Friday, April 30, 2010


There was once a time when the life of a Lieutenant Colonel’s wife was far away from my own. Today I look on as my husband walks through his ceremony and pins on the very rank considered so distant. Wow. We’ve been together a looooonnngggg while.

I kept wondering (out loud) what to get him in recognition for this achievement, and in response from him and my trusted “others” I got a big, “Nothing!” He (I) should be thanking you!”


On these occasions my husband is quick to pay credit to me and by extension the kids for helping him achieve is accomplishment(s). I think that’s a nice tradition he, and most of the people who walk this path, follow, but I’ve never really fully bought into the idea. I believe it was my husband’s desire, determination and due diligence that got him to this point. He’s good at what he does. He’s one of the best. I believe that. Believing that works for me in many ways, especially when he walks out the door to fly again and again into “denied” and/or “unfriendly” territories around the globe.

But as far as thanking me for helping him to get to this place, I’m not sure I deserve the credits. They’re nice. I appreciate the gesture, but I guess I’m just not comfortable with the premise. I don’t believe I helped him get here. I’m pretty sure he would’ve gotten here with or without me.

If you were to say, “Thanks for helping me to both have a family, while pursuing this unusual path, then I would say, “You’re welcome.” And maybe that’s what he means. Although my husband’s career dominates our lives, it is not my career. I am his true believer, his support and his love, but I do not walk his path. I have not seen what he has seen, nor have I put forth the same efforts. And I’m not that altruistic.

My task is simpler (though often not easier). I am here, while he is there — wherever there may be. I take care of the homestead. I make even the most challenging domiciles feel like ours, and try to thread together consistent elements, which follow us wherever we go. So we each play our part. Mine is a little less exciting than his, right now, but I have my moments.

We chose this fork in the road together. Honestly — the decision was due in no small part to a sunset sailboat ride and some visceral introspection sparked by John Cusack. His “top five” lists in a movie we saw really struck a chord. Rick already was flying for the Air Force National Guard, and he’d tried to go active duty before, but this time was different. We, by now, had children, who we rarely saw, because we both worked. I wanted to jump off what I viewed at the time as a “runaway train” of life and slow things down on the domestic front, but I also wanted my life’s partner to pursue his life’s ambition.

So when people ask me how I stay calm sending him off repeatedly into the wild blue yonder, not knowing where or when he’ll return, I always have the same answer: I believe in his abilities, and I would never forgive myself for holding someone down on the ground, when all they really want to do is to fly. Even in these uncertain times when it is certainly certain he may be in danger at some point. It wouldn’t be a partnership. It wouldn’t be a marriage, and it wouldn’t be a life worth living together.

For that, I guess, I understand why I get thanked at ceremonies — for sharing someone who wants to make a difference, the unique blend of intellect, humor and compassion to do it, and the will to continue. But partnerships are partnerships. I’ll take my turn to fly later…

Monday, April 26, 2010


I began practicing Bikram Yoga last October. I’d just finished a half marathon, and wanted to unwind. I’d practiced different forms of yoga for years of and on, but never Bikram. I learned about this particular practice a while ago, and thought I’d never take to it; too hot; too claustrophobic. But my neighbor had recently begun going, so I thought I'd give it a go. Despite my initial misgivings, I’ve really come to love it. It takes about 90 minutes to perform 26 postures twice followed by two breathing exercises — this all while in a room of 105 degrees and about 40 percent humidity. It's tough. I've gotten so into attending class, my running now has taken a backseat. Some poses are easier than others. I think that’s why you use the term “practice.” Depending on the day, any number of things could go wrong while in the midst of a posture — like today, for example.

One of the series is called “the wind removing” pose. I never gave this one much thought, in terms of the name or the exercise, because it’s one of the easier positions to negotiate. Then Mr. Jim, my trusted yoga instructor, explained the origination behind it. I think one day he said, “what do you think a bunch of elderly monks in one room doing this pose might call it? Be careful — it works!” Of course I thought, “NEVER.”

You know the thing about “NEVER.” Never say it. Nor think it. Because today during the “wind removing pose,” well, I removed wind — loudly. I viscerally said, “excuse me.” I think — in fact I know — if I were younger I might’ve been mortified. But when it happened today I was slightly humored and I guess a little embarrassed, as well. But ultimately I thought, “It DOES work!”

I thought this was pretty funny, and later told my husband what happened. He often reminds me his humor never matured beyond the age of 13, so I thought he’d get a kick out of it. Fart jokes really never go out of style, and this wasn’t my first, um, experience with being the brunt of this particular gaff. Once when I was in eighth grade; new to a school and feeling very shy, my penny loafer (you know the ones, with the penny?) slipped across the linoleum floor in history class. I distinctly remember it. I was sitting in the back of the room. It sounded EXACTLY like a giant loud WIND REMOVAL. That time I was mortified. I think the entire class of eighth graders knew it was my shoe, except the well-meaning teacher — Mr Buford, history. He went to great lengths to explain in a very serious manner (to these 12-year-olds who were losing it in their seats) about human bodily functions and their natural origin. Now the class was REALLY in hysterics, and all due to my stupid penny loafer. But that was just a sound effect. Today was the real deal.

I guess that’s what age does to us. I laughed to myself moving on to the next posture thinking about the term "human bodily functions," where I first heard it, and how it's followed me all these years … at least something from eighth grade history stuck.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


About this time of year, every single year (along with an appreciation of the fauna and the flora), I begin to anticipate all things food. I get this anxious feeling in my gut. I’ve come to recognize this as a gastric anticipation for all the good things coming … TO EAT. When I grew up in Ohio, maybe a bit earlier in the season than it is now, my Dad took me asparagus hunting in the woods next to our farmhouse. He knew exactly what to look for, hidden in all of the freshly burst green lushness of the forest. I don’t remember all the details, but I recall being a bit damp and chilly, watching my dad knick something off the trunk of a tree with his hunting knife. I think that was asparagus. Or it could’ve been mushrooms.

We also looked for morels on these hikes. Wild asparagus and morels go together like “peas and carrots,” as Forrest Gump would say. Hunting and fishing for whatever was in season was how my Dad lived, and my uncle Al was a butcher, so I got pretty in tune with the whole process. And although I didn't think about it much at the time, I'm pretty sure I recognized the origins of the food on my plate.

Our dinners back then travelled a fairly swift journey from standing to consuming. For a while we raised cattle for slaughter. It was my older sister’s and my job to feed them. (Being licked by a cow is a sensation you don’t really forget.) That was one thing about farm life. Making friends with the animals had its consequences. We had a pig for while. It kept escaping its pen and tearing the yard up into big chunks. Then the pig disappeared. I think this is a conjured memory, or maybe enhanced, but I swear I recall one night at the dinner table asking where the pig went. (He had a name, but I can’t remember it now.) I believe my mom answered me by asking how I liked my pork chop.

Lamb also found its way onto the menu around this time every year. I always thought I STRONGLY disliked lamb until we lived in England. There I garnered a whole new category of appreciation for spring — lambing season. I discovered lamb, cooked right, melts in your mouth; a perfect companion on the plate with a side of asparagus and mushrooms.

I wish I retained ANY of what my Dad knew to look for now that I’ve come full circle into parenthood myself. I love to introduce the kids to the taste of many things that recently walked, swam and grew. As it is, at least in terms of mushrooms, I don’t trust myself to know the difference between the good picks and the poisonous ones, so I can’t pass this practice on to my kids.

One thing I can convey, though, is my constant craving for all things seasonal. I figure this must’ve come from my early years, as we learned to love whatever was placed before us; and what got plated up tended to be whatever was available. Cooking by the calendar is such a pleasure. There’s always something to look forward to, and the kids are beginning to recognize the cycles. It ranks right up there with my daughter Zoe’s habit of asking about Valentines Day right after she finishes unwrapping her last Christmas present. Or her asking me to bust out the Halloween decorations right after the last fireworks burst on the 4th of July. Looking forward to "the next adventure" is BIG in our family.

Some of our journeys are simply continuations of our heritage. This is also the time of year my mouth begins to water at the mere thought of rhubarb; also in season (right before strawberries, which go GREAT with rhubarb!). I look for the bright red stalks in the produce section with anticipation. My Grandma and Grandpa Tommas had a huge rhubarb patch next to their house. And every year I would wait for those big stalks to turn red. You name it, we made it — rhubarb sauce over ice cream or bananas, or ice-cream with bananas; rhubarb pie; rhubarb crumble; rhubarb rhubarb. These days, though, I most often find my seasonal goodies in the super market. The farmers' markets here aren't year-round.

I seek out places where I can go and at least pick my own, wherever we happen to be, each season. We had an apple orchard growing up. Between my pony and me, we downed a few. The picking seasons, also strike a pretty deep chord. The kids and I have a lot of fun picking and eating; eating and picking. In England we plucked apples from the royal trees in the royal gardens of the royal princess, in Sandringham, where Princess Diana grew up. In Ohio, we try each year to make the strawberry season, where I've picked strawberries since I was little. (Actually, we've discovered if we're lucky, the end of strawberry season, runs into blackberry season, which then takes us into the beginning of tomato and corn seasons!) This ties my past together with my present and, hopefully, the children’s future, nicely. A thread weaved through our constantly changing fabric.

Thanks at least in part to the likes of Alice Waters and now Barbara Kingsolver (and the economy?), seed to table trends are enjoying renewed energy and effort here in the states. I read in the paper last week America’s farmers’ markets increased by 13 percent last year, and market organizers hope to see another increase this year. Regardless of the root cause, that’s good news, in my book. I’ve always wondered, as our farm fields are replaced with overgrown homes, how our children will know to protect the origins of their food, if they don’t recognize the source? (Ironically, the increase of markets in America contrasts sharply with the decline of village markets in England, which are being overtaken by the ever growing number of “American-like” super markets, like Tesco.) There are in-school seed-to-table efforts taking place across the nation, and at least a recognizable inclusion in the school curriculum here to learn more about the origins of our food. Both my daughters have watched Chicks hatch from eggs in their second-grade year. I'm not entirely sure this is supposed to be a food-related lesson, but it works for me.

I heard recently, British Chef Jamie Oliver is making an effort here to overhaul the school lunch program, much like he did in England while we were there around 2003-2004. In the end, he was able to garner the endorsement of and financial support from the government there, which resulted in more funds for fresh ingredients. It was great to witness. (Keeping in mind the population of England is around 50 million, give or take, and about the physical size of Oregon.) I hope he finds success here, as well. Just in the last week, one of my children came home with a story of a bug crawling out of her friend's cafeteria lasagna, and my son, who is in a different school, told me about a distinctly green hot dog. So for now, I pack my kids’ lunches. I hope they don’t get too much flak for bringing in rhubarb crumble …

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I have a funny relationship with words. And I use the term “relationship” pointedly. I love words. I love to chew on each one almost individually when I write; handling the letters to see if they are the right fit to make the overall picture just so. When they come together — sometimes just the way you imagine they might, they paint such a beautiful picture. I often hesitate, though. I worry that I’ll choose the wrong words to express myself, either in writing or in speaking, and that I’ll give the wrong impression. Or maybe the intentions of my words will go astray, and I’ll be misunderstood; or they will cause hurt or pain. This often gives me pause, and I lose the will to write or speak them.

I take words seriously — words I read, words people use to express themselves. They mirror peoples’ innermost thoughts when spoken sincerely. Sometimes they mask. Others they shield. And they reflect a person’s past; how they were raised; where they come from. I love to place a person’s origins by their inflection. I also enjoy listening to “expressions of the day” work themselves into daily speech. I distinctly remember the “paradigm shift” phase of the 90s. I took personally the term “Generation X,” and I recently came across the word “re-purpose,” which I’m finding all kinds of ways to work into my daily dialogue.

And committing words to paper is such a heady exercise for me. I have a checkered past with them. Shortly after graduating with my journalism degree I worked at a network affiliate in Columbus, Ohio. One day I was responsible for the “Chyrons,” the text you read below a broadcast telling you who, what, where, when and why. I misspelled Los Angeles. I believe I wrote "Los Angelas." Oops. No one caught the error on time; not me, not the chyron tech. So up it flew. That incident, along with a string of other word-related issues, caused me to re-think my desire to work in broadcast journalism. Later I worked in a small public relations firm where it was made clear your paycheck would be docked if you cut, spliced or diced your press releases. I remember writing a poem about commas around this time, struggling daily with the stylebook. Commas can cut words like a knife, or make them flow past your conscious like a lazy river gently strolling by. (My kids love that book about commas, “Eats, Shoots & Leaves.” It's a good read, regardless of the reader's age.) The comma poem came about the time I fell in love with the “m” dash. It looks like this — and gives me physical time and space to pause and collect my thoughts without committing to the grammar. Maybe it’s my band-aid, but it heals what ails me — so I keep using it.

I find it funny how I often struggle to express myself vocally, but give me a keyboard or a pen, and thoughts flow right out of me. I’m simply more comfortable navigating my emotions through the written medium. I think I feel EXPOSED sometimes when trying to vocalize my thoughts. It feels better to me to put them in black and white, rather than floating them through the air only to be swallowed by the universe. And the feel and smell of words on paper, in books, is something I relish. I’m slow to commit to ever converting to e-books.

Books are such a passageway; dream vehicles for the imagination, or simply whim fulfillers. My husband and I have a bad habit of collecting them. So much so, we tend to tip the scale on the weight of our household goods right up to the limit. Every time we move, the library gets a big donation from us. The kids have gotten into the same habit. We always love going to the library. It's one of the first things we find when we move to a new place. It feels like you’re getting treasures for FREE. I don’t see how that experience measures up, electronically. Libraries hold such a weighty feeling of possibility. I visited the Library of Congress last year, and was in awe of the system by which your desired book is delivered from the vaults above down to you on ground level. It feels like you are the only one with the golden ticket when it finally arrives just for you, if only for two weeks.

I heard a report on NPR today that libraries are in jeopardy of becoming redundant. It seems libraries and post offices are flying the same path of fate. Are the housing and shipping of words no longer necessary? Will words transcend and travel, as well as be stored safely in the electronic universe? I suppose they already are. I read somewhere there are approximately 50,000 blogs posted every day. So this tells me there is significance in this transition. But what does it mean? Do we all feel better sending words out into space, than delivering them in person? Are we reaching each other? Will they be available for future and repeated use?

Sunday, April 11, 2010


I’ve been practicing the guitar for about 15 years. I use the term “practicing” because I’m pretty certain what I pour into it and painstakingly churn out doesn’t amount to actually playing the guitar. Though I once thought it important to be at least slightly proficient, I’m not sure that matters anymore. It’s something I always wanted to do. Ages ago a friend introduced me to the basics, and I’ve been putting them to work ever since. Off and on as time turned into all these years, I’ve caught the “pick it up and play it bug” and slowly added to my repertoire of almost plucking out a few different tunes. But I’m far from fluid. Mostly I tend to play the same thing over and over until I get frustrated and/or distracted and plunk the guitar down to follow my fancy.

I still have the vision, though. You know the one. Casually reaching for the guitar, which is like a lady in waiting — conveniently in arms reach, at the perfect moment when I’m surrounded by friends and family. In my mind, I pick up a tune and take it into the night, while everyone sways and sings; or maybe quietly listens around a fire. I’ve had a few of those moments in my life. I remember every one — always with others carrying the chords. I reveled being in the audience, but always channeled the performer, thinking maybe some of their abilities might be contagious. I’m not sure why, really. I always froze at piano recitals when I was little. And then in college there was a brief stint in the modern dance department, but being on stage had pretty much the same effect on me — I forgot my moves. Those were the closest I came to performing anything in front of anyone — that and the time when I first started playing the six-string. I was at a party comprised of professional musicians; symphony members and staff. Someone caught wind I’d taken up the guitar and asked me to play something. I remember sitting on a stool someone conveniently provided and completely seizing while everyone looked on in anticipation and probably more than a little amusement. I think the host of the party, also an accomplished musician, and her husband picked the ill-fated tune — along with the party — up off the floor and played with flourish as I sat perched on my pedestal of shame.

I’ve taken a few lessons. Maybe finding the right guitar instructor is something like finding the right doctor, or psychologist. It’s difficult to feel comfortable and groove with just anyone. Personalities matter, especially when it comes to what I’ve come to learn as the deeply varying outlooks and approaches to searching out a tune and producing meaningful music from it. So I’m still looking for the right fit; packing the instrument up every time we move. I love taking my guitar places. It’s so portable. The idea of having it near when inspiration strikes is something I savor, so I indulge my musical fantasies by bringing it along in our “hold” baggage versus the household goods whenever I can.

This particular, and I imagine every beloved, guitar has been on quite a journey, actually. I think my mother-in-law bought it for my husband second-hand when he was in high school. He graciously acquiesced and gave it to me when he saw how I lovingly fondled it. It took years before I began to hold it close; a few more before I worked up the courage to caress it. Now, like a toy taken for granted, I schlep it behind me whenever we move or travel. The case is completely kaputt — rode hard and put away wet as my Dad would say — although it doesn’t have any of those cool destination stickers plastered about as evidence of its adventurous life.

I think someday one of the kids will be inspired by my feeble attempts and relieve me from my torment; although I guess I don’t feel very conflicted about not playing very well, anymore. Maybe the bug I caught from others will get passed on to my children, and one or all of them will begin strumming themselves. I leave the guitar on a stand out in the open in case any one wants to noodle around with it. Occasionally they do. If one of the kids picks it up, literally and figuratively, not only will the guitar continue its colorful journey, but it (I feel badly referring to it as IT) and I will come full circle. The guitar in someone elses' capable hands performing — me somewhere in the audience, large or small. Because I think maybe I’m a much more talented and prolific listener. Meanwhile, I’ll keep practicing.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Last week I was doing my thing in the kitchen, cooking dinner, when I noticed my daughter Zoe diligently working on a letter. This wasn’t unusual for Zoe. She’s often camped out in various places with a pad of paper in front of her either writing or drawing. When she finished her work, she put the paper in an envelope and came to me and asked where should she send a letter to God? This gave me brief pause, and while I thought how to answer her question, we talked for a while about speaking to God no matter where you are in all kinds of ways, through our actions, etc. I really thought she was grasping the concept when she asked, “Even on the toilet?”

“Well yeah, even on the toilet,” I responded evenly.

“I just wondered,” she said, “because I was thinking about God while I was on the toilet.” We who know and love her most all recognize Zoe’s innate abilities to take the most serious of subjects and bring them down to base level. But she had a point. I do some of my best thinking while I’m on the toilet. It’s the only time I get a moment alone — occasionally.

After talking about the difficult business of actually posting a letter to God, Zoe decided to send the letter in care of our pastor, Father Chuck, because she figured he had direct dial. I didn’t read the letter. I have no idea what thoughts that envelope contained, but I think it was important to her to share her thoughts to God in a literal sense. And Father Chuck is one of those people who has a way of understanding these things. I imagine he’ll receive the letter and know what to do.

I wonder if in Zoe’s world it’s sort of like sending a letter to Santa Claus; holding that belief the letter will get to the North Pole and to Santa, although you have no hard evidence. I guess that’s what having faith is all about. Keeping a conviction without out any real proof.

I’m glad Zoe’s thinking about God, and maybe in some way recognizing the spiritual side of herself. We’ve talked about “that little voice” inside your head being your conscience — your “right-or-wrong-o-meter,” and how that might in some way be God’s way of speaking to you in a way you might listen. Whether, or not, you follow those or any faith lines, there is a certain comfort in feeling you’re not alone, even when you are most alone.

If I had a “do-over” ticket, I would study religion in college. I am fascinated by the role it plays in our lives, in our history, in our politics. I believe any belief structure is held together by equal parts faith; fiction; fact; and, folklore. I’ve never been able to completely let go of my errant thoughts regarding the dogma of my church, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate the community around the institution; found comfort in the rituals, and, recognize the sense of morality it hopefully instills in my children and myself. So while I still harbor some misgivings, I guess I take my beliefs for better or worse. My kids are pretty independent little thinkers. I’m confident they’ll question their faith at least once in their lives, as I have. And this is a good thing. The Dalai Lama said something to the effect that it is possible (and possibly good) to study many religions, and to take away those tenants that speak to you, without ever officially converting to any one of them. I read that when I had just graduated from college and was influenced in equal parts by Ayn Rand, who was an atheist, and Eastern religious beliefs, primarily Buddhism. I guess it stuck, because I never converted from my confirmed church, but I am continually intrigued by other belief structures.

We have Mormon friends who no matter where in the world they live, are instantly swept into the welcoming arms of their church. I’ve always looked on with regard to their global sense of community. And due maybe in part to his travels as a missionary, our friend Jeremy has never met a stranger. But maybe he was just born that way. In fact, in many ways, I think my husband Rick and Jeremy were brothers separated at birth. One is Mormon. One is Catholic. When we lived near each other our friends would often come over for brunch after services on Sunday morning. Our hour-long service gave us plenty of time to prepare, vs their morning-long obligations. They’re like family to us. I know my kids are curious about their faith. And Jeremy is Godfather to our youngest. Maybe one day she will explore other religions. I hope there are people like Jeremy and his wife Lorien in our lives who are there to help answer their questions about what religion means to them.

Meanwhile, I hope my kids keep talking to God — no matter where they may be at the time they feel the need to converse. And posting letters is okay, too.

End Note: After writing this, I realized there is a movie due out tomorrow titled “Letters to God,” inspired by a young boy who, through his battle with cancer, wrote a series of letters to God. The timing is purely coincidental. I don’t think Zoe knew of the movie when she wrote her letter. When I Googled the movie, I also discovered a I’m not sure how I feel about God reading his letters along with the rest of the universe over the net but, then again, here I send mine…