January 31, 2006

You can take the girl out of the ghetto...

Saturday I served lunch at Our Daily Bread. Every day they serve a hot lunch to 700-900 homeless and working poor. For this task they daily need 35 (!) volunteers. Four stations, four tables per station. In each station a server asks “Vegetarian or Regular?”, a runner dashes up front for the plate, there’s also a tea pusher, a water pourer, a place wiper/setter, and a bread maiden (me!). The bread is in big baskets that dangle on the arm. I kept skipping around asking people if they wanted bread. I felt like Heidi and wished I could put my hair in pigtails.

OK. OK. In the interest of the whole truth, the organizers didn’t ask for a ‘bread maiden’ they just requested a bread ‘person’. At first I was very good. Sober, responsible, focused. But the basket over the arm, the hustle, the people, it didn’t take too long before I corrected my coworkers when they said, “Having fun bread person?” With a curtsy or a skip, I grinned, “I’m the bread maiden, thank you very much!”

The odd thing for me was being on the serving end of the deal. Growing up, my Dad’s non-profit housing firm was often VERY non-profit. At one point my parents knew there would be no income for 6-8 months. I remember Mom asking us kids if we thought that Dad should keep doing the housing ministry or if he should quit and get a job (note: he graduated from Dartmouth and Harvard Law and quit working as a GE executive to start Sign of the Cross Housing). As a 7 year old, I figured if God said He’d take care of us, He would. What’s the worry? We went on Food Stamps and got very good at knowing who was serving free meals where and when. Our church had a Wednesday night dinner followed by a worship service. We had lots of nice white (usually) suburban people serve us food. I never noticed them (unless there was a cute guy to target with a crush).

If you grow up with something, no matter how abnormal, you assume it’s the norm until proven otherwise. So, my strange norm is that of course people will give me things I need. Why wouldn’t they? Sadly, once you’ve taken that for granted, you start to get picky about what you accept. As a server Saturday, I was humbled by all the possessions I take for granted now. I felt profoundly grateful for my blessings. Yet when I was being served, I took the service for granted and started to become demanding rather than grateful. “Those pants are ugly, let’s wait for the next clothing donation, there will be something better in there.”

In light of those ingrained reactions, figuring out the Korean customs for giving and receiving took me awhile. I felt completely intimidated by the quality and thoughtfulness of my Mom-in-law’s gifts. Totally inadequate to figure out how to reciprocate. It’s beginning to feel natural, the language of gift and obligation, but I still have unexpected relapses.

We had dinner at a friend’s house on Sunday night. We’d helped them move a while ago so the dinner was a thank you for helping them. At the end of the night they gave us a ribbon wrapped roll of paper, which announced their intention to make and bring us homemade meals once a month for six months to thank us for all we’d done. Because they know my husband, they’d included the line, “You’ll take it and you’ll like it!” Jrex was horrified. He’d been more than happy to help and this was an overwhelming thank you gesture. We’d both been perfectly content with the lovely dinner they’d already made us; there was no need for any further reciprocation. Yet the sad truth is that my gut reaction was, “Well, if you’re that determined, why should I stand in your way!? Good food, no effort on my part? Excellent!”

My Korean cultural adaptation is clearly still incomplete . . .

January 27, 2006

Friday Ramble

Before leaving for the weekend, I thought I’d leave a little ‘Nail Soup’ for you. Not ‘nail soup’ because I chew my nails, but from a story I used to love where a tramp makes soup from a single nail. (That long explanation is really just cause I don’t know how to spell pot pourri…)

Are you lookin’ at me?!
On Friday night I dragged two friends to a performance by PUSH. D and Hez were good friends of ours when we lived in Rochester. They’re a married couple who run a physical theatre (he's British) group and had been invited to perform at a visual theater festival here in Baltimore. After the (wonderful) set, I went backstage to find them in their dressing room. Hez and I often sympathize over the struggle against ‘saddlebags’ (those hideous lumps of cellulite that pop out on our thighs if we merely mention brownie sundaes). D is my age, but he’s in great shape, very muscular. Well, he’d pulled a muscle in his back and came out from the bathroom with an ice pack stuffed into his pants. I’m ashamed to admit it, but, yes, we mocked his pain, “D, you look like a 12 year old girl whose butt has come in, but not her boobs!” I laughed. Hez said in mock anger, “You mean like me?” I grinned at her, “Or like me!” We turned sideways and lined up so our profiles were behind Hootchie D in the mirror. Yup. The same. Sigh.

This book is sometimes SO aggravating and then has ok moments
My boss bought herself The Purpose Driven Life and asked if I would read it with her. I avoid Christian-hype books like the plague, but she’s so eager to explore and think about things, that for her sake I was willing to try it. The first third of it drove me (and her) a little nuts (OK, I got it, God likes me, but I better get my butt in gear and get out of neutral to respond. Enough with the guilt trip, dude!). His stuff on community is much better. The weird thing is that I've yet to find a single one of my Christian friends who have liked the book or been able to finish it. Who's reading it then? If it drives me, and every other Christian I know, a bit crazy, and we believe this stuff to begin with, what's it like for someone as an introduction to belief?!

When No Money is an Abundance
This morning PDL had something that reminded me of the year our family had no money. That year was our best Christmas ever. Not only did we qualify for all the free gift programs for poor people, but it’s also when my Mom started all the wonderful Christmas traditions my family enjoyed. When you don’t have money, time is the coin you spend. And it’s worth A LOT more than a gift.

The other book I want to finish soon
Baltimore has a great place called The Book Thing. It’s open on Saturdays and every book is organized by topic, but they’re all free. I picked up Sue Miller, While I Was Gone. For most of the book it’s a wonderful meditation on who we end up becoming vs. who we thought we’d be. But it’s starting to devolve into a woman’s midlife crisis and her consideration of an affair with someone from her youth. I wanted to stop, but yes, I read the last page, so it’s making me slog through to find out how it works out in the end.

B..B...B...Bad to the Bone
That evil habit has earned me more gasps of horror than the fact that I usually don’t bathe in the winter. It is just TOO COLD to get wet if I don’t have to when my house is 60 degrees. The space heater makes it bearable to wash my hair and face over the side of the tub (the dog likes to stick her nose under my arm to see what I’m doing). I clean up for special occasions, at least once a week for church, but that’s it, people. In the summer, sure the two showers if I get dirty, but in the winter I sit on my butt in the office or at home, there’s not much sweat. (Hey, I went to a hippie college, what do you want from me!? "The amount that Americans bathe is a waste of precious water resources, it's an expression of vanity, of not being in touch with your own skin", etc. Some people at school reeked! I guess they also refused to believe in deodorant. Don't worry, I'm not that bad. )

While I’m on the subject
Of my bad habits. The other one that seems to throw people off is that I love to go for walks at night so I can look into people’s houses. I don’t want to see them (at all), but I love to see how people decorate their homes.

Art (or something like it)

Two of the bookmarks I made on Saturday. I’m going to add calligraphy to the one on the left. I'll use white ink to write over the green square, and black ink over the blue circle. The bookmark on the right took on a life of it’s own, so the calligraphy will go on the back and echo the painting's curves. My passion and training is oil painting, so I can never just leave a watercolor alone. It always feels naked and I end up layering and laboring until it looks more like this.

Enough about me. If you want to read a really fun ramble, check out MetroDad’s chaos theory.

January 25, 2006

OK, OK, I get it, I'm a bit quirky

I have this weird thing I do in relationships (among many other things). If something deep is going on for me and I don’t feel I can share it with the other person, then I have a hard time thinking of anything to say. It’s like, compared to the core issue, everything else feels unimportant. Lighter. Somehow less substantial or vital.

In the last week Jrex and I have had three significant discussions. One thing we’ve always done well as a couple is talk through issues. I love that I married a man who is willing to discuss ideas, issues, and emotions. But each discussion raised different things for each of us. It’s the main topic on my mind, but the last thing I want to write about. (NO ONE wants to read 10 pages of explaining and analyzing. Heck, I wouldn’t want to read it, much less write it!) I’m doing the same thing with this blog that I do in life: if I don’t talk about that, what do I say? I already used up my AmEx idea . . . But I know OTRsis and OTRmama will beat me up if I don’t say SOMETHING. No pressure, right?

I could write about how cute my dog is in our Pre-Agility class; how I spent all day Saturday doing watercolor bookmarks to give to some friends; how great it felt to do art again; that my hubby and his advisor got a grant that will pay Jrex’s salary for the next two years; how Muttola kept trying to console/distract us during our discussions; how my Dad wants to live a dream through me (and can laughingly acknowledge that about himself); how glad I am to have friends who listen.

All good, all worthwhile, but overshadowed by a lot of other thoughts in my mind. It’ll be different tomorrow. Sometimes just acknowledging it’s hard to talk about something makes it easy to find another thing to talk about. Does that make any sense?

January 24, 2006

My AmEx Ad

I keep seeing these in Real Simple and New Yorker (a few of my many magazine addictions) and thought I'd do one myself.

My name: OTRgirl
   childhood ambition: Travel the world in a pickup truck with either a dog or a son
   fondest memory: Coming home to the smell of fresh-baked bread and Mom saying, "How was your day?"
   soundtrack: Miles Davis Kind of Blue, or Ennio Moricone The Mission
   retreat: Cabin in mountains with miles of trails, streams, views, and with a jaccuzzi at the end.
   wildest dream: Live like Heidi Bakker
   biggest challenge: trying to be a good wife
   alarm clock: haven't used one in two years
   perfect day: a day trip with beloved companion(s) to somewhere I've never been
   first job: rehab work for my Dad's non-profit housing firm
   indulgence: sleeping in
   last purchase: gifts for my boss' birthday
   favorite movie: Lord of the Rings (cause I AM a geek)
   inspiration: Metropolis, Urbanite magazines

My life: Is not what I expected
My card: Something encouraging sent by a friend

January 19, 2006

You might want to reconsider that dinner invitation after you read this

I’ve theorized for years that if the temperature in one’s work environment were closer to the seasonal temperature, we would acclimatize better. It seemed bizarre to wear cardigans to work in the summer. Thinking of every office building in the country freezing its workers in summer and roasting them in winter seemed wasteful and silly to me. This year I’ve proved my theory.

I work in an Historic Mill Centre [sic] with no insulation. In the winter we have one space heater for our large computer room. In the summer, a single AC unit in the window. Last year I froze at work every day. I couldn't get warm, my toes were numb, I hated it. Being at home was cozy, being at work was hell frozen over.

This year we decided to leave our home thermostat at 60 degrees all the time. I assumed I would have a long, shivering winter; but the thought of rising gas prices and corresponding heating bill stayed my hand when it twitched toward the thermostat. We do have a space heater in the bathroom, and a down comforter on the bed. Between those two things (and fleece blankets on the sofa), I’ve been quite comfortable. Even better, I’ve become genuinely used to the weather. I can go outside without shivering, I rarely need long-johns, and my hands and feet aren’t ice cubes this year.

I notice the cold only when people come over. Anything above 65 degrees feels tropical to us, but I know that’s the lower end of most people’s toleration. I feel bizarre that it’s turned ‘up’ to 65, but grateful that our heating bills have been almost constant compared to last year. Fortunately, we have guest slippers and a down vest I cheerfully bestow on visitors.

Cold comfort?

January 17, 2006

Fiction II

I chatted with my Dad about the Frey issue. He's worked in inner-city Cincinnati for over 35 years. He's living now in community with two ex-cons among others. He zeroed in on the aspect of the guy being an ex-addict when I was focused on the memoir v fiction issue.

His response:

"I heard this from a crack addict once, 'How do you tell an addict is lying?'."


"His mouth is open."

January 16, 2006

Truth vs Fiction

My sister tells me that when I report things she’s said or done, I only get it 75% right. My husband has protested a few of my entries: “Did you have to say I haven’t bought you jewelry in 8 years? You neglected to mention that it took that long to figure out your taste.” (Hon, the main point was that when you did make the big second step, you did a GREAT job.)

In the midst of those comments the James Frey fiasco erupted. His memoir on his recovery from drug addiction apparently contains fabrications. The story broke when The Smoking Gun tried to get Frey’s mugshot from a supposed 3-month jail stint and discovered he’d been in custody for a few hours after driving drunk. This led them on a massive fact check. During a Larry King interview where Frey defended himself, Oprah called in to lend her support “I rely on the publishers to define the category [fiction vs. non]… But the underlying message of redemption in James Frey's memoir still resonates with me, and I know it resonates with millions of other people who have read this book.” The publisher is taking the same line. It’s back to good old Machiavelli and the ends vs. the means.

I’m really disturbed by the outright lies. I guess right up until publication they weren’t sure if they were going to publish as novel or memoir, so maybe that gives the guy some wiggle room? On the other hand, once they decided memoir, maybe he should have gone back through to rewrite the parts he fabricated. I mean, you don’t confuse a few hours in lock-up with 3 months in jail no matter how many drugs you’ve ingested.

Back to my little twitches to make entries more dramatic or succinct. One example: when I flew to Seattle, my niece wasn’t 8 months old. Sure when you count from May to January (and aren’t very good at mom math) it’s 8 months; but the truth is she was only 7 months and 10 days when I arrived.

Jrex and I went out to dinner and mused about this whole idea (guess who made which points):

  "It’s a memoir. It’s filtered through one person’s perspective. Isn’t it a given that events will be recorded in ways that ultimately puts the author in a better light? That’s not the intention, but it’s a rare person who, in the end, isn’t willing to defend his or her own point of view against someone else’s."
  "But then you’re choosing to hold the story as more sacred than the person."
  "So would you say that tweaking a blog entry is wrong?"
  "I would imagine most people written about in someone’s memoir feel the story was slanted and they weren’t portrayed as they would have portrayed themselves. But isn't it the right of the writer to tell the story from their perspective? When does the artwork (and a blog is NOT artwork), but it’s a tangential thought, gain a life of it’s own? Sometimes if you choose the person over the art, you violate the piece and violate your soul as the artist.
  "It’s never acceptable to value something more than another person? Why do you have to make it? Or, even if you have to make it, why does it have to be on public display?"
  "Yet some part of being an artist is a drive to share that thought/emotion/object with the world. There’s a desire to connect. To make others not feel alone, to not feel alone yourself [In the interests of honesty, that thought occurred to me as I wrote the entry and was not put forth in discussion…]"
  "Why? Why does it have to be public? What is the gain?"
  "But there's a difference between catharsis and craftsmanship. A private journal vs. a public blog. I would never have written about Amherst/Seattle/Baltimore in my journal. My journals are to be burned on my deathbed since they contain emotional vomit. They would only be valuable to the world if I was famous and someone wanted to know who or what pissed me off or made me sad."

We didn’t come to any specific conclusions except that I will try to be more exact when I feature others on the blog.

I suspect that our discussion comes back to issues of privacy vs. publicity. I’m not sure why I’m wired to want to allow my life to be on the public stage. I know part of it comes from my Mom. She made choices to be vulnerable about her pain and in doing so made it ok for others to be vulnerable in return. As a result she helped heal many people. She made it ok for me to be angry, ok to be sad, ok to be playful, ok to be intense, ok to be myself and be happy about it. One of her core values was to not have secrets. She’d had an abusive father and she refused to participate in his wrongdoing by allowing it to be a hidden thing of shame in her life. There is freedom in verbalizing embarrassments. Things of darkness brought to the light lose their power. She didn’t seem to hide much about her marriage either, and I never heard my father complain or try to get her to stop. But I married a private man; my mother married an oblivious one.

I know all that is a separate issue from saying my niece is 7 months and 10 days vs. 8 months old. But in the midst of our discussion, our differing core values around publicity and privacy were yet again at odds. I don’t want to give up freedom and he thinks that my definition of freedom is often self-centered. (Which is probably true.) But letting a censor into my self-expression? It’s my blog and I get to tell what I want to! Yet in the back of my mind James Frey stands like a condemning shadow. When does freedom of expression become an unacceptable lie?

January 12, 2006

For once the ad is true

It’s good to be home. When I got off the plane this sign greeted me. It certainly sums up the situation. I found the contrast between Seattle and Baltimore to be quite stark.

My understanding of Seattle is affected by where I went to college. Hampshire College is in the Pioneer Valley (western Massachusetts) and is part of a 5-college system with Smith, Mt. Holyoke, Amherst, and UMass. At Hampshire I wasn’t a freshman, I was a first year student. There were classes in Womyn’s Studies, Herstory (not history), and the best dances were hosted by the LGBA. I was a sweet young thing from the Midwest and went through two years of culture shock before getting acclimated to the politically correct, emotionally intense East Coast. In Amherst, there was a bit of PC Nazism going on. If you believed in absolutes you were a corrupt bigot who’d clearly never learned to think for yourself. It was the tyranny of tolerance. The Absolute that nothing is absolute was taken for granted. How DARE you say there might be Truth, don’t even THINK it within my breathing space! It was a great place for figuring out what I really believed. I came away from college with a true ability to think critically!

Seattle is a big city, yet laidback version of Amherst. Very PC, environmentally friendly, but with a ‘do what you want’ attitude underneath. Sure, it’s not cool to think in terms of absolutes, but whatever. Just don’t push it on me and we’re good. To emphasize the laid back thing: NO ONE speeds on the highway! The fast lane goes 68 mph in a 65 mph zone. I’m used to driving I-95 where 75 mph is the slow lane. In fact a law was recently passed in Maryland that, regardless of the speed limit, if you’re going slower than the car coming up behind you, you have to move right. Seattle is willing to spend whatever it takes to make their rivers and shorelines hospitable for the salmon. Baltimore won't fix the sewers that keep dumping raw sewage into the Chesapeake Bay. Here’s a shot of the Boeing parking lot in Seattle. Minimize the black top and you minimize runoff, pollution, and CO2.
(I actually love that they do this since it’s a great idea.)

In contrast to all that, Baltimore is a really gritty city. No matter how much they dress up the Inner Harbor and the culture centers, at heart, Baltimore is a blue-collar town. In Baltimore, no one has time to bother with PC stuff. When there are over 300 murders a year, who has time to plant grass in the parking lots? Baltimore has relentless row-houses. Walls of brick with little porches jutting out in front, even the suburbs tend to be townhouses in a row-home style. The streets are full of pot-holes and vacant lots. The truism for Baltimore is “The pace of the South with the manners of the North.” I’ve never been very good with pretense, or BS. I keep trying to learn to be tactful, but I have to focus to maintain it. Guaranteed tough. I like it here.

January 10, 2006

Final Thoughts

I got to fly over the Big Ditch both going to Seattle and coming home to Baltimore.

On the way out I had the window seat next to a couple of chatterers. We saw a rather large canyon below and debated whether it was the Grand or not. The steward answered our question, “Nah, when it’s the Grand Canyon, you’ll know." Ten minutes later, we knew. They kept handing me their cameras and asking me to take shots for them.


On the way home I had a row all to myself!!! That was excellent. It was nice to be able to watch the canyon without having to take more than 2 photos. The moon was up and I felt quiet and rested after my week away. We flew over a wildfire just past the canyon. I heard there were some fires in New Mexico. I don’t know if this was one of them.


I got in trouble with my bro-in-law for posting a photo of his daughter. Actually, he was nice about it, but I could tell it bothered him. So, for these shots, she’s either disguised (she and my brother are wearing 3-D glasses for an exhibit at the Boeing museum of flight)

or her eyes are hidden. I’m showing this shot cause the one recognizable feature that M inherited was my brother’s mouth. They both have what I call a curl in the corner of their lips. When she grins, it’s this wide-open, very cute, infectious, face-lit-up endeavor, which is the same grin my brother sported as a baby.

January 8, 2006

I forgot to post this picture

Here’s the necklace that Jrex got me for Christmas. It’s the first jewelry he’s bought since my engagement ring. Good job, hon! (well, not in terms of not getting jewelry for me for 8 years, but in terms of picking something this cool. The engagement ring was beautiful, too...)

January 7, 2006

I'm just doing my job

Obviously, the main purpose of an aunt or an uncle is the proper corruption of the niece or nephew. I have begun as I mean to go on: I've taught M 'the bump'.

When I was a baby I hated to be kissed. So my Dad came up with an alternate form of affection. He would say, 'bump' and we would gently touch foreheads. This visit both my Dad and I have been doing the bump with M. Yesterday morning my sister was holding the baby and suddenly M leaned toward me head first. "Oh, ok. Yes, ma'am," I exclaimed and leaned in to bump heads. M sat back with a satisfied expression. K and I kept talking. Then M leaned again. Bump. She sat back. We did this ten times. Clearly, the corruption was extensive, but was it complete?

Last night my sister hosted a King's Day party. Quick explanation: my mother hated doing so much buildup to a one-day gift orgy. She decided we would celebrate the 12 days of Christmas. We opened one gift Christmas eve and one on Christmas Day. Each day after that we opened an envelope on the tree and followed instructions: look at Christmas lights, go to the zoo, open 1 gift, visit the trains at CG&E, etc. Then on the 12th day (Epiphany/King's Day/January 6th) we opened our big gifts. She also did a King's Day open house which featured three king's cakes (braided sweet bread). In each cake a quarter wrapped in foil was buried. Whoever found a quarter was king for the day/year (depending on one's interpretation).

For my sister's party: people came, people ate, kids wore triumphant crowns. Then, near the end of the evening, K held M and chatted with a friend. I was standing nearby. The friend's daughter stood grinning at M. Who leaned expectantly toward her. I laughed triumphantly, "She wants you to bump foreheads with her." The girl did and M sat back with a satisfied grin.

Mission Accomplished.

January 6, 2006


I remember a friend telling me about blogs two years ago. She mentioned there were people she checked in on daily. At the time I thought it was bizarre. A waste of time. These are people you'll never meet, go spend time with the people near you. Now, of course, I'm guilty too.

I'm not even sure how to write about this. I'm feeling really honored and excited (while feeling mildly silly for feeling that way). I've been included in the "Blogs I like" list on someone else's blog. When I read through the other blogs listed, they're all funny, witty, interesting people.

The strange thing is I suspect two of my closest friends rarely read this blog. One has never left a comment. The other has left one. When I tell them stories, it's rare they say, "Yeah, I read what you wrote about that." It's obviously perfectly fine (ok ok it hurts my feelings a bit, but I don't judge them for that. One is in training to go overseas and the other is a high school teacher who has about 10 minutes a day to sit in front of a computer). Yet this person I've never met reads mine, and I read hers. This blog thing still feels new and strange, yet every so often I get to tell a story and find just the right way to say what I'm feeling. It's really comforting to know that people are listening. And that someone I've never met finds it interesting.

January 4, 2006

I guess I will be blogging after all

My sister has done an evil thing. She's put me on the air mattress in the room with the computer. A computer that automatically links to the internet. Doesn't she know that blogging, and reading other's blogs, becomes an evil addiction? That I sit around thinking, 'how should I include that on the blog?'. That I need a life and this isn't helping?!

On the other hand, I'm still on east coast time. I've been up since 6:30 AM here. No one is awake. It took everything in me to stay up til 9 pm Seattle time. It helped that my niece is very fun and cute. She's much skinnier in person than in her pics. I guess the camera does add 10 pounds. If you only weigh 17 lbs, that's alot! She's 8 months old so she's ready for all the repeat games. "I'm eating your fingers. Ymmmm" Then she thrusts them towards me again. And again. And again. She has a great laugh though, so it's all worth it. I like being an aunt. Rev the kid up, have fun, and pass her back if she smells, cries, or wakes up cranky. I see the appeal of grandparenting!

The other potential evil of all this is that my sister reads my blog religiously. She calls me on all the facts I get wrong (good job, sis. Try to keep me honest. Though that's hard work, just ask Jrex.) How can I post pictures when her hubby won't let her do a blog cause he doesn't want the world to see his daughter? "It's better to beg forgiveness than ask permission"? There's a reason I haven't told my Dad, my bosses, or my in-laws about the blog...

Minor worries. The best part of all this is that I didn't bring my computer, so the office can't call me with any emergencies. The last time I was here was a working vacation. While my sister took an epideral-induced nap (but she was still in labor, people!), I had to hit the wireless cafe and get just one more design sent to our biggest client. Ugh!!! This time feels like a real vacation.

January 3, 2006

Cross Cultural II

During dinner the night before I left for Seattle, I was teasing Jrex about being jealous of something I did (likely something idiotic).

"You're just jealous, so stop right there, buddy!"

He grinned, "That's right. I'm just green with envy. Well, actually I guess that would make me blue."