Saturday, February 28, 2009


Word of the Day: February 28, 2009 skin

I sometimes play this game with myself where I pretend I do not speak English. Then I try to figure out in my non-English-speaking mind what some random English word might mean. I think I started this game when we were visiting Germany, years ago, and words would appear on signs regularly, ones that looked rather odd to my American eyes. We’d come up with our own meanings after a while. One does such things when they travel the Autobahn for hours on end in a van full of relatives. Words like einfart and ausfart and sparkasse. After a while we figured out the real meaning of einfart and ausfart had nothing to do with bodily functions. They meant enter and exit; obviously freeway signs. Einfart and Ausfart sound so much more interesting than enter and exit. I still tease my sisters when I go over to pick them up for something and they are not ready, shouting up the stairs that they had better sparkass. I think in reality that would mean something like: you’d better bank, or cash machine, or something like that. So for some reason this morning I look at the word skin and repeat it over and over in my head. (Such practices lead to odd thinking.) I wonder to myself who in the world came up with that word. Repeated over and over again it spins out of the realm of logic and takes on an alien form up there in the left side of the brain, jumping over on its alien feet into the right brain where all sorts of strange ideas play hide and seek all day long. I think skin joins the ranks of words whose sounds do not match their meanings. Skin, the surface of the being of God’s most complex creation; flexible and vast and living and essential…it should first of all be a much bigger word, at least three syllables, and it should sound sort of royal. Or at least scientific, being after all the body’s largest organ. So then my head clamps onto the thought that skin is an organ, which sort of blows me away, and I think strange things like, “if one were to cut the skin all the way around the arm like the bark of a tree – all the way around until cut meets cut – would the arm die like the tree would?” Duh, self! That’s why we have doctors. And tree doctors.
Ever since I had Guillain Barre syndrome I’ve had skin trouble. Maybe it came before Guillain Barre. I think it came with my first allergic reaction, come to think of it. Dave says that if I ever disappeared and became the topic of a late night re-run of CSI, they would only have to look at Dave’s fingernails to get my DNA. I can tell by the familiar “impending itch” feeling when I am having a reaction. Allergic, perhaps, to my own skin, because we can’t find what else it might be. When we were in Houston with Kate last summer I think I had a reaction to the new soap I bought for her shower. Dave was loading the car for our trip back to Utah and I started the old itch thing. I immediately took two Benedryl. Soon my breathing got shallow, and then my vision blurred and I told Kate to find my purse and get my epi-pen. She was worried, and Tiffany, her roommate, ran out to get Dave from the parking lot of their apartment complex. The mother in me, not wanting to traumatize my daughter, sort of non-chalantly said, “Oh Kate, this happens to me all the time. Aren’t these epi-pens just amazing?” and as I said this I took the pen out of the tube and said, “See, it’s just like a ball point pen. You just jab it into your thigh and…” Next thing I knew I had shot myself in the thumb. Not the thigh. Not the large muscle of the human thigh, but the tiny fleshy pad of the thumb, underneath which is a bone. So the thin soft needle, when it hit the bone of my thumb, bent like a fish hook and I could not get it out. Meanwhile my thumb is swelling up and I am losing consciousness as my blood pressure drops with the allergic reaction, and I am scared to death that I have wasted the only epi-pen I had in Houston! But, praise be to the Lord and the wonder of medicine, the Epinephrine entered my bloodstream, even through the tiny human thumb and, though nauseated, I came back to myself. Only I had this 8 inch epi-pen sticking out of my thumb and I could not for the life of me get it out of my skin! Poor Kate, I made her take one end and pull while I held my thumb with the other hand and pulled in the opposite direction. Seriously, it would NOT come out! Eventually I twisted and pulled and it responded, bringing with it a nice chunk of thumb flesh. Just then Dave came in, incredulous to the thought that all this had happened in the few short minutes he had been loading the car. After a blessing and a prayer and some gentle hugging we took off into the Texas desert, my poor freezing cold swollen thumb tucked into a down pillow on my lap. The Benedryl started to kick in and sleep overcame me. Somewhere in the middle of Nowhere Texas I called Libby and asked her to Google “epi-pen in thumb”, cuz my thumb was colorless and numb. Fifteen minutes later she called back. “Get to an Emergency Room!” Turns out people lost such digits under such circumstances. But ER’s are hard to come by in the Texas desert. So I called Enrique Baires, our friend and neighbor who is also an ER doctor. “Yes, you need to get to an ER,” he said. “But if you can’t, find some way to keep the thumb warm so the blood will circulate.” So, like any normal thinking human being would, I stuck my thumb in my mouth, while we looked for a hospital sign. I imagine cars passing us got a kick out of that picture. Turns out, thanks to Google map, there were no hospitals within a hundred miles. But there was a Walmart. So we worked our way back to the camping department and bought some hand warmers. I wrapped one around the poor white thumb and put a sock over it then wrapped that in my pillow. Eventually, praise be to the Lord, the thumb took life again. By morning it was the color of healthy skin, except for the bruise and scab where the needle had einfarted and ausfarted.
Maybe my poor skin is just rebellious about having to be stretched so thin. Hmmmm.

Friday, February 27, 2009


February 27, 2009 railway

When we first moved to Farmington UT the rails lining the Western edge of Interstate 15 were pretty rusty. If there were trains on them, they were old and silent, looking like graffiti wrapped storage units waiting for the parade to start. Then something happened. I'm not sure what spurred it, or why, but the rectangular dinosaurs started to move. The rails cleared and yellow capped workers bent in little clusters along the eternal equal sign at the top of the mound on the side of the freeway. Then those old, beautiful, solid engines fired up and started to roll. Now, nearly every time I drive this ribbon of highway between the Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Mountains, I'll see a train working its way toward Canada or Mexico or somewhere in between. The yellow headed workers in canvas overalls even built a second set of rails next to the old faithfuls. Our shiny new red, white, and blue commuter rail, Front Runner, uses that line. I can tell when we drive along and see the lights of Front Runner illuminating the western desert that David feels an emotion akin to proud parenthood because he was one who helped shepherd in the creation of that commuter train when he was mayor and a leader in the Wasatch Front Regional Council.
The sound of a train is beautiful to me. I think if a person spent a relatively happy childhood near a railway, the sound of a train would be beautiful. Comforting, sort of like the clock in our Family Room which chimes every 15 minutes; or the one in our entry hall whose swinging pendulum is the heartbeat of our house. When we first moved into this house I could not sleep well at night. Mom Connors had just died unexpectedly, and I recognized my kids were growing up, and my husband was mourning painfully, and though this new house was lovely I missed the familiarity of our old place. I could function in the day, but at night I tiptoed out of our room and wandered through the house, ending up sitting on the couch before the fireplace, weeping. One night, as if it were told to me in a holy whisper, I realized the grandfather clock in the entry hall was not running. We had neglected to raise the weight which created the tension which kept the pendulum swinging. I opened the glass door and pulled on the chain, feeling the therapeutic resistance of that weight. I tapped the pendulum and set it swinging. The steady clicking of the clock, echoing against the wooden floors of the entry hall, soothed my mind and calmed my heart. The moan of a train as it passes across my space in the desert does the same.
When I was small, seven years old to be exact, our family lived for one year on Jean Drive in Whitehall Township, PA. That was the year I fell on the ice and slammed my brain against my skull, giving me a doozy of a concussion, a face that turned completely black and blue, and welcoming the disjointed lifestyle of an ADD person to my private party. That was also the year I discovered the tadpoles along the railway behind our house. Down the hill and up again, behind a bank of trees. We watched them daily go from teeny little fishies, to fishies with feet, then fishies who lost their tails. Soon enough they jumped out of the rusty pool of water beside the railway. I also learned that, indeed, pennies could be smashed flat on the rail. We left 5 of them one afternoon, setting them at random spots on the wide thread of steel, walking across the wooden strips that smelled of tar in the summer sun, to the thread that ran steadily along on the other side. Then the voice of our mother pierced through the trees and we ran up the hill for dinner. When we came back the next day three pennies were missing, one was intact in the dirt along side the rail, and one lay oval shaped and wafer thin, bent across the rail like a pancake. I learned as a child to sleep comfortably through the train whistle right behind my bedroom window. To this day the sound of a train whistle is lovely to me.
When Grandpa Connors was still with us; when he was steady in his walk and speech, before Parkinsons altered him, we drove up to Corinne UT to visit the place where the Golden Spike was driven. That was a good day; our kids all with us, their grandpa holding their hands as they jumped across the rails. We sat on a wagon and had our picture taken. We pretended to be pioneers, so excited that we could get to California on a train rather than a horse and wagon. We stopped along the road on the way back to Farmington and picked some sage from the sandy swail at the side of the asphalt. It had rained, and the desert had that sweet earthy aroma of wet wild sage. It made the car smell like we were on the fishing streams of my youth. I did not want to exhale.
My mom tells me she figured out how to correctly spell my name from the exit sign at Corinne. So I suppose I was named after a town. The town where two railways met and connected a vast and powerful nation. A town with a golden spike driven into her heart. No wonder I like the sound of a train.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


The family whose name I took when I married Dave has a rich Catholic heritage. Dave was an altar boy and attended Catholic schools until he was in high school. I was that strange Mormon girl who went to school with all those Catholics and Presbyterians in Pittsburgh. (A big shout out to my childhood friends who did not rustle my hair in an attempt to look for horn stubs. Thank you!) I believe with all my heart in Jesus Christ, the Savior of our world. I like him. And I love him. And though I love Christmas I understand the depth of value in what we celebrate at Eastertime. Christmas is when I celebrate what God the Father gave us in that tiny little baby. It is a childlike celebration. Easter is when I celebrate what that baby-grown-to-full-awareness gave us in the garden and on the cross. This requires of me a more mature understanding.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. We were sitting in the family room watching Lost last night (there is irony in the context of this post and the name of that show). Anyway, we were watching Lost and Annie commented during a commercial that her supervisor had ashes on her forehead today, and it took her a few minutes to realize it was Ash Wednesday. Libby and Dave and I were instantly hurled back to our youth when we would see people in all places with ashes on their foreheads, smudged in the shape of a cross. These were the faithful; the ones who attended Mass before school or work and bowed before the priest, who dipped his thumb into the ashes of the burnt palms from the past year's Palm Sunday, whispered a blessing and rubbed the symbol of their faith across their foreheads. I am always touched to see people willing to continue in their daily lives unashamed of their commitment and faith. Libby said our new Vice-President, Joe Biden, conducted a public meeting yesterday with ashes on his head. I wear a wedding ring for a similar purpose: Evidence of my commitment. Other things I wear for the same reason.

Ash Wednesday is also the beginning of Lent, the season of worship and sacrifice which lasts for 40 days and ends in the Holy Week, which culminates at Easter. I remember people giving up random things for Lent. Things like TV shows. Chocolate. Licorice. Pop. It was supposed to be something that hurt. I thought it might be a good idea to give up homework for Lent, but was informed that this was not a sacrifice. Lent follows the pattern of Jesus when he went into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, battling with the temptations of Satan.

So, in reverence for our family heritage, and as a sign of my willingness to commit, I have made a couple Lenten promises to my God and myself. One of them is to write every day for 40 straight days. I usually write, but it is not always the kind of writing that takes my energy, creativity, and intelligence. So herewith is the first of my 40 days of Word of the Day writing. I used to be good at this; creative writing every day. Now I look at my computer file for Word of the Day 2009 and I can count the entries on my fingers.

Word Of The Day (WOTD) I get these nouns randomly off the Internet from a site called Random Word Generator. I use the word as a jumping off point for my writing. It is intended to exercise my writing muscles, but hopefully each piece also speaks a bit of who I am and what I believe.

February 26, 2009 turntable

Go back nearly 40 years. Go up the stairs, left at the landing, through our bedroom and into my brother's bedroom. Look back on the dresser or counter or whatever was back there in the corner, tucked into the wall connecting to our bedroom, and you'll find my brother's Hi Fi. It was beigy-cream colored with a gold thread running through the fabric in front of the speaker. The turntable was black. Hi Fi meant High Fidelity. It was an aural step up from the console in the living room, the one that held the big tube TV that was broken. The turntable in the console still worked though. My brothers introduced me to Bob Dylan and the Beatles on that Hi Fi. Before I understood the power of a lyric as it wove through a melody I thought Bob Dylan was so strange. I suppose I think, even still, that he is strange. But I think most people are somewhat strange, myself included. Bob could not sing! I mean, really, how in the world could this guy be so popular when he sang like that? That was before I understood what he had to say. He sounded so different from the music of my mother's turntable; Greig and Tchaikovsky and Van Cliburn, with a peppering of Hank Williams, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis and Mahalia Jackson. Their music insisted on pitch accuracy. Bob didn't care. I think part of his statement was to rebel against the pitch. Thinking back on it I suppose more parents were turned off by Bob's music not for what he said but for how he said it. Now that I find myself squarely situated in the heart of middle age I find his tunes moving. But I didn't then.
When my oldest brother John moved out he left the Hi Fi for George. One summer when George went somewhere for an extended period of time I took over his bedroom. Had my own private space for the first time. I must have been 11, maybe just over the brink of 12, but no older because after that we moved from Old Clairton Road to the apartment on East Bruceton Road. I owned one record: a 45 of Build Me Up Buttercup, which I had won in a game at Cheryl Shatting's Birthday Party. It is a sad picture to imagine a twelve year old girl standing over the turntable on her brother's Hi Fi playing Build Me Up Buttercup over and over, not because she loved the song, but because she was mesmerized by the turntable, the needle, the rings and ridges in the small disc going round and round. I remember setting the tiny yellow haired troll I had gotten in the gum ball machine at Rexall on the edge of my record. Poor troll smiled his plastic smile as he circled past my eyes and was slammed off the table by the needle arm. Must have been some sort of sadistic part of me eking out in the privacy of that back bedroom. Could have been, come to think of it, the numbing influence of a song like Build Me Up Buttercup on an adolescent mind.
One day I came upon my brothers' collection of LPs, and that was the moment my life changed and my feet were set irrevocably on the path that led to my here and now. I laid on my brother's bed-now-my-bed-if-only-for-the-summer and listened to John, Paul, George and Ringo go through their own musical journey of discovery. I swirled in the metal psychedelic spaces of Led Zeppelin, I climbed the Stairway to Heaven then slid back down when mom called us to dinner. Gordon Lightfoot. Cat Stevens. Jim Croce. I really don't remember all of them, and I'm not sure which tunes were my brothers', which were lent by friends, and which were mine, eventually bought after months of babysitting for 25 cents an hour. I do know that when we finally moved to East Bruceton and the Hi Fi became a stereo and was in Ann Marie's bedroom, she was kind enough to let me go in her room with my newly purchased Rocky Mountain High album. I spun the cellophane wrapping off the cover and squeezed the cardboard case to reveal the envelope, which contained the large, shiny black disc that would speak my heart over and over in the months and years to come. I laid the pristine LP on the turntable, clicked the knob to turn it on, lifted the arm to the edge, bent over and scanned the range of ridges, then set the needle. Through the air sprang the first magical ringing bass tones of John Denver's guitar. I can hear them now, decades later. I can feel the sunlight of a summer afternoon sifting through the yellow checkered curtains on her window. My breath becomes deeper and more intentional. My shoulders relax... "He was born in the summer of his twenty seventh year. Comin' home to a place he'd never been before...."
My son, the lover of pure aesthetic, has taken a liking to turntables. He has a few of them in his house, one situated right there in his living room when you walk in. He'll pour himself three inches of pure grape juice in a wine glass after dinner. He'll pour one for Ashley if she wants one, but it's OK if she wants to do something else instead. They are good with each other that way. He will sit in the living room and taste the music from his turntable in the openness of their beautiful living space. He likes the click, click, click of an LP. Likes it more than the clarity of a CD even. Likes knowing he is listening to the music from his father's basement just the way his father listened to it in his youth. Johnny told me he looked into having Sleepy Little Town put onto an LP once. It was cost prohibitive of course, but the very thought that he looked into it means more to me than he will ever know.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I have nothing profound to post today. Just thinking I should write prove I am still functioning. So in three minutes I will publish this post. Here goes, timer's set:

I'm loving these things lately:

Rides with my mom and sisters

Sleep overs with Sophie

Driving past the same house every other day with Annie

Valentines Day dinners with Dave

Being with the girls we call Young Women who will soon enough drop the Young from their titles

Talking to my kids who live far away, realizing I can talk with them

Teaching guitar with John

Spending full days in the recording studio with Michael Dowdle and Mark Stephenson, figuring out life between the chord progressions

Rediscovering how good my old Martin guitar feels in my arms

Snow melting on the driveway

Snow falling on the evergreens

Finally getting one line of a song just right

The way Carol King's Tapestry album can still get me semi-enthused about cleaning my house

The fact that I only occasionally listen to Carol King's Tapestry album anymore

This is by no means a full representation of what fills my days nor my heart. It is a ....

Oops...time's up.