Saturday, August 17, 2002

Q & A :: Why I Love Wisconsin

Frequently asked questions:

Where do you find the time?
I never find time. I steal time; I rob it blind. When I am in need of time, I abandon sensible tasks, such as; car cleaning, closet organization, alphabetizing, exercise, laundry, ironing, exfoliation, leg shaving, topiary pruning, and floor waxing. I never wax any thing; from this I derive a huge percentage of my time.

Is this Good Mexican food?
You have to ask yourself, "Is it bad food?" It's safe to say that if you like a meal, it's at least good enough for you. Mexican food is as varied in Mexico, and the United States, as sandwiches, salads or pizza at any given restaurant. In Southern California any yellow and orange building with the business name ending in "...erto," is likely to be good enough. At a mall in Edina, Minnesota my husband ordered Pizza Nachos; he could not have been in search of Good Mexican food, or Italian, for that matter.

Now I am reminded of a FAQ from our past: So, how do you like it out there in Iowa? Is it Wisconsin? Where did you move to, again?

Somewhere between Hawaii and the Eastern Seaboard, lies a beautiful, but little appreciated region we call the Midwest. It includes several states. They all get snow in winter and mosquitoes in summer, but they have separate and unique qualities and names, nonetheless. Our mistake was thinking one had to be as good as another. By the way, if you're in Minnesota, it is prudent to ask, "Is this good Mexican food?" and then consider the source of the answer.

Question no one has ever asked me:

Why do you love Wisconsin?
In 1978 my mother had to go to Green Bay Wisconsin for a work conference. She had to buy a real coat, and boots and a hat. She needed gloves. When she left for the airport she looked more exotic than anyone I had ever seen before. She looked prepared for unknown forces of nature, that I could scarcely imagine. I did try to imagine what she might encounter; cows, maybe corn or people dressed like Laura Ingalls Wilder. I yearned for a corn husk doll.

In 1981 my history teacher, a native of Wisconsin, told us about land grants, townships, school houses, barn raising and quilting bees. He told us about being pulled over for speeding in town; the cop knew him by name and scolded him. His son talked about swimming in Lakes. Their stories filled my mind with images nearly too abstract to be possible. I wondered about the feel of a lake bottom or what might lurk in the murky lake water. I pictured log cabins, quaint Christmas scenes with snow falling and women baking pies, and long summer nights with fire flies, and deer stepping out in to the meadow to graze.

In 1982 I met Geoff. And in his house hung a picture of him holding a baby goat; it was taken in the North Woods Of Wisconsin. The goat looked cute and gentle, and he looked handsome and kind. I couldn't be sure that I would ever get to see this picture, or this boy, again, and I very seriously considered swiping the framed 8x10 off the wall. Alas, I was dressed in a short skirt, with no big pockets or secret panels. He introduced me to his parents, they sat at their table finishing a spaghetti dinner: "This is my stepdad, Corm, and this is Mom." I waved across the table to Corm, and shook hands with his mother, "Hello Mom."

Happily, Geoff did want to see me again. He told me about Wisconsin. He talked about winter camping, bicycle tours, Elroy Sparta, and Parfrey's Glen, ice skating on lakes, as well as swimming in them. And he talked about aunts and uncles and Grandma and Grandpa, the Shoe Store, and the Bakery, and the house on Franklin Avenue, the auto repair shop, and the school where he swore they had the hugest slide.

The facts he shared were interesting and intriguing, and I enjoyed the anecdotes about summers at Telemark, and the groovy splendor of Madison and State Street. But it was the emotion with which he spoke, that fueled my longing to go to Wisconsin. I knew that any boy who revered his family, held them in such high esteem, and eagerly discussed the beauty of walking trails, the energy of a summer rainstorm, had to be worth getting to know better. I associated my attraction to Geoff with Wisconsin, and his family.

In 1987 we flew to Chicago. I borrowed a real coat from a girlfriend, and bought boots at Payless. I packed scarves and tights and long underwear, and all of my socks. At the airport I poked my head out the terminal doors, and the cold sucked the breath out of my head and froze the snot in my nose; it was an awesome force, unlike any cold I had ever experienced before.

Geoff's dad met us in Chicago, and drove us 3 hours away to the family home, just east of Madison. It was late, and dark. Once we left the city there was little to see out the windows. I was seated between Geoff and Chris, and Holly and Phil sat up front. It was an American tank-like car, and we rolled down the road, listening to Phil point out landmarks and tell us about 'deer season.' I literally needed translations; he was going on and on about 'Grandpa and the deer stand.' Setting up the deer stand, Not wanting to fall from the deer stand. Waiting in the deer stand. Falling from the deer stand. I had not a clue. Geoff explained about hunting deer in the fall, and sitting high in a tree, waiting for the deer. The image of hauling this equipment, through snow, and setting it up in a tree, to wait for Bambi, still makes me laugh. I loved that drive, snuggled up with my sweetheart, riding to Wisconsin.

The welcome I received, when we arrived at Grandma and Grampa's home, remains with me to this day; it was plain and sincere. They extended themselves enough, so that I knew they were happy to receive me, but they didn't fuss. The effect of their warmth and calm was that I felt like one of the family, instead of a guest that needed pampering. I loved the open and straightforward affection, the family games of Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit. The pictures on the wall reflected a growing, happy and creative family; a family appreciated for its differences and bound by love and respect. Perhaps the details are so clear, because I cherished every moment of that visit, or may be because it has been as wonderful on every visit since.

It snowed on Christmas Eve. Snow falling heightens every sense. The trees in the yard were a blur, softened and white. The moon, or the porch light, reflected on the snow, made an infinite display of sparkling, rainbowed gems. And there was silence. Even in town, on the neighborhood street, it was more quiet than silent; as though the world were an empty tape, where no one had ever recorded sound. Funny, I can remember listening to nothing at all.

My sense of play was heightened most of all; we sled, we rolled a giant snow ball and tunneled through it, and stood inside of it. We built Bucket Head, the snow man, and made snow angels. Another day we cross country skied, and we skated on a lake. My heart races just from the memory of crossing the frozen water, the blades leaving icy trails crisscrossing the surface. And then gliding into an area of black ice. Black ice is glass clear water, frozen and transparent. As I skated, a school of fish swam beneath the thick ice. And Geoff was with me, and his family, and I felt deeply happy.

Wisconsin is beautiful in all seasons. In summer it is a green that heals. In fall it brings anticipation, and gathering; leaves fallen from trees, and family to the hearth. Winter is light in the darkness, and the hush of snow. Spring is miraculous, and cleansing; it is full of details that mark beginning. I love Wisconsin, because Geoff was born there and nurtured by loving and creative people, and because it surpassed all my expectations of it.

Friday, August 16, 2002

With only weeks to go to complete the game, Geoff is at the dining table deciphering instructions and familiarizing himself with his Italian born Mig welder. Geek joy! Local fencing companies are too backed up to regard our pleas for them to build our county required pool barrier. It's devious, but what are the chances that Geoff actually planned it this way? 'Too late to hire help. Guess I'll have to get that welder' (I've always coveted.) He even thinks he has to convince me that he'll do a good job. I may suspect him of infiltrating new gadgets, but I could never accuse him of not putting them to good use. We will have, by far, the most superiorly constructed fence, west of the Prime Meridian. And what about the game? No worry; it will be 'killer.'

So, we are passing another happy family night together. Geoff counting parts and reading manuals. Max walking around him, in the protective mask, "Daddy, I'm a head!" William and Alex take turns doing Vader impersonations, then return to Laurel and Hardy shorts. Diego, the large kitten, is inspecting the boxes and sniffing curiously at the Mig. Outside, the new sprinklers are running their circuit, spraying softly in the evening breeze. The chickens are locked up for the night, the cats are all in. The boys are laughing heartily. I like this night.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

El Rancho Critters

Luna lays double yolks. We have had three so far. She lays big, brown, smooth eggs. They fill the hollow of my palm. Gracie and Rosie are laying now too, but we have not witnessed which is responsible for the small, pale brown eggs, and which lays the pale cafe con crema, round eggs. Luna announces her accomplishments. She clucks and vocalizes sounds for which we have not written words. "Cquruck, arhp." Rosita and Graciela are quiet, unassuming. They sit together in the dust or on the rock. Feathered companions, passing the heat of the day beneath the shade of the oak.

Two hawks have been circling southeast of our back yard. They must be scouting the valley below. They soar and glide in and out of each other's paths. They call out; a note like a scream, but without distress. They never touch, but are so connected one can almost feel the bond that holds them. They ride the thermals, never flapping, and then turn and beat their wings against the hot wind that comes through the valley. Their tail feathers are golden, rust, brown and black, patterned. Bird watchers would identify them, name them. I recognize their predatory form, their noble demeanor, their purposeful flight. The chickens acknowledge this too; they sit beneath the shrubs, cock their heads and eye the sky.

William is finding baby lizards. They are smaller than a child's pinky finger. They are delicate and trusting. Or perhaps they are not trusting, but so fearful they cannot think to scurry away. At least they are not in danger from the boys. They set them on the porch table, or in a gentle hand and admire their skinny little lizard fingers and tiny lizard eyes. They look for the turquoise bellies and stroke the length of their slender tails. They give them names, like 'Dinosaur' and 'Edward,' and find them homes in rocky places, away from Chango, our cat. Last year, when we were moving in, we found many baby lizards. They frequently sat on the door mat or were discovered stepping in to the house. If we created a calendar, this would be the month of the 'New Lizard;' small and curious and beginning.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

It Ain't Done

Anyone sitting on the edge of her seat, waiting to hear about the pool: It ain't done. We suffered the crushing blow of having a huge, hot weather party with a hole in the ground, but no water to splash in. Sigh. Today PoolSafe came and installed track for the cover. "Oops, " was overheard when one of the guys drilled through the brick coping. Minor setback. The real hold up may be that we haven't finished our requisite 5' fence around the house. We're working on it. And Nacho and Victor have been building the forms for the concrete decking around the pool. By Friday Mission Pools will be able to bring in equipment, but of course they will schedule this at their convenience. Curse and despair; the trials of the middle class in the modern age. Oh, woe. I'm giggling.

This whole process has been recorded not only in writing, but also, sporadically, on film. Victor was glad that I have been taking pictures and filming. He would like to have copies to use as references for future work. Today's footage will require sophisticated editing. Nacho spewed some of his more colorful vocabulary, just as I began to tape him and Rolando leveling the forms for concrete. I laughed and he grinned sheepishly at me when he noticed the camera in my hands. "I'll have to rate this PG13 now," I admonished. Victor chimed in, "PG; for 'Pend#@$ Guay!'" Then, just when I though it was safe to roll film again; the PoolSafe guy gets in the shot, bends over and gives me full crack! Now we are clearly R rated.

The chickens are settling in to their new confinement. We have them in lock up in the corner of the yard that includes their coop. We wrapped the coop and rabbit hutch, Toyon and oak trees with a 6' ranch fence with wire screen. Their yard has shade and interesting terrain, and a bench and boulder. And, yes, Sunshine is still struttin' his stuff. The local feedstore would take him, but they have no vacancies, so he's on the waiting list. Sometimes he's good, other times not; he bit Alex, his most loyal fan. Alex conceded, "We are going to trade him for 2 chicks, but make sure they're not runts. Beware the runt!"

And it's been a while since I've mentioned our tractor. The Chica Roja has more than proven her worth. Actually she is over due for her 50 hour tune up. The landscapers, who scoffed and snickered at her size, have used her almost daily. She grades, hauls, digs and drags. I am indignant about the verbal abuse she endured. Victor and Nacho owe her a debt of diesel, a clean rag and an affectionate pat on her bucket.

Monday, August 12, 2002

Post Party Reflection

It's time to pull out a dictionary. What words describe the hours and days after a party? When after months of planning, preparing, imagining, it's suddenly over. Guests, even the ones who stayed in town, are back home. The table clothes are in the dryer. The last cake is picked at, and the flowers are dropping their browning faces. How to describe the great space in my head that was full of coordinating, and anticipating, but is free now to dream up new plans and return to daily living?

My mom was puzzled; 'Why didn't I take more pictures?' I suggested that, when we think ahead we have many hours in the day to list all that we hope to accomplish. I had lots of ideas about what we could say and do at the party. But when the actual event is happening the hours aren't so limitless. Jola reminds me, "Life is what happens when we are busy making other plans." Mom didn't take as many pictures as she imagined she would. I didn't frame pictures for walls in the hall, or make a platter of fruit to serve. Grandmother wanted to hear jokes, and we never told one.

I'll go open my calendar. I need to shift gears and drive in to the rest of my life. Ruth and Corm are coming from Hawaii. Geoff needs to smog his Nissan. Sunshine, the cocky so and so, has got to go. The pool is incomplete, and so is the landscaping; we need to finish everything in the backyard. It's time to prepare lesson plans for the new school year. Oh, and piano lessons; Geoff keeps reminding me. I had better find a piano tuner. Alex wants to play soccer. Max needs to learn how to swim. Clean the truck, pay the bills, find the check that Hoy sent, finish the Christmas quilt, start a quilt for Bill and Alison, unpack boxes in garage, make dental appointments...

We have an awful lot of wine, and chili left over, and there is still an ice chest full of sodas. Maybe we should have another party. Something simple...

Sunday, August 11, 2002

Eighty Years and More to Celebrate

Post party mellow. I am content and pleased. I think everything went well. Guests arrived safely, and there was plenty of food, and it was hot, but not unbearable. And now I am reflecting on the faces and hugs, the laughter and joy. I am reveling in the memory of Natalia showing us the signs for 'candy' and 'girl.' A great grandson was overheard to say, "This is so much fun. I didn't know our family was this big." Anticipating the party was fun and creative, being at the party was invigorating and busy, but it is the memories that will be my lasting treasure.

We danced, barefooted, on concrete. My feet hurt, other parts too! "Singing Sarah and the Surf Cowboys" played and sang, and we ate and danced. Bill, my brother, and Gretchen, our sister in law, led us in an improvised 'line dance.' It was a sort of a Western, free-form-aerobics thing with a little Buster Keaton action. I am neither athletic, nor a dancer, but I had fun trying. I should take a more cautious approach when trying to keep up with triathletes, and natural talents like my cousin, Julie. Henry and Eva, of course, made a beautiful couple; under the stars and in each others arms. And I know that Grandmother was pleased to take a spin on the dance floor, in the arms of my uncle Larry.

My mom decorated with a series of photographs of Grandmother, strung on brightly colored ribbon. And several people brought flower arrangements. Steve came with his 4 children, and they brought a particularly large flower vase; it's beautiful. Rebecca shared her albums of family genealogy and photographs. Her work on collecting family history was enjoyed by all. It was fun matching faces and names, and looking at all the 'old' pictures; our parents as children, and their parents too.

There were many generous gifts and thoughtful cards. Grandmother will be shopping for books, and clothes with gift cards. She has more plants and flowers to enjoy. Gil put his welding skills to work and produced a tiered candle holder; each level representing a generation descended from Grandmother. Grandma looked so beautiful and serene reading her cards and opening her gifts, with her eager great-grandchildren surrounding her.

It was an honor to have so much family come and celebrate with us. There were people we had not seen in (too) many years like; Javier and Julie, and Mary Alice. And we even met cousins, Lydia and Liz, for the first time. It was a treat to have Bill and his fiancee, Alison, in town. And busy locals, like Hans and Gretchen, were a treat as well. We were surrounded by friendly family, and friends that are like family. I hope everyone shares photographs; cameras were clicking and flashing in to the night.

Grandmother implored us to hold on to each other; we should not lose touch with one another, or with the memories of those loved ones who came before us. She reminded us all that our histories, the happy memories, as well as the sad times and difficult losses, are what make us who we are today. We were together, enjoying each other's company, laughter and warmth, because of the men and women of our families who have loved, guided and supported us throughout. I think Grandmother's gift to us was that she asks us to continue to be a close and loving family. She wants us to carry on what she, and her parents and her aunts and uncles, and their own parents started: they started our past, present and our future, our strengths and faith, gifts and even the dimples in our chins, the light in our smiles.

We are all God's children. We are all a family. I hope to see our love encircle and uplift every person we meet, and fulfill Grandmother's wish.