAY AND THEN PULLED THEM IN A BICYCLE TRAILER DOWNTOWN TO THE WEDDING RECEPTION, WHEREUPON THEY WERE GREETED WITH “TRES BIEN!” AND “OOH-LA-LA!” BY THE ASSEMBLED CONTINENTAL GUESTS.  Groom’s response to all the praise was, “I’ve always had a dream of delivering some baguettes by bike.”

Jocelyn’s response was, “Did the Frenchies really like them?  He makes good bread, doesn’t he?  I took about ten pictures of them.  He does this thing where he uses a misting bottle to spray the insides of the oven while they’re cooking, so as to assure a crisp crust.  He also uses that bike trailer each week to pick up our CSA box of produce from the farm.  Plus, did you know he took six weeks once to bike from Seattle to Minnesota?  And also, as he was making those twenty baguettes, he took a few hours out, during the rising, to go volunteer in the first grade classroom when 31 kids were making gingerbread houses.”

See how I’m great?  ‘Cause he is?

Oh, all right.  I’m just a carnival barker, but I’m his carnival barker, and I wear the striped shirtsleeves instead of a wedding ring.

This is the moment during post writing when I slow down for a minute and think, “I’m pretty sure I started out with a point.  But isn’t it always interesting to see where we wander off to once I start the typing?”

So, refocusing:  in our last episode, I’d abandoned crinolines and death in childbirth to don the duds of the carnival.  I’m a regular host of the Oscars here, with all my costume changes and snappy one-liners, ain’t I?  You’d best jump back and check your Facebook before I trot out an “Uma, meet Oprah. Oprah, meet Uma” bit of schtick like Letterman did when he hosted.

Okay, so anyhow.  My. point. was.  That Groom is great, and all I ever want to do is hear the world shout that right alongside of me because he’s smart and funny and talented and never gets annoyed with my many obnoxisities (go figure) and can do everything and comes from a family where they live forever (as long as I’m doing a digressive post here, here’s some indignation for you:  Groom’s grandpa will be 97 in a few weeks and has been in hospice the last few months; his wife passed away next to him mere months ago, too.  Once she had passed away, he rebounded a bit and decided he needed a new laptop to help him while away those draggy hospice hours, so he ordered one.  When it arrived, he drove several of his children nuts with learning the new programs and applications, but he was getting there.  Then, one night his son left the hospice center after a visit and plugged his dad’s new laptop in so it could recharge, leaving it on the chair next to his aged father.  By morning, IT WAS GONE BECAUSE SOMEONE HAD STOLEN IT.  The whole thing makes me want to believe in hell, so that the crapass Laptop Thief Who Takes Expensive, Life-Sustaining Stuff from 97-Year-Olds in Hospice can roast for effing eternity). 

Yea, that sucked, but the fact that Grandpa is soldiering on is amazing.  I’m pretty sure Groom has that kind of longevity bidness in him, too.  In fact, I’ve told him for years that he can one day put me in a nice home so long as they wheel me out to watch Jeopardy every day at 4:00.  If he wants to swing by once a week during his long run and pat my hand for a few minutes, I’ll be good with that.  Maybe he could check the batteries in the remote while he’s there, before he trots home to cook up a fritatta for four.

Hmmm.  Self-check here: yup, I’ve used the words “fritatta” and “Uma,” so I can finish now with this post’s ultimate unveiling:

In addition to my usual ramblings posted here, Groom’s going to blog our year in Turkey in a comic form.  He loves a good graphic novel and is aiming to use the shades that come from black layered over white as he captures some of our best–and worst–moments.  He’s putting up his first post August 1st, at which point I’ll provide a link, but in the meantime, I ask you to ogle his first few panels for the thing; it’s the invitation we sent out to the bon voyage (?yi yolculuklar in Turkish) party we’re having this weekend. 

Based on what you see here (click for enlargement and know that he used his mad Photoshop skillz to obliterate our family’s surname on the third panel, so that’s why there’s a white space in the text)–

…don’t you think his blog is going to be fabulous?

Better than this one, in truth.

Rest assured, though:  I’ll act as though I invented his every idea.

At the very least, I’ll provide him with an endless source of material.

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Imagine the Bounties Each Bra Cup Can Cradle


Should you be having a tough day, I open with a photo aimed at making you feel better about your own life:

Our master bedroom looks like the inside of Mel Gibson’s brain:  unconnected piles of crap that somehow synergize into a vastly unattractive view.

Despite the disarray of our most intimate room, we’re actually feeling pretty on top of things…relative to our timeline of leaving Duluth on July 31st and flying to Turkey on August 3rd, after spending a few days at my in-laws’ house.  Yes, there are heaps everywhere, but, two weeks out from our depature, their very heapishness shows that we’ve sorted through things and made some decisions.  Plus, most of our furniture, save the mattresses and one big desk, are stored in the basement already; we need only to fill in the cracks with boxes and bags, finish packing up the kitchen, and then drag down the last-days things right before we leave.  Oh yea, and bake a ham and tap a keg when we throw ourselves a going away party next weekend for 83 of our closest friends.

There remains, of course, the actual packing.  For months, we’ve tossed all sorts of “wouldn’t this be nice to have during a year away?” paraphernalia into my closet.  The other day, we dragged all of those goods out and added them to the intended clothing and, well, you’ve just seen the result.  Yesterday, I had a little time to start packing some of the kids’ clothes and fleece jackets into compression sacks.  That was the first time I’ve enjoyed myself during the process of Getting Ready, for compression sacks (into which one can cram a fairly good amount of stuff and then tighten down the straps until something the size of a ciabatta weighs 8.5 pounds) bring up for me Memories of Good Travels Past.  I can remember stuffing in and tightening down all my clothes before catching an early-morning train out of Dublin.  I can remember sitting on and condensing a month’s worth of clothes before getting onto a ferry in Iceland.  I can remember strong-arming my tshirts and shorts into submission on my last day in Warsaw, trying to make room in my backpack for the meatsticks I was determined to bring home.

Compression sacks create a sense memory that signals Jocelyn, Buckle Up.  You’re Going Somewhere.

Some things, like shoes, don’t compress, though.  As a result, they are drummed into a different kind of service:

Feminine hygiene product receptacle seems a worthy job for the Privos and Borns of the world.

Indeed, I know we’re coming out the other side of stress when I find infinite delight in this still life:

Clog with Bouquet of Tampons.

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When You Have Several Thousand Free Hours in Front of You, Movies Seem Suddenly More Magical


Although Paco maintains this week, when he is FORCED every day to attend the YMCA camp called “Kitchigami,” that “Camp is boring. Camp is boring. I hate camp. Camp is boring. Who wants to swim five days in a row? We had to canoe, and the other kid didn’t do anything, so I couldn’t make it move, and it was the worst time I ever had, and camp is boring, too, and I’m not going tomorrow,”

I have nevertheless just placed MEATBALLS in my shopping cart, ’cause who can hate a camp movie with Bill Murray?

The idea for MEATBALLS came straight from one of my besties, when I put out a call for movie suggestions that will hit the mark with our Girl this next year.  BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM proves another winning suggestion.

So, can you help?  Here are the criteria:

–Girl is ten, will be eleven before we return home

–she is an avid reader but not so much a visual kid; thus, she has liked only a few movies in her time, including the Lindsay Lohan PARENT TRAP and Steve Martin’s CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN

–she does not like costumes, fantasty, or historical stuff

–she loves stories of clubs and groups of friends and, yes, camps

Cyber love iced onto one and all who can help me with this brainstorm.

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The More Observant Among You Will Have Noticed My Heavy Reliance on the Pictoral Post in Recent Weeks, and Shut Up Already That I’m Essentially Phoning in My Blogging Life Because I’m Teaching Summer Classes at the Same Time I’m Computing How Many Pairs of Underwear Can Fit Into a Compression Sack


I promise I’m not complaining.

The truth is, the kids are off at daycamp this week, which magically opens up the daytime hours for Groom and me to hustle around the house, throw bedding into plastic bags, and disassemble bed frames, all while staring at a pile of caribiners mixed with agates and Yu-Gi-Oh cards and thinking, “Do I really feel like taking fifteen minutes to separate the cards from the agates from the carabiners, or should I throw them all in the trash–or put them into a Ziploc bag so that I can unpack them again in a year and stare at them some more?”

Then there is some more hustling around to take paintings off the walls, an activity only broken up by the minutes spent staring at the stack of our daughter’s 56 journals, each of which have writing on the first page only. This staring is followed by a few minutes of rifling through the 203 pencils in her desk drawer, which conveniently alternate with key chains and stickers of emoticons, a mixture that can only be called Tween Gorp.

After about an hour of what should be Productive House Packing Time, I realize I’m pretty much just walking down the stairs, getting a plastic bag, carrying it back upstairs, opening a drawer, sighing deeply and dramatically, and then closing the drawer and wondering why I’m holding a plastic bag.  Before I’ve completely registered all the junk around me, some part of my vision becomes oblivious to it; the vastness and variety of the piles of stuff all blend together, my head gets woozy, and I plop down with an ooof onto the floor where I sit and consider one more time the specific craziness that is Agglomerated Clothes I Think I Want to Take to Turkey. 

On one level, I think I’ve done okay, as we’ll be gone a full year to a place with a complete rotation of seasons, and yet I’m taking neither snow boots nor winter coat.  But I am currently stalled out on a stack of 19 short-sleeved shirts that all are begging for a trip to the Near East.  The short sleevers are so raucous that the 3/4- and full-length sleevers aren’t even emitting a peep but, rather, are sticking together resolutely and silently in their own stolid clump in the corner.

Right now, our household is realizing how even our “restrained” packing attempts are resulting in hella lotta crap being aimed at an open suitcase.  Groom–who can say no to dessert, go to bed at a reasonable hour, and avoid shopping for months–compiled all his intended clothes, and here’s what his low-key self came up with:

In comparison to his big-but-doable load of clothes, mine is overwhelming in both breadth:

and depth:

As I chastise myself for struggling to cull the mass of fabric, though, I am defended by rationalization.  In the  heap are 6 bras.  Over the course of 365 days, that means I would wear each bra about 61 times.  When put that way, 6 bras doesn’t seem excessive.  When photographed as part of a column of 3 skirts, 11 pairs of socks, and 10 pairs of underwear, though, the cumulative heft–which comprises maybe 1/6 of the overall total–seems like too much:

You may have noticed already how, even after a few photos, the heaps start to blend together.  Very quickly, it’s just Puff ‘N Stuff everywhere.  If I turn away from issues of underwear and open my closet door so as to view all the sundries that we’ve tucked inside as part of the Non-Clothing Items–home school books; a few toys; crayons and markers; DVD’s–it’s as though I’m possessed by Material Vertigo and can’t see anything through my swimming vision. 
You may have noticed that I mentioned bras and underwear with little hesitation.  Assuming a posture of semi-defensive breeziness is part of my smoke and mirrors act,
to distract from the issue of shoes.
Which I don’t want to discuss.  Because it’s kind of a hot button for me.
Because I’m thinking 10 pairs of shoes sounds about right (rather a lowball numer, to tell you true…keeping in mind that I wear a women’s size 10, which I won’t be able to buy in Turkey), but whenever I start to intimate to my husband that taking 10 pairs of shoes might qualify as “restrained,” he makes this odd gargly noise in the back of this throat and clutches spastically at his Adam’s apple.
So then I just shut up, hand him a spittoon, and slide open a Very Special Closet Door, where the view could not be more clear or simple,
where I am reassured by a quick glance

that everything is going to be all right.

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I Never Saw Harry Potter Slow Down Long Enough to Read a Book, Not Incidentally

“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors and laugh at them in our turn?”
 Jane Austen

Waiting for a break in the conversation, the impatient ten-year-old saw his chance.  The two mothers had slowed their discussion of preschools just long enough for him to break in and change the topic to something that really mattered.

“Jocelyn, you should come down to the basement and see how far I’ve gotten in the new Harry Potter game on our Wii.  It was released today, and we went to Target right after breakfast to get it.  I’ve been playing all day, and I’ve unlocked a lot of the characters already.  The Dementors are so cool.”

Never one to pass up the opportunity for malarkey, I shrieked, “Dementors?  In your basement?  Nice try, Jo-Jo, but there’s no way I’m going into your basement if there are Dementors there.  I’m ascairt of Dementors; even thinking about them makes me feel all cold inside.  Nope.  Sorry.  Not gonna go.  I’ll just be staying up here, in the light, where I can dash out into the sunshine and play on the swings and slide–objects which seem tragically untouched today, in fact.”

“Oh, come on, Jocelyn.  You should come down so I can show you all the stuff in the game.  The Dementors aren’t even scary.  Here, I’ll show you.”  Then he ran up the stairs to find his enormous Lego guide book.  Panting, moments later, he opened it to the picture of a Dementor mini-figure.

 Lego Harry Potter Minifigs Dementor Prisoner Of Azkaban

Spluttering, I gasped, “Why, that’s what I look like every February when I’m shuffling around the house in a fleece blanket and have eaten too many Jelly Bellies!  Sure, it’s horrifying, but such images are nothing new to me.  Lead the way, son.  Take me to your Death Eaters.  Of course, I’m not promising I won’t scream once I see them in action on the screen, of course.”

“Just come on.  It will be fine,” the kid assured me, skittering down the stairs and finding the imprint of his rear end that lingered on the carpet in front of the screen.

“Now that I’m down here in the dank bowels of your house, I’m all nervous again, especially because I see you’ve got your minions gathered ’round,” I noted, gesturing to his three brothers, all of whom bounced excitedly on crossed legs.  “Just show me Hogwarts.  I don’t need to see any Dementors.”

Unable to appreciate my manufactured drama, the kid turned to his brothers and reported, “Jocelyn keeps saying she’s afraid of the Dementors.  Good thing I’m just getting used to the game and can’t always find them.  But, Jocelyn, I’m going to show them to you; maybe if I just make my Harry and these redheaded guys–I just call them “The Twins” because I don’t know who they are–run around Hogwarts, I’ll find some for you…”

“Hey, kiddo?  Those twins are Ron Weasely’s older brothers, if I remember correctly.  Also, I don’t think the Dementors can come into Hogwarts.  I think you’ll have take Harry outside to find them.  I’m pretty sure they’re unable to enter the school.”

With a tone of new respect, the kid asked, “Do you have this game?  You must have beaten more levels than I have so far.”

“Nope.  Few things make my breakfast sit harder in my stomach than racing off to Target after ingesting it, so I don’t have the game.  I just remember that I always feel better when the action is in Hogwarts since the Dementors are kept out of it by some spell–I think Dumbledore cast it.  I love Dumbledore!  Whenever I get all shrieky about how hollow the Dementors make me feel, I hope the story will go back into Hogwarts, where things are relatively safe.  ‘Cause when those Dementors are floating around, sucking souls, I feel absolute terror.”

Looking away from the screen for a nanosecond, the kid asked, quizzically, “You mean, like, in the movies?”

“Naw, I haven’t seen the movies.  I mean when I read the books.”

Out and out confused by now, he scrunched his eyebrows together and squeezed out, “What do you mean, the books?”

Feeling scrunchy and squeezy myself, I could only say, “What do YOU mean when you say ‘what do you mean, the books?'”

Continuing to push the buttons that kept Lego Harry zipping towards Hagrid’s cottage, the kid lifted his eyes long enough to clarify his confusion, “There are Harry Potter books?”

The breath easing from my body–and not due to any Dementor’s soul-sucking kiss–I warbled, “Um, yea.  There are some Harry Potter books.  That’s how I know about these characters.  That’s what I’m talking about when I tell you how terrifying I find the Dementors.  Books.  From books.  You should try them.”

Shaking his head in complete disbelief, the kid looked around at his cadre of brothers, all of whom awaited their turn at the controls.  He chortled, “I don’t get it.  How can she be afraid of Dementors from reading about them in books?”  Then, looking at me, he upped the chortle to friendly mockery, “I don’t get it, Jocelyn.  How can something you read in a book be scary?  Books?  Scary?  Huh?”

Backing away, wishing him luck in defeating the level and one day figuring out the names of The Twins, I mumbled a few words about “well, there’s a lot of fear inside imagination and, well…um…books really can take your brain to…” before I realized his gaze had swiveled back to the screen,

to stare at a world of fantastical characters–

capable, on the written page, of conveying darkness, shock, vividness, fright–

flattened by pixels into safe, predictable, easily-controlled opportunities to “win.”

Fair enough.  

If Lego ever introduces a line of Jane Austen products, you better believe I’ll camp out at Target the night before, sweaty credit card clutched to heaving bosom, anxious to be the first to buy the Pride and Prejudice game and make the Elizabeth mini-figure slap Darcy across the face, ride a pony through the moors, and dance a graceful air in the ballroom–all in an effort to collect enough yearly income to stage a wedding after defeating the villainous George Wickham with a well-placed barb in the final level.

After all, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single Jocelyn in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a Wii. 


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