Sunday, August 28, 2011

Restoration and Maine

I'm sitting in our house listening to the after-effects of Hurricane Irene. She turned inland earlier, and we are now getting the windy side. The house sounds like a subway as the train is coming into the station. Earlier, we had an old maple come down next to the house, and when I say next to the house, I mean that it is touching the house. And it's a big tree. The kid woke up and wouldn't go back to bed for a while.

After a summer of relationship and PTSD hell, tons of transitions and personal learning, and a week of earthquakes and a hurricane that almost scuttled our trip up here, I am about ready for some respite. Some sense of moving forward. Cooking again. Talking about beer, literature, and whatever else seems cool again. New music. Time with the kid. New horizons, and maybe a trip or two this fall. Certainly, there is a puppy on the horizon, and that's as much of a new start as anyone could ask for.

In any case, Maine. I have a love-hate relationship with our history up here. As the youngest of eight grandchildren in an old New England family, warmth isn't exactly the first word I'd use when describing my memories of summers up here. Nonetheless, it's one of the places I know best and one of the places that has been most restorative at times in my life. Driving up from Boston yesterday after we had flown out just ahead of the hurricane, I spent a great deal of time remembering my visits here over the years — the food, the music, the beer, the company, the quiet moments, the joyful moments introducing the place to people. I remembered it in part because I had only ever been up here this late in the season once, 20 years ago, when I last experienced a hurricane.

More than that, the memories came at me because so much has happened this year, and because I am doing so much rebuilding. And this is a place that has allowed me those moments in the past. When we got here, I opened a Geary's Ale and watched my mother and the kid make crab cakes with the local peeky-toe crab meat. It's a delicate meat that has a softer, less buttery flavor than the backfin crab meat we get in Virginia. But in the past, taking over the preparation of the crab cakes and corn would have been my purview. This time, however, I was happy to sit back and watch grandmother and grand-daughter work as a team. Not only did it mean I got to relax after a long day, but it was a reminder that sometimes we can let other people do what they do well.

Even if I had an opinion about a touch of this or a touch of that in the crab cakes, the moment wasn't about control. It was perfect as is. And the food was perfect when we ate the corn, crab cakes, and local leaf lettuce (something we miss in VA right now) and tomato salad. Letting life be perfect and happy as-is (but with potential for greatness) is something I'm trying to remember as part of this rebuilding.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Friday Fun — A day late — Hurricane Edition

In honor of today and everyone in RVA (and beyond), I'll offer these few selections...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

nostalgia in the present

It's like my youth and my present are colliding in one divine bit of hilarity...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Fun

With apologies to friends who may not be Ani fans, this is just a delicious example of some of her best songwriting...

No video here, but this is an all-time favorite of mine from Ani's second album and the days before she was famous.

And just to prove that I'm not in a complete Ani mode, Wilco. One of their all-time best songs...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A puppy update...

Has there ever been a cuter picture than this? If so, I haven't seen it.

Oh, and this little guy comes home in just over two weeks.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Breaking Away

On July 30th, Rockett's Landing was the site of the second annual Dragon Boat Festival in Richmond. I'd heard about last year's races through friends who rowed for the Mekong team. A couple of them had tried to get me to join this year's team, but sometimes I hate to commit to things so I pshawed the idea.

As the weekend approached, however, it was going to be one of my first weekends without the kid in a long time, and since so many other things had recently changed in life too, I was a little at sea with what to do with myself. Going out of town wasn't an option with gas as expensive as it is, and working on the house was still presenting an emotional challenge. Cheering on some friends at the Dragon Boat Races seemed like just the thing. Cheering on, I say.

When I arrived, however, Chief Beer Officer An Bui told me to register — in case they needed me. Minutes later, I was needed. Apparently, this had been the plan all along; they just didn't bother to tell me. I grabbed a life jacket and joined the other 20 members of our boat to wait on line.

Dragon boat racing has apparently become a popular fundraiser across the country. The company running the races comes down from Canada, brings the boats, paddles and life jackets, sets up the course, and brings coaches for the competing boats. Teams are formed by companies or groups who pay the entrance fees, much like any other athletic fundraiser. And much like any other athletic fundraiser, a lot of the people who are rowing look like avid athletes. Some even had their own gear and equipment, like paddles in zipped neoprene cases.

The Mekong teams? Not so much. We were a ragtag bunch of beer lovers, artists, beer distributors, musicians, farmers, and various and sundry others. We were the Bad News Bears to the spiffy teams around us. And we were there to have fun.

Dragon boat races are broken into heats of 500 and 1000 meters, and our group was broken in to Teams A and B. The key to moving the boat forward is more in weight distribution and finding a steady rhythm than in power-paddling. Of course, it helps if you have a strong team. Before each race, you have warm-up periods during which the coach and drummer work to find a good sync for the boat.

In the first heat, Team A came in second, and continued to improve through the next couple of races. They won a cup in the umbrella division and didn't lose again until the finals when they were down three people.

On Team B's first race, we lost by more than a boat length. We'd paddled hard, but the drummer and coach were out of sync. Over the next few heats, Team A continued to do well. We improved with a change in drummers — kudos to Rasta Russell whose booming voice and quick wit kept us moving — but we were still lagging in our races.

The final race we rowed was a medal and cup heat for the C Division. As we pulled away, a new coach asked us to show him our "set." The set is the position at which you hold your paddle. He immediately corrected our position so we used our backs more than our arms. Then he asked us to take three strokes. Russell counted off, and we took three strokes. He told us to slow down and get our paddle blades all the way into the water. We tried again, and this time the boat moved differently. The deeper, more measured stroke worked with the boat's natural inertia and propelled us along. We tried a few more times, and each one was better. We whispered to each other about being able to feel the difference.

It was time to line up at the start. We pulled up to the line and awaited the starting horn. When it came, we followed his advice but started behind. Before long though, the rhythm steadied. Little by little, we nosed ahead until before long we were completely into the rhythm, one body working together to steadily propel the long, flat boat. Russell was beating the drum and calling out the count as we moved into the final stretch, and we were all counting with him. Stroke. Stroke. Stroke. Until we crossed the finish line. With one of the best times of the day. A boat length and a half ahead of the second place boat.

From the shore, the rest of the Mekong crew was cheering us on, and shouting "1. 2. 3. Beer!" We were clapping each other on the backs, high-fiving, saying "Can you believe that? That was amazing." And so much more. The Bad News Bears had won the Little League World Series again, and the feeling of being handed those medals was oh-so-sweet. I thought as we were walking up from the dock that it was also the most work I had given my shoulder in more than four years — and it felt good.

I'll puzzle through the metaphors and lessons of all this later, but the victory felt sweet. So, too, did the truly zen feeling of working together and understanding in my tired arms and back the natural momentum of doing something the right way.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday Fun — Live

If you haven't discovered Bandwidth Sessions yet, I heartily recommend checking them out. Small acoustic performances by some great artists in random locations in Belfast. Good stuff!

The National - Slow Show (Part 2 of 3) from Bandwidth on Vimeo.

Lisa Hannigan - Ocean And A Rock from Bandwidth on Vimeo.

BANDWIDTH / BRENDAN BENSON / "Baby On A Rug" from Bandwidth on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Dog's Life

Last March, I sent my dog Reilly to live with my mother and stepfather in Dayton. He was getting older and slower and was having serious difficulty with the hardwood floors and stairs in my apartment. In addition, L and I were beginning to look at houses, and it dawned on me that he might not survive such a move, especially if there would be more floors and stairs involved. Since my mother and stepfather are retired and have a house with most of the living area on one floor and since they doted on Reilly, it seemed worth asking if they wanted to take on the responsibility of a senior dog.

I talked to my mother, and after a few seconds of thought, she said they would love to do it. The kid was against the idea; she thought Reilly would miss us. It was true, I allowed, but I pointed out the differences between our house and theirs and their life and ours. And then I asked where she thought he would have the better life.

And what a life it has been so far. He has gotten energy back and played with puppies and other dogs, had the best care and groomings you can imagine, and probably licked more bowls of ice cream than I would ever have approved. He has spent whole summers in Maine the past two years, and he's still kicking. There are the occasional health scares and notes from my mother about little declines, but — yeah — still kicking.

It's a bittersweet victory, though. Some time over the past year, I realized how much I not only missed the pup, but how much I missed what a dog brought to my life. The time for walks with L and the kid melted little by little, as did my patterns. I no longer had the same incentive to get up and get my blood moving to greet the day. There was less incentive to walk off the thoughts of the day or reconnect over a half-hour's walk. Though Reilly had gotten too slow for the kinds of walks and hikes we used to take, I began to miss those too. Most of all, I missed the energy of having a dog around — the unconditional love, the comforting presence of him sleeping between our room and the kid's.

For practical reasons — time, money, extra hair around the house, a new dog wasn't in the picture until recently. The call of puppies became strong, especially with the opening of the farmers markets. And then word came that a friend had rescued an Aussie who also happened to be pregnant. As of September, there will be a new herding dog in our life. Named by the kid, L, and another friend, it's name is tentatively Snickers.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Friday Fun — Goin' retro

Going back in time for this week. How about a little Rosemary Clooney...

And truly amazing version of a Stephen Foster classic. Ladies and gentlemen, Mavis Staples...

Dig Nina's get-up in this live performance from the early 70s. Brilliant.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Collateral damage

Warning: Navel-gazing post ahead.

One thing I have come to realize recently is just how toxic I became over the past few years. I took everything that had been thrown at me over the years and hid it away behind the pain and trauma of the shooting. Then, I took the pain and trauma of the shooting and hid it away. Unfortunately, I did so without adequately confronting what had happened and what it had done to me. As a result, I became the trauma.

One of the consequences of this, I've realized, is that I became a weight to bear for those around me. This weight didn't make itself known so much in big, overt ways as it did in small-but-growing compromises that I forced those around me to make. And it meant that they began to bear my weight. The scary part is that I not only didn't realize what I was doing — and probably didn't listen when confronted with it — but that I don't remember whole swaths of time from the past few years.

As I wrote in an earlier post, the feeling is that of waking up from a long, boozy, bad dream. You're not quite sure what's real and not for a while. In fact there are whole periods of the past two years that I simply don't remember. I recently tried to remember when something happened at the kid's school. In my mind, it had happened this spring; in reality, it happened almost a year and a half ago. This wouldn't bother me if it was an isolated example, but I am regularly reminded of conversations I had completely lost, of things that happened that I had completely lost, of a rush of daily life that completely eluded me. This is not a fun feeling.

In fact, one of the most distressing parts of this process are the moments when I spiral backward. I don't necessarily beat myself up for things that happened or didn't happen; I realize I just wasn't there. In pieces and parts — when I most needed to — I'd break through the fog and show up for a few minutes, hours, days, or maybe even weeks. But by and large, life just carried me along with it while I fell farther and farther into myself.

In the end, a series of life circumstances and realizations started chipping away at the walls I'd built. And as the walls cracked, I started to lash out. When I had a brief glimmer of what I was doing, I shored up the walls. Until the shoring up started cracking too. All the toxicity that I'd been trapping behind those walls started dribbling out in comments and fights and anger.

Around the time this was coming to a head, my partner Kevin was injured by an exploding keg. I took him to the emergency room at MCV. It was the first time I'd been there since the shooting. Walking past the ambulance bays was difficult. And then two weeks later, the keg blew up at me — blew up at my heart. And the walls came down.

I started shaking that day, and haven't quite stopped yet. My life was in a shambles. My heart was in a shambles. My body was in a shambles. I had forgotten to bleed the pressure on the keg — and on my life. Collateral damage was all around, and I hadn't seen it for months, years.

Time to rebuild.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Culinary therapy, pt. 2

This past Sunday, I invited one of my business partners over for a grilling session. It is the first time I've really had anyone over since the meltdown in June, and it's appropriate that it was him.

First off, his girlfriend has recently returned to Boston for job reasons, and they are splitting their time between the cities. Not exactly fun, but sometimes you do what you have to. Regardless, I know a thing or two about feeling at loose ends and not necessarily wanting to eat — one of our most important social activities — alone. Since the kid was spending an extra night with her mom, I was feeling a bit at loose ends too. The thing is I didn't want to go out or order in — or eat another frozen pizza or other pre-prepared meal. No. I wanted to reacquaint myself with the kitchen. And, second, we have some bizarre Boston connections.

The day before I had picked up spicy lamb sausage from Tuckahoe Farms at the South of the James Market, as well as some beautiful heirloom tomatoes and peaches. Kevin added corn, greek feta and a few good beers. Except for the salad, we threw everything on a perfectly searing grill. The corn was prepped with olive oil and coarse ground sea salt and black pepper. The peaches were prepped with balsamic and some fleur de sel.

I need to get better about taking pictures, like some of my fellow bloggers, however, because every part of the meal came off perfectly. Throw a good conversation into the bargain, and you have the beginning of a return to civility and sanity.