You are the sum of all your learning

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Back in my college days, I lived for a couple years in a sorority house. There were twenty-eight girls, a house mom and a cook. All of that living with a bunch of strangers was quite a life lesson for a nineteen-year-old girl, I assure you.

Those twenty-eight girls came from a variety of different backgrounds, with different values and talents.

Much of what I know and much of who I am can be traced to those days.

Recently, I’ve had a real dearth of creativity. Like a desert in a drought. My creative mind is dusty. The Muse, she’s out to lunch. A two martini lunch.

I’m learning, with the help of my extraordinarily talented and creative cousin, not to worry so much when the creative well has run dry. Be confident, he tells me, and The Muse will find her way home.

I’ve also gotten suggestions that creating something, anything, can also kick loose that block, get the gravel out, and let the magic happen. (this the basic tenet of the good folks at NaNoWriMo)

And so, when I get all creatively clamped down like this, I often go back to something I learned back in those sorority days.

This great girl from Roswell and I made fast friends (we’d both had to endure the same crazy roommate in separate semesters. This sort of experience bonds people). She’d grown up showing pigs and living on a ranch and was a much more creative person than I was at the time.

Not to be all stereotypical, but those ranch woman can out cook, out craft and out wrassle any of their town raised counterparts.

Anyhoo, I don’t really remember the events that lead up to it, but this friend of mine, at my request, taught me how to do a counted cross-stitch kit. It was a simple pattern, but when I was done, I was so pleased. It was a nice distraction during those long days of studying.

Doing cross-stitch is not especially hard, but can be time consuming, and there are certain stitches for certain patterns.

My friend very patiently showed me how to sort the threads, how to tape the sides of the aida cloth to keep them from unraveling, how not to pull the stitches too tight, how to fix mistakes, how the back of the cloth should look as clean as the front. All of that.

And so, over the weekend, I had a coupon for Michaels, and yearning to create, I picked out a very simple kit. A “learn a craft” kit that I think is made for kids.

But that doesn’t matter.

Today, I very carefully applied tape to the aida cloth. I sorted the threads and counted to be sure they were there. I folded the cloth and marked the center lightly with a pencil, and I got out my highlighter to mark off my progress, all the way my friend taught me lo’ these almost twenty years ago.

Whenever I start a new cross-stitch, I always think of my friend. She is with me, guiding my progress the whole way. She is forever a part of me. That’s a happy feeling. That’s the family you make over the course of your life.

So here we go! Let the creation begin!

Oh, wait. Well. There is one change. One update that will take place this go ’round. A necessary adjustment, if you will.

Yeah. My lighted magnifying class. Sadly, I don’t have twenty-year-old eyes anymore. *cranky*

Oh. And getting to work on my cute frog cross-stitch isn’t the only bit of using my hands that I got up to today.

I also got busy on these:

Ooh, I feel The Muse on her way back already! Here Musey, Musey, Musey!! Want a cookie?

Manual Process

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The other day at work, one of the nice ladies I work with took ill. After much discussion, it was decided she needed to head home to rest and recoup, but she felt too woozy to drive.

One of her coworkers, who lives in the same neighborhood, offered to drive the lady home using the sick lady’s own car, and would then take public transit to her own place.

This was a very kind offer!

But when they got to the parking garage, a problem presented itself.

The car in question has a manual transmission, and the good Samaritan had zero idea what to do with all those pedals under the dash.

Turns out, no one in the office knew how to drive a stick (I wasn’t at work that day), so the sick lady ended up driving herself home…which is a shame.

See, I have a few personal arbitrary rules for the world. One of them is that everyone who knows how to drive should know how to drive a manual transmission.

I suppose this is one of those hand-me-downs from my parents. My dad was adamant on this same policy.

His reasoning for this was, “if you can drive a stick, you can drive any car in the world.” My pops was full of beans on a lot of his own personal arbitrary rules for the world (like father like daughter), but I have to back him up on this one.

When each of us three kids learned how to drive, we learned how to drive both an automatic and a stick, much to the groaning agony of the used four-speed everything manual car we all used to learn (if you click, it was like the one in front, only with purple stripes and no sun roof).

That car was pre-hydraulic clutch. I blame this for the freak strength of my left leg.

But I digress.

I realize that most of the cars on the roads today are automatic. I suppose it’s a good thing, it has made driving easier and more accessible for people. But it’s also a sad turn.

When I moved to the Bay Area, I had a 5-speed Jeep. God, I loved that truck. After moving here I fearlessly bombed all around San Francisco in that thing, up and down some of the craziest hills the City has to offer…

…not because I’m cool or daring or anything, mainly because I’m stupid and didn’t plan my routes better. In the first months of life here, the smell of my own burning clutch was like an old friend following me up and down SF roads.

And let me tell you this…if you are at a stop light on a street that just *happens* to also carry a streetcar, and if you *happen* to stop and don’t realize your back tire is on the streetcar rail…well, when the light turns and you hit the gas…the squeeeeing sound is unlike anything you’ve ever known as well as the smell of your tires AND your clutch as they hang on the foggy air. Yes! That is the smell of humiliation to a country mouse in the big town!

We’ll not discuss trying to parallel park on a hill with a manual transmission…

Ok, sure. One of the reasons that people don’t want to drive a stick is because of life’s little difficulties just like that.

Yeah, yeah…it can be utterly nerve wracking.

But I say, the problem solving and gut-it-out reflexes you have to go through to get that car rolling again are valuable life lessons!

Lessons we all can use.

Plus, if you ever want to buy a really fancy sports car, you are good to go.

Or…you know, “borrow” some farm equipment.

But once again…I digress…

Get outta the wayback machine!

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It was Fall, had to be. Slight crispness to the evening air. Anticipation thick as the fog of Aqua Net in the Chi Omega house.

It was 1989, probably. Or somewhere close to that. The campus of New Mexico State University. I was a sophomore, maybe a junior, I can’t remember. Doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that I was getting ready to go to a dance at Corbett Center.

The woman who would become my best friend for what is now over twenty years was the driving force that night, and many just like it. Her parents had met at a Corbett Center dance, so she was especially incentivized to go scoot a boot and see what’s doing. Family history.

I nervously pulled on my too shiny, too new, gray goatskin round toe ropers and jeans that didn’t really go with the boots, but were at least long enough to be acceptable. “You should buy some Rockies,” I was told, and they were right. I would, later, in quantity. But then I had neither the money nor the courage. I wasn’t sure what I was going to get into, I just knew I was going to be there come hell or high water.

It wasn’t my first Corbett dance. It wouldn’t be my last. This story isn’t about one actual night, more an amalgam of a lot of great nights.

The gaggle of high-haired women walked out the back door of our home, a sorority house containing twenty-eight women of different backgrounds, and one understanding house mom. What bound us together was our choice of educational institution. A land grant institution. To the uninformed, that means an agricultural college.

It was a short shuffle over to Corbett, up the stairs to the third floor where they had the ballrooms. Pay the entrance fee. Five dollars I think? Maybe less back then. Get a stamp on your hand. Look around, see who is there already. Talk about who you hope shows up.

Hear the opening strains of music. Usually The Delk Band. A group of musicians, brothers, and their dad on fiddle. I went to school with most of the boys. I remember one of the Delks was cute. I remember one of the Delks was the drummer and back then had a tendency to speed up the tempo as a song wore on. Hard to dance to a wildly varying tempo. But we did it.

They were our people, and we embraced them. And we danced. Oh did we dance.

The two-step. Not the Texas double up kind, no. The slow kind, keeping time to the music.

And a waltz. My favorite, how I love to waltz. The rhythm of waltz-timed music still beats my heart a little differently.

The polka. If done right with the right boy (he had to be tall because I’m tall and otherwise we’d just bump knees) you felt like you were flying, feet hardly touching the ground.

Then of course the Cotton-Eyed Joe (stepped in what?) and the Schottische, played back to back, often enough. Linking six or eight of us, arm in arm, facing forward, laughing our fool heads off.

The ladies, my friends and I, would stand on the sidelines and take a look at the scene. My best friend would always get asked to dance first. She’s beautiful and a great dancer. Who could blame the boys for flocking to her blue-eyed, dark haired gorgeousness? Not me, for sure.

As I got better at dancing, I got asked often enough, too. The boys liked the girls who could dance, who liked to dance, who didn’t turn up their nose at dirty fingernails and cow sh*t on their boots.

There is something special about dancing with a boy who knows how to dance, a strong lead, who looked you in the eyes while we danced. The boys who had the right fold in their hat and smelled faintly of Copenhagen and beer and Polo cologne.

I got to know those folks. All of them, the boys, the girls, the dancers, the musicians, the laughers, the people who liked to swing each other around the dance floor.

They became my family. We traveled in packs, dancing until we were sweaty, then heading outside into the cool air to take a breath, drink a beer, laugh a lot and occasionally find someone to spend a little time with.

Well not me, not then. I was still too awkward and mixed up to attract much in the way of boys at that point. I was more “one of the guys” than one of the girls the guys would chase. Don’t feel bad for me though, I eventually figured it out. (cover your eyes, mom)

Over time, we all aged a little, got to be over 21 and started to migrate from dancing at Corbett center to dancing at the local country bar. It was fun but seemed a little more complicated. Add more than a couple beers to the night and weird things happen.

But still we danced. By that time, I’d moved off campus and lived with my friend from TorC. She was crazy and fun and taught me a lot (cover your eyes, mom), and she loved to dance as much as I did. She coined the phrase “big bar hair” and learned me how to get it, and keep it, despite dancing so hard sweat ran down your face.

Then we all aged a bit more, and we graduated and found respectable jobs. My best friend, her husband (a fine dancer, I must say) and I are all actually employed in the same area that’s listed on our diplomas. One might scoff at country folks, but all three of us hold a Master’s degree in our chosen fields.

Now, on the verge of turning forty, I find I still miss those days, mightily. I wished I’d enjoyed them more at the time. The stress of school and classes and “what do I want to be when I grow up” cast a pall on my days.

My own fault. A worrier by nature, a tendency I fight tooth and nail every single day I take a breath.

When I’m having a bad day, when I doubt myself, when I realize I don’t fit in at my new place of employment, when I don’t feel heard or understood or very well liked, I can always go back to those days in my mind and smile.

I can’t get together with my best friend and her husband and NOT talk about those days. Magical. I’m blessed to have been able to have them. Once upon a time, I knew where I belonged.

______________________________

(photo found via Google. That is, in fact, Mark Delk and if I’m right, that photo was taken at Dickerson’s Auction Barn…another location for a lot of good nights of dancing….)

This historic journey brought to you by the song “On A Good Night” by Wade Hayes. The song popped up on my iPod set to shuffle during the morning commute. The song itself was burned off a CD while visiting my best good friend in the world just a couple months ago. Damn you Wade for putting me in the wayback machine!

The roots of my raising run deep…

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Ok, well, maybe a taste of the holiday spirit came and got me this weekend.

The tree went up.

And the kitchen got cookin’.

It ain’t Christmas without a batch of biscochitos. (Recipe here from the PNM cookbook.) It’s a family tradition.

Here are the little beauties, just before going in the oven….deelish already:

And then, fully cooked, fulfilling their destiny. So lightly baked, so flaky, so anise-y. Oh yeah. New Mexico comes to visit.

Many of these bad boys will be going with me to work. These Californians need a taste of where I come from!

Feliz Dia de los Muertos!

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A personal high holy day for me.

I think I got deeply into the spirit last night dressed up as Frida.

It is a thoughtful day, remembering my loved ones who have moved on to the next journey.

I’m in a hotel room in Hawaii, so hard to celebrate properly, but I’ll make do.

I’m working on a make-shift ofrenda. If it comes out I’ll post a photo.

Mostly, just a reminder to remember those closest to you, both here and beyond.