In the pool three days this reporting period. Sunburned Thursday morning, slathered on Neutrogena SPF 60 Saturday afternoon, slathered on SPF 60 and waited until after 5:00 p.m. and found a spot in the shade of an umbrella today. And all three days, wore a hat.
For the record, I am not the woman in the photo. I looked like that once, and it was unintentional. I sat beside the Frio River in Concan one August afternoon, painting the scene and managing to forget that no amount of shade protects against the sun reflecting off the water. I burned through the white tee-shirt I was wearing.
The other time I risked looking like that, I answered the call to garden by creating a twine lattice for the queen’s crown to climb around my side porch. At high noon. On a 100-degree June day. I didn’t burn, however. I broke out in an itchy rash on my face, neck, and arms. I went to the doctor and begged for steroids, my only hope of stopping the misery. Two weeks later, I walked in on a group of my colleagues taking a break from the library’s summer reading program.
“I have a job interview on Monday,” I said. “Should I mention the rash, or just ignore it?”
The response was unanimous. “Mention it!” After disposing of my question, they asked their own, beginning with, “What in the world did you do to yourself?”
I’ve spent time in the sun–on bicycle, on horseback, in river and pool–but I’ve never been a sunbather. The heat, the sweat, the glare (which made reading impossible), the boredom…Soaking up rays for the sole purpose of turning into toast is not my idea of fun.
I learned about ultraviolet radiation when my family joined my aunt’s family for a day on the beach at Galveston. I was three years old. My mother spent the day rubbing me down with Sea-N-Ski and dragging me back into the shade of the big umbrella. She later explained she was afraid that if I burned, she would have a very sick child on her hands.
As it turned out, she should have made my father, who shared my black hair and blond complexion, spend his day under the umbrella as well. He was unable to work the next day. My mother assigned him and Lynn, my thirteen-year-old cousin, who had come home with us, to twin beds in the large, airy back bedroom. Several times a day, she applied her favorite burn remedy: Foille. It had been used on our soldiers in World War II, she said, and was therefore the best balm for civilian burns as well.
Unfortunately, Foille, a nasty-looking yellow ointment, had a doubly nasty odor. Daddy didn’t complain–I don’t think he said much at all that day–but Lynn did. The exchanges went like this:
“Oooohhhh, Crystal, that stinks. It’s going to make me sick.”
“No, it’s not. Now be still and let me put this on your back.”
“Ooooooohhhhhhhhh, it sti-i-i-i-i-i-nks. I’m going to be si-i-i-i-i-ck.”
“Lynn, stop that right now. They used this on the soldiers in the war. Be still so I can put it on your back.”
I remember all this vividly because I observed it first-hand. Every time Mother went on a Foille raid, I trailed along behind. I spent the rest of the time making raids of my own to check on the invalids. Exchanges went something like this:
“Lynn, when are you going to play with me?”
“Uuuuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Go away.”
“You want to play Chinese checkers?”
“Will you draw me a picture of a horse?”
“Crystallllllllll, make Kathy GO AWAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!”
Mother made me go away, I sneaked back, Daddy went to work the next day, Lynn got up and drew me a picture of a horse. And for years after, I periodically reminded everyone of the time Lynn and Daddy got sick from too much sun and I didn’t.
I was an insufferable child, but cute.
This began as report on my progress regarding exercise, sleep, and writing, but, as so often happens, it drifted. Since there isn’t a lot to say about sleep and writing, I’ll stop in mid-drift. There’s still time to work on sleep before the sun comes up.
I am too tired to speak of goals or progress. I will say that I got to bed by 11:00 p.m. two days in a row, and that I’m about to make that three.
I am still trying to come up with just the right way to begin Molly Chapter 5. That means, of course, I’m fighting a losing battle. It’s interesting, the things you do when you know they’re not going to work. Or perhaps you don’t. But I do.
My conclusion: I must go back to pen and paper, slow myself down, write what’s wrong, leave it there, scratch it out, whatever, but–live with it. Let it stare me in the face while I keep a-going. End up with a mass of scribbled-on paper instead of a screen blank from repeated deletions.
Someday, when I’ve broken through the need for perfection–or at least the idea that I can attain it–I’ll return to the keyboard.
Regarding exercise, I ran all over the house this afternoon trying to get out the door to an appointment. Last-minute tasks kept calling me: find keys, find socks, find purse, find sunglasses, find cash, take clothes out of dryer, put clothes into dryer, put note on door for AC technician telling him not to let cats out…
It wasn’t the last-minute things that caused me to run late, though. It was the amount of time I spent trying to put on a pair of David’s jeans.
Friday=Gave up and left home to take care of business.
Plumber did come. He is a delightful young man. I would adopt him except he’s already replaced just about every fixture on the property, both inside and out, and he would have nothing to do. I hate to ask him to crawl under the house until absolutely necessary. On Monday, I ran into a snake in the yard, and you never know where his family might reside.
Renter did come. He is a delightful young man. It’s a pleasure to see him so excited to be living in the house where I grew up. Since he will be around anyway, I may adopt him.
In the half-hour between plumber and renter, I sat on the side porch steps and looked at the pecan trees across the driveway, and the brush pile that should be burned but can’t be until the burn ban is lifted, and my cousin’s new barn across the street. I relaxed, breathing in country air and quiet.
I took out pen and notebook and wrote the first lines of Chapter 5.
I crossed out and started over and turned pages and started over, and by the time I was finished, I had only three or four sentences. But I was back in the dream again, with neighbors gathered in a hospital waiting room, little girls listening to an old man telling stories, women gossiping, and men standing in the hallway, arms crossed, not saying much at all.
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When I was in my late twenties, three of my co-workers and I met every Friday during summer vacations to tube down the San Marcos River.
We would start with burgers at Pepper’s or salads at Palmers’ or, joy of joys, real, old-fashioned Tex-Mex at Herbert’s Taco Hut. Then we’d go to Vivian’s, change into swimsuits, throw tractor tubes into the back of her husband’s old truck, and head for City Park. We’d tiptoe into the bone-chilling water (a “warm” 72 degrees all year, they say), lash the tubes together, and for the next hour, just drift along. Then, after handing the driver limp dollar bills that had traveled downstream tucked, like Lydia Bennet’s lace, into the bosoms of our swimsuits, we would take the River Taxi back to City Park. There we sometimes we tossed the tubes back into the water and floated down again.
If we wanted to take the long route, we drove two vehicles, parked the pickup under the I-35 overpass, and drove the second car to City Park. Then, instead of getting out and boarding the River Taxi, we walked around the dam, and, leaving the crowd behind, floated along a quiet stretch lined with elephant ears and shaded by cypress and pecan trees. At the interstate, took waiting pickup back to Vivian’s for chips and dips and games of Mexican dominoes.
On the river, we talked about school, complained about school, gossiped about school, rehashed last year, and pondered possibilities for fall. We discussed our private lives: would the builder ever finish Vivian’s house, would Patty really leave us for that high-powered engineering job, and was Nell really—really—pregnant? We had enough material to last all summer.
To the uninitiated, this probably sounds dead boring. But we knew–from experience–the potential for adventure every time we got together.
Drifting along in cold water and hot sun, paying attention only to ourselves, we floated into spider webs. We floated into elephant ears. We floated into pockets of debris. We floated into other people. We screamed at spiders and debris. To other people, we apologized.
In drought years, when the river was low, our bottoms dragged on the broken pilings of bridges past. We ducked under low branches and paddled furiously to escape teenagers cannonballing off the old railroad bridge. When a boy lucked out and landed almost dead center, drenching us, Nell yelled, “That’s about a D-minus in maturity!” While the rest of us hissed, “Shut up, they’ll know we’re teachers,” the dozen boys watching from the bridge launched themselves directly at us.
Sometimes adventure occurred away from the water. Whenever we left the pickup under I-35, transportation to the starting point was a challenge. We all drove compacts. Getting four women and four tractor-tire inner tubes into one little car and navigating through traffic, even in a very small city, took courage, cunning, and creativity. I don’t remember exactly how we did it. I think we tied one tube onto the roof and looped the others together; then the non-drivers hung out the windows and held onto the tubes to keep them from flopping around.
At the end of one trip, we found the truck partially blocked by other vehicles. Vivian, who was far from proficient in standard shift, had to back up. “But I’ve never done reverse,” she wailed.
Another time we took Vivian’s little yellow Toyota to Rio Vista Park to retrieve a car we’d left there. June had been wet. On the way in, Vivian drove into a mud hole and the Toyota sank to the axle. We changed cars and returned to Vivian’s. When we pulled up at the curb, her husband emerged from the house saying his truck was making a funny noise and he needed Vivian to drive him to a meeting pronto. A few days later, her husband developed Bell’s palsy. I’ve always felt partially responsible.
The most exciting event involved Vivian’s Toyota, her purse, and a kind stranger. Leaving Pepper’s after lunch, we had to turn left onto Sessom Street, a four-lane racetrack winding along the edge of the university campus. Turning left onto Sessom at any time wasn’t easy; at noon it took a good sense of timing and nerves of steel. Vivian had neither. She turned anyway.
Suddenly the Toyota stalled, straddling the center line, engine running but steering wheel locked. Vivian’s purse strap had looped around the steering column, settled into a groove, and then caught around the handle that operates the windshield wiper. How it happened we never figured out. But without scissors or a knife, we couldn’t free the strap from the column, and without freeing the strap, Vivian couldn’t turn the steering wheel, or, in fact, make the car move at all.
So we sat, blocking the inside lanes, while cars whizzed by on both sides, horns blaring. Somehow the purse strap impinged upon something in the guts of the steering column and our horn started blaring. Intermittently. Long blasts, short blasts, medium blasts. Vivian and Nell worked frantically to unwind the strap. Confined to the back seat, I couldn’t help, so I toppled over and guffawed.
Our savior came in the person of a pedestrian with an amazing configuration of dreadlocks (a style seldom seen in 1970s San Marcos) who dashed into the street, opened the passenger door, leaned across, and addressed the tangle.
I don’t know what happened next, because I was still collapsed, but after several more minutes of cars tearing by and horns blowing and the three people up front pulling and tugging and breathing heavy and muttering, the strap released its stranglehold on the steering apparatus, the wheel turned, Vivian and Nell said, “Thank you thank you thank you,” (I was laughing too hard to enunciate clearly), and the stranger ran back across the street to safety. We eased into traffic and drove the four miles to Vivian’s, right through the middle of town, horn blaring all the way. By the time it was over, I had released enough endorphins to keep me pain-free for the rest of the summer.
The stories I’ve related are a mere sample of the fun four school teachers had on their Friday afternoons on the river.
In fact, we had so much fun we decided to share. Vivian had a relative, Barb, about our age, who had expressed interest in joining us on one of our jaunts. She was nice, but she was so organized and so competent and so confident, and so willing to confess to being all three of those things, and more, that she didn’t fit well with our ragtag crew. But she wanted to go, so we invited her.
She brought her swimsuit and tube. She brought a cooler of sodas and lemonade. She brought a little float to hold the cooler and a rope to tie it to our tubes. She brought cups and a trash bag. She organized the expedition so we could drift along smoothly and efficiently.
And we did. We ate lunch, we floated, we played dominoes, we went home. Period. It was the quickest and least eventful float on record. No spiders, no debris, no dragging bottoms, no submerged axles, no stuck steering wheels, no helpful men with interesting hair. No laughing. No shrieking. No joyful hysteria.
In other words, as my students would have said, bo-ring.
Afterwards, Vivian and I analyzed the situation and pinpointed the problem: Barb had organized all the fun out of the trip. Vivian, who never said an unkind word about anyone, leaned toward me and murmured, “She’s always made me nervous.” I could see why.
Over the past thirty years, however, I’ve thought a lot about that analysis and have concluded that Vivian and I were wrong. It wasn’t the organization. Vivian and I (liberal arts) were scattered, to put it mildly, but Patty (engineering and math) and Nell (business) could have organized things as well as Barb had if they’d wanted to. And what I wouldn’t have given (still would) for the organizational skills Barb possessed.
No. I believe the problem wasn’t that Barb brought ice and chilled sodas, but that she left something at home–the ability to just let things happen, the understanding that fun requires spiders, sunk axles, stuck steering wheels, and screaming.
Looking back, I also suspect that Barb didn’t have the time of her life either. At times, when the rest of us didn’t appear to be taking the project seriously, she became visibly impatient. I think she was as happy to end the day as we were.
From this story about my life in tubing, I draw the following moral: a chacun son gout,* or, to each his own taste.
Or, on second thought, the real moral of this story is that there doesn’t have to be a moral at all.
*I didn’t learn this phrase in my one semester of French. I heard it as chacun a son gout years ago in Die Fledermaus. I’ve always wanted to use it, and this seemed like a good time. But, cautious creature that I am, I checked Wikipedia first and discovered that the correct phrase is the one I used in the text of this post. It doesn’t scan, but I suppose we can’t have everything.
I spent Monday with the plumber. I spent Tuesday at meetings. I spent today waiting for the electrician.
While waiting for the electrician, I wrote e-mails and prepared for the next newsletter I edit. I admit I could have done more about the novel. But I didn’t.
I did make Fresh Strawberry Pie from a recipe from Marcia Mayne’s Inside Journeys. Since I had two crusts and too many strawberries and plenty of whipping cream, I made two pies. Mine don’t look like the picture on Marcia’s blog, but they are eminently edible.
These are the first pies I’ve made since, oh, 1999. I decided to end my boycott because the strawberry pie recipe calls for no sugar. Plenty of fat, but nothing that would promote a craving for brownies or divinity or carrot cake or anything else that’s evil. The need for only three ingredients influenced me as well.
Preparation was as easy as pie, lol, but I ran into one little problem: whipping the cream. After ten minutes of beating with a whisk, I called David at work and asked him to stop by Wal-Mart and pick up the least expensive electric mixer he could find.
David said, “Don’t we have one?”
I said I would call him back.
Sure enough, after scrabbling around in a cabinet, I discovered a Black & Decker electric mixer. Even more surprising, I found both beaters.
Thank goodness for technology. Without it, and without someone who knew where it was, I would still be whisking. I don’t know how the pioneer women did it.
We enjoyed the end product for dessert this evening, and we will do so for days if I don’t find someone to take this second pie off my hands.
Inside Journeys, by the way, isn’t a food blog. Marcia, a native of Jamaica, writes about travel. I haven’t had time to rummage around in her blog, but I when I do, I know where I’m going to start: a post titled, “Are Airline Seat Sizes Shrinking?”
I think I know the answer, but I don’t wish to discuss it in a post about pie.
Image of slagroom by Eprickaerts (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Write 500 words / day on Molly: Who knows what might happen before midnight?
Exercise 30 minutes / day: 1
Go to bed by 11:00 p.m.: 2
It’s time for some specific, short-term goals:
Monday 5/16: Write 500 words on Molly, exercise 30 minutes, go to bed by 11:00 p.m.
Deal with Tuesday when it gets here.
Writer and editor Russ Hall, on accepting the Sage Award at today’s Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writers Event, said that we learn to write by a process of “smart recognition”: making mistakes and recognizing when we’ve made them. As Anne Lamott’s father advised, we “take it bird by bird,” knowing that each time the red pen touches the paper, the manuscript gets better. We learn to enjoy and embrace the process, knowing there is still room to grow.
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When David and I land at Gatwick in July of 2002, we come armed with goals and objectives: spend two nights in London; pick up a car at Waterloo Station; head north for Oban, Scotland; ferry over to Duarte Castle on the Isle of Mull; drive south to Exeter for a look at Robbers’ Bridge in Lorna Doone country; spend another night in London; return the car to the rental agency; and board the train for Paris.
To ensure we return the car timely, David maps a route that allows us to drive the thirty miles from our bed-and-breakfast in East Grinstead to Waterloo Station without ever turning right. When you’ve spent ten days driving on the wrong side of the road, you learn to think ahead.
Our plan for Paris, however, is not to plan. Paris is for spontaneity. We step off the train carrying luggage, the name and address of our hotel, and the assurance that everything will be fine
Mostly, it is.
Hotel Opera Cadet sits on a narrow street only one block long. The exterior is elegant but so understated that we walk back and forth in front of it several times before realizing we’ve reached our destination. We go inside and present our voucher to the concierge.
Standing at the reception desk in the soft light of the oak-paneled lobby, I release my grip on David’s shirttail.
I’ve been latched onto the hem of that blue windbreaker ever since stepping off the Eurostar and going into culture shock. All the signage is in French. I know people in France speak French, but I’ve never considered they also write it. Crossing the English Channel has rendered me functionally illiterate.
Although the station is enormous and we have no idea how to get from here to the hotel, David isn’t concerned. He knows some French, but he’s been told that the natives resent hearing foreigners mangle their language. Many of them, however, will speak Spanish. Since David speaks Spanish fluently, there will be no barrier.
But first we see what we can do on our own.
He picks up his suitcase and strikes off through the crowd. I grasp the handle of my rolling bag and follow him like a barge trailing a tugboat.
After completing several laps without finding an information desk, David breaks out the Spanish. With me still attached, he approaches a young woman wearing khaki slacks and a navy blazer.
“¿Habla Usted espanol?
I first think of the woman as African-American, but when she tells David she speaks neither Spanish nor English, I once again remember where I am.
David takes a breath and resorts to mangling French. The woman mangles some English. They wave their hands in the air. I stand by, detached, congratulating myself on my decision to wear khakis. I’ve heard the French consider Americans in bluejeans gauche. I don’t want to be gauche.
After five minutes of intense effort, the woman gestures for us to follow, leads us to the bureau d’information, explains to the man behind the desk what we want, and smiles. “Au revoir.”
I risk mangling a heartfelt “Merci.”
Our second-floor room is small but comfortable. I flop onto the bed. David opens the refrigerator. He’s impressed by our choices: almonds, chocolate bars, and bottled water. He doesn’t intend to eat or drink any—the prices are exorbitant—but he’s impressed.
I’m comforted by the knowledge that in case of emergency, real French chocolate is within reach
From the window I see the shops across the street. “Boulanger Patisserie,” “Atelier 13,” names so much more sophisticated than “Dillards'” and “HEB.” Even “meat market” reads better in French.
In front of a grocery, a fruit stand juts into the street—oranges, cherries, cantaloupes, grapes, peaches, plums, too many fruits to name heaped fat and fresh in cardboard flats. Tomorrow, when I aim for a photo of David flanked by produce, the shopkeeper runs out, waving his arms.
I’m appalled. Have I offended him? Is it gauche to want a picture of apricots?
I’m about to apologize when he takes David’s arm, pulls him behind the stand, then runs back into the street, grinning and gesturing for me to snap the picture. The wide-angle photo shows a young man wearing a short-sleeved gray shirt, dark slacks, and sandals, grinning beside a slice of watermelon. David lurks in shadow under the awning, recognizable only to me.
The first afternoon and evening, we concentrate on getting our bearings. We leave the hotel, walk a few blocks, look around. I remember reading that London is a city of gray and scarlet. I see Paris as a city of stone and lace; every building seems to be scalloped and edged with grillwork.
When the effect of our full English breakfast wears off, we order sandwiches at a small café. We’re the only customers. A waiter watches the Tour de France on a wall-mounted television near the back of the room. As we slide into a booth, he turns down the volume. We smile our thanks. He doesn’t seem to object to David’s jeans and red tee-shirt with the black Lab on the front.
The sandwiches appear. They’re made with baguettes. I’m delighted to be eating an authentic French sandwich and wonder whether the diners at the McDonald’s up the street are as pleased with their sesame seed buns.
Leaving the café, we take another stroll, return to the hotel to rest, go out again, come back for our street map, walk some more, return for something else we’ve left upstairs…Our act is not yet together. Each time we leave, we pass our key across the desk to the concierge. Each time we return, he passes it back. By the fifth or sixth exchange, his smile hints at both bemusement and fatigue.
In all our trekking back and forth, we’ve seen no one else in the lobby. David and I might be the only thing standing between the concierge and a quiet evening with a good book. I hope he doesn’t think we’re Ugly Americans. Judging from his smile, I suspect Crazy Americans is more likely.
To be continued: Starving, Gaping, More Starving
Image [Satellite view of the English Channel] file is in the public domain because it was created by NASA. NASA copyright policy states that “NASA material is not protected by copyright unless noted.”
1. I was away from Molly too long. The words are coming slowly, slowly, and they are dull, dull, dull. Of course, all words are dull until the flow begins, and flow doesn’t begin until the words–dull words–are on the page. And then revision takes care of the rest. The trick is to remember the process and put up with the seasickness until the rocking motion subsides.
2. Monday I waited all day–or enough of it–for the appliance repairman.
Yesterday it rained. But today I did what I said I would, sort of. After looking over the Zero to 700 program, I decided the program I needed was more like Zero to 2. No sense in pushing things too quickly.
3. Tonight, definitely. Zero to 2 helped with the decision.
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Like the cats, the photos have minds of their own. Someday, perhaps, they’ll stay where I placed them.
For Mother’s Day, William and Ernest gave me a Munakuppi Grass Grow Kit.
It includes a soil pellet, a packet of seed, and a cow.
The seed is Italian, but it is distributed from Holland.
The cow is a new breed: Chinese Holstein.
I don’t know where the soil came from.
You mix the soil pellet with 3 Tbsp of water, put 2/3 of the soil into the cow’s head, carefully pour in the seeds, and cover with the remaining soil. Then water and place in a sunny spot. Lightly water every day.
In seven days, grass will appear.
That’s when the fun begins. When the hair (the grass is now hair) grows to 1-1/2 inches, you can trim it, style it, or put bows in it. It will grow back after trimming.
I suppose it’ll keep growing as long as it’s watered and sunned properly. Or until the cats knock demolish it.
As I told the guys, the gift is just darling.
Tomorrow I’ll construct a place that is both sunny and cat-proof. I expect the process to take all day.
Write 500 words / day on Molly: Still trying to decide whether the backhoe should come in chapter 3 or wait until later.
Exercise 30 minutes / day: Found the program Zero to 1650, which referred me to Zero to 700. I start tomorrow (and tomorrow and tomorrow…), as soon as the clothes dryer repairman leaves.
Go to bed by 11:00 p.m.: 50%
Detail: The plan for tomorrow: Get up, don swimsuit, write until repairman arrives, write check for repairman, collapse on sofa to recover from writing check, put laundry in washer, go to pool, do day #1 of Zero to 700, write some more…
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Image of backhoe by S. Lampkin, U.S. Air Force [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I’ve received an invitation to audition for the show.
In Kansas City.
I took the online test for fun. I didn’t expect to be summoned. There’s an element of chance in that process. Not everyone who passes the test is called in.
Those who know say prospective contestants are evaluated on their ability to behave as if they wouldn’t look scared to death on camera. It certainly takes more to qualify: appearance, general demeanor, and so forth. But it probably boils down to acting cool but not frozen.
I am practiced at appearing before an audience, though not a camera, and at answering Jeopardy! questions in the privacy of my home. I am not practiced at answering them in front of people I don’t know. Playing against people I don’t know. With a buzzer in my hand.
Think how embarrassing it would be–to go through an entire show without ever being first to buzz in. Or to buzz in but not be able to think of the answer you know you know.
A relative says I could answer questions other contestants get wrong. That way, I’d have more time to think.
The writer of one of the articles cited below suggests there should be an edition of Jeopardy! for people with fibromyalgia.
I think there should be an edition for people whose brains freeze.
Without questions about sports, geography, or popular culture after 1970.
The issue is moot anyway. I have a conflict on the date of the audition.
I’m a little sad about that. If I were going to Kansas City, I would need a whole new wardrobe. I would like a whole new wardrobe.
But the most important thing here is that I have received validation, not for a head filled with junk, but for my philosophy of education, which I shared with all my students, and which I set forth in a previous post:
You study literature so when Alex Trebek says, “‘The blank ‘for all his feathers, was a-cold,'” you will buzz in and put the answer in the form of a question and walk away with a pile of money.
It is, after all, the duty of the student to outperform the teacher.