New Year’s Day should always fall on a three day weekend. Or maybe I should always take a three day weekend on New Year’s. Plenty of time to get over the hangover AND tick a bunch of things off the checklist.
This weekend we did all the things. We hosted friends on New Year’s. We had a great brunch the next morning staring at each other through squinting eyes while passing the ibuprofen. We went to all my favorite places to run all my favorite errands –Kitchen Window for a new tea kettle, Magers and Quinn for the Lynsey Addario memoir, Home Depot for snow shovels, The Wedge for all the groceries.
But somewhere on Friday I hit some major grumpiness. I felt like the day was gone and New Year’s to-do list was only getting longer. What about the office upstairs (re: hoarder’s retreat)? And when are we going to put in the door stoppers (the hole in the drywall from the doorknob IS ONLY GETTING BIGGER PEOPLE!)? And the first thing I wanted to do was set up our budget for the year so that we could accomplish all of our goals like babies and pottery and quilting and a patio and travel and classes and braces (????) and… and… and… and when am I going to practice wool spinning and WRITE MY ALBUM!
So I took a nap.
And then the miracle. Somehow I woke up filled with gratitude. I sat straight up with a shock. Why was I so grumpy, I thought. Look around. This place is wonderful. I woke up on the best couch AND THERE WERE KITTENS ON ME! I woke up to an amazing husband WHO WAS CLEANING THE KITCHEN. I danced my way into that kitchen AND I HAVE SICK MOVES. Seriously, what am I getting so worked up about?
I am so very lucky. I live in the house of my dreams with the man of my dreams doing the things I dreamed about as a kid.
So I wrote down one resolution for 2016. Gratitude. My list of dreams is longer than a lifetime. The tasks ahead aren’t a mountain to climb or a long road to walk down. Their just tasks that, like the breaths we breathe, are part of the rhythm of being alive.
Something that isn’t part of my natural rhythm is gratitude. So, I’m going to practice it. Like right now, I’m grateful for this little internet moment that connected me and you. What a little miracle. I’d love you’re help with this, too. Just tell me – What are you grateful for, hmm?
Grandmothers should always wear perfume. And please, keep it generic. That way grandsons can look for them in the candle section of every gift store ever.
When I moved away from home, I was surprised the first time I smelled something like Grandmom. I think she wore a perfume called Sand & Stone. It’s a scent full of flowers, a hint of sugar, a hint of salt, and a little bit of cut grass. My grandmother smelled like flowers. The first time I found her I was hunting Christmas gifts at Bath & Bodyworks in college, the scent in a bottle of lotion called White Gardenia.
I have found my grandmother in shops around the world. I smell all the candles everywhere, and everywhere I always find her. We live on opposite sides of the country now, so I have started buying these candles and lighting them in the morning when I write. A wisp of perfumed air flies by, and suddenly I am on the church pew next leaning against her arm, doodling on a sermon outline, anxious to run home and pick up our game of Jailhouse Rummy.
Wear perfume, grandmas. It gives the ones you love a scent to find and follow home.
Last night while we crawled into bed, my husband looked at me with tears in his eyes.
He said, “I just read the news.”
I didn’t bother to ask which news. Was it the Senate vote to defund Planned Parenthood? Was it this weeks NYT profile on Robert Dear? Is it more fear from the Paris shootings? Is it the federal lawsuit filed by the state of Texas to stop Syrian families from being resettled there?
Yes. It’s all of those things.
I woke up this morning thinking about what to do. Here’s what I would tell my sister or a friend or you if you wanted my thoughts on how you can help build peace in a world that feels so very chaotic. Here’s my answer for right now. Here’s where you start: If you see something, say something.
The DHS has been using this slogan for years now. But here’s the secret: It works even more powerfully for good.
If you see something hopeful, wonderful, peaceful, happy, positive, SAY SOMETHING.
Yes, there are terrible things happening. Yes, we have to stand up and speak out about these things. But the problem isn’t that regular people are ignoring terrible things. The problem is that we don’t know what to do about it. What does a normal everyday person do about the terrible things happening somewhere else.
“The decision to be positive is not one that disregards or belittles the sadness that exists. It is rather a conscious choice to focus on the good and to cultivate happiness.” This is a quote I have written on a card at my desk from Christopher Aiff, the subject of a minidoc made by SoulPancake. Three years ago, Aiff was 21 and facing the last days of his life.
“Happiness is not a limited resource,” he says. He’s right. Neither is peace. There is so much of it that the terror, the fear, the despair at terrible things… it can truly be overwhelmed if we cultivate happiness.
If you want to fight for good, start here: If you see something, say something. Remember that there are amazing, wonderful things in this world. Practice seeing them. Practice sharing them.
It’s not about overwhelming the negative. It’s about seeing the good and sharing it, building our collective memory of every wonderful things around us. It’s this memory, this belief, that sustains us in times of terrible things.
And then the sun rises again.
So, what good do you see around you?
If you have known me long enough, you have heard me talk about my lottery dreams. Whenever I’m asked, “What would you do if you won the lottery?” my answer is always the same.
I would fly everyone I love from all over the world to join together for a giant party. This is my dream. I would fly up my best friends from summer camp, my 11th grade English teacher, my family in Kolkata, my landfamily in Armenia and the ladies at the bakery in Stepanavan. I would fly in my besties from Peace Corps and college and high school and elementary school, and I would even try to find Joy who was my best friend in kindergarten even though I have no idea where she is because I moved in 1st grade. I would fly in Rajeesh and the guys from Bagmari slum, and I would fly in Katie Wendt, my penpal of 11 years. AND SO MANY MORE PEOPLE. We would party in Merryville, Lousiana, or Lometa, Texas, because neither of my grandparents are much up for travel these days. Oh, and I would invite Lady Gaga, because it’s my dream and I can do what I want.
So, this gathering where all the people I love party together… it’s kind of becoming a real thing (minus the millions of dollars). First, it was ARC’s Global Leadership Conference in Gisenye, Rwanda, where I hugged so many friends I have worked with in Uganda, South Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan, and more, and then they all met each other. A few months later, it was my wedding, where all the besties and the families and the Minneapolis friends partied together so hard that I flew to the moon and back on a shooting star made of happiness.
It happened again last weekend. The Changemakers Ball started years ago as a fundraising event. It’s a Gala, and in the world of nonprofits, one could guess that it is predictably a nice meal and a moment in which everyone is asked to open an envelope and put money in it.
The Changemakers Ball is turning into my dream. That night so many of my favorite people from across the ARC universe met each other. On Friday, I picked up the Mataano twins from the airport, hugged them and wisked them off to HAUS Salon, my husband’s place. My husband brought a crowd of folks from the HAUS Salon world to the Changemakers Ball where they met my two friends from Kyangwali Refugee Settlement, Connie and Joseph, who flew in to accept their trophies as winners of the Changemakers Award. They met so many of our community here including Jim Wolford, the CEO of Atomic Data, who traveled with me on my very first ARC trip which happened to be to Kyangwali Refugee Settlement in Uganda before Connie and Joseph met our team. Jim also met my parents who flew up for the Ball from Texas. My parents met James Yugi, Senior Health Coordinator for ARC in South Sudan, and my host in Narus, a small town in the far east corner of that new country. Yugi spent a lot of his time in Minneapolis with Heather Beusseler, Health Technical Advisor for ARC. Heather spent this past 4th of July in Belton, Texas, my hometown, and shared her delight from her trip with my parents when she met them at the Ball. And on and on and on and on. The stars of my ARC universe make one bright constellation.
There were 1100 people in the room that night. 1100 magical souls from around the world. Sri Lanka was in the room. Kenya was in the room. Syria and South Sudan and Texas and New York and Uganda and certainly Minnesota, they were all there. I spent the whole night grinning so hard it hurt.
I dream. I dream so hard that the people I see and love all over the world will have a chance to look at each other in the eyes and see the magic that I see. The beautiful, transcendent magic alive in every soul, I see it every time. And what’s better is seeing the people I love see it in each other.
I keep closing my eyes, opening them, and seeing my dreams come true.
(Here are some of my favorite moments.)
Jim Wolford presented the Changemakers Award to the winners, Connie and Joseph.
When the sun goes down in Amman it feels like you could be in any city in the world. Beautiful new highways twist around each other on the way to the airport or to Petra or to the Dead Sea.The lights of the city could be the lights of any city. The Abdoun Bridge seems to hang above a great cavern. You might even think there is a river below.
Amman has the the largest Starbucks franchise in the world. This is according to Tamer, my new friend and driver for ARC in Amman. I’m not sure I believe him, and I’m not sure it matters. I saw it. It’s big.
Tamer loves Friends. He’s mad for it. I had heard this about him and asked him about it when he picked me up at the airport which is why we talked about the show for the entire hour drive to the apartment. We talked about his favorite episode (“The one where Rachel and Ross accidentally get married”). We tried to rank the 6 friends of Friends. His list started with Rachel, then Joey, and end with “This is impossible!” We talked about the Thanksgiving episodes which he loved despite having never celebrated the American holiday.
“When Joey has his head stuck in a chicken, it’s hilarious!” (sic)
My first hour in Jordan was so delightfully cross-cultural. The week would roll on like this. With Menal, I drank Armenian coffee (she called it Turkish, but we know) and read her future in the grounds the Armenian way, making it all up as I went along. (“Look! It’s three women in ball gowns! Their names are Joy, Wisdom … and Family.”) We were both delighted. In Za’atari Refugee Camp, I filmed a volleyball game and felt inadequate when I clumsily threw the ball back in to play (just like back home!). All week long I drove by Burger Kings and Hardee’s, then at night I walked by the shisha restaurants in my neighborhood.
On the second day the dust storm rolled in. This shocked me. My first day and a half had been crisp and blue and cool.
Then that storm rolled in with a haze you could breath.
Everything changed for me with that storm. I have been thinking about a conversation I had with a friend about the power of landscape, how it shapes you, how your soul fits into it like water in cup. Your soul takes on it’s shape.
Driving around Jordan, the desert overtakes you. You don’t get this feeling driving across the bridges of Amman or past Burger King, unless the landscape is reaching over the city and slapping the buildings with sand. The desert wins outside the city where there is only sand and rocks forever. Where will you go in this land? How would you ever fill this space?
I saw a pen of sheep not far from the highway when we drove to Za’atari Camp. The sheep were pressed up against each other in the pen. Next to the pen was a hut made of mud bricks with a tarp stretched from wall to wall to make a roof held down with stones. There was not a shrub in sight.
“What is he doing out here?” Tamer said. “What is he feeding them? There is no water.”
Tamer spoke for me. I live in a land of 10,000 lakes, and here I couldn’t find a puddle.
Five minutes later, with the pen of sheep behind us, I asked Tamer to turn up the radio. His favorite artist, Bon Jovi, was singing “Livin’ On a Prayer”, and we joined him, the car full of us singing into the desert, seeing how far we could reach with our voices.
So, I thought that now would be a good time to muse in full view of the public. I didn’t sleep on the plane.
The woman next to me had a bladder infection which was announced by the flight attendant before take off.
“She has a bladder infection, so she’ll have to get up quite a lot,” the flight attendant proclaimed. I pretended not to hear. We all pretended not to hear. I turned the page in my book, then turned it back like I missed something in the last paragraph. I eavesdropped.
“I don’t mind,” the man in the aisle seat said. He was very large and didn’t move. She was very upset. She crawled into on the middle seat next to me. She grumbled in French.
It took me all of Magic Mike XXL and three episodes of Veep to realize how terribly annoying my overhead light was to the dark cabin and particularly to the woman with the bladder infection. I was absorbed with my knitting and with the body rolls and abs. It was her signal, the slamming of her elbows into the back of her seat and the knees behind it, then the stabbing at her screen and leaning into my overhead light, that clued me in to just how out of touch I was. I turned off my light.
My layover is in Paris. Landing in the early, early morning in Charles De Gaulle Airport gave me the creeps. Empty airports always give me the creeps. I think it’s the apocalypse. I think an empty airport is where you’d really feel the end of the world first. The airport is the first place you’d finally accept that there is no where to go. You’d buckle down and eat a lot of fun size bags of chips. When I’m walking through an empty airport at some odd hour, I always wonder what it would be like to set up camp. I imagine how tired I would be of eating chips and those Biscotti cookies. I make a note to raid the Johnson & Murphy for leather goods and then Sharper Image for all the batteries and neck pillows.
I eventually landed in the Air France Lounge where I have been sitting for a few hours. I took up my knitting again and drank a cappuccino. The view is wonderful. The lounge sits over a tunnel out of which two highways stretch out toward the city. I can’t stop watching the cars. I haven’t seen a single car with a ding. I haven’t seen one with a crusty paint job. I’ve been looking for a real beater driving through the airport grounds. None.
I imagine the lives of the people in those cars. Off they go over the hill of the highway bridge. There they go into the city or away from it, on their way to their lives. I feel grateful.
My job is taking me to a refugee camp. In the next few days I’ll walk through a camp with people who left their lives behind never to see them again. Here I sit watching other people return to them. I am grateful. I am grateful for the clean lines on the road and the drivers patiently making their way between them. I am grateful for the simple road sign, the tall pine tree and the trimmed grass in the median. I am grateful for clean windows.
Peace is made of thousands of decisions, decisions made by regular people doing the peaceful thing right in front of them. Someone trimmed the median grass. Someone put up the road sign. The drivers are all staying in the lanes drawn by well meaning road workers in the street.
There are people in the world who have lost everything, that spend all day looking for an ounce of peace. And here it is, right in front of us, thousands of small decisions that built this peaceful moment. Here we are, sitting in the middle of it.
This Halloween I have decided not to wear a costume. I love Halloween down deep in my soul, but I will be on a flight to the Middle East, and I don’t think it’s prudent to show up in a cape, white face and fangs with fake blood trickling from my lip. #goodtraveler
Plus, if my Halloween heart pangs overwhelm, I’ll run to the airplane bathroom, wrap myself in toilet paper and take a selfie. #milehighmummy (OH MY GOD IS THIS MY MEME MOMENT?)
But I love Halloween. My whole family loves Halloween. I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten a Christmas card from my family, but I ALWAYS get Halloween cards. This year’s from my sister made such creepy sounds that I’ve scared my husband with it twice.
I miss my family during the holidays, and Halloween is when it always starts. I miss being gathered around my parents’ bathroom mirror with face crayons and latex wounds. Zombies are and will always be the best costume. A little dead. A little silly. A lot of ugly face contests with my sister.
As we began to get older, we started dressing up just to go out to places in costume. We would crash parties in costume, walk around Walmart, or go out to a restaurant, all just to laugh with other people who were laughing at us.
Here’s my mom, my sister, and me, heading to my younger sister’s friend’s Halloween party. We were not invited.
We also dressed up for Halloween Dinner. We did this for the first time when my aunt and cousin were living with us. I borrowed my aunt’s silk pants and a sparkly turban from my mother and ate dinner as The Genie.
The standard dinner is always Brains and Eyeballs with Blood Buttered Flesh (spaghetti and meatballs with rolls). The noodles are bright green. The butter is blood red. We’re all looking crazy and wonderful. This year we are separated by The Great Plains. Youngest Sister is up here in Minnesota with me, the rest of the family in Texas (The Motherland!). This has not stopped us from texting up a storm about what meal we would be having, and this year it’s been better than ever. I present to you,
THE HOCUS POCUS HALLOWEEN DINNER!
Dead Man’s Toe Cheese Log
Margaritas With A Circle of Salt
Virgin Lit the Candle Daiquiris
Mummy’s Scorpion Pie with Zombie Fingerling Potatoes
Lucky Rat Tail Pasta with Dead Man’s Chungs
Itch-it-a-cop-it-a-Mel-a-ka-mys-ti-canadian Bacon and Cream Cheese OOOOON TOAST!
Oil of Boil Chardonnay
Squashed Binx (brownies in the shape of cats)
Kiln Roasted Sandersons (cookies in the shape of witches)
I wish I was spooking it up with the family this Halloween, but thanks to the internet, we can still spread our Halloween love around. So, tell me, what’s missing from our Hocus Pocus Halloween Dinner? (Tell me it has something to do with a Black Flame…)
On Friday morning at 6:45am Charlie and I left the house wrapped up in sweaters and a thrill of excitement.
Our photographer, Melissa, emailed us well in advance about submitting our wedding photos to Lavender Magazine’s annual wedding issue. Honestly, I think I missed the email. (I’m bad at personal emails.) But Charlie is not. So when he told me about the email that said we were on the cover, I nearly dropped my dinner.
“Like, you and me?” I asked.
“Yes, babe. You and me. On the cover. Isn’t that crazy?”
“That’s insane. What? What picture are they going to use?”
We didn’t tell anyone. So far the only evidence we had was an email from a source that we trusted that was not from a magazine. So we waited.
Friday morning we ran out into pre-sunrise Uptown looking for our faces. We went to Isles Bun & Coffee. We only saw a pile of Andy Cohen. His infamous grin from the last issue beamed at us while we held our lattes wondering where we should head next.
We drove to every coffee shop in the neighborhood peering into the windows looking for that stack of free things. Lavender is always in there, usually next the other Twin Cities weeklies and the billboard with fliers for community theater and sweet old ladies offering piano lessons or dog-watching. We peeked into every coffeeshop window in Uptown, even walked into a few. We stopped at all the rows of newspaper boxes on the sidewalk, opened up their doors, but we only ever saw Andy Cohen smirking at us.
Finally, we gave up. Driving up Nicollete, the sun peeked out at us over the restaurants on Eat Street. I sipped the last of my latte, now lukewarm. I was a little down, our magical morning spent without the moment we’d been gotten so giddy for.
Charlie pulled into the turn lane about to swing left onto 24th. “Stop!” I yelled. A yellow newspaper box stood alone a few feet from the bus stop. There was a Lavender sticker on it. Even though we’d checked all the others, I decided to jump out of our moving car, leaving Charlie to idle in the turn lane. I ran to the sidewalk, swung the door of that yellow box wide open, and there we were, a stack of my husband and me, smiling and hugging each other surrounded by our beloved family and friends.
I took the entire stack.*
“Babe! Look! It’s us!” I was beside myself. There we were, sparkling.
Happy. That’s what I thought. “We look so happy.”
Since then we’ve seen these around. A few people have grabbed them and sent the sweetest messages to Charlie and me. And the spread of our photos inside, the one with our wedding party, the one with our friends under the big tree in our front yard, even the one with Charlie and me holding skulls in front of our faces, they remind me of so many moments of a day that flew by us and a time in our lives that will never leave our hearts. I’m sitting now by a window from which I can see the place we stood when we made our vows to love each other forever. And now, out of the great blue sky drops this beautiful token, a gift we get to keep and show our grandchildren.
And of course, with gratitude and humility, we have thought a lot about how much this means this year. This is the year marriage became legal for all of us, after hundreds of years of inequality, and now two men who had the happiest day of their lives celebrating their love with the people they love, two men who love each other are on the cover a magazine found all over the city.
We took this photo in the alley behind our house. Melissa ushered us back and handed out sparklers. Someone dropped their glass of wine, and it shattered. My sisters are in the photo, and so is Charlie’s. Friends from high school and college and Peace Corps and Minneapolis, all in that photo holding out sparkling, joy-filled light to us. The cliché holds true – the night flew by. But I remember this moment. I remember the feeling of holding my true love, him almost falling, all of us laughing. I remember a clear feeling, knowing that this is a dream I get to live.
*I know you’re out there, careful and choosy distributor of Lavendar Magazines, you who chose that beloved yellow newspaper box. I’m sorry, but I had to take them all. Posterity demands. I hope you understand. Don’t worry, I left all the Andy Cohens.
**You can see what other photos made it into the magazine here: http://www.lavendermagazine.com/our-lives/real-weddings-brent-charlie-love/
I’m surrounded by four years of change. Like that fishtank in the corner of the living room. That wasn’t there before. The guppies surely weren’t alive four years ago. Nor were the cats that are curled at the edge of the couch with their paws stretched out toward the fire.
My husband certainly wasn’t here for years ago. At least he wasn’t here in this house on the couch next to me working on emails and waiting for the short ribs he made us to be finished in the slow cooker.
That red blanket. That was here. I got that blanket, made from scratchy bright red wool when I graduated from high school. I lettered in Academics. They gave us letter blankets instead of the letter jackets they gave athletes. I suppose they thought we would just curl up on the couch. Four years ago, I put that red blanket it in the car when I drove up here from Texas.
The white bowl on the coffee table that’s shaped like a leaf, that’s new. My husband and I bought that at a garage sale in Kenwood. It was on the coffee table in our first apartment, and now it’s on the coffee table in our new house.
That cyanotype print of feathers, that’s new. And the skull? I collect skulls now? Ok, yes. I collect skulls. And the potted plants. I was never good at potted plants. But I seem to be keeping so many alive. That hairy fern next to the fish tank is nice. The grape leaf fern though… seen better days, I think.
Wow. And the moon from that window.
It’s like I’m waking up.
Sometimes I come back to this blog. I read it, and then, after I’ve scrolled and scrolled, and read so many back entries, I look up. Right then it’s not the memories in these posts that seem far away; it’s the room I’m in. The cats and the guppies and the white leaf bowl on the table. The hairy fern. I shake myself. I know I love the place. I can feel that fullness like a warm meal. All I have to think about is my husband’s fingers running through my hair, and it’s like magic. I’m here again.
But how did the man who wrote this blog land here on this couch. I wonder how I’ve been in all of these places and how they could possibly be the same story.
Sitting down to write about it is like standing at the edge of the ocean. I look out, and I’m terrified and a little joyful and full of questions.
And here I thought I was going to return to this blog by writing about yesterday’s ladybug.
Along the southern point of Lake Kivu you can pass between Rwanda and Congo. A tiny prop plane will take you from Kigali right to the edge of the country.
The flight takes thirty minutes, and they offer a quick snack of Coke and groundnuts while you watch the propeller spin outside.
Fifteen minutes of smooth winding road curves around the edges of hills from which you can watch the fishing boats in the small bay. These roads eventually move down to the water’s edge and let you out at a busy little border crossing.
There are loose papers waiting on a table in front of a small building. People gather around that table to declare their departure from Rwanda. Loose pens are claimed and shuffled and claimed again while people fill out their passport numbers and check boxes to say why they came. Business. Travel. Other. Two men at desks in an unlit room look over them, ask questions, pound ink onto the visa pages.
You pass over a wooden bridge just wide enough for one car. There is the smallest bit of standing room on each side and people walking to and from shuffle against the railing to keep from being hit while maintaining their momentum. Once you cross the bridge you are no longer in Rwanda. On this other side you are on your way to standing in the Congo, but you aren’t there yet.
Just over the bridge and before the next check point you are officially nowhere.
A colleague, the driver taking me from Rwanda to Congo, he described it as the neutral zone. It was filled with people, almost all of them walking quickly. Mostly they were women, women with piles of bananas or bins of fresh fish or unseen goods in giant thick plastic sacks. They carried them carefully on top of their heads. Carrying. Almost everyone was carrying something, some food or tool or market-bound good strapped to shoulders or foreheads or worn as a back-breaking crown, taken from one country to the other on foot.
There were people sitting in the neutral zone. A group of moms looked relaxed, sitting on the ground with legs stretched out in front of them, eating quickly and talking quickly. A girl played by a tree that hung over a hill’s slope. Border guards sat on an unconnected fence to watch the bridge.
You can always go back. In the neutral zone you can turn around. You don’t have to enter the new country. You don’t have to pass through the scrutiny of unfamiliar people. You can turn around in that space. You don’t even have to decide. You could sit for a while. Talk to your friends. Watch others pass through. You have til nightfall or until someone with a gun nudges you in one direction or another. But really, you can turn around and head back.
I’ve been crossing a lot of borders on this trip through East Africa. I can’t stop thinking about them. The departure, the arrival, the duty-free space in between. There are a lot of people walking these lines. I am walking these lines.