friends


Calhan, Colorado cemetery.

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I worked in five different schools over twenty years and so acquired a lot of work only friends. Though a handful of these people have stuck with me in various mediums, most of them have faded to “people I used to know” status, and I use the “know” in only the vaguest of ways. I wouldn’t claim to have really known any of them past their working face and am certain that street is a two-way.

Sis left a message on my FB page last night mentioning that a mutual work friend of the way back days of middle school yore was looking for me. The three of us taught together back in the late 80’s and early 90’s at one of the rough-and-tumbliest junior highs on Des Moines’ eastside. The poorest of the poor white trash attended this school. Kids who lived in the neighborhoods surrounding the State Fairgrounds and running along the banks of the river. Neighborhoods where the boarded up houses were inhabited by families who couldn’t afford to replace the windows when they were broken out by gunshots and where the city didn’t bother to pave the streets or install sidewalks.

I once drove a student to his home in one of these postapocalyptic looking neighborhoods and was sharply admonished by an older co-worker who told me in no uncertain terms that I was “never to drive down there alone again.”

I didn’t get warnings that stern when I drove through the “hood” on the North side and that was during the height of the gang wars*.

The friend in question eventually moved up the chain of command, I transferred away and so did she. I saw her occasionally at the yearly convention our district used to hold in the spring, but she became someone from my past. I invited her to the wedding when Will and I married, but she sent her regrets.  I think she sent a gift to the baby shower for Dee, but she’s never seen even a picture of Dee, let alone Dee herself.

The last time I ran into her was four years ago at the last high school where I taught. It was days until the end of school and I had resigned, getting ready to sell my house and move up to Canada.

She asked how I was.

Everyone asked, but those who hadn’t stayed in touch or contacted me in the aftermath of Will’s death always had this guilty air about them that I found exasperating. It’s not as if I thought the world revolved around me and was overly hurt about the lack of cards or emails when he died. I was more annoyed by the way they seemed to think they had some input into my life or pertinent advice to give me – because many of them did – and I wanted to remind them that they’d been absent too long for this to be the case. But I didn’t. In this instance though, she didn’t know Will had died, and that was always a treat – breaking the news to people who’d dropped off the radar after he got sick. Better was the twofer – Will died and oh, I’m getting remarriedshe had quite the non-reaction to the first and a small stroke over the second.

Actually, a horror induced stroke because I was quitting my job, selling my house and moving to Canada to marry a guy I met on the Internet. To be precise about it.

She was not the first to question my judgment but was one of the few that didn’t get an earful of scorn and mind your own life while I – an adult with more than half a brain – mind my own, thank you.

In retrospect, I suppose my news sounded a bit extreme and possibly hasty.

But she was over a decade absent from my life at this point and had no idea of who I was at that moment or what had led me to the place where I was. We were strangers again in all the ways that matter. Sharing a past experience counts for exactly nothing though it can make for a pleasant coffee date.

Her husband died not long ago. I saw his obit on the city’s newspaper site.**

I followed the link to the mortuary website and left a note. Such a wonderful way to bridge the time and space that separates sometimes.

So when Sis told me that this friend was looking for a way to contact to me – I knew why.

We have something in common again.

Except we don’t.

All I can do is the same thing anyone else can, impart a few sympathetic words and remind her that time is really going to make a difference at some point down the road.

Maybe that is a lot more than it feels like. But it’s all that I have to offer.

*It surprises people but in the early to mid 90’s, Des Moines was an important bit of turf in a territory war between the Bloods and the Crips. Both would eventually lose out to Hispanic and Asian gangs, but for a while, tales from students about nightly shootings and keeping an eye out for rolled up pants legs and “colors” was part of my job description. And people said I was overpaid.

**I check the obits in hopes of one day seeing Will’s mother there. Yeah, I know what a cunt that makes me. And I don’t care.


Cross-country skiing on Schwedentritt loppet, ...

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Our town is a wonderland of winter pleasures. Skating for both pleasure and competition rule, as one would imagine, but cross-country skiing as well as downhill make strong showings. There are three or four sledding hills, and even though just about everyone with means escapes to Mexico or Cuba at some point, I don’t think many would really give up our winter if the opportunity presented.

Except my husband, who would throw winter under a snow plow without losing a moment of good sound sleep.

Last February, Rob got it into his head that we should take up cross-country skiing.  He and Shelley had pursued it a bit here and there when the older girls were small, and he thought it would be a good winter activity to pick up again.

We outfitted late season, so it was tricky to track down the right sizes of boot, ski and pole for the three of us – but we managed. There were a few trial runs in the baseball field nearby and one rather treacherous trek on a trail much too hard for Dee out at Elk Island Park one Sunday before Rob decided perhaps we should wait until next year. Join the Nordic Ski Club. Take lessons.

Today we joined the local club, signed up for lessons and embarked on our initiation in the cult of the wintry trail.

The cult thing seems to be requisite, I’ve decided. It really doesn’t matter the interest or pursuit. The non-joiner in me can’t help but observe and take notes while making note of the exits, but I’ve come to the realization that there is no real remedy for involvement with those who crave tribe. There is some primitive need that compels most everyone to join – and sometimes over and over – with others in totally fabricated configurations.

Today were the Jackrabbit classes and general information for parents meeting. There are a lot of young families and it always makes a me a bit regretful that Dee didn’t have the chance to start some of these activities at a younger age even with my misgivings about becoming too enmeshed in groupthink. Watching a barely toddling little one happily learning to ski is to bear witness to base level values being instilled and nurtured. Powerful stuff.

Dee was dubious. Her last time on skis was Elk Island and on a trail that far exceeded her skill level. If she were a daring child that wouldn’t have mattered, but she is cautious to the point of fear, depending, but that trail scared me too given our slight skill base.

She envisioned more of the same in Jackrabbit class, but nothing could be further from the reality. The year’s growth showed. Between maturity and yoga, her balance has improved measurably. She is still slight but taller than she’s ever been in comparison to her peers.

Her listening skills – and these seldom transfer to Rob and I – exceed most children her age. She is a serious student, regardless of topic.

“I went down a hill and it was fun,” she beamed as she told me after class.

Dee loathes few things more than moving quickly downhill. It’s why she still can’t ride a bike, doesn’t roller skate or skate board and pokes along like a turtle on her Razor until she comes to a downward incline and then she carries it. Where this excessive caution comes from, I have no idea. Deeply recessive genes? Certainly not from me.

Next Sunday, Rob and I take our first lesson. Given that my knees are much improved thanks to yoga, I am hopeful to pick up a few pointers that will enhance the cross-country experience for me. Rob is just brushing up little used skills.

On the drive home, I asked Dee if she knew anyone in her classes. She didn’t. There were a couple of kids from summer activities – outdoor soccer and swimming – but no one from school.

The vast majority of her classmates lack the discretionary income for the types of activities we do as a family or the sports we encourage Dee to play. Most of the kids she meets go the separate school – John the XXIII. I asked Dee if she would be interested in switching schools.

Lately, she’s been complaining that she has no one to play with at recess. And while I am not surprised, she will not play the follower but isn’t confident or charismatic enough to be a queen bee, and her natural inclination to thoroughly check people out before trying to make friends inhibits the spontaneous formation of friendship that is more typical for children her age.

Rob and I have discussed moving her to another school, but we doubt it will solve the friend problem. The other children, for the most part, have years long advantage of association on her that even having started kindergarten with some of them hasn’t erased. It’s also pretty clear to me that many of the girls she meets have the added advantage of the parents – mothers in particular – being friends, and I am not much help to Dee in this area.

And there is the religion thing. If she moved to the separate school, the other children will have gone through two sacraments already without her. She would be excluded from much of the mass that her peers wouldn’t and as she already views church with a jaundiced eye (“I only go if I am staying with Grandma and have no choice.”), I can see disaster written all over this.

Perhaps the activity only route will work in the long run and she will meet children more like her.

“There really aren’t that many kids like her,” Rob reminds me. “But Edie and Mick were the same way. They didn’t make many friends here and never ran in huge circles of kids.”

Neither did I. Neither did he. For that matter, neither did her father, Will. He tried though but succeeded only in getting his feelings hurt by those with whom he associated. She is like him in that moth to a flame thing, though I can’t do anything about it. She will be who she is. I wish I could spare her the loneliness of being just on the edge and never really invited in.

Ski club? Hmmm. Maybe. If nothing else, it’s good exercise.


Beauty is forever.

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Yesterday I received a gorgeous anklet from a woman I met during yoga teacher training. Creating one of a kind anklets, necklaces and such is an artistic endeavor that grew into a small business she runs with her mother.

They take commissions, have an online store and do parties locally. During the training, she took orders from many of our classmates and I watched from a distance as a brisk trade in yoga inspired anklets exploded.

Towards the end of the training, I admired one of her creations and she asked, “Would you like me to make you one?”

And I did. Though I hadn’t asked her earlier because of an internal debate I had about the frivolous non-essentialness of such a thing. But I thought, why not? A graduation present to myself in the form of a tangible memory. Like a class ring.

When I mentioned paying her later on however, she shrugged it off. It was a gift.

Which reminded me of my college chum, Leslie.

She is an artist, and when we visited her in the spring, she gave me a wrap that she’d designed and sewn. She sells them at craft fairs and online. They are one of a kinds as well.

How lucky am I that people give me things that are rare and beautiful?


During the Friday opening of our yoga training weekends, Cat always asks us if anything is new.

The reason for this is twofold. First to discover who might not be physically up to the long daily practices. This last weekend our longest practice on the Sunday ran a bit past 3 hours and the shortest on Saturday was just two.

The second reason is to discover if anything is new in other areas of our lives as yoga is about the spirit and mind as well as the body.

I’d been in a small amount of agony all week. My back muscles were in a literal twist due to smoke intermittmently choking the air in our hamlet. An atv had set off a forest fire about 30 minutes north of us and the wind carried the char as far as the city to our southwest. Bad asthma days have the potential to bind me physically as well as clog my airways.

I kept that to myself though. I was determined to practice. I have practiced every day now for a bit over a month. Even on my worst days last week, I crawled onto my mat and did something.

As Cat surveyed the room, yoga face greeted her but no one volunteered until Rie spoke up.

Rie is different, as my daughter would say. I find her a bit tiring. She talks almost non-stop when not engaged in the actual asana practice  and she is someone who has done that, been there and likes to share.

A former body-builder and self-made business woman of considerable means, she’s trained in India and I think I could appreciate her knowledge base more if she wasn’t prone to talking over people or interrupting. Not that I think she does this maliciously or dismissively. She’s just really excited and enthusiastic. All the time.

“I’ve got something to share,” she piped up. “I’ve been remembering my past lives. It’s so cool. I’m realizing that I know or have been meeting people I’ve known before in other existences.”

Silence.

Cat’s face freezes in a half-smile and wide eyes that seem to be begging anyone to respond so she doesn’t have to.

Fortunately, Rie doesn’t seem to need or expect a response and the class continues as Cat quickly leads us into opening meditation.

Past lives. I have covered this a bit here and there. I don’t believe in soul mates. That, in my opinion, is a modern invention that has led us to the current level of dissatisfied dysfunction in relationship terms in our society. The idea that a world that has billions of souls on it at every given time can mathematically produce only one match person is ludicrous.

For a while, I preferred “kindred spirits” because even though I think soul mates is a very junior high/Romeo and Juliet thing, I can’t quite dismiss the idea that sometimes you meet someone and you simply click – without preamble or any discernible cause for doing so.

I read a few books that Rob has that talked about the idea that we travel through our earthly existences in groups that reconfigure with each pass and it felt “right” to me. The book called these compatriots a “soul group” and discussed how each of us comes into life with an outline of who we should strive to connect with and what tasks we have to do and what personal issues we need to improve upon.

As I thought about Rie’s revelation, it occurred to me why I have felt so isolated for most of my life – I am going it pretty much alone in this existence. I rarely meet people and feel a connection. Mostly I feel cut off and out-of-place as though I am not normally “here” but should be somewhere else on the globe and hanging with a different crowd.

Canada is one of the few places I have been that didn’t feel foreign. New York City was another place to which I didn’t get that “brand new” feel. I feel comfy in the mountains and at home in/on the water – any kind of water. Victoria felt familiar, which isn’t odd because like NYC, it is coastal.

Not many people feel comfy. I have to learn people and often I am not driven to do so because – and this is just a guess – most of the people I’ve met over the course of my life aren’t part of my outline.

Will was someone I’ve known – though I don’t think we’d ever been married before or even romantic partners. His illness and death were part of my outline – tasks for me and somehow I owed him this.

My mother is/was a task. I was meant to be around for her and I think for one of my nieces and nephews too.

I was supposed to teach in Des Moines. 1987 was a horrid year for new teachers. Jobs were scarce, but I’d turned down two just to wait on a the promise of a job I’d gotten from Jerry Wadden, the English Supervisor of the Des Moines Public Schools. It was a crazy thing to do and yet, I felt it was the right thing. What I was supposed to do.

There were a lot of children who passed in and out of my classroom in the first ten years for sure whose lives I know I changed. Kids who’d never had a good school experience and thought they were stupid or bad, and I made the difference for them.

It was a wearying and lonely time for me though. Draining and I didn’t have the understanding of my purpose then that I do now, so I wasn’t as sanguine as I could have been about it.

Sis, BFF and probably Leslie are among the handful of “souls” I felt instant connection with but they are not part of my inner circle or path but perhaps orbited me a bit to shore my spirit up. I don’t think I am quite evolved enough to go it completely alone.

On Sunday, as I entered a discussion on past lives with a few others from the class, I had the revelation. In some lives we are one of the main characters and in others we are supporting cast.

This is my support life.

There are a few spirits who cross my path in order to pick me up a bit and there are time periods where I am allowed to shine, but mostly, I am behind the scenes.

Dee once told me – she was maybe three years old – that she chose me to be her mom again because she liked me so much the first time.

“This is the second time you’ve been my mom,” she said.

Dee is kinda to me what I was to my mother. Support. I strive though to not lean on her the way my mother did me. Despite it being my “job”, it was unnecessarily damaging and more than I should have been expected to do given how young I was when it began.

It’s one of the reasons that I was so open to the idea of remarriage. I really didn’t want Dee to ever feel responsible for me and she couldn’t avoid that if I were her only living parent.

Rob is a known. I have always felt as though we’ve known each other forever but that we’ve been separated for an inordinately long time of late.

“Maybe we only seek each other out now for respite and revitalization,” I told him the other night. “Perhaps we are workhorse souls for the time being and we only occasionally get to fulfill our hearts desires. We are like a holiday.”

Our maybe he is my holiday and I am his responsibility?

“Do you think though that we don’t pick up new soul partners as we travel?” Someone asked during that Sunday conversation.

I think we do. But I also think that some souls are part of our “natal” experiences and that anyone we pick up after will never be quite like that experience or have the same level of knowing for us.

Dee occasionally expresses her concern about my lack of companionship in terms of friendships. I sometimes wonder if this shouldn’t bother me more as well but it bothers me less and less really as time passes and I grow older. I am okay with the transient and proximal nature of my acquaintances and friends. People come and go and, probably, will again.


I was asked to read and review Jeffrey Zaslow’s best-selling book, The Girls from Ames because I grew up in Iowa. Ames is in Iowa. It’s near dead center of the state, about an hour from the city of Des Moines, where I lived for twenty years, and the home of my late husband’s alma mater – Iowa State University.


Ames is also the site of Mary Greeley hospital where Dee was conceived in a petri dish and where many of the Ames Girls were born. Of course, they were born, grown and mothers, most of them, long before I ever needed to venture to Ames.

Lisa, of TLC Book Tours, thought I might have a unique perspective on this quasi-memoir that follows the friendship of a group of girls from near infancy to middle-age. Well, I am middle-aged and from Iowa. I also was a child in the 1960’s and a teen in the mid to late 1970’s. Like the women in the book, I navigated the murky career, relationship and social waters of the 1980’s when much was expected and little was offered by way of advice from those who came just before us.

And I found myself nodding a lot because many of the girls reminded me of girls I knew and of situations that were (and still are) common when growing up female in North America.

But the Ames girls were people I would have known of but not been friends with myself. They were – as my seven-year old would say – “a clique” and a fairly exclusive one at that. Pretty, popular, financially privileged, they moved in circles that were off-limits and invitation only. Unless you were a girl like that yourself, your knowledge was based on rumors and hearsay, so it was interesting to know that they angsted like the rest of us and were unsure and actually got into trouble when they deserved to.

Zaslow discovered the Ames girls via a column he writes for The Wall Street Journal. He spent time with them and writes their memoir in a one girl at a time style that manages to chronicle all eleven of the women through to their mid-40’s. I could have done without his commentary or the tidbits he throws in about studies on this or that girl or woman issue because the stories themselves are much more interesting, and women in general don’t need to be told what our issues are.

The book is 360 pages with an updated Afterword, but is a quick, engaging read.

Below is a list of other reviews, you might want to check out or you could check out an earlier sneak peek review I wrote in March, and you can read an excerpt here.

Jeffrey Zaslow’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Wednesday, April 14th: Simply Stacie

Thursday, April 15th: Silver and Grace

Friday, April 16th: Chaotic Compendiums

Monday, April 19th: Rundpinne

Tuesday, April 20th: Luxury Reading

Wednesday, April 21st: Book Nook Club

Thursday, April 22nd: Suko’s Notebook

Monday, April 26th: Feminist Review

Tuesday, April 27th: Beth’s Book Reviews

Wednesday, April 28th: Bookworm with a View

Thursday, April 29th: She Reads and Reads

Friday, April 30th: Book Blab

Monday, May 3rd: Cafe of Dreams

Tuesday, May 4th: Janel’s Jumble

Wednesday, May 5th: Anniegirl1138

Thursday, May 6th: Peeking Between the Pages

Monday, May 10th: One Person’s Journey Through a World of Books

Tuesday, May 11th: Life in the Thumb

Wednesday, May 12th: lit*chick


Sunday night found us bunking with Sis and her husband at their farm outside Prairie City which is just east of Des Moines.

Sis and I met at Hoyt Middle School when I was a second year teacher and she had left her hectic high school position in a self-mommy tracking move just before the birth of her second daughter of three. She is the older sister I don’t have naturally. Siblings are a hit and miss affair naturally and it seems to me that most of us acquire brothers and sisters outside familial bounds as we travel through life who better suit us. Sis suits me.

She offered her home as a way station and, as she always does, overfed us as a byproduct.

BFF and her youngest daughter, who is about eight months younger than Dee, joined us for the afternoon and for dinner.

Dee and Friend at the Prairie View Park

Staying at hotels means you are in charge of the schedule. Sleep isn’t at anyone’s mercy other than your own. Staying with friends and relatives inevitably means exhaustion is on the horizon.

Due to poor mattresses and thin walls, Rob and I were already on the leading edge of sleep deprivation and the gap only widened as the week went on.

On Monday we met up with a dear old friend from college in Iowa City. Dee was mildly curious about my college days. Mildly because she finds the idea of my having had a life previous to our current situation one that conflicts with her notion that I have always been her mother and that nothing that came before her could be worth effort required to remember it.

Walking to the Old Capitol

I took her and Rob on a stroll through sections of campus that made up the bulk of my time there. Dee was most intrigued by the Old Capitol building. It sits in the middle of the Pentacrest which are halls that make up the original college. Old  Capitol was the first seat of government when Iowa was just a territory and during its early years as a state. Monday meant it was closed, but Rob snapped a few shots of us in front of it and Dee peered in the large windows.

My old dorm was open, and since there were large groups of high schoolers and their parents being led about, it was accessed easily and without question.

Not surprisingly, most of the changes were fairly superficial with the biggest one being the removal of the cafeteria were I worked for a couple of years. Interestingly, the mailboxes were exactly the same. And, as we were walking back to the main campus, we strolled by an old man who looked at me with a faint glimmer of recognition. I had no trouble remembering him.

Smiley is a fixture in Iowa City. Tamer now than back in the day, he is mentally challenged with a side of creepy stalker thrown in just to make it interesting. He liked pretty girls. Young pretty girls. Which meant I didn’t attract his attention much but for years after graduating whenever I was in I.C. visiting and ran across him, he usually approached me.

I hurried Rob and Dee up. There is only so much nostalgia I am into. Small talk with a guy whose main hobby was deviance and harassment wasn’t on my agenda.

My chief memory of Smiley was the guys from the dishroom egging him on as we sat in the hall having dinner before our evening shift. He would try to sit by me – too close – and was always on about wanting my picture. I was not the only girl who thwarted Smiley’s quest to cover his walls with pictures of young women, but I was probably one of the most terse.

He nearly always had his camera with him but not at work.

“I could take your picture after work,” he said one night.

“Yeah,” one of the guys chimed in, “you could pose for him.”

“No, Smiley,” I said. “I don’t want my picture taken.”

Then one of the morons I worked with suggested to Smiley that he could simply wait around outside and take my picture as I was leaving.

“If you take my picture without my permission, I will take your camera and break it,” I told him.

Smiley is mentally retarded. There is no question that he is limited and that his emotional level is pre-teen at best. My statement of intent made him angry and I picked up my tray and went to another table while he ranted that I couldn’t do that and the guys ribbed him and me.

After I finished eating and Smiley had huffed and puffed his way into the kitchen, I went back to the guys who were still eating and said,

“Don’t you ever fucking do that again,” I said.

“Aw, we were just kidding,” someone said. Clearly I couldn’t take a joke.

“And when he finally goes from taking pictures to attacking girls? Will it still be a joke?”

No one said anything but no one was smiling as I turned away. Smiley was steered clear of me after that. He did eventually require police intervention when his picture-taking turned menacing and he purposely stalked a girl on the cheer squad. It got a bit ugly though she wasn’t physically harmed and the guys on campus stopped treating Smiley as an amusing lark.

Later at lunch, my chum Les remarked that Smiley had slowed considerably in his seniorish years but,

“He never forgets a face.”

Me and Les

Les hasn’t changed which is funny because she said the same thing of me when she saw me.

We lost touch just before I met Will. Addresses and phone numbers change so much in your twenties when jobs and boys and life in general shifts like the ground in an earthquake zone. People I knew in high school and college who coupled and bred in the decade between 19 and 29 were easier to keep track of. Rooting does that.

She had a photo album with party pictures from the dorm and the first years in rental houses/apartments. Nothing incriminating though I doubt much of that exists were I am concerned. My partying was sporadic and tame by any standard that could be applied.

I was so young once. I need to get her to copy a few to Facebook. There was one of us heading downtown on Halloween. I was Pippi Longstocking. I had totally forgotten.

We wandered the downtown and like my mother, Les knows everyone and at all the cool places. She introduced me to a semi-famous photographer carrying an armload of his new book at Prairie Light Bookstore.  He and I talked education for a bit after he discovered I wrote for a blog.  Being typical college town liberal, he had a too left view of teaching to make the conversation interesting for me, but I appreciated the opportunity to be taken seriously. Upstairs we chatted with a couple of employees who waited on President Obama the week before. The President stopped by to pick up a few books for his daughters while he was there to stump for his health care bill.

“He’s an impeccable dresser,“ one of them said.

“And so genuine,” remarked the other. “You just don’t get the sense that he is a politician.”

I just smiled and nodded. Obama is a politician, a genuinely good one, but as I said, I did the non-committal body language that people read in their favor thing.

Running about with Les reminded me that I don’t have girlfriends on a regular basis these days. No one to just pal with and talk about the old days – if that applies. It would have been fun to have had an extra day in Iowa City.

I had my typical college town fantasy, seeing us living there – me teaching and Rob tending house and whatever hobby/job tickled his fancy. We’d live in one of those older reno types close enough in to walk to my office on campus but far enough out that students wouldn’t ring us like soap in an old tub. This is a daydream of longstanding. It goes back to early widowhood. The place changes and Rob is an addition, but the basic vision of a semi-bohemian lifestyle of the liberally intellectual persists.

Me, Dee and N2 at the MInes of Spain

And then there was Dubuque…