The Journal and the Head: Writing 101, Day Twenty

Day Twenty, most treasured possession – long form.

Our last assignment for Writing 101 is to tell the story of our most prized possession in long-form writing.

That is a bit tricky because it seems so materialistic. My thoughts travel to those things in the world that I most treasure — family, friends. My mind. Memory. The bits of me that make me, me. Laughter! My cat’s warm sleepy stretch exposing his tender underbelly. Above all things, I treasure my daughter. They way she makes me smile. Her hugs. The wacky food combinations she fixes us when she’s making us a meal.

But none of those are things that I possess any more than I can own the earth. Or air. I value those things, but I do not own them. They exist, and I treasure them.

So returning to something materialistic — that I can possess or own — I turned to two things. First, the journal I kept in the first year of my daughter’s life. Those pages hold all the little memories from her first smiles to her first words. The way she used to roll everywhere instead of crawl. The way she loved her swing. Her bouncy seat.

Along with the journal, I’d have to include the photos and movies we took of her along the way. Maybe I can put those on a flash drive and tape them to the journal for safe-keeping.

When I wrote the words in that journal I did not know that my child’s eyes would eventually turn from dark blue to hazel green when she was three. That she would like to laugh so much. Be so wonderfully silly. That her hair would lose the little waves and turn from strawberry to warm blonde. That baby is gone. She’s grown into a very silly tween. But I loved the baby as much as the tween, and I’ll cherish her always. I’ll also treasure that journal.

The other thing that I treasure is my Darth Vader head of original Star Wars action figures. Yes. Yes. I know. It’s dorky. And how can I have a toss up between my beloved journal and some plastic toys, right? I mean is it even a contest? Yes. And no.

If the house were burning down and I could only save one material thing (after the humans and cats, of course), then it would certainly be the journal. How could I replace those memories? Time travel back inside my own brain as I awed at the miracle of my child? It would be irreplaceable!

But for years before my daughter was born I guarded that Darth Vader head of original Star Wars action figures. I did not bring it with me to college as college held too many dangers. I brought a spare Yoda and a large Chewbacca that I got at a flea market. But the head? I needed to keep it safe. I made my mom swear not to sell or donate it as so many other mothers had done.

Inside the head are the first Star Wars action figures I ever got. Not dolls. Action figures. Not that I didn’t like dolls. Before we moved from Chicago to Mount Juliet, Tennessee, I really, really, really, really, wanted to buy Star Wars action figures. I had friends whose little brothers had them. I had a second cousins who had them. They were amazing! Luke. Princess Leia. Han Solo. Dearth Vader and Ben Kenobi with their telescoping light sabers. I collected Star Wars bubble gum cards. But somehow buying these toys meant for little kids. Little boys, really. It set a fear into me. I was afraid, somehow, that I’d be breaking rules to buy Star Wars toys.

My grandparents used to have a drawstring bag full of beautiful marbles. I loved those marbles. I played with them when I was at their house. I chose my favorites. The ones that were clear with no swirl looked like little crystal balls, and I could imagine the wonders of the universe trapped inside them. If I could just look at them the right way, I might see what the future might hold. Maybe see what my future child might look like. My loves.

I wanted to keep the marbles for my own. My grandmother said, “no.” Marbles were for boys. I could pick some dolls. My cousin, David, could have the marbles if he wanted them. My grandparents wouldn’t let me have the chemistry set from the attic for much the same reason either. I had almost talked my grandfather into letting me have the chemistry set even though I was a girl. The little jar of uranium was covered with the coolest little screen. The bottles were glass with stoppers. These held the ingredients of magic. All contained with a buckle inside a yellow, wooden case. Alas, I almost had it, but my grandmother convinced my grandfather that the chemistry set was too dangerous for me. I might hurt myself. They would get rid of it.

So somehow this idea had sunk into my head that I could not have toys for boys. That I couldn’t have toys for little kids. I was nine when Star Wars hit the big screen. Soon to be a tween. Nearly a teenager. I’d almost ask my mom for action figures. Or I’d almost spend some of my own money. Then not.

Until we moved. Being displaced can be a strange experience. It’s as if by leaving everything you know behind you can find more of yourself. So I think it was for my thirteenth birthday, possibly twelfth, I asked my friends for Star Wars action figures. Most did not take my request seriously. Some teased me. I didn’t care. I was done worrying if it was OK. My first was a Luke Skywalker. He was a birthday present from my friend, Linda, and I stood him on my shelf next to books. My nightstand. My dresser next to my frilly girl stuff. It was awesome!

The spell was broken and I no longer cared a hoot if anybody else thought I was weird for wanting action figures. I wanted more. A few of the more popular figures were hard to find — Leia, Han, Dearth Vader. I could find Power Droids and R5D4 just fine.

We ordered the set of basic characters through the Sears catalog. Even then it was hard to find the good ones on pegs in the stores. The catalog was a doorway to awesomeness. I was a little disappointed when the figures arrived in a plain white box instead of a bubble pack with pictures and descriptions of the characters. But they were nonetheless exactly what I wanted.

Soon I had enough for a whole Dearth Vader head — the moulded case that held the action figures. But what to do with all those weapons? I didn’t want to just put them all in the case haphazardly. They might get lost or mixed up. I’d lost too many Barbie shoes along the way to know that those pesky little plastic accessories had a way of losing themselves like socks. So I taped each one to a strip of paper and labeled it with the character to which is belonged. It was perfect.

So there it is. My most prized possessions. Material things, yes, but inside each lives a special piece of my past.

The Dearth Vader head now sits packed away on a self in my daughter’s room. My daughter doesn’t like them quite the same way. She likes other things.

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Behind

Well, I have to say I don’t feel like writing right now, but I’m trying to stick with this ten minutes thing. So here we go.

As if I don’t have enough stuff going on right now, yesterday a giant fork lift crashed into my car as I was driving out of our garage area and towards the main street in our community. It was the kind of fork lift that can haul masonry supplies up to the fourth level of our building for the ongoing repairs. Who the bleep gets hit by a giant fork lift? Yeah, me. Seriously.

Fortunately, I wasn’t hurt and my car doesn’t appear to be that damaged, but it was startling and it’s a hassle. I think it was one of its giant tires that actually impacted. Those tires are almost bigger than my car. Apparently, the driver was talking to somebody while he was relocating the fork lift. There were witnesses. I’d almost cleared the giant orange monstrosity when I felt a thud. Almost past and then no! Good thing I wasn’t a little kid!

I need to take the car to a shop to have it looked at. I’m hoping the scuff marks can be buffed out. One of the many advantages of Saturn cars were the polymer panels and doors. I’d have a big dent if it weren’t for that. As it is there’s also a small crack in the rear side panel and the gas lid (the outer part) is very slightly askew. Really, a fork lift?

I don’t even know how much longer I’ll keep this car. It has a lot of miles, but it’s been phenomenally dependable. Sigh.

Still behind on Writing 101 posts, but I’m really trying to stick with the ten minutes pledge.

And my daughter was just sitting on the couch with wet hair. She got up and left behind a giant wet spot that looks almost exactly like a Batman symbol! That’s pretty cool. Not a bad way to end the evening.

This Day

Today my baby graduated from elementary school. She’s officially a middle schooler. Just, wow! They get big so fast. I cried.

Today is also the first of two days of dance recitals. My daughter and several of her friends perform tonight, two different times tomorrow afternoon, and again tomorrow evening. While fun, I think this means we both may be piles of goo by Sunday. If there are sightings of The Blob and a slightly smaller Blob, those would be us.

Somewhere in all of this I’m trying to stick with my pledge to write ten minutes a day. This may be it for today. I’m in the audience waiting for the performance to start and writing on my phone. Please pardon the typos.

I really kind of like the idea for today’s Writing 101 assignment, so if I can muster the energy tonight I may get something done.

And show time. I’m out.

Fairly Tragic, Writing 101, Day Fifteen

Writing 101, Day Fifteen: Your Voice Will Find You
Our assignment: You’re told that an event that’s dear to your heart — an annual fair, festival, or conference — will be cancelled forever (or taken over by an evil organization). Write about it. For your twist, read your piece aloud, multiple times. Hone that voice of yours!

____

One of the most painful things for me to deal with is a missed chance or opportunity, so when I heard that the Fest would be permanently cancelled my heart sank. That feeling of no more. It’s so final. It sits in my middle like a bee sting. All those times I wanted to go but didn’t because there was too much laundry to do. Or my budget was stretched too far. Now it’s not even an option to go.

We had a lot of good times.

The food! Giant turkey legs, soup in a breadbowl, corn on the cob — sometimes I think we went just for the food. We can cook most of those things at home, except the turkey legs ’cause they’re smoked, but it’s just not the same. One time a puppet crafter told me that the giant turkey legs were really emu legs. I wouldn’t mind emu. But I googled it when I got home. Turkey. Probably from really big turkeys. But turkeys. The emu thing is kind of urban legend. Emu legs would be about eight times the size. I could really go for one of those giant turkey legs about now. I could even go for an emu leg if it tasted like one of those turkey legs.

We got some of the most adorable photos of my daughter wearing one of those flowery garlands on her head and when she first got her wooden sword. There was that extra-awesome time when she won at medieval pinball multiple times and this big burly guy who went after her got nothing. It was fascinating to people watch. There were shows with sword swallowing, juggling, comedy. There was that climbing wall with a dragon on top. Pirate ship. The wooden slide.

Once, on the way out, we bought a rose and a week or so later it started growing some new leaves. It was beautiful. With it sprouting like that, it was as if all the energy we had from that nice day brought the rose back to life. I know it’s probably dorky to think of it that way. ‘Course it shriveled and died eventually too. Oops.

Most of all, we had lots of just plain fun being outside together. It was like we were in some other world filled with artisans and pretty things. Entertainers. Exotic people.

We’re not even big fanatics. We almost never dress up. Some folks have entire wardrobes and get season passes. I always thought they were kind of, maybe, a little weird. On the other hand, they may have been on to something. They really got to enjoy it while it was there. Maybe they’ll miss it even more than we will though. Who knows. It seemed like it would always be there. It made for a lot of fun. Just can’t believe it.

So Behind On Writing 101, Ack!

I did not plan to let myself get this behind. This is the end of the school year, and there are about a billion extra activities going on. Yes, a billion, okay.

Add to that the fact that I only really pledged to write for ten minutes a day. That’s doable. But ten minutes is hardly enough to actually finish anything with the exception of finishing my goal to write for ten minutes.

So I’ve started almost all of the recent assignments. But finish? No. Between bites of my PBJ lunch, I did just manage to finish one. My house when I was twelve.

And I’m behind on reading much of anything too. There are so many good posts. I love to read what other people come up with when given the same prompt.

Still hoping to get caught up! On all of it. (Well, most of it anyway.)

Of Views and Berries

Writing 101, Day 11: Size Matters
Write about the house you lived in when you were 12. Vary the lengths of the sentences.

When I was twelve my mom remarried, and we moved from a bustling suburb of Chicago to a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee. I wanted to run away. It wasn’t that I didn’t like my new step dad – he was great – or that I didn’t like the house – it was quite nice.

When you’re twelve you may not think there would be so many differences from one suburb to the next. But 40 miles outside of Chicago and 40 miles outside of Nashville were a world apart. At the time, Mount Juliet, Tennessee, was more country than suburb.

The downtown had about two stoplights. I had a 45-minute school bus ride that passed nearly every type of home imaginable. Everyone talked with an accent and quite a few called me, “Yankee.” Some asked if we were from Canada. It took time to adjust.

Our house was walking distance to a pick-your-own peach orchard. It was a hilly walk with uneven blacktop warped by the sun. The closest store was a bait shop.

We had one of the most amazing views in the four-county area. The hill was so high that military and civilian helicopter pilots used it as a landmark. Sometimes they hovered level with our windows. The whole house shook. Once a pilot waved at us from slightly below our eye level. Ultralight pilots buzzed over the treetops too.

Along with my stepdad’s job being pretty decent, real estate prices differed significantly between the two locales. We were able to get a nice house. So nice that it was rumored to have been built by Burt Reynolds for Dinah Shore back when they were a thing. Don’t know if it’s true. The house was lovely but never struck me as Hollywood celebrity caliber. The view, however, was worthy.

The exterior of our house was made of stone and rustic wood. Against the view, it looked like it was pasted onto the hillside with a scenic poster behind. I had nightmares of it sliding right down. But we could see for many miles – trees, tiny houses in the distance, wee boats in the sections of Old Hickory lake that popped into view through the trees. It was breathtaking.

Chunks of stone covered the bottom about two feet up in the front and the entire back of the walkout basement. Rough, gray wood stretched to the roof which was much higher in the middle and, after a steep slope, spread gradually out from the left and right.

The great room, as they call it in those parts, was smack dab in the middle of the house and had a high “cathedral” ceiling. In Chicago we called it a family room no matter how high the ceiling. The kitchen, dining room, and formal living room formed a section to the left. The bedrooms and bathrooms were on the right.

The kitchen was huge. It was large enough to feature a two-level island in the middle which had space to eat, room to prepare food, and several cabinets and drawers for storage. The island alone had more surface space than our entire kitchen table in Chicago. There was a built-in desk to one side of the kitchen and room enough for a full family-size kitchen table.

The dinning room was nice, but hopelessly overshadowed by the kitchen. I think we used it all of three times. Same for the living room. Our cat liked to play there. A stash of cat toys was regularly trapped under the coffee table just out of his reach.

Windows stretched from the floor to almost the ceiling in nearly every room. It was full of light.

At the bottom of our yard we grew tomatoes. Blackberries grew wild in the rough at the edge of our lawn.

The house was both rustic and beautiful, but once I got over being quite so homesick for Chicago I liked going to my friends’ houses too.

My friend Julie’s in particular was fun. They had a whole playroom above their garage complete with board games, a pool table, craft and sewing supplies, and a record player. Their house wasn’t huge, but their backyard was flat as a pancake. Great for playing! And every growing season they had a garden with the best strawberries I’d ever had. It’s still hard to beat those strawberries today.

Happy Father’s Day, Non-Soylent Meals and More

Wishing all fathers a happy day! And everybody else too.

Comfort and hugs to those who find this day painful …

I’m behind in finishing some of my posts and ran a bunch of errands today.

I’m pretty sure I inadvertently mortified a young child and her father. I felt terrible. I went to a health food store where I wanted to purchase a high-protein meal-substitute powder. I found one that looked good – lots of natural stuff, protein, fiber, some greens, and antioxidants. At checkout I didn’t see any other customers and started talking with the man behind the counter saying, “I skip meals sometimes, and that’s not good.”

I’ve been using some of the Atkins meal replacement bars and shakes for times that I don’t manage lunch or breakfast. Then recently, two different friends posted that they were not grossed out, but oddly compelled, to try a new meal replacement product called Soylent. Yep, that’s right, Soylent. At least it isn’t green.

Containing all the chemical components the body needs, it’s sweetened with Sucralose but is otherwise unflavored. Reading an article in the New Yorker, Soylent type meal replacements seem to be somewhat the rage with college students who have crazy busy schedules and limited budgets. These people are not unlike me in that respect. So I began to feel compelled to try Soylent myself. And I might have ordered some, but the smallest quantity costs $85. For now, that’s a bit more than I want to spend on something I’ve never tasted.

So I figure, there are lots of products like Soylent already in the market. They just lack the memorable and grody name. They are the diet meal replacements and fitness muscle building products that line the shelves of health food stores, pharmacies, and mega marts. I wanted to try one that had all the protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, but lacking Sucralose and maybe containing some other healthy stuff. I settled on trying one called Vega One though there were more cost effective options I may try next.

I brought the tub of vanilla Vega One to the counter. The sales girl who touted its benefits was pleased with my choice. As the gentleman behind the counter nodded in agreement that skipping meals was not good, I went on to explain how several folks had posted online about a new product called Soylent. Indeed he knew the infamous movie Soylent Green and said he even read the original book by Harry Harrison Make Room! Make Room!

I commented that at least Soylent wasn’t made of people in Make Room! Make Room! And that the name made it memorable. He countered with the fact that the name sounded fairly disgusting. I agreed, but started to argue that there was some benefit to being memorable when he seemed to give a let’s-finish-up vibe. I figured I was too chatty and took my receipt. When I turned around there was a small girl, probably about four years old standing behind me clutching her Dad. Oops. Probably best not to mention eating people in front of adorable four-year olds. Thinking I could explain that Soylent was made by people not of people I decided it was best not to call more attention to it. I grabbed my all-vegetarian tub of vanilla Vega One and ducked out.

My family will not be eating powdered meal replacement shakes for Father’s Day dinner. I may stick to veggies myself.

All These Repairs, Writing 101, Day Six

Our Writing 101, Day Six assignment asks who is the most interesting person or people we met in 2014. The twist is to turn this into a character study. Day seven’s twist is to write dialog and, as I’m still working on seven, I included some dialog here too.

Life is pretty much work, mom stuff, daughter’s school & activity stuff, laundry, feed family, and struggle to make time to see people we already know and … repeat. I’ve not met many new people in 2014.

Thinking through the new people I did manage to meet, I realized that, aside from the most random of store clerks, every one of them has had something to do with repairs.

I had car trouble last week. A fellow commuter stopped to assist. I did not get his name, but he drove a silver vehicle and wasn’t afraid to open the hood to my steaming engine. He had lovely blue eyes which I probably shouldn’t have noticed. We topped off my coolant since I carry extra in the trunk and went on our way.

Once I got my car into a shop, a man named, Al, helped me with my car repairs. Later, Jeremy, at the same car repair shop, talked to me for a bit without actually giving me any info on my car because Al had all that info, and he’d gone for the day to pick up his kids.

Al was very by-the-book as far as repairs went. Replace broken part with same part. Not much creativity or love for working mechanics to find better solutions. Probably a good thing for new cars, but my older car often benefits from some creativity. The plastic coolant section of the intake manifold is a weak spot on some Saturns so many folks have used a more durable metal repair and been happy with it. Even the parts supplier that Al’s shop uses carries the more durable metal fix. Al is doing his job.

The other guy at the repair shop, Jeremy, was fairly interesting to talk with and I learned that he used to work in finance “telling rich people what to do with their money.” First working in a BMW repair shop, he found the world of car repair more exciting.

Jeremy also mentioned that not long ago he changed his eating habits and lost a lot of weight – he wanted to be healthier for his kids. His dark frame was trim. Bananas hung from a holder on his desk and beyond that a bag of gummy bears. He said that gave up all other sugar. He held up the bag – only genuine Haribo bears for him. He used to live in Germany.

Jeremy might have been open to exploring a better way to repair my car than Al. But Al got my car got fixed and for a fairly hefty price. I can actually drive my car now without spewing coolant all over the place. That’s a good thing, so I’ll take it.

I met a new doctor in 2014. Doctors do repair work of sorts, but I know nothing about her other than where she works.

If we’re going by the rule of most interesting person I met in 2014, it would be the Repair Liaison for our condominium community.

Repairs have been ongoing for around two years and are very necessary in our community. Our home owners’ association is now on its fourth Repair Liaison. Yep, four. It can be stressful.

Homeowners have a lot of pent up anger at having to undergo the repairs – the builder’s fault – but the Repair Liaison is the messenger. And we all know how that can turn out. I’m pretty sure the folks who are doing the actual repairs alert him to absolutely nothing until the last minute. So the Liaison, Mr. Edwards, is left to deal with homeowners who become even more upset when they get little notice that, by-the-way, we’ll be covering all your windows and temporarily blocking off one or two hundred square feet from your home. “How’s tomorrow work for ya?”

When I first spoke with him on the phone I’d pictured a gnarled construction type in his 40s or 50s with brown hair. But when I met him his hair was totally white. Hopefully dealing with homeowners for a month didn’t do that to him.

He seemed like a grandfather who’d just come out of retirement and is still learning the smart phone he inherited from his many predecessors.

So far, one of his most endearing qualities is that he seems to be able to keep track of virtually nothing as far as our home’s state of repair. You might think I’m kidding. But truly it is comical and hard to be mad at him when he’s trying yet somehow manages to get it all wrong.

In one of our first exchanges with him he said, “workers need to get into your unit to take down your security walls.” We had no temporary security walls at that point.

He said he “doesn’t have it in his notes” whether our home is getting temporary walls installed or if they’re coming down, but, “it’s one of those.” If you have temporary walls up they’re coming down. No walls? They need to put them up. “It really needs to be done by Wednesday. Thank you for scheduling this. Some people refuse to let us inside. That only delays everything.” Poor guy.

In later conversation he phoned us, “The plumber is coming up, and he’ll tap on your window in just a minute.”

“We don’t have any windows right now.”

“He’ll tap on your balcony door then.”

“Nope, don’t have one of those now either. No windows. No balcony door. We only have the pink temporary walls.”

“Okay then, I’ll radio him that he needs to come to your front door.”

“Thank you.”

He has a sweet, raspy voice that manages to sound genuinely helpful and appreciative, yet he’s not afraid to leave an urgent note on your door when work must get done and you didn’t yet manage to return his call. And most important he is still our Repair Liaison. It’s going on six months now, and he hasn’t run away screaming. There’s something to be said for that.

Ball Game Dragon Upgrade

Yesterday, I didn’t get much writing done. I figure I’m not trying to write seven days a week anyway. Did I specify? Didn’t I say five days a week? That’s more manageable if I didn’t say so before …

Instead of writing yesterday, I got to see a Major League baseball game with my daughter. I can’t say we’re huge baseball fans or sports fans in general for that matter. But it is certainly fun to go to an actual game once in a while.

It was a gorgeous day! While the weather forecast called for possible thunderstorms late in the afternoon, rain missed us entirely. The O’s didn’t win, but we saw them score a point. Yay. Camden yards is a beautiful ball park. We had lovely seats thanks to extra tickets from a nice co-worker. There was food — crabcakes! My daughter ate two and a half along with an entire plateful of fruit and numerous cups of ginger ale and Spirte. Then, cookies and brownies and the peanuts we purchased on our way out.

We left the park shortly before the game actually finished. We’d just about reached the car when my kiddo said, “I have to go to the bathroom.” Parents have been experiencing this, probably, since the beginning of parenthood in general. “Why didn’t you go back at the stadium?” I asked. She said that she didn’t know she had to go then. I’m pretty sure I said the same to my mom more than once. Payback, right? So instead of walking to the car we shot past it and went to the Visitor Center at Inner Harbor. They had a bathroom. It has moodlighting.

Then instead of walking back to the car, since we were already there, we walked around Inner Harbor. There were paddle boats which my daughter absolutely loves. We didn’t rent a paddle boat during the cherry blossom festival this year — the lines are crazy long for that. There was zero line, so I caved and we got a paddle boat. Weren’t we just going to the car?

I paid for a regular paddle boat. They also had dragon paddle boats that look cool, but they’re more expensive, and I figured we can see the green and purple dragons that other people are riding better than the one we’d be in anyway. But they had no regular paddle boats ready. Apparently the ones tied to the dock weren’t ready for people. So they upgraded us. Which was pretty cool. Being a little larger, the dragons are harder to paddle. I got exercise.

Then, we finally drove home. Nice day!

Writing 101, Day Five: Be Brief, “M is for”

“The Daily Post’s Writing 101, Day Five: Be Brief” challenges us to be succinct.

It instructs: “You discover a letter on a path that affects you deeply. Today, write about this encounter. And your twist? Be as succinct as possible.”

While no specific word counts were given, there were several suggestions including links to 100 word stories. I decided to take that challenge and write a story that is exactly 100 words. It’s not easy. I had to edit down from 189 words. I’m still not sure about some of it, but I’ll call it done for now. I’d love to hear what others think!

My story is here:
M is for

And just a laugh that this post on a 100-word story is longer than that at over 120!

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