Momma Chat: On the First Three Pages of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

_1060539There’s a particularly vicious dog in our neighborhood, one who had gotten in a fight with Dot and left a hole in our dog, and who had come tearing after me and Cy one day, ready to attack, until I turned around and “Hssst!” loudly at it so it backed off. Yesterday, Toby was out walking with Cy and Dot, when this dog came around the bend. Dot, having learned her lesson, hightailed it for home to hide in her bed. Toby saw the dog take off–and then heard what sounded like a dog fight and then shrieking. Hurrying to make sure the commotion didn’t involve Dot, he found the dog…and the source of the shrieking. A neighborhood cat was clamped in the dog’s jaws, dead.

For this, I’m particularly thankful I know enough about dogs that I had an intuition about how to react when it charged at me and Cy–though honestly I feel lucky it worked. Many Thais respond to Dot by putting their hand out in a way that looks like they’ll strike her, so she responds by barking and growling at them. I shudder to think what would have happened with this dog if it encounters a person who responds that way.

That story doesn’t actually have anything to do with the rest of this post. I just had to get that off my chest.

_1060545I’ve been reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance lately. It’s one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, but every time I tried picking it up before, I just couldn’t get into it. My head wasn’t in the right place. Sometimes books require not just the right reader, but the right time.

It’s one of Toby’s favorites, and at his urging, I picked it up and this time it clicked. “I’m happy to be riding back into this country,” Pirsig writes. “It is a kind of nowhere, famous for nothing at all and has an appeal because of just that. Tensions disappear along old roads like this.” I’m ready for that road, one where absence makes the most sense. And the first three pages coin phrases that pinpoint various thoughts I’ve been thinking with uncanny precision.

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You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

When Toby and I first moved to Thailand, we didn’t have a car, we had a motorcycle and a scooter. I’d ridden on the back of his motorcycle at home in the States, but never driven one myself. But it’s the best way to get around here, and seeing two people on a motorcycle puttering cheerfully through the countryside with rice paddies and mountains in the background is a quintessential scene in Thailand and the one that has always meant “home” to me, even though I never grew up around anything like it.

At first, I was a little afraid about learning to ride the scooter. Within a month, I began to love it. There’s a freedom you feel, moving through space with nothing but the air around you and the ground below you. There’s no filter: you feel the heat and the cold, you smell the grease and the grass, you can slip in small spaces unhindered and park on the sidewalk and at doorsteps. You are in the scene, not passing it by.

Except for tiny jaunts in our own neighborhood, I haven’t driven the scooter since I first got pregnant. I miss it.

Sometimes, when Cy falls asleep in the car, Toby and I go for long drives as it’s easier to just let him sleep than to get home, wake him up, and then get him back down for a nap. On one of these drives, Toby decided to take some back roads–ones where there’s nothing happening. Except it’s not nothing at all. We slipped into the countryside, where there’s wooden houses and makeshift bamboo structures, rice paddies, buffaloes, and a stream, and Toby remarked, “Oh yeah, we live in Thailand.” It catches us by surprise sometimes because Chiang Mai is an urban center, with fancy cappuccinos, plush-seated theaters, sushi, and H&M. We could be anywhere.

Normally, I’m in agreement with him when one of us makes this observation. But this time, I didn’t. My life since baby is one lived primarily in the house, the car, and the mall (where there’s both A/C and things to distract Cy). I don’t live in Thailand, I’m passing it by.

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“…where kids wave to you when you ride by, where people look from their porches to see who it is, where when you stop to ask directions or information the answer tends to be longer than you want rather than short, where people ask where you’re from and how long you’ve been riding.”

Early every morning, while it’s still relatively cool, we take Cy for a walk around the neighborhood. Our neighborhood is so quiet, I often make this trip in a T-shirt and fisherman pants, which is sort of okay for public viewing, but is really actually my pajamas. Towards the end of the walk, we always come across a group of lady gardeners, each one wearing heavy makeup barely visible under the wide-brim hat and scarves they wear to shield from the sun. “Maa laew, maa laew!” they call to each other when they see us coming, and they crowd around to get a good look at Cy, squeeze his calves, and try to elicit from him a hello. Generally, I like this kind of attention because it makes me feel like we’re a part of the community, but I always find these particular stops longer than I like primarily because I’m still in my PJs, sans makeup, and haven’t yet had my coffee. Did I mention no coffee? But it’s sweet, and yes, okay, maybe I do live in Thailand after all.

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For me this is all mixed with memories that he doesn’t have.

I’m feeling just a little homesick these days and am looking forward to our trip to the States in June, but I realize this time we won’t have a chance to get back to Santa Barbara, which for me is home home. It’s a special place for me and Toby; it’s where everything happened, where everything comes back to. Where we found ourselves, where we met each other, where we loved, where we fell apart and put everything back together, where we married and became us. And I think, Cy won’t know Santa Barbara the way we know it. We can visit it as much as we like, and it will never be imbued with the same meaning for him as it has for us. And I wonder, can he really know me without knowing Santa Barbara? Because I can’t see myself separate from my history which is so deeply intertwined in that place, and I’m a little sad at the thought that he might not really get me.

Then I think: do children ever really know their parents? In some ways, they know them more deeply than any other person on the planet, I think, in ways that aren’t always conscious. But no number of stories or facts about personal history tells a child who their parent really was before children, apart from the parent-child relationship. Parenthood changes us too. So what they see of us is not the same as what was.

Cy has started to enjoy head and back massages. I tried them a couple times when he was younger but he didn’t like them before. Suddenly now, he relaxes beneath my hand and it’s one way I can help him unwind before bed at night. We lie in the dark together, with just the soft glow of a night light, and I rub gentle circles over his back and run my fingers through his hair. His breath slows and his eyes begin to close, and I love doing this because it feels like such an intimate and loving thing to do.

And I think maybe Cy will know everything about me that actually matters.

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Thing I Love About Cy Today: I love the way he has figured out about how to climb up the step between his play area in the living room and the hallway leading to the staircase. He gets right up to the step, very deliberately he puts each hand one after the other on the step, then he gets his bum way up in the air, waddles his bum up to the step where his feet can feel the edge, and then finally pulls his legs over the threshold. It’s smart, systematic, and utterly adorable to watch.

 

A Coffee Chat

That right there is some red velvet bread pudding. It looks like dessert, but it was my breakfast. If we were sitting down for coffee and a chat right now, I’d have a ton of stories to tell you. It’s been an action-packed week, in which we’ve rolled sets of silverware into napkins, folded pinwheels until our fingerprints near wore off, made bouquets of succulents, eaten more red meat and drank more malty & hoppy beer than we have in the past year, partaken in deep fried Snickers and cornbread Kielbasa sausage pops (seriously), watched grannies dance Gangnam style, and shuddered at the “chill” of 60-degree weather. (We’re wusses.)

I’d tell you about the cousins of the bride, who, during the wedding, took a Slip ‘n Slide down to the beach and set it up to slide right into the ocean, but when one cousin slid down, the tide went out and he slid right down and rolled over into sand. He did it in his under-britches and another cousin stole his clothes, so he had to run half-naked back to the reception to get his clothes.

I’d also show you the video of the opening dance and the bride & groom’s first dance. (Skip ahead past the first minute, and be sure to stick around for the bride & groom’s dance.)

So that happened. I also love how none of us went to help them up.

The wedding was a blast, but it wasn’t all we did. I joined my boss from SOLD and, together, we gave a presentation at Westmont. My best friend from college and her husband came down from San Francisco drove all the way down to see us, so every moment not dedicated to wedding stuff, I spent with them. Other friends from college were in town for the wedding, so we caught up with them too. Toby and I also enjoyed driving around and seeing old familiar sights.

I had kind of forgotten how freakin’ scenic Santa Barbara is. Mountains, ocean, palm trees…crisp fall weather.

Having a convertible to drive around in is also fun. (Thanks, Mom!)

It’s been a great weekend. Tonight, we’ll drive back down to LA to hang out with Toby’s colleague & his wife. We need to stop at the embassy again on Wednesday morning, then we’ll head back to Orange County. I want to soak up as much time as possible with my nieces and nephew before we leave. But there are dinner plans with family friends and a trip to San Diego in the mix, so we’ll pretty much just keep on hopping until we fly out.

How has your week been? Thanks for stopping by for the coffee and the chat! Hope you’re enjoying some fabulous fall weather too!

Scenes From My Weekend

Toby driving down the coast; me peeking out of the convertible
red velvet bread pudding, more dessert than breakfast
An October wedding
a gift trunk
succulent centerpieces; the opening dance
the view from the reception area
bride & groom; candy wedding favors
guests on the dance floor
pies for dessert & a neglected glass for wine.

It was a jubilant weekend and a sweet & fun wedding.

::

Also linking up with Communal Global

Gone.

And with footsteps echoing away like a faint distant memory, we have gone.

We left with much hurry and flurry, with only one last almost-forgotten backward glance toward the place that has been our home for three years. This home has seen us through friendships, through new jobs, through marriage and through redefinition of self.
We leave this apartment, but…

I wonder when it will hit me that we have left the home that has been our home for the past decade of our lives.

Goodbye, Santa Barbara. See you in another life.

tell it to me tuesday – a tour of the neighborhood

Hi all! I’m sorry Tell It To Me Tuesday is up a little late today. We were up in the Bay area this weekend and didn’t get home until 12:30 last night. It was a wonderful weekend (more on that later) and I want to thank everyone for their lovely kind words in my melancholic state. I have such amazing people in my life, how can one really be in a funk when surrounded by such goodness? I suspect the funk is still lurking in there somewhere but I’m ignoring it – which is easy enough to do when I’m busy enjoying the company of people I love.

But right now I want to show you some of my favorite things about where I live. So let’s take a walk through the neighborhood.

Here’s my front door. Hello front door!
Our house is an apartment, but it has its own house number and that makes us feel a little more grown up. But it’s not free-standing. It just curves around to other apartments, like so.

But as we wander around the neighborhood, I’ll show you what I love most.

It’s these little cottage-style houses.

I suppose I’m not using the right lens for these guys…but anyway. They’re cute. And each one is so different!

I could seriously make a photo book of the different houses and none of them would look the same.
I love the variety of character. I could spend hours looking at these houses. But then everyone would think they have a crazy stalker lady for a neighbor. It’s only partly true. I stalk architecture.

Sure, Santa Barbara has the fancy-schmancy houses like these:

And those are kind of the medium houses. There are bigger ones further on up the hill, all of which have ocean views, mind you. And that’s not even getting into Montecito. I’ve driven by Oprah’s house once or twice. Of course, “driven by” is kind of relative when houses have crazy long driveways and you need a golf cart to get from the front gate to the front door.

But they don’t have the charm of the little cottages. I mean, how can you resist a place with a fairytale front gate like this?

It’s the little things I love. Like bougainvillea spilling over.

Take us on a tour! Of your room, your house, your neighborhood, your work, your world. Whatever you want to show us, and just post the link in the comments below.

Next week’s challenge: 10 minute free write
Get your creative juices flowing and do a 10-minute free write. We who write blogs are so busy writing for an audience, we rarely write for ourselves. So this week’s challenge is to write for no audience. Just set a timer and write. Then, if you dare, share. Unedited.

*Okay, you can edit for privacy’s sake. But not for the sake of spelling or grammar or better writing! See? Challenge.

Where do you live?

homeI realize a question like that makes me sound like some crazy stalker lady and you all might decamp immediately with your children in tow, but that’s really not how it’s meant. In the next year, my husband and I will have to move from sunny southern California to who-knows-where and I find I haven’t the foggiest idea where I would want to go. (I’m a spoiled brat, what can I say?)

The thing is, I’ve lived in southern California almost all of my life (not counting the first five years where I was born and lived in Mississippi). I’m simply used to having sunny weather, oh, 92% of the time. And not oh-my-god-I’m-roasting-in-an-oven-sunny. A nice temperate 70-degree sunny. I’ve traveled a lot and I know that I can handle super hot and humid weather. I can also handle some cold (down to about 30 degrees), though really I’m not a fan of supercold. I can deal with snow, as long as I don’t have to shovel it from my walk every day. But having lived with the sun for so long, I’m not sure how well I’d deal if it was gone for too long.

woman on bench

I’m also used to having a wide variety of really good ethnic food – ranging from excellent sushi to stunning Indian, Moroccan, Vietnamese, and amazing Mexican (because we, here, know what a good avocado is) – and Asian stores where I can buy coconut milk, curry paste, Asian vegetables I don’t know the English name of, and rice noodles, etc. But you know what does suck about California? Property prices. We are now paying $1,350 a month to rent a 1-bedroom apartment (a shoebox at that) which is pretty much more than a mortgage for a house just about anywhere else in the continental U.S. And I would LOVE to have a house with SPACE. And my husband would be happy anywhere he could go for long, scenic rides on his motorcycle.

As far as society and culture go, we’re in our late twenties now and we do like to go out to nice restaurants, watch movies, and grab a drink at the bar. But we’re also equally happy eating dinner at home and watching DVDs or reading books. We don’t need a fast-paced, high-society life (though we do enjoy it). However, we do need some diversity and things to do whenever we have been cooped up in the house too many days straight.

So these are our considerations when we think of moving somewhere. We’re ready for something new, and would love to live elsewhere for awhile. And for (my) career reasons (my husband works remotely), it’s pretty much a guarantee that we will have to move somewhere else this time next year. But not having lived anywhere else, I’m curious to know about the places other people live, what they think about where they live, and what they love and hate most about their location.

Where do you live or where have you lived? Give me the skinny on what your life as a native is like!
(I realize this is public space on the internet, so only go as specific as you feel comfortable. Responses like “southwest Nebraska” are totally fine!)

Needing Space

How is it that sh** accumulates so easily? You know how, when you move, you always catch yourself wondering how the heck you managed to acquire so much stuff? At first, you carefully wrap items and place them neatly in boxes, but then you keep coming across stuff you didn’t even remember you had. You’re slightly amused at yourself at the beginning, but by the end of it you just start chucking stuff at random into the car or box truck? You don’t care anymore, you just want it all to go away, and frankly, are wondering if maybe you wouldn’t be happier just tossing it all into a bonfire and watching it burn.

I’m not in the process of moving, but I almost wish I were. I’m feeling stifled in our shoebox apartment. Coming from a studio, we were ecstatic when we first moved in to our 1-bedroom shoebox. We felt we were bouncing off the walls we had so much space. We were mostly excited just to have actual separate rooms. Well now, two years later (and post-wedding-gift-mania), we barely have room to walk in our bedroom, we can’t really see our coffee table most of the time, and every single inch of space along the walls has some pile of something or other. (And most of it, I must admit, is mine). I could be a little more organized, but honestly, the biggest problem is that we just don’t have enough space. Both of us work from home, so we have our myriad computer and photo equipment. Plus, I am a grad student working on a dissertation, so I have stacks of library books and research materials lining all possible floor space. I have my files all neatly filed away in boxes, but am running out of places to stack the file boxes.

What I would LOVE is to find a place where a) we don’t work at the same table at which we eat–saves potential spillage on fancy computers, and b) we had some place for guests to stay–other than the couch or floor. Ideally, we would have a 3-bedroom place with a dining area separate from the living room area. One bedroom would be for us; one office for me, which could double as storage place for books, files, and other stuff; and one office for Toby, which could double as guest bedroom.

Seeing as how that is not financially viable in Santa Barbara (even the mortgage on my 2-bdrm townhouse–with garage! and laundry room!–was $150 less than what we pay now for a 1-bdrm closet), my options are either to move or get started on that massive pyre.

Santa Barbara On Fire. Again.

After the rampages of the Gap Fire and the Tea Fire which burned 200+ homes last year, Santa Barbara is on fire yet again. A new fire just started, burning more than 4 acres already in the San Roque Canyon in just a manner of minutes. Plumes of smoke are rising in thick columns up the mountains. Evacuation orders are issued for Tunnel, Foothill, Spyglass and Holly roads. The sounds of choppers and sirens fill the air as emergency crews enter the scene, and we’re expecting the dreaded sun-downer winds later tonight.

I’ll keep you posted as I learn more.

UPDATES:
* All traffic on La Cumbre, north of State Street is being shut down.
* Orange Grove and Las Canoas roads and the area north of the Botanical Gardens are being evacuated.
* There are police reports that gunshots were heard in the area around the time the fire started.
* Winds are shifting to a southeasterly direction (as of 3:39 pm), which may push the fire down the slope.
* The Santa Barbara School District has cancelled class.
* As of 4:30 pm, more than 150 acres have burned. The entire canyon area has been evacuated.
* As of 10:00 pm, more than 400 acres have burned.
* CORRECTION: It appears the fire is not as large as originally thought. As of the morning it appears to have consumed less than 200 acres. However, it is not contained. Calm weather in the morning is helping, but strong winds are expected in the afternoon and evening. There is a lot of aerial support, but according to fire crews, teams on the ground is what is really needed to put this thing out–and that is difficult because the fire is burning up in very rough, very steep terrain.

**UPDATE: We are in the evacuation warning zone now, so we have packed up our stuff and hightailed it out of there.

An Ode to Coffee


Santa Barbara is really a gem of a little city to live in. It’s not a big city, so doesn’t have quite the flair and pizazz of San Francisco or London, but it’s got a lot of funk. And the best thing about it is that even though it is a small city (in a gorgeous location with perpetually perfect weather), it has a plethora of good eats, if you know where to go. Amazing sushi, decadent Italian, artful healthnut stops, fabulous tapas and drinks, to-die-for Indian, and quite a few places that have made sandwiches an art. And the list goes on.

But the one thing that Santa Barbara lacks is really, really great coffee. The locals are quite proud of their mom-and-pop varietals like the Daily Grind, the Coffee Cat, or Santa Barbara Roasting Company. And major chains like Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee do very well. (In fact, between the two of them, I think they own a quarter of the real estate on State Street.) But I have yet to find a single place that does really, really fine Italian coffee, the likes of which you get when you are actually in Italy. Most of the coffee here is about mid-range and tastes fine, but some of it verges on bitter and you can actually taste separate layers of weak mediocre coffee flavor, artificial flavor as a pathetic attempt to mask the mediocrity of the coffee, and then oils from the beans.

The Italians have it down to an art: the high quality of the beans, the perfect degree of roasting, the exact grind, the temperature of the steam and press of the grounds. All of this combines to create a rich, smooth level of decadence that is unparalleled. When I first discovered true Italian coffee in a little cafe in Florence, I actually thought I might have found heaven. I even brought some Illy home with me, but alas, could not manage the artistry of the Italian barista.

I looked everywhere for good coffee, and eventually succumbed to my fate, thinking I wouldn’t be able to find such good coffee anywhere but Italy. But then we went to Costa Rica and discovered Costa Rican coffee. I was astounded. Costa Rican coffee does not have the decadence of Italian coffee, but it does have a wild variety of smooth flavors that make for a different, wondorous java experience. I was so surprised since normally developing countries export all their good stuff and the locals have to make do with the dreck. Not so with Costa Rican coffee. They hoard all their delicacies so that even the chain bakeries have coffee superior to that of the States. Apparently, they export all their dreck. Smart.

So I sighed, again wondering why the U.S., which has access to the best of just about everything, continues to have only mediocre coffee (yes, I am spoiled and discerning when it comes to my taste buds). And then I went to New York. Besides the bagels and other baked goods which are divine, Manhattan offers real, true, primo Italian coffee. We popped into a little Italian bistro called Via Quadronno and ordered a couple of cappuccinos to go as we were on a trek across Central Park to the Natural History museum. I took my first sip and practically melted into a little puddle of delight in the middle of Central Park. It was so good I couldn’t decide if it was heavenly or a sin. Still, perhaps that little bistro could have been an aberration. A bright spot; a diamond in the rough, so to speak.

And then we found Joe the Art of Coffee. Well, I can’t exactly claim that we found it as the place was recommended to us by friends who had lived in New York. But they have several locations across Manhattan and they have mastered the art of truly fine coffee. They select the finest beans, and they have a policy of never using any artificial flavors, and when they serve up their coffee, it is an actual artpiece with designs swirled into the foam.

With the offer of places such as these and Employees Only (which has turned cocktail-making into an artform as well), I could almost consider happily trading my sunny apartment in Santa Barbara for an over-priced shoebox in Manhattan.

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