Tuesday, April 30, 2013


The light at the top of the stairs to my loft burned out yesterday. This morning I got up around four o’clock, fixed my coffee, and started upstairs to my office. It was as dark in the stairwell as it was outside.
After the turn at the landing I could see my silent office idling like a space ship above me, the interior glowing from colored lights: orange on a battery-powered phone; a string of orange and green lighting the front of the cable monitor; little green ones on two printers; red outlining the switch below the computer monitor; and blue glowing off the computer power switch and the circle of lights on my wireless router.
For an instant I was a kid again, treated to a glimpse of the future. That was the way we pictured it, sitting in dark movie theaters on Saturday afternoons: black skies filled with stars, silver rockets aimed at the moon or Mars. Inside the ship, blinking lights illuminated sleek surfaces, beeps were background music, and grown-ups in stretchy suits guided the capsule past the inevitable meteor shower as it sped into deep space.
When the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) originated in 1958, I was finishing eighth grade. I remember dreaming of space travel, which had leapt off the movie screen to become real. In the fall of 1957 Russia had launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite in history, and followed it a month later with Sputnik 2, which orbited the earth with a dog on board.
The dawn of the Space Age was an exciting time, a competitive time. In January 1958 the United States successfully launched Explorer 1, putting us in the race. Three years later a Russian, Yuri Gagarin, became the first man in space. Alan Shepherd of the United States followed less than a month later.
One night I wrote a letter to NASA volunteering to be aboard the first rocket to the moon. I was quite serious. Whether the letter was even mailed remains a mystery; all I remember is sitting on our red couch in Glen Ferris, writing my heart out on a sheet of notebook paper.
NASA didn’t take me, and I lost my keen interest in space travel as it became more common and I grew up. If I had known in eighth grade that I’d be terrified riding in a regular airplane, my dreams would have been different anyway. But that was yesterday.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

More Grocery Store Adventures

This seems to be my year to pursue wellness, and one aspect of wellness is nutrition. It was the quest for good nutrition that had me running from one end of Kroger to the other on a recent evening in what I will call the Strange Ingredient Scavenger Hunt.
My food conscience had been nagging me toward better eating habits. You know how an imaginary devil sits on one of our shoulders and an angel sits on the other? I’d been listening to the food devil’s whispers for many months. In spite of successfully maintaining a weight loss of 25 pounds since 2010, I knew it was time for a change. Ice cream, chips, and peanut butter were staples on my grocery list. I’d stopped cooking the traditional way, opting for sandwiches or pre-packaged microwave foods. I used my crock pot and froze the leftovers, but there were days when thawing them out seemed like a lot of trouble.
My nutrition goal was pretty straightforward: I wanted to introduce nutrition into my diet.
While surfing the Internet I had stumbled upon a “jump-start” program of healthful eating designed to eliminate belly fat. It was there that I learned there are two kinds of belly fat: the fat we can see and the invisible fat inside that can wrap around our organs and make us candidates for some serious diseases. Looking for motivation? There you go.
The belly-fat-reducing program provided a shopping list. I had to photocopy it, as I’d never heard of some of the items, maybe because they were fresh. “Cremini mushrooms”? Not only did I not know where they were; I didn’t know what they were. The strangest item on the list was “1-2 knuckles of ginger root.” I wandered back and forth through the produce department, an alien studying the vegetables and fruit to find what sounded like the beginning of a witch’s brew.
The list took me to other departments I had not visited, like fresh seafood (“1/4 pound tilapia and oils (“8-oz. bottle cold-pressed organic flaxseed oil”). If it wasn’t on the regular shelf, I had to look in the organic corner. Luckily I was a woman with a purpose, because my second purpose seemed to be seeing how many times I could cross the entire store to find an item. I wore out significant shoe leather in the two hours I searched for “1/2 gallon lactose-free skim milk,” “roasted or raw unsalted sunflower seeds,” and “7-oz. container of dried plums.” This was just after I’d volunteered for a two-and-a-half-mile walk the next evening.
After the first hour, my eyes were glazing over. I mistakenly got pineapple slices instead of tidbits (Oh, so what, I told myself; if they were cut up, they’d be tidbits.) and blackberries instead of blueberries.
My work was not done when I’d put the groceries away. The belly-fat plan includes the expected eight cups of water per day, but not just any water; water that has to be made ahead so that the flavors can mingle. Spending $89 on the groceries might have been what turned me into an unwavering slave and will explain why I was slicing lemons and cucumbers at 8:00 pm., counting mint leaves, and grating ginger root to make a recipe for water! I measured the ginger root by how long it took to grate the skin off my left thumb.
TIP: 1-2 knuckles of ginger root is equal to 1-2 grated knuckles of Jane.
How is all of this working out? It’s too early to talk results, but the food has been amazing. My meals are relaxing and filling. It now takes me about thirty minutes to eat a balanced meal, as opposed to five minutes for a peanut-butter sandwich.
I’m still committed (to nutrition, not the insane asylum). I’m going to keep educating myself about healthy, natural foods. We’re never too old to begin something new!


Monday, April 15, 2013

The Pull of Home

Three houses are for sale in my hometown in West Virginia. One is the mirror image of the house I grew up in. Without going inside I know the rooms, the location of the stairs, the rattle of the doorknobs, the view from the kitchen sink.
Compelled to browse the photos online, I see the spot where Dad’s brown chair sat in our house, the window where we used to watch the church traffic in our pajamas. There is the corner where we had the TV, and the stairs; my old bedroom. I study the position of each cabinet and piece of furniture as though the future of humanity depends on it. I briefly consider buying this home, which costs more than the one I’m living in now, just to capture it.
Capture what?
I have no desire to live in a rural town now. I can’t mow the lawn and wouldn’t have the budget to redecorate. My friends are gone. Most important of all, my childhood there was filled with terrible moments. Mom drank. My brother and I can tell stories that would keep you up at night. So, the question I ask repeatedly is: Why am I drawn to the look-alike house? What is this urge that pulls me toward a town and a time from the past? What am I searching for when I imagine going inside our house again, seeing the textured Spanish plaster on the walls, running my hands over the window frames, finding again the secret note I hid behind the woodwork in my closet fifty-two years ago?
Joe and I have had this conversation: Why do we care about a place that brought us misery, a house where both of us suffered as children and subsequently waged lifelong battles for self-esteem?
Is there something irresistible about home, no matter what? I’ve known grown-ups who visited their childhood homes. Some were disappointed to see them in disrepair. Some knocked and were invited in to step once more through rooms they had been holding in their minds. I do that, too; I hold the past in my mind, and maybe it becomes distorted there.
If I knew how to have an out-of-body experience, I would transport my silver-corded self to Glen Ferris and walk through our old house. I half-tried to see it in person once. I had gone back for a funeral, and on the way out of town I turned into our alley, now labeled a private drive. I pulled around to the back walk and saw a woman on the deck that had replaced our little porch off the kitchen. She looked up as if to ask what I thought I was doing there.
“I’m Mrs. Barnett’s daughter,” I said from the car, referencing the seller of twenty years ago. I had taken the detour hoping she would ask me in, but now her manner suggested otherwise, and I drove on.
Which might be why I Google “Glen Ferris real estate” every now and then, scrolling through pictures that tug at my heart. It’s hard to understand; living there was often a nightmare and moving back, a fantasy. Maybe I want to conquer that house after all these years—just walk through it peacefully. Whatever the reason, I continue to feel the pull of home.