Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Thanks this week to Margo!! 
And as for me.

This morning we woke to a few inches of snow that fell stealth and silent in the middle of the night. School was cancelled again but the bakery was open, so we took the dog into town to get a cup of coffee. She loves running circles through the snow and collecting a little beard of it under her chin.

Up the road we passed three girls in their early twenties building a snowman on the front lawn of a little rundown house. They had dressed him in denim and eye glasses and were currently engaged in a debate over what medium to use for his facial hair. They'd been at it for a while and seemed to be having such a good time.

The four of them, the three girls and their snow friend, they reminded me of something. That sweet time after college, before you've been peeled off and sealed in with your partner and your family. That time in life where your friends are your family. You brighten up your shabby house with collages and flower pots and hanging sarongs, work in bookstores and coffee houses and take care of rich people's children, you complain and commiserate, your hangovers aren't so entirely ferocious, and you can do things that seem unfathomable now, like sit with your friend while she's getting her hair cut and flip through a magazine, totally unconcerned about all the other things you should be doing.

Lately, even when I'm working hard at one thing, all the other things I have to do hang over my head like a cartoon storm cloud. It's a terrible trick of the imagination to be haunted by this cloud, to feel lazy even when you're working all the time.
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School is feeling a bit fractured from all the ice and cancellations, but as far as I can tell I'm doing just fine. Good enough, anyways. I'd say a little bit of my motivation dissolved on the day the nursing school application was due and I didn't apply. My mom tells me that's okay, because I was becoming obsessive over test scores and that's not the best side of me.

The morose professor continues to show up twice a week in a complete whirlwind, throwing his head on his desk and muttering, "Victim of circumstance! Victim of circumstance!" He said that the first day that he was late, when his dog got loose and had to be chased down, and apparently he liked the sound of it because now he says it all the time.

My organic chemistry professor is the sweetest woman I've ever met. She looks like she just stepped off the front of a box of pancake mix. She's always calling our class "a group of lovely, beautiful people," and she goes on sublime tangents to help us remember our functional groups. "COOH means carboxylic acid," she'll say in a deep Mississippi drawl. "I can just picture that rascal cat Sylvester dippin little Tweety Bird's feet into a bucket of acid and what does that little bird say? COOH!" And she'll pause, her eyes moist, and say, "I just love Looney Tunes."

My wedding dress arrived at the shop and I got to try it on, which was exciting. Except It didn't fit anything like the original one did. I had to hold it up, gathering big handfuls of satin as I looked at myself in the mirror, confused. "Oh honey, it's just cause you're so tiny!" Squealed the seamstress. She yanked back a few inches from waistline. "We'll just pin it here and here. And honey? Have you given a thought to some extra hi-yah in the bosom? A little push-up?"
To be honest, not since I was fourteen have I been worried about needing an extra hi-yah in the bosom. But I spun around and sang out, "I'll take it!" without a second's hesitation. After all, everyone keeps telling me it's My Big Day.

So things are going well. I bought a pink Calla Lilly and it lives on the kitchen table, growing a withering brown around the leaves. Dave acquired a mountain bike and on the random warm days that stitch together this frenetic Southern winter, we'll go out riding. "You go faster than I thought!" He said once as we caught our breath the end of a winding downhill at Bent Creek. I glowed for the rest of the week.
I came home late the other night, and David was lying on the couch, watching animals on TV and holding the sleeping dog on one arm. "What are you watching?" I asked.

"Otters," he said, and I felt something like a tidal wave of affection hit me. For him, for the napping dog. For our little house with the blue and gray kitchen that looks like an Airstream trailer and the banner of cards and letters that we use as decoration. For the dying pink Lilly and the foil corpse of the the Valentines Day Balloon he bought me, now hovering over the living room floor with its last gasp of helium.

So as for me, it's a nice time. There's plenty of anxiety; I worry about the writing fizzling out, about my shoulders not being sculpted by my wedding day. I worry about my children, who are not here yet, but who are already starving because their mom didn't go to nursing school like she should have.

All of that is to be expected.  When it comes down to the day by day, minute by minute side of life, this is a nice time. This is a good winter.
If you're local, or have lots of time on your hands, check out my recent article on Rootsrated:

Race to the Taps in Asheville
Active Valentines Activities
An interview with the man who wrote the book on Hickory Nut Gorge State Park
Six reasons to attend Bike Love
How real is reality TV? An interview with Scott McCleskey from Ultimate Survival Alaska

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Your childhood fantasy, out of control (Response Letter 2)

When I asked you how you were doing, you really told me. And I had to respond. 

Dear us,

So you lost $450 in the parking lot the other day. The same $450 dollars that you'd dutifully tried to deposit, but the bank teller informed you that they don't take cash. (We all wonder which bank you go to, and why, and what?) That surely is a misfortune but here's what I'm thinking: maybe the person who found your money, who tripped over the envelope on the blacktop as she ran back into work, was the woman from the bridal shop. The woman who sprinted after me with the paper heart in her hand. And I don't know what her story is, but it's possible that she really needed that money, I mean really needed it. More than any of us, which is certainly hard to fathom.

That wasn't supposed to make you feel better- that's a whole lot of money to lose- but I'm just thinking that's probably what happened.

But anyway, a lot of us are feeling it lately. The snow is piling up over the doorway, not the doorstep the doorway, and we're stuck in the house with the kids and the legos, and the boss is either disorganized as hell or a sociopath, we're not sure which, but it's starting to get to us. And the other night at work everybody tried to die all at once. And if they weren't dying they were escaping from their beds and you had to either pull them back or push them down, depending.

Now, for you who recently moved into a tiny village in the interior of Alaska, let me tell you something. When my family moved up to North Pomfret Vermont, a place that won't consider you a local unless six generations of family preceded you, everybody was so mean to my mother. My kind, sweet, funny mom- they never did warm up. I can't explain it and just thinking about it makes me want to kick. Tiny villages are not always friendly, so try not to take it personally. Although I did.

But of all that, the daily suffers, just remember this: Plot Twist! The greatest advice that one of us came up with, and it wasn't me. You're not stuck, you're not disappointed, you didn't fail- there's just been a change of action that nobody quite saw coming. A real cliffhanger, and if only we were still kids reading under the quilt with a flashlight, because back then we loved a good plot twist, savored it in fact. It kept us up all night, but not in the way that it does now.

Of course, there are those things of a considerably greater magnitude. You don't always like your husband. You're contemplating divorce. The cancer has returned. Run of the mill gates of hell kind of stuff. How was it that you described how you're feeling? Frighten and frozen. An alliteration. Maybe standing in the shower screaming plot twist into a bar of soap isn't something you can really see yourself doing right now. We'll whisper it for you instead. Fix yourself a martini and we will too.

But it's not all ice and steel. Somewhere in coastal Carolina, a daughter is leaning her head on your shoulder. It doesn't matter if she's not your daughter; she's somebody's daughter and for this moment you are the haven she has chosen. You got engaged. You booked your trip to the Arctic circle to see the Northern lights. And up in Alaska, insulated under one reasonable foot of fluffy snow, you're in your new house with a baby's foot lodged in between your ribs from the inside and you've never been happier.

And speaking of- you with your second child on the way? You're going to have a lovely new baby soon, even if for now it feels like a strictly head in the toilet sort of affair. Hyperemesis gravidarum, a mouthful, but look at it this way: you'll have something to discuss with the Princess of England, should you one day run into her over a plate of cold cuts and small sandwiches.

Finally, for the people of Boston, Massachusetts, my home town. You've been hurled into some futuristic snowscape, something that feels like your greatest childhood fantasy overblown and out of control. Something Russian. Just remember, you won't always be a mouse tunneling through the streets. I know it feels impossible, but in a few short months that whole place will explode into nice green grass. Until then, maybe a book and a bath.

Melina, and everybody else

PS. I'm sorry your plane didn't take off and you couldn't go back home. They told you the plane had 'weight and balance issues'?

Don't we all?
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Friday, February 13, 2015

Give it a Rest, D'angelo (Response Letter 1)

Check out my article on three active outdoors valentines dates (and one anti-valentines excursion for the bitter, the heartbroken, or the just not feeling it.)

I can't write much of anything until I respond to you, because when I asked 'how are you doing' you really told me.

Here is the first letter to all of us. Not the last as I have more ground to cover.

Dear us,

I'm sorry they stole your wallet and used it to buy shower gel, but in a way it's hilarious, something you'll talk about at dinner parties. 'What sort of people shop at Bath and Body Works?' you'll ask, and after a moment's silence you'll stand up and shout- Criminals! Criminals, that's who!

With regards to your glorious moments, it does not concern me that they are tiny, most glory comes  small like that. I wish there was a special bank where you could put the glory specks and wait for them to accumulate into something really sparkling. Something that burns the barn down. But there's not so just try to enjoy them.

And that situation, with the fired locomotive, that sounds difficult. But the union will give em' hell, that's what they always do in the movies, and if you want to stay in the mountains then just stay, you'll figure it out. You'll build a little castle out of cardboard and boil shoes for dinner, if it comes to that, and it won't come to that, although I am speaking as someone who once gnawed on a belt to test for flavor. Cause it almost did come to that.

And then it didn't.

You with three kids at home and that empty feeling growing inside, you know my own mother had that and she was at work half her life, so maybe it's just something that's in all of us. Maybe give it a name? I named my empty place D'angelo, and when it whines and wants more I say, "Give it a rest, D'angelo, I'm doing my best." Aches and emptiness do not like to be named because that makes them finite, which they are, but they'd rather have you thinking they are something else. So, that's my advice for you.

Your optimism does not make us sick, we rather like to see that spunk in you since you've been down for so long. But I can't believe you're at a spin class at 5:30 am, see- that does make me sick. But I'm happy for you anyway, I'm just jealous.

You with the perma-grin, the pockets of stress, the whirlwind: we love you because you make it all sound like beat poetry. When my bad week becomes an actual whirlwind and not just a series of days slapping together, it makes me feel like a force. Like something out of a batman picture.

What really gets to me though is what you've told us about your dog. This idea of her snout on your palm, your whispering, how she can smell you but nothing else. When you go to walk her and there isn't anyone there to walk anymore, that hurts worse than stepping on a lego, doesn't it? If I haven't been there yet, just give me some time, because that's the horrible promise you bring home with a dog.

And yes, most of us are ready for spring. Have a drink of water while you wait and you won't be so thirsty but I hear you, it's agitating, waiting for dead things to resurrect. Less so if you're living in the Southwest under the blue skies with your heart balloon lifting, more so if your head is drooped over a desk littered with the IUPAC nomenclature systems.

So the novel has been keeping you up again? That sounds romantic but I know it's not, it doesn't matter the source, insomnia is insomnia, fidgety and unfair. You're leaving the job and moving, along with the kids and dogs, of course you're scared shitless. Now that should keep you up at night. But try and hold onto that fear a little, because everything will be fine, the fear will go away, and so often it's replaced by...how did you describe it? "Meh." Maybe it's a February feeling. Meh.

Of course if you just moved to Maine you're not Meh, you're snowed in and happy. Maine is where we all could live if we could, so do us a favor and enjoy it. And if you're truly unhappy with Moses Lake, Washington, well- maybe you could try Maine.

Some of us are so happy and you can tell just by the punctuation, like we're celebrating our ten year anniversary of the day we met and in six weeks we'll celebrate our five year anniversary of marriage and until then it's all pizza and champagne! Some of us are comfortable and predictable and running our tongues over new metal in the mouth. You'll get used to it. We all did.

But many of us are bruised (we fell off the treadmill) and we are mushrooms, but hopeful mushrooms, because after we get the apartment with the bigger windows who knows, maybe we'll grow into something kinda lovely, like moss. Something way better then mushrooms, anyway.

Much love,

Melina, and everybody else.

But who won the mystery prize? Well now I can tell you.

The winner is....

Blogger b said...
Things are not going the best. There have been some shake ups at work, and I'm feeling unsettled about it. It's February and our yard is covered with ice and snow. I'm ready for spring and sunshine.
February 10, 2015 at 8:51 AM

B, I'm sorry you're feeling unsettled, maybe I can help. Email thewildercoast@gmail.com and we'll get you sorted, and congratulations! You're a winner!

Monday, February 9, 2015

so winded, so sincere

Thank you this week to Sarah, for keeping me warm.
I bought my wedding dress last week. It took 45 minutes. I should have gone with my best friend, Lisa, but she just left for Vanuatu for two years with the Peace Corps so I went by myself. When I found my dress, simple and satin and on the clearance rack for $299, the girls at the shop made me ring a bell. I was supposed to make a wish on my dress so I did. Then, as I was walking through the parking lot back to my car, one of them came sprinting after me. "WAIT! You forgot this!" Breathlessly, she thrust a paper heart at me, the same one that had been hanging on the door of my changing room. It had my name written on it in sharpie. "You'll want this for your memory book!"

The girl was so winded and so sincere that I took the heart, pressed it carefully into the pages of my complimentary Bridal Party Look Book, and hugged her. There's just something about the women who work in those dress shops. They seem to care about you, not only about finding your dress but about you, and I don't care that they're paid to do it, I love them for it.
of course this is not my dress! 
When I got home, I skimmed through the complimentary Bridal Party Look Book. Here's a tip, I read. Ask your bridesmaids to show up on The Big Day with dewey skin and a pastel eye.

I wondered what would happen if I told my sister she needed a pastel eye. The world would tremble, certainly. When I called her to announce my engagement, it was my brother in law, Brooks, who answered the phone. He loves David, especially loves having him around during the holidays, so he was thrilled and said so, while from the background I heard Anna shout, "I'M NOT WEARING ANY BULLSHIT DRESS!"

Anna is my maid of honor and my cousin is my bridesmaid. Lisa should be in my bridal party but, as I made mention, she is long gone, living in a string of islands whose only claim to fame, as far as I can tell, is having the world's only underwater post office. Before she left she begged me to delay my wedding until February of 2017. When I declined, she sent me some leaflets on Vanuatu destination weddings. I reminded her that father Coogan doesn't like water. And then she left.

I hadn't really noticed that she was gone, she lives 3,000 miles away in Seattle anyway, until last Friday in biology lab. The one that begins at 8:00 in the morning, and I can't think of anything more cruel. On this particular lab, the morose professor was standing in front of the class making an analogy about legos and organic molecules when he paused, held up a hand, and said, "Wait a second now- I just want to make sure that all the ladies in the class know what a Lego is."

Let me make something clear- I love it when he does this, when he hands me a pearl like this one and I can run home and tell Dave about it over dinner, then call up Lisa as I'm walking the dog and we can laugh and she'll say, "Oh Lina, I still don't understand why you moved."
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But when I called her the phone number didn't work any more. So I just walked up the street with the dog in silence, thinking about one particular time we had together. We played on the same ultimate team for years and years in college. We were both captains. The practices were always late at night, because that was the only time we could rent the fields, and afterwards we'd be soaked to the bone and freezing cold. It really does rain a lot in Seattle.

Sometimes, to warm up afterwards, we'd run a hot bath and put on our bikinis and soak together. We did this a lot after I moved into a house that had one of those extra large tubs with jets. One time, we decided to put bubble bath in the tub and then turn the jets on, just to see what would happen.

Well, here's what happened. The jets puffed up the bubbles into foam: thick, heavy, luscious foam like the kind from Harry Potter when he takes that incredible bath. It was awesome. But then, after we had drained the tub of water, the foam remained, a foot deep. We tried adding water, but that only made more foam. It was obvious that the foam was not going anywhere and we were in a lot of trouble.

We thought for a while about what to do. We were both scared of my roommates at the time, not that they weren't lovely people, but they were the type to know better than to air-jet a bubble bath. I suggested getting a pail or a pot and scooping the foam out of the tub and emptying it into the yard, but we did not want to go into the kitchen and arouse suspicion. Besides, it would have taken so many trips!

In the end, we were able to get rid of the bubbles by flushing them down the toilet and hammering the rest with a direct shower stream. It took so many flushes, in fact that may be why Lisa ended up joining the Peace Corps, to assuage her guilt of so much water wasted. Me, I'm still living with mine.

It's been a few weeks since the last Mystery Prize Monday. If you have forgotten, I give you a prompt and you leave a comment. I read and enjoy every comment, but I must randomly choose just one to win the Mystery Prize, which I will then send to your doorstep.

This prompt is very simple but also very sincere. (Picture me, running after you in a parking lot, a scrap of paper in my hand for your Memory Book.) Just tell me how things are going. Today. Or lately. It's been a little while and I really want to know. Tell me how you're doing. And also, if someone, anyone, could please tell me what a Lego is.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

the dusting

Thanks this week to Sarah, for chocolate.

It snowed here. Just the tiniest bit. I'm jealous of my mother up in Boston because I love snow storms, the big ones, they turn regular cities full of regular people into cities filled with hyper children. I think about dad in the drafty house in Vermont, alone during the week when my mother's at work. I picture him down in the kitchen, making his tea and squinting out the window as fat white flakes swallow the road. He might consider the view for a few moments, VPR classical on the radio, before slumping back up the stairs to his office, hoisting up his pants with one hand so he doesn't step on the cuffs, the tea cup rattling in the saucer. He'll be stuck for a few days.

Here in Asheville we only got a little, a dusting we'd call it back home, but down south it was enough to let the kids out of school early, enough to make the bread vanish off of the shelves.

My photographer friend wanted to shoot bikes in the snow, and the great jaws of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College Chem 132 Organic and Biochemistry Laboratory had just released me with a few hours to spare. We went over to Richmond Hill and rode through a forest that looked just like a backdrop for the Royal Ballet.
Derek DiLuzio Photography
That was a cold and slippery and magnificent break from the routine.

The routine that is school (still), me and grinning Billy and the rest of the class memorizing tables of hydronium ion concentrations and streaking E.coli across petri dishes. I have a morose and chaotically unorganized professor, one who likes to talk about famous molecular biologists in history having sex with each other. "Doing it," he calls it. He'll pull up an illustration of a cloaked man peering into a microscope and say, "Look at that guy. He just can't wait to get to a dinner party with some other scientists and then they're all going to do it." Then he'll pause for a moment, finding enormous enjoyment in the idea, if enjoyment is really the right word, while the whole class sits in silence and looks at him, expectantly.

That professor has been late to every class except one, when he didn't show up at all. A terrible car accident on I-26 caused a horrific back up that he was stuck in it, him and the rest of the school. Almost nobody made it to class that day, including me, although I had a different reason. I was shuttling around my uncle who lives in Caracas and plays Oboe in the Venezuelan National Orchestra. My uncle was in town because he's on a US tour with the Mexican National Orchestra (he's moonlighting) and one day after a particularly frustrating performance, he pulled off his bow tie with such force that it ripped in half, so I had to take him to buy another. A white bow tie.

I wasn't caught in the traffic jam but I did see it from an overpass; a long snake of cars, unmoving, and a little squad of policemen zipping around shaking flags at them, even though they had no where to go. A friend of mine said he witnessed the accident. He said a flatbed truck did a couple of flips and then the driver flew out of the window and his guts 'sort of flopped out' onto the road.

That's the thing, that shit can happen. And we just plod along as if it can't. But if I think about that too much then I'll be up all night with my stomach clenched in on itself like a prune. That actually happened to me the other night. I kept watching those little ASMR videos of a girl melting soap and sorting legos, but they didn't do the trick. I couldn't fall asleep, nor could I get my stomach to release, so when morning finally came I just sat up, the way vampires sit straight up in their coffins. Time to start another day even though I never ended the last one.
I decided not to apply to nursing school this year, even though I'm finally wrapping up the prerequisites. Roots has offered me a few more assignments and I'm going to try and write full time. I will apply to the program in a few years, but David assured me that for now, we will have enough money to keep food on the table and a house to put the table in. It still feels like a risk. "I'm rolling the dice!" I crooned, on the day the application was due and I had not done it. He responded, "You're not really rolling anything."

Which leads me to our next decision, an obvious one, to get married this summer and not the next. Two weeks ago David and I sat on the porch, I made mimosas, and we had this long and very adult conversation about not rushing things, and using the next year and half to Celebrate and Self Reflect, and we felt very smug and satisfied with how mature we were. Until the next day when we both realized we wanted to get married and we wanted to have a party as soon as possible and to hell with the rest.

There was an opening for one weekend at a little Vermont inn and we snatched it up. So now while grinning Billy is dutifully jotting down the Seven Strong Acids and flashing me his brilliant metal smile every few minutes, I'm scribbling little notes like Steak or Chicken? and striking up deals with God in my head, you know the type, Hey, if you can just keep everyone alive and safe, forever, but especially until after my wedding, I promise I'll turn into that type of person who traps spiders in cups and brings them outside. I feel like it should mean more from me, being an atheist. I don't pray often, mostly airplanes and family events, so when I do it should count.

Flowers- Colleen? I write in the margin of my notebook. Cake- no matter. Boxed? And then I pause, and scribble down: Call mom. Remind her to wear seatbelt. At least, when a city is buried in snow, nobody is on the roads. Still- and I'm thinking about the eviscerated man and how he backed up traffic for miles- still, it's worth a call.
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