The smell of an orange

A couple of months into 8th grade, the English teacher, Mrs. Murphy, assigned an in-class writing exercise. We could write whatever we liked, but it had to be in some way an expression of a memory evoked by the smell of an orange. She explained that scent and memory are strongly linked, and oranges have a distinct and strong smell.

Well, I couldn’t think of a darned thing. I came up with exactly one orange-associated memory: Very recently I had shown my mother that I could peel a Clementine so that the rind came off in one piece. And, bonus, it looks like an elephant.


That … doesn’t look like an elephant to me, my mom said. And then I saw it, and I was pretty tragically and totally embarrassed.

Thus, Mrs. Murphy got a smart-alecky essay about how I really couldn’t think of anything and boy howdy do I hope my life is full of exciting adventures with oranges ever present in the background, just so I could have something worthy to submit should that particular writing prompt ever came up again.

Mrs. Murphy had no apparent problem with my approach. I think maybe she could give as good as she got, because I got an A- on the piece, which was returned to me with a single comment.

“Ever heard of a semicolon?”

Now, when I dig my nail into an orange peel, I have years of memories of Christmas stockings and snack breaks on hikes. Christmas and hiking are my main orange-consumption times. But I always, always, always think of Mrs. Murphy. I hope she knew I appreciated her. And I kind of wish I could tell her I eventually learned how to correctly operate a semicolon.

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Truth will out

The older I get, the more willing I am to accept that I don’t know as much as I thought I did. Suggesting that all truth is relative is a bullshit cop-out. But it’s possible to acknowledge that something that looks provably true may turn out to be wrong.

My dad’s old joke that 2+2=5 for very large values of 2 gets meatier every year.

I know when I’m telling a perfect truth. The internal compass always points to true north, and there’s no doubt in my heart, whether it’s a declaration of love or a declaration of dinner being on the table.

Other beliefs can be flexible; political allegiances can tack port and starboard, sweaters can be worn one more time after all, and certain cats might be acceptable companions. We do the best we can with the information we have. We outgrow pants, romances and careers. Sometimes it hurts. Outgrowing a partner is awful. Outgrowing a favorite pair of jeans is right up there. But remaining open to learning is important, and the ability to see many truths in an issue, an artwork or an argument is invaluable.

But behold, this truth is immutable. It is empirically provable. It is a Real Truth: I have enough bottle openers. Seriously. Thank you all. I’ve got this. There are people in the world with capped beers. Next time you’re feeling generous, send one along to one of them.

Truly, I’m good. Thanks.

I did not buy a single one of these.

I did not buy a single one of these.


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My mother has an incredible talent with language and speaks, besides English, excellent Dutch, good French and German, passable Danish, and a tiny bit of Spanish, Russian and Hebrew. But she is most fluent in swearing.

Because of this, I suspect my foul mouth is coded in my DNA. Creative compound swears can be a lot of fun, but I cannot remember a time when I didn’t love a casually dropped F bomb. And I’m pretty sure my favorite word is shit.

When I was in 3rd grade, I was once briefly kept after school because, after an in-class birthday celebration, I was dawdling to the bus while sweeping up chocolate cupcake crumbs. My teacher said, “Hurry, Elizabeth — you’re going to miss your bus.”

Hang on, I said. I have to clean up all this crap.

“Oh, Elizabeth,” Mrs. Battley said. “Can’t you think of a better word than that?”

I have to clean all this shit up, I said.

When the vice principal called my mom and told her, Mom said, “Fuck.”

I was mortified! And many times since then, I was embarrassed by mom’s mouth, and my inability to avoid sounding like her.

Less than 20 years after this, I had two little kids of my own. My son is a man of few words, but my daughter seems to have inherited her Oma’s flair for language. I made a real effort to be a certain kind of mom. Structure and play, adventure and quiet time, all in balance, plus healthy organic food as much as possible. And I tried to play nice with the other moms while they played nice with the kids, so no cussing from me. It was hard! It required constant vigilance, and near-total abstention from alcohol. It was a real struggle to be me in a quiet middle class neighborhood in the south, but I thought I did all right.

One weekend, when they were 2 and 3 years old, they stayed with their other grandmother, who does not share my conviction that kids shouldn’t be stuffed with garbage. She bought their silence with Froot Loops, and sent them home with the leftovers. We powered through them quickly, since I didn’t want the kids to get used to sugary cereal.

A few days later, the endless supply of Froot Loops was gone and we went back to Gorilla Munch, or whatever crunchy granola we were into. My son shrugged off the loss. But my daughter looked at her bowl, looked at me, looked at her bowl, and looked back at me.

“What the fuck, Mommy?” she said.

Just like looking in a mirror.

The foul mouth is here to stay, and it has been passed along to the next generation. Like it or not.

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We are on the same team

I’m a nerd. Also, I kind of like soccer.

I don’t want to offer up too much nerd cred (Seen every episode of every series of “Star Trek,” read “Ulysses” no shit really, installed  patches on my Ubuntu box, have legit used a HAM radio) because it’s pretty slim. I have no soccer cred — don’t know a Man U from an Arsenal. I just watch the parts of the World Cup that mildly interest me every 4 years.

But, dude, I like sports. I didn’t use to ever like team sports; the closest I ever got to being a jock was a crazy obsession with cycling in the ’80s thanks to, duh, how fun cycling is, and “Breaking Away.” Apart from Super Bowl parties, I never watched football until my son played. When you’re a mama watching over your baby, suddenly everything that leads up to those thuds and hits become crystal clear. Football stopped looking stupid and started looking pretty.

Also, I moved. I moved away from an unbelievably crappy NFL team to an exciting, up-and-coming team. Helpful! But even if I had moved to Cleveland, I would have ventured into bars on Sunday afternoons. American football is conversational currency. It’s regionalism, math, competitiveness and graphic design all in one big tasty pile of nachos — and it’s a way to make friends. Definitely this is the nicest way Americans know how to be on a team. I have no interest in having a conversation about Rush vs. Rachel or Fox vs. MSNBC. There are so many issues about which people are passionate that I flat-out won’t discuss. Once I know I don’t agree with a person about marriage equality, funding NASA, serial commas, the implementation of the 1st, 2nd or 4th amendments, banjos or driving, I clam up. There goes the neighbor relationship.

But we can talk about sports.

I’m not a knowledgeable sports fan. I listen, I learn, and I try. But my Seahawks fandom is really just an excuse to make chili on Sundays and wear pretty colors. The more I watch, the more I appreciate things like Percy Harvin’s run in the 2013 Super Bowl. Still, American football is just another thing I enjoy and am conversant in but don’t love as much as a good book.

Soccer is a whole ‘nother thing. Football for the rest of the world brings people together like Esperanto and art and kissing and good food wants to but never could. Football for the rest of the world is nationalism light. Football stars, football language and football moves are a thing everybody gets but middle class white U.S. Americans. I have, as a regular old white American girl at an international school, watched people bridge cultural gaps in P.E. class. This is not bullshit, people. The time seems weird to you? The play is unfamiliar? Whatever, dude. So is absolutely everything about the United States, seen from outside.

Anybody who knows me knows I don’t give half a poo for what we call soccer. I haven’t ever been to a Sounders game, even though I can walk to ‘em. But I will root for Oranje because the Netherlands still feels like home, and rooting for that team makes me feel my connection to the community of people I met then. Plus, I root for Oranje because of cheesy side-picking nationalism/regionalism/us-vs.-them silliness — same reason I still root for the Redskins in U.S. football, a sport that makes only marginally more sense to me.

There are as many kinds of sports fans as there are individual sports fans. We all come to love our teams for different reasons. USA, be kind. Your ESPN apps and Facebook feeds are full of fair-weather soccer (football) fans. You’ll live through it. Maybe you’ll gain an understanding of how the rest of us feel during basketball season. (Which, near as I can tell, is forever.) When those of us who like ugly T-shirts and facepaint and screaming foreign words every 4 years and only every 4 years start showing our butts, cut us some slack.

We are on the same team.

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Week 3-Iowa


This guy’s voice is funny, his pacing is riveting, his warmth is contagious, and I’m dying to hear more about this journey.

Originally posted on Young, Dumb, and full of Freedom:

IMG_0498IMG_0500IMG_0512IMG_0514IMG_0520IMG_0522IMG_0525IMG_0536IMG_0537IMG_0527It is my job to tell you the story as it happened, and not to deprive you of any instances that you may find amusing or beneficial. This means this is not a children’s memo, or for anyone easily offended. My family, I know you’ll still love me. My friends, the same. Future followers, don’t pass judgment, just enjoy the ride, as I know I will. Friends, family, and future followers; feel free to pray for me. God knows I’ll need everything I can get.

Week 3

May 5-May 11

So we wake with at our hosts house on the Mississippi.  A few interesting tid-bits came from the night before.  This guy, who was a retired, had completed two 3-century rides.  One was a try for a four century in one day, but when he got to mile 350 his leg started to cramp and once he…

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1988 Vintage Lizard

1988vintagelizardMy little brother found the prom picture my dad took in our living room/portrait studio. Nice going, Dad. It’s 2014 and this is the first time I’m seeing this picture. Frankly, I’m stunned anyone paid good money to print from this negative!

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Pork and shoelaces!

Have you ever fallen asleep while reading, so that you are not really certain you are asleep, and begun to dream, and had an idea that is gone when you jerk awake, but drags words back to consciousness with you?

Well, last night, I woke up when my Kindle hit my nose and I said, out loud, “PORK AND SHOELACES!”

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