Finish line (sort of)

Huh. Well. So much for the once-a-day thing. But we were close. We certainly had our hands full, what with the being out of town multiple times and the getting sick with something that kept us on the couch watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD. But at least we tried. (And, fingers crossed, we will be slightly more successful next time.) And I suppose that's okay.

In honor of the close of the Month o' Lists, a list of random thoughts...

1. I am purple, and Lysmank is green, at least that's what our lovely friend BMJ says. I've never tried to think of friends in color before, but if I did, I'd say BMJ is a smoky, cornflower blue, the color the sky turns right before dusk happens.

2. I don't think there's anything wrong with liking Dan Seals in the 5th grade. Not that I did. And not that I still remember all the lyrics to "They Rage On" and "Bop." And not that I resent being teased about this by the very music-loving-in-a-slightly-snobby-way JK. (Hmmph.)

3. Little green sprouts pushed their way up through the dirt yesterday, even though half the yard is still covered in snow. Our neighbor calls them ditch lilies because when they're grown, they'll be common, orange flowers that grow alongside the highways and are hard as nails to kill. But I don't care because, hello! Green things. Growing. In the ground. This is a sign of progress after 100 inches of snow (not that I'm talking about the weather again).

4. Things I have found frustrating this week: doctors who don't actually tell you anything, soy milk pancakes, the font Comic Sans.

5. Things I have found not frustrating this week: road trips, late-night card games, coffee beans brought back to me straight from their Costa Rican plantation.


Maxed Out

Go rent this. Ask that your local high school show it to all high school seniors. Send a copy to your senator and another to your presidential candidate of choice.



I suspect the dog may be wild. Not wild at heart, but really wild, a feral animal lurking just beneath the domesticated surface.

A few times a week, we drive up to a dog park that borders a lake on the north side of town. Most of the park is cleared -- muddy half the year, ice-packed the rest. But the slice of park that hugs the lake is wooded, with thick underbrush. Small trails, like tributaries, branch off the main walking path and cut deep into tangled branches.

I let him lead the way. He stays about 20 yards ahead but pauses every now and then to look back, watching me, making sure I'm following. We head down a narrow trail toward a frozen stream that feeds the lake. All along its edge, the ice has turned from opaque white to a blueish clear. If I stepped on it, it would break. But the dog, tracking some scent, runs safely out onto the ice, oblivious to the line between land and water.

Most of the people and the other dogs stay in the big, muddy center. We are alone. Something catches the dog's attention, and he bounds over a rise, toward the lake shore. He runs, nose to ground, pauses, looks up with ears perked, then runs again, not in a straight line, but weaving around like a bumblebee. This is the closest to real wilderness he'll see this month, away from our city apartment and cramped backyard. He could not be happier.

He ignores the other dogs in favor of sniffing and tracking and burrowing through the reeds. Part spaniel, part fox. JK likes to say this dog could never survive on his own, that if we dropped him off in the middle of a field, he'd get eaten by a hawk. But at the dog park, I think him less domesticated, more able to fend for himself in the wild.

He runs ahead and through some trees, and for a few moments, I lose sight of him. I can hear him, though, the sound of breaking twigs and the plod of his footfalls on the ice-encrusted snow. Then, I hear a crash, something breaking, the sound of cracking ice, and I walk a little faster, calling his name. There, in a small clearing, he stands chest-deep in a puddle that, until a few seconds ago, had been frozen over with a thin sheet of ice.

I shake my head. "You deserved that," I say. He just looks at me, wagging his tail, then takes off running.


Finding Darcy, Part Two

You can find the first half of this story here.

Ten minutes later, we were standing in front of a house on the edge of town, knocking on the door that ostensibly belonged to Darcy Benton's aunt. A woman in a white apron over a blue-and-white-checked blouse came to the door. She smiled when Sarah mentioned we were students. And even though she didn't invite us in, she did explain where we could find Darcy's mother.

"It's up around a bend and over the hill, kind of in the country," she warned us.

And so it was. Around the bend and over the hill, we shared a sigh of relief. There it was. A big, white farmhouse.

We knocked on the front door. "I think I hear a TV," Sarah said. But no one answered. So we peeked in a couple of windows. Nothing.

After loitering in the yard for several minutes, it was decided by unanimous vote (the dog didn't get a say) that we would drive up the road to the next house and inquire as to the Benton family's whereabouts.

"People in small towns know everything about their neighbors," I told Sarah. "They'll know what to do."

Up the road was an attractive, two-story house with a circular drive. After we rang the doorbell, movement in an upstairs window caught our eye. Framed in the open window was an older man in an undershirt, with wet hair and a towel around his neck. A woman standing behind him held a pair of shears.

"We'll be right down!" the man shouted almost merrily, as if getting his Sunday haircut interrupted by a couple of scraggly-looking strangers was exactly what he'd planned.

A minute later, the woman opened the door. Sarah gave her the spiel about being a student and looking for Darcy and wondering if by any chance this lovely woman happened to have any idea where her neighbors might be.

Just then, a car drove by on the road behind us.

The woman smiled. "That's them right there," she said. "But you better hurry. They're meeting us at the community picnic in half an hour."

Enter the car chase. After a hasty thank you, Sarah and I jumped into the Volkswagen and peeled after the Bentons, barreling down the two-lane at a pretty fast clip, slowing down only after we realized for certain they were pulling into their driveway.

Sarah parked the car along the roadside. As soon as the Bentons were inside, we headed for their door. A man answered.

"We're looking for Darcy Benton," Sarah began.

"Ah, then," said the man, "you need to talk to my wife."

He invited us to follow him. Here we were, in Darcy Benton's living room.

The man's wife – Darcy's mother – came in from the kitchen. Sure, she said, she'd be happy to tell us about Darcy. She showed us a few pictures. Darcy had never intended to do pageants, but a man who ran the pageant happened to see her – where, I forget now, but it was somewhere mundane, like a bowling alley or the mall – and he cajoled her into getting involved.

"She's not crazy about that sign at the edge of town still being there," Darcy's mom said.

Of course, Darcy didn't still live in Elwood. She lived in St. Louis, with her husband and kids. "Here," her mom said, "let me give you her cell number. I'm sure she wouldn't mind."

Before we left, they invited us to join them at the picnic. We could tell they meant it, too. If we didn't need to be to Indianapolis that night, we probably would have gone. ("That would make great tape," Sarah, the budding radio documentarian, said later.)

We headed toward Illinois brimming with ideas for how Sarah could turn this into a radio piece worthy of submitting at the conference. But by the time we made it to our eventual destination halfway across the country, time had run out. We never called Darcy. We didn't so much talk about her again until last week, when Darcy found us, after a Google search of her own name turned up this blog.

And so, in honor of finding Darcy, coupled with March, the Month of Lists, this is what I learned...
  • People are generally friendlier than we give them credit for.
  • There is something beautiful about a way of life where it's still okay to talk to strangers (and hand out your relatives' phone numbers).
  • It never hurts to ask.
  • Inspiration can come from anywhere—even from a 20-year-old billboard in the middle of an Iowan cornfield.
  • The journey is always more interesting than the getting there.


True 'nough

I will finish the Darcy saga, but first...

Me to JK, while discussing Larry Byrd during today's UNC basketball game: Wasn't Larry Byrd from Texas?

JK: Nope. Indiana.

Me: But didn't he play college ball in Texas?

JK: Ah, no. Indiana State.

Me: But didn't he play pro ball in Texas?

JK: Still no. Boston.

Me, looking puzzled: Huh. He had nothing at all to do with Texas?

JK, shaking head: Nothing at all.

Me, still puzzled: How come, when anything significant happens, I think it has something to do with Texas?

JK: That's easy. That just means you're a Texan.


Finding Darcy, Part One

And now for the finale.

We had planned to hit Elwood right after church let out. We figured we'd find a neighborhood diner with plenty of Buicks out front, mosey in, and ask the friendly woman behind the counter whether she could tell us where we might find Darcy Benton.

"They're going to wonder why we're asking," Sarah said. "We need a cover story."

"Simple," I said. "We tell them you're a student, and this is for a class project. People always want to help students. Always."

The problem, once we arrived in Elwood, is that Elwood doesn't have neighborhoods, much less neighborhood diners. Elwood doesn't have gas stations or grocery stores or bars. Elwood has a smattering of houses, a church, and what looked like an abandoned schoolhouse.

Plus, absolutely nobody was anywhere to be seen.

We parked in front of the church and tried the door. It was locked. Across the street, a dog barked at the sight of us. His owner came outside and gave us a curious look, just as we dashed back to the car.

"Let's go ask that guy," I said.

But Sarah looked skeptical. The magic seemed to be waning. Or maybe we were really hot and hungry and not looking forward to six more hours in an un-air-conditioned car.

"Your project, your choice," I told her.

Sarah turned on the ignition, threw the car in drive and swung back toward the highway.

Ten minutes later, at the intersection of some small highway and the larger highway that would take us to the Interstate, she banged her hand on the steering wheel. "We should go back – I need to learn how to do this."

And so we went back. The man with the dog was still in his yard, and this time a woman was with him. We parked the car on the street and walked towards the driveway. "Hello?" we called. The woman came around front.

"Hi, um, we're students? Doing a project? On, uh, beauty queens in Iowa? And we were wondering if you, ah, might know where we could find Darcy Benton," one of us said, without stopping to breathe.

The woman, wearing denim jean-shorts and permed hair, glanced at Sarah's red Volkswagen, its bumper covered in gay pride stickers, the windows rolled down and her dog's big head panting in our direction. Then she looked back at us. Without speaking. Not a great sign.

"Well," she finally said. "I don't know about Darcy. But her aunt lives over there." At this, she waved her hand in the air, motioning somewhere behind us.

She gave us directions, with the implicit promise that we would then leave. Ten minutes later, we were standing in front of a house on the edge of town, knocking on the door.


Darcy, revisited

Me, on Sarah's voice mail earlier today: "You'll never believe who emailed me this morning! Two words. Darcy Benton. Call me back."

Sarah, on my voice mail half an hour later: "I have Darcy Benton's phone number practically framed on my wall. Call me back."

We never found Darcy Benton last summer; but this morning, Darcy Benton found us.

The saga begins here and continues here.

Thing is, it didn't end the way we'd hoped. It actually felt highly anticlimactic at the time (although it did almost involve a car chase, except the car we were "chasing" wasn't trying to outrun us, as much as it was heading for its driveway), and so I never bothered to finish the story. Even though more than one of you asked to hear how it ended.

So I hope very late is better than never. Come back tomorrow, and all will be revealed... (!)



We are not moving.

For the past 11 months, I've salivated at the thought of moving -- not to a new town (we like this one just fine, thanks, and besides, it's still new and shiny and ridiculously, fabulously progressive, what with moving here from Alabama), or to a new state (we would miss the cheese and beer), but to a new apartment.

This one's fine, mind you. It meets our basic needs. It's even got nice little extras like hardwood floors and built-in bookcases. But it's oh-so-small. And kind of dumpy. And completely impossible to keep clean, considering the fact the walls are insulated with cobwebs and the basement is a breeding ground for god knows what.

When I am bored or in need of a quick procrastination fix, I wander over to the classifieds and devour the apartment listings. And last month, when we realized we'd soon need to give 30-days' notice, I started looking in earnest. But then.

Then we realized it made no sense to move. Any way you look at it. It just doesn't. We love our 'hood, and we're nonprofit-poor, and there's no way we're finding a pseudo-two-bedroom in the same zip code for close to the same price (did I mention the foundation's crumbling?).

And so I'm letting go of the daydream. Last night we devised a redecorating plan to squeeze some semblance of a dining area into the living room, so we don't spend the next year continuing to balance dinner plates on our laps. That's how low my standards have fallen. All I need is a table to eat at, and I'm happy.

But tonight, while walking the dog, we passed a couple of "for rent" signs.

"Should I take down the number?" I asked JK. "Just to cover our bases?"

I obviously am having a hard time letting go.

Last weekend we visited my brother and sister-in-law in Phoenix and stayed in their lovely, relatively expansive home that boasts not one, but two dining areas. My brother converted the third bedroom into a home movie theatre, complete with a projector, huge screen mounted to the wall, and two rows of movie theatre seats he found on Craigslist.

My radical-leaning sister-in-law lamented the fact that she didn't feel comfortable hosting CopWatch meetings or anarchist reading groups in their living room.

"I almost need to hide where I live," she said. "A home theatre is so not anti-establishment."

And so I find my silver lining. The feminist radio collective will feel right at home here. Of this, I am positive.



After returning from a three-day respite to the relatively hot weather of Arizona, I hereby place a moratorium on all weather-related waxing.

I won't complain that we still have many feet of snow on the ground almost halfway through March, nor will I lament the fact that I had to re-box all of the short-sleeve shirts I had unpacked for our trip south. I won't even mention the fact that the reports of more snow this week had me so wracked with disappointment earlier today that I almost accidentally drove my car into a ditch.

Because I'm getting tired of hearing my own self talk about the temperature. I'm tired of the anxious, depressed looks that cross the faces of shoppers when they see the bathing suits and sandals in the window displays of chain stores. I need to reclaim the me that sees this as one big, fun, ice-covered adventure.

Maybe the act of embracing our never-ending winter will increase my fortitude in the face of future adversity. Maybe it's a gift from the gods, allowing me a last-ditch chance to learn to snow-shoe. Maybe it will force me to fill my time reading things other than the updates from the National Weather Service, which, in turn, will make me a more interesting person at dinner parties. Maybe it means my out-of-town friends will stop secretly rolling their eyes whenever we talk on the phone.

Maybe. But if I talk about weather one more time before June, please, somebody start spamming me.


Not another list

I'm getting tired of such a literal interpretation of this month's theme and will my do best, for the sake of you lovely people, to vary things a bit.

But not tonight. Tonight I got home late from a long day of schlepping around airports, and sitting next to too-big men who take up all the arm rest, and getting confused by the hour-slow clock on the terminal tram. So, no freshly reinvented riff about lists for you today.

Good night!!


Resolutions for the next week

1. sleep
2. refrain from drinking excessive amounts of wine
3. go to bed before 2 a.m.
4. avoid fried things and cheese and any sauce for which a main ingredient is ranch dressing

That's it. Fun though it was, after this weekend my standards are pretty low.


Things I keep

Last Friday, I went with our upstairs neighbor to a Naked Lady Party.

Fifteen or so women gathered at one woman's house, with the husbands and children banished, carting large bags of unwanted clothes and shoes and household things. We spread them all over the living room and dining room, organizing them into categories (i.e., shoes by the window, pants on the love seat).

Then, after an hour or so of wine and food, someone shouted, "Swap!" Wine glasses and forks clattering to the table, we swarmed through the stacks of clothing, trying things on, examining ourselves in the full-length mirrors propped against the walls, and passing things that didn't fit to other people.

By the end of the night, we each had filled our bags with other people's unwanted things. Everything was free. The only rule was that you leave with about the same amount of stuff you brought with you. (It's the hostess's job to pack up all the leftovers and donate them to a local thrift store.)

Earlier that day, I was surveying my closet, deciding what to bring. And I thought about all the stuff I don't part with, all the stuff I keep and move from apartment to apartment, or never or rarely use.

So, for today's list... a list of things I keep.

Things I keep:

1. Navy pumps that I've worn exactly twice
2. An old corduroy blazer, which, despite my waiting, has never come back in style
3. Everything that was ever owned by my great-grandmother, regardless of whether I use it or if it's even usable (many decorative vases, a makeup bag, a cracked turkey baster)
4. Old candle stubs
5. 10 years' worth of journals, diaries and spiral notebooks
6. My dog's baby teeth
7. Extra buttons
8. Mostly empty bottles of fingernail polish
9. Exactly one pair of pants a size too small, just in case


Things I may do for my father's birthday

The parents are meeting JK and me at The Brother and Sister-in-Law's house in Phoenix tomorrow (technically, later today). My father turns 57 later this month, so we're planning a few early-birthday festivities during the visit. By a "few," I really mean an all-day extravaganza. For example...

Some things I may do for my father's birthday:

1. Grudgingly agree to miniature golf.
2. Lose at bowling.
3. Buy dinner.
4. Insist that everyone wear party hats.
5. Eat vegan carrot birthday cake.
6. Sing "Manic Monday" and "Cecilia" and "Here Comes the Rain Again" in front of a drunken crowd of strangers at the neighborhood karaoke bar.
7. Drink more wine than is responsible.
8. Create a ridiculously complicated, impressively creative, last-minute gift with The Brother and Sister-in-Law.
9. Feel a little guilty for not doing more.
10. Eat left-over vegan carrot birthday cake for breakfast, while sneaking globs of icing under the table to the dog.



A couple of close friends are heading back to Alabama next week for a visit. It got me thinking of all the good things about Alabama, all the things I miss. And so, for today's installment...

The things I miss about 'Bammy:

1. The fried food
2. The way you can walk down the street, or go to dinner, or go to Target, and invariably run into at least five people you know
3. Bitching with friends about how drippingly religious everything is
4. The ho-cakes (they're like greasy pancakes made with cornmeal and then fried)
5. The looks on people's faces in other parts of the country when I tell them I live in Alabama
6. The world's most passionate women's rights activists
7. The way it rains for 30 minutes every afternoon in August, cooling things off and making the pavement steam
8. Sitting on porches with beer and friends and dogs
9. The immediate friendships that come from a small circle of like-minded people
10. Breaking into JK's backyard before we were dating, and having impromptu midnight pool parties



It's late. I'm tired. The computer's acting funny, and I still have so much to do, and it's 10:30 and I'm tired.

And so I apologize for this filler. This every-day thing can stink when you're over-worked and under-fed. Sigh.

So, a silly list. Send me yours. I want to know.

A few of my favorite things:
in no particular order

1. homemade spaghetti
2. a good book and a pillowy couch and open windows
3. wood-burning fireplaces
4. pancakes for dinner
5. the first warm day of the year, when you suddenly realize you can strip to your t-shirt and not get goose flesh
6. cold cereal
7. the sweet, solid feel of my dog, plopping his chin on my knee or in my hand
8. the smell of coffee in the morning, especially when JK makes it
9. the way JK always tucks the blankets around my shoulders when he gets up first in the morning
10. roller-skating



A few months ago, I read on someone else's blog that a common and nifty way to introduce one's self to the Blogland is to publish a "100 things about me" list, in 10 installments of 10. This seems like an appropriate task for the Month of Lists.

So, here goes.

100 things, 1-10
(in no particular order)

1. I've lived at 20 different addresses (in 32 years).
2. Cold cereal is my all-time favorite food.
3. I hate malls. A handful of years ago, congested shopping areas inspired in me a sense of dread that bordered on panic attack. Now, it simmers at resentment.
4. The two things I love shopping for are books and shoes.
5. Tags make me nervous (on sheets, pillows, dog toys -- strangely not the tags on clothes).
6. If I could be anyone for a day, I'd be the guest host on Saturday Night Live.
7. For several months when I was seven or eight, I knocked every piece of cake I attempted to eat into my lap (this included cake for my birthday, my brother's birthday, my grandmother's birthday and my father's birthday). I have since overcome any lingering cake anxiety and prefer those in the family of chocolate.
8. My dream vacation consists of a remote cabin, a body of water nearby, a stack of books, bottles of wine, my dog, and maybe one or two carefully vetted human beings.
9. I resent being asked a lot of questions.
10. The most commonly heard phrase coming from my mouth is, "so, I have a question...".



Today I:

1. Jumped in puddles with a three-year-old
2. Whispered to my dog
3. Walked outside without a winter coat for the first time since November
4. Used my own bags at two stores, one of them Target
5. Got strange looks for using my own bags at one of them (guess which)
6. Was told I knew too much about conjoined and parasitic twins
7. Ate two bowls of cold cereal
8. Wrote a new prologue
9. Cried over a National Geographic article
10. Wondered why our brains like things in groups of 10.

Lists: A List

Before I jump in with my own list-mania, I wanted to share the queen bee of list-writing (if there were such a genre), written by my very own friend, Cake Leslie. This is good stuff worth savoring:



I love lists. I love drawing in the check-mark box to the left of each entry. I love how a well-made list can make you feel like a more productive person than you really are. I'm one of those people who adds things to her list that she's already done, just so she can check them off.

NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month -- where you post one blog entry per day, for the month of November) has gone year-round, starting today. And the topic for the inaugural month? Lists. I have a busy March ahead, but I couldn't resist, when the theme was one of my favorite (albeit kind of geeky) things.

I'm not exactly sure how I'll wring 31-days' worth of posts out of this, but I'll try. And if you have any suggestions, give us a holler.

Happy list-making!