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Gertrude

The weather has been so lovely that I’ve been able to spend my work days out on the balcony, the little dogs at my feet, and a family of house finches squabbling over my shoulder.  They don’t mind me at all. The big orange feeder full of black oil sunflower seeds is far too wonderful to ignore just because there is a large possible predator mammal sitting a mere three feet away.

Gertrude

This is Gertrude.  As in Stein, of course.  She’s a house finch and she is very brave. I call her mate Atticus (I have to thank Kate for that one) and I know he’s Gertrude’s mate because they always fly in together. But they never eat at the same time, oh no.  Gertrude is very particular and insists that Atticus wait on a nearby lantern while she and her best girlfriend Anastasia eat their fill.  Atticus isn’t particularly fond of this arrangement.  He gets impatient and will frequently drop off of the lantern, wings spread, toes aimed at the lip of the feeder. When Gertrude realizes he’s left his post (the nerve!) she flaps her wings furiously and squawks at him, sending him back to the lantern in a flurry of feathers. This will happen two or three times, he drops, she squawks and flaps, till finally she’s sick of it and follows him to the lantern, wings beating, squawk! Squawk! Squawk! Now he knows he’s in trouble so he flies to the next lantern, a little further away. Gertrude circles him once, squawks a final warning, and goes back to finish her meal. When I move to pick up my coffee, the females startle and fly off in a spray of seeds. Atticus will dart from the lantern to the lip of the feeder, just long enough to grab a mouthful of seeds before he’s off after the girls.

They have such lovely and complicated lives. Like us.

Or else I am totally anthropomorphizing.

Housekeeping

This week I paid someone to clean my apartment.

I was really nervous about it. Hiring someone to do something that is my responsibility felt like a reflection of my personal shortcomings. And a terrible waste of money. Why pay someone to do something I’m perfectly capable of doing? Help is a threat! If I need help something is wrong with me. And then of course I was worried she would judge me or think I was a filthy pig, so I spent all weekend fighting the urge to scrub the apartment before she came over.

It’s not that I mind doing the housework. I actually really enjoy it. (Except for the part where I have to put my hand in a toilet.) It’s time I spend nurturing my little nest. Making sure all the pillows are fluffed and the towels are clean. I use the time to think and reflect and when I’m finished I feel like I’ve accomplished something really valuable. Plus, I love the way everything shines. And Mike is great about housework, always willing to help, and actually, he’s better about some of the chores than I am. So really, there is no excuse for someone to have to come in and clean our apartment for us. We are perfectly capable of cleaning this apartment.

But suddenly we find ourselves busier than we’ve been in our entire five years of marriage, living the kinds of lives when all we can manage to do with a night off is collapse on the sofa in front of old episodes of Law & Order. I’m so busy that I consider it a luxury to spend ten minutes shaving my legs and he spends every spare moment he has studying. And it’s great, we’re happy, we chose this, I’m not complaining!  But something had to give. Neither of us can work any less and Mike’s education is a priority for both of us. We’re not going to spend less time with family or friends – we don’t get enough time with them as is. So housework had to go.

And it’s not that we’re dirty people, because it doesn’t matter how busy I get, I tidy up like someone with serious OCD. I probably am a little OCD, clinically speaking, because if things aren’t just so, I will f-ing freak out. Everything has a place and when it’s not in it’s place my eyeballs twitch and I can’t breathe and it’s not very pretty.  I used to throw terrible tantrums because of socks on the floor or a dishtowel with a smear of spaghetti sauce on one corner. I’d cry and bang things and scream, “When you don’t put the dirty dish towel in the hamper I feel like you don’t love me!” But I don’t do those things anymore. I’ve learned. Now I tidy up constantly, all the time, I am always tidying. It’s easier for me to take five seconds to toss a dirty dishcloth in the hamper instead of screaming at Mike about it because really? He doesn’t deserve to be treated that way. Especially since I’m the one with the problem. But when I’m working this much and he’s working and going to school and we’re trying to maintain healthy social lives and get adequate exercise and all that other stuff, even if we can maintain the basic chores like laundry and dishes and litter boxes and dog walks and paying bills on time, we can’t manage the big things like shower scrubbing and floor mopping. And when those things get ignored and start growing orange fur, my skin starts itching and I  wake up in the middle of the night with my heart pounding and adrenaline coursing through my veins from nightmares about dead babies in filthy bathrooms crawling with cats.

So you see, it’s not really an option to give up on the housework. And that is why we are paying someone to clean the apartment for us.

You guys. She cleaned things I haven’t even had time to imagine cleaning. She scrubbed the teakettle so now I can see my reflection in it. She did all the dirty work in the bathrooms that I loathe and despise, and then she polished my perfume tray. She moved everything off of every shelf and surface area and dusted behind and underneath and around. She washed the screen door and the windows and she scrubbed the balcony, in addition to emptying the dishwasher, taking down the trash, and mopping the floors. What would’ve taken me twenty-four hours of work, broken up only by naps, she finished in four and a half hours. She is a miracle worker. I invited her to come back in two weeks. And then I hugged her and cried on her shoulder while wads of sticky anxiety flowed off of me.

In the aftermath of this stunning cleaning symphony, I lounge on the balcony, blogging, feeling completely relaxed because not only is the shower cleaner than it’s been in two months, I didn’t have to do any of the work.  The only thing better than a freshly scrubbed toilet is a freshly scrubbed toilet someone else scrubbed. I don’t get manicures or pedicures, I never go to the spa, I don’t get any of my parts waxed, I only get my hair cut twice a year, we hardly ever go to the movies or out for dinner, but we pay someone else to clean our apartment and as far as I’m concerned, that is more luxurious than any manicure or facial ever could be.

Frosty’s Got Her Groove Back (I think.)

Chillin

V-Dog says, “Just chill, man. Just chill.”

Today marks three months since we arrived in Los Angeles and three months of living with my parents and all our animals. I wrote a one-month check-in, but I skipped the two-month because it was a much less pleasant month. First of all, it rained nearly every day. Also, the honeymoon of being home had worn off and I was reminded of all of The Valley’s flaws and did you know that sometimes it rains in Los Angeles? Because I was sure there was no rain here but it has rained at least forty-five of the ninety days we’ve been home.

This last month has seen it’s own trials, don’t get me wrong. But I think I’m starting to get into the swing of it. We’re beginning to get into a bit of a routine, which is great, I am a huge fan of routines. We’ve been spending a lot of time with family and we’re looking forward to the holidays. Also, I’ve gotten over the weather, mostly. I went to New York at the end of October and realized that sixty-degree weather is not cold. Sixty-degrees is lovely, thank you. I will never again complain about sweater weather in November.

As far as work goes, it’s starting to be fun again. For a minute things were really intense, but I’m settling in, learning how to work with the other members of my team, finding my voice. Michael hates his job, loathes and despises it, but as soon as he gets his California EMT card he’ll be moving on, so he’s not letting it get to him. Instead he’s looking forward to school in January. He finally got all his transcripts sorted out and he’s been given a date to register for Spring semester. The admissions office had given him such a hard time about his classes – as if Bio 1 in New York City is somehow sub par to Bio 1 in Los Angeles – it made me crazy. When I found out he’d gotten everything transferred over, it was all I could do not to jump up and down and squeal like a child. I am absolutely over the moon.

So things have been looking up. The second month home I felt like moving had been a mistake, something we rushed into, dear god, what did we do to our life? But this month feels good. Like we’re getting our groove back.

It occurred to me today that all of life is like this. That no matter what, there are good days and bad days, sometimes you’re in a groove and sometimes you’re in a ditch. Even when we aren’t making big life changes, things are always changing, and just because we find our way one day doesn’t mean we won’t get lost the next. I think that what I need to focus on is building a life that’s congruent with my goals. Even when things aren’t going the way I plan, if I’m at least moving towards something I want, I feel happy.

What are my goals, you ask? I’d be happy to tell you! In the next six months I’d like to spend more time with friends. I’d like to spend more time writing. I want to visit Florida with Michael so we can spend time with his mother. I want go on weekly dates with my wonderful husband. I want to be living in a little two-bedroom home that we love, that we could be happy in for at least five years. I want health insurance. And I want to be having fun and feeling successful in my career.

Those are pretty reasonable goals, right? Totally manageable. If things change between now and then, if my goals change, it doesn’t matter. After all, people make plans and God laughs at plans. And then people cry and get depressed. Then they make new plans and feel hopeful and there we have the circle of life.

Preparedness

babydoll

We found a house in our price-range. I took this photo inside of it.
What the picture doesn’t convey is the overwhelming scent of decay,
the mushrooms growing in the carpet, and the fallen-in roof
.

Had a super awkward moment at the checkout stand today. I’m buying four bottles of wine and a bottle of pre-natal vitamins. How weird is that? Right? What kind of person buys pre-natal vitamins and booze? I might as well be buying a bottle of Evian and case of laxatives.

“They’re not for me,” I volunteered when I got to the register.

“Pardon?”

“They’re not for me. The vitamins. Just the wine is for me.”

The check-out man stared at me, blinked.

“I’m not, like, a pregnant drunk or anything. Drinking and pregnant, bad idea. I’m not pregnant.”

A long silence passed. I chewed my lip. The lady behind me coughed. The checker looked at the bottle of vitamins in his hand and recognition lit his face. “Oh! Yeah. I guess I didn’t look at the vitamins. I thought, what’s this lady talking about?”

“Right, pre-natal vitamins, ha! My bad.”

Could I be more awkward? Like the checker even cares. Like anyone even reads what’s on the labels of someone else’s groceries. And why do I care? They’re not for me, or they are for me but I’m not pregnant, not even trying to get pregnant, just … hopeful.

(This is where I whine about the problems in my first world life.)

Before we left New York we decided that next year was going to be THE year to try for a baby. Everything was going our way. Mike was almost done with school, we had great jobs, we were putting money in the bank every day. Obviously it would be easy to move across the country and buy a house and get pregnant by next year. Then we moved across the country and it turns out we totally can’t afford a house next year and Mike’s new school is giving him all this drama about transferring his credits and I’m afraid we were a little ambitious when we decided next year was THE year. If we manage to climb out of this hole we dug ourselves into, it will be largely because of the support we’ve gotten from my parents these last few months.

But I was just so damn excited and now I’m so damn disappointed. The thought that this dream was maybe that close to my reach made me so indescribably happy. And then I think about the women who try and try and it doesn’t happen and I’m terrified that that will be me. That I’ll put it off and put it off and then when we finally try it just won’t happen. And then what will I do?

I’ll live, I guess. I’ll figure it out. I’ll have Mike and we’ll be fine, whatever happens happens, we move on, I know. It would be heartbreaking but we would survive. Besides, it could all work out perfectly, so it’s silly to be worrying about it now. So I’m trying to stay positive. We are healthy, we are loved, and we are getting through this slightly uncomfortable transitionary period. And I’m taking some stupid unfortunately-named vitamins. Just in case. Is that so bad?

In the mean time, I will enjoy a glass of wine every evening, thank you very much.

Oh man, you guys. This is long.

When did I last post? I have no idea. It could have been forty-eight weeks ago. That’s what it feels like for sure.

Life has just been so … life-y lately. I haven’t wanted to write about it because blegh. What a downer. I know I’m in the middle of a transition, and transitions can be messy, but I don’t want to post all kinds of self-pitying garbage every week. So I haven’t been writing at all. And not writing makes me really unhappy, which means I can’t write because I’ll just write self-pitying garbage. It’s an ugly circle.

Anyway, I’m in New York to see the revival of Angels in America, and celebrate Halloween with Adam, my BGFF. We were texting about our costumes last week:

  • A: Do you have your Jackie Kennedy wig yet?
  • T: No, we’re gonna need to go shopping.
  • A: Totally. :-> I can’t wait to give you your birthday present!
  • T: Seriously? My birthday’s not until January.
  • A: Omg, you’re gonna die. It’s the best birthday present in the world.
  • T: Is it alive?
  • A: Kind of? :-/

Last night over pizza he handed me a gift wrapped in gorgeous hand-made paper.

“Open it!”

“I can’t! It’s too pretty!”

“Here’s scissors, just cut into it. But be careful.”

“It feels like ….” I felt the gift all over. Fingertips on hard edges. “A book!”

“You’re so funny. Open it.”

“You do it.”

“Here.” He snipped the tape seals. “Now rip it.”

The first thing I saw was my name, “Frosty” in white glossy letters. “What is it?” I laughed, my eyes welling over because it couldn’t possibly be what I thought it was. It couldn’t be.

“It’s your book. It’s every single blog post you wrote on Frosty-licious, with all the pictures, everything. It’s your entire three-and-half years in New York. It’s all the moments you and Michael shared, with photos, it’s everything.”

It’s everything. It’s incredible. It’s my words on slick glossy paper. It’s warts and all, because let’s be honest, there was a while there when all I did on Frosty-licious was whine about how I wanted to stab myself in the face with a fork because being a grown-up was sooo hard. It’s everything. All the humiliating shit I wish I could wash myself clean of and it’s all the beautiful stuff too. It’s how I climbed out of the cesspool of misery and how Mike and I fell in love all over again, as a family, just him and me and the fantastic army of creatures we call our pets. It’s how we built a life with nothing but our hands and our love. It’s beautiful.

Adam wrote a forward for it, and when I read the first line I started crying so hard I had to put the book down until I could catch my breath again. Happy tears, tears of sweet nostalgia for what’s behind me, tears of gratitude, because it’s incredible that someone sees in my story something precious and worth holding on to. Tears of shame because there are parts of me in that story I wish I could hide, but why should I be ashamed of my humanness? Why should I be ashamed of my darker moments? Maybe I didn’t need to type them out into the Webisphere for anyone with access to the internet, but who cares. We’re all human. We all have our own sewage to sludge through sometimes. It’s what we choose to do with it at the end of the day that counts. I think I’ve learned how to try and choose “deal with it and move on” as an appropriate response to those times in my life and I guess that’s really why I haven’t been writing lately. I haven’t known how to write about my shit without wading in it and I’d like to write about my shit and laugh at it.

Like, for example, how my entire family expects me to cry at the drop of a hat. I totally earned that, I have always cried at the drop of a hat, so they have every right to expect it. I still do cry whenever I feel big emotions, but not like I used to. I think. It’s still up for debate. The other day I cried all during lunch at Goucho Grill, so it might be harder to live down than I thought, but still.

Whenever I start to speak really passionately about something, my brother will jump up and point at me and shout, “No crying! No crying!” and I’m always so surprised I have to start laughing and it breaks up the moment, you know? In a really good way. We have to be able to laugh about our shit.

Have a wonderful Halloween, you guys. I’ve gotta go find a white pillbox hat.

Something. Anything.

wild flowers

Work is going really well, but it is all consuming. In the mornings, sometimes, when we’re able to drag ourselves out of bed early enough, Mike and I have been taking the dogs for hikes, because all four of us need the exercise.  Then I spend the day working and Mike spends the day job hunting. Then we have dinner with my parents, and then we crash. And I just haven’t figured out where to make time for my writing. But I have got to figure it out, and I’ve got to figure it out soon, because I can feel myself getting out of practice.

My bosses are writing a book, and when I finish transcribing it, it will be my job to edit it, which is the part I’m really excited about.  Editing has always been one of my fantasy careers. But in the meantime, I spent over four hours typing today and I swear to you, my fingers ache in a way that I cannot even begin to describe. So for now, even though I miss you terribly, I must let my fingers and wrists rest. There is probably another four hours of typing to do tomorrow, in between meetings and phone calls and Thursday Night Family Dinner, which is surely the highlight of my week.

One day I’ll get back to regularly scheduled posting, and until then, may all our days be full of sunshine and wildflowers.

(I don’t even know what I’m talking about anymore.)

In just 7 days

attack of the cards

One week from today we will be somewhere on the road, somewhere in the middle of the country. It will be our first day driving, so we won’t be far yet. We’ll probably be tired, we might be edgy, maybe we’ll be really excited, maybe we’ll just be really grumpy. I have no idea. I cannot believe that one week from today we will be driving home.

There was a minute not too long ago when I really didn’t know if I was ever going to get home again. I’m not talking about visits, I knew I’d figure out how to get home for visits, but there was a minute when I thought I’d be stuck in New York forever. I felt like Alice, stuck in Wonderland, surrounded by griffins and mock turtles and Queens shouting “OFF WITH HER HEAD” while I frantically tried to change shape so I wouldn’t be eaten alive by the droves — there was a minute when I didn’t think I’d ever get out of here alive, and if I did, it would be with my head down and my tail tucked between my legs.

Then we got out of that horrible little bug-infested tenement and we both just started to bloom. We both got more creative and we both filled our life with things we love; painting and writing, going to school, cooking dinner, $6 early morning movies on Saturday’s, Free Friday’s at MOMA, and now, now that we’ve built a life that we love, now that we’re happy to get out of bed in the morning because there is so much to do, now that we’re finally happy is when we’re leaving.

And then.

And then there is that part of us that is so happy because we are going home. Because there is so much to look forward to. Because of the lessons we’ve learned, the work we’ve put in, and the goals we have set. So I know there’s no reason to be afraid, not really, we are going to be fine. The happy life we built on this concrete island will be easily transported three thousand miles and set down amongst the strip malls, the tract homes, and the 101 freeway. But it’s crazy, you know? We got up one day and decided to move New York City, we lived here and grew here and fell in love for real here, and now we’re going home. Six months from now this will all be a memory, this whole thing, this whole section of our life, our marriage, our experience. There’s a part of me that hurts, there’s a little stinging in the corner of my heart, and I know this is a bitter-sweet good bye. Then there’s a part of me that is looking forward, eyes up, heart open, arms wide, and I know that even as this adventure is coming to an end, there’s another one right around the corner.

I can’t believe we’re moving cross-country in a week. Life is crazy, you guys. Crazy and super cool.

Bright Red Ink

Here’s the thing.  Every day, all day long, ideas of things I want to write run through my head and sometimes I scrawl notes or rough drafts or sometimes I tweet the ideas, so that when I finally find a moment to sit and breathe, I will be able to write all the things that have been running through my head for days on end.  But when I finally find a moment, when I carve a moment from the blur of day and sit down and open a new page, my hands freeze.  My hands freeze, my heart stops and suddenly I just feel tired and afraid. Sometimes I force myself and I’ll squeeze something out.  Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s crap.  Sometimes I’ll try and I’ll try, I’ll write and I’ll delete and I’ll scribble and I’ll scratch out and then I’ll just give up because not being to be able to write is more painful than I can explain.

When I was ten, I wrote a story for a class assignment. I worked on it all weekend, I worked on it every day after school, I wrote draft after draft, editing and crafting and loving every moment of it.  It was a ten page underwater romance, the story of a merman and a mermaid, hopelessly in love.  I couldn’t wait to hand it in, I was sure I had created a masterpiece, I knew my teacher would love it.  But instead of finding words of praise scrawled in the margins, my story was scribbled all over in red ink, all of it’s flaws circled, all the mistakes underlined, every error scratched and rejected.  And at the bottom of the last page, in red letters that blotted out my carefully crafted ending, she wrote: “TOO MUCH DIALOGUE, NOT ENOUGH STORY.”

When the bell rang at the end of the day, I took my time gathering my things.  I waited until all the other kids had left and then, story in shaking hand, I approached her desk.  She was entering grades into her grade book, glasses perched on the end of her pretty nose, shoulders hunched in concentration.

“Mrs. Penny?  Um, what’s wrong with my story?”

She put her pen down, folded her hands on her desk, heaved an irritated sigh.  “Did you read my comments?  Or were they unclear?”

I took a deep breath.  “Well, um, I don’t, um … I just –”

“It’s all dialogue. It doesn’t go anywhere.  There’s no middle and the end is weak.”

I stood there, cheeks burning, tears threatening to spill over the ends of long lashes.

“Is there anything else you need or may I finish my grades?”

I shook my head and turned on my heel.

If you were to ask me why I’ve never tried to write a book, I’ll tell you it’s because I don’t know how to construct a story.  I might come up with an idea, but there’s no middle and no end and anyway, it’s terrible.  There’d be too much dialogue and not enough story.

That woman had no business teaching creative writing to fifth graders.

In tenth grade I had a teacher who told my mother my career would be in writing.  This woman was kind, nurturing and encouraging.  Besides the Physiology class where I got to dissect a fetal pig, Mrs. Parker’s tenth grade English class was my favorite class in my entire student career.  She assigned several writing exercises every week and her critiques were such that after listening to her talk about one of your poems or stories, you couldn’t wait to sit down and rework it.  But I don’t remember her compliments and I don’t remember her words of encouragement.  I remember Mrs. Penny, her blonde ponytail, her blue eyes and her bright red pen.  Why is that?

Like a spool they unwind, the words from my fingers

view

Lately my time is stretched so thin I don’t even know what to make of it – I swear it falls away faster than ever before and I feel it within the ribbon of the day, I find myself savoring the moments because they are all we have when all is said and done, these moments right now.  This week is the first week in months when the sun has shone every day in a row.  I find myself eager to walk the dogs in the morning, we take our time as we walk the length of Jackie Robinson Park, say hello to neighbors sitting, sipping morning coffee.  All these pictures have been taken along that stretch of park, and tomorrow morning I will have to photograph the lilies – they’ve just come up and they are gorgeous.

New York is where I learned how to take time to admire the flowers.  It’s also where I learned how to walk with my chin up but that’s a story for another day.

Things are good.  I feel like I’ve been really absent from this blog lately.  Content on this site has been nothing but sprinkles of postdinner pillow talk for days.  The funny thing is I’ve been writing constantly.  I have pages and pages of stories and ideas for stories scrawled into various notebooks, written on the train or the wee waking hours of the morning.  I just don’t have the time to type them out.  Or else I look over it later and decide its garbage, no one wants to read that.  Puh-leez.  Moron.

So I’m a little creatively blocked, maybe.  Or maybe I’m not.  Maybe I’m writing something that I’m not ready to show yet and maybe it will grow into something wonderful and fabulous, something I don’t even realize I’ve thought of yet.  I don’t know you guys.  Sometimes everything just feels so complicated.

But things are good.  I’m happy.  Work is exciting.  I’m being challenged every single day, crazy challenged, my brain is actually physically exhausted at the end of every day and then I can’t sleep because apparently my brain relaxes by running a list of five thousand things I haven’t done yet that need to get done tomorrow what the hell are you waiting for?

I know, right?  I’m beginning to think that maybe I’m a little bit OCD.  There are just all these little signs.  And there’s also the fact that cleaning my apartment has become the single most relaxing thing I do in the entire day.  How weird is that?  Is it weird?

The other day Michael and I had a fight – ok, I had a fight – long story short we had a misunderstanding and I stewed over it for way too long and then the other morning he walked into the kitchen and I was on my knees scrubbing underneath the stove and sobbing, scrubbing was the only way I could think of to soothe myself.  And he was like, “what happened?” and I hid my face in my hands, so embarrassed was I for how angry I felt over this thing, when I knew he wasn’t even the right person to be angry at.  So then I said that, too.  And he pulled me into his chest and I cried until I got it all out and then he made me breakfast.

Our days are salty and sweet, full of  tiny thrills and minor stings.  I feel like for the first time in my life I’m actually living.

Overheard at our table

Me: If I had a blood clot in my leg, would it hurt really bad?

Him: It would be the worst pain you’d ever felt in your entire life.

Me: Really?

Him: Take the worst pain you’ve ever felt in your life, and multiply it by ten.

Me: Because I’m having this little shooting pain in my leg and I was worried it was a blood clot.

Him: It’s not a blood clot.

Me: You’re handy to have around.  I think I’ll keep you.

*kiss*