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From a Kindred Spirit

Below are responses to Allegra’s latest survey questions written by a woman who has become a great friend to me in recent months. She’s supportive, she’s attentive, she’s crackerjack smart, and we just GET each other. Will I ever forget that she drew me vowel charts to help me improve my Russian pronunciation? No, I will not.


What teacher in your life has made the biggest impact on you? How?

The teacher who has made the biggest impact on me is my sixth grade English teacher, Sarah. I have been privileged to have a multitude of amazing, impactful teachers, but in terms of sheer magnitude of impact there’s virtually no contest. I couldn’t tell you exactly how it happened, but over the course of my sixth grade year, Sarah invested in me and helped me find my voice in my writing. I must have been like a sponge at the time—with that attention and encouragement I just took off. Not only did her impact on me shape me academically, as I realized that I cared about school as a way to explore various passions and interests of mine, but it also shaped me personally. From there I started a practice of journaling that I’ve kept with me to this day, and I wrote constantly, from poems to nonfiction, from that point on. I got published for the first (and, thus far, only) time in eighth grade by winning a writing contest on the topic of treasured objects, in which I wrote about the journal Sarah gave me when I finished sixth grade and moved away. I even ended up going to the university I did because of this teacher. Having worked in education, we talk about how you never know what interaction you have with a student is going to be the one that sticks, so we try to be intentional about as many as possible. I clearly proved this to the extreme, because the reason I initially became interested in my university was not from a conversation Sarah had with me but from a conversation she had with another former student nearby where I was sitting. At this point I was about thirteen and still absolutely idolized Sarah. I still very much look up to her, but at the time it was far more utter idolization. Anyways, we were all working at the same summer camp, and she was talking with another former student who was on her way to Brown in the fall. From the conversation I gathered that Sarah thought rather highly of the university (which I had never heard of prior), and I ended up looking into it, liking it, and deciding I’d include it in the schools I applied to when the time came. And then I was accepted and chose to go there! Of course back in middle school I thought I was going to be an English teacher, as in the subject in school for native speakers. That evolved over time, and I ended up studying International Relations and Slavic Studies. But still somehow I’ve circled back to teaching English, just this time as a foreign language. So when I look back at the last thirteen years of my life, massive chunks of who I am and what I am doing are tied to this one teacher. And those are a lot of the best parts of me. There have been periods of months and years where Sarah and I haven’t been in much contact, but it always picks back up. I went through a hell of a summer this past year, and sure enough, there she was, reminding me I have a couch to crash on if I needed to get away from it all and spending hours on the phone with me, listening to the craziness, giving me challenging but important advice, and reminding me I’m stronger than I know. This answer is a no-brainer. As I count through the core tenets, experiences, and identity markers of who I am, I realize many would be radically different were it not for this one teacher. Perhaps some of that is simply a matter of timing—a bump in trajectory early on has the biggest impact much further down the line—but boy does it make a difference. And now nearly every week I sit down at the computer to a digital whiteboard/video conferencing system where I check in with Sarah’s daughter, nine time zones away, to tackle her schoolwork because life is funny and circular that way.


What song is a lifetime favorite of yours, and why?

I don’t feel like I have too many years under my belt as an adult with a solid sense of what I like and dislike in terms of music, so I can’t say this will earn the “lifetime favorite” title down the road when I have more data points, but I love “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel. The entire album is a favorite, but I find this song epitomizes the hauntingly beautiful narrative quality of the album as a whole. It’s also dear to me in that it’s the song that catalyzed my guitar playing. I had learned a few chords at various points in my life, but it’s when I thought, “hey, here’s a song with a strumming pattern I have internalized well enough to probably not screw it up entirely,” that I picked up my roommate’s guitar and tried to make it work. It was an achingly slow and painful first attempt, but I love that I can pinpoint this hobby back to that moment and this song in particular.


Do you have a go-to question or story to use when there is a lull in conversation?

In a lighthearted or decidedly “speed-datey” conversation I am always a fan of the question: “Would you rather have muffins for hands or muffins for feet?” It’s one of those fallbacks that has no moral or logical basis, but I like to see the way people think through this. Do you say feet because you hope the muffin stumps will become stale and be somewhat easy to balance on in the long run? Do you value dexterity in your fingers or do you start imagining that this question exists within a universe where the muffins regenerate and you have a lifetime snacking supply?

With closer friends, I like to ask what’s bringing joy in their lives and what is weighing on them. I do a lot of catching up with friends since I have moved so much in recent years, and I like to ask this directly because people don’t always feel the floor is open to either brag or lay out what’s difficult. But in the end that’s what I’m interested in when it comes to knowing someone and making sure they know I care about more than the cursory details of their life.


Can you identify a turning point in your life? What happened?

I have a really hard time identifying a turning point in my life. My life has been a lot of turns, and a lot of beginnings. That sounds dramatic and overly poetic, but when there’s so much movement and so much left up in the air I am not sure which point to turn to. I’ve moved every year for the past thirteen years, and so maybe the turning point is ahead of me when I decide it’s time to take a break and settle in for a while. But I also wonder if it may be honest to say a big turning point for me was this summer, and I just haven’t walked far enough down this road to feel confident calling it a true turning point. However, if it turns out this summer was a turning point for me, it’s for this reason. I finally decided I was going to make choices for my life that would prioritize me and how I want to move forward. I dug deep and, backed by friends who spoke scary and important truths to me, found the strength to do what I wanted to do simply because I wanted to do it. So I’m not sure if this particular venture into teaching abroad will pan out, either short-term or long-term, but if this is a turning point it is one in finding the confidence and trust in myself to set and follow my own goals in life. 


What is your favorite word in a language that is not your native language? Why?

The word refunfuñar in Spanish is a favorite in terms of just being a fun word to say. Also it means “to grumble,” which is a good word to know when pushing beyond the basics of a language.

I also love the Russian word Tocka, that particular Russian melancholy, loneliness, or grief that’s just not quite translatable into other languages. I can be a pretty nostalgic person in general, but I like to think that the nostalgic pains I feel for my times in Russia and Belarus are separate from that General Nostalgia and are a little part of my heart that maybe approximates Tocka. I think of it when I remember walking the quiet, cool streets of St. Petersburg at 2am with the dawn already breaking, or when I recall riding a deep-Soviet-era bus puttering through the wintery forest of Belovezhkaya Pushcha, wiping the condensation from the windows to glimpse a bison out in the wild and wondering how my life ever led me to that moment.

I also love the German word Heimat. It’s another one of those words that doesn’t have a direct translation, at least in English. It means home, but in a way that is a specific to where one feels at home, not just where one comes from or how a social system might define someone’s concept of home for them. This has been particularly meaningful for me as I have quietly accepted that, at least for now, I feel at home in Germany in ways that I don’t in my home country. It affirms that feeling in me, in a way, to be in a country with a word that lets me know it’s okay to feel at home simply because it’s where I feel at home.

Also German has a word for “awaysickness,” in the same way that we (and they) have a word for “homesickness.” And the word for skunk translates to “stinkanimal.” And the word for sloth translates to “lazyanimal”! You can tell German likes to mush words together. I wanted to preserve that in how I noted them here. Okay, I’m done now. I love words.


What is the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?

Two friends and I were working 55-hour weeks, and with only a day or so of preparation we decided to go to Yosemite. It meant a long drive for less than 24 hours and only one night there, but it was exactly what we needed. We got out of the city, got drenched by waterfalls, used what we knew from leading children in STEAM projects to cook our foil-packed meals, and sat by a rushing river for a while because it’s what we needed to recharge in the moment. I’m a planner by nature, which you can probably tell by the fact that this really isn’t that wild of a spontaneous story, but I’m glad I said yes to that last-minute trip.


What is your favorite sound?

I’m a sucker for the sound of powerful water, whether it be the aforementioned river, rain, or the ocean of my California roots. I love the sound of unencumbered laughter. And I love the sound of light conversation going on around me. I’ve fallen asleep on multiple occasions just hanging out with friends in a cozy room as a gathering extends late into the night, happily listening to them chat while not feeling any pressure to contribute in a certain way (or, clearly, even to be awake). By now you are probably well aware that I am generally incapable of picking a single favorite anything. This will likely not change. Favorite for me is a category, rather than a single unit. I’ve constructed my own meaning for the word—that’s how reticent I am to choose a favorite anything.


What is your ultimate dream vacation? Who would it be with and what would you do?

My dream vacation would miss the big cities. I’d have my boyfriend and/or a good friend or two at my side, and we’d hit the “in-betweens.” We’d hike greenways or cliff walks, because the nature in new places gives you a feel for the land from the bottom up. We’d get a lot of little bites to eat to maximize the reach of our culinary intake, and we’d also eat at someone’s grandparents’ place. Because if we’re talking dream vacation, we’d be connected with people from the places we’re going to. There would be slow mornings, and there would be the calm quiet of breathing in a place late at night when everything has settled from the day that’s passed. Of course there would be some museums and historical sites, but I also love just walking the streets of a new place. This past year I traveled with my boyfriend for the first time, and I was so happy to find that the two of us could just set out for the day with a couple destinations in mind and spend the rest of the time enjoying wherever else the streets took us. Perhaps our travels will become more organized or pointed in the future, but a dream vacation of mine includes a lot of time for unscripted discovery. I’ve also always said that my two tips for visiting a new place are to go to whatever place is the tallest, to get a view of everything, and to go on some sort of bike tour or excursion. You cover more ground than by foot, but it’s more up close and personal than a hop on/hop off bus tour.  


If you could become an expert in a specific area of something, what area would you choose and why?

9. I think I’d become an expert in something artisanal, like baking or pottery. Both are hobbies I love, and there’s something to having a physical product as the result of expertise that I find so satisfying. But I would also be totally excited about being an expert in 20th century Soviet poetry. I’ve absolutely loved the times I’ve dived into that world, and I think I would love being an expert on that corner of the world’s writings.


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A Slice of Leslie

I met Leslie in July in Washington D.C. at Fulbright orientation, but in the flurry of those quick days, I didn’t get to know much about her beyond my observations that she is intelligent, poised, organized, and professional. It was clear why she’d been selected as an English Teaching Assistant (now living in the city of Grodno). In the months since the orientation, though, as we’ve shared so much of this experience in Belarus, I’ve developed a deep admiration for this fine young woman — whom we call “Good Mom” (contrasting with my highly appropriate tag of “Bad Mom”). She’s rad, Leslie is, and not just because she was the first to return a completed survey to Allegra.

Here. Meet Leslie.


What teacher in your life has made the biggest impact on you? How?

My favorite teacher in the world is Mrs. Bell from high school. I had her for 9th grade English and critical thinking skills, when I was desperately trying to be a “cool” kid. I remember vividly her pulling me aside telling me she was disappointed in my B for the first quarter because she knew I was being lazy and could do better. Her tough love was… tough in 9th grade, but I had her for 10th and 11th, and English soon became my favorite class. She taught me to write, analyze, think critically, public speaking, grammar, and so much more. She also helped me study for the SATs on her own time and was IB thesis advisor my senior year. I truly think that without her lessons and love I would not be the learner, worker, and thinker I am now. I’m still in touch with her on Facebook and meet up sometimes when I’m home in Tampa. 

What song is a lifetime favorite of yours, and why?

“Send Me On My Way” by Rusted Root. I went to a summer camp in Colorado from age 10-17 and then became a counselor. Every Thursday was the all-camp dance at a big partially-covered area called the pavilion (pav for short). It was very PG but the perfect opportunity to dance with your camp crush. I was definitely in it for the butterflies from age 12-14, but then I did leadership programs with a small group of people who became my best friends overnight. Then, the dance was just an excuse to be crazy, to dance like you could never dance at homecoming or prom back home. As a counselor it was incredible to be with so many free spirits and amazing people, but also to see camp through your campers eyes. Anyways, “Send Me On My Way” was the last song that played at the dance before the closing campfire and it always played at sunset. They would blast Rusted Root and everyone would run down from the pav into a valley surrounded by the Rocky Mountains. There was no routine or special dance, we would all just run around dancing and hugging. This is probably the closest thing I have ever felt to magic. 


Do you have a go-to question or story to use when there is a lull in conversation?

LOL I feel like living abroad + being in a sorority + being a smiley American has forced me to come equipped with an arsenal of questions. Honestly, I usually bring up food and my love for pizza to break the ice and get people talking. Everyone – no matter their level of English, background, age, or job – adores food.


Can you identify a turning point in your life? What happened?

I can pinpoint a few turning points in my life but I think the one that impacted my the most was going to Poland for my gap year. Not necessarily the “sexy” living abroad part, but I had the hardest few months of my life there. I was unhappy at my local school, gaining weight from only eating pierogi and potatoes, missing my family since I didn’t go home for Christmas, and it was the longest winter Poland could remember for a few decades. In retrospect, it was probably seasonal affective disorder, but I definitely was depressed but couldn’t identify it. Getting through those few months was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. But I didn’t give up, I didn’t go home and I didn’t turn to any destructive habits. Now my mom and I joke that I can literally do anything after a “winter in Lodz.” Nothing seems as difficult as those months did. And I think that attitude has shaped the way I approach challenges. I’m not afraid and I don’t let the potential of discomfort or obstacles stop me (i.e. Belarus). 


What is your favorite word in a language that is not your native language? Why?

This is lame but I love the word przedsi?biorczo?? in Polish because it looks like gibberish to English speakers and has too many consonants next to each other. It’s not a cool weird, it means “enterprise.” I also love ???? in Russian. It basically means “crap” or “dang” but it literally means pancake. I just think that’s so cute.


What is the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?

This is a cliche but skydiving. I was in Estonia and I was dating this U.S. army paratrooper (the guys who jump out of helicopters and planes). One morning we were talking and I was talking about how much I wanted to try his job, so he said “let’s do it.” So we called a place and he drove us to the middle of nowhere in central Estonia. It turned out there were no other newbies jumping, just a group of people with over 40 jumps each training to be instructors. They also spoke zero English, only Russian. The army guy bailed on the actual skydiving because he didn’t want to be attached to someone else (fragile masculinity, lolz). The plane was from like 1945 so I got in and was thinking “well, the only way I’m getting back is to jump because I don’t trust this thing to land.” The pilot let me sit in the cockpit and put my hand out the window. After the jump I felt high for the next two hours. It was amazing.


What is your favorite sound?

My favorite sound is the sound of wind rustling aspen tree leaves. You know, I had never thought about it until doing this survey but it came to me so quickly. 


What is your ultimate dream vacation? Who would it be with and what would you do?

Hmm dream vacation. I think backpacking in Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park to be specific. I want to go with a group of friends or my dad. With my friends we can disconnect, bond, and sleep under the stars. My dad and I would play word games on the trail and cards at night. Some of my greatest memories are camping in Colorado with friends and family and I miss it. 


If you could become an expert in a specific area of something, what area would you choose and why?

So I kind of hate the word “expert” because I think the more you study something, you should learn that you really can never know enough. I did my master’s in Baltic Sea Region Studies and after two years, I realized how little I know. I would love to become a go-to for the Baltic Sea region and American public diplomacy in the region. This region has my heart – despite it being cold, dark, full of impossible languages, and having a largely meat-based diet. Doing public diplomacy is my dream professional goal so to combine the two would be ideal. 



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The Latest Survey: Jocelyn’s Responses

As many of you know, Allegra has been making, distributing, and collecting surveys and responses since she was in the second grade. Now on break from her first term at college, she’s done it again.

Below are my responses to her latest set of questions. If you, too, would be willing to write up answers to these questions, she would be most delighted (and your words will one day end up in a well-organized three-ring binder!). Responses to the nine questions contained in this survey can be emailed to her: allegrapihlajaATgmail.com. Enjoy, and thank you!

What teacher in your life has made the biggest impact on you? How?

Lowell Gorseth was the teacher for Honors English my junior year of high school, and, like most of my peers in the classroom, I never got over him. We read good stuff in his class – not that I can recall, at this long reach, any titles specifically – and his was the first English class that asked me to research and integrate literary criticism into essays I wrote, which subsequently taught me how to look up and pay attention to the persnickety rules of citing sources and typing footnotes and a bibliography. When I think of Mr. Gorseth’s class, I remember being in the public library downtown, pulling volumes of criticism off a shelf located on the second floor at the top of a turning staircase. And I remember being in the library of what was then Eastern Montana College, again trying to find sources to use in essays for Mr. Gorseth. I didn’t really understand how to maximize my use of the outside sources, nor did I necessarily see how it was making my papers better to use other people’s words, but I was going to fulfill Mr. Gorseth’s criteria and pretend to be confident as I did it. Memorably, I wrote a paper about Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill, pulling from lit crit to support my points; I can still feel the slow-motion swoon I went into as I discovered O’Neill and realized I was getting and loving something like “adult” writing. When I found that essay in a box in the basement a year or two ago, I was surprised when I re-read Mr. Gorseth’s comments. His feedback had an eyebrow raised, and his tone in those comments was almost brusque, certainly not impressed. For someone like me, tough feedback would usually be the thing I let dent my heart, yet somehow, when I think of writing that paper, all my memory has retained is how crazy I was for Eugene O’Neill and how much I adored writing about his play. That Mr. Gorseth’s comments didn’t lodge negatively into my psyche is perhaps the greatest testament to his ability as a teacher. He didn’t put on the shine when giving feedback to me, a notoriously sensitive weeper, yet my memory only stored how much I loved that writer, that assignment, that teacher.

So what was Mr. Gorseth’s magic? Well, he was funny. Also, he pulled a student desk to the front of the room and sat in it, on our level, during discussions – not standing to lecture or sitting behind the teacher desk. He did random accents, notably a German one. He made all the kids in the room feel like he saw them as people. His standards were high; pap would not pass. He had a recliner chair in the corner of his classroom, and nearly every day during my final two years of high school, I would get up at 5:30 a.m., apply too much baby blue eyeshadow, drive to the high school around 7-7:30 a.m. (getting there before most everyone else meant I didn’t have to experience the trauma of walking past the line of guys on Jock Rock who rated girls as they walked by), shuffle some books in my locker, and then plop myself into the safe haven of that recliner. My friends knew where to find me when they got to the school; there was certainly room for more than one rear end at a time in that chair. And always, there was Mr. Gorseth, floating in and out of the room as he prepped for his work day, smiling at me and my eyeshadow, asking questions, joking around. He even took it well when his students realized he looked eerily like cannibalistic serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer and made xeroxes of the faces of Dahmer and Gorseth next to each other, hanging those xeroxes on lockers around the building.

As you well know, I became an English teacher. It would be precious of me to act as though I chose this career because of Lowell Gorseth, for I never distinctly wanted to be a teacher; it’s a profession I fell into because it seemed a way to use my love of reading and writing to earn a paycheck. However, there is this: in about my 9th or 10th year of teaching college English, I was asked to mentor a high school English teacher in my town because he would be teaching some college classes to high school students (Minnesota has a program that allows high school students to earn college credit). This high school teacher was named John Alberts, and when we first met and started learning about each other, I discovered his then-wife, Rhonda, had grown up in my hometown of Billings, Montana. Her maiden name had been Gorseth. Her dad, who had passed away a couple years previously from a brain tumor, had been named Lowell.

When I eventually met Rhonda, I burst into tears and dove for a hug. “Your dad was the teacher of my lifetime,” I sobbed. “He provided such brightness in those tangled teenage years. He helped me love literature and writing, and look at me now, teaching those things.”

Rhonda was crying, too. “I have met so many of my dad’s former students, and they always tell me how much he affected them – how he was their favorite teacher. He was just my dad, but I am constantly reminded that he was more than just my dad.”

What song is a lifetime favorite of yours, and why?

The idea of “lifetime favorite” makes me want to reach way back to childhood and find a song that has stuck with me for 40 or more years. Sure, there are many songs I have loved for a long time, like Albinoni’s “Adagio in G Minor” and “Tom Sawyer” by Rush. And if we’re talking about a song that I have heard a million times yet never get tired of, well, I will go ahead – predictable as it may be – and tell you that “Purple Rain” has never failed to raise goosebumps on my arms. It remains powerful for me even on the thousandth spin. Another song I can play ten times in a row and then play again is “Within Your Reach” by The Replacements. Similarly, the joy of “Be Good” by the Hothouse Flowers has never dimmed.

But, okay, if it’s a lifetime favorite song, and I’m reaching back to childhood, my mind goes to tunes noodled out on the piano. There was “Nadia’s Theme,” which my sister and I desperately wanted to play well and which now causes me to stifle laughter when it fills the room during yoga class in this Russian-ish place of Belarus. As well, there was “Music Box Dancer” by Frank Mills. But rather than choose a cheesy 1970s hit tune as my song of a lifetime, let’s try another.

When I was four years old, a baby grand piano was delivered to our house at 3030 Forsythia Boulevard. With Grandpa Don being a voice professor, the piano was an important tool for him to give private lessons to students. Plus, he and GramMax hoped we kids would learn to play.

Once the delivery men had oomphed that beast into the living room, my dad sat down on the bench and played a few notes. Nearby, I hovered. He patted a spot on the bench next to him, and after I clambered up, he taught me my first song on the piano. It used only three keys: C, D, E. There were words: “Here we go/In a row/To a birthday party.” That tune still runs through my head sometimes in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep.

A few decades later, when a piano was deposited into our house and the work men left, you sat next to me on a bench, and I taught you that same song. C, D, E/C, D, E/D, C, D, E, C, C. And there we went, to a birthday party.

Do you have a go-to question or story to use when there is a lull in conversation?

Jeezus. You know I have about a hundred. This is tough. Okay, my favorite such question, because it always yields a good twenty minutes of response — longer if I can work in follow-up questions – and because it always ripens the connection between everyone at the table, is this: “Tell me your life story, starting with ‘I was born . . . ‘.”

Can you identify a turning point in your life? What happened?

When I was 31, I was dumped in a way that shattered me completely. I was sure I’d never find love or have kids. Then Cousin Kurt messaged me and told me about a guy he worked with, asking if he could serve as my “agent in the field.” Without much hope, I shrugged and said sure.

In a couple months, it’ll be 20 years since I clapped eyes on your dad for the first time. His intelligence, steadiness, appreciation for who I am, and ability to live without resentment changed my everything.

What is your favorite word in a language that is not your native language? Why?

Currently, it’s

which is the Russian word for “sea buckthorn.” Sea buckthorn is HUGE in Belarus; there are juices, teas, lotions, chapsticks, oils, and on and on. In the last few days, due to a tip from Alana, a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant here in Belarus, I have been rubbing sea buckthorn oil on my face in the hopes that it makes me look young enough to be wearing baby blue eyeshadow in Lowell Gorseth’s class again.

Certainly, I love this word because I love the stuff made from it, but also: I love this word because it’s so fun to say “abla-pika,” which I am able to remember because the first half sounds like the Turkish word for “sister” and is commonly used on the streets to address strangers, and the second half sounds like the first part of “Pikachu,” which reminds me of Paco when he was younger and was into Pokemon. When I first came up with this pneumonic device, another ETA, Leslie, gave me the tip to soften the pronunciation of the “k” so that it’s almost an “h” sound. She gave me this tip at her kitchen table shortly after she’d crushed berries into hot water for the two of you to sip as evening tea.

Thus, whenever I say this word, I think of Turkey, and I think of Paco, and I think of how much the four ETAs here in Belarus and I have gone crazy for all things sea buckthorn (with Kate messaging about how the oil is “the perfect blend of good fats” and Liz giddily reporting she bought a heap of berries at the market), and I think about how you, dear Leggy, immediately tapped into the craze for it and loaded up with shampoo and conditioner and lip balm when we visited the Soviet-era department store, GUM.

When I think about the word

I think about all my many families, in all their many forms, and then I am full of wonder at this life I’ve lived, and that’s some powerful stuff right there.

What is the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?

In college, I would sometimes head out for class, get halfway there, be possessed by a feeling of “Nah, not feeling it,” and turn around to head back to the dorm. In other words, my every day for 51 years has been ruled by spontaneity, so this might be an impossible question for me to answer. I hate plans. I hate having to be somewhere at a certain time. I hate expectations. Spontaneity feels much more natural and right. That’s why your dad knows that if I’m not home around the anticipated time, it’s not that I’m in distress but, rather, than I decided to turn left instead of go straight, and like as not, I’m having a chai latte with someone I’ve only talked to twice before.

I do want to give you a real answer, though. Let’s go with this: last time I had a sabbatical, and we’d been working for months to hammer together a plan for living abroad, with possibility after possibility falling through, there came a moment when my husband’s father’s boss’ daughter said, “Hey, you should come to Turkey for a year,” and without too much thought, your dad and I looked at each other and agreed, “Hey, yeah, we should go to Turkey for a year.”

Following that impulse provided us with a seminal experience for our entire family. Not a day goes by, still, when we don’t feel the effects of that spontaneous choice.

Add this to your Journal of Maternal Wisdom: “Don’t plan your way out of potential adventure.”

What is your favorite sound?

The quiet whoosh of a page being turned.

What is your ultimate dream vacation? Who would it be with and what would you do?

We had just such a vacation when we went to Çirali on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. Our year in Cappadocia was so rich, so lonely, so amazing, so taxing, as were our various travels around the country, with us trying to wrap our heads around “What even is this place?” When we headed into Çirali, we had no idea that a one-road town next to sparkling water was exactly what each of us needed. Dad needed a break from three cups of tea with guys he couldn’t talk to every time he went to re-up our bottled water order. I needed a break from the village ladies sitting on the curb eyeballing me whenever I went out for a run. You needed a break from crying through math homework during homeschooling. Paco needed a break from every part of regular Turkish life – since his seven-year-old self had decided the first day he hated the place. Those days floating in the waters of the Mediterranean, exploring the ruins of Olympus in our still-wet suits, eating gozleme with lemon and powdered sugar…well, they were my dream vacation. I just needed you three and a departure from the regular. That was all.

If you could become an expert in a specific area of something, what area would you choose and why?

I’d like to be a really, really good writer, but getting there is a life’s work; these days, I’m galumphing around the hinterlands of Good Writing, trying to tame my gait. As someone who gets weak-kneed in the presence of a well-wrought sentence, my smaller goal is to write the occasional fine sentence. That’s some hard work – because it’s not just about the words and how they’re ordered but, rather, about the thinking distilled within them. So let’s put a finer point on this: I’d like to become an expert thinker and figure out how to convey that through vocabulary and syntax.

Alternately, it would be cool to master some craft where there’s a physical result that can be displayed. All my best life gifts are “soft” and not so easily seen – “comfortable with public crying” doesn’t make for a gallery show – and so I might enjoy the feeling of making a thing, a physical thing, really well. Maybe I can become a master weaver who makes her first kilim at age 60.

Or maybe I could bang out a badass butter churn.

For a third alternative, because you didn’t give me a word limit, there’s this: I would love to be an amazing dancer, the kind who is crazily talented and attuned to how the finer nuances – a shoulder pushed an inch higher, an arm flinging left while the foot steals right – create greatness. This can happen in any genre, but since I’ve been obsessing over the dancing of Comfort Fedoke on Instagram the past few days, let’s go with the kind of freestyle street dancing she does. Fedoke is a back-up dancer for Missy Elliott, but she’s also able to make her feet write in cursive along the line of a shadow and tell a tall tale with steps that describe new spaces inside a crew battle circle.

Yeah, let me be a Comfort.


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Fulbright

Notes over the Atlantic

 


The problem with hypervigilance: as the plane starts to taxi for take-off, I am fretting. Two people on the aisle haven’t fastened their seatbelts. The old white guy in front of me has inflated his pillow and slapped on his headphones, but half his unclipped belt dangles out the side of his seat. Fortunately, the flight attendant catches sight of it on his final walk-through. Old Guy chuckles too loudly as he snaps in.

Three minutes into the air, I begin to dislike the old white guy in front of me when he reclines his seat into my space, the diminished inches between me and my screen (trying to watch Moonlight) casting my head into a vertigo of too-tight viewing. Two hours later, my rage softens when he clinks plastic glasses of Cabernet over the aisle with his wife. We are on a flight to Paris. This is apparently Something for them.

After waiting foot-tappingly long for the black man in a flowing tan “outfit,” dark sunglasses, and a flat cap to emerge from the airplane bathroom, I finally get my turn. Locking gazes with me, brushing past, he nods. When I enter, the first inhale tells me why he took so long — why he looked so much lighter upon exiting. Dude made a dookie. And, just as it was difficult, nigh on impossible, for him to figure out how to open the bathroom door when he first entered, it was, didn’t I discover in no time, completely impossible for him to figure out how to flush. There is a meatloaf awaiting me. Although I am afraid to try it, fearing the mechanism is broken, I push the big FLUSH button. With a roar, the meatloaf plummets into the friendly skies.

The couple next to me has ordered “Hindu vegetarian” meals. When they arrive, the wife picks at her entree suspiciously, eventually flicking out small bits with disdain. They ring for the flight attendant. A long discussion about the labelling known as VGML ensues. When the attendant closes the conversation with a shrug and a few steps down the aisle, the wife focuses on her roll and fruit salad, gesturing with resignation at her tray, complaining mildly but steadily to her attentive husband.

Pressing my head back into the seat cushion, trying to gain an inch of distance, I watch Moonlight and drink an extra pale ale, wondering when I next will have a hoppy beer.

The disgruntled vegetarian on my left pinches a piece of honeydew between her fingers, examining it from all angles, her face fighting off revulsion.

Sipping the foam from the bottom of my flimsy glass, I wonder how screwed up her face would have become if she’d walked into that airplane bathroom after Tan Outfit Guy.

The flight attendant working my section has taken an immediate dislike to me. Whenever he hands me something, it’s with the revulsion and pinched fingers of a skeptical honeydew examiner. He has gorgeous, full salt-and-pepper hair; if I got chatty and complimented him, his attitude would shift immediately. But I’m not in the mood. I don’t want to compliment him. Every time he walks past, I think, “I am never telling you that you have a gorgeous head of hair, you cranky snip.”

Shortly after finishing her meal, my seatmate moans a few times while rocking.

I will not be following her to the bathroom.

_____________

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travel

Highlights

We recently returned from a family trip to Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia — meeting up with Allegra, who’d already been traveling by herself for six weeks. We flew from Minneapolis to Sarajevo, and she took the bus into Sarajevo from Montenegro; easily, beautifully, shortly after we checked into our apartment the first night, she pulled up in a taxi, tan, her hair lightened from weeks in the strong Turkish sun, and suddenly there we were, we four, together again, ready to push the unit of us into new spaces, new places.

And although the list below covers my personal highlights from our 17 days together, I could actually stop this post about “best moments” here, after typing the next few words: my favorite moment of the trip was when that taxi door opened.

Maternal mush aside, there were a host of other memorable, mind-blowing experiences we shared together. TAKE THIS, INTREPID READER:

    1. The Kravice waterfalls: Located about 40 km from Mostar — which helps you locate it precisely in your mind just now, doesn’t it? — this series of falls was easily my favorite “spot” on the entire trip. There weren’t too many people, although it did get more crowded as the day wore on, and there weren’t too many swimmers. After our initial “whoa, baby” shock when the falls first came into view, we took turns swimming out to the base of the pounding water, working our bodies against the strong counter-currents, and that was like no experience I’ve ever had. As Allegra and I paddled towards the first fall, the second, the third, the next, I was buoyed by wonder. By the time we left a few hours later, that feeling hadn’t subsided. Even now, weeks later, my strongest sensation when I think of these waterfalls is that of gratitude: we were so fortunate to be able to get ourselves to Bosnia; we were so lucky to have heard of this place; we were so fortunate that all four of us were strong, able, and willing. Sidestroking through that cold water, I was propelled by awe. 
    2. Cevapi: Is there anything more important while traveling than the food? To put a finer point on it, is there anything more important than food any day, anywhere? Oh, all right. I’ll give you “water.” Shelter. Love. The Netflix password. But food’s right up there, yes? That’s why I was so glad we tried cevapi our first full day in Sarajevo; it set us up to order it again and again throughout the entire trip — because our family has its values in order and, thus, is always enthusiastic about a heap of small grilled sausages stuffed into a bread pillowcase and sprinkled with sharp onions. 
    3. The view, breakfast, and coffee at our guesthouse in Mostar: The place we stayed in Mostar is best called “a hidden gem.” At first, the emphasis was on “hidden” since we circled through busy one-way streets a few times, the GPS always telling us we had arrived when basically there was no guesthouse or signage in sight. Finally, we spooled out of the busy center of town to a wider road where, after a few attempts at finding parking, we left the boys in the car while Allegra and I set off on foot so as to better explore the nooks and crannies that might yield GUESTHOUSE. Fortunately, the girl is a GPS whiz, and her phone turned us into a narrow slot and thirty feet into a dusty lot — and then, HAHA!, we saw a small sign for the guesthouse. Ultimately, it was worth the effort because our room had, hands down, the best view in all of Mostar, the balcony looking straight down the river at the famous, symbolic, and now-once-again-beautiful bridge.Listen, because we are budget travelers, we’re not used to nice things — but that view of the restored bridge, a bridge that connects the Muslim-dominant bank of the city to the Christian-dominant side, was the nicest thing, particularly because every time we looked at the bridge, we were reminded of the deliberate forgetting Bosnians are willing themselves to do in order to move past the trauma of war and genocide. In a country where every open meadow and every former soccer field is teeming with fresh, shockingly white headstones, looking at that rebuilt bridge reminded these heartsore American progressives that trauma is relative. And while the U.S. currently has a callous bully at the helm and is deliberately implementing policy that shouts “la-la-la” with fingers in ears to cover the pleas of the distressed, being in Bosnia made us blink slowly and repeatedly acknowledge: at least the U.S. is not engaged in civil war where neighbors are slaughtering each other. At least our soccer fields are still soccer fields. At least we can leave our houses and not get food only by sending out a runner in the middle of the night who, dressed in black, prays for invisibility. At least their aren’t snipers ringing our cities, ready to mow us down if we dare to open the front door. Looking at the people of Bosnia, not a one of whom lives unscathed, we took their lessons. …all of which is to say: the host at our guesthouse provided a tremendous and lovely breakfast each morning! And Bosnian coffee, for multiple reasons, is soul restoring. As our airport driver, Anis, told us: “In Bosnia, we love our coffee and have many cups each day. During the war, we missed it so much; we wanted it so much. So now, we have many cups each day.”
    4. Dating the Adriatic: The funny thing about Bosnia, geographically, is that it has only 12 miles of coastline (this is due to a convoluted historical agreement; read about it here). Due to this, people visiting Dubrovnik in Croatia engage in multiple border crossings since the Bosnian stretch of coast splits Croatia in half. No matter what country’s name is assigned to the coast, though, there is no denying that the drive is consistently breathtaking. In these next photos, you will meet my new girlfriend, and her name is Adriatic. We get each other. She’s holding my hand right now, in fact. Which is awkward ’cause I’m typing. *shucks off Adriatic in favor of QWERTY* 
    5. The roadside stands where all bottles were labeled with gold-penned script: They just kept coming, these stands did, along one stretch of road in, hmmm, was it Bosnia? It might have been Croatia (see previous mention of multiple border crossings in the same day). Let’s just say “former Yugoslavia” and call me right. At any rate, after we flew past the first twenty stands, we decided to pull over and see if there was any produce for sale that we hadn’t yet seen in the grocery stores; this strategy was loosely titled “My Queendom for Some Broccoli.” By the time we were done staring and considering and pointing and paying, we had a handful of bags and a lovely jar of Lemon-Lime juice, pulp a’floatin’.
    6. The Old Town in Sibenik, Croatia: Hey, look at this next one! I actually know we were in Croatia! I’m super sharp, see! To a one, the members of our family loved the historic apartment we booked in the heart of Old Town in the city of Sibenik. The streets are narrow, the vibe laid back, and the sculpted heads of benefactors decorating the facade of the cathedral totally rad. Even better: the crepe stand is open late, and when we initially couldn’t find the apartment, our host came out and stood on the street (“I will be by the cannons, wearing short blue pants made of denim”). Because I am a paragon of restraint, I didn’t even tell him that one of my mild-mannered husband’s most firmly held opinions is that men should not ever, no, not ever, wear jean shorts.
    7. The half-attentive waiter when we stopped for coffee in some random place, a guy with one quarter of one eyeball focused on our needs, a guy who failed to bring me the panna cotta I ordered, thus saving me from myself. Thank you, negligent waiter. I bet your panna cotta would have disappointed anyhow, especially because I would have gulped down huge mouthfuls of cigarette smoke with every bite, and even if the custard had been grand, I did JUST FINE WITHOUT IT. DOES YOUR ONE QUARTER OF ONE EYEBALL SEE ME BEING JUST FINE OVER HERE? I AM AN ACCOMPLISHED WOMAN WHO HAS GREAT EXPERIENCE DODGING FALLING PEACHES, SO WHY WOULD I NEED YOUR STUPID PANNA COTTA?
    8. Spontaneous finding of a cliff-side path: We loved Sibenik so much that it was hard to leave, hard to adjust our brains and hearts to the next location, in this case a “just fine” town named Senj. Again, in Senj, GPS got us within a few hundred meters of our booking, but after that, it took good old-fashioned rolling down the window and yelling to a frazzled-looking woman, “Do you speak English? No? Okay. Do you know where this apartment is?” while holding Byron’s phone up to her face. Important to any story such as this one is the fact that she didn’t know the location of Apartment Leona, nor did she know where Krcka ulica 2a Villa Nehaj, 2 kat was, but she did know an old guy in overalls across the street — did he have cement on his arms? was he building a retaining wall? was his name Grgur? — and so once she waved him over and three or four congregants had a lively discussion for a couple minutes, we received direction and the helpful advice of “big building” from Grgur and Frazzle, which allowed us to circle the streets a bit more before parking at a new apartment complex and wondering how we would ever know if we had arrived. Of course, as is the way 99% of the time with travel, it all worked out, and soon enough we were up a few floors in a spanking new IKEA-furnished apartment (Hey, Leona!), which actually proved a perfect counterpoint to the historical place in Sibenik. Even better was our discovery of a path running along the side of the cliffs edging my girlfriend. The ensuing ramble provided everything I could want from Senj.
    9. The food and fish in Piran: On the tip of a Slovenian peninsula is a town named Piran, a place described as “Venetian” since it’s just across the water from Italy and has, over its history, absorbed a great deal of culture from that neighbor. Since Piran is popular, it’s expensive, so we stayed in a hostel; the digs were rudimentary, but the guy at the front desk hooked us up with great recommendations, including one for the best ice cream I’ve ever had, and trust me, I’m a well-seasoned pro on the professional ice-cream-eating circuit. Piran also presented an opportunity for Allegra to use some of her gift money from friends Kirsten and Virginia — their urging being to use it for something in her travels that she would never do otherwise. Well. So. When we passed a shop where a few people were sitting comfortably on benches, having their feet nibbled by fish, it was a no-brainer. This was something she (and I) had always wanted to do, and it surely was something she’d never do without that money. Thus is was that the two of us sat, giggling, at 7 p.m., learning that this species of fish is originally from Turkey and lives for three years — although to be honest, one hungry guy took a look at my left big toenail and decided to throw his body out of the tank there and then. Most glorious of all was eating a cheap to-go dinner from a bakery while watching the sun set over Girlfriend.  
    10. Predjama Castle in Slovenia: So you know Rick Steves, right, O PBS Fans? And you either love him or hate him? We at our house decided some years ago to love him since our kid had taken a shine to his untroubled and informative travelogues. So we’ve all watched a whole lotta Rick Steves over here, and in our best moments, we sling a single backpack strap onto one shoulder, tuck a thumb into a belt loop, and make up closing-reel bloopers about public art. Hey, some families play banjo together; ours Rick Steveses together. Anyhoodie, one time Rick visited a place called Predjama Castle in Slovenia, and one other time, so did we. Built into the opening of a cave, parts of the castle itself constructed FROM the cave, the architecture of this place is stunning. Adding to its appeal is a system of tunnels running out the back so that residents under siege could still retrieve fresh food and toss a big nah-nah at their attackers. Most famous is a robber baron named Erazem who brazenly threw the pits from cherries at Fredrick III’s soldiers during a year-long siege. They got him in the end, though, as a servant sold Erazem out, raising a flag to notify the attacking troops when Erazem popped into the WC on the front of the castle. Fredrick’s men blew the bathroom to smithereens with a shot from a cannon, and Erazem never did get to finish reading that article about the best red-carpet looks at that year’s Oscars. Enhancing the wow of the castle itself was our lunch — goulash over polenta with a side of angel-pillow gnocchi– and our post-tour snack — cappucino and cream cake (kremsnita).
    11. Metelkova in Ljubljana: The first thing that struck me about Ljubljana was the graffiti EVERYWHERE. Every surface, from windows to walls to post boxes to light poles, has spray paint on it. The net effect is, naturally, somewhere between cool and grungy. Speculating about why this city seems to have more graffiti than any other place I’ve ever been, I announced, “I hope it’s a way of exerting freedom in a place that used to be quashed under authoritarianism.” I’m a real hoot to travel with, btw. Later that day, we did a free walking tour of the city with an excellent guide named Daniel (Me to Daniel at the end of the tour: “I told my kids that if you were my teacher, yours would be my favorite class.” See how well I follow my policy of Actually Say the Nice Things Out Loud to the People?). At the end of the tour, we lingered so as to ask Daniel a couple of extra questions. When I asked him why there is such an astonishing amount of graffiti in the city, he confirmed that, indeed, it is created by citizens expressing themselves after too many decades where they would be arrested if they so much as painted the letter “A” for “Anarchy.” (RIP, Sue Grafton) Continuing, Daniel noted that he doesn’t much like all the thoughtless, “do-nothing” graffiti, but he absolutely finds joy when it is art. Then he told us about a lesser-known spot in the city — “a former military barracks where artists began squatting after the fall of Communism” — and urged us to walk through it to get a taste of graffiti’s power when it’s done right. And so. At the end of our day, we found this artist’s community and wandered through. “Oh!” I thought, my heart filling. “Oh, oh, oh!” To see evidence that la vie boheme is thriving, that art triumphs over war, that the counterculture can be a force — well, it was the most beautiful balm.
    12. The fact that I can now spell Ljubljana without looking it up because I just say in my head “luh-jub-luh-jana,” and bam, all those letters line right up for me:
    13. And finally, perhaps most importantly, a major highlight for me of our trip to the Balkans was watching The Revenant on the flight home because I delight in any movie where Leonardo diCaprio doesn’t talk much:
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Life

She’s Off


I want to tell you what love looks like.

She is 18, about 5′ 7″ with dark blonde hair to her shoulders.

Love looks like her, fresh sweetness driven by curiosity.

I want to tell you what else love looks like.

She is 46, about 5′ 10″, a brunette with tints of red.

Love looks like her, powerful directness fueled by loyalty.

I want to tell you what else love looks like.

She’s a horizontal 5′ 3″, maybe 80 pounds, but it’s hard to say since she hasn’t eaten in days.

Love looks skeletal and radiant in her hospital bed positioned next to the living room window, so she can live in the light as the veil between Here and There thins.

I want to tell you how blinding love is when these three versions of her are supported by the same laminate wood floors at the same time, one over by the living room window, her breathing shallow, her eyes half-open as she drifts in and out of medicated sleep, the other two facing each other near the dining room table. 

The brunette by the table has enough vigor for everyone, despite the exhaustion of walking slowly, over years, then days, now hours, shoulder-to-shoulder with her shallow-breathing wife as she eases to the next phase. The brunette by the table not only has vigor. She has a plan. 

The 18-year-old who has just been given a firm hug by the brunette does not know of a plan. All she knows is that she’s come for one last visit with the shallow-breathing love in the hospital bed. All she knows is that the first person to see the top of her head as it crowned its way into this world is now leaving it. All she knows is that she will be one of the last people to see the first person who saw her. All she knows is that something about this business of first and last smacks at the heart. All she knows is that being there for each other at the beginning and at the end feels like a rare magic.

“So,” says the brunette Kirsten to the teen who is on the cusp of three months of travels. “Here’s a deal I have for you. I’m going to slip a big swaaaaak of Euros into your pocket from Ginnie and me, okay?”

Not sure what is happening, the blonde Allegra nods uncertainly.

“And at some point while you’re in some far-off country, you’re going to see something that looks really fun — like something you’d love to do, if only you had the money. Like, it would be a great adventure, but it costs a lot, so you’ll just have to imagine how cool it would be. Except, see, you’re going to have this stack of Euros with you, and you’ve been told you can only use them to do something you otherwise would never be able to. So the whole point of these…” she trails off as she turns towards the dining room table and grabs a stack of colorful notes, “…is that you use them in memory of Gin…” — she tips her head towards the form in the hospital bed, the same form that was bitten by a lemur in Madagascar, that carried pails of ashes up and down staircases in a crumbling French chateau, that hugged a baby sloth in the Amazon — “…so you need to find an amazing thing to do, and when you throw this money at it, you will be taking Virginia on one last adventure, this time with you.”

Having explained the terms of the deal, the generous friend, auntie, wife, soon-widow pushes the money into the 18-year-old’s hands. The girl’s eyebrows lift as she nods. The terms are accepted.

I want to tell you what love looks like.

It looks like a stack of Euros with strings attached.

It looks like a blonde teen and a brunette chosen-auntie locking eyes for a brief moment as they acknowledge the lasting imprint the slight form in the hospital bed will leave on them both, with the lessons of generosity and gusto she modeled for them.

It looks like the tears in the eyes of a melancholy mother lurking two feet behind her teenage daughter who holds a stack of Euros in her hands; like the tears in the eyes of a grateful friend watching a pal make things possible for her girl; like the tears in the eyes of a grieving intimate who knows her beloved chum is days from death.

I want to tell you what love looks like.

It looks like four unsteady women united on a laminate wood floor, four women whose lives have intersected in profound and unpredictable ways, four women finding balance by leaning on each other.

I want to show you what love looks like.

 

 

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Five in Five

Five in Five: Wednesday, February 21

Five Things about Countries Beginning with “E” that Allegra Told Us During a Car Ride to a Race in Wisconsin:
She Was Reading from One of Her Beloved Travel Books, Both of Which She Bought with a Barnes & Noble Gift Card from Byron’s Great-Uncle


1. One of Egypt’s trademarks is incessant honking
2. Egypt is the driest country in Africa
3. In El Salvador, there’s a town named Alegria
4. In Estonia, there’s a sport called “kiiking” which has people standing on a swing and attempting to make a full 360-degree loop
5. Ethiopia sounds interesting (her personal opinion) because it has churches and crocodiles

Now, what travel fun fact can you tell our girl who is thirsty to know it all and who is, not incidentally, as cute as a baby Adélie penguin (which breed from October to February on shores around the Antarctic continent and build rough nests of stones)?

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summer vacation

What I Did During My Summer Vacation

Bagley TreeIn a few days, the new academic year begins. Since I’ve not quite recovered from the stresses of the summer session, and since my fall teaching schedule recently underwent an adjustment (one section cancelled, another added), I’m a bit breathless.

No matter. Whether or not I’m ready, it’ll happen anyways. I’ll hit an alarm and put on underwear and walk into rooms burbling with lots of words, and then the hours will pass, and it’ll be over until it happens again. It’s all good. I’m lucky to inhabit a life with a loud alarm and stretchy underwear and safe rooms and interesting people.

Equally, I’m fortunate to have had a first-rate summer, one that galloped along at a perfect pace. The kids are old enough that I didn’t feel the constant pressure to fill their hours, we had a good variety of outings and activities, and we had a diverting cast of visitors trip through our doors. I am well satisfied, chums.

Already, though, I have to stop and scratch my head when I try to inventory the summer’s charms. What all did we do again?

Since this space serves as a chronicle of something, why not “What I Did This Summer”?

Here, then, is a pictorial review of the highlights, something I can refer back to in future years when I wonder what the hell happened in 2016 outside of the general universal weirdness triggered by the deaths of Bowie and Prince.

Speaking of His Royal Badness, we stopped by First Avenue in June and had a quick moment of Dammit, but He Was Grand.
Speaking of His Royal Badness, we stopped by First Avenue in June and had a quick moment of Dammit, but He Was Grand.

Across the street from First Ave is the Target Center, so after we bid adieu to the stars of the great, we attended our first-ever Lynx game with pal Kirsten and a crew of her high school charges. YOU GUYS, WE WENT TO A SPORTS!
Across the street from First Ave is the Target Center, so after we bid adieu to the stars of the great, we attended our first-ever Lynx game with pal Kirsten and a crew of her high school charges. YOU GUYS, WE WENT TO A SPORTS!

As we do every year, Paco and I volunteered for a shift at the library book sale. Here, he is in the process of stealing all the money from the cash box.
As we do every year, Paco and I volunteered for a shift at the library book sale. Here, he is in the process of stealing all the money from the cash box.

With dedication and discipline, Allegra ran and attended fitness classes at the gym, along with doing a 4x/week training group with some of her friends. At her age, I was lying on the floor, my feet on the couch, moaning that the tv was too far away for me to change the channel. Then I’d start yodeling the words “black gold, Texas tea.”
With dedication and discipline, Allegra ran and attended fitness classes at the gym, along with doing a 4x/week training group with some of her friends. At her age, I was lying on the floor, my feet on the couch, moaning that the tv was too far away for me to change the channel. Then I’d start yodeling the words “black gold, Texas tea.”

Tall like the trees, our boy walked and grew.
Tall like the trees, our boy walked and grew.

We got a pickleball set. These are pickleball paddles. These are boys holding them. Yea, I know you don’t know what pickleball is. Don’t you wish there was some massive source of easy information right at your fingertips that could help you with this problem?
We got a pickleball set. These are pickleball paddles. These are boys holding them. Yea, I know you don’t know what pickleball is. Don’t you wish there was some massive source of easy information right at your fingertips that could help you with this problem?

It’s not all fun and games around here. We moved the fridge this summer and sought out a good therapist the day after.
It’s not all fun and games around here. We moved the fridge this summer and sought out a good therapist the day after.

I mean, what the holy. What kind of dipshit family of four can create this many dirty dishes in under 24 hours?
I mean, what the holy. What kind of dipshit family of four can create this many dirty dishes in under 24 hours?

The thing about owning a house is that it’s always something. Not only are our windows currently a Something, so was our rotten deck (nearly killing people for 15 years!!). Thus, Byron and his crackerjack minion spent some quality hours tearing it down. Since our back staircase also needed replacing, we had to do some prioritizing and riddle out a home equity loan. Verdict: we’ll do the upstairs windows and back staircase this year, the downstairs windows and new deck next year. Adulting sucks big donkey dicks.
The thing about owning a house is that it’s always something. Not only are our windows currently a Something, so was our rotten deck (nearly killing people for 15 years!!). Thus, Byron and his crackerjack minion spent some quality hours tearing it down. Since our back staircase also needed replacing, we had to do some prioritizing and riddle out a home equity loan. Verdict: we’ll do the upstairs windows and back staircase this year, the downstairs windows and new deck next year. Adulting sucks big donkey dicks.

After more than a year of washing dishes at a local pub to earn money, this girl went on a high school trip to Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy. The trip across the Atlantic was chaos, the crowning moment coming when the airline packed all the teenagers onto the airplane to Frankfurt and then told the overseeing teacher that there was no seat for her . . . so she jetted over on a later flight. We all want to watch that movie, right?
After more than a year of washing dishes at a local pub to earn money, this girl went on a high school trip to Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy. The trip across the Atlantic was chaos, the crowning moment coming when the airline packed all the teenagers onto the airplane to Frankfurt and then told the overseeing teacher that there was no seat for her . . . so she jetted over on a later flight. We all want to watch that movie, right?

Important development, particularly for the rat bastard chipmunks in the yard: Paco started aiming at his archery target with eyes closed. MAY YOU BE IMPALED BY A WILDLY OFF-COURSE ARROW, CHIPMUNKMONSTER.
Important development, particularly for the rat bastard chipmunks in the yard: Paco started aiming at his archery target with eyes closed. MAY YOU BE IMPALED BY WILDLY OFF-COURSE ARROWS, PLAGUE O’ MUNKS.

This pup here was in a fair bit of a panic about getting his tonsils out — even though, given the 47 cases of strep he’s had in his lifetime, we all agreed it was time. Major bonus were the purple socks he received as part of his clinic-issued Surgery Garb. Those socks now live in his bed with him, ready for jamming on at the first sign of a single cold toe.
This pup here was in a fair bit of a panic about getting his tonsils out — even though, given the 47 cases of strep he’s had in his lifetime, we all agreed it was time. Major bonus were the purple socks he received as part of his clinic-issued Surgery Garb. Those socks now live in his bed with him, ready for jamming on at the first sign of a single cold toe.

The recovery from a tonsillectomy is lengthy, taking 10-14 days. Paco milked every last hour of unrestricted screen time and life based out of bed. When his cousins stopped by and dropped off get-well cards, we were surprised at how very much they meant to him. Seeing how dramatically get-well wishes perked him up, I put out a call to Internet, and scads of gorgeous friends came through — sending cards and gifts and generally making his every day. The Eyebrow Baby card featured here (thank you, Elly!) has become legend in his lifetime.
The recovery from a tonsillectomy is lengthy, taking 10-14 days. Paco milked every last hour of unrestricted screen time and life based out of bed. When his cousins stopped by and dropped off get-well cards, we were surprised at how very much they meant to him. Seeing how dramatically get-well wishes perked him up, I put out a call to Internet, and scads of gorgeous friends came through — sending cards and gifts and generally making his every day. The Eyebrow Baby card featured here (thank you, Elly!) has become legend in his lifetime.

The get-well wishes for Paco kept streaming in! When a huge box from Georgia arrived, we all lost our minds with the amazing cornucopia of presents our pal Tara had packed inside. It is my fervent hope that the kids wear these teeth in their school pictures this year.
The get-well wishes for Paco kept streaming in! When a huge box from Georgia arrived, we all lost our minds with the amazing cornucopia of presents our pal Tara had packed inside. It is my fervent hope that the kids wear these teeth in their school pictures this year.

Tara’s box also included this t-shirt. The kid has lived in it for the past two months. I’m somewhat worried the hairs on his arms are going to grow through the fabric, and we’ll have to cut him out come November.
Tara’s box also included this t-shirt. The kid has lived in it for the past two months. I’m somewhat worried the hairs on his arms are going to grow through the fabric, and we’ll have to cut him out come November.

Byron made deviled eggs using some of the special Southern-like mayo sent in Tara’s Georgia box. Tara hates eggs and, when she saw this photo, yacked into the upturned top hat of a nearby magician.
Byron made deviled eggs using some of the special Southern-like mayo sent in Tara’s Georgia box. Tara hates eggs; upon seeing this photo, she leaned over and yacked into the upturned top hat of a nearby magician.

Another get-well present that arrived was from the kickass Yolanda. HOW ARE SPLAT BALLS NOT FUN ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY STICK TO THE CEILING AND YOU HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO STAND ON THE COFFEE TABLE?
Another get-well present that arrived was from the kickass Yolanda. HOW ARE SPLAT BALLS NOT FUN ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY STICK TO THE CEILING AND YOU HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO STAND ON THE COFFEE TABLE?

The Grandma’s Marathon course runs a block from our house. Every June, I love watching thousands of participants sweat their way past; in particular, I gawk at the elite runners — whispers of shadows as they slide by. There’s something magic about seeing a human body do something it is uniquely excellent at. All right: at which it is uniquely excellent, you pompous nitpicker.
The Grandma’s Marathon course runs a block from our house. Every June, I love watching thousands of participants sweat their way past; in particular, I gawk at the elite runners — whispers of shadows as they slide by. There’s something magic about seeing a human body do something it is uniquely excellent at. All right: at which it is uniquely excellent, you pompous nitpicker.

After I watch a marathon, I like to do a thing where I go run a few miles myself in a beautiful place, all the while reminding myself I’m part of something bigger.
After I watch a marathon, I like to do a thing where I go run a few miles myself in a beautiful place, all the while reminding myself I’m part of something bigger.

All summer, here and there, in two-minute snatches, I've been noodling away at this puzzle. I so love jigsaws depicting Turkish and Middle Eastern scenes — to the point that I’ve done most of them I can find. I’m being very quiet about the drying up of my Future Puzzle Supply because I am both stoic and brave, but truth is I’m in a fair bit of a panic about this, my poodles. You will hold me when I weep?
All summer, here and there, in two-minute snatches, I’ve been noodling away at this puzzle. I so love jigsaws depicting Turkish and Middle Eastern scenes — to the point that I’ve done most of them I can find. I’m being very quiet about the drying up of my Future Puzzle Supply because I am both stoic and brave, but truth is I’m in a fair bit of a panic about this, my poodles. You will hold me when I weep?

Our friends Michael and Forest came from Seattle and celebrated the 4th with us, and oh, Sweet Snoopy on a Cracker, yes, you’ve looked at seventy-eleven photos, yet we’re only at July 4th here. Anyhow, Mikey used an app on his phone to tune the guitar, and it was as though, suddenly, mere sixteen years into it, I understood the potential of this new century.
Our friends Michael and Forest came from Seattle and celebrated the 4th with us, and oh, Sweet Snoopy on a Cracker, yes, you’ve looked at seventy-eleven photos, yet we’re only at July 4th here. Anyhow, Mikey used an app on his phone to tune the guitar, and it was as though, suddenly, a mere sixteen years into it, I understood the potential of this new century.

You know what we have in Duluth? The world’s longest freshwater sandbar. WINNING.
You know what we have in Duluth? The world’s longest freshwater sandbar. WINNING.

Byron’s got a better sense of drama than hand-eye coordination.
Byron’s got a better sense of drama than hand-eye coordination.

he Pied Piper of Lake Pequaywan.
The Pied Piper of Lake Pequaywan.

Allegra’s so good at so much. But not this.
Allegra’s so good at so much. But not this.

YOU HAVE TO BE VERY FAIR WHEN PLAYING HIDE ‘N SEEK, AND HEARING THE DIRECTION OF “IT”S SCAMPERING IS NOT FAIR.
YOU HAVE TO BE VERY FAIR WHEN PLAYING HIDE ‘N SEEK, AND HEARING THE DIRECTION OF “IT”S SCAMPERING IS NOT FAIR.

We had a weekend in the Cities with Byron’s folks; our birthday/Mother’s/Father’s Day gifts to them were tickets to see SOUTH PACIFIC at The Guthrie and a night in a hotel. Not part of the gift: Allegra looking at her feet.
We had a weekend in the Cities with Byron’s folks; our birthday/Mother’s/Father’s Day gifts to them were tickets to see SOUTH PACIFIC at The Guthrie and have a night in a hotel. Not part of the gift: Allegra looking at her feet.

Cousin Elijah moved to Salt Lake City a year ago, so his month-long return to Minnesota was An Occasion. Good news: he was worth the wait.
Cousin Elijah moved to Salt Lake City a year ago, so his month-long return to Minnesota was An Occasion. Good news: he was worth the wait.

Yard. Adolescents. Summer. Hey, this reminds me of the Gear Daddies song that goes “Summer vacation/Nothing on tv/No one home/Except for me/For me/Just sitting in my room/Got no money/Nothing to do/Stare at the ceiling/Sonic boom” — YOU GUYS, WHERE HAVE THE SONIC BOOMS GONE?
Yard. Adolescents. Summer. Hey, this reminds me of the Gear Daddies song that goes “Summer vacation/Nothing on tv/No one home/Except for me/For me/Just sitting in my room/Got no money/Nothing to do/Stare at the ceiling/Sonic boom” — YOU GUYS, WHERE HAVE THE SONIC BOOMS GONE?

Lake. Beach on the big sandbar. Cousin Elijah. Happy Paco. Simple math.
Lake. Beach on the big sandbar. Cousin Elijah. Happy Paco. Simple math.

Not only does she have a job and a driver’s license, she now has a look that yells, “I’ll be taking the ACT this year!”
Not only does she have a job and a driver’s license, she now has a look that yells, “I’ll be taking the ACT this year!”

Like the people in this photo, we decided not to be crabby 70-year-old men when it comes to the phenomenon of PokemonGO but, rather, to dive in and enjoy it. You know what’s super-big fun? Not being cranky about an innocent trend. If you’ve been rolling your eyes about PokemonGO, may I suggest this instead: target your crankies at the crushing frequency with which young black men are killed by law enforcement in this country?
Like the people in this photo, we decided not to be crabby 70-year-old men when it comes to the phenomenon of PokemonGO but, rather, to dive in and enjoy it. You know what’s super-big fun? Not being cranky about an innocent trend. If you’ve been rolling your eyes about PokemonGO, may I suggest this instead: target your crankies at the crushing frequency with which young black men are killed by law enforcement in this country?

I have long loved Clefairy. I have a song I sing about Clefairy. Cleeeeeee-fairy/Cleeeeee-fairy.
I have long loved Clefairy. I have a song I sing about Clefairy. Cleeeeeee-fairy/Cleeeeee-fairy.

Moreover, I have long loved these two fellows, both of whom, in this image, are demonstrating the evils of PokemonGO in action.
Moreover, I have long loved these two fellows, both of whom, in this image, are demonstrating the evils of PokemonGO in action.

One shoulder, the one with the scar, took me to physical therapy a couple of times a week. Then there was the shoulder with the kinesio tape — the “good” shoulder being the one that now hurts. In related news: this blog may soon become nothing more than a litany of my various decrepitudes. Yet, at the same time: I kind of want to start taking drum lessons.
One shoulder, the one with the scar, took me to physical therapy a couple of times a week. Then there was the shoulder with the kinesio tape — the “good” shoulder being the one that now hurts. In related news: this blog may soon become nothing more than a litany of my various decrepitudes. Yet, at the same time: I kind of want to start taking drum lessons.

My brother and his younger daughter, Sofia, came again this summer — both to visit us and to attend Camp Grandma at our aunt and uncle’s place. Sure, it’s great to see them, but moreso: it’s great to finally have some Peace Tea in the house.
My brother and his younger daughter, Sofia, came again this summer — both to visit us and to attend Camp Grandma at our aunt and uncle’s place. Sure, it’s great to see them, but moreso: it’s great to finally have some Peace Tea in the house.

I happen to have a pair of awesome suede wedge boots and a niece capable of rocking them. We enjoyed an extended photo shoot on the grounds.
I happen to have a pair of awesome suede wedge boots and a niece capable of rocking them. We enjoyed an extended photo shoot on the grounds.

We were five minutes into the photo shoot on the grounds when the real Sofia emerged.
We were five minutes into the photo shoot on the grounds when the real Sofia emerged.

The Camp Grandma crew at a local school for the annual Taste of Greece food festival. Spanakopita for everyone!
The Camp Grandma crew at a local school for the annual Taste of Greece food festival. Spanakopita for everyone!

When Camp Grandma was over, and we had brother and niece back in our possession, we talked Dear Sofia into trying her first 5K race. She and I walked and trotted it while she filled me in on her criteria for giving out her phone number to people who ask for it.
When Camp Grandma was over, and we had brother and niece back in our possession, we talked Dear Sofia into trying her first 5K race. She and I walked and trotted it while she filled me in on her criteria for giving out her phone number to people who ask for it.

Social media worked its magic once again when my college pal — actually more of a friend the year after graduation — Al stopped by to drop off some cement stepping stones he’d made. Al is a complete peach, and I quiver in happy anticipation at the thought of Byron teaching him to cross-stitch.
Social media worked its magic once again when my college pal — actually more of a friend the year after graduation — Al stopped by to drop off some cement stepping stones he’d made. Al is a complete peach, and I quiver in happy anticipation at the thought of Byron teaching him to cross-stitch.

Here’s the view out our front door, a few days after a crazy-ass storm (103 mph straight-line winds) blew through and destroyed our end of the city. Even now, more than a month later, that trunk is lying there, as are trees all over town. Thousands, including us, were without power for days. Indoor camping sucks only a little less than tent camping.
Here’s the view out our front door, a few days after a crazy-ass storm (103 mph straight-line winds) blew through and destroyed our end of the city. Even now, more than a month later, that trunk is lying there, as are trees all over town. Thousands, including us, were without power for days. Indoor camping sucks only a little less than tent camping.

After going for a run, Allegra and two of her friends dropped to the grass for a quick ab session. Again, when I check back with 16-year-old Jocelyn, I am reminded the narrative was more “I crawled on the grass because vodka.”
After going for a run, Allegra and two of her friends dropped to the grass for a quick ab session. Again, when I check back with 16-year-old Jocelyn, I am reminded the narrative was more “I crawled on the grass because vodka.”

AND THEN, the day my brother and Sofia left, our beloved friends from Turkey arrived! The sheets on their beds were still warm from the dryer, I tell you. So here’s Ileyn with diaper-wearing doggie Angel. In real life, they both fulfill the tantalizing promise of this picture.
AND THEN, the day my brother and Sofia left, our beloved friends from Turkey arrived! The sheets on their beds were still warm from the dryer, I tell you. So here’s Ileyn with diaper-wearing doggie Angel. In real life, they both fulfill the tantalizing promise of this picture.

Ileyn and kids Selin and John (in Turkish: Can) accompanied Allegra and me to a class at the YMCA. It was an ovary-buster of a class, and Selin rocked the damn thing.
Ileyn and kids Selin and John (in Turkish: Can) accompanied Allegra and me to a class at the YMCA. It was an ovary-buster of a class, and Selin rocked the damn thing.

So did Allegra and I. This was one of my first times back since shoulder surgery in March. I’m easing into doing plank — still a ways off from push-ups — and will never lose the talent for shaking like a diapered poodle when I’m balancing on an upside-down Bosu ball.
So did Allegra and I. This was one of my first times back since shoulder surgery in March. I’m easing into doing plank — still a ways off from push-ups — and will never lose the talent for shaking like a diapered poodle when I’m balancing on an upside-down Bosu ball.

Meanwhile, just over my right shoulder, John was making a friend.
Meanwhile, just over my right shoulder, John was making a friend.

John makes all the friends. Several years ago, actually, he declared Allegra was his girlfriend. It’s going well. They never fight.
John makes all the friends. Several years ago, actually, he declared Allegra was his girlfriend. It’s going well. They never fight.

Like you’re supposed to change out of your workout clothes before you make brownies?
Like you’re supposed to change out of your workout clothes before you make brownies?

John doesn’t mind Uncle Byron, either. It was great fun to introduce the Turks to paddle boarding — the same way they introduced us to the concept of sitting on a picnic blanket in front of the television and eating “durum.” Mmmmm. Durum.
John doesn’t mind Uncle Byron, either. It was great fun to introduce the Turks to paddle boarding — the same way they introduced us to the concept of sitting on a picnic blanket in front of the television and eating “durum.” Mmmmm. Durum.

hat’s the whole crew out there, with Ileyn’s stance owning the harbor like a boss.
That’s the whole crew out there, with Ileyn’s stance owning the harbor like a boss.

Yes, Uncle Byron will take you out into the water, John. You don’t have to ask, with impeccable manners, twice.
Yes, Uncle Byron will take you out into the water, John. You don’t have to ask, with impeccable manners, twice.

I MEAN, COME ON.
I MEAN, COME ON.

If the Turkish pals know they love squeaky fresh cheese curds, the least an Uncle Byron can do is fry some up and blow all the minds with this new variation.
If the Turkish pals know they love squeaky fresh cheese curds, the least an Uncle Byron can do is fry some up and blow all the minds with this new variation.

An hour and a half after the Turks left, so did we. For eight days in Europe. On a cruise of the Danube with my brother and mom (she treated us, as an 81st birthday present to herself). During our four-hour layover in the Paris airport, we still had cheese curds digesting in our bellies.
An hour and a half after the Turks left, so did we — for eight days in Europe, on a cruise of the Danube with my brother and mom (she treated us, as an 81st birthday present to herself). During our four-hour layover in the Paris airport, we still had cheese curds digesting in our bellies.

Once we all converged in Nuremberg, we were transported to the ship, whereupon we clamored to the top floor and admired what a hulking beast my brother is.
Once we all converged in Nuremberg, we were transported to the ship, whereupon we clambered to the top floor and admired the hulking beast that is my brother.

The ship went through, hmmm, 27 locks on its way down the Danube. This is what it looks like when my boys are working on their cross-stitching and going through a lock.
The ship went through, hmmm, 27 locks on its way down the Danube. This is what it looks like when my boys are working on their cross-stitching and going through a lock.

Cruise director Julie McCoy hooked us up on the Lido Deck.
Cruise director Julie McCoy hooked us up on the Lido Deck.

If you are a business owner, I recommend you hire my daughter. This is the Note to Self she tucked behind the key in her and Paco’s state room — because she didn’t want to forget anything when she got up, jet lagged, in the morning.
If you are a business owner, I recommend you hire my daughter. This is the Note to Self she tucked behind the key in her and Paco’s state room — because she didn’t want to forget anything when she got up, jet lagged, in the morning.

My mom loves a tour guide. Does she necessarily recall the information from the tour later? No, she does not. Does that matter? No, it does not.
My mom loves a tour guide. Does she necessarily recall the information from the tour later? No, she does not. Does that matter? No, it does not.

What tourists?
What tourists?

Listen, if some German cities have a rivalry about who makes the best sausage, it’s only fair to jump in to the controversy and do a fair sampling. Verdict: ALL SAUSAGES ARE GOOD, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU TUCK THREE LITTLE ONES INTO A SINGLE BUN.
Listen, if some German cities have a rivalry about who makes the best sausage, it’s only fair to jump in to the controversy and do a fair sampling. Verdict: ALL SAUSAGES ARE GOOD, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU TUCK THREE LITTLE ONES INTO A SINGLE BUN.

Onboard musician Peter surely knows how to slow any tune by Martha & the Vandellas to a dirge-like pace. Because he’s AN ARTIST.
Onboard musician Peter surely knows how to slow any tune by Martha & the Vandellas to a dirge-like pace. Because he’s AN ARTIST.

These door guards went hogwild on Jagermeister last night.
These door guards went hogwild on Jagermeister last night.

One of many things European countries do right: rely on bicycles more than cars. Also: make their buildings look shabby chic — don’t you just want to pop over to Pier One and buy this facade?
One of many things European countries do right: rely on bicycles more than cars. Also: make their buildings look shabby chic — don’t you just want to pop over to Pier One and buy this facade?

Bubble Man was excited to share his soap with the masses.
Bubble Man was excited to share his soap with the masses.

…until my mom and brother literally burst his bubble.
…until my mom and brother literally burst his bubble.

You can’t take Paco and me anywhere.
You can’t take Paco and me anywhere.

During the afternoon in Passau, Germany, our family of four went on a walk down the river and up an impressive hill. This view was the payoff.
During the afternoon in Passau, Germany, our family of four went on a walk down the river and up an impressive hill. This view was the payoff.

This is from the artists’ alley in Passau, where colorful cobbles lead people to the doors of artists.
This is from the artists’ alley in Passau, where colorful cobbles lead people to the doors of artists.

This is Gottweig Abbey outside of Krems, Austria. There’s my mom, brother (so itchy!), Byron, and Paco.
This is Gottweig Abbey outside of Krems, Austria. There’s my mom, brother (so itchy!), Byron, and Paco.

And there’s Allegra.
And there’s Allegra.

What do we learn from this photo of Mom with two of her grandkids? My mom likes a statement necklace; Allegra’s hair looks great under lights; and Paco will use every button on a shirt.
What do we learn from this photo of Mom with two of her grandkids? My mom likes a statement necklace; Allegra’s hair looks great under lights; and Paco will use every button on a shirt.

AUTHENTIC.
AUTHENTIC.

He’s always feisty, this accordion player, but never moreso than when his kneesocks start to sag.
He’s always feisty, this accordion player, but never moreso than when his kneesocks start to sag.

The cruise ship did a good job with food quality overall, and you did not hear me complaining the night we sat down to pretzels and a charcuterie board.
The cruise ship did a good job with food quality overall, and you did not hear me complaining the night we sat down to pretzels and a charcuterie board.

Our family of four used our free afternoon in Vienna to visit a bustling market and have lunch. We could have visited this market as one of the “extra tours” from the ship (usually about $80/person), but we went ahead and did a thing called looking at a map, hopping on the subway, and getting there ourselves for, hmmm, $1.50/person.
Our family of four used our free afternoon in Vienna to visit a bustling market and have lunch. We could have visited this market as one of the “extra tours” from the ship (usually about $80/person), but we went ahead and did a thing called looking at a map, hopping on the subway, and getting there ourselves for, hmmm, $1.50/person.

Egad, but we love public transportation.
Public transportation does the trick.

We LOVED touring the opera house in Vienna. My guess is that at least 345 illicit liaisons have taken place in the boxes over the years. If you ever meet an Austrian girl named “Opera,” now you have a mental picture of where she was conceived.
We LOVED touring the opera house in Vienna. My guess is that at least 345 illicit liaisons have taken place in the boxes over the years. If you ever meet an Austrian girl named “Opera,” now you have a mental picture of where she was conceived.

Much was made of Vienna’s coffee and cafe culture. Here’s Paco’s coffee and Sachertorte. Onboard, all regional cakes on the trip were accompanied by the warning, “It’s a little dry, but a scoop of ice cream on the side will help.” OKAY.
Much was made of Vienna’s coffee and cafe culture. Here’s Paco’s coffee and Sachertorte. Onboard, all regional cakes on the trip were accompanied by the warning, “It’s a little dry, but a scoop of ice cream on the side will help.” OKAY.

When you stop and consider How They Did That Way Back When, and it blows your mind.
When you stop and consider How They Did That Way Back When, and it blows your mind.

Shuffleboard at dusk! I know these photos make it seem like we played a lot of shuffleboard, but the truth is that the top deck was closed for much of the journey so that passengers weren’t decapitated by low-hanging bridges.
Shuffleboard at dusk! I know these photos make it seem like we played a lot of shuffleboard, but the truth is that the top deck was closed for much of the journey so that passengers weren’t decapitated by low-hanging bridges.

A week of this never sucked.
A week of this never sucked.

Vasile, our room cleaner, wore testicle-revealing tight white pants and proved himself a whiz at making towel animals. I wasn’t sure what this thing was supposed to be, actually, until Vasile whizzed by our open door and quipped, “What’s up, Doc?”
Vasile, our room cleaner, wore testicle-revealing tight white pants and proved himself a whiz at making towel animals. I wasn’t sure what this thing was supposed to be, actually, until Vasile whizzed by our open door and quipped, “What’s up, Doc?”

Look, it’s three generations. Can you believe it’s three generations? That’s what the drunk lady from Virginia who often sat the table next to us during dinner would say every g.d. time she saw us.
Look, it’s three generations. Can you believe it’s three generations? That’s what the drunk lady from Virginia who often sat the table next to us during dinner would say every g.d. time she saw us.

Unquestionably, my favorite thing from the whole trip was Paco’s delight at having coins in his pocket. One day, not having a place to put some change, I asked Paco if we could dump it into his shorts pocket. And thus a passion was born. He took more joy in the tactile sensation of those coins — coupled with the feeling that he could buy something, if he wanted to — than in anything else on the entire tour. Six times a day, he’d exhale while jingling, “I just love these coins so much.”
Unquestionably, my favorite thing from the whole trip was Paco’s delight at having coins in his pocket. One day, not having a place to put some change, I asked Paco if we could dump it into his shorts pocket. And thus a passion was born. He took more joy in the tactile sensation of those coins — coupled with the feeling that he could buy something, if he wanted to — than in anything else on the entire tour. Six times a day, he’d exhale while jingling, “I just love these coins so much.”

Budapest’s bridges got it goin’ on.
Budapest’s bridges got it goin’ on.

The final night of the cruise, the staff handed everyone a shot of “Palinka” (it’ll kill what ails you) and took us on an after-dark chug up and down the river, to see all the buildings lit up.
The final night of the cruise, the staff handed everyone a shot of “Palinka” (it’ll kill what ails you) and took us on an after-dark chug up and down the river, to see all the buildings lit up.

On the last day of the trip, we went to the thermal baths in Budapest. There were something like 12 pools of different shapes, sizes, and temperatures. This, too, was a potential “extra” tour from the ship — but we, again, just got on the subway and saved a bunch of $$. The ticket machine in the underground was broken, so Byron was a hero and ran around a huge city square to find a store selling subway tickets. When he finally returned, he was sweaty, and you know it’s good travel when Byron gets sweaty.
On the last day of the trip, we went to the thermal baths in Budapest. There were something like 12 pools of different shapes, sizes, and temperatures. This, too, was a potential “extra” tour from the ship — but we, again, just got on the subway and saved a bunch of $$. The ticket machine in the underground was broken, so Byron was a hero and ran around a huge city square to find a store selling subway tickets. When he finally returned, he was sweaty, and you know it’s good travel when Byron gets sweaty.

As John from Turkey would say, these guys are “livin’ the life!”
As John from Turkey would say, these guys are “livin’ the life!”

We had a dumb-long return journey home and were outrageously grateful to the Paris airport for providing these chairs. I tucked my earbuds in and fell asleep right quick.
We had a dumb-long return journey home and were outrageously grateful to the Paris airport for providing these chairs. I tucked my earbuds in and fell asleep right quick.

Upon returning home, Paco started to consider what he might make for this year’s art sale, which he uses as a personal fundraiser. Since he would eventually like to get a better graphics card in his computer, he is making these little monsters out of clay, readying them for sale at the end of August. When I try to make little guys out of the same clay, it becomes apparent how very gifted Paco is.
Upon returning home, Paco started to consider what he might make for this year’s art sale, which he uses as a personal fundraiser. Since he would eventually like to get a better graphics card in his computer, he is making these little monsters out of clay, readying them for sale at the end of August. When I try to make little guys out of the same clay, it becomes apparent how very gifted Paco is.

While we were in Europe, some nice construction guys made our home equity loan worthwhile when they tore down our jinky staircase and built a new one, also adding in a wee deck. So now, as summer reaches its end, we take coffee and books out to these chairs. Setting a spell, we lean our heads back, watch the squirrels scrabbling high in a tree, and marvel at our great good fortune.
While we were in Europe, some nice construction guys made our home equity loan worthwhile when they tore down our jinky staircase and built a new one, also adding in a wee deck. So now, as summer reaches its end, we take coffee and books out to these chairs. Setting a spell, we lean our heads back, watch the squirrels scrabbling high in a tree, and marvel at our great good fortune.

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travel

Faces of Nicaragua

As a family who doesn’t draw energy from the holidays but twirls with hands to the sky at the notion of taking a trip, the choice was easy:

we flew to Nicaragua for Christmas and New Year’s.

So far, we’ve eaten plantain chips and yucca; tried the famous seven-year rum; felt the bottoms of our feet chafe raw as they swell and sweat in the humidity; seen both tin shantytowns and a multi-story galleria; eased our bodies into the cooling blue of the swimming pool; lost and won at Farkle; sat dully for two hours as we ate fantastic steaks delivered to our table with terrible service; maneuvered a shopping cart through a standing-room-only grocery store on Christmas Eve; gotten dizzy from seven different salsa songs playing from seven different windows simultaneously; and enjoyed the colonial architecture in the city of Leon.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

Of course, for me, staring at facades affords a limited type of pleasure. Given an hour in a central square, a camera, and a chance to gawk at every pair of sandals, every cutie baby, every ice cream seller trying to make a few cordobas, I’ll take people watching any day.

Always, everywhere, it’s the people.1451098057674

The first night, when we flew into Managua, the shuttle for our hotel picked us up and transported us to the place where we could finally let our bodies–exhausted at 11 p.m. after a 2:40 a.m. wake-up–collapse.

The bell boy, a compact man of sixty, got his instructions from the woman at the reception desk, grabbed two of our three big bags in his hands, and marched us over, through, around, up, around again, and down before plopping us in front of a door. Looking at us, he gestured “You have the key?”

Key? No, no one had given us a key.

Sighging deeply, he grabbed the two heavy bags again, retraced the route back to the desk, and asked for clarification. Hands waved in the air, and he nodded in understanding.

Grabbing our bags, he led us off in the complete opposite direction, depositing us in front of a different door.

No, wait, what? Wrong room again.

The parade of us, led by a confused man trying to do right, wound back to the reception desk.

More pointing and hand waving. OHHHH! THAT room? OOOHHH!

Naturally, the correct room, which we landed at on our third attempt, required a climb up a set of stairs to get to the main door and then another climb up a second set once inside.

Somehow, despite how intimate we’d all become during our meanders around the property, he managed to ghost out the door before Byron or I could slip him the sweaty tips we’d been clutching.

Ah, people.

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The next day, at a gas station near our hotel, a station with an ATM inside of it, the kids and I perused the snack aisle and marveled at the bright, happy packaging. As I took out my phone to snap a picture of a package of cookies that promised to pack a real “ponch,” I saw a guy paying for gas look at me like I’d escaped from the zoo.

People.

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Later that day, during a two-hour shuttle ride from Managua to Leon, our friendly driver said a few words to us and then settled in to the road. We four craned our necks this-a-way and that for the duration, and I reflected more than once that I love it when people can be quiet together.

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When we arrived in Leon, we were greeted with great hospitality by the young woman working the front desk of our next hotel. As we waited to complete the check-in process, we sat in big stuffed chairs next to the foliage-full courtyard. Our hostess asked if we wanted coffee, and when I panted “Yes” and followed her to the pot, I saw that there was no cream or milk, which is a fundamental component of my java happiness.

When I asked this young woman if milk was possible, she said yes but then looked hard at me for a minute, wondering how stern was my stuff, telegraphing a certain concern: “But it will be from the refrigerator, so it will be very, very cold.”1451097318467

As we completed checking in at the Leon hotel, the proprietor arrived and came in to say hello. His glasses frames’ steel, rectangular, assertive funkiness marked him as European.

Indeed, he and his wife left France for Nicaragua three years ago. When I asked if they would ever return to live in France, he said, “My wife might, but I won’t,” thereby telling me more about his marriage than is usually gleaned in the first sixty seconds.

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As I continued to chat with the proprietor, I asked him why he would never return to France. His response:

“1. The president
2. The French”

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In the central square of Leon, a sweet-seeming man, wanting to practice the English he is studying at the university, attempted to engage Byron in conversation. The kids and I actively dodged getting involved, leaving poor Byron to riddle out whether “daughter” actually meant “wife” and wonder if he had suddenly landed on a Utah compound.

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Every time we enter or exit our hotel, the front gate is locked or unlocked for us by the woman working reception. The key hangs on the back of the big wooden door that can be closed at night. The whole system is so Old World charming that I’m thinking of looking for whalebone so I can start wearing stays.

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The Dutch-looking couple at the supermarket just beat a rundown-feeling Paco and Jocelyn to two of the last three cold bottles of Coke Zero.

Dutch-looking people are always exactly where I don’t want them to be.

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A Canadian guy who drank too much on Christmas Eve and paid too much for a bar of Hershey’s chocolate, if you ask him, which we didn’t, approached us as we sought a break from the sun on a shady bench.

I almost applauded when he used the most “oooo” vowel sound ever in “Google” and then ended the sentence with “eh?”

I was left feeling he wouldn’t have taken two of the last three bottles of cold Coke Zero, had he seen Paco and me wilting our way towards relief.

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The same waiter who paid us no attention for the two hours while we sat at a table in his section certainly had a full 12 minutes to discuss wine and the menu with the three young travelers who came in an hour after us.

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The filet mignon wrapped in bacon and topped with mushroom sauce, served with lassitude by the negligent waiter, was superb.

He’s lucky I do not take an excellent steak lightly.

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The British couple staying in the room above us appears to enjoy a rousing round of ten-pin bowling at 8 a.m., based on the loud rolling sounds echoing across their floor.

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When I’ve asked the night clerk at the reception desk for some ice, she disappears into the Employees Only kitchen, and after a twenty second silence, I hear her using what sounds like a pick axe to attack the glacier they apparently keep in there.

With the triceps she’s built up from the job, I daresay she could be a fearsome serial killer.

Good thing she weighs 80 pounds. Gives us a fighting chance.

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The Italian hotel guests spend, truthfully, six hours a day in their teensy suits, lounging next to the pool. Clearly, they need their fix of sun before returning to the gloomy skies of Tuscany.

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A woman who runs a “You think of it, we’ll fry it” joint a couple of doors down from the hotel was hanging out on the sidewalk, a boiling vat of oil doing its job on some plantains, when she tried to call our family in to eat. We smiled and kept moving, at which point she shifted into a technique wherein she labeled what had just walked by her door:”Mami! Papi! Ninos!”

Nailed it.

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The daddies in Nicaragua are very on the job with their kids. While the mothers hang off to the side or totter along in tandem on five-inch heels, it’s Papi who carries, chases, feeds tiny mouthfuls, plays hide-n-seek, and puts his hands on the baby.

So I guess what I’m saying is: hey, ladies, go ahead and have unprotected sex with a Nicaraguan guy.

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After shouting my order over the counter at a busy mom-n-pop store, the sweet mom, shoulder-to-shoulder with Pop, told me how much we owed her. To me, it sounded like “Some number, maybe a four but possibly a five at the end.” So I looked to Byron, who’s had some Spanish, but he hadn’t heard her. Then I looked to Allegra and Paco, both of whom are taking Spanish, and repeated what I’d heard. Since it had essentially become a game of Telephone, Allegra could only take a stab at what the cost was.

Still unsure, I turned back to Mom and Pop and held up my fingers, “A six and then a four?”

I was laughing, Mom was laughing, and so was the mustachioed guy to my left. He did a slow, mocking headshake, like, “Seriously, there are four of you, and you can’t figure out 64?” In return, before I considered it too deeply, I tossed him and elbow and gave him a good thump in the ribs.

In that moment, he felt like my brother.1451097772732So.

Yea.

Always, everywhere, it’s the people.
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travel

Get a Job

Wayne County Community College

I slip into the high school classroom a few minutes late–hell if I could find Room 3031, tucked back there in the Foreign Languages suite. Since when do high schools have “suites”? Did the demise of the smoking lounge make way for the rise of the language suite?

Most of the chairs are occupied already, so I whisper “Excuse me. Sorry!” a few times as I step over legs, hunching, attempting to minimize my certainly-not-a-sophomore frame as it moves through the rows of plastic chairs. I don’t want to block anyone’s view of The Senora.

She’s sitting on her desk, carefully casual while welcoming both parents and students to the informational meeting about next summer’s travel abroad program. As my rump lands in an open seat, she is gesturing to a slide being projected on the Smart Board at the front of the room.

I’m a terrible audience member when slides are projected. Instead of taking in the information, I spend the time sitting on my hands so that they don’t wave wildly in the air. Were the presenter, upon seeing my raised hand, to call on me, I would become her least-favorite person in the room, for I would offer, a tidge too loudly, “You need an apostrophe at the end of students; it’s both plural and possessive, you see.”

Then, as long as I had the floor, I wouldn’t be able to refrain from, “Also, you need to capitalize europe. Names of continents are capitalized. I’m sure you knew that but somehow missed seeing it when you proofread the slides before tonight’s presentation.”

In the space of ten seconds, my helpful notes would freeze the presenter–who, let’s be honest, never proofread her slides–while simultaneously casting a pall over the room. Clearly, it’s essential that I sit on my hands during presentations, particularly those given by educators who can’t write a clean sentence.

It’s the least I can do, this business of refraining from blowhardy corrections, especially since, when I sign a field trip permission form, I edit the thing and send it back signed and with a full mark-up of the errors.

There is this: I give the teachers something besides the principal to complain about. You are welcome, The Principal. As a resentment deflector, I’m here for you.

So there I sit in the Spanish classroom, hands shoved under my glutes, taking in the scene. In under a minute, the feeling of restraining my impulses so as to not create trouble; the cloying atmosphere created by feel-good posters peppering the walls; the tension between wanting to chat with my neighbors while knowing I should pay attention to the teacher; the hope that if I hold one eyebrow down, I might learn to raise the other, elegantly, archly; the subcurrent of “I should care more about this topic than I actually do” making my shoulders sag; the drifting of my brain to Paisley Park and wondering if I will ever dance with Prince there,

all are eerily familiar hallmarks of time spent corralled in a hard high school chair.

Slumped on the plastic, resting cheek on fist, groaning inwardly at the hokey phrases The Senora has cross-stitched into the samplers that stretch across the whiteboard’s eraser tray, I am 16 again.

My eyes read:

Nice Cross Stitch

My mind responds:

Cross Stitch 16

No doubt.

I am the worst student in the room.

The other parents and the few random teenagers attending the meeting are into it. Naturally and easily, they are accepting and interested in the discussion about how travel abroad can create friendships for a lifetime. They jot down the suggestion that teens on the trip bring along $65-$100 per day for spending money, preferably on a Visa gift card. They ask questions about how many students will fit on the bus, the number of tour guides, the range of cell phone service. They nod appreciatively when The Senora assures them, a measure of scorn in her tone, that while the kids won’t be staying in five-star hotels, the accommodations will still be quite good: “It’s not like they’ll have a bathroom down the hall or something.”

A body language analyst’s dream, I fold my arms across my chest. Really? These kids will need $65-$100 per day for spending money? Certainly, I understand not all meals will be provided and that they might want to buy souvenirs. But $1000 spending money for a 16-year-old on a ten-day trip?

As the conversation continues, my arms tighten across my chest. My right leg crosses over my left knee.

Really? Parents and teen travelers are worried that the group from our high school will have to share a bus with groups of teens from other schools around the country? Really? They need assurance that a quorum of trained natives in each country will be handling the actual speaking and communication? Really? They despair that their family cell phone plan won’t cover unlimited daily conversations with their children?

My right foot twitches in the air.

Really? Everyone in the room is relieved that their kids won’t have to walk down the hall to use the toilet?

Hearing all this, my inner Sid Vicious loads up a syringe and methodically pushes the plunger into his rail-thin arm. Three minutes later, as he falls unconscious, his bladder releases, saturating the mattress in Room 822 of the Chelsea Hotel.

Sid may have escaped the meeting, but the rest of me remains alert, teetering between annoyance and amusement. Uncrossing my legs, I shift forward on the unforgiving chair, resting my heels on the book basket below, and apply myself even more fervently to archly lifting a single eyebrow. REALLY?

Well, yes, of course.

It’s not like my daughter attends a tough school. In fact, she attends a privileged, dominantly white, well-off school, the kind of school where taking a crew of kids on a trip to Europe (europe) is possible–expected, even. Of course these are the discussions that take place in the language suite at such a school.

And it’s not like I am truly stunned by the topics being discussed. All of it is standard stuff, aimed at promoting the trip as a safe, well-planned, positive experience.

Nor am I genuinely some sort of misfit in the crowd. In lifestyle, geography, background, and culture, these are my people.

The only thing that is a misfit is my attitude.

This is a common problem.

I can walk into a friendly meeting, an hour meant to clarify plans and answer questions, and within three minutes, my inner Sid Vicious is crawling on all fours towards a used syringe, praying to OD.

My attitude is a damn punk. The rest of me, at best, is aspirationally punk. I like thick-soled shoes, angry music, and a good Fuck You. But, really, to be honest? I’m not so much with needing to pierce, break, neglect, and savage things. I definitely don’t need anyone to whale on me in the mosh pit, either, because owie.

Instead, I’m a Privilege Punk, a woman who snarls in her head while swirling the nutmeg on top of her latte, a woman who reads about Henry Rollins and Black Flag while sitting in a bathroom full of Aveda products, a woman who blasts The Buzzcocks while typing feedback to students about their inability to follow rules.

Indeed. There is something annoying in the language suite at the parent meeting. ‘Tisn’t The Cross-Stitching Senora. ‘Tisn’t the assurances that our children will travel without stress. ‘Tisn’t the other parents, hoping to nail down the details so that they can provide their teens with something they, themselves, didn’t have.

Rather, the annoying thing in the parent meeting breezed in late, sat on her hands, and cheered for the unfolding tragedy of Sid.

It occurs to the annoying thing that maybe she can shape up. Stop pretending to be counter-culture simply because she’s okay with travelers walking down the hall to use the bathroom. Uncross her arms. Stuff her 16-year-old self into a locker.

For 15 bright, upbeat seconds, I do it. I become kind, open, receptive, connected. Instead of correcting The Senora’s slides, I try appreciating how much energy she is bringing to this end-of-day meeting. Even better, I realize that if I mentally white-out her hair and focus on only her face, SHE LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE MY SISTER. Same eyes, same skin, same everything. Whoa.

But then, peripherally, I see on the wall a poster of a kitty. Hanging in there.

In the same moment, someone asks a question about fundraising to offset the cost of the trip, and The Senora tosses up her hands and says, “Fundraising is totally possible. We did a couple things last year–I think five students worked the day we had a car wash, and they each made about $40.”

The car washers had made out better than the kids who volunteered to work at a protein shake shop a different morning–my girl included–each of them netting a cool $6 for their mornings’ efforts.

Continuing, The Senora announces, “I won’t be organizing any other fundraisers, but you could have a garage sale or come up with other ideas, for sure. Whatever you want to do, you should go for it.”

I find myself admiring The Senora in that moment. In a very passive Minnesota way, she is telling the fundraiser enthusiasts to fuck off in their efforts to take over her life by expecting her to orchestrate money-making activities for their kids.

Her message is slow to sink in.

“Have any of you done a pizza fundraiser before?” asks the brown bob next to me. “Like, on a Wednesday, the kids go work at Papa Murphy’s, and they get 5% of the sales.”

With great equilibrium, The Senora affirms, “Yes. I’ve heard of that. If you’d like to call Papa Murphy’s and arrange that, I’m sure some of the kids would benefit.”

The pizza fundraiser discussion gains momentum, with three other women chiming in, “They do something like that at Sammy’s, too” and “Oh, my son’s hockey team did that at Pizza Hut” and “I know Little Caesar’s has a link on their website for fundraising.” As their words fade away, they look expectantly at The Senora who, again, says, “If you want to call those places, you should. You can make a plan for the kids.”

The fact that no one in the room realizes they are being told to fuck off is beautiful. The Senora? Is kind of a badass. Suddenly, in her, I see a Nancy to my Sid.

For the first time that evening, I wish I had pen and paper to take notes.

With 95% of attendees still oblivious to the “Fuck you, fundraiser zealots” subtext, ideas continue to pour out.

To a fantastic degree, I am with The Cross-Stitching Senora: uninterested in, recoiling from, rolling my eyes at fundraising. C’mon over, Nancy; have a perch on Sid’s knee. It’s bony, and his wasted skeleton won’t be able to support you for more than a few puffs on a blunt before he sends you sliding to the floor, but c’mon over, Nance. Give us a cuddle.

The business of fundraising starts early in schools these days, when kindergarteners are sent home from school clutching packets of catalogs, order forms, and listings of prizes they can win if they are effective at emotionally blackmailing their grandparents into buying wrapping paper and frozen artichoke dip.

For the first few years, we tried. We blackmailed relations, guilted neighbors, convinced ourselves we NEEDED a little red clay thing to put into our brown sugar container so that it would stay soft.

The whole thing felt bizarre. Wrong. Bad. At some point, we decided to take a page from Sid’s book and “Undermine their pompous authority, reject their moral standards, make anarchy and disorder your trademarks. Cause as much chaos and disruption as possible but don’t let them take you ALIVE.”

We talked to our kids, explained why selling crap to people who don’t want it is disingenuous and a convoluted type of profiteering. We talked about understanding that schools’ budgets had been cut, and therefore families were being asked to contribute more. We talked about opting to write a check and drop it off with the nice lady in the front office. We talked about recycling the fundraiser packets the day they came home.

Without protest, we had complete buy-in on our new approach of, um, making anarchy and disorder our trademarks. Every last one of us was relieved.

So. No. To. The. Fundraising.

Thus, when our daughter approached us about going on this school trip next summer, we had clarity. The cost was not something our finances would bear. We would not be selling junk to help her raise funds. She would need to earn the money herself.

Because she is diligent and always on-task, she immediately started gaming out the finances. If the group of kids did fundraisers, she intended to participate. Until, well, she learned a big lesson after a morning of not really making protein shakes and not really making money. More fruitfully, yes, we would allow her to tap into love and apply that emotion to a grandma and step-grandpa. She could use some of last Christmas’ gift money from my mom; she could accept a generous check from my mom’s husband. As is the way with grandparents, they were delighted to be of help, and all the better that they didn’t have to order a clutch of holiday-themed dishtowels as part of the bargain. Their support would get her a quarter of the way to the final amount.

The next step was finding a source of income. Last spring, we drove her around the city, stopping at 20, 30, maybe 40 businesses likely to hire a 15-year-old. We brainstormed; we asked other teens; she made lists. Often, after working up her courage to walk into a restaurant or store and ask for an application, she came out empty-handed, explaining, “They only hire 16 and older.”

Eventually, she accrued a stack of applications, filled them out, returned them. She had an interview at Dairy Queen. Crickets.

Ah, but then. She scored an interview with a popular, established sandwich shop. The manager called. She would start the following week.

Throughout the summer and still, now, during the school year, my daughter works as a dishwasher. She scrubs the soup pots, carves the congealed cheese off the nacho plates, breaks the occasional pint glass. She clocks in and out. At the same time, she runs cross-country, does her homework, takes babysitting jobs. She deposits her paychecks into our bank account, from which payments for the trip are made each month.

She has sketched out her past and projected wages and will hit her target.

When she rides with her friends on a big bus through Italy, Germany, Switzerland next summer, she will have earned the hell out of that trip.

These are my thoughts as I sit in the Spanish classroom, watching The Senora duck while fundraising ideas are thrown at her. Only now, it’s not just the parents who are tossing out ideas.

Excitedly, a teenager in the room waves her hand. Frick. Is she about to point out that missing apostrophe on Slide One and steal my thunder?

Nope. She has an idea. For fundraising. Which she’s been doing for the last few months.

She’s been selling scented candles to friends and family and strangers who didn’t realize they needed more scented candles in their lives until she showed them her catalog of scented candles.

As this perky girl speaks, the Sid in the back of my brains reaches over Nancy’s slack body and grabs an unscented candle from the windowsill. Clicking his lighter repeatedly–damn thing’s about out of fluid–he gets enough spark to light the wick.

Then, locking eyes with the scented teen as she explains the details of Pumpkin Spice and Gingerbread Maple and Berry Trifle, Sid moves his palm over the candle’s flame. Holds it there. Watches, transfixed, as his skin changes shade.

Little knowing she’s engaged in a grudge match with Sid Vicious, the burbly scented candle girl wraps up her spiel. A minute later, The Senora wraps up the meeting. Licking his palm, Sid leans over and, with a puff, extinguishes the flame and his presence in my head.

Released from the room, I don’t need him any more.

What I need now is to get my bearings and look at my daughter’s daily schedule. It’s almost time for that night’s Open House to commence. I’ll be attending First Period (Honors English!) by myself, as my husband has a work commitment. He and I will hook up in Second Period, and by hook up, I mean HOOK UP.

Who says I can’t go back and do high school right this time around?

Fourteen minutes and two shortened class periods later, my husband and I wander the halls together, trying to find the stairs down to the band room. In the process, we pass the suite of language rooms.

Hissing to him, I say, “We gotta whizz through these hallways for a quick sec. I need you to stick your head into The Senora’s room and take a particular gander at her. Your job here is to hold up your fingers so that they cover her hair. Just look at her face. She totally has my sister’s face, right?”

SHE DOES.

Making goofy expressions at each other, feeling startlingly at home in the corridors of the high school, we grab hands and, like the head drum major and majorette, tumble down the stairs to band.

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A few hours later, I’m chatting with my daughter, debriefing her on the evening. Yes, I understand her feelings about her English teacher, noting that I do like the lady’s glasses. Oh, yea, we really liked her math teacher. And do not even get me started on the awesomeness of her AP U.S. History teacher.

Eventually, she asks what I learned in the parent meeting for the trip to Europe. ONLY THAT THE SENORA LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE HER AUNT. THAT’S WHAT. Oh, and also a few other things about buses and bathrooms. Plus, there’s a lot of talk of fundraising.

My girl and I take a quiet moment to roll our eyes and exhale disgustedly.

I mention the perky candle seller, which elicits an even more dramatic eye roll. “Yea,” my daughter tells me, “she’s been pushing those candles for months now.”

“I wanted to stand up and shout about the fact that scented candles are actually bad for you,” I added. “It was all I could do not to yell, ‘Those candles do terrible things to people’s lungs.'”

Feeling me, my daughter agrees. “She’s always talking about this fundraiser she’s doing, and I always want to tell her, ‘Hey, if you’re trying to earn money, here’s a tip:

…get a job.'”

And with that suggestion–one that recommends a very traditional path to success–I realize something.

In her willingness to challenge the dominant mindset, to question the legitimacy of group thinking, to look at her peers with skepticism, to reject the energy in the room,

my reliable, studious, self-disciplined fifteen-year-old

is a bit of a punk herself.

 

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