Sunday, October 9, 2011

New Blog Site!

For all you of you who were faithful followers of our French journey....thank you.

And, I started a new blog! This blog shares stories from real life as I feel inspired! With a little luck, I'll make these regular.

There are only three blogs posted now - the first about a weekend in DC, the second about our vacation in the San Juan Islands (lovely), and the current one about our trip to Smithville, TX where the fires recently devasted the area (heartbreaking).

I hope you will try out the new blog site!


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Skeeter's Summer Vacation

Every day is the same. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a bad life. In fact of all the places I’ve lived, this one is the best. Each morning I wake up to a thoughtfully prepared breakfast. That's important to me since I’m hungriest in the mornings. After breakfast I go to my favorite place, the porch swing in the sun room, to curl up for my first nap of the day. What could be better?

Between naps, I wander around the house, look out the windows and eat a little. In the evenings I sit on the sofa with Him while he watches moving pictures on the flat, square screen. She’s not home often now, but when she is, I sit with Her. She and I used to play but I'm tired a lot now, so I like it best when she just holds me and scratches my chin. It is peaceful.

Over the years, the house has become very quiet. There’s barely any noise at all. I will be peacefully napping, dreaming of chasing mice, when one of them will touch me. It makes me jump with a start!

The nights, too, are quiet, but in a different way. I get lonely by myself when he and she are upstairs. So, I slowly climb the stairs to find one of them. I call and they pick me up to snuggle under the covers. We do this two or three times during the night. But for some reason, I now have to sleep in the sun room.

Last year I lived with another family, the Nice People. They were very good to me but - they had a cat. I didn’t catch his name as it was quiet there, too. He and I didn’t get along. We found a way to work out our boundaries, but it was never peaceful. Plus, we were both sick. There was a time when I thought I was a goner but the Nice People took good care of me. I don’t know what happened to the cat, though. He was sick like me, then one day he was gone. I know we had our differences, but I hope he didn’t leave because of me. I wouldn't admit it to him, but, I missed him.

Then I moved back home, and we were all together every day – Her, Him and me. I liked that. Whenever I wanted, someone was there to pet me. If not, I would say something and one of them would respond. Then something happened. Now, she’s gone for days at a time. I miss Her and wonder if she thinks about me. When she comes home, I want to be happy to see Her but instead I feel angry that she left in the first place. I make sure she knows I’m angry, too. But no matter how much I yell and make a fuss, she always smiles and picks me up. She holds me and scratches behind my ear until I give in and purr. I wish she wouldn’t leave, but in a couple of days she is gone again. It’s been like this for weeks, but last week was different!

During the weekend while she was home, there was more activity than usual. He went up and down the stairs to the basement with bundles of fabric. Then he’d bring the same bundles back up in white, plastic bins. I remember when I would go to the basement. It was fun with all the dark corners to hide in. Dusty, sticky, stringy stuff clung to my tail and whiskers. But it’s not worth the climb down the stairs anymore. So, I was napping and dreaming about the fun times in the basement when she woke me up. There on the counter was the brown, plastic cage that I travel in. I hate that cage! Bad things happen every time I’m in it.

It taunted me while she packed her big box on wheels. I hate that thing too because it means that she is going away again. This time, she packed it with more stuff than usual. Just when I thought she was leaving me again, she picked me up and stuffed me in that infernal cage. She seemed to be talking to me, but all is quiet.

She took me and my cage to the car where he was waiting. That’s not a good sign either. I was in the backseat for a long time. We finally stopped and she carried my cage into a different building. As we walked to the building, I could sense new smells and a fresh breeze. Then we were inside and the strangest thing happened. As I sat in my cage, I felt a sensation of moving upwards. Odd. When we finally stopped she put my cage on the floor - a different floor than the one I left - and opened the door. Hmmmm.

I’m not good with new places. I have to explore slowly to find the best spots. It didn’t take long, though. This place is not nearly as big as my other house. It's more like one, big room - and most of the floors are slick and hard. She showed me where my food was – and it was the same kind as always! And my blue box was here, too. Me, Her and Him stayed in the new place together that night.

I couldn’t rest though. It was too much for me. I called for Her to pick me up several times during the night and she came every time, although she seemed a little grumpy by morning. Maybe she doesn’t like the morning.

Then, they both left. It was okay since I slept most of the time – on the sofa, the bed or the soft part of the floor. And they left plenty of food (my favorite, tuna) and some reading material. But who is Harry Potter? That night – like each of the next several – she came home by herself. In my other house, he was there and she wasn’t. Now, she’s here and he’s not.

It was fun. She let me sleep on the bed with Her. I slept better and didn’t have to call Her at night - well, not too often. I may not be as agile as I once was, but I could jump onto the bed. There were times that - I guess - I wanted attention. Instead of jumping on the bed, I sat on the floor next to the bed and called. If I called long enough she put me on the bed. I don't think she like that as much as I did.

Living together, you learn things about each other like the nights when she was so frustrating! It would be time for bed and she would still sit looking into that lighted, square thing and moving her fingers. She finally got up and I thought, "Yippee! Time for bed!" But no, she walked back and forth to the bathroom or the kitchen. I followed her until I got tired. I tried to tell her I was frustrated and ready for bed. Sometimes it helped but other times, not so much. Then there was breakfast. There were many mornings that she overslept breakfast time. I love Her but she can be hard to live with. I had to call until she got up to make my breakfast. Most mornings she got it right, but sometimes I didn't want tuna. I wanted chicken. She was slow to understand. While I ate breakfast she would go back to the bed. The same thing used to happen with Him, but now - like I said before - I sleep in the sun room.

Oh - and there was a white, fluffy cat! He was only in the bedroom. Each time I walked in, so did he. When I sat by the bed, so did he. I would stare at him and he just stared back. He was really annoying!

Just when we were settling into a routine, here came my cage again! Where to now? She carries me to the car and he’s there. Again, it was a long drive, but when we arrive, I’m back at my real home – the big house. It’s just as it was before. I have never been one who likes change in my routine, but it was fun going to that other place and spending time with Her. Seems like I recall a word for it. What was it? Oh yeah – vacation. I wonder if the Nice People’s cat went on a nice, long vacation. I hope he likes it there. Maybe I'll see him again one day.

Skeeter writes regularly for When Skeeter is not traveling you can find him sleeping on his porch swing in Annapolis. Skeeter lives with his family, Mike and Shelley. Skeeter wishes to thank the Nice People, Wil and Siena Scott, with whom he lived while Mike and Shelley were in France.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Out of the Past

The two inches of rain was a hot topic even before I landed. My seat-mate told me. Central Texas is in a deep drought.
A drought is a big thing in a town of cattle ranchers and farmers. Mother and George collect me at the airport and talk with relief about the rain marveling at the resiliency of the grass. Sure ‘nough, the broad fields between the Austin airport and Smithville are the pale green of hope.

The talk of rain like everything else is familiar. My head rattles with distant dialogue. “We sure need rain.” “Will have to start feedin’ early this year unless we get rain soon.” My grandmother knew rain was coming by the smell of the air. My granddad would put a newly killed rattlesnake on the fence to bring the rain. Now, rolling thunder makes me nostalgic.

Like the grass, my roots are in Smithville. For years I couldn’t wait to leave; now I look forward to coming back. There’s a comfortable familiarity with it. I return to see Mother and George (my honorary step-dad). This is my excuse. It’s only later that I realize I come here for the grounding, to know the familiarity of three generations on my mother’s side who made Smithville their home. I feel connected here, more so than ever before. Maybe it’s because my life feels so disconnected otherwise – weekdays in DC and a quick visit to Annapolis on the weekends. It's like floating in a sea of uncertainty.

In Smithville, I’m recognized as being “from around here” which means I get special treatment. At the Post Office, Edward patiently helps me mail a box then smiles and waves as I leave. I hear, “It’s great to see you again!” This is because he remembers me from high school.

Memories return at each corner and with each spreading oak tree. Oh, it has changed for sure. Smithville has a feeling now of making-do. That started with the highway by-pass. It took away the Austin to Houston traffic that used to go through the middle of town. From the highway interchange all that’s visible of Smithville is the one-runway airport (which my dad helped start), and Smith’s Supply. Smith’s Supply sprawls next to the overpass with piles of culvert pipes of various sizes, rolled cyclone fencing, posts and PVC pipe.

Smithville is mostly left to the locals and the residents of neighboring towns, like Rosanky, Kovar and Cistern. For me, that’s just fine. The streets are in an orderly grid with familiar names– Burleson, Gresham, Olive, Hudgins. Tall sycamores, pecans and magnolias shade the streets, and crepe myrtles sprout tassels of pink blooms. But, the grand matrons are the live oak trees with trunks too big to reach around and limbs that canopy an entire yard. I love these trees. I remember them as a kid. They are still there. Still growing. Still making me stop and stare in awe.

Every morning, before the heavy heat sets in, I walk through town. The air is fresh. Dark clouds tease with a ghostly mist that doesn’t even leave a whisper of moisture on the ground. In its heyday, Smithville was a major railroad town. Walking, I hear the sounds of Smithville’s past. A train whistles as it comes through the yard, “Whoooon.” The wheels click on the rails and cars clank together like a giant slinky.

There are two main roads in Smithville – Main Street and the old highway. Our traffic signal hangs where they intersect. Memories line both streets. On Main Street, antique stores like “Out of the Past” alternate with “For Rent” signs. It’s quiet except for the bustle of recollections. Ken’s Pharmacy where my grandmother worked used to be here. My sister and I would walk in, get a hug, and wave to Ken – or Mr. Blaschke, as we knew him. In the back we sat on chrome bar stools at the soda fountain and Elizabeth made chocolate milk shakes for us.

Farther down Main Street was Mikeska’s barbeque. My granddad took me there. We entered through swinging, screen doors to smells of mesquite and the warmth of barbeque pits that had been cooking since the early morning hours. Our barbeque brisket was served on brown paper, and, yes, my granddad ate his with his pocket knife. I still have that knife. Oh – and there was sawdust on the floor.

Mikeska's has been gone for years. Now we go to Zimmerhanzel’s. It has a real door and I’m okay with the plastic fork and knife. Everyone in town lines up for their barbeque. I watch for people I know. They spot me first and I struggle to put this new face with the high school face in my mind. Lunch comes early here. The old ladies are the first. They finishing as we arrived at 11:30AM. Next are the working men – road crews, farm and ranch hands – whose day starts early. When lunch is in full swing, you share tables. Our table’s conversation centered on the rain. “How’re you?” “Awrite.” “How much rain you git?” “Inch and eight tenths.” “My grass greened up.” “My grass had to come up from the roots.”

Billy Davis’ Texaco is on the highway near Zimmerhanzel's. As a girl, Mother and I went to Billy Davis’ to fill up our big Pontiac. We’d sing, “You can trust your car to the man who wears the star. The big, bright, Texaco star!” Mother and Billy played a game where Mother would look at the gas gauge and guess how many gallons it would take to fill it up. She was right EVERY TIME.
I thought she was the smartest mom ever. In hindsight, I think I was being duped. (It's not nice to fool a little girl, Mother!) Billy is still there so we stop by to say hello. The Texaco is mostly a hang out for George and his buddies who pass time gossiping on a bench. They probably wouldn’t agree about the gossiping part, but they are.

On the other end of the highway is the Donut Shop in a red tin building and the washateria in a silver tin building.
Both have pick up trucks parked out front. Tacos and tamales are sold from a pink school bus next to a chartreuse shaved ice stand. There is, of course, a Dairy Queen that, when I was young was where we went after church on Sunday nights.

I love the wooden houses in artfully chosen colors. The wide-blade carpet grass is lush and thick –due to attentive watering. Sometimes it feels like nothing has changed, except the paint. The most noticeable difference is the large corner property with a delicate, old farm house that was once a stage coach stop. The new owner repainted it pink and green. Not pale, soft, subtle colors. Bright, vibrant, can’t-believe-your-eyes pink and green.

I come out of the past when Mother and George tell me about the people. Some have died, others are sick, and all are older. Mother’s friends who have been in my life for my whole life are here. We interrupt Jeannette baking zucchini-pineapple bread. Tuffy jumps best he can with his four-inch long dachshund legs, but he soon lies quietly in the floor with a chew bone. He chews until one end is left, then he wants a new bone. Chew bone ends fill his basket. Joyce tells us about her twin great-grand daughters while we admire her garden. Silky with her sleek grey hair, even at 90+, meets us at the door. We visit sitting in a rocking chair that belonged to her grandmother.

George takes me on a ride through his pastures. It’s a pastime in Smithville – riding around, looking at the cows, and assessing the water level of ponds (Tanks as they are known here). Bouncing along the rutted, dirt road in the truck takes me back and I'm riding in my granddad's 1946 green, Chevy pickup with the wood-slat sides. George gets out of the truck to open his wide, aluminum gate. It swings open smoothly with one easy push. Not like the gates at my granddad’s pastures. They were made of barbed wire and a post. When I was old enough, he let me open the gate. I had to be strong enough to lean against the post and loosen it enough to pull it out of the wire loops at the top and bottom. I walked it to the ditch, tromping through the grasses to avoid prickly bull nettle and cow pies.

The film industry discovered Smithville. There was a hubbub in town when Hope Floats (Sandra Bullock, Harry Connick, Jr.) was filmed here. My dad was a parishioner in the church scene. Most recently, Smithville was the set for the Tree of Life (Brad Pitt, Sean Penn). I think this is just dandy. The streets are preserved on film and not just in my memory. There may be a drought in Central Texas and the tanks in Smithville may be low, but I’m floating in a lifetime of memories.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Déjà Vu All Over Again

I am in France – yes, France – yes, again. I attend a business meeting or, rather, a series of business meetings in Lyon. The last time I was in Lyon was with Mike for the Fete des Lumieres in December. It was cold, a little drizzly and packed with people. Now, it’s warm, sunny, and, surprisingly, not packed with people.

The afternoon was sunny and warm but not hot when I arrived. The Congress Center, the site of our meetings and of my hotel, is across the street from a large park with a lake, zoo, botanical gardens and rose garden - all criss-crossed by paths. My meetings left little time for exploring the city, but I was content with remembering our trip in December. My only personal task was to collect the items on Mike’s grocery list.

On arriving, I decided to take advantage of the good weather to do my shopping. Plus, I was less likely to fall asleep if I was walking. The bus took me downtown in search of a grocery store. But I’d forgotten French business hours. Everything is closed on Sunday – shops, department stores, grocery shops and many restaurants. Exasperated by not accomplishing my tasks, I was “forced” to go for a walk in the park. And that’s where I found French life – cyclists, families on roller blades, a dad rowing his kids across the lake, a young man juggling tennis balls to impress his girlfriend, runners, old couples walking, and others relaxing in the grass. Burly dads with muscles rippling under tight tee-shirts were on daughter duty. A tall, fit, young dad pushed a tiny, pink scooter as his toddler daughter ran ahead flat-footed with arms flailing and dark curls blowing. Teenagers clustered tightly looking oppressed. Their expressions reeked of, “I’m so misunderstood.” In the background, frogs chirped and geese honked as the adults nudged teenage geese (they looked fully grown except for their fuzzy, downy heads) back into the water away from the grasping hands of kids. Ahh yes, life – at the speed of life, not light. Closing stores on Sunday may not be a bad idea.

I took every opportunity to be in that park – in early mornings before meetings began or late afternoons after meetings ended. It felt refreshing, healthy and whole. The morning walks were the best. Crisp, sweet smelling air compelled deep breaths. The mirror-finished lake reflected sunlight so that leaves were backlit and glowing. Birds squawked and chirped filling the air with unexpected sounds. I counted a handful of duck varieties some with fluffy ducklings zipping along next to mom. Fir and pine trees dominated. Some had wiry branches with stubby needles. Others had layers of assertive branches, straight and long. Still others had curved branches with fingers of needles casually draped like curtains. My favorite trees were the sycamores – or plane trees, as they are called in France. They towered with sunlight striking the top leaves while the branches created shaded pathways below. Couples, families and friends strolled in the comfort of the shade.

As much as the park called to me, I could not neglect my grocery shopping. It’s not what you may think – the shopping. The bottom of my suitcase looked like a grocery aisle – cans of tuna filets, chicken bouillon, lavender honey, tilleul menthe herbal tea. I felt like a local. After all, who brings bouillon home from France? But these were things we’d grown accustomed to and could not find in the US. The big news was finding Mariage Freres tea at the Primtemps department store. My French teacher in Cotignac, Catherine, introduced me to Mariage Freres teas. Last January, I bought a box of Mariage Freres Marco Polo tea bags in Paris and carefully saved most of them to take home to Annapolis. The tea bags were sealed in a plastic bag and traveled around the world with us – or more accurately to Texas – the last time I saw them. Unpacking in Annapolis, I searched every pocket of the luggage. No tea. My mother looked in her house in Texas. No tea. It was my sister who solved the riddle. She knew exactly where my precious tea bags were. The dog ate them. Apparently, my mother’s Jack Russell terrier, Daisy, enjoyed the tea as much as I did.

This was my first opportunity to talk with professional colleagues from Europe. I laughed at how they teased each other about cultural stereotypes. I will forever be in awe of how they smoothly move between French and English. Even though English was the official language of the conference it was a wide range of “English.” I was entertained by English with the deep “lu-lu” of French, the clip of German, rolled rrrrs of Italians, and the lilt of the Irish. They comfortably accept difference in language and styles resulting from their long histories. I was included with ease and I felt a companionship now. So much so, that I was surprised when they referred to me as their American colleague. Which, of course, I am, but I feel a closer kinship than that like a distant cousin who is familiar but not.

Everyone asked how it felt to be back in France. The short answer – great! The real answer – confusing. It felt familiar but not quite; comfortable but not. Gone was that first-time flush when everything has a glossy veneer. But I did not feel like a native either. There is a wide space in between. In that space is where my relationship with France will likely stay. I like that space. Mike and I saw most of the main sites when we were in Lyon in December. That left me liberated from touristique pressures and open to observe French life - kids playing in the street, pretty waitresses in jeans and tank tops serving tables and smoking between. The comforting buzz of conversation rising from packed sidewalk cafes and bistros. I eaves drop on conversations, although it’s not really eavesdropping since I only catch a word or two.

Between work commitments I strolled along regular streets past a few charming buildings and apartments that were square, plain and industrial. Old women walked arm-in-arm, workers stole sidewalks for demolition remains, and kids returned from school. Ordinary life. A refreshing change from tourist shops.

Still, the desire for familiarity called. My ego was gratified with my ease in moving through the city, ordering at restaurants, and generally getting whatever I needed. I had a history here that gave an extra layer to the sites and streets. Turning each corner evoked memories: the broad, pedestrian street, the hotel where Mike and I stayed; the fountain from which Neptune rose from the mist, the bridge where fireworks spewed. Food, too, brought back memories. French food was a treat particularly the foie gras and cheese which I had at every opportunity. We had a group dinner at a restaurant next to the Place de Celestin. The Place is home to the Theatre des Celestin. During the Fete, it was made of light. Windows were eyes and doors were a mouth. Now, windows were windows and doors were doors.

Once again I found myself in a time warp, just when I was beginning to adjust to the U.S. The confusion felt stronger the longer I was there. France – US – France. Where do I belong? Honestly, I know the answer. It is here in my odd combination of Annapolis and Smithville. But the back and forth is disorienting. And, I was gone long enough from France to forget the sensibilities. I discovered – again – that even with best intentions, in the US, I measure “success” by how much I get done. In France, I measure success by how much I absorb of life.

I write now sitting under a blooming tilleul tree like the one on our patio in Cotignac. I smile at the memory of its beauty and shade and I whisper thanks that I’m not cleaning the pollen from the table top. My wine is finished and I sip tilleul menthe tea after a leisurely dinner. I’ve written more in the few hours since I arrived than in the last two months. Why does it feel natural here to sit, feel and write when it is seemingly impossible at home? Yes - it’s simply a choice but not a simple choice. I feel inadequate for not having the will power to make this choice at home. Maybe, that’s why artists go to places that inspire them. Maybe they too can’t make this choice when surrounded by pressures of “normal” life. There is a long history of artists and writers who traveled to France and back from the US. I wonder if they too, had that sense of déjà vu all over again. While I struggle with choosing wisely, I will take advantage of this moment to revel in French life that flows in all directions. I guess you could say, it is ubiquitous everywhere.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A New Plan

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Returning. We allotted three weeks from the time we returned from France until I started back to work – refreshed and re-energized. That was the plan. The plan changed.

After one week in the office, with an aching back from a week in heels following a year in flats, I woke to a pain in my right hip and leg that escalated throughout the day until I could hardly walk. Two doctors, one physical therapist, one physician’s assistant and a partridge in a pear tree later, we knew it was a piece of disc between L4 and L5 that broke off and was pressing on the nerve. I’ve been blessed with exceptional health so this level of pain was new and (sorry) unnerving. As someone who prefers a “less is more” approach to drugs, “steroids” and “Percocet” were soon part of my regular vocabulary.

I observed with wonder the change pain brings. I was home for four weeks during glorious, sunny, mild days. During that time, the garden came to life. The apple and pear trees bloomed, ferns unfurled frilly leaves, azaleas dazzled, rhododendron sported pink, pom-pom blooms, and a chorus of birds chirped and chattered. In the back yard, a robin built a nest in our wisteria. She went to and fro with sticks, twigs, and leaves to her hidden alcove. I struggled to see any of it. Pain seems to turn my thoughts inward. Even when my leg didn’t hurt my mind was still attending to it. “Don’t slump.” “Sit up straight.” “Don’t bend over.” “It doesn’t hurt now, but will it later?” “Is it better or the same?” Sitting on the living room sofa I’d think, “How badly do I want that Diet Coke?” Is it worth the pain of walking to the kitchen? No. Not really.

Outside the window on the cool, sunny mornings, runners ran by. They didn’t even register in my mind. Running was too far outside the realm of possibility. The walkers I noticed. Not the ones walking briskly for exercise; the ones walking casually from their car to their front door or ambling over to visit with a neighbor. What a miracle, I thought, bones, muscles, nerves and blood, all working together to allow us to walk without a thought. And how precarious it all is – like a house of cards. One little chip out of place and down it all comes.

And, I marveled at the thousand small household tasks we do in a day. Marveled because I could only sit and watch Mike do every, single one of them by himself. What to feel in those moments? Frustration that I can’t help? Gratitude that he does it all so capably and – astonishingly – so cheerfully? “Astonishing” because I couldn’t do what he does if the situation were reversed. Oh….I could do it physically – but cheerfully? Not so much. We argue the point. He says I would. I say – maybe, but not as peacefully as he. We agree to disagree. (Just between us – I’m right.)

And, so, I sat – for hours, days, weeks. Some days were productive. I did a little work, studied some French, organized hundreds of photos, and developed a presentation about our experience to share with others (I hope). Other days I sat on an ice pack or napped. All days were and are about making lemonade from this unexpected pile of lemons.

Now, I've had a shot in my back to relieve the pain and help with the healing. Supposedly, the offensive chip will shrivel and eventually float away. It's not clear how long that will take, or, due to the location of the chip, if it will cooperated. Worse case is out-patient surgery to remove it. For now, the pain is greatly reduced, enough to allow me to return to work.

In my heart, I believe all things fit together for the best, like a jigsaw puzzle whose pretty picture isn’t discernible from an individual piece. Consequently, like so many others who deal with more serious health issues than me, I wonder, “What’s the point of this?” What is it I’m supposed to learn from this experience, and – really – wasn’t there any other way to learn it? Sure, there’s drama in an overnight, incapacitating illness, but I think I would have picked up on a more subtle message. Wouldn’t I?

In the meantime, I’ll heal. I’ll walk, and, who knows, maybe I’ll even run again. Clearly, there is a new plan for me. I just haven’t been let in on the big picture yet. Maybe, as with the jigsaw puzzle, one day I will see a small corner of the pretty picture. For now, I the pain is a little less and I can walk. My wait for enlightenment may take awhile, so I think I’ll walk to the kitchen for that Diet Coke.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Life in a New 'Hood

The question has changed from, "How does it feel to be back?" to "How does it feel to be back at work?" The honest answer is that it's hard. I wouldn't be telling the truth if I didn't admit it - mostly to myself. The changes have come fast and hard in the last three weeks, and they are filled with contradictions.

First we arrived home...after much drama and emotion. The day after arriving we went to DC and found a condo to rent so I wouldn't need to commute during the week. That was followed by unpacking our house in Annapolis and packing for my move into the city. We moved me in on a Wednesday. Thursday my body had had enough and came down with a cold, and Monday I started work...and came "home" to a quiet and empty apartment.

My first day at work - in fact, my first week at work was filled with smiles and graciousness. Flowers were on my desk when I arrived from the staff, a miniature yellow rose was delivered from one of our associations and the RunHers sent a basket of plants. People all over the office stopped by. I'd sit at my desk in my big, new office and try to remember how to send an email when a head with a big smile - like the Cheshire cat - would poke around the door frame. Well wishers were around every bend - and there are a lot of bends in an office filled with cubicles. Everyone made me feel special and welcome. It made all the difference in a week that flowed smoothly on the surface belying the emotion flowing below.

It was wonderful to hear how well everything went in my absence. I never doubted that it would nor did I ever check on the progress of any of our programs while we were away. The staff is great; they and the programs flourished, we probably all learned something in the process. Plus, I don't have to be in a rush to get up to speed on everything in the next week. They've done fine while I was away and they'll continue to do fine.

The rhythm of the work place was a shock to my system - and it's not that busy for me yet. Being at a computer, in and out of meetings, listening intently, remembering what was while simultaneously taking in what is was exhausting. Each day seemed eternally long as it zipped by.

At the end of the day was a delightfully short trip home - or as Mike and I are calling it, our "city house." Twenty minutes door-to-door and I was at the condo. Wow. It was - and will be - great. And, I quickly realized that it was exceptionally quiet and a little lonely. After a year together, this arrangement - me in DC and Mike in Annapolis - will be a big change. I remain optimistic that it will do what we intend - reduce my fatigue while providing time to write, create, and be. It's going to take some adjustment to realize that vision. But, it's easy to see the potential.

Mike came with me to DC on the Sunday before work started. We unpacked boxes, hung the shower curtain, set up the printer and got the place for living. It's cute, comfortable and perfect for what we need. Afterward, we took a walk on the Mall. We were both struck by how beautiful Washington is with its monuments, regal buildings, bustling sidewalks and even outdoor cafes. We walked through the sculpture new backyard and around the Mall. The sun shone off the Capitol at one end and the Washington Monument at the other. We could glimpse the Lincoln Memorial in the distance. We vowed to take full advantage of the opportunity of city life for however long we have it.

Later in the week after meeting a friend for dinner, I walked home the long way which took me through LaFayette Park lined with red and yellow tulips, a near-full moon overhead and the White House lit for the evening. Turning the corner onto Pennsylvania, the sidewalk cafes of the Willard hosted a few lingering guests. It's a lovely place to be on a beautiful evening. I can imagine growing to appreciate and enjoy this lifestyle, and I miss my real home. Both Mike and me felt as though I were on travel...without maid service. I kept thinking - just a few more days and I can go home.

And in a few days, I did go home to Annapolis - and it felt great! And, it felt temporary, too. With only two nights at home, I never got to adjust there either. I found myself inadvertently moving something that Mike didn't want moved. There were times when I felt like I was visiting here, too. When it came time to go back to DC, my body rebelled again. This time it was the sciatic nerve in my hip and leg. Pain like I've never known hit and kept me on the sofa, and there I stayed all the next week. I'm still at home in Annapolis waiting for it to heal enough to make the walk from the Metro to my office.

It's very strange - I'm back at work; but my heart is elsewhere. I'm not quite at home in DC nor am I at home in Annapolis. The time will fly by - it always does - but it feels ploddingly slow. Everyone at the office tells me that it's nice to have me back. I tell them that I'm practicing my line, "It's nice to be back." And it is. Sort of. It will be. I hope. I'll feel at home again - where ever that is.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Seeing with New Eyes

It’s harder than I expected – this being at home. I can’t get over the strange feeling of it, as though I’m here but not here. And, it’s going to be harder than I expected to hold on to the wonder of the past year. I find myself, already, slipping back into old patterns of going about my day without really seeing. That’s rarely happened in France. Thankfully, I was jarred out of stupor.

It happened as I was walking on a sunny, cloudless morning. It was a beautiful day as I crossed the Eastport Bridge into downtown. And there it was, dazzling in the early morning light, Annapolis. The water was like glass reflecting the sky, the boats and the buildings. The brightness of the light against the white boats and the houses lining the creek made me squint, and gasp with wonder. If this had been a village in France, I would have been watching and waiting for the wonder, but here in Annapolis I was plowing forward without seeing. For the rest of my walk – and hopefully for much more time to come – I committed to seeing Annapolis as though I were in Honfleur. Here’s what it looked like.

The trees were showing off. Flower encrusted branches, some in soft pinks and others so pale they were almost white, were translucent in the sunlight. Tulip Poplars defy gravity with heavy blooms upturned to the sky. I had to duck under some of the branches of trees lining the sidewalk. I ambled along the quaint streets of the historic district admiring the old townhouses dressed in their muted colors. The smell of freshly mulched beds was in the air, and little kids were on their way to class at St. Mary’s. Parents were unloading vans full of them. A cute, little boy was running up the street to his friends as a neighbor called out, “Hey, Zach! How are you?” Without turning or slowing he yelled, “Awesome!” Exactly.

The view from City Dock was lovely. I’d forgotten how the skyline is filled with spires. Against the blue sky, the white of the Capitol dome gleamed and the steeple of St. Anne’s Church rose up behind. To the left was the spire of St. Mary’s Church and to the right, the dome of the Naval Academy Chapel. The day before, I was stopped in my tracks at a street-end park in Eastport as the bells in the chapel chimed across the creek, just as they did in Cotignac.

I’ve gone to Quiet Waters Park a few times since returning to let it work its own brand of charm. It is quiet there without the noise and smell of car exhaust. What delight there is in hearing the dry leaves rustle underneath tiny claws of scampering squirrels (there were no squirrels in France). Birds chirped overhead in the still-bare branches, and there was the rat-a-tat-tat of a woodpecker working on a tree. Back home, our yard looks like a pink-themed New Years Eve party took place last night. The flower petals from the purple plum and star magnolia are falling like confetti.

Mike continues to be a source of amazement to me. He, like the squirrels, scampers around the house fixing this, cleaning that. I watch as he hauls out my enormous flower pots that I’ll plant next month. I don’t ask. He just does it. He is so clearly at home that it makes me smile.

And what’s next for me? Hmmm. I start back to work tomorrow. We rented an apartment for me in DC so that I don’t have to commute during the week. Last week was spent gathering furniture scavenged from friends, packing up a truck, and moving everything into the city. We were thankful to have Mindi’s nephew, Elan, to help load (he lifted a huge rug into the truck by himself!) and Maggie to help unload. I don’t relish being away from Mike during the week, but it will be nice to have more time and less exhaustion from the traffic. I can already tell that, for a time, I will feel a sense of loss. On top of missing France, I don’t want to lose connections with friends and the community of Eastport while I’m away in DC. Mike and I will sort that out as we go.

On the other hand, there’s much to look forward to in the future. I plan to periodically write blogs and hopefully some of you will keep reading. And, Mike and I want to write about our experiences. It’s a way for us to encourage others to follow their dream. Being alone in DC will give me time and energy to write and develop speaking materials to literally tell our story. I am excited about that - really excited. I can’t yet see how this may play out, but it will be fine. It’ll be more than fine. I want to be like that kid running to school. Without looking back, I know it’ll be awesome.