Friday, July 21, 2006
I love a good storm. The lightening, thunder and wind bring with them a humbling message; a reminder we are, in the grand scheme of the Universe, small, insignificant and much more vulnerable than we allow ourselves to believe.

A good storm is like a great mystery novel; alive with action, drama and energy building to its conclusion – a grand finale you hope will spare the heroes and punish the villains. Wednesday night our area had all the storm drama one would ever want to pack into one summer.

St. Louis has been under a heat advisory for the last four days, the kind of unrelenting temperatures and humidity that strains air conditioners and inflates electric bills. I looked forward to the predicted thunder storms last Wednesday, as they bring with them a front of cool air in addition to the spectacle of eerily colored skies painted by lightening.

Every Wednesday evening you’ll find me at our local VA hospital, attending The Philosopher’s therapy group for veterans. What I do there can’t be described as volunteer work or a simple interest in the occupation of my other-half. I care about the people who attend and, unlike my experiences with adoption groups, feel a sense of belonging in their company. I get much more than I give, relating to the veterans and learning much about myself through the process of group. It nearly takes an act of congress to get me to miss a Wednesday gathering.

Last Wednesday, group settled into its rhythm before the winds kicked up, but when they did, accompanied by the instant darkness of a massive power-outage, several of us raced out to our cars to roll up windows. The sky turned an eerie blend of red and black and the sound of snapping branches from the forest of old oaks guarding the hospital lead me to quickly abandon my car and head for cover. I braced myself against a gust of wind threatening to knock me from my feet while watching the same gust snap a beautiful maple tree in half just yards ahead.

Group carried on as the storm gained momentum, our little room lit by emergency lighting. That all of us were willing to sit together in the dark, continuing our discussion as Mother Nature unleashed her wrath outside, bears testament to the power of what transpires every Wednesday night. The only threat to group that evening was the rising temperature of a hospital without air conditioning, but we were all determined to remain until things became unbearable.

Upon hearing metal sheering from the roof of the building, my curiosity did lead me to the lobby for a quick peek outside. Greeting me was a gathering crowd of hospital residents, standing in awe of the scene just beyond the lobby doors. On the other side of the glass, debris raced horizontally across the front of the building, backlit by the lights of police cars stationed to prevent anyone from leaving.

New to Midwest storms, I felt like child who’d just witnessed her first snowfall, excitedly offering group a weather report in what must have appeared as overly exaggerated wonderment.

The Philosopher asked if there were cows flying past the window. “Cows and semi-trucks. It’s a mess out there,” I said, visualizing a scene from Twister and realizing the storm was likely a novelty only to me.

The wind and rain passed. When group dispersed into the parking lot still darkened by the storm clouds and power outage, only the occasional belch of lighting from the dwindling storm revealed the damage. Fallen trees, branches and debris appeared and disappeared with each burst of lightening, like watching a movie one frame at a time.

Our home greeted us with lights and, blessedly, air conditioning, but no traces of bad weather. As my excitement from the storm began to fade, I wondered if I hadn’t been a bit of a drama queen over the whole ordeal. Until I read the news reports.

By morning, St. Louis was in an official state of emergency. The National Guard arrived to move people from sweltering homes to air-conditioned buildings and overturned tractor-trailers were among the debris littering the highways. The VA hospital’s patients were being evacuated and newspaper meteorologists reported one tornado spawned from the storm:

"Wednesday's severe storm spawned what officials say
might have been a tornado at Jefferson Barracks
and Telegraph roads in south St. Louis County."

At our hospital. Outside our group room.

I felt a little vindicated about my, now justified, wide-eyed excitement. But I mostly felt proud; proud that the group of people I spend Wednesday evenings with value their time together to such a degree, not even a tornado diverts them from their duties to one another.

(Photo credits to The Philosopher, who captured the storm fall-out the following morning)
Rhonda Ruminated at 1:17 PM | Permalink | 19 People Ruminated links to this post
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Cat Tales
I was only eighteen when we found each other. I heard him before seeing him – a tiny meow from somewhere within the tangle of grass and thistle of a countryside field. Eventually, I was able to trace the source of the sound, coming upon a litter of feral barn cats, wild and unapproachable, except for him. I sat down in the tall grass and he wandered away from his littermates, straight towards me, eventually curing up in my lap.

Just like that, we belonged to each other.

I’m not sure Rasta ever knew he was a cat. He possessed none of the arrogance, superiority and aloofness that give cats a bad name. He ate pizza. He liked baths. He appreciated a good belly-rub and he loved car rides.

Back then; long before Expeditions and Hummers, I drove a Ford F250 truck. It was the biggest, meanest looking vehicle on the road, towering above other cars and rarely the type of truck one would see a woman driving. Driving that beast elicited double takes everywhere I went. But I was never sure if people were looking at me, or at the huge tabby-cat with the big, green eyes sitting front and center on the dashboard.

We went everywhere together: Camping on the Oregon sand dunes, hiking in the Cascade Mountains. He’d sit by the campfire, come when I’d call and happily curl up in the tent with me at night. He was my partner for every road trip to every outdoor concert, probably the only cat ever to see Fleetwood Mac, the Grateful Dead and Crosby, Stills and Nash perform live.

For sixteen years, we were a team. He forgave me for bringing home a husband, then a kitten, followed by a puppy and two human kids, too. He was my faithful lap companion through the long nights of studying during night school and my sidekick as I hiked the forests of our mountainside property. When we purchased a small boat, I couldn’t fathom leaving him behind while we vacationed, so he went with – through the San Juan Islands of Washington State and into the beautiful spaces of British Columbia.

We grew up together, Rasta and me. Knowing we couldn’t, and wouldn’t, grow old together was a thought I tried not to often visit, as it nearly crushed me to even consider it.

Rasta outlasted my other pets, many of my friendships and even my marriage. He was there during the best of times and the worst, steadfast, unwavering. One morning, during one of the worst of times, while my divorce proceedings were in full swing, he took his regular spot on the kitchen counter as I readied my day’s first cup of coffee – a morning ritual we’d shared for almost two decades. And then, I saw it . . .

Rasta, seemingly overnight, suddenly looked like the old man he was. And he looked back at me, letting out a half-purr/half-sigh, as if to affirm what I was thinking: our time together was coming to a close.

I don’t miss that cat any less today than I did the day I lost him, six years ago. Though my life is filled with the love of animal companions, I have ached since then for the company of a cat – a little buddy to curl into my lap while I work at my computer or read a book. In the last six years, I’ve visited maybe hundreds of cats and kittens – at the pound, the adoption fairs and pet stores – but, every time, I’ve left empty handed.

Then last week, like Rasta before him, a seven-week-old kitten picked me. And, just like that, we belonged to each other.

Meet our new addition. He is wonderful and I am totally and completely in love. I know Rasta would approve . . .

Rhonda Ruminated at 7:40 PM | Permalink | 24 People Ruminated links to this post
Monday, July 10, 2006
Screaming MeMe
Reading Ruth Dynamite’s blog, I was awestruck by her ability to make a MeMe post so magnificently creative. Then I reached the end; the part where she tagged ME.

Two things stopped me from objecting: I adore Ruth and her writing and, because she is a tennis player, I imagine she sports biceps of steel. I want to stay on her good side. Thus, welcome to my MeMe.

Before the kids, dogs and I moved into The Philosopher’s house, his idea of cleaning was giving the floors a good sprinkling of Carpet Fresh. I found this oddly comforting. When I was a kid, my aunt lovingly referred to me as “Pigpen” (of Peanuts fame) because I’d whirlwind through the house in the midst of a project, leaving a trail of disorder in my wake. Not much has changed. If I’ve whirlwind-ed through the kitchen, I have to make a conscious effort to stop, turn around, and close the cabinets before moving on. I do so with about 50% accuracy.

I’ve just never been able to perfect the June Cleaver housewifery thing. I do clean, but in bursts driven primarily by a deep fear of slowly burning to death in a housefire. Because we are so alike, The Philosopher is tolerant of my Pigpen inclinations. But, he does have a few pet peeves. On the top of his pet peeve list is The Refrigerator.

“You have NO refrigerator skills!” he proclaimed one day, while searching through the largely expired collection of our fridge’s contents.

Now, thanks to Ruth, I am forced to come out of my cluttered closet. The world will know I have no refrigerator skills . .

Five Things in my Refrigerator:

1. Two EMPTY pizza boxes: My daughter gets the credit for this one. She’s evidently inherited the pigpen gene.

2. A bottle of V-8 with a 2001 expiration date. It’s unopened. It still must be good, right? I can’t be the only person who hears the “ . . . starving children in Africa . . . “ lecture ringing in my head, in my mother’s voice, when I contemplate throwing foodstuff away.

3. Salad Soup: In the crisper drawer. I didn’t make it. It seems to be the natural evolution of vegetables. Strangely enough, it’s the same consistency of the expired V-8.

4. THREE bottles of mustard: I HATE mustard and, therefore, have no idea why my condiment shelf is apparently hosting a mustard orgy.

5. Health Food: I am the only person in the house who considers this this edible, thus it remains untouched by anyone but me: crushed garlic in a jar, the world’s largest ever portabella mushroom, a pair of veggie burgers, vegan cheese and a package of vegan salami.

Five Things in my Closet:

1. A broken sewing machine: June Cleaver would have rushed the thing to the repair shop. Did I mention I’m no June Cleaver?

2. A box labeled: IMPORTANT STUFF. DON’T THROW AWAY. I have no idea what it contains.

3. My favorite pair of Levis. From highschool. They are the reason my fridge is filled with food so healthy it frightens the children.

4. A Grateful Dead Tie-dyed teeshirt, circa 1986. Ah, the memories. Concerts, hippy buses and hitchhiking on the Ventura Highway. Everyone should keep a reminder of when they were young, free and inexcusably stupid.

5. A Collection of Old Purses: I love finding the perfect purse, bag or backpack. They symbolize hope; hope that I will become organized; hope that no matter what mismatched mommy clothes I am wearing and despite leaving the house sans makeup, anyone who notices my purse will deduct I’ve retained some sense of fashion and style from my days of youth.

I cannot bear throwing out an old purse. Each one is a piece of history, a timeline of my life. The leather back-pack styled purse, sprinkled with the drippings of acrylic paints, was from my art-teacher days, big enough to hold a daytimer filled with lesson plans and a quick lunch for myself in between classes. Its worn straps and used up zippers bring back faces of favorite students. And then there’s the big, canvas satchel from when the kids were little. It’s held baby bottles, pacifiers, treasured toys and blankies. How could I throw it away?

Five Things in my Purse:

1. A bottle of synthroid, with thanks to my malfunctioning thyroid.
2. A spare car key because I’m terrified I will, one day, accidentally lock my dog in the car – with my keys. He isn’t licensed to drive.
3. A pair of tweezers. There is nothing worse than glimpsing into the rearview mirror and noticing a hair sprouting from some place it wasn’t meant to sprout, then realizing you have no tweezers. I’ve got it covered.
4. A bottle of nail glue, from the military ball. I ripped those fake suckers off on the way back to my hotel.

Five Things in My Car:

1. A Kodak Z650 digital camera: This is my little "just in case" camera, so I never miss a picture of, say, the formation of a wall cloud (the precursor to a tornado) taking shape right in front of me on my way home from the store:

2. A Crazy Frog CD: Strategically hidden beneath debris under my seat. Yes, I HID it from my daughter, because if I have to listen to that song one more time . . .

3. A can of mace. Don’t mess with me. And step away from the Crazy Frog CD – NOW!

4. The box in which we brought home our newest pet, Thumper the rabbit.

5. A bag of cleaning supplies: Fantastic spray, sponge and papertowels because, someday, I will bring them in the house and actually clean the fridge – and maybe even the closet.


Oh, and Atilla? Remember when I promised revenge for tagging me, way back when. Guess what? You're it.
Rhonda Ruminated at 4:16 PM | Permalink | 22 People Ruminated links to this post
Monday, July 03, 2006
The Weekend in Pictures
I take a camera everywhere I go. Last Friday afternoon, on my way to our weekly basketball game, it sat with me in the biggest traffic jam I’ve ever encountered. St. Louis’ I-270 came to a screeching halt and, like the other unlucky mid-day commuters who sat idling with me for nearly an hour, I cursed whatever accident lay ahead as I imagined yet another tailgating semi-truck spread in bits and pieces across the four lane highway.

When traffic began to slowly creep forward, it was obvious the entire freeway had been shut down. A police car blocked every onramp and, as I crept over the first rise in the highway, I saw a thousand swirling red and blue lights ahead. Whatever ugly scene I was about to encounter, I thought, was going to be god-awful disturbing.

But over the next rise, something totally unexpected came into view: A white hearse followed by 50 flag bearing Patriot Guard Riders, followed by miles of mourners. The freeway had been shut down in honor of a 22-year-old fallen Marine.
"The mourners formed a seven-mile funeral procession and drove 21 miles through empty highways, all ramps shut down out of respect for Cpl. Riley Baker, who was killed last week in Iraq."
Suddenly, where I needed to go, and how quickly I needed to get there became entirely unimportant.

I stopped by the National Cemetery on the way home from our game. The crowd of mourners was heading home and the Patriot Guard Riders were stowing away their flags.

I sat in my car, in the distance, shooting photos of the flag at half-mast and lost in thought, until startled by a frantic tap on my window. Thinking I was about to be asked to leave, I hesitantly greeted the tapping woman.

“Do you want a really neat photo?” she asked. And then, she led me down the road a bit, to a section of WWII soldiers’ graves amongst which a fawn had taken residence. Somehow, the resulting photos said more about the circle of life than those I’d intended to capture:

Saturday evening, my daughter and I trekked down the road to our town's firework show . . .

Happy Fourth, everyone and Happy Birthday to my son who turns 16 today.
I love you, kiddo.

Rhonda Ruminated at 7:06 PM | Permalink | 20 People Ruminated links to this post
No Comment
When I posted the video, My Old Friend, I shut down comments. I had my reasons: logical, carefully considered rationales concerning external links from unfamiliar places, my unease with missing someone I’d not seen in two decades and the desire to let it stand, silently, as a tribute to a friend.

While the above is truthful, it doesn’t encompass the whole truth. Making the video was an emotional experience, a journey back into the best times of my teen-hood. And, the decision to disable comments was, really, all about emotions. I did so not because I didn’t trust my readers to be their usual compassionate, gracious selves, but because I wanted to control my experience of the video, without the triggers a dialogue might flip. I wanted to stay in the good memories of youth – not wander into the unmitigated disaster my life became following that summer.

As logic and emotions are two very different things, so too are wants and needs. I may not have wanted to visit those places in my past I tried to shut down, but I needed to. And, after a week of sleeplessness and anxiety, I finally did.

I’ve struggled writing this, not wanting to launch into a timeline of painful events or illicit sympathy. Suffice it to say, I was raised by an adoptive mother whose character was marked by paranoia and emotional cruelty. All of the goodness that happened that summer, she viewed as a symptom of adoption and a sign of terrible things to come.

My mother knew nothing of my pre-adoption history and needed only to fill in the blanks. Adoptees, in her mind, were born of promiscuity, impulsivity and an endless list of social ills and moral deficits. Whatever she imagined my birthmother to be, so too did she fear I would become. That Chris was also adopted only added fuel to her paranoia. My entire life, she’d primed me to resist the temptations of love, consciously or not, to ward off the sins of my biological parents.

While nothing occurred that summer I wouldn’t hope my own children someday experience, my mother viewed my interest in anything beyond the four walls of our home as a violation of our contract to be a family. As a result, she placed me on lock-down – a punishment not fitting the crime, as no crime took place. When high school began, any social or extra-curricular activity I managed to sneak away and participate in were viewed as an act of rebellious disobedience. Tired of policing me, I was, shortly shipped off to live with relatives in another city and, for the next year, I bounced between their home and my own until, finally, I was thrown into a foster home, then aged out of the system. By my senior year I was 18 and homeless, my three years of high school nothing more than a conflicted, terrible waste.

At the end of it all, I’d learned to trust no one – and love no one, most especially myself. A beautiful experience at the beginning of high school resulted in the dismantling of my entire world. Making the video not only brought this all back, but was accompanied by a growing sense of unease that the very act of following my heart would, once again, be followed by the same dire consequences it was back then. Yes, I am an adult and no longer under my adoptive mother’s rule. But, that teenaged girl is still somewhere inside me, and sometimes her experience steers my emotions, especially when I attempt to shut those emotions down.

Why am I sharing this? Because I owe it to those who frequent my blog and discovered my comment section mysteriously disabled, perhaps wondering why my little spot on the web was suddenly under authoritarian rule. And, because I owe it to myself to visit those difficult spots in my past so that I may live more wholly in my present.
Rhonda Ruminated at 10:48 AM | Permalink | 10 People Ruminated links to this post