First Snow

First snow today.  Or so I am told.  Facebook friends told me, either by way of whining post or exalting post.  The mobile Weather Channel told me, with a background like cotton balls falling behind a pane of glass.  It still looked like sleet to me, but we ran out just in case.

Ruby wasn’t sure why I had pulled her into the cold and wet; she turned in circles upon the grass before stopping to cock her head at me.

I looked to the arms of my jacket, now spotted with dark beads.  Each one shone and hung heavily for a moment before disappearing against the fabric, as if I were stuck all over with melting candy buttons.

The grass and the trees were merely dripping; no dusting of white betrayed snow.  Even the roof, surely cold enough to hold flakes, was merely a soggy brown.

We went inside, Ruby running ahead so that she could turn in the living room to look back at me wryly.  Is all the fuss over, then?  She asked, before moving to make sure her stuffed skunk was just where she had left it.

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Weekend Scenes

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Watching The Two Towers with Ruby. She doesn’t enjoy the battle at Helm’s Deep as much as I, apparently.

“Oh come on, we can take ’em.”

“It’s a long way.”

“Toss me.”

“What?”

“I cannot jump the distance, you’ll have to toss me…don’t tell the elf.”

Tree planting with mom and dad in the cold and drizzle.

Tree planting with mom and dad in the cold and drizzle.

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Front step pansies, an autumn look.

Front step pansies, an Autumn portrait.

My best friend when cold times come and my skin is reminiscent of sandpaper.  Now travel-sized for your convenience.

My best friend when cold times come and the skin on my face is reminiscent of sandpaper or tar paper or a porcupine with a five-o-clock shadow. Now travel-sized for your convenience.

My oh my, if a gentleman ever proposed to me with this ring, why, I'd just have to accept!

My oh my, if a gentleman ever proposed to me with this ring, why, I’d just have to accept.

A Salute to Vienna

Having suffered through a few early morning wake ups in a row, all I wanted to do after work today was lounge on the couch and wait for SNL.  So be it.  I’ve brought pillows and blankets from my bed.  I have technology–laptop, phone, remote control–within arm’s reach.  I have Old Dutch pretzels.  I have a water bottle for the inevitable moment when I start to shrivel from the saltiness of the pretzels.  Ruby is at my feet chewing the squeaker out of her stuffed skunk (that’s an odd sentence).

On TV is, of all things, A Salute to Vienna.  It is “a music and dance gala concert showcasing the musical heritage of Vienna.”  And I’m enjoying it immensely, even though I’ve already forgotten enough German that I can only listen dumbly.

Photo credit: salutetovienna.com

Photo credit: salutetovienna.com

Every so often, as they tend to do, the PBS folks break in and ask me to donate sixty dollars so that programs like this might remain on television.  Their cause is a noble one, but I have to say that they should consider changing tactics.  Instead of politely, humbly asking for our money, perhaps they should try threats.  Like, “if you don’t call in RIGHT NOW the principal soprano will appear in your living room and blast a high C until you produce your wallet.”  Or, “Remember your little three-week Keeping up with the Kardashians marathon last summer?  Gee, I would hate to let slip about that to your friends and relatives…”

Beyond inspiring brilliant fundraising strategies, A Salute to Vienna is making me remember when I was in Vienna myself a few years ago.  Particularly, when friends and I stood in line for hours in order to get 4 Euro parterre seats for the Magic Flute at the Vienna State Opera.  Despite parterre translating to “standing room in which you may fight over velvet-topped railings to lean on.  Tough luck, Holly.  You should have worn more comfortable shoes.”, it was a beautiful night in a beautiful city.

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Heck, maybe I’ll cough up that sixty dollars.

Birthday: 23

I awoke on this, my day of birth, to darkness and quiet.  It was five-thirty in the morning, a time I prefer to sleep through unless I’m doing something particularly important such as going to the airport or being born.  I was born twenty-three years ago around five-thirty in the morning.  I was ten days late, which is a little more characteristic.  I suspect that I wished to avoid the great spectacle of emerging into the world for as long as possible, and then perhaps decided all at once to get it over with.  Perhaps it was getting uncomfortable in there.  Perhaps my lower back was twingy even in utero.

It was just too magical that I randomly woke up twenty-three years later so close to the time when I was actually born, so of course I wasn’t going to go back to sleep.  I tugged a blanket off my bed and wrapped it around my shoulders as I staggered to the living room couch.  Ruby was there, dozing on the rug.  She summoned some enthusiasm to greet me, and then settled back down.

The sun began to rise.  A thick orange stripe appeared from behind the tree line, padded above with grey sky and below with grey lake.  The bright globe at the middle of the stripe seemed to burst before my eyes, coloring the leaves of our backyard ash tree.  The stripe lightened to peach and then to pale yellow.  Orange flecks fell onto the lake, tracing a path from my window to the sun.  And then it was over, or at least I stopped watching because Ruby whimpered to be let outside.

Mom and I went to church later in the morning, where we were prevented from leaving our pew at the end of the service by two elderly barricades who had knelt to pray for the next person to die in the parish.  We couldn’t interrupt, so we stood still and considered vaulting over the shorter of the two.

Then came the all-important Vikings football game.  I feel asleep briefly in the second quarter, but was roused at halftime to help Dad remove a dead mouse from its dusty mausoleum in an air duct.  Because sometimes, even when you’d like to prance around in a plastic tiara that reads “it’s my birthday, spoil me,” dirty jobs have to be done.  And decomposing mice have to be discarded.

Dinner and dessert, as per tradition, were at the birthday girl’s request.  I chose ribs (we’re entering those last few precious days of grill-conducive weather, after all) and this cake.  Amy went off to college a few weeks ago, the skunk, so poor Mom and Dad were left to harmonize a happy birthday by themselves.  Luckily, musical expectations are low in my family clan.  I opened presents, the contents of which I will likely detail in Friday Favorites, where I can be openly materialistic.

This year’s birthday was a little different from last year’s.  But as always, I felt the satisfying weight of another year’s worth of lessons and discoveries.  I’ll try to use them wisely.

Ruby

Ruby

is my family’s dog.

She is a long-haired German Shepherd.

My mom and sister brought her home after dad distinctly said: do not bring home a long-haired.

I was a freshman in college at the time, and came home for Spring Break to a new puppy in the kitchen.

We stayed up late deciding on a name.

I came up with Ruby because it’s the name of one of Laura’s grown-up aunts in Little House in the Big Woods. 

I didn’t tell my family about that particular origin.

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Ruby didn’t actually bark until she was three years old.  Before then, she whined.

It was effective enough, I suppose.

Ruby will lick your hand, your face, your toes until they’re dripping with slobber.

If you’re napping on the couch and forget to turn your face toward the shelter of the pillow, she will come upon you as you sleep and swipe her tongue from your forehead to your chin.

If you choose to nap on the couch at our house, do not sleep with your mouth open.

Ruby is the only dog I’ve ever known who snorkels for rocks in the lake.

She will stick her entire face in the water, clamp her jaws around a particularly fine specimen, and tug until with a suction-like sound, she frees it from the sand.

She prefers to make as much noise as she can while she does this, in case you hadn’t already noticed what she was doing.

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Ruby likes to tear up divots of grass and earth in the front yard.

It is not uncommon to spot a clover or two drooping down from her molars.

Ruby wags her tail with delight when I hide behind a door to scare her.

Sometimes she also pees a little from fright.

Hence, we now take our hide and seek outside.

Ruby will not go into the basement.

I once carried all forty pounds of her terrified puppy girth downstairs during a tornado warning, and she hasn’t gone near the stairs since.

If you try to beckon her downstairs, she will pee a little from fright.

And hide under the kitchen table.

Ruby perks her ears during animal programs on TV.

She will catch pieces of popcorn on the fly should you toss some her way.

She has quietly and swiftly dismembered every toy we have given her thus far.

Ruby hasn’t the courage of Lassie, the brute strength of Beethoven, nor the sensitivity of Hachiko.

She doesn’t seem to mind, though, so neither do we.

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Friday Favorites 3

This song:

You know that song “Mirrors” by whats-his-name former *NSYNC lead?  The song that is played three times an hour on every radio station in the country, including those stations typically reserved for classical and/or talk?  That song has been stuck in my head for the past three days.  This afternoon I even invented an elaborate system which involved showering with the door partly open so that Mac could blast “Mirrors” without suffering steam damage.

Mystery critters:

Ruby–who has only just learned to whine when she has to use the outdoor facilities (before she simply followed one of us around with her ears perked)–and I discovered a mystery whilst patrolling the yard yesterday evening.  Sidenote: Ruby is a dog, not my human younger sister.  My real human younger sister only whines when I talk to her during Pretty Little Liars.  Anyway, some kind of animal was up in a tree clipping sizeable branches and letting them fall to the ground.  There was already a scattering of green-leaved sticks when Ruby and I arrived on site, and a few more fell as we peered up to catch a glimpse of the creature.  No luck.  The foliage was thick enough to hide it, and it quieted once it spotted us.  Was it a squirrel?  But I’ve never seen a squirrel prune branches like that, unless it’s beginning to build a nest for winter and planned to gather the clippings later?  Was it a bear?  I’ve seen a treed bear before.  For a split second I thought maybe a pet monkey had escaped from somewhere and was about to flash down at me, teeth bared.  But perhaps that’s not it either.  If any zoologists care to comment, particularly if you can support my monkey theory, I would be grateful.

This book:

cheaperbythedozen-book

I would like to dispel any rumors involving the feature film Cheaper by the Dozen, starring Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt.  The movie is, in fact, based on a real-life family, but only so far as both the real and the fictional family had twelve children.  The real-life family, the Gilbreths, were quite different than Steve and Bonnie’s in every other way.  The parents, Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Sr. and Lillian Moller Gilbreth, were pioneers in the field of motion study around the turn of the century.  And the book–written by two of the children–details the uniqueness of a large family governed by notions of efficiency.  Think French and German language records played in the bathrooms.  The book is heartwarming and very funny:

“Dad himself used to tell a story about one time when Mother went off to fill a lecture engagement and left him in charge at home. When Mother returned, she asked him if everything had run smoothly.
Didn’t have any trouble except with that one over there,’ he replied. ‘But a spanking brought him into line.’
Mother could handle any crisis without losing her composure.
That’s not one of ours, dear,’ she said. ‘He belongs next door.”

Weddings:

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I’m attending my first tomorrow.  I mean, I was a flower girl for my aunt and uncle’s wedding when I was five, but all I remember about that is enjoying the swish of my beautiful dress.  Tomorrow two of my friends from college marry.  I will be wearing lipstick. I will likely cry.  I will likely make a fool of myself on the dance floor.  But I’m so excited that I doubt I’ll sleep well tonight.

This blog reader:

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Okay, guys: this is cool and something you should look into if you, like me, keep tabs on about twelve different blogs.  To get set up, all you have to do is make a free account with Feedly, enter the URLs of the blogs you read, and then the day’s postings appear right on your Feedly.  No need to go to each individual website.  I use Feedly on Mac and as a mobile app, and both are user-friendly and frankly pretty slick.

This TV show:

Official-Office-Wallpaper-the-office-28us-29-34269_1024_768

When I was in high school and everyone else in the nation was watching The Office, I wasn’t.  What was I watching instead?  Survivor, House Hunters, probably some Disney Channel.  The commentaries on the Chronicles of Narnia DVD.  I don’t know what was wrong with me, either.  I’m on the bandwagon now, however, and happy to be here.  Kevin and his squinty-eyed one liners are my favorites.

The Good Universe Next Door

You know that E.E. Cummings line everyone quotes?

“listen: there’s a hell
of a good universe next door; let’s go”

That’s it.

It’s a funny line, because at first you think maybe he’s talking about heaven. Or Heaven. What’s funny is that if so, he’s referring to heaven as “a HELL of a good universe.”

All funnies aside, I think what E.E. Cummings meant was not heaven. Or Heaven. But rather some sort of transcendence that might be compared to heaven. Not even a transcendence. Perhaps a withdrawal into the more beautiful parts of ourselves.

I felt something like that today. I had spent the most of the afternoon watching season 3 of The Office, waiting waiting waiting for Jim and Pam to get together. And then I played with Ruby. Actually, I threw her ball as far as I could and then vaulted into the truck bed to hide. I didn’t peek over the rim until I could hear her snuffling close to the back bumper. I laughed at her entire back end wagging, her ears down in surprised delight. Then I watched part of Inception, but discovered halfway through that I was not, in fact, in the mood for Inception. Finally, I wandered to my laptop and began to write on one of my long pieces.

And for a split second, it was strange to be writing, to be deeply immersed in some worthy creating after the paltriness of the day. For a split second, it was as if some small bit of subconsciousness were waking up and whispering, “About time you got back. Do you remember this?”

Of course I did. My own hellofagood Universe.

I Made a Pie

I made a pie today.  I woke up late, glazed-eyed, and briefly considered staying in bed and watching Downton Abbey at least until the last episode of the second season, when Matthew and Mary kiss and smile and look to be together forever.  And then I thought that perhaps it might be better to get up and contribute to the world.  So, I made a pie.

Bright blue sweatpants drawstringed securely around waist, sleeves rolled up, hair braided back but still flopping forward in the bangs department, I made a pie.  The cherries for it were picked by my mom and my dad and sometimes my sister.  Even the dog snapped cherries off the ground and off lower branches, crushing them between her teeth and eventually looking like a killer with bloodstained muzzle.  I helped pick until the mosquitos discovered me and tucked in for a feast.

I’ve always been intimidated by pie making.  The forming of the crust seemed a particular challenge.  So much can go wrong: dough too sticky from excess liquid, dough too rubbery from excess flour, dough too thin from over-zealous rolling, dough too thick from hesitant rolling.  In the end, I took a few deep breaths, fumbled with floury fingers to the “pie” section of The Joy of Cooking, and just did what the dear authors told me to do.

I poured the fresh-picked cherries into the bottom crust.  I briefly considered making a lattice top, and then determined a lattice top to be a bit out of my league.  I put on the top crust, trimmed the excess skirt of dough, and used two fingers and a thumb to crimp the edges together.  Then I carefully made tents of tinfoil so the crimps wouldn’t burn.  I pushed the pie into the oven.  I waited for almost an hour.  And there was a pie.

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And I felt, as I was making it, a little like this:

As if all could be right, all was right, as long as I was quietly turning fruit and flour into pastry.  And as long as I had my bird friends to help me with aesthetics.

The Gothic Thrill of a Rainstorm Rescue

Note: This incident happened a few years ago, while I was working at Target for the summer.  I found the story saved in a Word document, and thought I should share it on here (everyone loves a good dog story, after all).  I play the clumsy girl in the red and khaki.

A few days ago, I was late for work.  When I finally arrived, my hair was so soaked that it stuck to my forehead in thick chunks.  The top half of my red shirt was wet as well, and my shoes squeaked as I walked down the main aisle toward Pat, who was scanning in Kitchen.

I walked past Kathy, who said “Good morning, Holly,” as she always does.

In fact, Kathy uses my name every single time she addresses me.  It bothered me a little at first, because it seemed as though she was continually trying to prove to me that she remembered my name.  Now I like it, though, because she looks me in the eye when she says it, because when she says my name she makes it sound so solid and important, and because she looks cheerily satisfied when I follow my “Good morning” with her name in return.

I walked past Maria, who commented on my wet shirt.  “What happened?”  she asked.  “It’s not even raining anymore!”

“I know,” I replied, hesitating, “but there was a dog on the highway, and I stopped to bring him home.”

“What a do-gooder!”  I heard Maria exclaim behind me, but I was already moving toward the next aisle, not knowing how to explain more fully.  I’ll try it here:

It was about 6:40 in the morning.  I was on my way to work.  Red shirt, khaki slacks, name badge, What You Missed In History Class podcast.  I had just turned on to the highway when I noticed a large reddish dog standing by the shoulder.  My first thought was that the dog was from my neighborhood, and that his name was Buddy.  My second thought was oh Lord he’s going to run out in front of a car.  My third thought was blurry, because I found myself pulling over and jumping out of my truck, while in complete disbelief that I was actually pulling over and jumping out of my truck.

Up ahead I could see Buddy weaving in and out of traffic.  He was literally chasing cars.  On the highway.  I couldn’t tell if he was having the time of his life, or if he was scared to death, but I certainly knew that he was going to get hit any second.  I began to scream his name, but I could barely hear myself over the roar of traffic.

Just then, a car pulled up beside me.  The man inside rolled down the window and motioned toward Buddy, then toward me.  Then he spun around and drove off down the road, to where Buddy had disappeared amongst cars filled with caffeinated businessmen and moms on early morning shopping missions.  I quickly got into my truck and followed, turning onto a side road where the man had turned.  As I got out of my car a second time, I saw that Buddy was now lying on his side on the shoulder.  The man was squatted next to him, his hand on Buddy’s head.  I rushed toward them, wondering frantically if Buddy was dead, if I was going to have to be part of a roadside scene in which the actors are blurry eyed and messy instead of shining and composed.  I worried, as I hurried, about how I’d take it.  I worried about how Buddy’s owners would take it.

The man looked up as I neared, and said quickly, “Don’t worry, he’s okay.  He’s just scared, I think.”

“That’s good,” I replied stupidly, gazing down at the dog.

Sure enough, Buddy was breathing.  His long red fur moved up and down in big huffs, and he looked at me with as much gratitude as I’ve ever seen in a dog.  He’d had fun, but he was ready to be helped home now, thank you very much.

And then, because I realized the man was looking at me expectantly, I explained: “Oh-he’s not my dog.  He’s my neighbor’s dog.  He lives right down the next street.”  I checked Buddy’s tag to verify.  An address a few blocks away was printed clearly upon it.  Buddy was not a first time runaway.

Since the man already had his own dog in his truck, I offered to drive Buddy home in mine.  Clutching the still-trembling dog by the collar, I ran across the road to where I had haphazardly parked my vehicle.  The doors were locked, and through the streaked window, I could see the keys resting innocently on the seat.

I went back—Buddy still in tow—to explain to the man what had happened.  He started to offer me a ride, but his own dog was in his car with him, and I suspected it might be easier just to walk, rain or no rain.  So, we set off down the street, a bedraggled parade of me in drenched red-and-khaki; Buddy, who had the good grace to maintain an air of humility; and driving behind, the man and his dog.  I wasn’t sure, honestly, why the man was still following.  I wondered briefly whether he doubted I—who had locked her keys in her car—could manage to successfully deliver a dog, whether he wanted to make sure his part in the heroics wasn’t left unmentioned, or, most likely, whether he also appreciated the break from the mundane and the gothic thrill of a rainstorm rescue.

My back hurt by the time we reached Buddy’s house: I hadn’t dared let go of his collar for fear he would bolt toward the highway again, and so had to walk with a hunched shuffle.  But it would be worth it, I was confident.  Perhaps I’m simply not as “good” as the good Samaritans I read about in newspapers.  They always say that they never thought about a reward, never thought about the end result.  They just did what they felt was needed.  But I of the racing thoughts imagined as I walked how wonderful it would be to reunite Buddy with his family.  I imagined they’d explode with relief and happiness and gratitude.

In actuality, the reunion consisted of me knocking on the door of a big brown house at the end of my street, the man standing on the porch behind me.  Three children answered, staring up at us with curious eyes and parting so that Buddy could run between them into the house.  Their parents came forth eventually, and we explained what had happened.  They didn’t seem surprised.  As I suspected, Buddy was not a first-time runaway.  The owners didn’t seem very grateful, either.  Sure, the tears and profuse thank yous I had envisioned were definitely unnecessary, but over the course of our five-minute conversation, the words “thank you” were not said at all.

So, the man and I left.  We were both a little stunned at the cold reception, although we didn’t say so.  We said goodbye, and then he drove back toward the highway, and I hiked home for the spare key to my truck.

I was late for work that day, and when I arrived my clothes and hair were still wet.

Kathy didn’t notice, but Maria asked me what had happened.  I didn’t know how to explain properly, so I didn’t.

I simply walked on toward Kitchen, where I began aiming my PDA laser at labels for cheese graters and garlic presses and wine openers that resembled Swiss Army Knives in their complexity.

Buddy, I hoped, was resting on a large pillow somewhere quiet.  I hoped that he could learn to ignore the faint rushing sound of cars on the highway.  Most of all I wondered, smiling to myself, what he would have done with a car once he’d caught one.

Not Buddy, but our own Ruby when she was still small enough and quiet enough to be a lap dog.  I thought this post needed a dog picture.

Not Buddy, but our own Ruby when she was still small enough and quiet enough to be a lap dog. I thought this post needed a dog picture.

Til You Drop

There isn’t much to report around these parts.  I’m still unemployed.  It’s still raining.  Ruby is still number one in the nation for canine popcorn consumption.

A momentous event did occur yesterday, though: yesterday, my mother (who has just been set free for the summer from her teaching job), my sister (who has a proper part-time job, but who had the day off), and I (bum, along for the ride) went clothes shopping.

I think you all know how I feel about shopping.  I can’t find a specific post to tag, but I suspect that I’ve complained about it at least several times.  Here’s a recap anyway:

The concept of buying new things I have no problem with.  I like things.  I like newness.  I also like oldness, hence my closet, which is currently stuffed full of objects too “sentimentally valuable” for me to part with.  But the process of shopping, of going in and out of stores and dressing rooms and waiting in lines for dressing rooms and cash registers and then after all that waiting being held up so that the cashier (who is undoubtedly just doing as she has been told by corporate) can ask you to sign up for ten different credit cards and email lists … all of that is a nightmare to me.  And then there’s the fact that one must engage in such torture several times a year, that one must shop for winter clothes, for summer clothes, for shoes to match, and finally, stressfully, for a decently flattering dress for that upcoming wedding.

I am the sigher and the watch-checker who plops down on the nearest bench or inside the nearest quiet clothing rack while everyone else rushes around with hangers full of promise.

I am the toddler who has to be placated with an Orange Julius or a large soft pretzel so that I won’t throw a tantrum in the middle of Penny’s.

I am the attitude-laden teenager who digs in her heels and refuses to step into Forever 21 because everyone in there looks “snotty” and because even if hipster clothes fit, it doesn’t mean you should wear them.

Yesterday–somehow, magically–yesterday I did okay.  I shopped the sales racks, willingly entered dressing rooms, and (allow me to boast) didn’t buy an otherwise wonderful shirt because, as my mother warned, “the shoulders didn’t fit right.” I even bonded with a Sephora employee over the fact that thick hair sucks when it comes to styling, and can only be tamed with large dollops of creams and mousses and gels.

Dare I say it?  It was a pretty good day.  And maybe, just maybe, the new things I bought will make me feel just a little bit Forever 21 hipster snotty.  Because that’s fun every once in a while.