“Be Aggressive. B-E AGGRESSIVE!”

This line from the movie Bring It On rings through my head often as I’ve taken to chanting it to myself while I ski. My husband thinks that what holds me back in skiing is my lack of aggression. When Zoli tells me to find my aggression and fuel it toward going down a steep incline, I don’t know what he means. So, the best I can conjure up is dialogue from a cheerleading movie. The most aggressive I think I’ve ever gotten is when a guy tried to grab my friend’s arm at a club. I hit him away and told him to “scram” – channeling an episode of The Little Rascals. In fact, I really think the only time I ever get aggressive is when someone offends or attacks someone I love.

Aggression may hold me back, but I would say the thing that keeps me going is my propensity to forget terrible situations. It’s often said that women forget how painful childbirth is. Now, I’ve never been in labor, but I think I have a version of that trait. I forget pain of specific situations constantly and my most recent experience with this is skiing.

About five years ago, I learned to ski again. In this case, the third time was a charm. The first time I ever had skis attached to my feet was summer camp in Scotland. It was dry slope skiing and I managed to knock down the entire group, domino effect-style. The second time I “learned” I was an adult and took a group lesson with several friends and acquaintances. During the session, my friend Joseph and I managed to repeatedly get our skis entangled. In fact, the instructor just rotated between yelling my name and Joseph’s name. That same time I managed to wedge myself between a married couple on a ski lift. If you asked me to, I could not reenact that maneuver. It’s just that one minute I was standing and the next, I was sitting between two unsuspecting people who were so annoyed they refused to acknowledge me. Getting off the lift, I managed to take out both of them. I believe I was crying behind my goggles hoping I would not meet my life’s end. You would think that nothing could get me to try skiing again. It took the love of a man.

Well, I may have tried a winter sport because I loved Zoli and thought, “Well, I’ll give it one more shot.” I picked skiing because Sarah already skied, which meant I had a buddy. I stuck with it because I actually figured out (once I got past my initial clumsiness and fear of the chair lift) that it’s fabulous.

Pause. I think it’s important here to give my two cents on the widely debated (at least in my household) topic of skiing vs. snowboarding. I chose skiing because it is the classic, quintessential winter sport. If you know me at all, the idea of me donning a pair of Vans and low-slung snowboard pants and hanging in the “park” is just absurd. In fact, I really wish I was wearing one of these outfits:

“Apres-Ski Bunnies” by Virginia Thoren 1963

But I digress. Four years ago, I got skis and boots. Three years ago, Zoli bought me new skis and boots. That same year, we headed to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for my first big mountain ski adventure. Well, I was terrible. Apparently, when you learn to ski on a sheet of ice, you stink at powder. Or, at least, I do. The realization that I wasn’t all that great reminded me of a simple fact. I’ve always been terrible at sports. In middle school, I tried out for basketball – knowing nothing about the sport, how it was played or even what travelling was. In fact, I vividly remember I was wearing khaki pants and a pink top. (It didn’t occur to me to change into gym clothes?!)  At one point, I got a hold of the ball and held onto it for dear life while two other girls tried to grapple it from me. It ended with the three of us lying on the floor, each with a hand on the ball. While I can’t speak for the others, I was immediately cut from the team.

I tried my hand at tennis and loved it, but a fainting spell and the embarrassment that followed made me stop taking lessons.

In high school, I accepted my fate. Sports were not for me (though I always thought I would be awesome at volleyball – as long as I didn’t have to wear the teeny-tiny shorts).

So, two years after my trip to Wyoming, I’m begging my husband to take me back. He looks at me warily and reminds me what it was like, but I’m determined to conquer those mountains. (My desire to go back might also have something to with Pearl Street Bagels and Crissy’s coffee). I can’t guarantee that I’ll be aggressive, but I will try my very best to channel Kirsten Dunst.

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Dogs

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The sound of a dog is home to me. Others might find the bark ear piercing or the whimpering annoying, but I long to hear those noises when I open the front door of my house. I know when I open the door there is an animal who loves so much that she says it with her bark, the shaking of her whole body and the wag of her tail. Sometimes, she even says it by the puddle she leaves behind on the floor.

Zoli and I married in November 2011 and while there were many things to be excited about, what we were both most excited about was adding a new member to the family. Marriage meant a dog.

In December, my husband I began our search, perusing rescue websites looking for our new pet. Eventually, we started going to Washington Animal Rescue League (WARL). Almost every week, I would leave the shelter in love with a new dog, but I knew it was important to wait for the right dog for us.

One day in January, as we walked in the door of WARL, there was a dog being lead outside. I nudged my husband and pointed at the dog. The look on Zoli’s face showed his interest. We walked up to his handler and asked about the dog. “Outlaw” had just been returned to WARL. The family who had adopted him four months previously was moving and was unable to take him with them. “Outlaw” seemed perfect for us. He was a dachshund/beagle mix and had a very sweet temperament. We spent time playing with him, getting to know him better. By the end of the time, we were sold. We filled out the paperwork and agreed to be back the next day to pick him up. I was brimming with excitement. My husband, always more reserved in such matters, could not hide his smile.

The next day I woke with the wide-eyed excitement of a child on Christmas morning. We still had to wait several hours before WARL even opened, and we also needed to prepare the house for its newest resident. By the time we arrived at WARL, I was so excited I left my husband to deal with the paperwork and bounded back toward the kennels. Our new dog sat in the back of his run and the smell of illness wafted out of the door. He came over to me, and I could tell he did not feel well. I assured him I would be back and headed back to the front desk to ask if they knew what was ailing him. A change in environment and food can often leave a dog sick. I wasn’t too worried, and I neither were the staff at WARL.

In no time at all, we were headed home with our new pup “Oliver”…

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On the ride home, he was docile and complacent. That night he vomited and my sister-in-law noticed something like fabric in his vomit. We quickly realized that Oliver was really, really not well. He could hardly move without crying out in pain. The best thing was just to lay still…

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The next morning we headed to our vet and then on to the WARL animal hospital. The staff quickly went to work on Oliver and soon found an obstruction. In his last home, he had ingested something that looked like a child’s toy – an object with a long string attached. The string had caught around his tongue and the object had lodged itself in his stomach. The string, pulled taught, was cutting its way through the small intestine. Oliver did not make it through that night.

It’s been a year since we lost Oliver and it’s still sad to think about it. We had him for an incredibly short time, but we were so thrilled that his last few days were spent with us. The staff at WARL could not have been more wonderful or more supportive. We cried with staff members standing in the reception area. We knew when we were ready for our next dog, we would be back here.

It took until March before we started looking again. Even then, we took it slowly not wanting to rush into anything that would not work. Then I saw her, a sweet yellow lab mix named “Francesca.”

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We adopted her and called her “Olive” – a little tribute to Oliver. On the ride back to our house, my husband hugged her, burying his face in her fur. He didn’t tell me until later, but he felt panic rise up inside him as he felt his eyes get itchy and his throat start to tingle. Not a good sign.

Olive was with us for two weeks. During those two weeks, my husband was allergy tested and told he was indeed allergic to this dog. While the allergy could diminish, in all likelihood it would get worse. To say we were gutted is putting it mildly. The pain of losing our first dog was still there and the thought of losing the second heaped burning coals on the wound. However, we knew we needed to surrender her back to WARL. We couldn’t allow her to grow more attached to us, and my husband couldn’t continue to live in a home in which he couldn’t breathe. During this two week period, we sought advice from WARL, and while it was hard to give her up, we knew they would find a good home for her.

My husband and I were at a loss. What to do next? Our first dog died, my husband was allergic to the second. If we believed in signs, we might have stopped there. Fortunately, we pressed on.

A few weeks later, we were back at WARL. A group of dogs came in from a puppy mill rescue and they included three bichon frisé. The three of them were together in their pen and the two larger, bolder ones seemed to push down the tiny little one, “Tropi-Pop” (?!)*.

This tiny little thing had just been spayed and was still drowsy from her surgery. Despite her drowsiness, she was playful and kept bringing us tiny wee sticks she found outside. I was in love. She was hypo-allergenic and seemed to have a great personality, but Zoli was worried. We weren’t getting a true picture of who she was because of the lingering side effects of the anesthesia. So, we decided to return the following day.

The next day we arrived, and she was gone. Gone to a dog show in upper Georgetown. “When did she leave? How long was the show? When would she be back?” My husband and I talked over each other before realizing the best solution was simply to drive down to Georgetown and see her there.

We flew through DC traffic, knocking aside cyclists and Smart cars, only to discover she was spoken for. Adoption paperwork had been filled out, and she was as good as on her way home with another woman. A sign? NO!

Over the following two days, the staff at WARL heard from us more than they ever wanted to. One adoption fell through! But, there was a second application on Tropi-Pop, so we waited. The next day we got the call. She was ours. How two applications fell through, we have no idea, but she was ours and that’s what I cared about. My husband counted on my confidence. Big decisions are always anxiety provoking for him and given our track record he needed my enthusiasm to carry this. It was important I loved Tropi-pop and knew she would be a good addition to our family. She found her way instantly into my heart. How can you not love a dog that collapses anywhere?

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And knows her rightful place is on a pillow?

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It took some time, but “Cricket” did go from being my dog to our dog. My husband loves her as much as I do. We’ve had her for a record nine months, and she’s indestructible! She’s managed to eat all kinds of things from the trash and appears to be immune to a variety of poisons. Of course, we’re not testing that theory, but we’re thankful she’s still with us.

Life with Cricket is pretty fantastic. As my husband puts it, she’s my muse. She seldom leaves my side and often sits on my lap as I write. What has been unexpected is that she has brought my husband and me closer and her presence forces us to end any disagreement much faster. It’s hard to be upset when you have this face demanding your love and attention.

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Almost two months after we adopted Cricket, my husband and I were leaving dog obedience class. It was the last day, and Cricket had managed to graduate (without honors and without much care for sitting, staying or rolling over). As we walked to the Jeep, I saw a car pull into the lot. Sitting in the back was a yellow lab. A high pitched squeal escaped my mouth, my husband jerked around wondering what calamity had befallen his wife. “OLIVE!” I managed to get out. There she was. Her new owner led her from the car and saw us staring. I tentatively approached and asked, “Is this Francesca?” Met with a positive reply, I explained who we were. Olive (now “Astrid”) wagged her tail but clung to her new owner. She seemed not to remember us. We were thankful for this small mercy. The dog we had known for a short time was with her new owner, had slimmed down, and was happy as happy could be. We got in our car, and I burst into tears of joy. Closure. It’s a wonderful thing.

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*Upon further research, I now know that TropiPop is Columbian Pop music. Cricket does not like Columbian Pop music – or really any pop music.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

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I don’t remember being a child who lay in the middle of the room kicking and screaming waiting to get her way. I don’t remember throwing my food around the room because I did not want to eat my peas. I don’t ever remember throwing a tantrum, but I must have. I must have, at some point, created a scene in the grocery store or when we were guests at someone’s house. The reason I know I must have thrown tantrums is not only because it just makes sense but because I am instinctively a crier. So, if something wasn’t going my way, I must have screamed, screeched, and wailed.

While I have no memory of ever throwing a tantrum, I do know that I am often very tempted to throw a tantrum as a 31 year-old when something doesn’t go my way. A good, old fashioned, kicking and screaming kind of tantrum. I just want to lie down in Toys ‘R Us and demand that I get both Malibu Barbie and Skipper because it’s only fair.

But I’m an adult so such behavior would be unseemly, immature and rather ridiculous. Still, last night I broke down into a tantrum like state. Big, uncontrollable tears rolled down my face and I began to hyperventilate and my body started to convulse. The picture of that is rather ridiculous, but I was not actually throwing a tantrum. What I was doing was mourning the loss of something. You see I knew I was not going to get what I wanted and the truth is you can’t always get what you want. Nor should you. But sometimes I just wish it was a bit easier.

I was a loved and adored child, but I was denied things. As a child, I didn’t always get what I wanted and that has been no different in adulthood. What struck me is I can’t remember the things I was denied as a child. The decisions my parents made in raising me were the right ones. As a teenager and a college student there was profound injustice in not always getting what you want, but those things denied to me have made me the person I am.

In our first year of marriage, I have not always gotten what I wanted and my husband has not either. We are working on living a life in which we are good stewards of what we have been given. It’s pretty hard at times, but I know it’s better this way.

Prompt of the Day: Dearest Darling Mumsy

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Daily Prompt: Dear Mom

Write a letter to your mom. Tell her something you’ve always wanted to say, but haven’t been able to. 

St. Andrews

Dear Mummy,

I’m so much like you it scares me. Not because it’s bad but because it’s uncanny. There are the little things. We always seem to know exactly when it is the appropriate time for a cup of tea, when it’s cappuccino time, or when perhaps a sherry should be served. There are the physical things. “You two must be related!” There are the much bigger things – our sense of humor, our love of cooking, our love of music.

After two months of you staying with us, Zoli said, “It’s so clear to me now. You are this strange mesh of both your parents.” And, it’s true. I have so many traits that are from Daddy too.

But, today, I saw you so clearly. Zoli tried to get me to enter a store I generally curl my lip at. I stuck my head in and said, “I can’t be in here. The sizing in the merchandise goes straight for my eyes.”

My husband stared at me with a bemused look, “Ladies and gentlemen, my wife. And, what exactly are you talking about?”

“Sizing in clothes. You know the stuff manufactures put in cheap clothes? Call my mom – she’ll tell you.” I grabbed my phone and dialed. As always, you knew not only what I was talking about but confirmed I certainly could not be in the store. Way too cheap.

My husband shook his head, “You’re both quite mad. You just hide it so well.”

What I’ve come to realize is what Alice and the Mad Hatter realized –

The Mad Hatter:

Have I gone mad?

Alice:

I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.

I’m so thankful to be like you and even more thankful we are both mad.

Love,

Rebecca

Getting ready at my wedding

Back to School

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I headed back to school last week. It was just a two day, 15-hour course but it made me think. It reminded of the days when my friends and I would volunteer for new student orientation in middle school and high school. I’m sure this was an incredibly dorky thing to do, but it never really dawned on us that it was (or perhaps it did and we just embraced this dorkiness). In fact, it allowed you to get first dibs on new friends and new boys (well, perhaps others had this). In a small school like ours, new student orientation was also really about seeing your old friends after a two month hiatus. It was typical for most of us to disappear during the summer traveling to various countries and returning at some point during August. Our pre-school reunions were always the best. However, no matter how sure of myself and my friends I felt, I was always nervous on that first day of school.

I felt those same nerves last Monday night as I lay in bed. It felt like the night before the first day of ninth grade. My outfit was picked out, my bag packed and ready to go. I’ve never been super cool. I’ve always been a little dorky, a little weird.  The difference is I’m an adult now and being a nerd is super important (is also meant I could bring a latte to class). I have to ace this class and I have to pass the exam with flying colors. I wasn’t going to make friends or to impress the teacher. I was simply going to learn, take the exam, pass the exam and obtain a license at the end of it. I spent much of last Monday preparing for the course – reading over materials, taking quizzes, looking at diagrams. It’s funny how cool goes completely out the window and the thought of failing the class means throwing money away. So success is key.

I picked a seat near the door (access to the bathroom was key).  I put out my coffee, my notebook and my number two pencils (apparently I’m taking the SATS) on the table in front of me. I longed for my Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper and resisted the urge to build a folder fort around my papers, especially since the woman beside me already thought I was weird for arranging everything in right angles.

It was as if I felt every minute of the two day class tick by. Sitting for 15 hours learning about health and safety in a kitchen is not exactly thrilling stuff. It ended with an exam and despite modern technology I do not find out the results for another two weeks (just in time for Christmas). Filling out the scantron form reminded of a time in elementary school when I drew lines from filled in bubble to filled in bubble all down my form. The next day my teacher had a short conference with my mom and me furious she had been up all night erasing my form. The whole time I just kept staring at her thinking, “Why didn’t you bring in the form today and have me erase it?” While I’m certain she gave explicit instructions to make marks only within the bubbles and no where else on the form, I am equally certain I was daydreaming both during the instructions and while I was connecting the bubbles.

Fortunately, this time I did not do a giant connect the dot. I also tried to keep a tight rein on my daydreaming (nearly impossible). So, here’s hoping for a pass and license in two weeks! For as much as I loved going back to school, I’m certain we could not afford all the number 2 pencils, lattes, new clothes, and Trapper Keepers I would need to make it work.

Saying Goodbye

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I’m not very good at goodbyes, and I’ve determined it’s a family trait. Today as I dropped my parents off at the airport, they would not allow me to go in with them. We are all equally stubborn, so it seemed no one would win (or lose) until my dad reminded me of the last time I saw them off at the airport. I fell. Standing completely still, waving goodbye, I fell. That was enough to silence me and begrudgingly, I said bye at the curbside.

The truth is I will see my parents in just a couple of weeks, so this goodbye was not as hard as others. You would think I would be used to it by now. Goodbyes are a large part of our lifestyle. Our family and dear friends are spread throughout the world and time spent together is always precious, and saying goodbye becomes harder and harder.

When a dear friend from high school was visiting a few weeks ago, I realized I never said goodbye to him either. It’s not pleasant, and it’s not fun. The reality is we do not know when we will see each other again, but it seemed somehow easier to act as if we would meet for coffee the very next day.

My husband has been dreading this evening for a while now. “You’re going to cry, aren’t you?” I probably will. So, in an effort to distract, I headed to the gym. When I got to the parking lot, I drove right back out, down the road about a mile and parked at a nearby trail. The outdoors seemed more therapeutic. With a 90’s Pandora station playing a little too loudly, I immersed myself in the Indian summer day we were having. It’s amazing what the great outdoors can do for my soul.

Christmas Decor Dread

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As much as I begrudge bidding farewell to fall on this last day of November, I look with great eagerness toward the Advent season. I have a constant refrain of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” running through my head in an attempt to prepare me. I love Christmas, but there is something looming over me this year. This is the year my husband gets to decorate. In a panic to reach a compromise, last year we decided that we would rotate Christmas decorating. I got last year and he got this year. I got jipped since last year we still had not finished unpacking our house until about March.

My husband describes our decorating differences in the following ways: mine are elegant, his are fun. I object. Not only are my decorations fun, but I AM FUN!

I digress. He wants our house to be a technicolored display of everything that is tacky – bubbling lights, blinking lights, pink lights, purple lights, red lights, tinsel, neon garlands. The list goes on and on. I’m actually afraid the neighbors will think we’ve gone quite mad as most of the year we avoid eye contact with them and keep the shades drawn. However, I can say nothing because last year I did get my beautiful, elegant and fun (!) tree.

I’m incorporating elements of my own – poinsettias, snowy owls, red candles, burlap bits and bobs – but I’m trying to do it oh, so subtly. New Christmas guest towels in the bathroom? Check. Some lovely Christmas placemats on the dining table? Check. A subtle pine cone here, there and everywhere? Check. Some bells on the door? Oooh, I’ll have to get on that.

I figure if the worst of our problems is overdecorating, we’re setting up for a pretty good second year. This really is the most wonderful time of the year.

Choir Teachers

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Today, I reflected, with a group of women, on some of the most influential teachers in our lives. Having gone to great schools, I am fortunate to have many. In fact, I can directly credit several of my teachers for my love of writing, reading and history. Among the women who spoke today, there was a common theme. Several mentioned choir and band teachers, and I recalled that every time I am with my high school friends we reminisce about stories from choir.

So from my choir teachers I have learned –

– How to properly breathe when singing
– How to step touch
– Integrity means doing the right thing even when no one else is looking – I even passed this piece of wisdom on to my own students
– If you don’t watch the director, you might miss something
– If you don’t breathe when everyone else breathes, you look like an idiot
– If you don’t know the words, mouth “watermelon”
– That it is not OK to sing harmony to the Pakistan National Anthem
– That choir teachers also can date
– That if your choir teacher tells you not to make kissing sounds during a pause in “Kiss the Girl” then you probably shouldn’t do it
– I can remember none of the poems I memorized in school but I can still sing “The Road Not Taken”
– That medleys are the best
– That I am no soloist
– That Second Soprano is stinking hard

Perhaps the “choir teacher” I have learned the most from was no formal teacher but my own mother. Her love of music and constant singing meant our home was always full of beautiful sounds. I think that’s why to this day I sing in my head, aloud, in the shower, in the car, as I walk down the street. It’s as if I have a constant soundtrack to my life. I sing real songs or made up ones. As I said, I am no soloist. I can carry a tune, love music and am so thankful for the men and women who contributed to this love.

 

Thanksgiving Revisited

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Thanksgiving has come and gone, and I’m getting a little sad. I long each year for the return of autumn and then it all comes so fast. The fact that Thanksgiving came so early this year (the earliest it can ever be) did not help this feeling. I feel a little frantic and am worried I have yet to purchase a single Christmas gift –

Side note – I actually had begun my Christmas shopping only to realize my friend already owned the presents I bought  her. Yup, there’s a reason they seemed to perfect for her. End side note.

So, I’m trying to slow down and take in what is left of the autumn before the Christmas season is fully open us. I’ve been thinking much about previous Thanksgivings with family and friends.

Growing up overseas, we were not surrounded by family. Therefore, a holiday such as Thanksgiving allowed you to invite friends and acquaintances to join in the festivities, and in some bizarre way it really did become very much about the people who joined you at your table. 

I still remember one Thanksgiving where there were so many people at our house that we had tables stretching into the foyer. At our table sat Canadians, Australians, American, Scots – to name a few.

In college, my parents’ house became a home for many of my friends unable to travel all the way to their own homes, and so Thanksgiving became a mini-reunion.

For many, many years, we spent the Thanksgiving with the same family, and I still get a little sad when I think about no longer joining them.

In the years since college, my girlfriends and I have all trooped down to Georgia to celebrate and I’ve flown to Scotland to have a solitary Thanksgiving with my parents.

Last year, my husband and I were on our honeymoon during Thanksgiving and feasted at a hotel in Middlebury, Vermont.

This year is the first I have spent with my in-laws and my parents were able to join their family as well. It’s the first Thanksgiving I have ever had (or at least remember) at which I’ve been related to everyone there.

What struck me this Thanksgiving were my non-American friends, scattered around the globe, who were gathering with loved-ones to celebrate this holiday. While certainly it is about the food, there’s something so wonderful about gathering around a table, with those we love, laughing, enjoying our time together and giving thanks for our bounty.

First Anniversary/Dogs

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Yesterday marked my first year wedding anniversary with my husband. I can’t quite believe it’s gone by so quickly and yet so much has happened. While there have been many wonderful and many hard things about this first year of marriage, my husband and I both agree that the very best part has been adding our dog to our family. Therefore, it only seemed fitting that she should accompany us to the beach this weekend.

Her face pretty much says it all – she was completely unamused as we trekked her up and down the beach against her will.

Our love for our dog is rather intense. My husband will happily whip out his phone and show pictures to anyway who so much as smiles at us. Working from home, our little pup is by my side almost all the time. All of my thinking about my dog this week had me thinking about these three books:

Harry the Dirty Dog, Gene Zion
The WatchersDean Koontz (truthfully, this one is too scary for me)
Greyfriars Bobby, Eleanor Atkinson

And this video

We’re so thankful for our little bug and for the joy she’s brought us this first year of marriage. We worked with great people at Washington Animal Rescue League to get the perfect dog for us.