Swings, seesaws and slides

Rocket_Slide_in_Edmundson_Park,_Oskaloosa,_IowaThe trip down Memory Lane continues, taking us to the playgrounds of old. I started writing about this last week after visiting a play structure at a nearby apple farm. There was so much to talk about I didn’t get much further than a discussion on the monkey bars, an essential part of parks in the 1970s and ‘80s.

But how can you really have a comprehensive conversation about playgrounds without touching on the swings? They are, after all, the most whimsical of all playground equipment, offering the biggest potential of dropping your stomach way in the distance behind you.

The swings at the parks I most visited were all connected to the swing set via long chains and offered a flexible canvas seat for good-quality soaring. Usually upon arrival at the park, we would find most of the swings had been spun into DNA-like twists that needed to be undone before any swinging could occur. This had been done, naturally, by the “bad kids,” who I always thought were boys perpetually in need of a haircut.

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Playing in the ’80s

86fb95d50310c9bf2b4ce27044a9787dWe were at Haney’s apple farm with friends on Sunday and it had gotten to the point where the apples were picked, the pies were eaten and the kids were high on sugar. It didn’t take them long to find the new play structure that popped up over the winter, a real doozy shaped like a barn complete with swings, slides, and climbing walls. As they bounced around and we watched them, it made me think back to our childhoods and all the fun we used to have at the park.

Back then, play structures were still called playgrounds and, as I watched the kids kick up woodchips as they ran around Sunday, it was for good reason. In all our hours at the park, we spent a lot of time on that ground, didn’t we? Either from getting whipped off the merry-go-round, falling off the jungle gym or landing hard on our tailbones off the slide. And that ground was hard, boy. Maybe, if we were lucky, it was sandy or even dusty. That seemed to help those crashes slightly. But usually, it was just … ground.

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My life in books

IMG_1784I’m trying to decide if I should trim back the books on our bookshelves. Looking at them right now from my vantage point at the dining room table, they really have gotten a little of control. They’ve essentially pushed aside all the pictures and other bric-a-brac that otherwise lends these shelves some levity, resulting in a messy, overgrown collection.

I never think books accumulate in this house, especially at the slow speed at which I read and my husband’s penchant for reading news online, but they do. Every Christmas and birthday, I give my in-laws and mom my wish list and every Christmas and birthday they come through. So here I am wondering if I should be charitable and pass on what we’ve been lucky enough to read over the years.

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The doctor is in

Materiel-medical-discountThis afternoon, I have an appointment to see a new doctor. And even though its purpose is to have a look at my lady bits, I don’t really mind. Because I actually love going to the doctor.

I realized this at the age of about 8, right around the time that hypochondria set firmly in. It started with a pretty consistent fear that I had a brain tumor, likely stemming from watching too much “Days of our Lives” and “General Hospital” on the button-tufted chairs at my grandma’s.

I’d wake up in the middle of the night pretty sure I could feel the tumor growing, prompting me to wake up my mom and ask her to palpate my scalp in case she felt anything. She was pretty patient about this, really, and soon everyone I knew became aware of my premature mortality fears.

This is largely because I started asking people about the looks of my general wellbeing.

“Think this freckle’s getting bigger?” I’d ask my mom’s best friend Jocelyn, splaying my fingers and pointing to a dot beside my pinkie. “Looks jagged-edged to me.”

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To the fabulous Dustie Dee

IMG_0998Tonight I’m going to say goodbye to my first friend in Somerset, Mrs. Dustie Maguire. I’m thinking about how I’m going to accomplish this as I make her going-away cake, a triple-layer carrot with vanilla frosting. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be brutal, actually. But if anything makes life any easier, it’s got to be icing sugar and cream cheese.

I met Dustie on a houseboat for a hospital recruitment party when I decided to wear a strange khaki dress that made me look like I, a), was possibly asexual, and, b), might embark on safari at any moment. Dustie worked with my husband, who I believe might have told her I was badly in need of friends and, apparently, wardrobe help. So that night, she presented herself to me with a big, shining smile and an offer of friendship.

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“Fear is the highest fence”

IMG_1670Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been writing short stories with the hope I can eventually get them published in literary magazines. It’s been a hard, fruitful, frustrating, interesting, anxiety-ridden and rewarding time in my writing life, and I’ve come to rely on outside sources to keep me on track and inspired.

These can be anything from excellent short stories, Oscar-nominated movies, an episode of Mad Men, an episode of Chef’s Table, an article in The New Yorker to even going to a good yoga fusion class. Anything that leaves me feeling inspired and re-centered by what other people are creating.

This led me quite quickly to Writer’s Digest, a website that includes publication sources, access to writing webinars and general tips about everything from plot creation to character development. It’s a great source because it makes you feel more grounded in a writing community, instead of just sitting at the dining room table alone writing into space.

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Love serving love

images-1It was a steamy hot evening, and my friend Sarah and I arrived at the courts wearing our much-discussed skorts, attire, we felt sure, made us look like pros. Sarah started bouncing the balls up and down to make sure they were still fresh, and I pretended to know how high fresh balls are supposed to bounce. Then she asked me if I kept my balls in my bloomers and, because I had no idea what she was talking about, I got the first inkling I might be over my head with Dr. Sarah Bozeman, black diamond snow skier, slalom water skier, half marathon queen, triathlete, former cheerleader, and all around talented (and competitive) girl.

But we started to rally and things went well. She hit over the net, I hit over the net, she hit it back to me, I hit it back to her. My racquet felt good. My arm felt good. And every few seconds you could hear that satisfying pock of the ball bouncing off the strings.

One of my favorite things about tennis is that satisfying sound. It only happens when you hit the ball right in that sweet spot, when your racquet feels like it’s springing back almost on its own.

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Magellan, the explorer

IMG_1593I got the call from my mom yesterday telling me my cat Magellan is dying. It wasn’t entirely unexpected news since he’s the ripe old age of 17, but it’s still so hard to get. The idea of going back home and not having him sneak attack my ankles is tough.

Magellan and I go way back to Washington, D.C., where he was dropped off in his carrier by his former owner, a young girl who was moving into an apartment that didn’t allow pets. Thinking back on it, I’m not exactly sure how I found her or she found me — these were pre-social media days so this might have been an arrangement stemming from a sign on a telephone pole — but when she dropped off Magellan, all was right with the world.

Well, actually, not really. About three days later, I broke up with my terrible boyfriend and went to stay at a friend’s house while he was gone on vacation that week. Magellan and I roamed around that empty two-story while I tried desperately to find an apartment to rent, which was no easy task in D.C. at the time. About a week after that, after thankfully securing the perfect place to live in the heart of a Latin neighborhood, I quit my job at the Canadian Embassy and started graduate school.

Needless to say, “in flux” would be one way to describe my life at that time. #flyingbytheseatofmypants would be another.

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Vive le Tour!

Tour-de-FranceIt’s that time of year again, the time when Phil Liggett becomes the narrator in our dreams, when soaring views of castles, mountains and rivers become commonplace, when “the cobbles” and “traffic furniture” are the subject of whole conversations. Yes, it’s time for the Tour de France and I plan on eating up as many minutes as I can.

We don’t have a large amount of traditions in this house and certainly none revolving around sports, but watching the Tour is one of them. Every year, my husband and I haul out the TV trays in the basement and get the channel settled on NBCSN.

I love watching for so many reasons, not the least of which is the breathtaking camera work. The Tour coverage takes a lot of time looking at the countryside in which the ride takes place and, oh, what a sight. Every town, it seems, has a phenomenal church. Every field is manicured. Every forest and mountain is magical. And since the riders ride more than 3,300 kilometers — think of that — over three weeks, you see a lot. The camera work is so good it actually feels like a vacation — or at least like you’re planning for one.

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Singing your heart out

637bddf1496667b27df1ddb52d5d1c1bI’m sitting in my usual writing spot in the dining room listening to my stepdaughter Gabrielle sing. She is upstairs in her bedroom and, in full teenager mood, listening to music at full blast. The music is not so loud you can’t hear her voice though, which even she will admit is unfortunate because the poor kid, for all her numerous talents, is somewhat tone deaf.

This has always been the case and she gets it from her dad. The first time I heard him sing, I truly thought he was kidding. But as he continued to thump the steering wheel with his thumb and belt out every single lyric to every single Red Hot Chili Pepper song ever recorded, I realized this was no joke. This was my love’s singing voice.

This came as a surprise as my husband’s speaking voice is actually very charming: deep, comforting, the kind of voice that you can pick out even in a room full of people. I fell in love with this speaking voice quickly and assumed, foolishly, it would translate to song. But the first time he played SingStar, a karaoke-type videogame in which you’re graded on your performance, the man tanked. The line that measures whether the note sung was on key or not was jumping all over like a heart beat. He was either badly flat or sharp.

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