Friday, June 19, 2015

Moving: Then & Now

Then, Option 1:

You drop everything and go to New Mexico with itinerate musicians. You’ll be back as soon as they’re famous. Your irate parents borrow a pickup and drive to a neighboring city, to which you had moved chasing a different boy. Your parents pack up and haul your natty-ass stuff back to their house, because while you're gone, your roommate calls your mom, says she's “going with God,” and leaves town. You owe a month’s rent, plus another month’s rent for not giving 30 days notice of moving, which your parents pay.

Then, Option 2:

Your friend brings his pickup over Saturday morning. You toss records, books, and aquarium supplies in boxes you got from the liquor store trash pile. You and your friend load the boxes in the truck then stop for a wine break. You pack a suitcase of your favorite clothes, then you put your wok, your autographed picture of Taj Mahal, cat toys, the bong you made in ceramics class, and your Korean mink blanket in a hamper and load the hamper and suitcase in the truck. You stop for a wine break. A really long wine break. The next afternoon, you load your guitar and your cats in the pickup cab and take off. You send four friends back to the house later that night to move the monster piano you got free from a church that threw it out. You leave everything else behind. Screw your security deposit.

Then, Option 3:

You start packing Friday night. You and your husband pack up the entire house in boxes he brings home from work. Your toddlers unpack boxes almost as fast as you pack them, so you pack until 4 a.m. to make the most of the time they’re asleep. You take frequent coffee breaks, and frequent breaks to find busywork and games for the kids. Friends come over Saturday and help you haul your stuff to the new place. You pay them in spaghetti & meatballs and beer. Repeat on Sunday. Sunday night, your friends help you move the piano (the same monster piano). You pay them in meatloaf and beer. You, your mom, and two friends go over Monday to clean the old place. You need that security deposit bad, and you have to work Tuesday.


Months before the move, you have a pod delivered to your driveway. You buy 25 Rubbermaid tubs. You begin packing non-essentials, one room at a time, labeling each tub with room/contents (with red marker on duct tape, so you can re-use the tubs). You take down and pack away anything that could hint to prospective buyers that you’re a human with a life. You stack and organize tubs in the pod. You pay more “rent” for the pod every month, waiting for your house to sell, than you paid for every house you ever rented. Meanwhile, you repair, replace, or tend to cracked windows, torn wallpaper, spots in the wood floor, loose door/drawer handles, etc. You know your friends are too old to help move the piano again, so you give it away to 20-something kids who think it’s “awesome.” You bury a statue of St. Joseph upside-down in your back yard. You tie fluttery ribbons to the “For Sale” sign. For each showing, you clean like a madwoman, buy fresh flowers, hide everything you haven’t packed and are still using for daily living, and turn on the upstairs and downstairs fresh-baked-bread-scented candle melts. Then, you take your three dogs for a long drive until the looky-loos are gone. Your car is full of dog hair and smells like a kennel. The looky-loos finally confess: They aren’t really in a position to buy—they were just curious.

You contemplate running away with itinerate musicians. You contemplate going with god, but which one? You contemplate life on the lam in a South American country. You contemplate hauling everything to the dump and living in the pod…

All the comforts of…pod.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Get Thee Behind Me, Mercury...

I always worry a bit about bad juju around the time of my July birthday. Weird planetary energy has, in some years, turned me into an irritable, irrational lump of conflicting emotions.

Mercury is in the retrograde shadow phase right now, and whatever else that might mean (I know almost nothing about astrology), it supposedly means for Cancers that we’re so busy nurturing others, we forget to nurture ourselves. This can lead to anxiety, resentment, and conflict. (See to understand how bad this can get for me.)

Times like this require a little extra self-love, which is not the same as selfishness. Selfishness means you mostly consider the importance of your own stuff, and you’re often insensitive to others’ stuff (narcissism is the extreme form of this, where you don’t even care/acknowledge that other people HAVE stuff, or you only care about how their stuff affects YOU). For me, however, self-love means that IN ADDITION to considering others’ stuff, you take tender care of your own.

Hope springs eternal when it comes to human evolution, but I think at this stage we’re mostly selfish – we’ve been acculturated into this since birth. Want proof? Facebook. Blogs. (Yep, me too.)

Want more proof? Start paying close attention to “conversations”: Most people only half-listen to another, then turn the talk back to themselves: I half-listen to you tell me about your memory/injury/accomplishment/concern (I’m really only listening for a pause where I can jump in). Then, instead of considering what you’ve said, or empathizing, or congratulating, or finding out what I can do to help you, I tell you about something of my own, which I’m sure is more relevant/worse/better/more serious than yours.

Mercury in retrograde also means communication breakdowns & failures. Go figure.

So in this Mercurial pre-birthday swirl—when we’re trying to sell two houses (which means keeping them both clean, and shuffling 1 or 3 dogs for every showing – GHA!!!), when we have a slew of birthdays and Father’s Day to prepare for, when Mom is about to start radiation 5 days/week for 6 weeks (in another town, of course – none available in Little Town), when our old dog is on her last leg and needs extra care, when the Big Bohunk Family Reunion is coming up, and when I’m pre-mourning my eventual farewell to the Row and the peacocks—I’m trying to nurture myself now and then.

For example, I’ve given myself the time and space to create. I've fine-tuned a manuscript of poems, Every Gasp a Crooked Prayer, thanks to the encouragement and feedback of the amazing Dakota Women Poets gathering, and I've sent it out into the Universe, to see if it can find a publishing home.  I’ve been writing for 40 years, and this is the first time I've sent out a manuscript; it’s both exhilarating and terrifying.

Also, I just used a gift certificate I got in 2012 and had a glorious facial. And I’m researching shirodhara ayurvedic massage—a warm oil drip on the third eye, followed by a head & shoulder massage, which I will learn to give one day. Recently, I drove to the Big City alone, and I hung out in a needlework store for a suspiciously long time, touching and smelling yarn. And most nurturing of all, I sing whenever I can (you know what James Brown says).

I’m turning 59 this year. So bring it, Mercury. Give me your best conflicted, confounded, babel-talking, backward-slinging, frantic energy. Let chaos rant and beat on the door. I will be soothed and smiling, in a bubble bath with the latest Cleo Coyle paperback…

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Eleutheromania: A Travelogue

We just got back from Mom’s ultimate “bucket list” trip to Eleuthera (local pronunciation is il-OO-thra), an island in the Bahamas east of Nassau. Eleuthera is a 110-mile-long, narrow strip (a mile wide in some places), with 11,000 people. There are many little towns, or “settlements,” up and down the island (half a dozen major settlements) and one main road, the Queen’s Highway, running the length of the island.

Glass Window Bridge on Queen's Highway
We spent a lot of time on this deck.
Bonus: One highlight of the trip happened even before we arrived on the island. We got to connect with my cousin, who hadn’t seen her auntie or cousin for decades, for a visit at the Atlanta airport. She looks FABULOUS and gifted us with flip-flops for everyone that leave the imprint “Summer of Lois” is the sand with each step.

tagging crabs
tagging Ray
Get some SPF 70 on those feet!
Location: I won’t go into my Delta Airlines horror stories, late flight, missed connection, weeping in Bahama’s Southern Air office, unexpected stay at Orange Hill Inn in Nassau, and the unscheduled Pineapple Air flight next morning—argh—or the Delta “satisfaction survey” I couldn’t wait to complete. Eventually, we arrived at our destination. We spent a glorious 8 days at Surf Song, a privately-owned home on Windermere, an even smaller 5-mile long island snugged up along the east coast of Eleuthera and connected to the bigger island via a bridge with a guardhouse (Mariah Carey has a home on Windermere, as do some of the Royals, and folks there like their privacy. And lest you think we’re snooty, fancy-pants descendants of Lord Mountbatten, you should know that my brother found the house on It was like a remake of the Beverly Hillbillies…

Baby Kraken?
Housing: Surf Song is a beautifully designed home, mostly concrete, as are many of the more hurricane-resistant homes on the island.  It has a great room and kitchen in the center, and two bedrooms with baths on each “arm” of the boomerang-shaped house, with an additional laundry room at the end of one arm. On the east side of the house is a wraparound patio that faces the Atlantic—a 30-yard-ish sandy path’s walk to the beach—and on the west side is another patio with a swimming pool. Believe me, the ever-present water, the lapping waves, and the constant salt mist sea breeze often left me, a landlocked prairie- dweller, hip-mo-tized. Winnie Clarke is Bahamian by birth and has been the housekeeper at Surf Song since it was built in 1989. She came in each day to make beds, do laundry, sweep, and do dishes. Since we are not a “housekeeper” kind of family, we mostly cleaned up after ourselves and spent a lot of time chatting with Winnie about the island’s history and its incredibly gracious people.

I was THIS close to the pilot.
Routine: The trip included two of my three brothers and their wives, Mom, Ray, and me. A typical day started with long coffee on the deck, an early dip in the ocean (SPF 70 for Ray and me), a leisurely rinse in the pool, cocktails, naps, cocktails, and dominoes. This was often interspersed with reading, knitting, serenades by my oldest vagabond brother, who used some of his time to prep for an upcoming gig in Mexico, walks on Windermere’s famous pink sand beach, and eating.

Touring: We only rented a car for two of the days we were there, and the rest of the time, we stayed put at Surf Song. On one day, though, we needed to replenish our drinking water and grocery stash, so we rented a car and drove south from Savanah Sound, the settlement closest to Windermere, to the Rock Sound market. The next day, we drove north as far as the Glass Window Bridge, a spectacular landmark with the deep blue Atlantic on the east side of the bridge, and the shallow turquoise waters of the Bahama Banks (incorrectly referred to as the “Caribbean”) on the west side. We stopped in Gregory Town at Daddy Joe’s, where Mom had the “best pina collada in my entire life” made by Tia, then fish tacos, fishcakes, and conch fitters at the famous Rainbow Inn. We stopped in Governor’s Harbor for groceries and a few more spirits, including coconut rum for the trip’s signature drink, the “panty ripper” (our version was coconut rum, orange juice, and pineapple juice).
Best. Pina collada. EVER.

Research: One very important aspect of the trip was the highly scientific study my SIL and I conducted on hermit crabs. Each day, around 2 p.m., inch-long crabs paraded across the patio. On day 2, we decided to “tag” the crabs with a dot of fingernail polish on the shells to see if the same crabs crossed each day. They don’t, and on day 3 we gave up, tired of springing out of our deck chairs for each passing crab. Although, Ray napped on the patio one afternoon, and my SIL had just enough scientific curiosity left to “tag” his toenails with a pretty shade of terra cotta. He was a good sport and highly amused, and he left the polish on for the rest of the trip. I also did a little cat whispering with a feral cat that started spooking around the house. I named her Hissyfit: she meowed for food or attention at the door but hissed ferociously if a hand moved toward her. Eventually, she worked up the nerve to rub against my legs and bare feet, but she never warmed up to hands.

These little friends were everywhere.
Our beach, Surf Song in the background.
I lived in my tie-dyed dress and flip-flops.
Summer of Lois
The LIVING room
Red for the princess, gold for the Queen
Regrets: Even though this was Mom’s lifelong dream-come-true trip, she was a little sad that my youngest brother and his SE (spouse equivalent) weren’t able to come, so she could have all her children together. We missed them, too. Also, we lost out on the house we were hoping to buy, since someone else made a cash offer while we were gone, and our offer was contingent on selling our houses. So we’ve backed off looking until we sell, which is probably what we should have done from the start. We’ve buried St. Joseph statues and have showings at both houses this week, so I’m trusting the Universe to work it all out in its own sweet, purposeful time.

Gratitude:Eleutheromania” is an actual word meaning an intense longing for freedom, and I can tell you, this fits for Mom, Ray, and I after several weeks of end-of-semester brain-fry, cramming to clear out and show two houses, Mom’s health trials and tribulations and appointments, and getting ready for the trip. And although it took us a few days to come unsprung, we’re utterly grateful that we were able to enjoy a few carefree days of sun, surf, relaxation, and family at Surf Song. I’m still checking Eleuthera weather daily. I play ocean and wind sounds to fall asleep at night. I ordered a new set of dominoes. And if these new freckles would just run together, I’d have a gorgeous Bahamian tan…
Beach Beauty

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Mother of a Move

Change is hard, and I’m not very good at it. It makes me a little crazy. And SO much change has been going on here at the Row lately, that I can scarcely catch my breath, let alone try to write about trying to catch my breath.

The bottom line is that we are preparing to leave the Row. Mom, Ray, and I have found a lovely home where we can all live together. It’s about a mile out of Little Town on three acres, so it’s a perfect compromise between town & country. It’s just off a nice highway, so Ray will have an easy (though slightly longer) commute to the Big City for work. And best of all, the Universe found us a quirky home with as much character as our well-loved Peacock Palace.

So on this Mother’s Day, you should consider buying your mother a South Dakota Heart-of-the-Heartland home:

Or perhaps you’d like to buy her a sweet-as-can-be Little Town retreat?

We promise to leave both places full of the best possible vibes, loads of love, happy juju, and a few peacock feathers.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Moving [On]

Our temporary slice of paradise.
I am a serious (darn near pathological) nester. Maybe it’s a Cancer thing (astrologically, not oncologically, speaking). No matter how loathsome the places in which I have lived (like the apartment in Lincoln NE where I could hear rats in the walls at night), I have turned them into adorable, kitschy, houseplants-in-decorative-pots, much-loved homes (except the Lincoln NE apartment, which I left almost immediately). I keep a meditation fountain, pictures of my grandkids, air freshener, and Tupperware in my office at work. If I had to live in a refrigerator crate under a bridge, I would have doilies on my dumpster-salvaged lawn chair.

Also, like many people, change makes me twitchy. I make fun of my dogs for their slavish devotion to I sleepwalk through my morning Chemex coffee communion.

So you can understand my trepidation when I tell you that Ray and I are going to move over the summer. Not only are we moving to a different house, where we will live with my mom (imagine TWO of us Tucker women...I TOLD you Ray’s a gen-you-whine saint), but we are also moving from the country to the town. Honestly, we have loved this place so much that we feel like we should interview potential buyers to make sure they're "right" for the place. The thought of leaving here causes me to be short of breath and weepy, but I know in the long run it will be good for us, and here’s why…

1.     If ever there was a household of people who should be closer to emergency medical care, it’s Stroke Girl, Heart Attack Guy, and Multiple Maladies Granny.
2.     Moving forces you to take stock of your “stuff.” When keeping your stuff means cleaning it, sorting it, packing it, unpacking it, cleaning it again, and finding places for it, you really begin to see how much it weighs you down. Seriously, how long are you gonna keep your Pez dispenser collection? How soon were you planning to make homemade lanolin soap again? Do you NEED 75 coffee mugs if you use the same one every day? It can be a great release to let stuff go. Better yet, give stuff to your friends & family. Let them haul it around for a few years.
3.     Moving reminds us that change is inevitable. Change keeps us from stagnating, and it dispels our illusions of control. It keeps us vital, engaged, alive (and tired, sore, panicky…).
4.     We are all just tenants and caretakers on this planet. It has been a joy and privilege for us to live here among the peacocks, to plant things and nurse the land, to find galaxies in the black country sky. But it was never ours to keep. So, although letting our little dream acreage go brings its own kind of grief, we must eventually step aside and let others have their turn. And shovel 40’ of driveway. And cut & haul wood. And mow for 9 hours.
5.     As my oldest son reminds me, people who live in town can run to the store for hummus and Beanitos at midnight in their Bullwinkle slippers if they want to. Not that they would, mind you, but they could.
6.     Our new living arrangement is really just old-school congregate living. It’s the original “commune,” and though I’ve long-since burned my Marrakesh incense and crocheted halter tops, I always knew I’d end up in a commune. My grandma lived with and took care of her mother-in-law. My mother lived with and took care of my grandma. Torch passed.
7. This house might finally get cleaned. Might.
8. IT'S JUST A HOUSE. We can too easily become misled by our attachments. We make a mistake if we let a place become our identity, let a house and property become who we think we are. I am not my house. No matter where I live, I am.

These are all things I know in my fleeting moments of clarity & calm. The rest of the time, my stress level is at 923 on a scale of 1 to 10. Still, some part of me knows it will be okay. Just wake me up when the moving fairies are done, and I’ll run to Hy-Vee for wine, Beanitos, and hummus…

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Try-not-to-be-so-grim Reaper

My mom was recently diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), and possibly some kind of lymphoma, as well. CLL is a cancer of the blood, although her hilarious Polish hematologist says, “We don’t say cancer here.” Whatevs. Dance around it any way you like, doc; we all still know what it is.

The past couple weeks of doctors, tests, diagnoses, probabilities, more tests, pamphlets, reckoning, announcing, and “bucking up” under the weight of sincere sympathy has been an emotional tectonic upheaval for Mom and our family. And for me, it’s also been an intellectual exercise, because that’s my go-to coping strategy: gather information, evaluate, research, analyze, put into perspective, re-evaluate, decide on a course of action. So in my completely overly analytical way, I’ve been thinking about the blessings and challenges (pro’s and con’s doesn’t quite work here) of this latest plot-point in our lives…

BLESSING: My mom is 79. CLL is a very slow-growing cancer if it doesn’t insinuate itself into other body organs/systems.

CHALLENGE: In our family, beginning with my maternal grandma and my mom, only-daughters provide end-of-life care for their mothers, at home if at all possible (I hope my daughter is reading this and will save a copy for her daughter). This means that my husband, the real MR. INCREDIBLE, and I are mulling over new living possibilities, so that Mom, Ray, and I will eventually share a home. (Honestly…the guy is Saint Ray.)

BLESSING: Mom is asymptomatic right now. No pain or discomfort. She doesn’t need any sort of treatment at this point. In fact, she was anemic when diagnosed and is now taking iron, so she’s actually feeling perkier.

CHALLENGE: It’s one thing to say you're all cozy with death, to spout one’s beliefs about death—that we’re all energy, that energy doesn’t “end,” that death is not a blinking out of all light but a transition to some other state of being, that a released spark of energy will find another “form” down the line, that birth and death are simply two brilliant, beautiful, natural points—an entrance and an exit—on energy’s journey. It can be quite another thing to test those beliefs on your mommy.

BLESSING: My mom is a wise, patient woman, and she has plenty of time left to teach me everything she knows. And I need the corn casserole recipe.

CHALLENGE: I must not scream in public or punch doctors in the face. I must not scream in public or punch doctors in the face. I must not scream in public or punch doctors in the face.

BLESSING: My mom has a bucket list. My brother has declared this coming season the “Summer of Mom.” This means that I get to take Mom to Louisiana soon to see her BFF, my wonderful Cajun nieces, and their precious children. My mom and her BFF will play penny slots and cribbage. We will eat crawfish and gumbo. We will take the babies shopping. Then, in late May, three of my four brothers and their spouses, Ray, and I will take Mom for a week-long stay on an island in the Bahamas (#1 on her list). Don’t ask me why, but I SO want a picture of Mom in a snorkel. Maybe holding a bonefish speargun.

CHALLENGE: Over the next few weeks, I will be practicing my wicked-ass teaching skillz, instructing several doctors on decent “bedside manner.”

BLESSING: My mom and I are great friends. She can make me laugh harder than anyone else I know.

CHALLENGE: In spite of all that’s going on with Mom, I must rise above the urge to see EVERYTHING else as trivial; I must also pay attention to my 60+ students and their needs.

BLESSING: My mom is a writer. This means she can keep teaching me until the end of my own life, and my children after me, and their children, ad infinitum. Shakespeare (or whoever wrote the stuff for which he gets credit) says about writing, “So long as [wo]men can breathe or eyes can see, / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.” This means my mom is INFINITE.

CHALLENGE: My mom is stubborn. I will make her take Emergen-C every day, even if I have to bake it into pies.

BLESSING: We don’t deal well with death in the U.S. Seems to me this is partly western culture’s de-valuing of our elders, or maybe our obsession with ME and MY sense of loss and OHMYGODWHO’LLFOCUSONMENOW. I’m trying, though, to see this as an opportunity for our family to have conversations about death…to make whatever time we have together joyous (do any of us know how much time we have?)…to make Mom’s passing as sweet and peaceful and full of love & laughs & music as possible…to focus on HER…and
to truly celebrate—party hats maybe?—her amazing, continuing life.

Saturday, February 7, 2015


Folks - the Spambots have found their way to Uncannery Row. So for now at least, I've had to add that pesky word verification thingie to the comment function. Sorry about that...