Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Out with the Old Year…

After leaving the Blacksmith’s shop, Sandy drove us to Suzanne’s. She and Mom have been friends sincebefore I was born.Suzy told me a great story about how my Mom, very pregnant with me, was cursed out by a student and responded by hauling him out of the room and LITERALLY kicking his butt with every step they took down the stairs. Hee! Why didn’t she tell me that story when I was teaching in the Bronx and fantasized about being able to do such a thing? Perhaps she feared beinga bad influence. Imitating her in our modern society might have gotten me not just fired, but sued.

Suzie took us to a local Jewish deli (Choppie’s, I think). She had smoked whitefish, Mom got a salad, and Dad and I ordered Ruebens. Then the waitress brought Dad a Rueben and me a corned beef sandwich. I pointed out to the waitress that mine was missing the goop. “Oh, yeah, you said corned beef, right?” “Well, I said a Reuben with corned beef, not a corned beef sandwich. This is missing the sauce, cheese and sauerkraut.” “Oh,” she replied, “I told them to hold the cheese, because I thought that was how it was done.” Erin’s internal monologue: What? Why would you asking the kitchen to hold something if the customer didn’t ask for anything to be held?

I waited and waited for my sandwich. Dad came to my rescue and gave me half of his sandwich. (Mine would arrive as everyone else was done eating). Though the service was sub-par, the Reuben and fries were mouth-wateringly delicious enough to make up for it. The meat was juicy, tender and finely-shaved. Yum, yum, yum.

Suzie also snagged us some bagels for breakfast, which she served us with cream cheese before we took off for the airport New Year’s Eve. We made it through security pretty easily, though Mom and Dad accidentally left a bag there. Luckily, when they doubled back it was still there. Our second flight out of Dallas was delayed.

When we got to Des Moines, we were hungry. We stopped in Grimes for take-out Chinese food. The pets were ecstatic to see us, despite being spoiled in our absence by teenage house sitters. After supper, I momentarily considered hitting the road for Des Moines, trying to find some New Year’s Eve festivities. I ran through it in my head: frantic primping, driving, a few hours of partying without being able to drink because I’m driving, then driving home on roads full of drunken partiers. When I saw on Facebook that my friend Kelly was staying in, I decided I would do the same. Here’s hoping that the adage “How you spend New Year’s Eve will dictate what you will do in the New Year” isn’t true.” Actually, I could use more sleep, so maybe it’s okay after all.

I'm ready for a new year. When I left NYC, Tom told me about a blogger at "BaRou is the New Brooklyn" making a similar transition. Well, she was brave enough to proclaim 2008 a "FAIL," so I guess I can, too. Well, it was a teaching win, and I think I'm learning a lot, but I'm tired of being poor, carless and friendless. Okay, friendless is an exaggeration. I've got my roomies. Todd and I get along particularly well, but he's graduating this spring. And I keep complaining, but I can't seem to change it. Loneliness sucks. My professor thinks I've found the heart of my first book of poetry, which is great, but I need to get braver about submitting poems to magazines. Rejection sucks, too. AAARGH!

Here's hoping that 2009 leads to new adventures, opportunities and friendships.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sunshine in the Old West.

December 30, Sandy drove us down to Scottsdale. Mom’s friend Suzanne lives there, and it’s close to the airport. First we stopped at Old Scottsdale. The neighborhood is a preserved frontier town.

We were following a tourist map to see historical sites –and tons of shops and galleries in between. Dad was kind of grumpy, because we were shuffling around and standing around. That makes his back and hip hurt. (He drives the mail route sitting on the passenger side of the car putting mail in boxes while running the steering wheel, gas and breaks with his left arm and leg stretched WAAAY out. More than two decades of that can’t be good for the body.)

The closer we got to lunch, the more the grumpiness increased. Mom kept asking, “Well, do you want to eat here?” Dad kept claiming he didn’t care, but eventually muttered, “We’re in the Southwest and we haven’t had any Mexican left, but whatever. I don’t care.” “Great,” I replied, “Mexican it is!” Mom asked a information-booth-guy where we should go, and he recommended Las Olivas. It’s a neighborhood favorite. It’s been around a long time, and is named after some ancient olive trees that still stand nearby.

After fish tacos, chimichangas, gorgeous savory fajitas and a pitcher of daiquiris, everyone’s dispositions were a lot sunnier. We were peeking into the blacksmith’s shop when the blacksmith invited us inside. Cavelliere’s Blacksmith Shop has been in the same family since 1909. Originally, it was made of tin. George Cavalliere (aka Doc) wanted to built it on Main Street, but Scottsdale officials made him build outside of town. Now, it’s laughable, as outside-of-town is just a few blocks from Main Street, and has become squarely in town.

The blacksmith (whose name may or may not be Schoenau) let us wander around, looking at his antiques, decorative metalwork and sculptures. He says his specialties are fancy spiral iron staircases, the kind no one else wants to take on.

He’s been working there for decades, and jokes that before that he officially worked there, he was slave labor. What he enjoys most is fixing up old Indian motorcycles. The place was heaven for my dad, who loves collecting things. Hanging from the ceiling in groups were legs from potbellied stoves, iron tractor seats, and antique spurs.

He told us about a man who had admired the blacksmith’s antique saw collection so much that he hauled some saws all the way from Iowa to donate to the collection: “He said, ‘I just wanted them here. I knew they just had to be here.”

As we spoke to him, a woman bustled in, eager to have him fix her menorah. She didn’t even ask how much it would cost—I suppose because so few people know how to fix metal. It one of those things I think I’d like to learn. Dad and I welded a giant metal star once and strung it with blue lights to hang up on our windmill for Christmas. (This was before the tornado. Sadly, we no longer have a windmill.) That was fun. I can’t imagine undertaking such an activity in the blazing heat of Arizona, though. The day we visited Scottsdale, it got up to 70 degrees, despite being the end of December!

STRIKE! And, on the road again.

Monday, my grandma kept asking us what we wanted to go and do. My dad replied that he likes relaxing on vacation. Most of the time, when he takes time off work, he ends up doing farm stuff. Every time he goes away on vacation, he has to work so hard to get the farm ready for his absence. I know how he feels.

When I was a reporter, I generally spent the week before I left banking stories to be used in my absence. Now, my vacations are directly preceded by finals. As a result, I start my vacations exhausted. I zone out a few days, then rush around to visit everyone in the remaining days and end the vacations exhausted. Boo! Well, I’m taking a page from Dad’s playbook: take it easy.

Midday, we played a dominoes game called Chickenfoot, which we’ve enjoyed for years. I actually won, which is rare. Yay! We ended Monday by playing video games. Grandpa and Grandma received a knock-off Wii for Christmas (“My Sports Challenge”) which has bowling, tennis, hockey, golf, baseball and boxing. First, Mom and Sandy paired up against Dad and I.

Mom boogied after each strike or spare. Dad was frustrated by the differences between video bowling and real bowling. Mom’s dancing just seemed to rub it in. (Days later, Mom would play using our bowling avatars, and the result wasn’t as favorable. “I think it’s this girl,” Mom complained. “She’s just not good!” I told her we should tell Dad that. It wasn’t us that lost, it was that we chose bad avatars.)

After Mom and Sandy won, we cajoled Grandpa joining grandma to play against them. Grandpa was up and about for the first time since our arrival in Arizona. (He’s not in good health.) He and Grandma were in fine bowling form. Grandpa also developed a victory dance that had us all in stitches. We had so much fun that Mom decided to go out and buy herself the game to take home with us.

While she was out, Dad and I tried tennis (he had better results than I did, but worked up quite a sweat), and I tried boxing. Despite having no instruction manual, I managed to win an around-the-world boxing tournament through random button-punching and flailing wildly.

That night we packed our bags. We were hard-pressed to get all our belongings, presents and purchases into our luggage, even with the extra suitcase grandma gave us.

Tuesday, we had to hit the road again. I hid some notes around the house. It’s something I first did years ago because Grandma gets sad whenever we leave. She teared up as we piled into the van. Sometimes Grandma is so no-nonsense, but whenever we go, she gets sentimental. She was apologizing. I don’t know why. It’s just because she loves us! That's nothing to be embarassed about.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Merry Christmas from Arizona!

I was up until almost midnight packing my bags, trying to get everything I would need for a week of variable weather and a variety of occasions into carry-on bags (to save $50 round-trip). Mom woke me up at 4, and we were halfway to the airport by 5.

We left frigid snowy Iowa behind for sunny Arizona. Well, it was actually rainy and foggy, but it was still a lot warmer than Iowa had been. Grandma and Sandy picked us up in Phoenix, and carted us up to Prescott Valley, where Grandpa was waiting. They had put up lights outside, and inside set up a cute holiday village. Grandpa wanted to put up more, but Grandma reminded him that they would have to take down whatever they put up. Grandma was eager to open presents, so after supper, we opened our stockings.

I was in bed by 9 p.m. and awake by 5 a.m. That day, we took to the stores to buy Christmas presents. (This freed up space in out luggage, and we were able to take advantage of day-after-Christmas sales.) I got Mom’s favorite perfume and a wallet for Dad. For the grandparents, my aunt and uncle had gotten them a digital-picture-displaying ornament, which they filled with pictures of their daughters, sons-in-law and grandbabies. I found a similar device, and filled it with our side of the family. I also added some new pictures to the large digital frame we bought them a while back. For Sandy, I got some fancy beer and a mystery novel. Even Sandy's dog, Tipp, got in on the present-opening act.

That night, we went to Prescott for the Arizona Review. Each fall and winter, a group of local performers get together to sing and dance, with a little bit of comedy and some historical regional stories. Most of the time the show is western-themed, but at the end of December, it becomes a Christmas show. It was great fun. Grandma is friends with one of the singers, a tall diva named Jenifer, whose hair proudly proclaimed, “Thank You for this 1989 Country Music Award!” Voluminous hair is making a comeback.

Saturday I stayed in the house with Grandma and Grandpa while my parents went shopping. My parents then made “Texas Caviar,” a recipe Dad procured at grandpa Gilbaugh’s birthday party. He even helped mom make it!

I think that was also the night we visited the Valley of Lights, an animated Christmas light display that raises money for the Make a Wish foundation (like Jolly Holiday Lights in Des Moines). Grandma was collecting donations.

Sunday morning, I was lazing around the house. Then grandma announced that she would be leaving ASAP for choir practice. I volunteered to come, too, and managed to get ready in ten minutes. We picked up an anniversary cake to celebrate Grandma and Grandpa’s 61st. Singing was a lot of fun. Ever since the sing along with Rose and Ted over Thanksgiving, I’ve missed singing. Well, I missed it before then, but it’s keener now.

That afternoon, we dined on Chinese takeout. Mom cooked oyster stew for supper. It’s a generations-long Christmas Eve tradition in my family that will likely die with my mother. The smell of oyster stew just turns my stomach. As a kid I would hide it my room whenever Mom made it. Most foods I hated as a kid, I’ve tried as an adult, just to see if I’ve changed my mind (Fresh, raw cucumbers and tomatoes, yum. Fresh raw mushrooms and onions, meh. Slimy cooked mushrooms, yuck.) With oyster stew, I know, KNOW, there is no need. Shudder. Those oysters were ENORMOUS.

I toasted my grandparents: “Here’s to Grandma and Grandpa, who show us that love really can last a lifetime.”

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

“One More Sleep ‘til Christmas.”

The title of this post comes from the awesome movie Muppet Christmas Carol, a fabulous family film that I added to my must-watch Christmas list the moment I first saw it in the early ‘90s.

Christmas Eve was hectic. I was running around all day. I did laundry and started packing. Then, after lunch, Mom announced she was going to Des Moines and I realized I hadn’t deposited my roomie Rakel’s rent money. (I’d been carrying around $700 of her cash for quite some time. It made me nervous, but I just hadn’t made it to the bank.)

We went online and discovered that the bank would only be open until 2. If we left immediately, we just might make it! Well, we hopped into the car and made it just before the door was locked. When we got home, I had time to do just a little packing, shower and slap on clothes and makeup for the early Christmas Eve church service.

The church service was so lovely. Usually it’s a candlelight service, but for the early service, the church provided glow sticks instead. “I feel like I’m at a rave,” I whispered. Mom laughed and replied, “Well, it’s better than drippy hot wax any day.” We sang tons of carols, and the moment church was over we were in the car again. I went back to packing, and before I knew it, it was time to go to Alice’s house.

Alice is Mom’s best friend, and her house was bustling with family and friends. Alice served up delicious food and lots of laughs. Her granddaughters had been arguing over the names of the elves, and I was amazed how impressed people were that I knew them all. (Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and Rudolph.)

When we got home, Nathan S. was there with his wife and children. Nathan was my brother’s classmate in high school, and now he works construction. He’s been helping my parents to fix up their house, and the two families have bonded. Nathan’s oldest boys were wilder than March hares, but the youngest was cute as can be in a tiny Santa suit. It was 11 p.m. by the time they left. Then I had packing to do, and 40 winks to catch before flying out to Arizona Christmas day. Well, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Early Christmas!

Sunday, mom’s family came to visit us. In fact, J.B., Erika and my nieces beat us home from church where Mom, Dad and I had been ushers. We also got to visit with the adorable Auchenbach family. Too cute.

Anyway, this time my nieces both immediately remembered me and gave me big hugs. We went down to the basement to sit around the tree and open our stockings and presents. Everyone liked their gifts. It was the most fun, probably, to see the looks on Brooke and Courtney’s faces as they opened their presents.

Over the summer, I got their family Enchanted, because I thought the kids and adults could all enjoy it. The girls really took to the movie, so I got them dolls depicting the main character, Giselle. I also found little Disney princesses with carriages. Mom and Dad got them a Barbie car, fairies from the Tinkerbelle movie and books. I usually go for books, but Perry is a better source of toys than books, for some reason.

That said, the girls loved their toys. We had some lunch. Mom served vegetable beef soup, chili, chicken noodle soup, and black bean chicken. Mom is such a good cook! Courtney was brave about trying new things. Brooke tried new foods, too…partly out of bravery and partly out of a competitive spirit. The girls were nervous that the boys would try to play with their toys. We assured them it wouldn’t be a problem, but sure enough, the boys were enticed by the girls’ dollies.

Once my aunt, uncle, cousins, cousins-in-law and their little boys came over, Mom and Dad showed the kids the musical Christmas carousel, Santa’s Marching Bell Band, and the player piano. They were big hits. I discovered that little Logan loves Bing Crosby, so I quickly burned him a CD. The toddler was mesmerized, and pushed play on the CD player every time the disc ended. Jenny and Megan’s little boys are so cute, and both girls are expecting again. Visiting with family always makes me simultaneously appreciate my free time and adventures, and admire their happy marriages and cute babies.

Monday I finally got a chance to visit Karen and Lynn’s house. My car was stuck in a snow drift, so I had to take Mom’s car. Lynn wasn’t home, but I got to visit with Karen, Hannah and Connor. I always have fun when I see them. Hannah showed me her newest kitten (Sunny, Sir Fluffenstein, I think.) Then I got to see Unkie and Helen. They took care of me when Mom needed surgery just after I was born, and it created a special bond between us. Helen’s sick, so I didn’t want to wear out my welcome. I admired their gorgeous Christmas tree and exchanged hugs and kisses. I quickly fed the sheep. Then, as I tried to leave, I discovered my car was stuck on the ice. I couldn’t budge it.

It took Unkie and I with shovels, then taking turns steering and pushing, to dislodge it. I don’t know how long we struggled with the darn thing. “Unkie,” I admonished, “Don’t hurt yourself. I would feel so bad.” “You should,” he replied with a teasing tone. When the car was free, he informed me it was the most exercise he’d gotten in quite a while. Once I got the car back to my parent’s farm, I opened the garage door and gunned it up the hill. (If you slow down, you lose momentum, and you’ll never make it.) But then I got scared that I’d slide on the ice and knock of a side mirror, so I put the darn think in park. “You know what? I’ve already had two stuck cars today. I’m out. I’m done. I’m not pushing my luck.” Mom laughed, told me that was fine and brought in the car for me. Thanks, Mom.

I had an awful headache that night…the worst I could remember. I wanted to weep, it hurt so much. Mom thought it was because Helen is so sick. I’d felt shock and grief at seeing her so weak, but I didn’t want to show it in front of her or Unkie. The stress of holding it in caused the intense pain. I’d forgotten that my body does that. I tried to acknowledge it and cry it out. Tears flowed, but the pain stayed and stayed. What more can I do? How do I let this pain happen, then let it go?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Back in Iowa! (It's a warm 10.)

Dec. 17, I hadn’t gotten much sleep. I was up late packing. I managed to drag myself out of bed just in time to snag a cab to the airport.

My cabbie was from Senegal, and quickly became enamored with Iowa and…me. Heh. He has a business degree and specialized in insurance, so he loved the idea of a city full of insurance companies and low rent. When he learned that my dad raises sheep, which he sells to Africans for fresh lamb for parties, he was a goner. “Okay, but what are the winters like?” I told him the first snows might come now and then in October. They would come and go through November and December. The weather gets colder and snowier in January. In February you kind of want to die, it’s so cold and dreary. March brings ice storms, but by the end of march it’s usually spring. “Oh, no. I was wondering why the rent was so cheap.” Hee! Yes, there’s always a catch.

My flights went smoothly. When the pilot announced it was just 10 degrees in Des Moines, my body clenched, but stepping off the plane onto the tarmac, I was relieved. There was no wind, and the sun was shining. It was a warm 10 degrees, with gorgeous fluffy snow everywhere. For the first time in years, I managed to make it to Iowa on time, and with all of my luggage. Mom got to the Des Moines airport just as I snagged my bag off the baggage carousel. That night, I happily ate Mom’s vegetable beef soup, happily reunited with my parents.

The next day, they were at work while I played with pets and went shopping for Christmas presents in Perry. Roads were bad enough that I didn’t want to drive all the way to Des Moines. I managed to find items from J.B. and Erika’s wish lists, as well as toys my nieces would like, locally. Hooray!

Friday, school was cancelled for bad weather, so I got to hang out with mom. After lunch, I played in snow. When I bought Christmas presents, I also got a great deal on a saucer-sled ($4!) which I tried out on the slopes behind the house. The dogs were happy to go out and play with me.

Once Dad got off work, I chored with him. Mostly I followed him around while we bought fuses and tires, handed him buckets of grain or a bale of hay. I shoveled snow out of feeders for the sheep. Dad suggested I use an empty bucket. The only problem is, the hungry sheep didn’t quite get the concept of EMPTY BUCKET. Eventually, I was pinned to a fence by snuffling ewes. “Dad,” I called out, “I don’t think this is working. Can I have a shovel?” Heh.

I finished shoveling them out, then helped dad board up the top half of a barn door (so the sheep could come and go at will without the building losing too much heat). Then I shoveled the sidewalk and front steps. Note to town-people: if you have to clear driveways, etc., and don’t have a snowblower, buy a scoop shovel and a scraper. Those snowshovels are flimsy and inefficient. Trust me.

Saturday, we were supposed to have family Christmas in Northern Iowa, but weather was bad, so we stayed home. I’d been hoping to see my paternal grandparents, but didn’t relish a long slog in blizzard conditions. All day, Mom kept musing, “I’m so glad we’re not driving to Algona right now!” I hope we get to see them, though.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


I know I haven’t written in a LONG time. Well, once Rose and Ted left, I was suddenly aware of how much work I had to do. I had a ton of papers to grade. I had a poem to memorize for my craft of poetry class. (I chose Phillip Booth’s “First Lesson.)

I had to prepare for a public reading of my own work for my poetry workshop. I needed to put together a small book of publishable poems, too. That, my friends, is a challenging thing.

I also had to finish a 15-page nonfiction piece, and my intended subjects wouldn’t give me an interview. NOOOO! I managed to work my way around it and turned in a story on my Halloween parade exploits, with background on the parade and Project Bueller. My professor called it “a brilliant piece of reportage.” Thank you, sir!

In the midst of turning in papers and grading student papers, finals and portfolios, I also had to do domestic stuff. I was running around like crazy cleaning, laundering and packing for my trip. I also figured out how to arm our alarm, installed security lights and locked up my valuables in the closet. Pray with me that we’re not burglarized again.

I wanted to decorate for Christmas, but I didn’t have the time or money, so I created a flair tree on Facebook. (Facebook is a social networking site. You can find former classmates, etc., and e-mail them, play games with them, exchange photographs, etc. You can also send/pick out electronic buttons with pictures and sayings and arrange them on a corkboard.) Voila! Merry Christmas, everybody!