Sunday, April 30, 2023

The coffee machine in the hotel room doesn't work

It's sort of the same kind I have at home, so I can't figure out what I'm doing wrong. I added the water. I popped the little coffee pod into the correct slot. Is this thing on? Is it plugged in? 

It doesn't help that I haven't had my coffee yet. I am bleary-eyed and groggy. And I'm feeling anxious. I'm supposed to be leaving the hotel for a writing event soon. I'm slated to teach writing classes to middle school students. Trust me when I tell you I need coffee for this. 

At least from what I remember, I do. The last time I did a school visit was February 2020. Driving up the day before--(only a two hour drive but still)--I am also anxious. It's a mixture of driving alone (never been a huge fan), wanting to do a good job with my writing lesson, and a residual worry leftover from the major surgery my loved one went through several weeks ago. He's got a follow up appointment today. While I am teaching the middle school students. 

But okay. I can do this. Leave him for the night. Drive two hours. Teach writing classes. Make a cup of coffee... That first week in the hospital, a friend told me I could do hard things. But what if I can't do easy things? 

I trace the coffee cord. Unplug it and plug it back in. Squatting in front of the machine, I notice there's a graphic on the bottom. Directions! 

I have to put on my reading glasses to decipher it. Ha! Apparently, there's an order of operations to this device. 

1. Insert the coffee pod. 

2. Add water. 

3. Set your coffee cup under the Where the Coffee Will Come Out thingy

4. Press the On button.

I feel like I've summited Mt. Everest when I hear the familiar gurgle emanating from the machine, see that first welcome shot of coffee sputtering into the cup. The writing classes go well. What I want to say comes back to me. The kids are sweet. 

But I hit another snafu on the way home. Before I leave the event center parking lot, I plug in my phone GPS and the sound doesn't pick up on my car. What is wrong with this thing? I run through every possibility I can think of, and then, just let it go. 

If I want to get out of here, I'll need to do it old school, by paying attention to the road signs. 

Everything was fine at the follow-up appointment. But a few days later we are back in the hospital. That first drive in the dark to the emergency room, the walk past the ridiculous Chihuly glass, I think I might lose my mind. 

I don't know how things work anymore. And what the hell is the order of operations? 

I have no idea. All I know is somehow the coffee got made. And twenty miles into the trip, the GPS flicked itself on loudly, its calm, steady voice leading me the rest of the way home.   

Sunday, April 23, 2023

I am in a battle with grubs

the grubs are nibbling away at my front lawn, slowly, or maybe, not so slowly, taking it over. This is not a new problem. But now it's spring, and I actually have to deal with it. How I am dealing with it is how I deal with a lot of problems. 


This means researching. Talking about it with my husband and kids. Journaling. Talking about it with friends. Attending a lecture at the library called "Gardening with Nature in Mind." Talking about it with random strangers. And finally, just bucking up and taking action. 

The action entails getting down on my hands and knees and digging up the dead patches of lawn, finding the grubs, and plucking them out one by one. Their wormy goopy curled-up bodies initially activate a major ick response in me, but eventually, I get over it. This is war and I am going to win it. 

You are not going to win it, the "Gardening with Nature in Mind" teacher says emphatically, during her lecture. Nature always wins. 

I write these words of wisdom in the Notes feature on my phone so I won't forget them. Also, some other interesting tidbits, such as:

Plants are talking to us; we just don't understand the language.


If you're poisoning your lawn, you're poisoning you.

Later, I head back outside and fill three yard-waste containers with dead lawn and goopy grubs. If they are speaking to me, I can't hear them, but I can imagine: Leave me alone. I want to eat grass. I want to snooze with a full belly in my warm bed of soil. I don't care about the destruction of your yard. 

I realize as I write this that I am not writing about battling grubs. I am writing about relationships that pain me, but have no clear resolution. At least no resolution that I can see, and this is--I promise you!!-- after an obsessive amount of researching and journaling and talking talking talking.

The gardening expert at the library reminds us that it’s all about finding the balance between changing the things you can and accepting the things you can’t. 

I haul the yard waste containers up to the curb for trash pickup. In the bare spots of soil, I drop clover seeds and plant flowers. I know there are more grubs burrowing under my knees. I will let them go for now. 


Sunday, April 16, 2023


Yesterday my plants were crushed by a maintenance guy. Which upset me, to put it mildly. 

These were lovely hostas, their stalks poking out, their leaves just on the verge of unfurling. All of this gorgeous spring weather we've had this week, and I'd been outside sprucing up the garden, reveling in the sun on my skin, a much needed break

from the visits to the hospital, the multiple back-and-forths, the simmering-under-the-surface anxiety, but that was over now and tucked safely in the rearview mirror. 

Everything is fine. We are fine. I am fine. 

I tend to the plants in the evenings. Set out dishes of fresh water for the toads. I find one asleep in a pile of leaves when I am combing through the matted oregano, scoop it up, a heart-sized ball thrumming in my hands.

A younger version of myself would have screeched in surprise, would have tossed the thing without a second thought. But old me, new me sets it back down in the oregano patch, close to his water dish. His, her, their? I know nothing about toads, 

but I suspect they want what all of us do. Gentleness. Care. Or maybe I am thinking too hard. Maybe all they want is to live on this earth, undisturbed. 

I know the maintenance guy didn't notice the hostas, didn't purposely grind his boot over them when he was doing maintenance on our air conditioning unit, which happens to be located at the edge of my garden. He was preoccupied by his job, just going about his business, and who can blame him. 

Still, the crushed plants crushed me. When I found them, I was over-the-top enraged and in tears, and possibly alarming the neighbors. My husband consoled me for a minute and then escaped inside to take a nap. I stayed outside with the toad, nursing my anger. I have a right to be mad! 

But even as I was reassuring myself, I knew it was more than a crushed plant that was crushing me. Sometimes we need an escape valve, a release from bottled up stresses. And as far as releases go, this was a damn good one.  

Anyway, the air conditioner is fixed. The plants will come back.


Sunday, April 9, 2023

Hanging out in a hospital waiting room

is like being stuck at the airport. Nothing is under your control. There's a lot of walking, sitting. Waiting. Before I leave the house, I even pack the same things. My laptop and power cord. Phone charger. Snacks. A bottle of water. A nice hefty churning chunk of anxiety comes along with me too. 

I imagine the flight being delayed. I imagine myself missing the connection. I imagine the plane dropping out of the sky. 

When I am at the airport, I always read a book. And then, after, I will forever associate that story with my travels. This time I am reading the book Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan. It's historical fiction, set during World War Two, and has no parallels to me, my life now, and why I am presently sitting in a hospital waiting room. I love this book. I love every exquisite sentence. 

Ten chapters in, and my loved one is out of surgery. All went well, they tell me. I am greatly relieved. I move from the waiting room up to the patient's room and now the real waiting begins. 

One long day and I know this place. 

The Jello cups. The muffled hallway sounds. The pattern on the hospital gowns. One day. Two. The nursing staff leaves, and the new staff arrives. And the next group. And the next.  

In my book the main character is a woman who works at the naval yard and is training to be a deep sea diver. I didn't know they let women dive back then. Or work for the navy. The suit she wears weighs two hundred pounds, and for a moment, when they close her up in it, she is terrified, as if she is trapped in cement. But when she slips below the water line, she finds her bearings in the murk. Her task is to tie a knot. 

Above water I fumble opening Jello cups. The nursing staff changes over again, but now I know everyone on every rotation. I race home to walk the dog, and I am back at the hospital. Pass the information desk, a hallway with dangling lights, the always crowded Starbucks. A Chihuly glass installation. Why is there a Chihuly glass installation in a hospital? Who knows. It's pretty, though. 

Meanwhile, the main character ties the knot underwater. She rises to the surface, triumphant. I've lost track of time. Three days. Four days. Another dash back and forth to let the dog out. She sniffs around the garden where only a week ago, I planted lettuce. Now, like a miracle, a sprinkle of green. 

Five days. Six. Someone tells me it's Easter. Back to the hospital, another miracle.

We're going home. 

Sunday, April 2, 2023

I was going to plant lettuce yesterday

but it was too windy. It was too windy for a lot of things. Instead, I went to the grocery store. I was thinking about storms breaking out across the country and school shootings and a person who shall not be named getting indicted and who knows how that will end up, whatever kind of carnage this might unleash. 

I was standing in line to pick up a prescription at the grocery store pharmacy, and the line wasn't moving. I did one of the calming-breathing exercises my therapist taught me. The calming-breathing exercise was not really doing it for me. The line was not budging. The song "Under My Umbrella" by Rihanna came on and I found myself swaying to the music. 

When she says, You can stand under my umbrella ella ella, ay ay ay, I starting singing the song under my breath, laughing a little too, because it just seemed odd to me that this song was playing as the grocery store background music. I remember when this song came out, and my son, who was in middle school, used to sing the AY AY AY part at the top of his lungs. 

That was sixteen years ago. Now, I am feeling old and one of my loved ones is having surgery this week, and the truth is there is no space left in my head for storms or school shootings or indictments. 

Time for more calming-breathing exercises. Or maybe time to try something else? Last week when I told my therapist I was a little anxious, she said I might try "leaning into the anxiety" instead of struggling to squelch it. Take a brisk walk, she suggested. Or dance to loud music. 

The theory is that if your heart rate's already up, just go with it. I went with it in the line at the grocery store pharmacy. I went with it later when I was standing in line at the garden center, buying my lettuce seeds. When I got home, I braved the weather and took the dog for a walk. 

The wind blasted us, and for a few minutes, we were pelted with hard icy drops of rain. I had my earbuds in, the umbrella song on repeat. The dog and I walked briskly, and then we ran.