Monthly Archives: February 2015

Flashback Friday: Lowered Expectations

Mac, soon to be usurped by Z.

Mac, soon to be usurped by Z.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

[I’m now wearing a whole different style of jeans with a whole host of other fashion problems, but please remember this was eight years ago and don’t judge me too harshly.]

Last week, a precocious kindergartner at the school where my mother works began a conversation with her teacher in that way you do when you assume the person to whom you are speaking has had exactly the same experience as you. The conversation starter was this: “You know when you poop your pants on purpose and your grandma gets mad….”

This delights me (mostly because I am not the grandmother, I suspect). I love the lack of self-awareness, the belief that of course EVERYONE has done just this thing and understands the negative repercussions.

And so I begin this blog….

You know when you buy a pair of low-rise jeans, even though you know you shouldn’t….”

It is typical of me to finally buy into a fashion trend when it is on its way out, and while I know my body is not suited to it from various aesthetically displeasing experiences in dressing rooms across America, I found a cheap pair of jeans I liked and they just happened to be low-rise, and now I have become one of the those Midwestern-shaped women who spends her day hiking up her pants. . . . while shopping, while teaching, while talking to the Vice Chancellor of Information Technology. I don’t know what I was thinking. I am a child of the 80s and as such jeans belong somewhere right at or slightly above the navel. I am not a mother, but I am most comfortable in Mom Jeans.

And we won’t even speak of the ill-advised underwear I bought to accompany the jeans. No we won’t.

Z is in the air, winging his way toward me for a long Valentine’s weekend, though come Sunday it will seem like the shortest weekend in history. He has already been delayed by a couple of hours, and I’m annoyed that an airline snafu is cutting into my time with him. I’m half-tempted to call Northwest and say, “Work with me people!!!”

As luck would have it, I’m at the Dog House for the rest of the month, babysitting, while my Scottie’s parents are off on a cruise of South America. My fantasies of putting the house to good romantic use have already been dashed. The nice thick white carpet in front of the fireplace that would be good for a picnic–or let’s be honest, making out–has been ripped up and replaced with very trendy hardwood and no area rugs. The hot tub is broken. It’s 3 degrees out, so the sweet walks on our old, friendship-only stomping ground cannot be re-dedicated to this new incarnation of us unless we bundle ourselves up like the little brother in A Christmas Story. I’m beginning to suspect the Scottie Dog is not going to approve of the two of us in a romantic relationship, and I’ve already begun envisioning all the ways he will try to break us up, kind of like Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills did to Brian Keith and their potential new step-mother in The Parent Trap. He’s a good dog, but he is an only child. [In fact, Z gave Mac a very sweet talk about how love was expansive and Z was not replacing Mac in my heart. Mac had none of it and promptly hopped in bed, wedging his way between the two of us with his back side pointed in Z’s general direction.–RGS, 2015]

Also, you know when you order a box of chocolates from England for your sweetheart that depict various acts from The Kama Sutra and then you start to second guess yourself and wonder if what initially seemed funny and mildly naughty is really just in poor taste, reeks of desperation and might make the object of your affection go off you completely? Yeah, well. . . .

That’s it. I am officially lowering my expectations for the weekend.

But I am NOT wearing the low-rise jeans.

Flashback Friday: Rip Van Winkle & the Gastritis Queen

[We return here to a recently reunited, fresh-in-love, Z & Beth. Sadly, things are not going well.]

3 January 2007

I made it to Seattle before the clock struck 12. Just barely. Z and my luggage were both waiting on me, so I felt welcomed. We took a taxi back to his flat, where he had New Year’s champagne waiting as well as those little confetti bottle poppers. By the time we got back there was precious little time to get anywhere fun for midnight, so we watched the Space Needle fireworks display on television. It’s weird to be one of the last places on the planet to experience the New Year. I kept waiting to see Dick Clark, but he’d been in bed for three hours—2007 was already old news by the time it hit the Pacific Northwest.Don’t judge me harshly, but I’m a little superstitious. It’s haphazard superstition. I’d walk under a ladder, but I don’t like a candle in my house with an unburned wick. The whole black cat thing annoys me because it smacks of feline racism. One of my superstitions is that however you spend New Year’s Day will pretty much determine the shape of your year. It’s not looking good for us. Z was still horribly jetlagged, so he slept until 6 p.m. on January 1st. [It is worth admitting here, that I went mentally ill for a few hours and convinced myself that he was pretending to be asleep because he realized he didn’t want to spend any time with me, so there was some cabinet door slamming and a pouty walk up to McDonald’s where I ate alone and wondered if I should book an early ticket back home. I hadn’t yet flown to Zimbabwe and didn’t know about jetlag of this magnitude.–RGS] Once he was up, we walked to his office so he could take care of some things before classes started and then decided to eat at our (formerly) favorite Mexican place. It was not so good as we remembered, and by 3 a.m. I was awake with “gastrointestinal distress.” By the time I woke up the next morning, I was achy and still making regular trips to the bathroom. Between my marathon bathroom visits, we lounged in bed watching Gerald Ford’s funeral. Not really the honeymoon-ette I was planning.

Also, my hair has gone from Meredith Grey to Slobodan Milosevic. Who knew it could get worse?

Z went to work and left me alone with my ailments. He called and suggested I go to the ER around the corner if I felt too bad. I laughed at this. It’s just the flu. We hung up. And then I started thinking about all the symptoms of toxic shock syndrome and how my recently purchased contraceptive sponges could cause said syndrome, read up on it on the internet and discovered I had every symptom except a sunburn-like rash. Hmmm. Intuition told me this was an unlikely diagnosis, but the big warning at the bottom of the box saying “Seek medical attention immediately” scared me. I weighed the evidence. These really were the worst flu-like symptoms I’d ever felt. And would I be achy if it was Mexican food poisoning? I walked across the street to the ER.

If you ever have to go to an emergency room, try to go to one in Seattle. I’m not a regular ER visitor, but based on my experience at my local one in August, I can see a vast difference. Here, I was treated kindly, I was given warm blankets, I was clucked at and reassured. No one made me feel as if I had no business being there. The doctor looked like someone who would turn the heads of both McDreamy and McSteamy’s. She was kind. Kind and beautiful and smart. It was like night and day when I think about the shark-tooth wearing doctor I had to see in the fall and how I felt like I was wasting everyone’s time.

Z came and entertained me, though I kept dozing off from the IV they’d given me for dehydration. The blood work indicated that it was “just” gastritis, so they gave me some drugs, some instructions, and sent me on my way. One of the drugs to stop nausea I vowed not to take: a suppository that Z and I immediately referred to as a “spy pill” like the cyanide capsules that are last resort for secret agents.

So it definitely isn’t the start of 2007 with Z that I was anticipating. He’s been a wonderful care-giver though. I awoke this morning to Post-it notes all over the apartment with well-wishes and numbers where he can be reached and two cans of chicken noodle soup that he had gone out last night in the rain to buy for me. I feel better. The sun is out. My fingers are crossed that he won’t get sick and that the rest of my stay will be good. And also, that my hair will start looking more like mine and less like Meredith Grey’s and now-dead foreign leaders.

Our Fake Life



A week ago, Z and I embarked on a road trip from hell to get to southern Oregon to celebrate the 90th birthday party of a family friend of his. Forty-five minutes in, I had a skinned knee, we’d had to return one rental car in need of engine maintenance for another, and we’d been in a high-speed fender bender on I-5 that could have been deadly but instead was just nerve-wracking. It was pouring with rain and while a shaky Z pointed the car to downtown Tacoma so we could grab lunch and collect ourselves after the incident, we considered the possibility that we weren’t meant to make the journey. We both wanted to go home and pull a blanket over our heads and send our apologies to the Birthday Girl.


I’d been looking forward to the trip ever since we’d made plans, but after this start, I’m honestly not sure what made us climb back in the car and keep driving south other than a shared belief that you need to get back on the horse that threw you. Well, that and a desire to fulfill some fantasies.


Though I grew up content to be the only child in our little apartment, I was fascinated by larger families and some of my favorite TV viewing included families where there were more than the American Dream recommended 2.5 children: “The Brady Bunch,” “The Waltons,” and “Eight is Enough.” There was something about all that noise and hubbub and ability to disappear in a crowd of siblings that intrigued me. Because it was just Mom and me coasting our way through the 1970s, we often found ourselves staying with friends and living on the periphery of other people’s lives. While I was never disappointed to return back to our quieter, more peaceful existence, when we were staying with family friends, I loved observing what life in a larger sort of family might be like. One of the more fascinating qualities to me was that the larger the family the more able it seemed to incorporate additional honorary members. In our little apartment of two, if we had a guest, it was an Event. But we once spent an entire summer with family friends and while we were staying with them, two other people were also summer guests and seemed to barely affect the functioning of the family other than the number of chairs that had to be pulled up around the table. I consider these expeditions into a larger tribe to be a highlight of my solitary childhood.


When I married Z and moved to Seattle into another apartment of just two, I wasn’t thrilled about the loss of easy access to “my people”—my cousins, my friends, and those above-mentioned family friends. I did, however, inherit family friends of Z’s who at the time were living near Seattle. A few decades earlier, the Birthday Girl and her husband had been staying in Z’s hometown as part of a service group—think Doctors Without Borders—for retired professionals, where her husband was offering his knowledge to the local paper mill. Z was soon to leave for college in America, so when Z-ma found herself playing bridge with this American woman, she had a lot of questions for her. A friendship was forged and the Birthday Girl and her family provided Z with the sheets and towels he didn’t have room to bring in his suitcase. Later, they hosted young Z on his first trip to the Pacific Northwest, where he met the family. It seemed fortuitous a few years ago that Z got a job in Seattle that put him in close proximity to these family friends.


My first Thanksgiving away from Indiana—when I was weepy because I missed home but insisted it was only because I couldn’t find the box-mix of gingerbread I’d been eating since I had teeth—was spent with the Birthday Girl and part of her family.  I was happy to feel connected to someone out here. We all sat around a huge round table with a large Lazy Susan in the middle of it, spinning helpings of food around to each other. I looked at the members present and imagined the life they’d had together and apart in this other hunk of the country, and because I was on the outside looking in, all I could envision was something akin to a more contemporary Norman Rockwell.

When we would visit the Birthday Girl, I’d ask her about her life as a young woman, a young mother, a grandmother. I was itching to hear her stories about going to work at Oak Ridge when the US government was piecing together the atomic bomb, how they’d lived in Mexico for a time, how she, who had done a lot of volunteer work for Planned Parenthood, had ended up with an astounding number of grandchildren and great grandchildren. I’d study the artist’s renderings of the various houses the family had lived in that hung along her stairwell and look fondly at the wedding photos of all her children that hung above the piano.   I loved her house and the way I felt cared for there while looking out at Puget Sound. I even loved the spread of magazines on her coffee table: National Geographic, The Atlantic, and Smithsonian that made me feel better informed just by being near them.


A few years later after her husband had died, she relocated to Oregon to be nearer her daughter. Z and I felt a little bereft. It’s not that we saw her daily or weekly, it’s not that we talked to her with any regularity, but knowing that she was nearby made us feel connected to something beyond our small city life. Not long after she left we found ourselves driving near her house and it was almost more than we could bear to know she wasn’t inside, having a cocktail and reading those magazines.


I-5 South thru Oregon

I-5 South thru Oregon

So, despite the accident, we headed south and both of us had some mini-version of PTSD wherein we felt certain that every car and big rig was about to careen into our lane and sideswipe us. The traffic was slow. The rain never let up. Fog set in, and though we should have been at our destination before the sun went down, the trip took two hours longer than it should have, so I was steering the dented car up and down mountains in the dark. It wasn’t “unsafe” in that the traffic by then had thinned out, but it was unnerving because the wipers were sub par and the unfamiliar road with twists and turns offered no view into the distance so we could anticipate where the road was taking us.


Eventually, we reached the Birthday Girl and her family, where we were greeted as if we were part of the clan instead of interlopers. We caught up with various family members, watched its newest members tumble around on the floor, talked to the most recent crop of young adults about their plans for the future. It was chaotic and loud and fun. We stole a couple of hours with the Birthday Girl herself and were happy to see her looking healthy and willing to talk about the books she’s reading and her bridge games and specific memories we asked about. It might not be our family, but it felt like a real gift to be included in this one’s big milestone celebration. Our only regret was that Z-ma wasn’t able to be with us so the pair of them could see each other again.


TouVelle House, Jacksonville, OR

TouVelle House, Jacksonville, OR

We were the only residents our first night in the TouVelle House B&B, a gorgeous Arts & Crafts mansion decorated with period furniture and trimmings. Normally, wherever I stay, I feel like my room is “mine” and the only time I’m in a lobby or shared living space is when I check in or check out or, if in Ireland, someone is feeding me a big Irish breakfast. But this place was too beautiful to go scurrying up the steps to our suite. Z and I came in from the rain, shook off our raincoats in the huge entry hall, made hot drinks for ourselves in the darkly paneled dining room, and then settled down on the Stickley-esque furniture next to the fire in the expansive living room. I’ve always admired Arts & Crafts houses but felt it would be too difficult to live a modern life in one while making it look the way it was meant to. But this night was our chance to try it on for size. The fire crackled while we talked about politics and world events and the annoyance of the drive down. Neither of us were making a mad dash upstairs to our screens… in fact, it was as if we were living in a pre-screen era. We refilled our mugs and talked some more. In the flickering light, it was easy enough to pretend it was our house and this was any ordinary Friday night for our more sophisticated alter egos.


The next morning, we shuffled downstairs to the gourmet breakfast and chatted with the owner, who looked entirely too young to own a house so grand. I peppered her with questions so I could better understand what a day in the life of an innkeeper is like, and because I’m always curious about how people ended up where they are. She was friendly and we felt well cared for as she made suggestions for the day’s activities and offered to make us a to-go breakfast for the next morning since we hoped to be headed home before the regular breakfast would be served.


TouVelle House, Jacksonville, OR

TouVelle House, Jacksonville, OR

Other than the potential nightmare at the beginning of the trip, the weekend was a dream. A sort of fantasy. Because the TouVelle House was not ours, I didn’t have to think about how the property taxes would get paid or how much it cost to heat such a big space or whether any of the beautiful artwork might “accidentally” end up in a guest’s suitcase. (There was a clock there I really wanted to bring home!) I only had to sit by the fire and slide into the 400 count sheets and pretend it was mine. I could pretend the owner was our friend who was feeding us not because we paid her but because she wanted us well-fed and happy. I could pretend that big, unwieldy family a few blocks away was my own without having to jockey for time to myself or ferry someone to a doctor’s appointment or look at the breadth and depth of the family history and wonder what my place in it was. I could just let it all wash over me and for a minute try on a different sort of life.


When we come back to Seattle, I’m always a little indifferent. If I’m with Z, then that is home, but there are other places that call to me and so I don’t often walk into the door of our little apartment with the same exhalation of relief that I do when I return to my folks’ place in Indiana, for example. Even though the drive back was kinder than the trip down to Oregon, when we crested the hill on I-5 and saw Seattle splayed out before us, I felt a little flutter beneath my ribs.

The spell was broken, but I didn’t mind.

TouVelle House, Jacksonville, OR

TouVelle House, Jacksonville, OR

Lament of a Fair Weather Fan

Seattle Times headline today.

Seattle Times headline today.

Z and I were downtown this morning, and the city is subdued after yesterday’s Super Bowl loss. For two weeks, the mood here has been like two clicks better than Christmas—the buildings were lit up with blue and green, the “12” flags were flapping like mad…even on windless days, and almost everyone was friendly and feeling like an “us” which doesn’t happen often. The rest of the country arguably finds the Seahawks insufferable, though the perspective here in the upper northwestern corner of the country is that they’re mostly just quirky and misunderstood.

But today? The mood was the exact opposite. It’s been a sunny, warm winter, but today it was gray and rainy, and everyone downtown looked downtrodden and as if they each had their own personal rain cloud right above their heads while depressing Charlie Brown music played. If it hadn’t been so glum, it would have been hilarious.

I don’t like football.   The Sundays my father had me were spent largely in front of a televised game—the Bengals being his team, but really, any team, so long as a game was on. (The only thing worse than football season from my perspective was not-football-season when golf was  on TV. I’m convinced that the background noise in Hell is that of 24-7 golf commentary.) I didn’t like football’s loudness. I didn’t like what looked to me like meanness. And frankly, I couldn’t for the life of me understand why watching a bunch of grown men play a game on TV was more fun than playing Klomp-It or Sorry! with me during our visits with each other.

Football became briefly tolerable while I was in high school and was dating a fullback, whose rudely numbered jersey I got to wear. I went to every game and worried that he’d be hurt and couldn’t wait for the season to be over so his practices would no longer interfere with my own plans for him. Like a good football player’s girlfriend, I played “Powder Puff” the one week—homecoming—when girls were mysteriously declared eligible to play, though the truth is I didn’t know a second down from a second inning and the more athletic girls were mostly annoyed with me and both my ignorance and lack of skill.

I did love that jersey though.

As an adult, I’ve hated football for a variety of reasons in addition to the sound of it in my living room. As a reader and lover of the arts, I hate the way sports takes precedent over things I care about; I hate that the players and coaches and the industry can generate huge amounts of money for pummeling each other into concussions for fun while people teaching tiny kids or college kids, and people providing real services like secretaries and garbage collectors, are sometimes working for peanuts; I hate the above-the-law lifestyle some of the players live; I hate the games’ violence and the violence off the field, sometimes directed at loved ones;  I hate the way normally decent people can turn into real jerks based on team allegiance. It’s an ugly, ugly sport.

But then two things happened:

1) I married Z

2) I moved to Seattle.

Because I met Z a few years after his rugby days were over, I don’t think of him as particularly sporty, but he is. It’s taken some years with him illustrating how sports can enhance a life for me to understand that my anti-organized sports stance was no different than those people who thought I was a loser for constantly having my nose in a book. I have come to see that while I’m sure those athletic girls in high school thought of me as a “waste of space” standing there, mouth agape, while the football was in play, I was just as bad for pigeonholing them because I thought of them as dumb jocks. Maybe they were; maybe they weren’t, but my assumption was if they had athletic prowess, they probably weren’t so bright. Z, the Renaissance Man, has shown me the error of my ways.

And then there is Seattle. A city that is not really all that sporty. We have some teams, sure, but mostly the people here are all about reading some books and screwing around with their computers and drinking some coffee. Maybe hiking somewhere on a sunny weekend. Which somehow makes their love of the Seahawks more tolerable to me because I know it is not the sum-total of their thoughts.

Because of these two elements in my life and the Seahawks’ return to the Super Bowl, I got a little football crazy. I started seeing the beauty in a particular players moves and the remarkable skill involved in hurling a ball somewhere it needs to be or catching a ball that wasn’t meant to be caught. In the last three weeks or so, I’ve read more sports columns and watched more football clips than I have in my entire life. (The only reason I don’t have stats memorized is because I’m notoriously bad with numbers.) I started following Richard Sherman and his girlfriend on Twitter. I read every thing I could on Marshawn Lynch to better understand his reluctance to speak to the press and began to feel like I was channeling Chris Crocker, the “Leave Britney alone!” guy because I felt so defensive of Lynch. I tried to figure out ways to work “I’m just about that action Boss” into daily conversation. I worried about the injuries sustained by Seahawks in the playoffs. And I wondered what kind of gum coach Pete Carroll chews so vigorously.

Two weeks ago for the division championship, Z and I had friends over, whose 14 month old—the tiny Pippi Longstocking—we terrified with our screaming and hopping. They returned for the Super Bowl and it should have been fun watching the game with them and doing our best to convince Pippi that our cheers were all about whatever adorable thing she’d just done instead of a good play or a call in our favor, but for the most part, it was in agony—at least for me. I was a nervous wreck. I felt feverish and twitchy. What if we lost? It’s been such a fun year in a city with Super Bowl champs—I didn’t want  to turn into Super Bowl losers.

It turns out, I’d invested so much time in learning to love the Seahawks and hate the Patriots, that I’d actually begun to think the game’s outcome was important to my life. I was elated when we were ahead, depressed when we were down, and absolutely gobsmacked at the end when a game that could have been the Seahawks’ suddenly wasn’t because of the most head-scratchingly bad play imaginable. The air was sucked right out of the room when Russell Wilson’s pass was intercepted and we all knew the game was over. Pippi started to cry, and though it was her bedtime, I can’t help but feel she was just expressing what all of us were feeling. Then punches started flying on the field and it all just felt so sad and, well, stupid.

The day before the Super Bowl, Z and I were tooling around in a rental car, musing about the NFL and the brain injury issues and some of the other disturbing elements  tied to football, and he said, “You know, we talk about the Romans at the Colosseum like it was barbaric, but we really aren’t as far removed from it as we think we are.” Instantly, I got sucked back ten years, standing in the Colosseum with my cousin G, praying the tour would end soon because the place gave me the heebie-jeebies and I wanted to escape it. Some might argue it was all in my mind (though this was before I saw Gladiator or HBO’s “Rome” so there wasn’t really much in my mind other than a childhood image of a Christian being treated like a human cat toy), but I think there are vibes there—not just of terrified people being torn apart by gladiators or wild animals but of frenzied crowds cheering to see the spectacle, wanting to align themselves with the victors instead of the losers.

It’s a dark, dark place, the Colosseum.

When the game was over yesterday, I told Z that was it. I’m done. Football is over for me. I can’t do this to myself next year, this getting my life all tangled up with the performance of a bunch of men I don’t know, many of whom are only as loyal to the team as their next contract negotiation. Watching a sporting event should not require benzodiazepines. It’s a game. And even if the Seahawks had won yesterday? I’m not getting a Super Bowl ring for all my attention and cheering. So, I’m hanging up my “12” hat and going back to the books and the “30 Rock” binge watching on Netflix.

Except today, when I read that Vegas is already saying Seattle is the favorite to win Super Bowl 50 next year? My heart did the tiniest of flutters.