Sunday, December 27, 2009

Saying Hello to 2010

What a year, 2009. It's hard to believe it comes to an end in four short days. It worries me that time seems to fly so fast.

As I sit here in Oklahoma City, I can't help but feel reflective about the year. So many gifts, so many lessons. I've now written four pages, and I know I might be the only one to read it. lol

January. What a month! Started off the new year with a trip to Oklahoma City to see Grandma Ewing and Colleen. Not quite a snowy visit like this one! Then, Grandma Eisen was very sick and gave us all quite a scare.

Obama! Obama! I sat (more like curled in a ball) in my studio apartment very ill watching his inauguration online. It looked so cold in DC, but so wonderful to watch W board the helicopter and get the hell out. Ciao, Bush family. Hello, Obama. What a global sigh of relief.

January was also the month where I started seeing another man from my past, another gift from the Chicago streetcorners. lol. I really am getting afraid of hearing somebody call my name from the other side of the street. Anyways, in January it began, and I felt something like romantic hope again.

In January I also began my last semester at Columbia. The thesis semester. I handed off my first draft to my advisor in December, and I began the first round of edits. How did two years go so fast?

February. I attended my first AWP conference, which was conveniently held in Chicago. It's basically a three day conference where writers come together of all genres and listen to panels and reading by some of today's most important writers. Court Green had its launch party for its new issue, for which I served as one of the graduate student assistant editors and event photographer.

Then Valentine's Day. Nice to have a romantic reason to celebrate it and to make poetry a part of it. I also witnessed my first poem published in Slurve, an online poetry journal--a poem about Obama and I both in Kenya in 2006.

March. The romantic relationship fell apart, much due to the fact that he couldn't reconcile who I was (poet, vegan, independent, democrat, feminist) with what he wanted out of his life (a woman who would give him kids and put everything else before her writing). I've never quite felt that crushed, as if my entire self was unworthy and unwanted. It did validate for me (eventually) how much I deserve and how important my life choices are to me. I deserve to be seen, accepted, and respected for who I am, as we all do.

A week later, Mom and I were off to El Paso to see Matthew and hang out with him before he went off to Iraq. So nice to be in his company, even in El Paso. We hiked, we saw a movie, we just hung out.

Also in March, my Pre-Raphaelite Literature class, the best lit class I had at Columbia, went to the Newberry Library to see some rare books by Rossetti (Dante and Christina) and Tennyson. It was a highlight of my experiences at Columbia and the Newberry to be able to see, touch, and smell those books. Gosh, I love being a nerd.

April. A blur of final revisions on the thesis. New poems, rearranging, editing. Then, finally, it was done. 57 poems. How did that happen? My romantic interlude did much to help me create the structure and the tone in this reorganization, and for that I am grateful. It felt so good to finish that thesis, to have written those poems.

Then, in April I went to a coffee house in Unity Temple with Dad and Margaret, only to meet the woman with whom I share space in the new issue of Columbia Poetry Review, Susan M. Firer. A week later, I felt quite humbled to be reading my poem in the issue and then hearing her read her wonderful poems again.

May. GRADUATION. How fantastic to go through my MFA graduation. The Friday before we had a special poetry reading for all the graduates, and it felt wonderful to have family and friends meet over poetry. Then, the big graduation with Ray Bradbury as our speaker via a taped speech (too ill to travel). The graduation was quite a fun affair with no traditional music, but a fun dance song. We MFA poet graduates were the first ones to be hooded, so across the stage we went and out the back door! Afterwards, my friends and family joined me on Foster beach for a graduation picnic.

Then, I took myself down to Florida to visit Bill and Cheryl. We went down to the Everglades, and I just enjoyed being in their company and the good weather.

June. My article on Thelma Henderson's death was published in Mindful Metropolis. It's the beginning of a new journey with Mindful, and in mid month I joined the magazine as their new sales rep. What a wonderful gift to be given these people, this magazine, this community in my life.

I read in Columbia's tent for the LitFest in Printer's Row, and I managed to NOT by any more books. I spent a quick weekend up in Milwaukee with Amy, Brett, and Lillian.

In late June, I traveled out to Colorado with my mom and about 40 Girl Scouts and their leaders. Snow Mountain Ranch is one of my mom's favorite places in the world, and I couldn't have asked for a better gift than to see this place with her. I helped her shuttle girls around, and I managed to even whisk her away for a hike and some down time. Cornelio was heading through Colorado, so I even got to have a nice lunch with him and Tom. I saw moose, elk, mountains, waterfalls, rainbows, lightning, and a piece of history. Wonderful (see my posting from June to hear more).

July. As my 35th birthday approached, I was back online and trying my hat in the dating ring again. Some good dates and lots of summer fun in the city. Alas, no romantic connections.

I went to the Highland Games in Oak Brook with Dad and Margaret. Nothing like the bagpipes to bring out the Scottish in me. I've always wanted to see the games, and it was a hot, fun day.

I traveled up to Madison to visit Suzie and Amy for another Art Fair on the Square. We all took turns shoveling kettle corn in our mouths, Matthew included! My other Godson, Bobby, came downton in mid-July, and despite the rain, we danced our way through a summer dance night of complicated latin steps then had Thai. I am quite lucky in my two Godsons, Bobby and Matthew. They give me such joy.

Of course, the movie event of the summer: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Fantastic. I saw it twice in three days, and I believe as I type this it's time to see it again on DVD!

Then, the birthday! A week before, Jackie was in from Birmingham, so we had a short but sweet visit. Then, the big day! It felt good to be 35. It was a Tuesday, so I invited friends out to the Outdoor Film Festival showing of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It's not the most uplifting birthday film, but it sure was a good time. I stayed out with Mike and Steve until the wee hours of the morning.

August. My month started off doing an interview with Andrew Harvey for the September issue of Mindful. We hit it off, talking about South Africa and so many other things. I had 10 pages of interview transcript to whittle down to 3 pages for the magazine, and it was quite an experience.

Then, I heard Derek Henderson had died. I wondered what South Africa would be like without Thelma and Derek on my next visit.

I began tutoring my first student in August, and it reminded me of the English style tutorials. While I pushed her with her writing and reading, I really just enjoyed being one on one with a student and not having to manage 18+ at the same time.

The month flew by in a whirl of dinners and magazine work. I left the law office at the end of the month, and while it was a great place to be for two and a half years, I did breathe a sigh of relief.

At the same time, I went looking for a new apartment. Time to move out of the studio that had served me well. Tim proved to be another mover of things in my world, and I ended up with an apartment I couldn't have expected.

September. As the new semester began at Columbia, I no longer needed to be a student and a teacher. How lovely. I came down to campus twice a week and worked from home.

Mindful work continued to grow. I worked on another article for the October issue on local places to view the fall colors, drink local wine, and maybe even stay in a green hotel or b&b. Mom and I drove down to Starved Rock where we hiked, and I attempted to find some leaves changing color. Alas, no luck. We hosted our first magazine event on the film Fresh! and thus MindfuLive! was born.

I worked with much of the rest of the family at the annual Misericordia Family Fest. What an event!

At the end of September, it was up to Madison and west to Prairie du Chien for a weekend of camping. Despite the rain, we were able to get in a small walk, see a local historic house, and make smores. I brought my own tent and smelled the fire in my hair. I do miss camping.

October. A new apartment. Two bedroom bliss. Of course, I was the only one who thought that as we moved out of the apartment with the funky elevator only to move into the apartment on the third floor. I lost count of how many times I heard "I hate you" or "Burn the Books." lol. Well, we made it. The apartment was filthy, however, and smelled of cat, so the landlord sent his painting and cleaning crew the next few days to rid me of it. Then mom and I came in and went crazy doing a deep clean and unpacking.

October was a busy month from beginning to end. I worked the magazine booth at the Flatwater Classic and at Veganmania. The Veganmania event really made my vegan heart joyful! Mid-month I gave a talk at REI and Whole Foods on South Africa, and I think I used the phrase "my favorite" around twenty times.

November. The month started off well with a new man entering my life via the online world. As I type this, we're still learning about each other and putting up with each other (from one smartass to another), so we'll see what happens. Of course, he may read this and say, ciao.

Then, big fun! Toronto to meet up with Claire and enjoy two weeks with her up in Toronto and then back in Chicago (see my Toronto posting below). What a great thing to see her and to have her in my new apartment. Last time she was here, her, Chris, and I were squeezed in my studio! Back in Chicago, we went to the Signature Lounge for a drink, two magazine events, the Walnut Room with mom for lunch, followed by the Christkindle market and Precious. Then, finally, Claire experienced her first Thanksgiving. At the end of the evening, we sat in my apartment, and she said, "I don't think I can move." I felt so much pride. We'd given her a proper Thanksgiving. lol.

December. Another full month. The end of the semester. A second Mindful event. Christmas. Dinners and lunches with friends and family. Dates. Mindful events. Still three days to go.

It's been a good year. Hard at times, challenging at others. Much joy, much gratitude, much hope. Not a bad way to end 2009.

As for 2010, I have a poem coming out in So to Speak soon and an essay in the January issue of Mindful Metropolis ( I have no firm travel plans yet for the new year, but I know I'll be getting itchy feet soon. Everything else is a mystery.

Most of all, I am grateful for the freedom and determination to live my life as I see fit. I am grateful for so much love for and from so many people. Thank you!

Happy New Year!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Toronto: Beans on Toast and Other Experiences

There's something about being able to go to a foreign destination in under two hours from boarding to baggage claim. It feels so easy, so good, so refreshing! No cramped legs from the long haul flight... ah, but no vegan meal and hours of movies either.

I landed and felt like a real tourist because I needed to change money to get the exact change for the bus. I found the bus but no place to buy anything to break my bills, but the bus driver was all friendly Canadian and said with a smile, "Get on!" So a free and quick ride later we were dropped off at the subway, and I looked all over for a place to buy a ticket. But no, it's free for some reason. When I have to change lines, I just went up one tiny set of stairs and voila there's the other train. No long underground passages and endless escalators or staircases. What is this place?

I head to the hostel, am told Claire has already checked in, and I'm up to the 9th floor penthouse :) for our private bunk bed room! There's nothing like seeing a friend that you only see once a year and the visit always requires a customs check. So for four days we explored the city and caught up with each other's news.

Day 1: The Aimless Meander

The best way to see a city is just meander, and that's exactly what we did that first day. The sky was a gorgeous blue, so we decided it made perfect sense to go up the CN Tower and pose on the glass floor. The whole time we were there I referred to it as "the needle" as Claire, Chris, and I had last been up the Seattle Space Needle in 2007. I quite enjoyed the view from up there, but the glass floor left me a bit squeamish. Funny how the pit of your stomach can change from calm "look at the pretty city" to "oh, what if the floor broke and i fell to my death?"

As we were leaving the tower, the sun began to paint the buildings a light orange. I suddenly remembered reading about a restaurant/bar where it's a great place for a sunset. Up on the 54th floor of an innocuous office building, we stepped into a somewhat swanky bar. I quietly asked the hostess, "Is there a dress code?" She just smiled, all friendly Candadian, and said no. So, we perched ourselves and enjoyed a drink while the sky went orange to violet to dusk. I was quite impressed by the local Ontario wine selections, and I had to sip local.

Our meander continued up and around the city, looking for an Indian restaurant. Nothing stellar, but it satiated. I mean, really, at some point, decent Indian is better than anything I'd ever make! Then we trekked back to the hostel kitchen for the first of many ritual cups of tea brought from our own stashes. How anybody can drink that much earl grey and not be up all night is beyond me. It must be in Claire's British genes...

Day 2: Beans on Toast Part I (oh, and the Islands and the Play)

Can it get any better than beans on toast while on vacation? Our private room included free breakfast every morning, and while Claire got the proper British Breakfast, I voted for b-on-t.

Upon seeing another blue sky out our penthouse windows, we decided the Toronto Islands had to be done. We packed up our extra layers and went in search of a packed lunch for the jaunt. We went to freshii (mmmmmmm) and meandered to the ferry. I admit to being very entertained by the size of the wagons the bikes pulled. Apparently, many people live on the island, but there is no store...

Claire and I spent the next four hours strolling around the island: the beach, the boardwalk, the closed amusement park, the farm, etc. While you walk on one side of the island, you can't even tell there's a big metropolis on the other side. It's just peaceful water lapping on the sand, and you strolling along.

Our most entertaining adventure came as we found the farm animals. Suddenly I found myself staring at two horses who weren't hooked up. Now I love horses, but the sight of one taking a casual stroll towards me freaked me out just a little. I admit... The very large pig, the goats, the sheep, the mules, and the chickens were all fenced in, but the peacocks and horses just wandered about. The geese and duck were in a battle of noise and territory, so they just kept aggravating each other. Why do they look so cute when they tuck their little beaks in their feathers?

We caught the ferry back to the city and wandered past the theater where 7 Stories was playing. The friendly Canadian said we could come back at 7pm for half price tickets (since we were not paying those full price tickets! ouch!). So, back to the hostel for some tea, a change to the going-out outfits, and off we went to the Thai restaurant across the street for our pre-theater dinner. Even in Canada, Thai food is served faster than you can say, "I'll have..."

We chose the play as it was the 20th anniversary and a modern Canadian classic! A guy climbs to the ledge of an apartment building to kill himself (7 stories up), and he has all these random conversations with people out their windows. The old lady and the nurse were the best. So funny and strange.

Day 3: Beans on Toast Part II (and Casa Loma, the Beta Shoe Museum, and George & Ewan)

I am not going to tell you again how delicious the breakfast was... We made our way up to Casa Loma, an enormous house built in the early 20th century. When I say we made our way, we made our way up, up, up some steps. Cool rooms and history, quiet gardens, and even an exhibit on the woman who started Canadian Girl Guides (obligatory photos, of course). No people in costume (bah humbug).

After our tour we tried to ask the friendly Canadian staff how to get to a nearby road, they all proved to be dense Canadians. None of them had even heard of that road. We trudged and eventually found a cute guy gardening, and he sent us the correct direction. Claire was feeling the 3-headed hungry monster (unusual that it wasn't me this time), and when we got to the French restaurant it was closed. Dire situation called for Subway.

Hunger monsters abated (mine was beginning to rear it's ugly head), we trekked down to the Beta Shoe Museum. What a museum! Fascinating. They had so many different types of shoes from ancient Roman sandals to moccasins to Chinese shoes for women's bound feet to Elton John's platform boots. By the time we made it to the top floor exhibit, we decided that it was the appropriate place to take off our shoes and wander. I really recommend this museum if you are ever in Toronto.

We tried to find the theatre where The Madonna Painter was playing, but we were way too far north. We settled for tea and cake and went back to the hostel. We decided on dinner and a movie. Off we went to the Richtree Market for a really fun dining experience. It's one of these multiple station markets. They give you a card to swipe as you pick up your food. Then, when you leave they swipe your card and you pay. The problem is the bill gets high very quick! I had a gorgeous salad, stir-fry, and wine. Delicious.

The Men Who Stare at Goats. How can you not love George Clooney and Ewan McGregor in a movie together? Of course, Ewan is sexiest when he's belting out songs ala Moulin Rouge, but any Ewan is good Ewan. There's something about going to see a film with someone who laughts (dare I say cackles?) throughout the movie--it just makes me enjoy it even more. I was like the hyena after the lion. She'd laugh, and I'd echo.

Day 4: All About Santa

I admit that I am a bit jaded on the whole Christmas parade/Santa thing. I don't know why, but I just am. That being said, I'm very glad Claire was all twinkle-eyed about seeing the Santa Parade. We staked our claim around 11:30am, people watching and kid watching. Families had brought along their hockey sticks and were hitting balls (luckily not pucks) in the street as we all waited for the parade. Vendors came rolling down the street selling candied apples and antlers and clown noses. Claire got the apple. I got the nose.

Finally, after much waiting and cold butts, the parade inched closer. Police cars and sirens. Postal workers and walking mailboxes collecting letters from the kids in the crowd. How cute to see the kids run into the street to hand over their santa letters. Then a flood of clowns. I'm not talking one or two. I'm talking hundreds. They're called "Celebrity Clowns" and they pay money to be a clown in the parade, the money going to charity.

The floats were alright, nothing spectacular, but there were kids everywhere. I was ideologically opposed to taking a photo of the Barbie & The Three Musketeers float. There were bands, lots of bands, from professional bag pipers to high school bands. Finally, my bladder was none too happy and my butt just a little frozen, and we made our way up to the Royal Ontario Museum, seeing Santa and his sleigh just as we arrived. Oh, and Mounties. We were very excited about them!

I admit that I saw nothing of the permanent collection at the ROM. We did see the interesting temporary exhibits: The Dead Sea Scrolls and The Vanity Fair Photographs. I do love a good archeological story, and well, I am an amateur photographer! I did take a few photos of the big totem pole...

For our last night in Toronto, we saw The Madonna Painter, another Canadian play that was being shown in its first English translation. Both Claire and I seemed to enjoy this a bit more than the other play (and at 1/3 of the cost), but both had weird endings. So, friendly weird Canadians :). We even were able to squeeze in some falafel before the play and a visit to the Tim Horton's (ala Dunkin Donuts) while waiting for the streetcar.

So there you go. We were quite sad to leave Toronto the following morning and quite sad that there was no Tim Horton's in our gate area in the airport. I really like Toronto. I'd go back in a second. I'd really like to see their wine region, to visit the rare books museum, to attend the film festival. Tell me when you're going, and I'll meet you there!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Derek Henderson (1929-2009)

Again, I mourn the loss of a great friend in Grahamstown, South Africa. His death comes a little more than four months after his wife, Thelma, died.

Derek Henderson was the first person to greet me when I landed in South Africa for the first time in January 1998. He whisked me away for lunch with Trevor and Denise Long, and I took the first of many beautiful drives from PE to Grahamstown.

Some of my fondest memories are with Derek: walking the dog with him, arguing politics over rooibos and lemon, and learning to drive manual shift with him in the passenger seat.

I remember his kind smile, the way he would prod Thelma just enough so she would say with exasperation, "Oh, that's ridiculous."

Rest well, Derek. You were a wonderful man who will live in many hearts.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Colorado (without Dr. Quinn & Sully)

Ah, Colorado. One of mom's favorite places (right next to Wales). One week with 34 Girl Scouts and their leaders as mom's assistant. Much nicer than having to worry about 9 girls in Switzerland... I could just drive the girls and adults back and forth and be the somewhat relaxed one!

I've never been to Colorado, but I have fond memories of Wyoming from a teenage Girl Scout riding horses for weeks and weeks. I remember my horses names from those years: Morgan and Freeman! On this trip, I was most interested in horseback riding and hiking. Get the horse fix and the old ticker working.

The Snow Mountain Ranch YMCA is located near Rocky Mountain National Park and surrounded by beautiful mountains. Would mountains be as beautiful if they weren't snow capped? They just look so much more majestic when they are. Mom and I hiked up one little one which kicked our butts, but we made it! Of course, we were not happy when a 75 year old man looked like he was out for a Sunday stroll.

The girls were great fun, especially since I didn't have to discipline them, and they had a gazillion questions all the time about being vegan, travelling, poetry, etc. I looked at the mom of one girl who was a chatterbox and said, "How do you do it?" It was fun watching the girls faun over all the cute boys at the Y. Wierd that some of those guys were my age. Oh, to be a silly teenager. Never again. lol.

Well, it was a great time, and I'm glad I went for mom, the scenery, and the experience.

I think the Hummingbird may be my new favorite bird...
A Maureen photo album would not be complete without a light/lamp post...

I'm still the 13 year old girl who looooooves horses.

Made a walking stick out of a dead aspen tree. Confused them with birch at first.

The bettle infestation has killed so many trees. See all that brown?

The Waterfall Hike.

Blue Columbine

Just a flood of yellow!

And no Maureen photo album would be complete without a few benches...

The fake steer which we all used for our roping lesson. I roped my mother successfully!

Bench, clouds, landscape. I mean, could you resist?


Chair, Bench. Same Difference.

Lake Irene, Rocky Mountation National Park

Doesn't it make you want to go watch the movie?

You wouldn't know it, but lightening is threatening...



Just plain cool.

Cute little chipmunk.

Girls loved to feed these two.

View from the old homestead.