Sunday, November 22, 2009

News from the noveling world

NaNoWriMo is in full swing, which means I'm working on my November novel and there is so little time left over for things like eating, sleeping, thinking, seeing people . . . and blogging.

In fact there was a wonderful ten-day (twelve-day?) trip to California, with time with my family, a glorious all-family get-together and a celebration of my father's 80th birthday, and time with dear old friends in Berkeley, and time with much, much older friends even in southern California. I want to write about all of that but in the meantime I just wrote my sister an answer to a nice e-mail message and question, and I thought I wanted to share it with you as well.

She asked me: "Are you allowed (or do you feel comfortable) to tell me the rough theme of this year's novel? I don't think you ever told me last year's."

And much later, I wrote her back. So here is my news of my novels!

Hi sister, you are already going into school week mode now I'm sure, sorry I didn't write you back sooner [sis is a schoolteacher]. But I was desperately trying to catch up a little on my word count for my novel while at the same time keeping my editorial work going (I have still a bunch of stuff to do before we leave on Wednesday for Chicago to go to David and Claudia's).

You asked about the novel(s). I'm allowed to tell whatever I want! I tried to not talk about last year's while I was doing it because it felt easier to me then. I told Felix about it before and during, and at some point told Max, and much later told hubby. Not because it was so fabulous, I just felt vulnerable and fragile.

Long story short it was about a mother and daughter and mother-in-law who together run a matchmaking agency, and they live in the studio building out behind my friends L & K's house in Berkeley (I asked L's permission to set it there), and the mother also has two little boys like 1 and 3 who are tandem nursing (the daughter is about 12), and the 12-year-old and the little boys have different fathers, both of whom are AWOL in different ways, and the mother-in-law is the long-lost mother of the only temporarily missing father of the little boys, and at some point the whole family, including also the 11-year-old boy who lives down the street from them and is the 12-year-old girl's buddy, fly to Berlin to find a wife for one of the matchmaking clients, and they find her on the top of a double-decker bus where she is singing in German a lullaby to her little girl, and the client (who if I remember correctly was originally from South America) had some childhood connection of his own to that particular lullaby, and so how could they resist, and the connection is made and the singer (conveniently enough a single mother) and the client are connected up and all is good. Also the 3-year-old belatedly starts speaking and the 11-year-old gets the cast off his leg. But the novelist's guilt at creating a straight-people-only agency in her lesbian friends' house while California was undoing gay marriage never got fixed, and the AWOL father of the little boys never got discovered, and various other things were imperfect.

And on a whole other level of course the book was about many other things, it was about the 12-year-old not wanting to be alone, and about tandem nursing, and about connections and love and marriage, and about my sentences.

This year my book is about me feeling more confident about my writing, and it's still about my sentences but it's also about me having some sense of being able to write dialogue, and a little more mastery of how to make plot move forward, and a lot more flexibility and looseness in sitting down to write. It feels more fun and less strained and cramped and forced, so I hope it might read that way too.

On the level of plot it is about three different women who live/are in Bloomington (I say it that way because one is plopped down here for a month while the others have lived here long-term). One is 25 and one is 55-ish and one is about 40, and the 40-year-old one is a little bit modeled physically on GE, with whom I am corresponding on Facebook [GE: you know who you are!], and the 25-year-old is physically modeled on Michal Rose, and all of them are in some way me but not me also, and the 25-year-old has three older brothers who live at her father's house and 4 younger brothers who live at her mother's, and the 40-year-old has 2 young children who are sometimes sons and sometimes daughters in my mind, I'd better decide.

And the plot is emerging as I write it but the structure of the book is based on two things, the poetic form of the ghazal, which is in some ways unrelated couplets having to do with love and the desert, where the last line of each couplet has repeating and rhyming parts, and I spent some time thinking about how to translate that poetic form into prose, and I don't think I succeeded perfectly, I can imagine doing it better and differently maybe in the future, but it was an interesting exercise. The other structural piece is the braid, I set up a braid of these three women through the book.


End of letter to sister. It occurs to me I should have said that I think the novel this year is also about men and women: relationships between, differences between. Me being a person who has known and liked and connected with women for so many years, trying to think about men in a more rounded way. But it still, of course, comes back to women.

More blogging later I hope! Novel news in the numerical mode: I'm way behind because of my travels to California and my editorial responsibilities, but I'm catching up. As of today, I'm at 28,314 words (wrote more than 3,000 today) - I have to average a little over 2,700 words every day for the rest of the month to make it to 50,000. But I can do that!

Love to you all, and Lisa, thank you so much for your comment and thoughts last time, sorry I never wrote back!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Why blog from the doldrums?

On this beautiful November day, with a sky that, when we were walking in the park before, was the deepest, most saturated blue you could imagine, and making a background to a few trees that still had their yellow stories and stories of branches on . . .

On this beautiful November day, I did want to come back to the question of: why blog from the doldrums?

A faithful reader was asking, as a follow-up to my last post (what she said was, "So why do you want to blog from the depths of your frustration?"). And I thought: this is something I want to blog about!


Why blog from the doldrums?

First and foremost, I think, because at that moment when I am there, that is the only place I can possibly blog from, because that is the only place I am. And I do want to blog, I want to be writing and thinking and forming my thoughts into words and my words into thoughts, possibly even more the latter than the former, so if I allow the doldrums to silence me, they have defeated me even more than they were defeating me before.

And because I spend so much of my time trying to impose control on my world and my days and my eating and my writing and my happiness, and I write about that, and I am trying to be honest about that, then it seems as though to understand how that works, and how far it is possible (creating order and discipline and happiness and productivity all the time) then I need to look clearly at the flip side as well.

And because I am in some ways preaching to others (in my weight loss coaching, in my writing coaching, or in daily life and parenting [children, are you reading this?]), then there too, to be honest and true about what I say and think, I need to look at what the doldrums are like or the frustration or whatever we choose to call it: the times when I am not the person who gets up i the morning with bustle and energy and carries out her plans.

And because I have given up something in my weight loss efforts, particularly (given up a carefree happy way of socializing with others; given up a guiltfree way of creating happiness, however fleeting, at any given moment; given up a certain kind of rebellion against the prevailing norms of female appearance), but also just in my efforts to impose order on my life overall, for that reason too I feel as though I need to look clearly at what is going on in those times when I am drifting, and think about what is happening. (It is also a therapeutic thing: aside from the fact that blogging itself is therapeutic, there is the fact that the doldrums are self-replicating and the guilt and the blahs and the sense of non-self-worth just feed on each other, and if I could look at all of that critically in that moment then I think it would be likely I would be climbing out right there.)

And then, my dear faithful blog reader who asked me, there is the oh-so-human component. I don't want to be too much of a Pollyanna in my efforts at self-improvement, and I don't want to become a robot, and in fact it turns out some of my other readers had immediate aha! reactions to the few things I did say about the doldrums, so it's a way to swap stories and experiences and find out I am so not alone!

(And finally, in my attempts to be various kinds of a writer including possibly a novelist, I guess I need to be able to write about all sorts of human experience, and the doldrums qualify for that!)

Love to y'all
- the blog lady
(whose self-improving, productive version wrote 2,759 words of her November NaNoWriMo novel this morning - 47, 241 to go!)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

When not everything is rosy

Dear dears,

It's All Hallows' Eve and National Novel Writing Month eve to boot (more about that later), and it's now or never (my fingers first typed Now or November) if I want to blog once more in October.

I was thinking a lot about some things I wanted to blog a couple of weeks ago - I went down into a kind of difficult and not so productive, not so happy, place. And it occurred to me that I am usually relentlessly up, upbeat, trying to be productive and better myself, and that everything I do is in the service of that - or at least that is the narrative being produced around here.

And so I really wanted to try to blog from the depths of the (let me not dramatize too much - it can't have been too terrible because I don't even exactly remember it right now, I just remember it because I remember thinking about the blogging) formless, somewhat frustrating place I was in.

Aha, I remember now what it was: I didn't have any editorial work from outside for a couple of weeks. I had been working on some websites with the help of my friend/mentor/consultant Ellen, and I had told her I was going to continue on my own for a while, but that was proving difficult. And so, after I got Felix off to school and went for my (WONDERFUL) morning walk with my ladies, there was no particular shape to my days, no deadlines, nothing exactly and specifically and particularly I had to do just then.

So I puddled and dawdled and overate and futzed around online and was dissatisfied with myself and thought about blogging from that state. But blogging was one more productive and positive thing I wasn't doing!

Here's the Alice in Wonderland part - of course, as soon as I was meeting Ellen again and getting the websites in shape and the editorial work was also coming in and I was feeling happily bustly again and had the energy, the good positive energy, that would have let me happily blog - well then there was NO TIME! (Alice in Wonderland reference in brief: when she's small enough to fit through the door to the garden, she's way too short to reach the key; when she's tall enough to reach the key on the high table, she's way too big to fit through the door.)

So there it is. Tonight I am suspended between one time pressure and the next, and tomorrow a grand new adventure begins, so I wanted to send out word before I went sweeping down into it. Tomorrow is November, and with it begins NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, so wish me luck please as I am about to go try to write 50,000 words in 30 days again like I did last year (except hopefully better!).

And tomorrow is also the beginning of the month in which I am going to visit my parents in California for 10 days, and belatedly celebrate my father's 80th birthday (happy belated birthday again, Daddy!), and stop in on friends in Berkeley.

And tomorrow also starts the month when I'm on jury duty for a week.

So the good news is - there's lots to do and not so much time to go wallowing in any doldrums. Bad news is - not quite enough time maybe for all there is to do. The ankle I twisted six days ago now is healing well, the many pounds I gained in the first four days of not walking on it I am trying to embrace for now and get ready to send back out into the world again, this morning I worked for a couple of hours on plans for the November novel and I'm ready, I'm ready!

I still don't know how, necessarily, to write from the doldrums. Maybe next time they come around I can grab the downbeat moment and wrest some words from it. There has to be a way, I was going to say a trick but I don't even really mean a trick, just a way to do that without it being about asking for pity. But I don't know that way just yet.

Still juicily awaiting the future, such topics as:

- balancing sociability and aloneness (thank you Beth for many wonderful conversations and modeling on this topic)
- writing as a mood-altering process and therefore how can you write about a mood? (see above)

For now, it's Halloween. Slowly outside the light is getting darker and the clumps of trick-or-treaters are getting more frequent - little groups of two to five tinies with two to five grownups, and candles and flashlights and treat bags. This year we're hiding out and hoping against hope they don't come here, since we're going out a couple of different directions but haven't left yet. The porch light isn't on, the Jack o'Lantern isn't out, and the walkway is absolutely covered and smothered in thick loads of brown crackly leaves, and so far everyone has crossed the street and gone over to sociable hospitable Jenny and Michael across the street instead - we haven't had to turn off all the inside lights and hide in the basement the way we thought we might, but that may still come.

Happy Halloween all, and happy November!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The people in Hamburg

I just wanted to add - thinking about Kim's birthday - what did we DO all those days and hours and months together in Hamburg?

And I realized - it was so all about the people. Sabine and Florian, and Anja and Alexander, and Klaus and Bettina. Parties late at night, and hours sitting around a pizza or a big pot of Persian rice, and plans that fell through because Michel had to make yet another one-minute video for Luxemburg TV. And more parties.

Sabine, if you're reading this, here's a poem I've been meaning to show you for years and years and years. (The you in the poem is not you, or Kim for that matter, but that becomes obvious I guess. And Sabine, you're living in a different shape these days! Those were other times.)

Nights, that Year

The streets came together in half-circles, no-car

zones with potted palms, Italian ice cream,

gardens strung with car-lot Christmas lights and people talking

German low in busted armchairs with their bottoms

almost to the sidewalk. We would go arm-in-arm when the time

zones and the Northern angles kept the night balmy late.

I tried stiletto heels, fraying the points.

I tried a sip of red wine. I kept trying to marry you.

I tried dressing you in my clothes, tried

riding barefoot on the train from Berlin. I tried

everything. We kept going back to the place with the busted armchairs.

We ate corn salad at one in the morning.

We slept on the floor and played pingpong in the bedroom.

We watched Sabine sink giddy into her pink pear shape. Our parties

were famous. We still have the pictures. I don't think

you remember it this way.

Kim in Hamburg, a birthday slipping past

Here in Bloomington, Indiana, it is still Kim's birthday, but Kim is in Hamburg, where her birthday was yesterday already. Happy birthday, most faithful reader of all! 'Twas wonderful to see you in Berlin in the springtime.

Memories: the bank in St. Pauli where we met, you thinking my darkling German boyfriend was the loud American among us, anyway we were talking English and you recognized him from a university class in Berlin / hours, hours, hours, just sitting and talking, walking and talking, both of us a little at sea in Hamburg with our German boyfriends, what we were doing there? underemployed, undercommitted . . . so much time to talk.

hours in the choir under Johannes's direction, hours in the pub playing Kutscherskat and Klabberjas.

Your stories: meeting Christian in Paris, moving in together the day you met, ten years later when I met you were still together and you'd followed him to Hamburg, living a life amid the windy streets and little-old-lady hole-in-the-wall shops and high-ceilinged rooms.

Your apartment: the funny things on your walls, little sculptures/paintings/self-made things that went in three-dimensional directions, all of it impressed me with its self-assuredness.

The cafe around the corner from your place on Stresemannstrasse where we spent eternities - was it called Unter den Linden? Ordering the little bowls of tricolor ice cream, and lemon juice drinks, and discussing whatever there was to discuss under the sun. Off to the movies on the subway in the middle of the night with Michel and Christian, watching some weird strange thing - did we all fall asleep except Michel? Or all stayed awake except Michel? Anyway, I do remember it was even farther into the middle of the night at Hoheluftbrücke when we had to come sleepily home. I know you remember that night too, you mentioned it recently.

The American women's club of Hamburg - those ridiculous meetings we went to, you and I so did not belong but we went anyway, and it turned out some of the other people didn't really belong either. We went to a Tupperware party - it felt surreal.

Suddenly you had a baby. And suddenly you and the baby were gone, Chernobyl had happened and you wanted to take him to the States for a while where things were maybe not quite as contaminated. I think you and Martin were actually out of the country during most of the anti-nuclear demonstrations we spent our last few months in. And by the time you came back we were gone.

Now twenty-five more years have gone by, there you and Christian still are, three boys grown up and going/gone, you making a bilingual home for yourselves and for so many English-speaking women/mothers who've moved into and away from Hamburg. Always there for me/us to touch base with when we come to Germany. You thinking your thoughts, going through your own internal revolutions, reading and watching and thinking.

Showed a friend our wedding album night before last, there was a beautiful close-up of your face, glowing and beaming. Standing right next to my big sister, in fact, also glowing and beaming, and you looked so much alike! And you always were a little big-sister-like to me.

Happy birthday, dear Kim!

Friday, October 9, 2009

The big black chair and the little white book

I wanted to write about this book I was reading, I've been wanting to write about it for a while now. Today was the day but first I had to find a place to sit. You'd think in a house there would be a place to sit. But in my own house, in which there are, among other things, a kitchen, a bedroom, a lovely large office all my own, and the world's most enormous living room, I don't have a place I'm so happy to sit because my big black chair has been moved out of the living room for no reason other than its unintentional crime of being unsightly. Poor big black chair, and even more so, given that the big black chair really has no feelings: poor me!

For several weeks, the chair was positioned in my office in such a way that I couldn't really lean back in it, defeating 9/10ths of its purpose. About a week ago, I did reposition it to lean back, and I can see out both windows now (green turning to yellow, reflected overhead light in the one windowpane, wonderful snatches of cold silver cloud-sky dancing/peeking through the shifting leaf canopy, dripping wetness residue) - but it's just very hemmed-in feeling, compared to sitting in this chair as if on a throne surveying the endless landscape, the way I used to in the living room. So I'm in mourning for my previous seating. And maybe I'll manage to get it restored.

In the meantime: The elegance of the hedgehog! Or, perhaps more pertinently: L'élégance du hérisson. Because I think probably at least 9/10ths (there's that same fraction again! a pattern in the universe?) of the pleasure I had in reading it was because I was reading it in French. After my year in Berlin immersed in German (when I wasn't, in fact, around English speakers, and you can guess what fraction of the time *that* was!), what a pleasure to find I can easily read a novel in French (depending on the novel, not so easy in German - I might know all the individual words but it's unconscionable the order they put the darn things in, so twisty-turny it takes forever to read).

Book group is this Sunday and I'll compare notes with my friends who have read it in English. I already know, because hubby read it in English and got stuck on page 100, and I myself peeked at the English sometimes when I got stuck on a word in the French (which I did frequently, more about that later), that the English is a little stiff and wooden.

And the weird thing is: for all I know, the French might be too! I somehow don't think so, but it's not like I read in French that often and so it's hard to compare. It was just so much fun to sit here and read. There were things that brought me up short - OK, right about now I guess I need to say what the deal is with this story.

There's a concierge who lives in a big building of rich people, and the concierge herself, though poor, is tremendously intelligent and very very well-read, but she feels she has to hide that from the other people in the house. (This was the first thing that brought me up short: that seemed very unmotivated, the fact that she had to hide her intelligence and erudition. But it turned out that was an important thing that got explained later.) Meanwhile, upstairs, there lives a little rich girl, 12 years old, who is also tremendously smart, and lives with her smart family but they're all smart in the wrong way or about the wrong things and don't understand her nor she them, and she feels there is no meaning and she's just going to grow up to live an idiotic life, so she has decided to kill herself on her 13th birthday.

That's the premise. There you go.

And I read it very happily.

The thing is that I was brought up short on every single page with long complicated or just unfamiliar words I didn't understand at all, or at least didn't undersand at first.

I tried gliding past them.
I tried looking them up.
I tried rereading the passage, sometimes many times over, to make it out and understand the troublesome words from context.
I tried, later on, going to read the same passage in the English translation (as I said: kind of wooden - really made me feel like going back and attempting my own translation, or at least my own edit of the English - but realistically - is that going to happen?)

All of the above worked at various times, and I got more and more hooked. Weirdly, this book has a smallish element of people who are into Anna Karenina and name animals after characters - and we just read Anna Karenina last month in book group.

After I'd read a few pages, I decided to go back and write down some of the things I'd had a hard time with. Here they are, just from the very first pages:

que par hoquets propres et sans vices
un diable qui s'appelle CGT
je marmonne (I wrote: "murmure"? - that turned out to be right)
scindé (I wrote: "probably 'divided' ")
les oignons aux pieds
rouages ("gears"? I wondered)
revêches ("something negative")
ces relents plébéiens
mon cabas à filet (I figured out: "string shopping bag")

Finally, all of the above I either, as I said, looked up, figured out, or glided past - and now I have forgotten again what at least half of them mean but I got enough of the meaning in the moment to keep moving through.

Funnily, sometimes when I went to look at the matching English sentence or passage, which I did towards the end of the book more, the English often used a word I didn't know either! So it wasn't my French exactly.

I do want to try to say why I enjoyed reading this book so much and I feel like I'm not quite getting at it. It's understated. I think I liked that. It didn't feel like it was working too hard to please me, and the pleasures it afforded were really in the individual sentences, and the characters I ended up caring about somewhat and the plot that unfolded kind of came on me unawares while I was untangling the sentences - not at all how I usually read.

So that's pretty much it. Now I'm reading the book she wrote before this one (sorry, I didn't say who "she" is: Muriel Barbery). The book before this one is called Une gourmandise and the two are connected - Une gourmandise is all about the rich snobby food critic who lives upstairs in the concierge's building and actually, in the central turning point of L'élégance du hérisson, dies, in order to make possible new and interesting changes in people's lives and relationships. In Une gourmandise the death is also the central event but the whole book I guess is about the 24 hours leading up to the death (I've only just started the book).

So here I am sitting in my big black chair with my striped blue toe socks on, feet in the air in front of me, both of the little white books now next to me (because I just went and got Une gourmandise a moment ago to remind myself of the exact name) and as I intimated before, it's a wet day out, but the threatened floods have not quite hit us yet, so I will get a little editorial work done.

Ladies' walking continues to be a wonderful anchor, this morning four of us, in shifting groups of three, eventually found each other in the neighborhood in spite of the threatening rain. Yesterday a Rumanian German author got the Nobel literature prize and this morning Barack Obama got the Nobel peace prize, so there's all of that to think about and sort through, and indeed so much more.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Odds and ends - the thirty-minute post

So in the spring I tried the fifteen-minute post occasionally but I think today that's too restrictive - for one thing I still have the lopped-off finger (I'm exaggerating and dramatizing, but it really is painful to type with it) slowing me down. I alternate between using it anyway (half the time the letter doesn't express itself and I have to redo anyway) and trying to type those keys (they are r, t, f, g, v, and b, for the record) with other fingers, such as the middle finger of my left hand. Tricky, tricky, tricky.

So here they are, the odds and ends of my sometimes-way-too-busy, sometimes-dangerously-idle mind:

- this morning I was making a list of things to do before taking myself off to the library to work there for the day on some web sites, and I made this list:

1. newspaper
2. smoothie
3. make lunch
4. pay German bills

and suddenly I was overcome by the thought that I should make a list item that said "drink poison". Why????? I have no desire whatsoever to actually drink any poison, it just seemed like the very right thing to put next on the list.

And indeed, I did put it on the list. The list now reads

1. newspaper
2. smoothie
3. make lunch
4. pay German bills
5. drink poison
6. write [hubby] re credit card
7. pack up
8. go

and numbers 1-4 and 6 are checked off, no. 5 is crossed out, I have a little "1100" in a circle at the top right and "1200" a little lower down, both of those indicating numbers of steps I wish to get to, and they are both checked off as well. I was going to blog from the library too but decided to do it at home with the timer.

But still - I was thinking - what was that list item about? Is it like standing at the viewing windows of the Empire State Building and concentrating really hard on not jumping, or thinking: thank God I am not holding a baby or small child because I would surely lose my concentration briefly and toss it out? Seems related but not identical.

- yesterday morning was super foggy, I was trying to get tons of steps on the pedometer before I ever even left the house for ladies' morning walk, and so I went downstairs to be Felix's walking snooze alarm multiple times, and went outside early for the Herald Times knowing I'd have to go out again a little later for the New York Times (and while inside the house I walked in place constantly in the kitchen while making Felix's breakfast and lunch and my own oatmeal - ended up with 3500 steps before I went off to ladies' walk). Anyway, both outings to the end of the walkway for the newspapers ended up funny/magical. Outing #1 for the H-T netted me the H-T itself in its usual bright orange plastic bag, but there was something shiny on the sidewalk a little further out. So I went over - thought it was some kind of plastic shining there. And no- it was an enormous shiny, glittering star. Turned out to be a little group of leaves connected by twigs/stems/whatever you might call the little things that hold little groups of leaves together, and they were indeed arranged in a perfect star pattern, covered in dew, and reflecting the street lights that were cutting through the fog. Glorious! // And then when I went back for outing #2 for the NYT, the little star thingy was still there but I was smarter now and knew I didn't have to go right up to it, but still I walked around a little - NYT where? (In the past it has been found in the branches of the Japanese burning bush or whatever it was hubby planted at the end of the walk, but also at various places up and down the sidewalk.) Putting steps on the pedometer while looking for the paper, love that multitasking, you know I do. And finding it nowhere, so I looked down the street to where headlights were just then emerging out of the fog, such unusual thick fog for us of a seven a.m., and briefly thinking, that could be the NYT delivery man, but no, the car was coming on way too fast, but I stood there because I was there and I hadn't decided to go back inside yet, takes me a while to decide things.

I also thought this couldn't be the NYT delivery man because in the past, a lot of our neighbors got the NYT too and he would have been stopping at all their houses. But no, he came zooming up and slowed right at my house, obviously him at that foggy hour of the morning, no other cars anywhere and slowing right by me, so I raised my hand to thank him and he hesitated I guess, and called out "dont want to hit you!" - pulled up a little further yet, tossed the paper (in its trademark blue plastic bag) out the window and roared off on his way. I hollered "thanks!", collected my paper and stepped back into the house, very pleased with the magical morning.

Oh, and when I got to Weight Watchers yesterday morning, not having been for two weeks (I was all primed to go last week and have great results but then I sliced off the tip of my finger the night before, which kind of interrupted things), I had lost 2.6 pounds on their scales since the previous weigh-in. Two pounds to go before I don't have to pay as a lifetime member.

So ladies' morning walk continues to be fabulous. This morning we talked about connections and boundaries between us and our nieces and nephews (hi, Amani! - I actually didn't mean you this time!), and helping family members talk about things that get worse with isolation - and then Ellen told us about a book she's very excited about called The Belly Fat Diet and Beth and I are both rushing off to get it today. [Correction: this afternoon now, written from the library - I knew there was something wrong with that title. When I got to the library I asked for the Fat Belly Diet. That was wrong too. It's The Flat Belly Diet. Whatever!]

But meanwhile I'm still on the Step Diet, or rather I bought the book, read part of it, and am tracking steps and upping them every week and doing some of the things the book says to do, and of course I'm a Weight Watcher as always. So I guess I'm layering the oomphs that come from each of these places.

Night before last hubby spontaneously said: you look skinny! Now when does that ever happen?! (I was wearing my yellow sarong with the black salamanders all over it [my first sarong of the many I now have (purple with yellow and green frogs, blue with yellow butterflies, red with black geometries, and black with big splashy dragonflies, sadly ripped but I wear it anyway) and in fact the one that was given to me by hubby and the boys], tucked up around over my chestiness and falling down straight from there [the pedometer was clipped over my right breast because where else was I going to put it? - and I had to be getting those steps, you manage what you measure and all that] and so now I think: can I recreate that look in an item of clothing that won't be falling off every three point five minutes the way that tucked sarong does? Alex????)

Honey bunnies, the timer is ticking super fast towards zero, and it was lovely to hear back from some of you (you know who you are, Sabine and Annette and Kim and Lisa!), and I'm going to put a couple more people on the automatic-e-mail send-out thing now that I know how to do it.

Crazy thought (another one) of today: fussing in the kitchen, remembering this morning's walk where we were united in the interest in the belly-fat-busting diet, I resurrected an idea I've had in the past: since there doesn't seem to be a Weight Watcher restaurant anywhere I can just go to, how's about *I* make food here every day for me and all my friends and they come here to eat good wonderful Weight Watchery food, all fresh and yummy and handmade and point-labeled and nutritionally balanced.

(This thought, in case you didn't know, is crazy a. because I can barely cook for the people who's here already [although a lot of that is because their eating needs/desires are at odds with mine] and b. there is no time - and yet still, still, somehow I'm wondering/wishing.)

The timer has not only dinged now, which it usually does with a minute to spare, but actually also wound down its ticking and stopped making noise entirely, so I'm going to say hasta la vista and start going for items 7 and 8 on the checklist. Maybe I can also get to 1300 steps before I leave the house.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Grounded and Injured

I haven't blogged in over a month - nothing to be done about that now, it's onward and looking forward now. I have all sorts of blogs-in-my-head that roll by, and all sorts of reasons not to go writing them down / typing them up - first it was that they were silly little spurts of things and I had some people down to get e-mail automatically when I posted, and I decided I didn't want to have their in boxes so spluttered and cluttered.

Then it was that I had tooooo much to write.

And now?! - now I have a big white clump of gauze on my left index finger and it's surprisingly in the way - not quite as bad as yesterday and the day before, when I had a very large multi-layer wrapping with a big fat immovable blue thing as the outer layer - not only could I not use the finger to type, but it also kept getting in the way and hitting other keys, and keeping it off the keyboard meant I couldn't quite reach the keys . . .

Ah well. The injury itself is minor, I was cutting a medium-sized cucumber with a very large knife and my smallish finger got in the way. So let's talk about more interesting things.

I wanted to write about being grounded in Bloomington and what grounds me, and even though I've been thinking about this for over a week, it is only this morning, as I sit here and type this, that I realize not only am I grounded here but that in my worst times in Berlin, grounded is exactly what I was not, and that when I was doing better, and then so very much better, I had just managed to ground myself there.

Here it seemed so easy and obvious from day one. On a very literal and immediate level, for one: leaving the house to walk outside is just a matter of opening the front door and walking out. Then I am on the ground, on the walkway, on the sidewalk, under the trees, in hailing distance of my neighbors, ready to hit the pavement for a walk or a jog. In Berlin it was just that much farther from inside the apartment to out on the street - via air-walkway, stairs, multiple doors, more stairs, walkways and high walls to, finally, a pretty narrow sidewalk. I grew to love it but this is just EASIER.

What is grounding, besides that? Well, my fellow middle-aged ladies, gathering daily at 7:45 at the corner of tree- and aqueduct-lined Southdowns and the park. Three to seven of us five days a week, some arriving on bikes, some on cars, some on foot, and as I walk down Southdowns towards the park in my twenty-pound vest I strain to see who's already there and generally can't see anybody, but miraculously as I arrive thinking OK, today's the day when there's nobody, suddenly - there comes Alex from the left from the parking lot, and there comes Sue in her trademark red sweater emerging from around the corner, from behind the trees, on her bike - and there comes Ellen on the right emerging from behind a post where she was stretching - and that was just today (in truth, Susan was with me so I knew I wasn't going to be alone, but Susan also had to leave right afterwards). Other days, Beth then drives up alongside me and slows down and waves and then goes to park and hurry over to meet us; and sometimes Jenny, if she hasn't been outside when I left my house with gorgeous black Maggie the dog, shows up as we all converge on the corner, at a run. And then the only problem is - how do we maneuver around town, so many of us, walking and talking - and how many conversations can we juggle, are we all in one, do we break into several, am I missing something over there, can we reconfigure? And we do, we manage, and by 9 a.m. we're generally all home again, having been out in the sunshine and air, having talked about kids and work and worries and enemies and e-mail and friends, about our bodies (oh, did I ever write once before about the fun we had walking around the campus of Indiana University talking loudly about middle-aged sex and feeling righteous about educating the student body???) - having seen the wind chimes and crystals hung from the trees along Southdowns (today it was a lone leaf hanging in absolute midair - the implied spider's thread was completely invisible) and baby Maksim out for his morning stroll on Papa Kon's chest and the apples available for the plucking just over the wall from Fritz and Leela's house, and the bright red chili peppers that appeared one day in a beautiful cluster out somebody's walkway and the next day the sign: help yourselves. (Just down the street from the U-pick'em herbs.)

That's grounding. Also video chats with my parents, Daddy stroking his long and ever-growing white beard with great pleasure, Mommy chipper in the middle of her miraculously short and relatively-easy-on-the-body post-lumpectomy therapy. And the occasional phone conversation with my busy but cheerful sister. And having the large boy home for a week between Berkeley and college, and sorting out decades' worth of games from the games cupboard, carrying furniture up and down the stairs, carrying books hither and yon, driving carloads full of things at a time to Goodwill, moving around in this house which is ours and despairing at the state of it but also feeling ready to change everything around.

I think I got off the track a little but these things really *are* grounding, when I lose my way (I did that yesterday for a while - no editorial work; hard to type; Max didn't need me when I was ready to help him and just as I was about to start on a project of my own he did; I was just off my rhythm and flustered and flummoxed and frustrated) - when I lose my way, it comes back down to: feet on the ground, move around, walk. I'm working the pedometer double time, I've got a book called the Step Diet that is both infuriatingly complex and incomprehensible and at the same time stunningly simple in a way, but mostly it's just given me the new push - I need to walk and walk I do.

More later, but it is grounding to write this. Imagining: maybe Erika or Anja will read it in Berlin, or Irene, or Kim, in Hamburg - or Ellen in Bloomington, maybe even Lisa in Toronto if she hasn't given up on me, surely Ruthy in Austin eventually. Love and greetings to you all - more shoutouts next time. Susanne and Sabine, Annette and Bianca - my Berlin walking and talking and play-reading buddies - hello to you! I'm keeping it set up that this goes out to you automatically for now, hope that works and hope it's OK. If I start blogging more like daily that might get annoying!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

bits and pieces and layers of life

Monday, August 17th:

I spent large parts of this morning putting clothes on the line outside. I knew there was a 40% chance of thunderstorms but the sun was shining rather insistently.

Then I was doing some things online, including pieces of blog posts I'd started writing and one of which I'd actually meant to post days ago but quite apparently it never went out. (Thank you, dear Lou, for making this clear to me!)

And on top of the beat of the classic radio station and the whir and rush of the rotating fan I started to hear something else, some other louder whir and rush - I was literally outside 10 minutes ago looking at what might already be dry, taking those things down, and putting up the second load of laundry - so as I was sitting here fussing with the blog and hearing the rush and whir I thought no, that can't be rain - looked out the window ahead of me and the sun was just as bright but there was something about that noise, so I went outside for a second and sure enough, it was raining and everything was soaked all over again. I started to try to pull it inside but I was getting soaked myself and the clothes, I thought, would do better outside when it got dry again - and in the time it took me to write this paragraph, though my shoulders and arms are still wet from my seconds outside, it has completely stopped raining again and the sun is shining!

I can't tell everything that's happened so here are bits and pieces:

we've been back in Bloomington 2 weeks. Forgot a piece of luggage in our building the day we left, hubby went back in a taxi rushing home and back while Felix and I waited nervously after checking in at the airport. Flew from Berlin to Newark uneventfully, in Newark we waited forever to find out our flight to Indianapolis was canceled, so we spent an absolutely delightful day in New York and flew home a day later.

Got home late Monday night, dear neighbors Jenny and Michael met us and drove us home and what a wonderful welcome that was, also flowers and balloons and edible goodies in the house from four different sets of neighbors, then the next morning more friends and neighbors visiting, and promptly at 12:30 midday Tuesday, 12 hours after we'd gotten to our house, a thunderstorm started, lasted only minutes I think but our power went out and stayed off for 21 hours. What a welcome!

Since then:

Felix has started school, is enjoying 7th grade, he's taking French and going to play percussion in the band, he has some good teachers and he's enjoying seeing all the old friends again, the schoolbus leaves from 2 corners down at 7:27 in the morning and brings him back around 3:15 p.m., a big difference for him and me from last year. Also in school, instead of multiple breaks with lots of running around, they have NO breaks for running around, 30 minutes for lunch, one 45-minute physical education period of which they are changing in and out of their clothes for probably at least 15 or 20 minutes of it I would guess. Hmph. But he's doing fine so far. Has two dog-walking jobs this week, and looking forward to soon buying the computer he's been saving up for.

And I? I'm walking with my ladies of my ladies' book group, so happy to be doing that. We're meeting every weekday morning at 7:45 and we walk for about an hour and it's wonderful. Catching up on everything, talking about everything, starting the day with friendly faces and funny stories and other people's family woes to add to our own or put ours in perspective. 

Haven't got my editorial work up to speed, my clients have to get used to the fact that I'm back and working, but I've been talking to a lot of friends and neighbors and consulting more formally with my buddy and blogspiration Ellen about the idea of pushing my coaching work harder - the writing coach work but also starting up weight-loss coaching with some clients locally and maybe farther away. It's keeping my mind busy thinking about what might work.

Went to a wonderful concert Saturday night, our neighbor and friend Jason Fickel telling hilarious stories about growing up in Kansas in between folksy/bluesy (I'm not so good on genres) songs he wrote and that he sings and plays with a number of other wonderful local musicians, including our very good old friend Boo on trombone with a plunger making it go woo-woo-woo. Lots of friends and neighbors there.

As I told niece Fanny in a little blog just for her: the fridge here is huge! I mean, it was our fridge before we left, and I do recognize it, but the fridge we had in Berlin, and three more just like it, could fit, I'm pretty sure, into the fridge part - and then there's the whole freezer part below. In fact if you rearranged the shape of the fridge we had in Berlin but kept it the same size, I think it could fit into the door pockets of this fridge here. I'm just saying.

And I've been to three, no four at least, grocery stores since we got back, and a few days ago I was at the least funky-organic-sophisticated and most down-home-Indiana one of the ones I ever go to, and the shopping carts were an outrageous size. And I was pushing it around and I wanted to get maybe ten things but I kept feeling like I should put more things in the cart. So the last few days I've been going to the natural food co-op instead more, where the baskets are a more reasonable size and the food is more local and organic.

And I'm sorry, I got kind of offended when people in Berlin said "oh, everybody in the States is fat" but when I look around here in Bloomington it is pretty striking how different the body shapes are here. 

So those are some impressions. It's nice to be back, though, and I do feel anchored. 

I'm wearing my twenty-pound weight vest for ladies' morning walk. We start the day talking and walking and, as Jenny said, she goes off to work with a smile on her face when we start like that. It's not always the same group of us but four or five or six of us cycle through - there have always so far been at least three of us. I'm loving it, and my ladies tell me I got them up and running (OK, walking) again, so it's good to feel that I can do that.

I've gone over many, many pages of rules and instructions from Felix's different teachers that we had to sign, and sheets of information to fill out for the school administration, most of which I had already filled out. They now have multiple phone numbers for us and our address and e-mail addresses, and the names and phone numbers of half our neighbors, in about 8 different places.

Not finding any small offices to rent downtown this year - turns out in this economy everyone who used to have big offices is downsizing to the small kind I was always wanting and having. So we're going to reconfigure things in the house for me to work at home again for a while.

Oh, and Annette, Bianca, Susanne, and Sabine, I am putting you down to get automatic e-mail with this blog when I write it because it seemed like accessing the blog was not necessarily so easy for you. If you'd rather not get it please do let me know! I miss you and our walks and play-readings! And there is NOwhere in Bloomington to go swimming with fish and ducks and herons and no clothes. 

And oh, sorry, one last thing: we *are* going to start a play-reading group here in Bloomington - in German!

Friday, July 31, 2009

married 21 years

Friday was anniversary #21. Slept in a little, packed and puddled around, had a couple of spousal fights brewing but we/he/I headed them off, sleepy Felix got up slightly before hubby and I were off to lunch.

Final lunch at the institute, many good-byes.

Biked into the woods with hubby, jogged 25 minutes, and then jumped into the lake together. I wanted the lake, he wanted a jog first, it all was very nice. (Turned out though the lake was lovely temperature for me but he was freezing - something to do with distribution of body fat [I mean distribution between us, not distribution on individual bodies].)

And then we came home, collected Felix, and headed off on our beloved double decker (yes, the roof got thumped again on the first curve of Koenigsallee, still no midnight tree maintenance), all the way to the end of the line in Kreuzberg - got out and Felix had a farewell döner (in Bloomington they have them too, at the Trojan Horse, but they're called something else) and I bought some clothes! and we went to buy the T-shirt the prospect of which had coaxed Felix out of the house, browsed some touristy shops which were actually amusing and bought a few things for the folks back home (I nixed the concentration game that involved matching cards where instead of finding identical pictures it was matching left and right breasts - called Busen-Memory), and sat down for a lovely few minutes in our favorite cafe, Josephine, on Bergmannstrasse. (Basically the last outing we had with Felix, sometime in August of last year maybe, we went to the same T-shirt store and the same cafe. Comforting.)

Then we power-U-Bahned back to the Ku'damm (the bus ride had been lumbering and sleepy), sent Felix off one direction to catch the bus home and walked off ourselves in a different direction to meet sis- and bro-in-law for a belated birthday dinner for her. It was soooooo pleasant, a wonderful mild evening at a table outside on a tree-lined street with people strolling by, excellent food and fabulous service and all four of us happy to be out together in a good mood chatting and talking and eating and hanging. 

And it never stopped! Anja and Alexander had promised to get on their bikes and zoom to meet us after sis- and bro-in-law were going to have to go home to Fanny and the babysitting grandparents - as it happened we had fifteen minutes all of us together, and then we went off with A & A for a stroll around some blocks and ended up in a dark cavelike bar with comfy red seats and pretzel sticks and got to chill and say good-bye for a while longer. And then we taxied home.

So it's Saturday morning, yesterday was lovely, I'm in no way slept out as we say in German but I have to have my oatmeal now because it's off to meet more friends for more good-byes (Annette, Sabine, some institute friends) at 10 for breakfast, and when I go out for breakfast I always have to have my oatmeal first. Then it's home to finish packing all the ridiculous junk that is lying around. 

Love to you all, thank you for listening!

power blog!?!

Saturday morning, August 1st

We're leaving the house for the airport to fly home to Bloomington in about 24 hours and ten minutes. Last days of Berlin!

Last Tuesday I wrote in the wee hours of the morning. I did get back to sleep, I went off and walked with Annette, and then had a wonderful sendoff from my Weight Watchers group. They wished me well and said they'll miss me and gave me flowers; I didn't think to bring them flowers but I brought them my address and told them truthfully they were the best Weight Watchers group I'd ever had and I'd miss them truly too! 

And later on Tuesday I did make it into the lake, which was wonderful. And packed boxes, if I recall. Lots of 'em.

Wednesday was an ucky day. The morning wasn't bad - four boxes got picked up and carted off, I updated my resume and projects list to give to the people here at the institute who might send some editorial work my way in the future - but the afternoon and evening were not nice. Hubby went off into town to browse and bop and had a marvelous time in galleries and cafes and I stayed home to get things done and/or nap but I didn't nap till the last minute and so it was short, and I didn't get things done really, I just sat around having a headache and minding that there was still so much stuff in the apartment, and feeling bad and fussing around online, and it felt awful. So instead of meeting hubby and old friend Klaus at the Literaturhauscafe at 7, I rested at home a little longer, showered, and then walked the bike a ways while phoning my father (mother had been in the hospital overnight). So it felt like I got a little exercise, and connected with my family, and then I got on the bike and rode the rest of the way to meet them, had a mostly nice evening there, and rode home on bikes with hubby. 

Thursday I woke up early with the alarm clock. The night before I had been very frustrated I once again wasn't going to have a chance to sleep in, but when I woke up Thursday morning I was happy to know I was off to go get the excellent niecelet. Thursday was a wonderful day. Early morning bus ride, the bus waited for me while I jogged up the street as hard as I could while hanging onto the three different bags/packs that were hanging off me and banging against me as in various ways as I pounded up the street (the bus waiting like that is a once-in-a-blue-moon marvel) - then I got to notice and enjoy the place where, in the last several weeks, something (a branch surely?) always bangs hard on the top of the double-decker as we round the first curve of Koenigsallee - I'm kind of amazed nobody's come to do their efficient middle-of-the-night trimming - and then on the bus I finally started reading the book Anja loaned me over New Year's (!) which was immediately engrossing - I got to sis-in-law's and niecely's house early and walked up the many flights of stairs still reading - and there was bright bubbly Fanny happy to see me, her mother ready to ride off to work on her brand-spanking-new (am I overusing the hyphens yet?) mom-mobile (beautiful sturdy black bike with state-of-the-art baby seat in back), and Fanny and I had a few hours together, breakfasting, reading, and then walking down steps, down more steps, waiting for and riding the U-Bahn, getting out and walking the wrong way and then the right way, strolling along the Ku'damm with Fanny in and out of the stroller and enjoying her raisin breadlet, buying organic fruit together, and then finally getting back on the bus to finish our trip and ending up looking for the ducks who were nowhere to be found and then riding upstairs to see Felix and hubby - Fanny has so much to tell us all in her amazingly articulate two-year-oldness (what is it about our nieces and the verbal precocity?) and it was just lovely to have a friendly, curious, talkative, cuddly small person who likes being with all of us, and she and I finally snuggled down for a nap and I *really* wanted to just stay there and sleep through it all with her!

But after a half an hour maybe of snoozing with her I went off to the kitchen and started processing all the many vegetables and food stuffs in the fridge and on the counter because it had become real how many (few) meals and hours were left to be had in this apartment. Cooked carrots with ginger and orange juice, sweet potatoes slice-boated in the oven, regular potatoes home-fried on the stove for Felix, noodles for Fanny (weren't too popular) and corn on the cob for me, green salad for hubby and me . . . and sis- and bro-in-law showed up a little later to get Fanny and had time to sit down and have some of the bounty too, and there was still even some later when people came home with us in the evening.

Anyway - this was to be a power blog and I'm lingering. Just to say - Thursday there was still time for a nice long afternoon nap, I skipped the final institute dinner to walk into the woods with my weight vest on, long phone call with sister in Texas back from her visit to our parents in California, then wonderful swim, then on the way back phone call with parents though the cellphone ran out of minutes in the middle, and only then did I go join the dinnering instituters with the dinner all gone which was good for me, and later more people came back to our house. Thursday was good.

And Friday gets its own blog, I just decided. Sorry this was longwinded it meant to be short - just to say it's been an up-and-down week, and the things I figured out early in the week were good and to be savored DID turn out to be good and savorable - time with Fanny, time in the lake - it took longer to find time with hubby and Felix but we even did that too on Thursday.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

in-the-moment moments

I'm typing this up Tuesday night, July 28th.

This morning, on my way to the second bus stop (the one I go to when I've missed the bus at the first bus stop, just so I can walk a little bit instead of standing around), I pulled out my notebook and wrote:

"in-the-moment moments:

- just now, watching a man lay fat-capital-serif-I-shaped cobblestones in a nesting and repeating pattern on a beautiful patch of very flat, perfectly leveled strawberry-blond sand in a piece of hte opened-up sidewalk. (On the sidewalk on the other side of the narrow street, a different man was picking similar cobblestones [bricks?] off a pile on the sidewalk and loading them into a wheelbarrow. I was late to meet my friend Lou for our pre-Weight Watchers walk so I couldn't stay to find out what the relationship between the two sides of the street might be.)

- being in the lake, whenever I'm in the lake, which is why I want to get back there!

- being with niecelet Fanny whenever that wors which is why I should just make it happen!"


and indeed, I wrote that this morning and thought about it during the day and so tonight I went and jumped in the lake, it was truly lovely. (And I had a thought, as I often do when I'm bobbling around in the lake - today the thought was that I really should organize my Facebook friends into different groups and categories, and surely it wouldn't even be that hard?! - college friends / Bloomington friends / book group / women's group / family / childhood friends etcetera.)

And then I called sis-in-law number one and made a plan to have young mistress Fanny to spend the morning and into the afternoon with on Thursday, about which I am very pleased.

So - off to pack up and pack up and pack up so that maybe tomorrow already the packing of boxes etcetera will be behind us and we can truly live in the rest of our Berlin moments.

Monday, July 27, 2009

5 days to go

Wow. When I write it like that it's not a lot of time!

My cold is abating but not all gone. We haven't sent any more boxes since last I blogged but we've done a certain amount of sorting and packing. I haven't been exercising since I've had that weird shaky-weak about-to-break-out-in-a-cold-sweat feeling, if-I-move-around-too-much-I'll-be-completely-exhausted kind of a thing. But I've been eating, for a few days it felt like it was good for me and good for my cold, but now the weight has crept up higher than anytime so far in Berlin and it does not feel good and it's 3:26 a.m. and I can't sleep!

So - I've made a little list of things to do in the morning to get myself back on track (I should say: start getting myself back on track). I want and need somehow to:

- take a few kilos back off
- get things packed and sent off
- spend time with hubby and Felix
- get sleep, get sleep, get sleep!
- keep saying good-bye to so many people

Hubby is clothes-shopping for himself and Felix. I don't quite see myself managing that for myself, sadly. I wanted to try to spend at least a half day with little Fanny niecelet before we go but when? when? how? not sure. I had promised to send my resume and info about what I do to one of the administrators at the institute; surely I can do that today? Shouldn't take more than an hour, if I just sit down to it?

There have been so many good-byes. Wonderful visits from Kim and Christian from Hamburg and from Johanna from Berkeley; before that Adam and Nina from New York. A very nice final meeting of Friday morning writing group. A lovely, lively, jampacked final meeting on Sabine's balcony of Wednesday night play-reading group (we read Chekhov and a hilarious one-act play called The Tragical Tale of Melissa McHeiny McNormous McWhale - I recommend it - just google it). This past weekend lots of family, last visits and connections with our nephews, with madre-in-law. I haven't been to Weight Watchers for 2 weeks in a row, 2 weeks ago it was Felix's sixth-grade graduation plus a rehearsal at the institute for our hilarious group songs for the institute good-bye party; last week it was me waking up and realizing I had to go back to sleep and sleep all morning because I was truly unwell. 

So this week, this morning, lying in bed at 2:30 a.m. I was wanting and wanting to go back to sleep and finally realized it wasn't happening, and so I'm up to make lists, have tea, write this blog, do some e-mail, and then hopefully surely certainly, with my mind unburdened-er and the sleepytime tea working its magic and the Ibuprofen likewise, go back to sleep for a few hours before I wake up to have breakfast, meet my friend Annette in front of the Weight Watchers meeting place so we can walk for an hour, and then go to the meeting and say good-bye and, as I write this, I realize they (Frau Krüger, the leader) will surely want me to say final words of wisdom as I leave and I'm going to have to say: what can I say? I fall off the wagon and all I can do is keep getting back on. 

I haven't been back to my beloved lake since last Sunday (this is Tuesday early early, 9 days later) - yesterday was a hot day perfect for it but I was holding out to be fully over this cold. Maybe today? Lots of Iranian demonstrations near the Brandenburg Gate. New people (Americans, young people, scholars for the institute, who knows who else) flooding into Berlin as others are leaving in droves, it's a big city, it's a mecca for foreigners, people come, people leave. 

Our friends in Bloomington are putting out welcome mats for us and that is a lovely feeling. I've drunk my tea and made my lists and written this blog and now for a couple more e-mail messages and back to bed. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Taxi ride to Anja and Alexander's

Last night on my way to Anja and Alexander's in the taxi I took notes [this morning's blog notes on last night's bumpy handwritten taxi notebook notes are in brackets]:


Today because I have a cold and I'm pretty out of energy I'm taking a taxi. Moving faster, lower down, nobody getting on and off of course! [This is in comparison to the bus ride I chronicled a little while ago.]

Mostly noticing bikers, and this evening they're all female. Just now one was pushing what looked from behind like a big black vender's cart, but came up alongside and passed her, lo and behold it was a pretty fancy, mega-serious heavy-duty baby pram-for-a-bike riding in front of her. With I think reinforced metal sides - a very cool oval-rounded shape. Super-sturdy. Wow. [What I was struggling to convey last night while taking my bumpy notes in the taxi was that it was an industrial-looking object in its blackness and hugeness and sturdiness but that there was an element of softness, comfort, and baby-appropriateness in the rounded edges and in the glimpse of baby bedding I could have sworn I caught. (Watch it have been a samosa cart after all?!)]

The biker we passed before that had on the sheerest lacy black top I have ever seen outside of a dressing room or my own boudoir (OK, confession here - not even there because I don't own any such thing). We passed her and fell back and passed her, etc. a couple of time and I kept craning around to try to see how it could possibly look in front because she clearly had nothing on underneath. But I just couldn't see - she was hunched over her handlebars . . .

Before that we nearly sideswiped a pretty lady in pastel colors with a spray of flowers out her back carrier.

Just turned into the Strasse des 17. Juni, majestic boulevard with the Siegessäule [victory column monument] ahead shining golden and wingy in the late afternoon sun (it's almost 8 p.m. but the sun son't go down here for another 2 hours surely).

All those bikes I reported were in a stretch of a few blocks on the Kufürstendamm [Dam of the City Electors, West Berlin's old glittery main stretch], which we left behind a while ago, but it took a long time to write all that down. My taxi driver had no idea where Claudiusstrasse was so he's following his little street-by-street smart screen. Since I only ever usually come here by train, I'm also unfamiliar with this route - right now it's a little leafy green street we're on, ferns and droopy branches (willows?) and something with red berries and something else with reaching branches, reaching, branching . . . can you tell the taxi is stuck for a few minutes and I could really look? Back there it wa all dark green with a little patch of light spring green somehow stuck on in front.

The Berlin birds that sound like the fruit bats I grew up with in Kinshasa are oing their 5-tone warble. A little mousy gray-brown-black bird was just hopping along the sidewalk in front of those greens I was describing (taxi is now idling about 2 blocks further along).

Chatted with the driver a bit. Much more traffic than the usual because the S-Bahn [fast city trains] system is down. Opened my window finally - I'm eye-to-eye with a parked red bike you can rent, next to an old baked-yellow phone booth. Make that two parked red bikes-for-rent.

[This last paragraph is almost impossible to read/decipher - looks almost like my grandmother's script in her last years but much harder to read:] Driving again. Traffic eased inexplicably. Wind in the short tufts of my hair that stick out from under my cap. Hard U-Turn - taxi got lost? Or missed turn because enjoying the sudden ease of uncluttered driving!? One more hard turn - we're here.


[Postscript - I was delivering myself via taxi to Anja and Alexander's, where hubby and Alexander had been preparing an octopus feast for us! We ate it in the garden, an unbelievable place. The 80+ (maybe 90+?)-year-old former owner of their 3 or 4-story, maybe 8-apartment, house, started this garden decades ago. Anja and Alexander bought the whole building from her sometime in the last couple of years (they'd been renting a top-floor apartment for years already) and now the garden is their job but also their joy. Glorious place. The entire space was created during the war when a bomb destroyed the half of the house that used to occupy the space that is now the garden. Here's the thing: the garden is about the size of our backyard in Bloomington - except maybe half again as wide, I figured out later (looping and circling and overhanging alleyways and confusions of trees and bushes obscure the total size) - strangely, though, it looks nothing like it. They have apple trees, pear trees, tomatoes, green peppers, lettuce of multiple kinds, grapes, zucchini, thistles, flowering orange things that magically keep away pests, a wild phallic thing that shot up as a volunteer, borders and picnic tables and a picturesque falling-down gate. Truly an amazing place. If you're reading this, Anja, so many thanks again to both of you!

I stayed a couple of hours in spite of my droopy blahness with this cold, and allowed myself to be fed and cheered up and taken care of, which was wonderful. I left hubby there happily chatting with our old friends and rode home in another taxi - too dark to keep notes and besides this taxi driver was very chatty - we spent quite a while on the grasshopper that had landed on the windshield (?!).]

a cold overruns all else

Wednesday morning, July 22nd, 2009

The time is flying. The time till we leave Berlin and fly home to Bloomington (on August 2nd) cannot be counted in weeks anymore, really, unless you're good at counting things like 1 1/2 - the more useful unit now is days, as in 11 days.

Did I never report on Felix's 6th-grade graduation last week? I think I didn't. It was Tuesday morning - we went to the school and the three different sixth-grade classes had a little joint performance/ceremony. At 8:30 a.m. It reminded me and hubby of nothing so much as the Holiday Follies at Harmony School in Bloomington every December - (although with higher production values, as hubby pointed out) - but anyway it was sweet, and though it started out ragged and long-going-on, it ended, shockingly, within the hour, as Felix's white-bearded guitar-playing hippie teacher had confidently predicted. Then we went into the individual classrooms to see the kids get their report cards handed to them individually, in ascending order by grade point average.

There were, at the end, 19 or 20 kids in Felix's class; much was made of the fact that Felix ended up 2nd in the class after going in at the beginning of the year with rather imperfect German. The boy had a good year. Frankly, we kind of expected he'd do fine academically. What was less easy to predict and much more satisfying was that he truly did also integrate in socially with the kids (even though after school he preferred the company of the English-speaking gang that lived in our institute-run villa with us). 

Felix is madly connecting via Facebook with his friends back in Bloomington, even while prowling Berlin with his buddies here. The day-before-yesterday he called from his cellphone to say he and his friend Peter, after eating downtown at McDonald's, had ducked through an U-Bahn station to get out of the drizzle on their way to the sports store to ride the scooters as they like to do, and on a whim decided to hop on a U-Bahn train and see where it took them (they have monthly passes that can take them anywhere in Berlin so that's no problem). They ended up at Potsdamer Platz, which is where we  go to see English-language movies in the original, and Felix was calling to see if it was OK if they went to the movies.

Sounded like a lark to me and I said sure and they had a great time.

Anyway, I kind of think Felix's reentry in Bloomington will be smoother than anyone's, but he'll surely miss the ability to roam free and wild. And we'll miss him having it.

A cold I said. Yes. Last Friday night Felix, hubby, and I were deeply involved in planning and running various aspects of the big institute good-bye party. Felix had made the dance playlist, spending hours and having a grand time; he worked on the welcome banners, and at the last minute was recruited to go around among the crowd (there were I think 150 people or so there though I'm not sure) taking drink orders and then bringing the drinks (a few other kids were making the actual drinks - Sangria and suchlike - generally not a task given to twelve-year-olds or ten-year-olds in the States but this is not the States). I, meanwhile, had been in charge of the entertainment committee but had also organized one of the huge successes of the evening - I actually merely channeled it. The thing was this was a party organized by the institute fellows for the staff, so everything was opposite - they usually serve us, now we served them, and part of the deal was a good-bye thank you gift from us to them. 40 fellows (plus lots of partners, like me, and family, but still) and get this: SIXTY-FIVE staff members. We never realized all year that there were so many of them, many shadowily behind the scenes (of course also plenty in front of the scenes, at the reception desk, serving us meals, running the library, answering organizational questions, fixing our plumbing, running academic exchanges . . .) - anyway long story short I had been on the phone with sister-in-law #1 asking her for suggestions of where to shop in Berlin for nice soaps (for some reason I had gotten fixated on soaps as gifts, thinking chocolate and wine was BOring by now) and she said what about plants? And a plan was born, and her partner the florist was asked to provide 65 plants as gifts from us to each of the staff (no, not 65 plants for each staff member - you know what I mean) - and he did a glorious job, there were banana plants and little trees and big bushes and flowering things and the 65 of them together looked fabulous as one came in, and everyone was very pleased.

So that was great, and the entertainment program went off quite well, and dancing was intense, I don't think I've ever been at a party where dance participation was so high, but then Felix was sent home at 2 with his father to go to bed leaving me watching his iPod like a hawk for him (OK, Felix, I confess I was dancing more than watching the iPod) - anyway, I was in the room with it and tending the playlist (we went off-list and ended up with about 20 minutes of Balkan Beat Box), and so I stayed till 3 which is somehow the time I'd gotten the sense I had to stay till, and helped a couple other people close up. Went home, slept till 2 p.m. the next day, and woke up with a terrible sore throat I've had ever since, and yesterday (Tuesday) I didn't even go to Weight Watchers or meet my walking friends.

Sunday I did go for a long (hour and a half) jog plus half-hour swim but I think now I've figured out I am actually under the weather and can't do this. So no, I don't think I'm doing 10K on August 1st the night before we leave, either. Sadly.

Good things and plans:

our 18-year-old friend Johanna from Berkeley arrives today

our friends Kim and Christian (Kim is this blog's absolutely faithfullest reader) arrive tomorrow from Hamburg for a couple of days

Sis-in-law #1's birthday is Friday, we're having a family party Sunday, madre-in-law will be in town and nephews coming in from Darmstadt

8 boxes have already been sent off to the States


Gotta start waking up family members. They all seem to need several wakings each time.

Monday, July 20, 2009

chocolate mint wind

so, so very much to write and tell but in the meantime: the wind just blew in the open window, we're having San Francisco weather (if you don't like the weather . . . wait ten minutes) and a sudden downpour has once again been followed by sunny bright skies and wonderful yellows and greens shiny in the tree leaves.

But still I don't get why the wind just blew in, on what is otherwise the fresh post-rain smell of trees up here on the 4th floor and the lake below, a barely chocolate but very minty smell!?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

many little things

- kitchen timer is broken so I'm going to have to do the fifteen-minute blog thing by looking at the computer clock

- piece in the New York Times this morning about naked children being tolerated or not in various contexts (sometimes the parents think it's fine and the grandparents don't, sometimes the other way around, sometimes boys are OK but girls not, etcetera) - reminded me of one of my favorite images from my first time swimming at my wonderful Teufelssee lake - that I had meant to write about but the timer dinged then if I recall, cutting me off.

The image was this: a family with about four small white-to-nutbrown children running around naked playing on the little sandy-dirt incline to the lake at the first main entrance to the water - while I was swimming they had been playing there, and then at some point I got out, dried off, got dressed, and sat on the log to put on my shoes, and next time I looked three of the four had light blue terrycloth robes on that involved hoods and then loose ponchos coming down - it seemed like a wonderful, warm, comfy, easy way to get warm and dry and covered up at the end of a day at the water, and while three were continuing to play and scramble in the robes exactly as they had while naked, the father chased down the fourth and littlest one and popped a robe over that one as well. That was a very nice image. The light blue robes swallowing up the little tan round bodies, that kept moving around as though the robes weren't there.

- last night, a lovely good-bye party at my friend Anna's WG (Wohngemeinschaft, living community, i.e. shared apartment) - this is a vegan WG and there was a fantastic gazpacho into which Anna's sister Esther was just tilting the last tiny chopped bright green cucumber pieces as I was arriving, and then we moved furniture around and carried plates and bowls into different rooms and then I sat and chatted with a lot of people the absolutely oldest of whom was 28 I believe, and I had SUCH a good time, I left around midnight only because I knew I was going to want to get up in the morning and it was already way past my bedtime - but such fun to talk to these people and be outside my life but apparently be completely accepted as a reasonable conversation partner (found out from Mareike, a world-traveled young woman I was comparing notes with on culture shock and transplant discomfort, that Galsan somebody-or-other, the quite-rude Mongolian shaman and chieftain and writer-in-German who for complicated reasons my family had over to dinner in Bloomington a few years ago, is actually pretty famous among Germans who know anything about Mongolia, as well as in Mongolia, and she thought it was pretty hilarious he'd come to dinner at our place). 

- went for a walk around one or two of the lakes in the woods down the street from us this morning with my friend Annette, and that was a lot of fun. Annette is a rhetoric coach and has a lot of coaching experience and she was in a way coaching me on my writing coach work, but we talked about lots of things, and she said some things about writing I want to chew on (she just finished a book distilling her approach to what people need to do to communicate effectively). Except that for now I've sort of forgotten one of the main things she said that I thought was smart, useful, and something to remember and use. Perhaps it will come back to me.

That's about it now, we're at thirteen minutes out of fifteen. This afternoon I went and retrieved my bike, whose flat tire had been fixed - reading The Hammer of God, number 3 in the science fiction trilogy I had been reading. We've been packing, sorting, boxing. Leaving in two weeks and 3 days if I count correctly. Fourteen minutes out of fifteen. The fact that I'm allowing myself to start a book again means a lot of the pressures are lifted. In ten minutes I'm off to lead a dress rehearsal of all the different entertainment acts that are going to be presented at our big party for the staff of the institute tomorrow.

Fifteen out of fifteen. Love and greetings to you all my dear friends out there in radioland! 

Monday, July 13, 2009

10K run August 1st plus planning for it

We leave for Bloomington August 2nd early; I've signed up for a 10K run the evening of August 1st. Hubby thinks I'm nuts. But here's the thing: I just signed up, I don't actually have to do it if I don't want to but at least I have the option.

And in the meantime I'm going to do every-other-day runs as IF I were going to be doing the 10K. So I'll be ready if I do decide to go, and even if I don't, I'll have the benefit of doing those runs in the meantime.

I wrote up how long I want to run for each day between now and then (each every-other-day), and so far there have been 3 of them including the longer one yesterday and I've done them because they were on a piece of paper on the wall. So I'm glad I planned it out. See if I can find myself an hour tomorrow to go in!

Off to bed soon I hope. I have to skip Weight Watchers in the morning (last day of school for Felix with a graduation program for the 6th graders early; later a practice for some other musical numbers at the institute) - partly as a result of that and partly for other reasons I've kind of fallen off the wagon today. But I'm also trying to learn how to incorporate that - to enjoy what I'm having when I do that and have it be a fine thing and not a bad thing. Still working on that.

Mozart canon and living in the moment

2 weeks and 6 days till we leave (it's late at night now and we leave early in the morning, so more like 2 weeks and 5 days really). Feels weird.

Some hurdles that were weighing on me heavily are past or going - we had our own good-bye slash birthday party Saturday night, and the Institute's good-bye party this coming Friday, for which I am most of the entertainment committee, is coming along nicely so my worries there are lifting too. I've started packing, hooray hooray (though today I was mostly packing Max's things, got a backache, and now hubby is online finding out things about cost per weight that mean we might have to repack - because there's one price up to 5 kg, one price up to 10kg, one price up to 20kg, and so it makes tons of sense to have the box be right up nestled close to the top weight in each category whereas right now one of them weighs 5.4, one weighs 12.3 - not cost-effective!).

Anyway, feeling as though I'm moving forward on what I should be moving forward on and therefore life is good.

Happy moments and in-the-moment moments in the last few days:

Thursday afternoon, 5 to 6 p.m., Sheila and Christoph and I (S and C are fellows at hubby's institute) practiced Mozart's canon (maybe he has several; this is the one that goes O du eselhafter Martin, O du martinischer Esel). I had been having tons of trouble - blithely said I'd do it but I thought I knew it and turned out I only knew the beginning. Finally I found an online keyboard and spent some time teaching myself the rest. But still, it was 2:30 Thursday, practice was at 5, and I really didn't know what I was doing. I was supposed to go babysit baby niece at 3 and then her mother called and said she'd be home herself after all, and so from 3 to 4:30 I practiced the thing and that made all the difference.

So I was pretty solid, and then Sheila and Christoph and I got together and we practiced it several a few times through, and then tried singing it as a canon in every possible constellation (1 and 1 and 1, 2 and 1 with different sets on the 2) but we kept ending up not together somehow, so we were doing this sort of sleuthing - where is the place we're messing up? Each of us took turns listening to the 2 others singing and couldn't find it. Finally, Christoph found the place in the very beginning where we were waiting two whole beats we weren't supposed to, and that fixed it.

We're still pretty much 99% positive not going to perform it for the institute party, because a. we would have had to practice a lot more and Christoph left that night and isn't coming back till an hour into the party; b. the thing has 4 parts and there were just 3 of us - we wanted more like 8 so everybody would have a buddy; c. it just really is complicated and we would have needed a lot of practice. But the practice was tremendous fun!

Another fun part was at our party on Saturday night, holding Fanny and going around to visit with different guests, and then spending a little time in the corner, me and Fanny, playing with the beautiful wooden Parcheesi board Felix gave Max for Christmas (the party was over at the institute and we had taken over the miniature pool table their aunt had given our boys for Christmas as well as various other games and things we had) - Fanny likes the Parcheesi because of the beautiful tiny color-coded pegs she can handle and do fine motor things with - very appropriate in an advanced sort of a way for an adroit little two-year-old. 

Another nice thing was Saturday during the day, hubby was out at a conference all day (he had to give a lecture only hours before the party!) but I was a bit of a wreck in the beginning, quarreling with Felix after I had quarrelled with his father before he went off to the conference - and at some point I threw myself on Felix's mercy and said please, I'm a wreck and tired and worried about the party, can you help me and he really, truly did, he was wonderful and he helped in so many ways - was a sounding board, put together a dance music playlist, and then went over to help me carry things over and then set things up.

So that's all good. Yesterday in between waking up late (post party-cleanup) and having in-laws for late lunch (with Persian food leftovers from party, very yummy), I took the time to bike into the woods and have an hour-and-twenty-minute run. I should make that a separate post. I will in a second. Sadly, there was no time left to jump in the lake.

Friday, July 10, 2009

20 intense physical experiences

Another writing exercise we did this morning involved listing 20 intense physical experiences. (They suggested one end of the spectrum as giving birth so I didn't want to write that exactly but some things danced around it.) I wasn't sure if I was going to post it but I just wrote to Diane and Lyn since their names come up on it and so I thought I'd go ahead and post. This list gets a little personal so look away if you must (though it still has boundaries).

List is in no order except as I thought of things. But I thought of things I hadn't thought of in a long time. So I liked the exercise. It's amazing how the simple task of making a list like this brings such long-forgotten and such disparate things to mind.

There was more to it involving choosing one of them and doing something with it which I don't recall, but there was no time left for that this morning. (The list below doesn't have exactly 20.)

1984 or 1985, having to jump over a ditch because we were protesting at a nuclear power plant somewhere in Germany, after Tchernobyl - we had to jump over the ditch because the police were chasing us with tear gas and I was very scared to jump, I didn't think I could clear the ditch and I didn't want to jump, but everyone around me was jumping and going and I couldn't stay there. (I did jump, I didn't quite make it, so I had to scramble up the other side. I fell down just a little if I remember correctly.)

1984, the flight from Kinshasa to Lisbon (it ended up landing somewhere else because of fog but that's a separate thing) - I was sitting in a bulkhead seat with plenty of space for my legs but nowhere, absolutely nowhere, to prop them and so I just couldn't get comfortable in my seat, I was so tired and wanted desperately to sleep and the flight was so many hours long but I couldn't get comfortable. Nancy Allan was on that flight with me. Never in my life have I had such an uncomfortable flight.

Teufelssee, the day before yesterday, early morning, me and my naked body in the water, breasts floating along.

Three or four years ago, walking briskly around the track at the YMCA in Bloomington and finally breaking into a trot - wonderful, post-80-pound-loss, to jog/run again after surely about 20 years.

The instant after Max was born, when all the excruciating pain in my back stopped, stopped dead, instantly, the moment he emerged. Blissful lack of pain and presence of baby.

Leaning back on my elbows on Lyn's bed, being her pillow, while she gave birth to Theo basically on my lap, I was propping myself up so that she could lean back against me - I was bloody from the waist down myself and felt like I was really part of that birth!

Jogging through Berlin for 2 hours last fall. Felt like I could go on forever.

Sitting on the floor late one night in his living room, watching satellite TV with Stefan and watching him and feeling an aching attracting to him (late 1985, early 1986) - [it's OK, friends and family - it was momentary]

Sitting on the steps of Farnham Hall between his floor and mine with Andy Rapp and him tracing my face with his fingers, in the wee hours of the night (now why are they called the wee hours of the night?!) - this is 1978.

The Charleyhorse I got that sidelined me just 2 dances in at the homeschooling squaredance in Cambridge in 1995 that I'd been waiting for and looking forward to for months.

The spoonful of Nutella I had yesterday afternoon - sweet and cold and creamy and chocolate in my mouth.

Holding my baby Max, nursing him, holding him, dancing and nursing and holding him for hours.

Nursing my baby Felix in bed with a breast infection, horrible hard inflamed pain, orange juice to drink and a cold cabbage leaf and frequent nursing for relief and healing.

Before that, the first couple weeks of nursing Felix, cracked bleeding nipples, crying through every painful nursing. Then, discovering Lanolin and the blessed soothing relief!

The earthquake, Oakland, 1989, and the house just rolling, rolling, rolling.

Riding the ferry to work after the earthquake when the bridge and the BART were down. Riding below, the water at eye level, eating doughnuts and watching the choppy water. Later, riding home, standing abovedeck with Diane, somehow we were on the same ferry home from San Francisco, I remember standing on deck in the biting wind and the roar (what was roaring? the engine? the wind in our ears? I don't know) and talking about wanting to have babies. That was 1989. Max and Asa were born in 1990.

Mango sorbet.

Hamburg, 1981, at the Kirchentag (national church meeting) - my first time in Hamburg (I was living in Heidelberg) - we were standing in line for a reading by somebody very famous and the crush of people was such we could not decide our own movements. It was frightening.