Remembering the Challenger

On January 28, 1986, I was in sixth grade at the St. Francis de Sales parish school in Houston.  We were changing classes between religion and social studies.  It was a Tuesday, so we were on a short-day schedule and had five classes before lunch instead of four.  Social studies was fifth.

All the classrooms had TVs in them, which we used occasionally for important events, like the attempted assassination of President Reagan, like the Astros actually making it to the World Series.  Like the day a faulty O-ring, as we would later be told, disastered the space shuttle across an indigo sky.

All the teachers went to watch the news reports in the library together and left the kids alone in the classrooms with the TVs on.  I watched the replays of the explosion a few times and then, in my typical anxiety response, sat down and started copying the notes for class off the board while everyone else jumped around excitedly, perhaps in fear or awe.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the shape of the cloud, the Y-split, the bulbous contrails of grief and despair, nor of the face of Christa McAuliffe’s husband as he watched the shuttle unfold itself into a brief fire, then a billowing slingshot of destruction, then finally a silent, dripping trail of sadness and disbelief highlit against the too-dark blue of the lower stratosphere.

I recently came across this article, posted about a year ago, which clarified some of the nation’s myths about the Challenger.  In theory, I like knowing that the way we remember things is not always accurate but can be remedied.  However, in this case, some of the details might just be worse than the myths in which we enshrouded ourselves.  http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11031097/#.TyOHEZgqMfE

The day the shuttle broke apart, we were sent home from school earlier than usual.  The sky above Houston was turquoise, perfect, unbroken by clouds or contrails or debris.  I went out to the swingset in my backyard, where I’d spent most of my free time since I’d turned five, and thought about President Reagan’s address to the nation, how he’d called the astronauts heroes, how he’d likened them to stars in the firmament.  The mid-afternoon sun was piercing, the air a little cold.  I swung up higher, higher, higher until my eyes closed from the bright searing light, until my eyelids closed upon a red semi-darkness, until I couldn’t reach any higher without slackening the chains holding my swing to the set.

On what I determined would be my final climb, I took a deep breath and leaped into the air.  I don’t remember my fall.  I don’t remember my body’s arc across the yard.  I remember only the brightness, the sky that touched all the way to the ground, the suspension of everything that had ever mattered.  The brief, brief flight of a bird I never was.

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Haiku Contest

So I was thinking it might be fun to sponsor a little contest.  Nothing too taxing — just haiku.

You probably know what a haiku is already:  a very short poem whose origins are primarily Japanese, whose three lines are measured in syllables numbering 5-7-5, and which (as we often learn in elementary school) traditionally has something to do with nature.  There are a couple of other considerations here, too, for the poetic purists.  A good haiku will entertain a play between pure description and commentary on the subject matter.

Sounds easy, right?  So I’m challenging you to write a haiku.  Post it in the comments section of this blog post for it to count as a contest entry.  The prize will be a copy of David M. Bader’s hilarious collection Haiku U.  Your deadline is midnight central time on Thursday night this week (January 26th).  The poet whose haiku is deemed to be the best all-around in terms of interest and style will win!

And your subject?  Well, it doesn’t, strictly speaking, have to be about nature.  Let’s go for something a bit more timely and topical:  how about the current Republican primaries?  (Feel free to be funny or serious — and if you can find a way to work nature in, all the better.)

If you have any questions, please post them in the comments section.  Chances are, you aren’t the only curious (or confused) person.

Ready?  Set?  GO!

Good for Your Karma

This week, I want to give a nod to some projects and blogs I think are really worthwhile and deserve more attention.  Please click on the links below and check these out!

Brown Girl Magazine

http://browngirlmagazine.com/

The person who writes the “Dear Seema Aunty” column is a friend of mine, and really insightful.  I believe the magazine targets young women of any ethnicity, in the way that the Human Condition makes all struggles relatable to all people.

Pluck Magazine

http://www.pluckmagazine.com

This is a great online magazine that’s been around for maybe a year or so.  I was published in it back in September, a brief personal narrative about my arranged marriage.  Here’s the link to that:  http://www.pluckmagazine.com/articles/article_jamail_01.php

Victoria Love’s New Album

Yeah, I know, you’ve heard about her on my blog before.  There are two main reasons I’m passionate about this project:  first, I love the music; second, Victoria Love is my sister.  🙂  Love’s Kickstarter page is up and taking pledges; they start at $1, and she’s offering great rewards.  She also needs to raise a lot of money in the next few weeks for the project to be funded.  Can she do it?  Will it happen??  Ooh, it’s a nail-biter!  😉

Here’s the Kickstarter page:  http://kck.st/twBUzl

And here’s the review I wrote of her EP:  http://wp.me/p1MOqK-1q

You can hear some of her music on her website:  http://www.victorialovemusic.com

Pass it on!

Soap.  You Know, the Fancy Kind.

http://www.soapier.com/

The tag line says it all:  “Life’s dirty.  Get Soapier.”

These little cakes of cleanliness are well-made and super fragrant, they lather beautifully and look even better next to your sink, and they make excellent gifts.  Plus, they’re less expensive than fancy soaps in a boutique for the exact same product.

The website is not flashy and exciting, but the blog is current, and you can Like them on Facebook.

Some Blogs I’m Following

Here are some interesting and insightful blogs and artists you might enjoy.

you do doodle too:  http://udodoodle2.wordpress.com/

Paula Billups, Painter (gallery and blog):  http://www.paulabillups.com

Babette Fraser Hale, author:  http://www.blogger.com/profile/16801971149305731956

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Thank you, everyone, for your attention.

The Garden

I have a love-hate relationship with my garden.

In fact, to call it a “garden” feels a bit grandiose. It’s more appropriate to call it a collection of seemingly randomly placed plants and flower beds anchoring the edges of my front lawn. Moreover, calling my relationship with it “love-hate” is probably more generous and optimistic than the situation deserves.

I love the idea of having a garden. However, what I really want is a gorgeous refuge of healthy plant life that calls to mind the best quality of a traditional English garden: an idealized image of nature. I want lots of colorful flowers against a deep green backdrop, roses and dahlias and hydrangeas with butterfly weed and tall double hollyhock in supporting roles. I want a groundcover of whatever those charming purple blooms are that persist in growing in the shady parts of my yard that no one seems to be able to identify or sell me more of, but which are blessedly bereft of excessive weeds. I want purple crepe myrtle and blue jacaranda trees, and deep magenta bougainvillea that blooms heavily all year. I want the kind of fruit trees and vines that produce things I like to eat.

And I want my homeowners’ association to leave me alone about my yard. It is possible I want too much.

The likelihood of any of those floral desires coming to fruition is dependent on one of a few possible scenarios coming miraculously true:

1.  My work schedule changes so that I am actually at home during the daylight hours for most of the year, and not completely worn out when I get there, a to-do list a mile long awaiting me.

2.  I acquire an exceptionally talented gardener for my birthday.

3.  The position of my house changes so that it no longer blocks all the sunlight from reaching the garden spaces on my property.

4.  I move to another house which already has this perfect garden and a caretaker to maintain it.

5.  I move to someplace other than what appears to probably be zone 9 or 10.

6.  I am suddenly transported into an actual fairy tale.

Unfortunately, as it turns out, each of those six scenarios just might be equally likely to happen. So what’s a girl with a black thumb to do?

I’ve been thinking of zero-scaping, or simply tearing everything out and replacing it with artfully stacked rocks. Not a lot of support for this among the other members of my household. (Not that I can blame them. There’s a reason I don’t live in the desert – which, incidentally, appears to be better at keeping plants alive than I am. I have managed to inadvertently kill every cactus I’ve ever tried to grow. Or forget about growing – I can’t even keep cacti which are already thriving in their current state. It’s as if they simply succumb to despair when they realize they’ve landed in my possession.)

I have tried. I have made honest efforts. I have read books on gardening for my specific plants and for my specific area. I have investigated related websites and spoken with people from the local rose growers’ association and consultants at independent nurseries. I have planted in locations which seem to get enough sunlight. I have watered diligently and for long enough, according to expert opinions and directions, when there wasn’t enough rain. I have pulled weeds. I have pruned. And for these pains, I have been repeatedly disappointed, even to the point of having to occasionally do deep pruning – you know, with a shovel.

My front lawn and flower beds have been landscaped, or at least planted, a few times, sometimes by myself and my husband, sometimes by my mother-in-law (“Surprise! Happy Birthday!”), sometimes by professional lawn care services and even, once, an outdoor space designer. Yet things always fall apart due to the weather or my inability to maintain the place when I go four or five days in a row without getting home from work before dusk. I can’t really control either of those things. Sometimes I’ve bought plants that, despite their marketing, won’t grow in our zone. Sometimes the problem is with the soil in my yard, and I don’t identify the true problem or how to fix it until it’s too late. Sometimes the fruit tree I buy and then plant and then wait exuberantly for the fruit to grow ends up being the wrong variety, which was mislabeled when I bought it – for example, not sugar figs but some weird fig I end up being allergic to. And then that’s the plant that thrives and and has three successful blooming seasons a year! Ultimately I’m left feeling demoralized.

So it’s January again, which in my area means it’s time to prune and begin thinking about what to do with the space next. I must have indomitable spirit, because I’ve actually been brainstorming with my husband some ideas for what to do with these stubborn garden spaces.

It will begin with cutting back the roses, again, both the bushes and the climbing vines. And pulling out the weeds, which spitefully and tauntingly thrive, thrive, thrive. And perhaps purchasing some soaking hoses to make the job easier.

After that? Well, sigh. It’s anyone’s guess.

New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year, everyone.  Have you made any resolutions?

I tend to root myself in traditions, which I find stabilizing in the general maelstrom that is my overbusy life.  Not all traditions, mind you, and not even all the ones I grew up with.  Just the meaningful or interesting ones.  Among my New Year’s traditions, along with black-eyed peas for good luck on New Year’s Day (which, sadly, my husband and children have so far refused to eat even when I make them with ham) and drinking a toast at midnight, is setting for myself some resolutions.

Sometimes these are successful.  I remember one year, before we had children, before we owned our own home, even before I was teaching full-time, when my husband and I decided we watched too much television didn’t indulge enough our passion for reading and so would stop sitting in front of the idiot box, spending our unoccupied evening hours with books instead.

That was one of the best Januarys ever.

We managed it for a full month and really enjoyed it.  But we sort of missed our favorite television shows.  (This was back in the day when Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and the incredibly offensive Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? and MTV’s The Real World were the only “reality” shows on the air, and back before we owned a house that offered us opportunities for improvement and upkeep and so home improvement shows on HGTV were fun to watch.)  So on January 31st, we decided that we’d had a good time reading and would allow television back into our lives more sparingly without letting go of reading every night.  We learned how to enjoy the proverbial best of both worlds, and our lives were better as a result.  I count that as a successful resolution.

I have made other resolutions over the years that did not turn out so well.  I remember the time in college when I decided I wasn’t going to shop anymore.

That lasted almost a week.  I tried giving it up for Lent that spring, too, which turned out slightly better.

There was that other time when I resolved I would stop procrastinating.  I ended up having to give that one up for Lent, too.  Didn’t work out either time.

I could go on, but somehow spending the first day of the new year recounting past failures seems counterproductive.

So in thinking about this year’s resolutions, I determined that — as in any good problem-solving strategy — I should look at the root of the problem to find a way out of it.    And if the purpose of making resolutions is to improve the quality of my life — and honestly, isn’t that the idea, really? — then I should figure out what about my life needs improving.

I know, I know:  Elementary, my dear Watson.  Sometimes I come to these epiphanies slowly.  Bear with me.

There are things in my life — and most of us can say this — which drive me a little nuts on a daily basis.  And I would love it if I could eliminate those things, or at least ameliorate them, so that they didn’t bother me so much.  (And maybe not letting myself get so worked up over them would help, too, although I admit I’ve tried that before with little success.  I just ended up feeling like a slacker who had given up on her standards.  Not really the direction I was looking for.  There has to be a compromise in there somewhere.)

So here we go, New Year.  Today, January 1st, is the day I identify the things that stress me out unnecessarily and figure out daily ways to make those things better.  This is a resolution to enjoy my whole life more, every single day.

It’s a noble goal.  Wish me luck.