The tent diaries 2

Part two of this adventure revolved around staying with friends and friends’ families.
For two weeks I traveled the Midwest, sometimes camping, sometimes staying with people I knew (or people of people I knew.) It turns out I know a lot of Midwesterners, and their company was a nice reprieve from solitude.
In Macomb, Illinois I stayed with my girl Ricci’s mom, Beth.  In Chicago I stayed with my old coworker Kevin. In Athens, Illinois (a charming little town outside of Springfield) I stayed with my old roommate Zac’s family. Zac, in case you didn’t read this post, is one of several reasons why I asked Joe out. He also threw me a sweet bon voyage dinner party the night before I left town, at which he cooked my favorite authors’ favorite foods. (Hemingway’s gazpacho was delish.) Zac’s marrying us in September. I’ve also convinced him to MC the event.
Without further ado, here’s part two of my road trip, in which accommodating Midwesterners welcome the pug and I with open arms, scrambled eggs and bags of radishes:

The tent diaries

In the summer of 2007 – less than three months after I started dating Joe – I took a road trip from Southwest Florida to the Oregon Coast. I was gone for a little over a month. Just me and the pug in a borrowed tent. With a loose plan, and a 1997 Honda Civic stocked with jars of peanut butter and cans of vegetable soup, the pug and I camped alone in state parks from Asheville, N.C. to Klamath Falls, Ore.
It was, to be brief, the most amazing and fantastic adventure I’ve ever taken. It’s been almost two years now and I was thinking today about how inspired, how bold and how awe-struck I was at the time. How utterly fearless.
I didn’t have a blog blog then. Instead I chronicled the trip in a series of newspaper stories that I emailed to my editor by ripping off wireless Internet connections in Holiday Inn Express parking lots.
In addition to that column, which Joe so aptly named “Heidi Go Seek” after I called him in Osceola, Arkansas to pick his brain for headline suggestions, I also wrote these rambling MySpace “blog” posts. Here are the first four – unedited, un-tweaked, grammatical errors and all:

My urban rooster

Sneaky synchronicity has reared its fateful head again!

And in addition to this, I’m pleased to report that I have a new animal spirit guide.
Behold: my rooster.

I’ve written about meaningful coincidences and animal totems before.
The last time I wrote about synchronicity I was on vacation in the Florida Panhandle trying to figure out the significance of seeing butterfly nets. And the last time I wrote about animal spirit guides, in particular my frog spirit guide, I got a tongue lashing from Natasha up in Alberta, Canada.
This time it’s cocks.
Someone in the neighborhood has a rooster. How else can I explain the barnyard opera I’m hearing in the morning when I walk the pug?
The first time I heard it, I froze in my tracks. 

Could it be? I asked myself. A rooster crowing in the City of St. Pete? I wrote it off as a Basset Hound and continued walking the obstinate pug.
Again it crowed.
I looked down at my pug to see if maybe he had heard it too, but he was uncharacteristically uncurious and continued about his sniffing, pissing and grunting. So I let it go – until Thursday morning, when I heard it again.
Well, I’ll be damned, I said. A goddamn rooster living in the city!
When I returned to the house with this knowledge, I had to tell Joe.
“Must be someone knows you’ve got problems getting out of bed in the morning.”
He grunted. Rolled over on his side.
“A rooster in our neighborhood! How exciting! First tomatoes, now this. Man, it’s like I’m back home again.”
To further illustrate my point, I started mimicking the cock.
“If it’s not a rooster it sure sounds like one,” I said as I shuffled to the kitchen to make Joe’s usual turkey sammie.
Five minutes later, I went digging for a little card to stick in his Tupperware container. I’m lame and sappy and sometimes put notes in my fiancé’s lunch. I’ve got this box of random note cards with one note card for every day of the year. They’re tiny – the size of a matchbook – and therefore function perfectly as embarrassing lunch love notes.
So I reached into my box of 365 note cards (at this point there are about 300 left) and I pulled one at random. Now remember: no two cards in this collection are alike, making what happened next quite impressive.
On the front of the card was of course, a devilish rooster. But I reckon you already knew that.
So now it seems a rooster is my shepherd, signaling the end of the tree frog’s reign.
As for what exactly the rooster means, I found this:

Rooster (aka Cock): Rooster is a symbol of resurrection and sexuality as he heralds in the dawn of a new day. Often, good news is at hand when Rooster appears in Dreamtime. However, watchfulness is key as the dreamer must be ever aware of being overly arrogant or cocky. Rooster reminds us to avoid fighting at all costs. The lesson is to respect others while honoring ourselves, or we just might find ourselves ensnared in a ruse of our own making.

Or this:

The Rooster is a solar symbol and represents sexuality. Those with a Rooster as a Totem may have had past lives as early Christians or ancient Greeks. A Rooster totem brings enthusiasm and humor and a sense of optimism. The Rooster is a totem of great power and mystery with ties to the ancient past and clues to your own hidden powers. It is the enemy of evil spirits and can bound them with the light of day.

Cockadoodledoo! I already love this totem way better than the tree frog.
PS. The misguided rooster above was photographed by McBeth. For more evocative storytelling pictures like this, visit McBeth’s Flickr photostream. She photographs vexing toothbrush packages, puzzling road signs, tea bags and much, much more!

Joe’s getting married down the road from me.

Check out Joe at work, talking about our wedding on top of a hill in Western New York, at the wrong Ellicottville ski lodge. 
Darling, it’s HoliMont lodge. Not Holiday Valley. Ah well! He’s so cute when he tells people we’re getting married somewhere we’re not. I’ll let is slide.
PS. This video is one of several segments spun from Creative Loafing’s 2009 Summer Guide. For more summer lovin’, click here.

Homegrown tomato virgin takes a bite

The tomato has been picked. 

After 10 minutes of staring at my first red tomato in all his round ripe perfection, I picked him, cradled him in my arms and tiptoed him to the kitchen, where I laid him down on a cutting board and halved him with a steak knife.
I picked some basil too. Cut mozzarella as well. Sandwiched it all together and then gazed again at the cutting board in rapture. Squealed even. Brought it all to my mouth and then stopped. 
I removed the mozzarella from the tomato and put the basil leaf off to the side. I couldn’t bring myself to mask my tomato’s virgin taste. I wanted him in his purest form. No creamy cheese. No pungent basil. Just my unblemished handsome tomato and me.  
He was delectable. Exquisite. Quite possibly the most succulent, luscious tomato I have ever tasted. The first bite was so gratifying I took another and another, until all that remained was basil and mozzarella, rendered useless by my tomato’s flawless tang.
I squealed again. 
“THIS IS AMAZING!” I yelled from the kitchen.
“I’m glad you’re enjoying it,” Joe yelled back from the living room.
“THIS IS THE MOST WONDERFUL TOMATO ON EARTH. IT IS A SUPER TOMATO.”
“Good. I’m glad you think so,” said Joe, who hates all vegetables and fruits.
“MY STOMACH IS REJOICING! BABY, YOU’RE MISSING OUT ON THE TOMATO OF A LIFETIME.”
“I’m OK with that,” he replied flatly. 
As I returned to the living room with juice trickling from the corners of my mouth, Joe perked up from his basketball game and said, “I’ll have to make a sauce when the rest of them are ripe.”
I stopped. Licked the juice from my lips. 
“Oh hell no,” I snapped. “These tomatoes ain’t for sauce. I’ll plant you a sauce vine if you want. I’m eating these guys raw.”

Bite me, slice me, dice me

I‘m suffering from a supreme case of writer’s block. 

So what do I do? Well. As always, there’s Lance
I come here more than I should whenever I’m stuck on a story; a paying story. It helps me get over uninspired humps. 
Sometimes.
Today I spotted my first big, red tomato hanging off one of two tomato plants I planted three months ago in the front yard.
If anything should inspire me, it should be this. I’ve never grown an edible thing in my life. Well, basil. But that doesn’t count. The pug could grow basil in his food bowl if he slobbered on it every day. 
The tomato plants were my mom and Joe’s idea. There were four big pots in our front yard when we moved into this house, in which the previous owner had planted squatty palms and purple ferns. When we closed on the property, the squatty palms and purple ferns were scorched from too much sun and wilting from too little water, so I pulled them out of the pots and stuck them in the ground, where they are much happier and healthier.
In two pots I planted tomatoes and oregano. In the other two, I planted marigolds and bushy pink flowers. Within a month my bushy pink flowers had tripled in size. And my tomato vines! Ah! I had so many little green buds I felt like Fannie Flagg. The front of my house had suddenly taken on a Better Homes and Gardens look. 
When a storm whipped through the neighborhood last week, I ran out the front door to stake my bent tomato vines to sturdy twigs. After much nurturing, whispering and watering, I couldn’t bear the thought of losing my tomatoes. They looked so pathetic in the wind and rain, bent over like a child with a stomachache. I never felt so much like my Oma than when I called for Joe in a panicked yelp, to bring me scissors and string so I could tie my vines.
Now that I’ve got this big red one sort of poking out at me, willing me to pick it, slice it and serve it over mozzarella and balsamic, I’m freaking out. What if it’s too soon? What if it’s too late?
If you know anything about tomatoes, please share your wisdom. I’m a novice vegetable grower, whose new hero is this guy: former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver
Weaver, the 5-foot-7 short-tempered, smack-talking “Earl of Baltimore,” used to grow tomato plants down the left field line in Baltimore’s old Memorial Stadium. He and head groundskeeper Pat Santarone had a contest every summer to see who could grow the biggest, juiciest crop. Rumor has it Santarone once grew a tomato so big it wouldn’t fit in his ball cap. 
According to former first basemen Boog Powell, the mens’ tomatoes were so large, “one slice would way overlap the bread.” And according to Cal Ripken Jr., whose father worked for the Orioles in the 1960s and 1970s, Weaver used to fertilize his giant tomatoes in the Orioles bullpen using horse manure lifted from the Preakness Stakes
I wonder if pug manure would have the same effect. 
PS. To everyone who donated to my Ride for Roswell: THANK YOU! THANK YOU! In two weeks I raised $675 for the Roswell Park Cancer Institute – $175 OVER my initial fundraising goal. 
PPS. About Saturday’s hair post: the top photo was the $50 haircut. In these trying economic times I suggest patronizing beauty schools. No one will ever know your ‘do cost five bucks. Unless of course you blog about it.

Haute coiffure

To the left you will see two pictures – one taken three months ago after receiving a $50 haircut at a swank salon in St. Pete, the other taken last week after receiving a $5 haircut at a beauty school in the ghetto.

Can you tell which is which?
I’m posting these pictures for two reasons:
1. I’m no princess about my hair, but I’m very particular about its shortness. The second it grows out, I run to chop it off. Because of this urge I’ve had the same hairstyle for 10 years. 
2. I got an e-mail recently from one of my editors asking where I get my hair cut. I responded with, “funny you should ask …” followed by a brief explanation of how a girl goes from cutting her own hair with the kitchen scissors to forking over $50 for a more professional job. 
From that e-mail:
When Joe and I first met I was cutting my hair with the kitchen scissors. On especially indulgent days, I’d fork over $12 at Super Cuts and call it a day. I remember he URGED me to make an appointment with J.Con (a fancy St. Pete hair salon.) I remember he told me it would, “change my life.” It was as if I had been cutting my hair with a Flowbee. Eventually he bought me a gift certificate for Christmas, and for a year two years thereafter I only got my hair cut at J.Con – and I only made appointments with Cara, the chick who cuts his hair.
 
J.Con is hip, modern and smells like Aveda hair products, which is what I imagine Jennifer Aniston smells like on windy days.
J.Con stylists are hot. Seriously, seriously hot. They dress in only black and white and at first glance resemble Victoria’s Secret model Ana Beatriz Barros. Cara, my old stylist, is no exception. She looks like a brunette Julianne Hough from Dancing with the Stars
Usually I bring in a picture of Sienna Miller. Something like this.
And Cara, who by now doesn’t need to see my grubby magazine tear-out, chops at my hair like Edward Scissorhands and I usually walk away feeling like Sienna’s less attractive younger sister, which is great. 
Now, before you get the wrong idea, it should be said that Cara gives absolutely fantastic haircuts. I recommended her to my editor, as well as other J. Con stylists, because frankly they are all stellar.
Problem is: us girls with seemingly short low-maintenance hair need to get it cut every five to six weeks, which wasn’t a big deal until I moved to Florida.
Back home my mom would just cut it, or my sister’s friend Laurie, who on one occasion buzzed my mop off with an electric razor. 
It’s hard enough to make friends in a new state, let alone friends who are willing to cut an asymmetrical bob. The J.Con haircuts were making my Liz Claiborne wallet whimper. The more I thought about dropping fifty bucks on my hair, the more I thought about how else I could spend the money, which was when I discovered J.Con’s massage therapist, Stephanie, who unbeknownst to Cara was the real reason I reallocated my hair fund. 
To cushion the blow, I began dragging out my cuts, making appointments with cheaper J.Con stylists and cutting it myself whenever it grew too shaggy.  Joe even trimmed it once after I ran around the house ranting about how I looked like Joe Dirt
And then there was last week’s adventures in low-brow primping after I received a card in the mail advertising for $5 haircuts at Loraines Academy, a beauty school off 9th Avenue in St. Pete.
“Frig these $50 haircuts,” I told Joe one evening, brandishing Loraine’s postcard. “I’m gonna see what five dollars buys me.”
When I called the number on the card, a woman with a smoker’s voice told me it wasn’t necessary to make an appointment, instead she suggested I swing by the salon between 5 and 8 – when the students were “in class.”
“Perfect!” I said, hanging up the phone. “I’ll cook dinner when I get back.” 
Loraines was 20 minutes away, or so it seemed as I drove a dark, seedy stretch of 9th Avenue, past vacant Rent-A-Centers, mobile home parks and dimly-lit convenient stores. When I finally found the salon, in a Big Lots plaza next door to a Chuck E. Cheese, I had to circle the parking lot three times before I found a space. Chuck E. Cheese was oozing with children and as a result, the entire plaza was a zoo.
After 15 minutes of space-stalking, I walked into Loraines, where a man with yellow shellacked hair took my five-dollar bill and scribbled my name on a sheet of paper. 
The salon smelled like 99-cent strawberry shampoo. The waiting room chairs were upholstered in vinyl and felt clammy under the jet stream of A/C blowing down from the ceiling. As I sat and waited for my name to be called, I flipped through the pages of a Redbook magazine and nodded my head to the rap radio station that was drowning out the sound of blow dryers and gossip.
In one corner of Loraines, a guy about 45-ish stood at a station perming the hair on a plastic mannequin head, wrapping fake blond strands around curlers, chatting with the girl next to him, who was also perming mannequin hair. 
“Neidi!” I heard a woman call. “Neidi you’re up.”
Neidi, if you haven’t guessed it, was me. Heidi. The man who took my name at the front desk, wrote it like Neidi, which was how the stylist pronounced it when it was time for my cut. Since I was the only customer in the waiting room, I perked up and said, “that’s me.”
Without exchanging pleasantries, Daymie (the Cuban stylist who knew very little English) sized up my head and asked in less than three words what it was I wanted. Rummaging through my purse for the grubby Sienna Miller tear-out I said, “I want this girl’s hair.”
She considered the picture for a moment, then said, “You have this already.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m just looking for a trim. I hate when my hair grows out into a mullet.”
“Mullet?” She asked.
“You know. Business in the front. Party in the back.”
She narrowed her eyes and shrugged. “Don’t know,” she said.
The guy perming the mannequin head poked up from his client to study my magazine tear-out. 
“Cute,” he said, turning back to his client. For a second it looked as if he was going to ask the mannequin if she too wanted a cut like Sienna’s.
After a quick dousing with strawberry shampoo, Daymie walked me back to her station and flagged a Loraine’s instructor. 
“Help,” she said, handing him the picture.
After a 5-minute lesson in layering, Daymie was given a comb and scissors and told to give it a whirl. Lucky for her, I’ve made a career out of butchering my hair, so I barely winced when she made the first cut with a terrified oh-shit look on her face. What was the worst she could do? Give me Rosie O’Donnell’s lop-sided tribute to Boy George? Bah. 
As she snipped slowly and painfully at each strand, I conversed with the teenage girl sitting next to me, who was getting her hair done for the prom, followed by a $6 Loraines pedicure. 
“Your hair looks cute,” she said. 
“Thanks. So does yours.”
“Thanks.”
“Where’s your prom?”
Tradewinds Resort on St. Pete Beach.”
“Awesome. I took my fiancé there for his birthday.”
“Is it nice?”
“Really, really nice. I think it’s the perfect place for a prom.”
“Oh good. I was worried a little. This one is supposed to be real fancy. Like we were told to dress up super formal.”
“Are you not into that?” I asked.
“Well, not really,” she said. “The way I see it is, people already know what I look like. It’s like who’m I tryin to impress? I’m still gonna be me in heels and sparkles. What difference does it make if I dress up or dress down? I just wanna be comfortable.”
“Amen,” I said, pinching at a chunk of hair and instructing Daymie to lop it off. “I like it short in the back. No mullet.”
For a hair cut that was laughably close to what I already had, it took poor Daymie 45 minutes to do it. When she was through – after she had dropped her roller brush on my fingertips twice, blow dried the ends under like George Washington’s powdered wig, and squirted my head with a fine mist of Biolage hairspray – I went home to cook dinner for Joe.
“It looks great!” He said as I walked through the door. “It’s rounder or something.”
“She blow dried it under,” I said. 
“It’s not much different than what you had.”
“That’s what Daymie said.”
“It bounces though!”
“And smells like strawberries.”
PS. Last night I went out for drinks with my friend Loren, who writes this blog for the newspaper I write for. We got on the subject of hair. After I told her the details of my $5 cut, she blew me away with the details of her $180 haircut. I couldn’t resist the urge. I had to take a picture. Her hair looks amazing, but $180! That’s three massages!
 

Anatomy of a refrigerator door

While Joe watched some snooze-fest on Charlie Rose tonight, I diagrammed our refrigerator door. I’m not necessarily proud of this. In fact, there were a million other more productive things I could’ve, should’ve done. Ah well. At least now you know I have a framed photograph of my fiancé with his dentist and dental hygienist on the fridge. (And yes, they’re posing with balloons.)

Note: This is just the top of my fridge. There’s an entirely different collection of crap on the bottom.


A clothesline for my mothership

I aim to pay homage to my mother(a day late) with this post.

I went to Ace Hardware over the weekend and purchased among many things, a clothesline.

Nothing major. Just a piece of white nylon rope that I stretched between two trees behind my house, a span that runs the width of my tiny backyard.

I did this because I’m green-washed and cheap. Since I live in Florida, where every day the sun shines, the birds chirp and Snow White kneels in my parched grass and summons Jay birds to her fingertips, I see no reason why I can’t save some money (and the environment) by running my dryer a little less. Not to mention the fact that I love clotheslines, which is where my mom comes into play.

My mom can work a clothesline like nobody’s business.

Growing up I used to stand beside her and hand her wooden clothespins as she pinched sheets on our clothesline, or draped my father’s heavy jeans over two lines at once so they wouldn’t sag to the ground.

My mom’s clothesline is enormous; an almost Amish clothesline that my father cemented to the ground beside a corn field, that in the summer gets spread with liquid manure so pungent my mother used to run like a gazelle out the back door to rip the clothes down whenever the spreader ran its course.

“C’mon girls! Richmonds are spreading shit. Help me get the clothes off the line.”

Anyone who grew up in the country with a clothesline knows this routine. I had friends whose mothers responded the same way, and some friends whose mothers did not. Hence some kid went to school with their Wranglers smelling like a barn.

Clotheslines also make me think of my Oma and my Nana. On summer evenings, I’ve stood beside either one of these women helping un-pinch my Papa’s white T-shirts or my Opa’s black socks.

There’s a therapeutic monotony to hanging clothes on a line. The act of pulling pins out of a bucket is repetitive. Utilitarian. Time consuming. Lending itself to the act of daydreaming. Even better, saving money.

My mother loves the way sheets smell after they’ve hung out to dry on her clothesline. (This is on non-manure days.) When my sisters and I were little, she used to pull our sheets off the line and sniff them as we ran around her legs, clamping our lips with the pins to see how much pain we could withstand, charging through bath towels like Pamplona bulls.

There’s a Zen-like serenity in the folds of sheets.  When they were hanging out to dry, I used to walk between my parent’s queen-sized sheets and try to make out silos in the distance. Through the thread-bare flapping of off-white cotton the world looked hazier, safer, lovelier, softer.

When a thunderstorm would roll in, we’d all help her pull clothes off the line. My dad too. Galloping out the back door, our black cocker spaniel following us like a shadow as we traipsed with armfuls of wet laundry into the house and down the stairs into the basement, where we had a second clothesline for winter drying, manure days and rain events.

As with any family whose clothes dry outside, there are were those embarrassingly awkward (or just plain uncomfortable) mornings when we’d pluck June bugs out of our underwear. Or days when our jeans were so stiff from line drying they’d stand up like confederate soldiers and we’d have to pole vault our way in.

When my sisters and I were teenagers, we’d plead with our mother to tumble our jeans in the dryer.

“It’s like you STARCHED ‘em,” we’d piss and moan.

When we had boys over, I remember running to the clothesline to pull my ratty Hanes off the line before anyone arrived. Clotheslines are quaint when all that’s drying on them are T-shirts, socks and sheets, but nothing is more mortifying than watching your pair of flowery high-waisted briefs flap like a faded circus parachute while you and your 16-year-old girlfriends chicken fight with boys in the pool.

So, here’s to you Mothership: a late Mother’s Day post, as I sit on my back deck, waiting for the washer to buzz, contemplating whether or not I should hang my baggy bloomers on the line, I am of course smiling and thinking of you.

—–

PS. AND to both my parents: Happy 30th wedding anniversary. Do something sappy tonight, will ya? Dad: don’t work on the roof. Mom: don’t do laundry. You guys should rent two-for-one romantic comedies at Shurfine and cuddle with Uncle Homer The Pug.

Hello, romantics. This one’s for you.

IF YOU’VE BEEN FEELING SURLY LATELY…

HERE ARE SOME PHOTOS…

FROM A WEDDING I PHOTOGRAPHED LAST MONTH…

ON CASEY KEY BEACH.

THESE FOUR ARE SISTERS.

SUSANNE (2ND FROM RIGHT) GOT MARRIED AT PAULINE’S (FAR RIGHT) BEACH ESTATE…

NEXT DOOR TO HORROR NOVELIST STEPHEN KING’S HOUSE.

THERE WERE ONLY 25 PEOPLE THERE.

IT WAS SIMPLE & BEAUTIFUL & QUITE LITERALLY…

TOOK MY BREATH AWAY.

EVERYONE WAS SO CHARMING & PHOTOGENIC…

I FELT LIKE I WAS IN A SCENE TORN FROM THE GREAT GATSBY.

I HAVEN’T PHOTOGRAPHED MANY WEDDINGS…

BUT IF I DO, I’M CERTAIN THIS ONE WILL BE MY FAVORITE.

EVERYONE WORE PAISLEY PRINTS AND BRIGHT COLORS.
IT WAS ALMOST A SHAME TO EDIT THEM INTO BLACK & WHITE.
THEY CALL THEIR HOUSE “THE TREE HOUSE…”
BECAUSE IT’S LITERALLY BUILT UP INTO THE TREES…
LIKE TOWN & COUNTRY’S VERSION OF THE SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON…
TREE HOUSE.
I BARELY POSED ANYONE.
EVERYTHING FELT SO NATURAL…
TO ME. 
SUSANNE & PAUL ARE FROM MUNICH, GERMANY.
SO I ASKED SUSANNE’S FATHER (BELOW & ON THE LEFT) IF HE HAD HEARD OF THE TINY TOWN…
WHERE MY OMA IS FROM.
AND HE KEPT SAYING, “VHERE IS DEES PLACE?”AND I KEPT SAYING, “BAD SOODEN-ALLENDORF…IT’S A SPA TOWN SMACK DAB IN THE MIDDLE OF GERMANY.”
A ROMANTIC POET NAMED WILHELM MULLER ONCE LIVED THERE.
IT’S A PLACE RIPE WITH MINERAL SPRINGS AND SHOEMAKERS’ KIN… LIKE MY OMA’S SIBLINGS & THEIR CHILDREN & THEIR CHILDREN’S CHILDREN.
BUT SINCE I DON’T SPEAK GERMAN…I DIDN’T EXPLAIN THIS TO SUSANNE’S FATHER…WHO WAS WEARING THE MOST AMAZING SUIT COAT I’VE EVER SEEN.
INSTEAD I THOUGHT…
AS THE SUN SET ON THIS AFFAIR…I HOPE MY WEDDING IS AS AWESOME AS THIS ONE…
OR MORE SO.