A Sense of Place

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Note the timestamp — 5:05 AM. The kids are sleeping “late enough” so that I can resume Early Morning Writing!

 

I’m back, after a bit of a break.  The seasonal transitions require stepping away, reflection.  Another school year closes for me and this year, for 3-year-old BRK as well.

The kids are finally sleeping “late enough” for me to resume 5 AM writing.  I’m grateful for this — it’s a meditation for me.

I’ve been taking a writing class and for a recent assignment, was tasked with describing a place.  I chose to describe the place of being with a 3-year-old before her bedtime, a place I typically encounter with impatience, but that on this day, I wanted to relish.

Here it is:

My body sinks into the couch, deeper than her 3-year-old body sinks into me.  But she exerts a weight on me, for sure.  A weight just heavy enough for my quadricep muscles to call out, “She’s not a baby anymore.”

The gray velvet of the three-piece sectional couch is soft and comforting.  I ignore the stray blue and purple marker streaks, the ones that sweat-inducing scrubbing couldn’t touch.  A dark triangle of space connects the piece of couch I lay on and the adjacent piece.  Every single day, multiple times a day, I align the couches.  And every day, multiple times a day, couch chaos elves undo my work.

Her head feels musty against my lips.  Her strands of curly hair damp from the bath, murmuring orange and rosemary into my nose, from the adult shampoo and conditioner I use on her.  Her head is still so warm, like, a baby’s.  I’m inhaling vapors from a greenhouse of toiletry scents.

Her hands feel warm and dirty against my face.  One holds fingers that inevitably just crawled into a nostril then climbed into a mouth, and now it rests on my cheek.  I miss her pale soft baby hands that even when encrusted in baby poop, somehow never felt dirty to me.

Her mouth opens and paradise spills out.  “I am a BIG. OAK. TREE.  Stuck in the GROUND. IS. ME.  If I had JUST. ONE. WISH.  I’d like to DANCE. LIKE. THIS.”  She strikes each note like a mallet to a tone bar.  Will she be a singer one day?  Will her brother?  Will we have a family band? 

I sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to her and she sings along.  Her voice matches mine, at times in a perfect overlap.  She clutches the tail of her lovey, the stuffed dog named Big Oof.  Big Oof’s wet tail brushes my neck.  I wince.  The tail smells like a garbage truck on a stifling summer day.  To my daughter, that tail plus her thumb in her mouth defines comfort.

She asks me if we can just rest here.  I say yes.  I never say yes.  I always say, “No, let’s go brush teeth and then you can rest in bed.”  But tonight is different.  Two nights ago the news shook me.  Yesterday I googled “middle school bullying”.  Today I was at the doctor for a lump on my neck, which turned out to be nothing more than muscle strain from dental work gone bad.  My tooth throbs, and it will until I go to the dentist tomorrow.

So now, in this moment, on this couch with my 3-year-old, I want to rest.  I want to bottle this moment.  The label would read, “Putting June to Bed, June 5, 2017”.

Those musty curls are dry now, soft silky threads scattered against my chin.  Her body rises up and down, faster than mine.  We are drifting, drifting . . . BOOM she jerks awake.

“Let’s go brush teeth now, bugaboo.”

And we do.

 

Writing Goals

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I am writing a book.  And realizing that while writing is an art, it’s also got to have some hard features as a practice in order for it to GET DONE.  And I feel if I blurt out those hard features here, my likelihood of getting it done skyrockets.

The Plan:

3,000 words/week PLUS 30 weeks EQUALS a draft by Christmas.  I will use the Ink On app to track my progress!

Words Away!

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I didn’t write 4,138 words today.  I set up the app today.  I wrote 4,138 words over the past 5 weeks! 

Why We Go To Concerts

Billy Joel and the Beatles provided the soundtrack to my high school years.  So, a few months ago when I peered out from under my parenting rock and saw Billy Joel was playing at Madison Square Garden this spring, I did everything possible to make attendance at this event happen.

With tickets and a babysitter secured, May 25 — concert night — was upon us.  I was just getting over yet another cold (the 15th or 16th of the year? This one probably caused by Owl sneezing into my mouth).  Combined with the horrific night in Manchester earlier this week, my enthusiasm for our Big Night Out to a Concert dampened.

Joining the throngs of people funneling into Madison Square Garden did little to alleviate my anxiety.  But I know we can’t just stay at home, even though at times it’s tempting.  I know if we do that, “the terrorists win”.

Armed with gluten-free beer (just as delicious as regular, so why not?) and chicken nuggets, we made our way to our seats, which were outstanding.  I began to relax.  The stadium filled.  It’s Fleet Week in Manhattan, and I noticed a row of US Navy uniforms directly across the stadium from us.  As did the man behind me, who said in a delightfully thick New Jersey accent:

“Hey! Look at the say-luhs! I bet he’s gunna do Good Night Cy-GONNNNNNNNNNNN!”

And then he went on to tell the woman I assume was his wife all about the Billy Joel song, “Good Night Saigon”.

I marveled at how cool it would be to be visiting New York as a member of the service and go to a Billy Joel concert!

Around 8:30 the show began.  He opened with “Pressure”.  Killer opener and kind of a helter skelter light show to go with the musical interludes.

“How old is he?” I asked.  Eric phoned it.  68.  SIXTY-EIGHT.  I dream of sustaining a fraction of that professional momentum at 68.  His voice? Liquid and round.  The entire performance? Flawlessly executed, creative, packed.  He also treated us to two short, non sequitur, and completely perfect classical piano solos.  One was Gershwin.

He said 2017 was the 50th anniversary of the Seargent Pepper album.  I knew what was coming and deemed May 25 the best day thus far of my 2017.  Those building guitar chords . .  . . . and John Lennon was singing “A Day in the Life.”  Except it wasn’t John Lennon.  It was Billy Joel.  68-year-old Billy Joel, impersonating 27-year-old John Lennon.  I couldn’t contain my excitement.  Of course, then when the screen zoomed in on a woman waving a British flag, I think a number of eyes were no longer dry.

Every now and then you’d see 20 – 30 people sprint out at the beginning of a song presumably they didn’t recognize.  Presumably to the bathroom or to get more beer.  I saw the whole row of Navy and Coast Guard and Marines file out.  “Good for them! Drink up!” I thought.

A jarring helicopter rotor filled the stadium.  Here it was.  The beginning of Good Night Saigon.  AND ALL OF THE SERVICE MEN AND WOMEN WERE OUT GETTING BEER.  “Hurry back!” I thought.

We met as soul mates . . . . .  on Parris Island . . . . “ his full timbre saturated the stadium.

A few more lines in, I continued to feel so bad.  “They’re missing it!”, I said to Eric.

Then, there they were.  Filing onto the stage!  Forming a semi circle on the stage and swaying to the refrain.

At the end of the song, Billy Joel shook each one of their hands.

“Piano Man” closed out the concert.  Well, until the encore a few minutes later, which, after I shredded my vocal chords screaming, “WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE!”, opened with, “We Didn’t Start the Fire”.  Memories of trying to decipher the lyrics in pre-internet 7th grade flooded back.

It all made me think about why we go to concerts.  Before leaving that night, I questioned why we were going.  We could just, I don’t know, play all the music at home.  But being there, it was crystal clear why we go to concerts.  We go to support artists.  We go for inspiration.  We go for the collective experience.  We go to say FU to terrorists.  We go to see glimpses of these artist we can’t see on their albums, like Billy Joel playing Rhapsody in Blue.  Glimpses of their utter brilliance, talent, practice, dedication.  We go to remember how stupendously beautiful, joyful, and magical this human experience can be.

The Funniest Book Ever by the Funniest Blogger Ever.

If you are looking for a brutally honest book about parenting that will literally make you laugh out loud, look no further than Welcome to the Club, by Raquel D’Apice.  It is JUST SO FUNNY, as is her brilliant blog, The Ugly Volvo.  This is a whole new level of funny.

IMG_3492One of my many favorite lines,

” ‘Is everyone else using this many wipes?’ as you tidy up something roughly as overwhelming as the Exxon Valdez oil spill.”

Brilliant!

Friday Night (Very) Short Story: The Cricket

I wrote this a year and a half ago, and read it at an Open Mic night on Houston Street on a freezing January night.  And thus began my moonlighting as a Open Mic reader.  I’ve done it 3 more times since!

The Cricket

“We have a cricket!” Edna called out to Louise and Ron, as they made their way up the front steps burdened with suitcases, a baby seat, and bags of all shapes and sizes hanging from their arms like Christmas tree ornaments.  Edna was 82 and lived in this house with her husband Arthur, 86.  Their daughter Louise and her husband Ron, both in their 30s, were visiting Louise’s childhood home in Massachusetts with their daughter, who was almost 2.  Three generations in one house, and, evidently, a cricket.

Resignation lined Edna’s voice.  As if the cricket had some kind of real estate rights, had moved in unannounced but with the proper paperwork.  “He’s been there for weeks,” Edna went on, speaking above the confusion of transporting items from the car to the house and determining what went where.  After unpacking, the cricket’s chirping took centerstage.  Louise heard it in all corners of the house.  “CHIRP!”  The 40th chirp of what was sure to be a long weekend.

“Do you hear the cricket?”, she hissed to Ron, upstairs, a full two floors higher than the basement, the cricket’s new quarters.  She wondered about the likelihood of any sleep whatsoever during their stay, as the chirp reverberated through two flights of stairs and a door.  Making matters worse, Arthur had recently repainted the guest room and chemical fumes saturated the air.  “I can’t sleep in here,” Louise stated, and in a huff made camp in the downstairs “den”, a tiny, cramped, claustrophobic room just feet away from the basement door.

Edna helped her daughter spread sheets over the couch.  “That sound is really annoying, Mom. ” “I know it,” said Edna, shaking her head, and then, in a softer voice, as if sharing a secret, “They say that crickets can nest “, her eyes grew wide, “and eat through your carpets.”  Louise imagined the house devoured from the inside-out, by an army of nesting crickets.  She felt that familiar annoyance of her mother’s reverence to what They Say.

Later, Louise and Ron sat in the den.  Ron watched football.  The cricket’s song was a metronome.

Louise had an idea.  She would time the chirps.  At the next chirp she pressed start on her phone’s stopwatch.  50 seconds passed.  CHIRP! 50 seconds, again. CHIRP!  This time, 54 seconds.  “Odd,” Louise said.

She tried again.  Same thing.  Intervals of 50, 50, then 54 seconds.   A few more rounds confirmed it.

She jostled Ron out of his football trance.  “Look at this!”, she exclaimed, holding the data up triumphantly.  “Do crickets chirp in intervals like that?”, she asked.

“I’m going down to investigate,”  Ron said.  The sound of the basement door opening sent Edna approaching.

“Be careful!” she called after Ron, who was already halfway down the stairs.  “I get goosebumps every time I go down there to do the wash,” she said, and peered suspiciously down the staircase.

Louise kept timing, believing the pattern would change in the presence of a human visitor.  The pattern held.  “That’s no cricket,” Louise said to herself.

Just then Ron emerged, something in hand.

“This is your Cricket,” he said, laying down a white square object.

“What’s that?”, asked Edna.

“A carbon monoxide detector,” he replied.  “I found it on the shelf.  It was tucked in between Scrabble and Battleship.  It’s low on batteries.  I disabled it.”  Sure enough, the chirping had ended.

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“For Heaven’s sakes!  Arthurrrrrrrrrrrrrr!” Edna yelled, “Ron found the cricket!”

“What?!”, Arthur staggered into the kitchen, aroused from an accidental early evening snooze.  “The cricket? You found him?”

“I found the carbon monoxide detector,” Ron said.  “The sound you heard was the low battery signal.”

“The what detector?!”, Arthur shouted.  This, from the man who upon being shown a North Face windbreaker on a recent birthday shopping trip for Edna, exclaimed in recognition, “Facebook! Oh yeah!  That’s a good brand!”

“We were trying to trap it with a bowl of molasses!,” Edna said,  “And all we got was mold!”, Arthur continued.  Both Edna and Arthur laughed, hard.  They were good sports.

Later that night, when everyone was asleep, Louise relished in the restored silence.  “What would they do without me?”, she uttered, feeling superior.  Edna and Arthur had Louise later in life, and she felt she was always opening their eyes to the world.

About to fall asleep, she stopped, went to the window, and looked out, scanning for branches, stray wires, or perhaps a fallen antenna.  She wondered if the woodpecker attacking the side of the house Edna talked about last year was still an issue.

Those Popping Rocks! (Part I)

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Pop Rocks attached to a stopper and inserted into a water-filled eudiometer

The AP Chemistry exam is over.  The students are breathing a sigh of relief and depending on whether they are a junior or senior, are putting the commensurate amount of effort into their end-of-year independent projects.  (See my own SKYKU).  Actually, even the seniors seem to be doing some impressive work.  Those projects include studying the decaffeination process, measuring the amount of fructose in soda, AND, determining how much carbon dioxide is liberated from a package of Pop Rocks!

If you have never had a package of Pop Rocks, order one immediately from Amazon.  Or better yet, make a trip to your local vintage candy shop.  The fizzing sensation on your tongue is not to be missed.  And what is all that bubbling and cracking?  Carbon dioxide escaping from these sugar rocks.

Two of the seniors knew early on they wanted to study Pop Rocks.  They leveraged an earlier lab we did to produce and measure hydrogen gas, in which a eudiometer (a very narrow tube with one end sealed with a holed stopped) is used to collect gas via water displacement.  Precise volumes of gas can be measured this way.  Today they began their first trial.  Tuesday morning we shall see the results!

I have always been curious about how Pop Rocks were made, but simply added that question to my never-ending list of “things to look up”.  Thankfully that can be removed from the list, as one of the seniors sent me this article, from the Molecular Gastronomy Network.

I had always assumed pop rocks were some combination of sugar and baking soda.  This is not the case!  Instead, the sugar is melted and then cooled “in the presence of” carbon dioxide.  I wonder how that works, exactly.  What equipment is used?  Is it difficult?  When the Pop Rocks dissolve on your tongue, the carbon dioxide is liberated.  Do Pop Rocks have a short lifetime?  Do additional steps need to be taken to ensure the carbon dioxide doesn’t leak?  These are the questions running through my mind.

Like nearly every brilliant invention, Pop Rocks came about by accident.  According to the article, in 1956 a food chemist attempting to make a powdered soda found a way to make sugar pop.  I guess Pop Rocks provide a kind of highly concentrated soda experience.  The accidental popping sugar was sold as Pop Rocks candy in 1976.

In Part 2, I will share the students’ results on how much carbon dioxide is in these candies! Spoiler Alert: It’s probably not contributing to climate change.

 

Blogging Blahs and Alternative Medicine

I’m in the blogging blahs.  Which is odd because I love this blog and I love learning that people are reading and enjoying it.  I think I’m more in the Everything blahs.  I am so tired!  Owl is sleeping but BRK is not (insert creepy photo of toddler standing by my bed at 4 AM).  And so, I am tired.  And we are at that 6-month mark with Owl which is kind of its own sigh of relief — I’m feeling some of that postpartum mania relax away and grant space to the fatigue.

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Used to be able to write at 5 AM “before everyone woke up” except now people wake up at 4.

(I did ask BRK last night to please stay in her room when she wakes up.  To please not come into our room and wake me up.  And she said, “Well, what if I’m really quiet?” and I said “No, I really don’t want you to come into our room in the middle of the night.” And then she said, softly, “But . . . sometimes I just want to see you.”  This is what they do.  They wear you down and then they say something like that and all you want to do is snuggle them forever.)

I’m going to do a little post today even though I am tired and blah-feeling.  And try to get back to regular Tuesday and Friday posts.

Have you tried acupuncture?  I have.  And I really like it.  So I was intrigued by a recent article in Popular Science about the efficacy of acupuncture and more broadly, what it takes for alternative medicine to cross the threshold to mainstream medicine.  The article sums up a recent study that set out to determine if acupuncture “really works”.  Patients with carpal tunnel syndrome were divided into three groups.  Group 1 received acupuncture at the site of the pain.  Group 2 received acupuncture at distal sites, sites that are allegedly energetically connected to the painful sites.  And Group 3 received what sounds like needles inserted willy-nilly.

All three groups reported amelioration of symptoms, in the form of, “I feel better.”  Huh.  Here’s where it gets cool, and why doing this with carpal tunnel syndrome was key.  Unlike most painful conditions for which improvement is judged by a person saying they feel better, carpal tunnel syndrome can be objectively measured by observing the rate of impulse transmission across a particular nerve.  When this was measured, only the groups that received actual acupuncture, (Groups 1 and 2) showed improvement.  And the improvement was the greatest for Group 1, the group receiving acupuncture at the site of pain.

The article goes on to discuss placebos in general, and how willy-nilly acupuncture is still a physical intervention, and so not quite as placebo-y as a sugar pill.  The article cites other examples involving knee pain in which physical interventions (debridement, arthroscopic lavage) are done because patients report improvement in pain, even though these interventions are often short-lived and far from cures.

My favorite part of the article comes next.  The author states:

“. . . despite the fact that there wasn’t any evidence that they actually worked, the surgical procedures were routinely done because patients reported feeling better. Ironically, that is the exact opposite of the stance that we take with acupuncture—even though it’s less invasive.”

Here is an example of alternative medicine being held to a higher standard than traditional, mainstream medicine.  And should it be?  I’m not sure.  Probably? Maybe? No? I don’t know.  But it’s certainly interesting to think and talk about.  And important if we are talking insurance coverage and all that real stuff.  Because, as the author goes onto to say, despite a 2002 study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that debridement, arthroscopic lavage, and “sham surgery” (making a cut, doing nothing, and then sewing it back up) all resulted in an equal reduction in pain, the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) lists both debridement and arthroscopic lavage as “recommended therapies” for knee osteoarthritis.  I wonder what US doctors recommend and insurers cover.

Probably not relevant in the case of the knee interventions, but with acupuncture, I wonder about the benefits of simply taking a nap!  Because that’s what you do.  Someone sticks needles in you and you get all warm and cozy and take a nap.  Maybe just the indulgence of a nap during the day has some real benefits.  Ahhhh.  A nap during the day . . . . .