Wednesday, January 31, 2007


The lady that lived next door to me when I was very young grew rose bushes on all sides of her house; she had a large vegetable garden in the right corner of her backyard and little white poodles. She had a heavy french accent and flipped back and forth from french to English without realizing it. Her children were grown and gone when my family moved in and she took to me the way she would to her own grandchildren years later. She kept me when my mom was out and sometimes when she was home. She allowed me to come and play with her “dollies”. These “dollies” were precious hand-painted porcelain dolls she brought to the states from France. They were beautiful and probably priceless. My mom says her heart rate used to pick up to an unhealthy rate when she saw me winging about the house with one of those dolls loosely clutched in a sticky hand. The expected shatter and scatter of porcelain never came. They somehow survived where so many other toys perished.

Madeline used to pay me for catching japanese beetles off her rose bushes. A penny a beetle. My brother and I used to catch them in mason jars half full of water and leave them to boil on the picnic table in the summer sun.

She taught me french. Mom says I used to come home for dinner and I’d ask for ketchup or salt in french as smoothly as I did in English.

Once my parents were divorced and my family scattered I went back to visit her every couple years. It was impossible for me to turn my back on that kind of love. Madeline always put down whatever she was doing, hugged me and welcomed me in to her life and kitchen, once again. She’d pull out pictures of her children and grandchildren and we’d talk for an hour or more about where everyone in our families was. She was always grateful for the visit and sorry to see me go.

The last time I saw her was three years ago. She was tiny. She told my sister Julie and I that she had stomach cancer. I could do no better than to sit in her kitchen, familiar as my own, and cry.

Christmas morning, Madeline died. I hear her family was with her and she went peacefully. Her children have no doubt begun and possibly finished packing up the house she lived in for 40 plus years, raised her children in, brought grandchildren home to, and helped raise and teach french to one curly headed neighbor child.

My mom gave me the news about two weeks ago. I’ve thought of her nearly every day since.

I hope her memories of me were as clear and full of love as mine are of her.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Welcome Home

My friend Al is a successful professor at a university. He's married to his high school sweetheart, and a great dad to two kids. He's also a kick-butt athlete.

He wrote once to me in an email that he does 3 marathons, two ironman triathlons, and a 50k trail race every year "to keep him honest" everything else (yes, there's more) is just for fun. At the time I think my longest run was oh, 3 miles, so this list made me gag. I just couldn't imagine. Al virtually coached me through my early running days, weeks, and months and right up to the Bermuda marathon. He would send me emails every few days that just said "you're not drinking enough water" - they made me laugh, but he was probably right, so I drank more water. Al told me stories of his first running days, mistakes he made (cotton is not your friend), injuries he overcame (ITBS), and for probably the first time in my life I listened. And I ran, strong and injury free, and I never found the 'wall' in my 26.2.

In Massachusetts with my family and a few friends to say our final goodbyes to Mark , Al told me that running in that town made it okay to leave Mark there.

After that, I started running everywhere I went, in every strange place I visited. The view you get from moving through a town on your feet is quite different from the one you see passing by in a car. I feel like the towns tell me their secrets when I run their streets. Some are whispered, some are shouted. These are probably the only secrets I've kept for any period of time.

This morning, I ran in my hometown for the first time.

The first year I lived here I drove to different parks or ran on my treadmill. That year, I was worried I wouldn't make it here. I commuted back and forth to DC for 9 months, unable to find a job that made me happy. I didn't want to hear the secrets of a town I wouldn't get to stay in.

This morning I drove to downtown Holly Springs at 730, ipod and forerunner fully charged. I parked at library and just ran. This kind of 'free' running isn't something I do very often, in running I tend to be very scheduled, every route mapped in advance. This morning, I picked what streets to run down just based on a snap decision made as I came to each intersection. I ran just over 5 miles in my new hometown. I have some new secrets. Some aren't pretty. Some are. I won't share them with anyone even if they ask. I finished my run today much like it started, thinking of my friend Al, and the way he signs his emails 'just keep putting one foot in front of the other.' Simple advice from a good friend.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Things that make me happy.

I'm indulging myself here. In an effort to shake my cranky-pants mood I'm surrounding myself with things that generally don't piss me off. I wore my favorite non-running shoes to work today, listened to 80's hair bands on XM as I drove to work, I may eat a greasy-cheesy non-healthy cheeseburger for lunch, and I'm posting a poem that makes me happy. This is what I got today folks. Nothing much to see here, move along.

The Faith of Birds

This morning driving to college
To teach a poetry class,
A row of ringed-necked geese
Walked across the parkway
Between Old Keene Mill and Ox Roads.
I stopped in the left lane
To count eighteen birds
March past my bumper
Assured that the world
Would stop. It was me
Checking the rearview mirror
To see what traffic would do.
It was my rational philosophy
Undermined by geese refusing
To look at me in the truck
Cars lined up behind us.
Accelerating, I though, well
That's poetry; a line of geese
Walking across a road
Under the rumble of warm engines
Halted for the slap of webbed feet
On asphalt. They walk like they could fly.
Mark Craver

Thursday, January 25, 2007

My friend Mandy told me she thought I should write a book and title it "The World According to Don't Call Me Jennifer." There's a story behind that, but this is not that story. I don't need much of an excuse to write, but this title makes me want to write a book, yesterday.

Today, was overall a bad day. There were some highlights (Hi Kenju! Hi Renn! Hi Tiff!) but overall, it just sucked.

I've always been into sports; soccer, rugby, martial arts, softball, a little (really bad) tennis and eventually, of course, running. There were teams, teachers, coaches, opponents, rules, time limits, breaks, protective padding, referees, practices, challenges, games, and races.

Your teammates were there to help you in your role, congratulate you when it went well, tell you to shake if off when it didn't. Teachers and coaches for advice, support, discipline and permission to celebrate. Opponents, the easily identified 'bad guys' of the moment. Rules to keep things fair everyone gets the same number of chances. Time limits and breaks to keep you from running over and working too hard. Padding to protect you. Referees to enforce the rules. Practices to help you get better, as an individual and as a team. Challenges, games and races to showcase your improved talent.

I miss being able to point to a rule book and say "this why you can't do that." Where's the referee to point out what's wrong, what's fair and how it's going to be fixed?

I realize I'm being over simplistic.
I also know that tonight I don't care.
I'm mad.
I'm frustrated.

What I do know, is that in the "World According to Don't Call me Jennifer" that's the rule.
Play fair.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Tonight I'm gonna party like it's ...............2034?

I have a friend who’s spent most of her adult life fighting one horrible thing after another. It started in high school with bulimia, in undergraduate alcoholism emerged.

She’s got herself together these days, more completely than many of my friends that never struggled with things like this. Yet she remains aware of her demons. You can hear it sometimes if you’re paying attentions. She doesn’t draw attention to it, so if you miss it, it’s gone. She doesn’t make abstaining from these things sound easy, but she makes it sound possible, manageable and necessary. I'm proud of her accomplishments in these areas more than any of the others, and that's saying something.

The other night we were talking about something else entirely. Something about an email sent in error making her feel crazy. While funny for me, she was genuinely upset by this turn of events. During this discussion, she revealed to me that she has decided and discussed with her loved ones that in the year 2035 she’s throwing in the towel and giving in to all her vices. She’ll be 65 that year. She figures she’ll have had her brilliant career, raised any children she may have had, her folks will have passed away, there will be noone left to disappoint. Additionally, any of the "normal" side effects of drinking and bingeing will be okay or at least explainable at 65. Forgetful? Alzheimer’s. Overweight? Two kids and 65 years brother, get off my back!

While stressing about her email, she mentioned that she should go into organic farming; something less stressful. My suggestion was organic potato and dairy farming. That way, in 2035 when it’s time to fall of the wagon, we’ve got potatoes for vodka and cows for ice cream. That’s right, I said “we” I’m so not missing the vodka and ice cream New Years Eve party of 2034.

This changes everything.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Family resemblance

I spent a good part of last night reading poetry. This is not a normal occurrence for me. Poetry in general, frustrates me, it’s not something I can remotely imagine writing, or at least writing well. I was reading my brothers poetry. This is sometimes a happy exercise, where I get to remember the people and stories he told me about during or after his writing process and sometimes it’s more of an exercise in twisting the knife in my heart since he died. Last night was a little of both. I’ve decided to be okay with that. Decided that like my opinion even mattered.

This book in particular always appealed to me, the black cover and ominous title calls to my own darkness. The book is dedicated to a high school friend of his, his wife and their daughter. The wife died about 3 months after the birth of that daughter. She had apparently dismissed some discomfort for some time thinking it was normal postpartum recovery. It was stomach cancer, and quite advanced by the time she pursued it. I remember Mark telling me about Sheila and tearing up talking about his friend’s pain.

I know that friend well; he has been a great source of comfort to me since Mark’s death. It’s hard sometimes; his voice on my voice mail or name in my inbox makes me choke up, well up. I know how much Mark loved him, know that love was returned and is now shared with me. It’s hard to accept that kind of love. I find myself worried that I won’t meet with his approval and I’ll lose his presence in my life. He has no family obligation and I am afraid of loss that big, again. For the record, I didn’t handle it so well the first time.

This particular book is full of stories of loss. The title proclaiming the theme starkly, “They come for what you love.” There’s not much hope in this book. It makes me wonder about this period in his life and it frustrates me that I don’t know why the work in this book is so sad. I looked at the publishing date again to try and place that time in my life. 1998. I brought my puppy home that year. I started leaving him with Mark when I traveled. Mark’s house was well and widely known as Camp Craver - Where dogs can be dogs. Mark didn’t care if they slept on the furniture or got the floor muddy or barked at the neighbor kids or chewed on the trees in his back yard. He gave me good advice that year when I found myself involved in a wedding I believed was a mistake. He went on motorcycle rides with my boyfriend of the moment. We went to high school football games together. I met more of his friends. The math teacher that played Pink Floyd on Fridays for his students and still looked like a 'bad boy' from the late 80's; long hair and earrings included. We went to the renaissance festival and paid "the insulter" to make fun of the math teacher.

I also wonder if I’ve misinterpreted this book. There are a few places where I catch him speaking to a more general mistreatment of human beings by other human beings, e.g, “What won’t we kill in each other?” And sounding outraged at the general unfairness of the world "They invented love so they could laugh at it."

Is it that I am enough like my brother that merely being witness to the everyday shit people inflict upon each other; that seeing, hearing, or being somehow associated with things that make you flash back to being 7 stomping around in circles and screaming "It's not FAIR" revisit you when you are alone and feel the need to get it out.

I hope so.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


It snowed for the first time since I've moved to North Carolina.

My dog is out of control - I'd forgotten how much he liked to play in the cold, wet snow.

I can see that today, a day I arranged to work at home because I have a handyman coming over to look at my dumb garage door, that I will be fighting to get work done while he brings me his wet duck to throw for him in the back yard. He provides a great deal of entertainment, even if he's no Woochie Chugger.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Welcome to The Love Lobby....

My friends Staci and Mandy actually planned this trip. I invited myself along because that kind of fun just wasn’t going to happen without me, dammit. Mandy brought along another friend D, who Mandy simply described as “not a turd”. This has become my new and only criteria of friend-finding. As Mandy says, “I got not time for turds.”

I got to Snowshoe first, the trip was a breeze, with lots of little oddities along the way to keep me amused, and as a bonus my satellite radio never lost signal. Score! I checked in to the room - awesome little room; kitchenette, flat screen plasma TV, big window overlooking the bunny hill and a ski lift. Sweeeet.

Friday night was hanging with the girls laughing like teenagers over the exorbitantly drunk college boys in the lobby inviting us to hang in “the love lobby where ladies drink free til’ midnight” only thing missing with that delivery was the heavy bass line porn music. I feel compelled to tell you these boys were drinking Jim Beam and Sprite. It immediately brought back the night I drank 151 with Mountain Dew. I will never forget the prick that brought that lovely concoction to my house… or how close to Crest toothpaste it tastes, or how much you really don’t want to up chuck Crest toothpaste. That little gem probably belongs on the WVSR ‘things that are true’ list.

My snow boarding lesson the next morning was great, really great.
Right up until the let’s learn to brake part. I seriously sucked at braking (unless you count me using my ass as a brake; and the instructor did not). My (adorable) Australian instructor promised me I wasn’t the worst student he had ever had. That’s little comfort when you’ve got artificial snow down the back of your pants and have fallen at least as many times as years you have lived. Two hours of lesson and I was cold, sore and positive that the only thing harder than actual snow boarding was artificial snow. Mandy took the afternoon lesson and had about as much luck as I did. We made a valiant effort and decided hot chocolate and vodka would be a nice way to spend the rest of the afternoon. We were right.

Staci and D joined us later that evening after their day of swooshing down the mountain. I hear there was a yard sale or two, and that one of them never made off the lift upright, but I’m sure the rest of the time they looked totally cool.

Aside from the dinner menu that included ‘fried bologna sammiches’ as an entrĂ©e our night was more of the previous. Girlfriend therapy. These are women I’m so proud to know and so damn lucky to have found. Staci brought coffee mugs that we scribbled the most memorable quotes of the weekend all over. I don’t’ know if the Sharpie will last. Staci says that when the sharpie wears off it’s time for another adventure.

There’s more to tell. There always is, but the girls and I decided that our first annual trip to Snowshoe was our version of Vegas. What happened there, stays there. So if you want to know which of us has “such an American name”, or if the room had a dvd player, or what kinds of problems pretty girls have, meet us at Snowshoe, first weekend in January ’08.

Just ask Lars where you can find us.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Up in smoke

My parents’ families are both from a line of central Pennsylvania coal miners.
At different times in my life both of my parents have told me that they heard their fathers saying to them or their brothers to “do anything they wanted in life but to never go into the mines.” To the last one, they all listened.

Many of them enlisted in the military, others just up and moved away, two to Florida, one all the way to California. No coal mines in either of those places. In fact, only 3 stayed in central Pennsylvania, one became a teacher, one a housewife, and one opened a gas station in a tiny little town called Ebensburg.

My grandmother died in her early fifties, long before I was born, of emphysema. Mom tells me she remembers lying in bed listening to her cough and then when the fit passed, she’d light a cigarette. Mom still shakes her head when she tells that story.

The uncle that opened the gas station was Ditter, well Richard, but he was somehow, always, Uncle Ditter. The gas station was an Arco, I remember the baseball caps my other Uncle used to wear “Ditter’s Arco” red, white and blue. Ditter died just after I graduated from high school, lung cancer. I can still remember her face as she climbed out of the car after returning from his funeral. It was the first time I understood what devastated looked like.

Now, her oldest brother, Bob is dying of emphysema. He’s down to 25% of his lung capacity. It is truly, just a matter of time. He’s one of the ones that moved to Florida - some 65 years ago, started selling cars, and eventually bought the dealership. It’s always been a novelty for me to go to Florida and see my Uncle’s name on the back of a car.

Bob is the brother that convinced the youngest brother that if he jumped off the roof of their 3-story home holding an umbrella he’d float to the ground. (When I hear this story I always picture Jack Nicholson as the joker floating to the ground from the roof of a Gotham City building). My Uncle Butch did not float and will happily rattle of the list of broken bones he acquired from trusting Bob on this one.

I remember seeing the ocean for the first time at his house in Merritt Island. I remember that at Uncle Bob’s you have hamburgers on Mondays, and only after you have your salad. I know that he’s such a fixture at this golf/country club that when he comes to dinner they only put 14 french fries on his plate. Apparently he once complained about there just being too many fries and someone made note of it. I know how he’s taken care of his family, what a good brother, husband and father he’s been.

I am unspeakably sad to see my mom steeling herself for what will be another, large, and much too soon assault on her emotions.

Tonight, I find myself wishing that when my grandfathers were giving out their life advice, it had been “stay out of the mines and don’t ever pick up a cigarette.” They listened so well to the first part, would they have listened to the second?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Tif Meme thing, because she came to see me today!

I'm so far behind on posting it's ridiculous. Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated. I've just been not-sitting in front of my computer watch re-runs of Law and Order this week. Amazing. I had the DT's for a couple days, but once that passed I was amazed at what I got done. So as a paltry offering until I finish writing some "real" things... here's dis. Since Tif and I actually talked about how a quick stop by 1 blog turns into hours of farting around while on the company dime. This is for you baby!

Pizza or Chinese?
Pizza... especially really skinny crust pizza with lots of grease.

Mansion or Penthouse?
Mansion - minus the playboy bunnies but plus the grotto please!

Have you been on a Jet Ski?
Not one that was actually in the water, no.

Are you afraid of clowns?

How many brothers/sisters do you have?
2 brothers, 3 stepbrothers, 2 sisters

Favorite band/group?
Can't pick a favorite.

Baseball or football?

Favorite brand of makeup?

Do you have an IPod?
Yes, and I adore it.

Bike or scooter?
Yes, Scooters are awesome when on the island of Bermuda, my advice would be not to drink and ride though, because the FIRST thing you will forget is that those people drive on the WRONG side of the road. It's not pretty.

Ever go in a hot air balloon?

What brand computer do you have?some HP thing
Work - hp
Home -dell

How many times have you been to Disneyworld ?

Favorite city?
Seattle, WA

Do you think you are fat?

Ever throw up in a public place?

Do you have a pool?

How many times a month do you go to the movies?
maybe once.

How old are your parents?

What deceased person would you like to meet?
Jim Morrison

Do you chew ice?

Have you been to California ?

Last book you read?
The Glass Castle/Jeanette Walls

Do you like to go fishing?
The only kind of fishing I've ever done is the kind where you sit on a bank with a pole, no bait, and a cooler of beer. The goal here is to catch a buzz. I'm a damn good fisher-person.

What is you average in school?
Uh, Average what?

Favorite professional team?
Harlem Globe trotters., I don't know!

Do you like mohawks?

How many pairs of shoes do you own?
I dunno. Not very many.

Do you floss?
Yes, more often than I care to admit.

Do you have braces?
Used to - got 'em in high school

Do you bite your nails?

What is your last thought before falling asleep?
I'll get back to you.. I don't really remember having thoughts.

Do you fall in love easily?
Uh, No.

Ever have a crush and they never knew?

Ever been shot at?
Not yet. Give it time.

Do you consider yourself nice?
No. not even.

Do you go to camp for the summer?
Yes! Well, I did. Girls Scout camp! Once and I'm not talking about the therapist said I didn't have too. I am going to Mammoth Cave this summer to camp though. I'm betting on a much better experience.

Have you been on a boat?
Yes. I am not amused.

Ever break a bone?
Easier to tell you which ones I have not broken.

What is your ultimate job?
Writing superfluous crap that sells and makes me lotsa money to sit around, pet dogs and entertain myself.

Do you want to walk on the moon?
Eh. Not so much.

Can you name the seven dwarfs?
No. Little people totally freak me out.

Favorite TV show?
Rescue Me.

Apples or oranges?
with peanut butter please (that's right I'm 7)

Favorite model of car?
One that doesn't break.

Favorite flower?

Favorite color?

Ever climb out your bedroom window?

Do you live in an apartment or house?

How many times in the last month have you had the hiccups?
Once that I recall.

Ever laugh so hard milk came out your nose?
Oh, yeah.

How many cousins do you have?

Do you believe in ghosts?
Sure, why not?

If you were a bird, what would you be?
Something cool with long talons.

Ever get stitches?

If you could, would you want to know what your future was going to be?

How many kids do you want to have?
Unless we're tawkin' about fur-kids; then LOTS.

If you could change your name, what would it be?

Dogs or cats?

Who do you tell your problems to?
The people I reference in previous blogs. They got answers. That big home stores got nuthin' on them.

Who can your tell your secrets to and know they wont tell?
Everyone except Staci, who sucks at keeping secrets.

Do you believe in love at first sight?

Do you go to church?
Running is my church other than that, no.

Would you marry outside your religion?
see above. Yes, I suppose I could marry ... a... walker... or a cyclist... or a hot snowboarding instructor..oh wait that's another story.

Volleyball or tennis?
eh. whatever.

Ever ride in a limo?
Yes, but I can't discuss until the civil matter is closed.

Ever drink champagne?
Unfortunately, yes.

Monday, January 1, 2007

A wee confession

I hate, hate, hate clothes shopping. MALL is the only four-letter word that makes me wince. That being said, there are a times when I need to just blow some cash, and have found there are some forms of 'retail therapy' that work for me. Underwear, shoes, lipstick and perfume. Try not to laugh, these totally make sense, there's little need to try anything on, and where underwear is concerned, I can get a lot for my money. I've never been clothes shopping where I came home with something new to wear every single day of the coming week; but when I shop for underwear, I can totally do this. Okay, granted, I don't get to show off my purchases, and if I do, I'm not telling you people about it. Also underwear, perfume and makeup usually come in pretty bags with fun tissue paper. Makes a tomboy feel girlie. It's nice.

So today, I decided to go underwear shopping because nothing says happy new year like new panties, and you know, I got gift cards for Christmas. So off I went.

Now, every time I go into VS there's a handful of men that have been dragged into the store by their wives or girlfriends. Every now and then, you'll catch them looking at other women, but I swear it's in an attempt to not get caught staring at a table full of thongs. Whoever dragged them into the pink pagoda of panties is always trying something on, leaving the poor man stranded. Okay, so here’s the confession. Every time I see this uncomfortable looking guy, I make a point to talk to him. I usually wander over to the table closest to him hold something up and say “whaddya think?” or “do you like this?” Inevitably, they blush and stutter out something about their girlfriend or wife being in the dressing room. If they get this far with me, I follow that up with, “So, does she like girls too?” Today, after that line, I got the best response EVER. He shook his head, swallowed, and said “I need air” and abruptly walked out of the store. I might have ruptured something I was laughing so hard.

This isn’t nice. I shouldn’t be doing this.

I’m sure one day this will backfire on me.