Monday, August 17, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dad

Today is my dad's birthday, and in his honor, I thought I should re-publish the essay that was really the impetus to begin blogging again, which I wrote in his honor:  You Can Always Fry Eggs in Missoula, Montana (or, as Bob Hammarberg insists, You Can Always Sling Hash in Missoula, Montana -- but I'm pretty sure he's wrong!)

Happy Birthday Daddy!

Friday, August 14, 2009


In his tour de force The Noonday Demon, Andrew Solomon reflects that while he can never love depression, he does love the things that depression has given him, including an exquisite gratitude for life outside of depression that people who have never known depression might just take for granted.  I have never experienced a depression of the magnitude that Solomon describes, but I have certainly suffered on and off, especially in the last several years.  Like Solomon, these days I am living in a heightened sense of gratitude thrown into joyful relief by fairly recent days of melancholy. 

Among the things I am grateful for is a rich full life, even if it means I have little time to write these days (I really do mean to get back to my marriage series, in which there are at least two more essays).  That does seem to be my life these days, though: too rich and full to find much time to write about it.  Still, I think gratitude of the sort I am experiencing these days is too much not to lift up.  

Maybe these bullet points will become essays this winter (and maybe writing them will help keep the winter blues at bay).  Here’s what I’m grateful for these days, in no particular order:

  • My neighborhood.  Sometimes my neighborhood overwhelms me with its urban grittiness; with the tensions that stem from class and race and culture, with the noise and the trash and the sheer density of row house living.  But these days it’s like someone turned the kaleidoscope just a fraction, and suddenly the image is all new.  The other day Micah and I walked around the corner to drop in on old friends from Cooperative Nursery School days who just moved into the neighborhood, and Claire and I sat at her kitchen table and chatted while the boys played Lego's downstairs.  Then I took them on a tour of the garden, and sent them home with an arm-full of veggies, while I headed home with a basket of green-beans and a riot of cut sunflowers and zinnias, which I dropped off to Miss Kathy.  We chatted about her upcoming trip to Jamaica, how quickly the school year is approaching, and how much she loves her church.  As I climbed the steps to my front porch, I watched Micah two doors down, sitting on the steps with Miss Jayne, the matriarch of the neighborhood, his bike temporarily abandoned, while they had an animated conversation.  These sorts of moments keep piling up:  several friends pop in unannounced, and suddenly we’re scheming a pot-luck bar-b-que for dinner; Micah wants waffles for breakfast but we’re out of eggs, so he just starts knocking on doors; my lovely friend Jen and I can peaches all day to her fun and funky “peaches” playlist, chatting about everything from theology to pregnancy nausea to sex to Dansko clogs, and when we’re about to drop, Julie and Tim arrive for the second shift.  Yeah, I’m loving my neighborhood these days.
  • My church.  My relationship with my church feels almost like a marriage:  sacred, covenantal, and a whole lotta hard work.  I’ve never even come close to thinking about leaving my marriage to Julie, but last year at church I began to understand how even loving marriages end in divorce sometimes.  But there’s a new wind blowing, like we’ve fallen in love with being the Body of Christ together, all over again.  It’s still a whole lotta hard work – church, like marriage, always will be I suppose – but it feels again like the bread of life in my mouth, a joyful cup shared with people I just adore. 
  • My marriage.  I would write at length about my ever-growing adoration for Julie, but it would embarrass her.  Let’s just say that I never stopped being crazy about her, and it just keeps getting better and better.  Leaving behind the all-consuming years of early parenting, so intensely physical and spiritually rich, is bittersweet; but among the sweetness is the lovely and subtle sense that our marriage continues to be a dynamic and creative partnership.  (Also, she's just so damn cute, but pretend I didn't say that, 'cause really, it will embarrass her.)
  • Old friends and new.  My dear ones Kate and Pete and their daughter Ada left two years ago for an adventure in San Francisco; they’ve just returned to our block (no doubt one of the reasons I’m in love again with my neighborhood), with their daughter, AND their son Josiah, AND another babe on the way.  They may have left their hearts in San Francisco (and I’m sure they feel they left at least a part of them there; it’s a beautiful place), but their return sure has plugged up a hole in my heart.  In the meantime, while they were gone, Jen and Tim moved in across the street, also with a babe on the way (a babe with several hours of Marta-care already in the bank in exchange for yoga); it will definitely require a whole essay to express the all the ways they are making our lives richer.  And one of my oldest and richest friendships in Philadelphia is always renewed in the summer-time: Donna and I did a lot better last school year finding time, but summers by the pool are like a little sanctuary in our friendship, for which I am ever grateful ... And, and, and ... in the category of old friends, there really are just too many.  My life is richly blessed.
  • Men.  Suddenly I have all these wonderful men in my life, and while I could put them in the bullet point above, I think they deserve a category all their own.  My world has always been an intensely female one, though not through any conscious design.  Indeed, I’ve often rued the lack of real male friendships in my life, but somehow being friends with women just feels like breathing air, you know, and breathing air is GOOD.   But now I have a son, a son who is pretty intensely male and who wears his maleness with incredible beauty and grace, like a skin that he is so comfortable in.  I not only love it, his maleness, this beautiful skin he is in, but I find myself fascinated by it, and intensely drawn to maleness these days, wanting men in my life not just for Micah, but for me too.  And how lucky am I that suddenly there are all these beautiful men in my life?  There are the aforementioned Pete and Tim, old friend and new; there are my dear ones, Woody and Joey, who share their whole selves with us so lovingly; there is Patrick, whose generosity and wit are like grace, so unexpected and undeserved (and whose ethereal self WILL become embodied sooner than later, at least that is my fervent hope!); there is Gordon, who is mostly words in my computer, but words that shine such a lovely light in my world; there is Michael, my new friend AND my new pastor (two for the price of one!), who is bringing such a breath of fresh air to us all … well, let’s just say, I’m feeling like a lucky girl these days to have so many wonderful boyfriends.
  • The Jersey shore: sun, sand, surf, Mac N Manco’s pizza, Johnson’s carmel corn, the aforementioned Woody and Joey … I'm off!

What are YOU grateful for? Leave me a comment why don’t you? It’ll make my day, and then I’ll add you to my list of things I’m grateful for!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Dispatches from a Recovering Bleeding Heart: More City Bureaucracy

Because I know you are following this saga with bated breath, I'm sure you'll remember that on June 24, I sent a letter to my friends at L&I (Licenses and Inspections), along with an application for a license to own two vacant lots, on which I grow vegetables for my family.  I also sent a check for $100.00 ($50 per lot; I'm not sure if this is a one-time or an annual fee).  I noticed last week when doing bills and balancing the checkbook that the check had not been cashed, and gave some thought to calling L&I, but knew that completing such a call was likely to be unsuccessful, and that even if I did finally reach a real, live human being, it could take hours of waiting on hold.  So, I hadn't gotten around to it yet.  

Then on Friday, I received an envelope from L&I, and assumed that my licenses had arrived. Silly me, when will I ever learn?  Instead, this is what was inside the envelope:  my cover letter, my application, and my check, all stapled together, and a self-addressed (but not stamped, of course) envelope, with "ATTN: Mildred Brooks" hand-written at the bottom.  The rest of the address? THE SAME FREAKIN' ADDRESS I ORIGINALLY SENT IT TO.  You know, the address that was on the application? The one that I was directed to mail or return the application to when completed?  And to top it off, no note, not even a sticky, with an explanation.

What the hell am I supposed to do with this?  Did someone really send the entire application back to me, just so I could send it back to them, but this time directed specifically to Mildred? Don't they have inter-office mail at L&I? Someone actually took the time to put this in the freakin mail to me, but couldn't just freakin drop it off on Mildred's desk?  (In real life, by the way, I am not faux-swearing.  In real life, I'm mad as hell and swearing like a sailor about this. But my father-in-law reads my blog [I used to worry about my pastor too, but the new guy? I don't think he'd care] so I'm trying to keep this as family-friendly as possible.  You, however, may use your imagination and fill in with more colorful language.)

So this morning, as I was getting out ingredients for bread (I'm making stout bread and Straun; you should come over this afternoon because it's going to be non-stop carbo-goodness around here), I steeled myself for a long wait, and called the number on the vacant lot license application, the one that says "for further information, call."  I was automatically transferred to 311, which, I now know, because Mike Nutter told me himself, over and over and over again, "is your connection to City Hall!"  He also very helpfully reminded me (over and over and over) that I should "remember, 911 is still the number to call for emergencies, but now I have a number to report non-emergencies -- and get results!"

While I waited, chatting with Mike (we're tight now, let me tell you), I started wondering if maybe this was an emergency, and that perhaps I should give 911 a try.  But finally a 311 operator answered, after assuring me that the call may be recorded for quality control and training  purposes ... only to transfer me to, you guessed it, L&I.  Except she transferred me before I could get a direct number from her, so as I listened to the phone at L&I ring and ring and ring and ring (no kidding, like probably 40 or 50 times; they don't have voice mail or even muzak over there poor kids), I resigned myself to going through this whole loop all over again. But finally someone answered; not, however, someone at L&I.  It was Steve, a 311 supervisor who, you guessed it, put me on hold.  

BUT!  To Steve's credit, he did pick up again in a reasonable amount of time, and apologized for putting me on hold, and listened to the whole story, took notes, and said he would research the situation and get back to me.

And you know what?  I hate city bureaucracy, but I LOVE Steve, because he really did call me back!  Like half an hour later.  And he did not have any answers, but he really had looked into it, and he's making a report, and sending it to L&I to research further, and gave me a tracking number.  And he agreed with me that the whole situation is absurd, even suggesting that I should think about bringing a criminal complaint against the Meadowlands, because it is, after all, my PRIVATE FREAKIN' PROPERTY and they should stop freakin' harassing me.  Steve didn't put it in exactly those words -- he was very professional -- but that was the gist of it, and a whole lotta good it will do me to have Steve on my side, but still, it was gratifying, if nothing else.

(And to my friends at Old First:  Yes, I am thinking of Michael's sermon, and that nice cop who tried to help him, but really:  this is a whole lot of freakin' falling down, you know?  I'm just not sure what God's point could possibly be in this seemingly endless, surreal tumble.  I love Steve -- he's my new BFF -- but even Steve is not helping me make any sense of all this.  Sigh.)

Anyway, I'll keep you posted.

And if you are a new kid on this block, and wonder what the hell this is all about, here are some links to some related posts that should fill in the gaps: