Petals & Debates

I’m on the road again. Well, on the air, really.

At one time, I traveled pretty much nonstop. Like one to two weeks out of every month-type nonstop. I’ve gotten spoiled since that project was canceled. It felt traumatic to pack up and leave home for this two-week stint in New England.


I’m hoping for some good photos. And pithy observations. Hey, it could happen.

Meanwhile, there have been interesting developments with Petals & Thorns. It was reviewed on Dear Author. I was simply thrilled. This is a major site – one I really like and respect, for the honesty of the reviews. Janine, the reviewer, only gave it a C+, because she was bothered by some of the aspects of the story. She talked about her reactions in depth and it stimulated great discussion. I loved having this kind of thoughtful review.

In turn that stimulated another thoughtful post on the topic.

I commented briefly on the first and really wanted to on the second. I might still. But so many reviewers complain that author commenting has a chilling effect on reviews.

Still, many of the issues raised are those that prompt me to write these stories, to explore these power issues and darker emotions. I feel a bit, what, deprived that I can’t leap into the discussion.

We’ll see how long I last.

En Route

We left Santa Fe this morning at 4 am, the full moon dropping to the horizon as we made our way to Albuquerque.

I spend a lot of time in airports. But this is vacation, so I tried to set up this trip so we weren’t exhausting ourselves just to get there.

It ended up feeling like leisurely hopping, from Albuquerque to Dallas/Fort Worth, to Miami to San Juan. This is a really neat sculpture on the E Concourse at DFW. It makes music while you walk through it.

It feels like found art, except that someone put it there on purpose. It’s an unexpected delight, nonetheless.

We’re spending the night in San Juan. Tomorrow morning we’ll hang by the pool. I’ll get a little writing done. Then we’ll fly to Tortola and take a ferry to Virgin Gorda. I like this wending. With every stop, the weather has warmed and moistened. With each stage, the pace slows and we ratchet down to match.

(For my work cronies – we’re staying at that same Isla Verde Embassy Suites. And the access road is still torn up in exactly the same way. It’s as if time hasn’t passed.)

This evening we had dinner and drinks on the beach. And I got to meet up with Melissa Arroyo, FFP’s conference coordinator this year. She and I had only met online before this, so we had fun talking in person. She’s a real dynamo. Now when we meet at the September conference in New Orleans, we’ll recognize each other.

And son of a gun, this evening? There was that full moon again, rising up through the palm trees, seeing us on our way.

Glass Jellyfish, Italians and Time

Dale Chihuly glass jelly fish swimming through the atrium at O’Hare.

Usually, I don’t have time to notice stuff at Chicago’s O’Hare “You might have a ticket but you can never leave” airport. But yesterday, I was there for a 3.5 hour layover, watching the rain turn to snow and fervently praying it wouldn’t turn into an overnight or, worse, days of layover. It could have happened, too. My Roanoke, Virginia flight took off on time, but many D.C. flights were canceled.

According to the cell conversations of the people around me, which I consider to be a more reliable indicator than most.

It seems like one usually gets either 30 minutes or hours at O’Hare. This time I opted for hours. Because I really hate missing connections. And more, I really hate missing them there. In fact, I go to great lengths to avoid connecting through O’Hare. In double-fact, I’ve been so successful in this resolve that I apparently have not been there in so long that I totally forgot where I like to eat there.

This might sound stupid to you, but I’ve spent enough time in airports that I know pretty much where I’ll eat at each one. Sometimes even what I’ll order. Are you thinking this is not adventurous? Then you’d be correct. Someone who spends a lot of her time in airports shudders at the thought of adventure. She wants reliable, relaxing and reasonably nutritious.

Trust me.

I’ll even, all things being equal, choose connections through airports that I have places where I like to eat. And shop. And sit in pretty white rocking chairs to watch planes and write.

So, I had lots of time to kill at O’Hare. I wasn’t trapped to the singing underground tunnel between B & C concourses, nor to the claustrophobic Y of the E&F concourse hell. Instead I wandered over to the Europe of O’Hare and found concourses G, H & K.

Where the beautiful people live.

It was pretty there. And serene. Brushed steel, wood panels and soft foreign voices. Oh, and a Macaroni Grill, where I could sit and pretend to be having a lovely dinner out instead of being trapped behind airport security. A couple of incredibly gay Italian boys sat at the two-top next to me, loving the hot bread, thinking the espresso too weak. They argued about the time difference between Los Angeles and Las Vegas and whether you could fly directly from Long Beach, I told them to pile their stuff on the bench opposite me, as long as they said hello to my invisible friend, which they cheerfully did.

I enjoyed their semi-anonymous company.

Which is good, because not long before that I composed a tweet in my head: “Where do all of the people in airports come from? I like most people I meet. But in airports, I hate them all.”

People behave badly in airports, I think. No one wants to be there — they all want to be either where they’re coming from or going to. Maybe people just can’t be human in a place they don’t want to be. Maybe they can’t help being hateful.

And maybe the secret, like all of life, is to find the quiet, serene pockets where people are where they want to be, doing what they want to do.

Also, to look up and see the glass starfish someone hung for you, just in case you weren’t running too fast to see.

But What IS Normal?

I left our new house today, almost exactly one month after we first arrived.

And yes, there was an unreality to it.

My schedule doesn’t often allow for an unbroken four weeks at home, so that was a blessing. But last night, as I packed for this business trip, a part of me pictured the old house in Laramie. As if I’d be returning there after this trip, as I did for so many years.

In fact, it felt a bit like the vacation was over.

We’ve been feeling that way, less so now than at first. We’ve been feeling like we’re simply renting this vacation house and we’ll return to real life sooner or later. I’m not sure where that comes from. We’ve certainly done that before, rented a house in a beautiful place for a week or two. With always the return to normal life after.

And the new house is beautiful enough to be that. I remember when we moved into our last house, it took me a while to become accustomed to the new circumstances. I wouldn’t habitually drive to the old house, the one we lived in for 11 years, but I’d feel the impulse to go that direction. Sometimes I’d drive by the old house, just to see it, even though the new house was a step up in every way.

That move though, was only from the fifth block north to the fourth block south, and from 6th Street to 11th Street. Our new house was only around the corner from the apartment I first rented when I moved to Laramie as a grad student in 1988.

So the relocation has something to do with it. Though I don’t remember feeling this way when I moved from Denver to St. Louis at 18, or from St. Louis to Laramie at 22.

I’m really wondering if this isn’t habit so much as age.

Yesterday, David bought a field guide to the local plants, insects and animals. He needs a real grounding in the nature around him, so different from Wyoming’s.

Leaving the house this morning, I felt funny about it. Packing had been weird, since I was out of step on my habits. Still learning where I’ve put everything.

“Will it be strange for you,” I asked David, “being in this house without me?”

“Probably,” he answered, and looked a little sad. Then he shrugged. “Just another new thing to get used to.”

It’s good for us, to make this change. To stimulate our mental flexibility and learn a new place and culture.

I wonder when it will begin to feel like normal life.

I’ll Think About It Tomorrow

This may be my last post for some time.

So dramatic. But it’s all such a pain in the patootey that I’m feeling dramatic. Picture me swooning, back of my hand against my forehead. Oh Ashley!

Too much? Yeah, yeah, yeah.

But here’s the deal: I’m in the Burlington, Vermont airport, hoping to wing home through thunderstorms in Dulles to get to Denver at midnight. I’ll spend the night at my mother’s, hop up and drive to Laramie at 7 am. Signing closing papers on the Santa Fe house at 10am, finishing the final load of the U-Haul and driving to Denver to spend one more night there, then on to Santa Fe to take possession on Friday.

And that’s if everything goes perfectly.

The last two days have been a mad scramble of last-minute paperworks. Exchanging one chunk of money for another. My poor mother and Stepfather Dave — who owes me nothing, it should be said — have been scrambling to be our personal bridge loan. My mother has been to Kinko’s THREE times in the last two days, to send faxes for me. Let me tell you, the whole diaper changing/nursing/labor thing pales in comparison. It’s been both silly and infuriating. Selling one house and buying another on the same day is incredibly fraught. I don’t recommend it.

Eh, I wouldn’t listen to me, either.

I’d say stay tuned, but maybe you won’t be able to. The Qwest folks are scheduled to install internet for me next Wednesday. So, really, if you DON’T hear from me until Wednesday, all is well.

If things go badly… well, brace yourselves for ranting.

It’s entirely possible I’ll be spending the weekend in Denver and closing on Monday in Santa Fe. We’ll just see, won’t we?

But look: here’s our plane to Dulles, fully an hour before departure! The windows look out on a blue sky, gently lit by a declining sun. One cumulus cloud mounds in singular splendor over the mountain. Two hot air balloons have launched, one blue, one read, drifting serenely.

All is well, I’m thinking.

Stay Tuned.

Travel Sunday

A story in pictures for you today.

Because it’s been a long one. And I’m pretending I can be Heather Armstrong.

No, really. Don’t laugh. Just let me work on it.

So, we left Laramie about 7 o’clock last night, Saturday night, to stay at a hotel near DIA. To stay at the Hilton Garden Inn, for something like the third time now, to take advantage of their stay & park deal. I know I’ve mentioned how much I like Hilton. Granted, we had all day to hit the trail, but we ended up leaving later than we thought, after cleaning out all the flower beds, planting alluring new flowers, mowing, weed-whacking, house-cleaning and packing.

Up early and caught the plane to Seattle. Follow the fish.

What does one do with a 4.5 hour layover in Seattle? Follow the fish.

That’s right — boozy lunch at Anthony’s! (With super cool fish mural on the floor and even better share of the spectacular seismic-tolerant atrium in the Seattle main terminal.) After lunch? That’s right: practice photography skills, because you’re too cheap to cough up $7.99 for WiFi.

Just watch — I’ll get better.

Made it to Victoria. Hotel Oswego is lovely. Balcony with a view of the Parliament Building, the Olympics and the Inner Harbor. Plus wine in the refrigerator.

It’s like we already have our Victoria condo. Good practice.

And the Deer and the Antelope Play

I had a funny feeling the other day — you know the one, like you’re missing something. A pinprick of nostalgia, a vague longing. What is it, I wondered…and got a flash of an airport lounge.

You have GOT to be kidding me.

Apparently I’m so inured to flying somewhere every-other week, that once a few days drifted past my usual take-off day, my habit reminded me. Aren’t we supposed to be doing something? I actually felt like I needed an airport fix.

Which is a sad state of affairs.

And fortunately, easily remedied as I’m flying somewhere on Sunday. Victoria, BC. It’s been almost a full year since we last visited, when David decided that was the school for him and we put the wheels in motion to drastically change our lives: he to leave his job of 20 years, we to leave our town of nearly that long. It seemed forever then, before anything would happen.

Now we’re going to buy a house. This is it. At least, we hope we are. The Canadian mortgage company is suggesting 35% down. (I know – eek!) So we’ll see what we can get for that. This will be our third house-purchase together. I feel for the younger us, who could never have put that kind of money down back then.

Ironically, our first house is also for sale right now. We paid four times for our current house what we paid for the first. Now they’re asking half for that house of what we’re asking for ours. I drive by, and all my day lilies still fill the front yard. My drought-tolerant garden lines the fence with six-foot rabbit brush romping amidst the silver sage. Pieces of me.

The question we get most often is: will we move back? Three to five years from now, will we return to Laramie. It’s hard for us not to laugh. Not to ask why on earth would we want to?

But you never know what you might turn up nostalgic for.

Don’t Know When I’ll Be Back Again

Yesterday morning, I propped open our hotel room door to enjoy the sunshine and warm air while I packed. When I wandered out to the balcony, a crane gracefully stalked past, heading through the parking lot to the sidewalk that leads to a little lagoon. Just another pedestrian. Today, the same time of day, but 2,000 miles to the northwest and about 7,000 feet higher up, all I see is the snow falling.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s very pretty. But this time of year, during winterspring, it gets old.

I started reading Lisa Daily’s book “Fifteen Minutes of Shame” on the plane home. She gave a couple of really useful workshops on publicity at the convention. I’m also liking her book — kind of a Jennifer Weiner chick-lit deal. But I really loved that her character flew from Sarasota, Florida to Chicago and emerged into a 23 degree snowstorm in open-toed shoes, with her winter coat packed at the bottom of her suitcase. The character reflects that although she looks at the snowflakes on the weather map, she still has a hard time really believing it will be like that.

I see this a lot. Since I spend more time in airports than any human being should. At baggage claim in Denver, travelers in shorts and sandals will stand at the belts while the suitcases gaily circle around, staring in dismay out the glass doors at the snow billowing outside. Maybe not dismay, but consternation. As if they don’t quite understand how both of their realities can be true: both the one they left only a few hours before and the one they stand in now.

It makes me think air travel is fundamentally unnatural. There is perhaps something about the way we understand time and place that conflicts with the speed of air travel.

Once, when I was in college, I took a morning flight from St. Louis to Denver for a job interview. Then I flew back to St. Louis that evening, because I had exams in the morning. For a day or two afterward I felt disoriented, as if I’d lost a day. Something about the back and forth left me only halfway present, the rest of myself somehow scattered in between the two cities, only gradually catching up again.

I see there’s a new pill for jet lag. What can we do about the self-lag?

Snow Day

We managed to fly into Denver last night, my colleague and I. Which is saying something because we first got diverted to Grand Junction, to sit on the tarmac while we refueld and the visibility improved at DIA. We were happy to get there, so it wasn’t so bad the roads were too bad for us to strike out for our homes, north of Denver. We’d go stay at my mom’s empty house and have comfort food at The Bent Fork.

But it was closed. So was the Bent Noodle, my other neighborhood fave. The Bent Noodle’s recording said that they’d closed at 1:25 in the afternoon, for their employees’ safety. Schools were closed yesterday and, as I sit writing this, lookin over the commons and the path that leads to my old grade school, Polton, a path that is blanketed in pristine white, not scuffed by schoolchildren, it appears they’re closed again today.

I remember wishing for snow days as a kid. We’d be all hopeful the night before, watching the snow fall. I had an advantage because Leo was a vice-principle and at the top of the telephone tree for school cancellation. The phone would ring around 5:30am. No phone call meant I was going to school. If the phone rang, I could turn off my alarm and go back to sleep, delighted in the unexpected holiday. Leo would warn me though: don’t get too excited, it takes a lot for them to cancel school.

This just doesn’t seem like a lot to me. Nothing like the big storms of my youth. Yes the roads are obnoxious, but hardly worth shutting down a city. Not the Mile-High City. For two days in a row.

I suppose some of this is simply Denver becoming so much larger and more complex over the last 35 years. When we moved into this house, Parker Road was the highway, I-225 hadn’t been built and Peoria & Yale were dirt roads with a four-way stop at the intersection. Those that live in the area now know how different it looks than that. A bigger metropolis means more that can go wrong. “They do that to keep people off the roads,” my mom says of the hair-trigger closures.

In the eighties, though, I remember our parents talking about the influx of Californians. Housing prices had crashed out there and West Coasters were moving to Colorado in droves. People called Fort Collins “Fort California.” The refrain was: sure, they like it now because the weather has been so warm and the winters so mild. Just wait for one good winter and they’ll turn tail and run back to Californy. Everyone felt sure they’d learn their lesson or toughen up.

It never occurred to us that the reverse might happen, that we would learn their softness.

Denver no longer seems to plow through. There’s only one or two good snows in a winter anymore, so perhaps the city can afford the luxury of shutting down.

Just wait for one good winter and we’ll see.

An Extra Life

So, I bought a new laptop bag.

Probably you all figured that’s what I’d do. I’m the easy target, the consumer ready to plunk down her credit card for the immediate solution. I did identify a likely repair shop in Denver and nearly left an hour earlier for the airport last Monday to drop it off. Then didn’t. I’ll drop it off sometime when it’s more convenient. Then I’ll have a back-up wheelie laptop bag. No, I’m not sending it to McKlein — they don’t get any more of my money ever. Listen hard… do you hear them weeping? No, I didn’t think so.

Did I mention my new laptop bag has a lifetime warranty? I can’t find the word “limited” on it anywhere. I guess we’ll see. Right now it’s the new puppy. I bought it in the Charlotte airport, where I remembered seeing it before. So I thought. I remember airports really well when I’m in them again — I can go right to my favorite shops and restaurants — not so much in theory, like when I’m planning the trip. However, this time I strongly suspected a shop there had a bag I’d admired. And there it was! They even let me unpack my shoulder laptop bag and put my stuff in the new one. Then they donated my shoulder bag to K-9 training. Presumably to teach them to search laptop carriers for contraband. Not sure how I feel about that bit, but at least it’s not in a landfill, I suppose. They had it all set up to make it easy for me.

It’s daunting sometimes, to see how well I respond to their targeted marketing. Yes, I pick my connecting flights based on which airports I like. And yes, that often has as much to do with the food, shops and ambience as much as whether I’m likely to be trapped there by bad weather (die, O’Hare, die!). I like Charlotte’s white rocking chairs in the atrium (also in the Philadelphia ariport). There’s a Body Shop in most airports now, where I can pick up Body Butter on a regular basis. I can even get a manicure or a pedicure in many places if my layover is long enough. Good use of otherwise wasted time, to do something frivolous I usually schedule out.

I can’t decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing. But pursuant to my rant (my mother has accused me of ranting lately) on local merchants, and since today seems to be follow-up-on-previous-topics day, it turns out that the local childrens store DID ostensibly do a registry for my friend. She said they followed her around with a list. So the salesgirl was either lying or ignorant. Bad service, either way.

Maybe this is capitalism at its finest. Give me what I want and need; make it easy for me. I’m happy to give you my money in return.