Tales of a wandering lesbian

Category — People

Yes Ma’am

Okay, I’m in a ranting mood today.  I apologize up front.

I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to being called “sir”.  It’s not that it’s too formal, or anything.  It’s just that I’m a woman.  And generally I’m not all that concerned about the gender thing.  I mean, okay, if I’m dating you I care, but other than that, I’m not too concerned.  But, for some reason, people I don’t know are terribly concerned with the gender question.  I know it’s not their individual faults, necessarily.  I’m sure there’s a social norm that I’m violating that dictates the way some people react to me.  I guess that makes me gender-nonconforming.  I guess.  Who knows?  I don’t try to be difficult, you know.

And I want to say up front, no, I don’t think it’s just the hair.  I don’t know if this is an experience unique to lesbians, or short-haired women, or women with a certain energy/sensibility, but it doesn’t seem to depend on the length of my hair, in any case.  I get far more compliments when I have a shaved head than I get “sirs,” but they still sting.  And I’m not sure what it is that is more stinging, the fact that the airport smoothie clerk thinks I’m a man or the fact that she cares.

Honestly, it happens much less often than it used to.  I used to correct people.  I got to a point where I could smile and in a Zen-like state engage in a conversation about gender-norms.  I’m not there anymore.  Maybe I’m just out of practice.  I’d like to get back there.  It’s a much more healthy place.  But I feel like something snapped.  I remember when it happened.

I was walking into a Wal-Mart, something I very, very rarely do.  I was working, and I had to pick up a donation check.  I’d put myself in the best mood possible for the venture (I don’t like going into Wal-Mart for a variety of reasons), but in the parking lot someone turned my smile upside-down.   I’m someone who tries to smile at everyone I meet.   My family is often warning against this.  But I like to engage people – to make their day better in the smallest, simplest of ways.  Unfortunately, not everyone has the same goals.

I saw the woman walking toward me from about 20 yards away.  She was coming out of the store with a full basket – and her mouth gaping open.  I fixed a smile on my face and looked at her warmly.  After all, we were neighbors of sorts, living in the same town.  As she drew closer, she actually aimed her cart in my direction, apparently caught in my tractor beam.  Her mouth was wide open, and she was unabashedly staring.

Now, I AM quite beautiful, so I’m used to being stared at.  But this woman didn’t seem to be stunned by my striking good looks.  In fact, she seemed horrified.  I tried to keep the smile on my face as she slowed down and turned her head as she passed, now about a foot away from me, craning around to look at me.  I maintained eye-contact and said something like “hi” or “good morning”.  Evidently, that was what she was waiting for:

“I’m just trying to figure out if you’re a man or a woman.”  It wasn’t said with malice.  But it was also more than mere curiosity.  I tried to tell myself that it was okay, at least she was honest, but I was totally thrown by the fact that she’d said it out loud.  I’m used to having kids ask their parents, “is that a boy or a girl?”  Those conversations are easy.  I just answer the question and ask the kid the same thing.  Usually they smile, think about it and tell me, and then we’re best friends.

But this, a grown woman gaping at a stranger and declaring that she wanted to know my gender was unnerving.  Why did it matter to her?  And how could she not tell?  “I’m a woman, thanks.”  I probably could have been more gentle, but I was shaking.

“I was just wondering!”  Came the retort.  I considered the fact that I was there on business; that I was wearing company logos; and that I have a general policy to be kind to anyone who asks questions of this sort.  I find I can answer pretty much any question from someone about my sexual orientation, no matter the motivation or the language used, but when it comes to gender, my patience is much more thin.  I really wonder why that is.

This must be something that people going through transition from one gender to the other deal with every day.  It must be incredibly trying.  Or maybe, like answering orientation questions for me, they grow used to it.  I don’t know if there are a lot of people who deal with this, or who choose to think about it much.  Although it gets me all riled up, It’s pretty fascinating to me.

I know that for most kids, gender is really interesting, and important.  “Is that a boy or a girl?” is a useful shorthand.  It’s a box to put someone in so you know what kind of birthday present to get – truck or doll.  But it does more than that, too.  Checking one box or another means it’s okay to wear a skirt, or it’s okay to have a certain haircut.  It means it’s okay to cry, or not.  And for some reason, we really seem to care which box a stranger has checked, even if it’s so that we can choose the correct greeting.  Or maybe it’s just me.

Every time someone calls me “sir” I bristle, which must mean that I’m not so evolved that it doesn’t really matter to me.  And maybe that’s what bothers me most.  I’m just as guilty.  What does it matter, really, if someone thinks I’m a man?  I think I’m beautiful and intelligent and super-charming.  I am incredibly proud of the woman I am.  This is the conclusion I come to after every “sir” incident.  Maybe next time I can smile, gently correct the other person and be grateful for the moment of contemplation that I know will follow.  Or maybe I’ll start shaking and run off to blog about it.  Either way, really.

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January 19, 2010   3 Comments

Christmas in the mountains

Christmas in Idaho, for me, is magical.  The place where I grew up is one of those mountain locations that looks more like a postcard than anything else.  Many days have some kind of precipitation, whether it’s thunderstorms in the summer or snow flurries in the winter.  Every day, however, is marked by a beautiful clearing of the sky that is eye-watteringly blue.

There are some things that happen every year when I go home.  Christmas eve is marked by a soup-feed at my parents house (usually attended by the priest who will be celebrating evening mass), evening mass at my childhood Catholic church, hanging of stockings, a morning feast, and the crowning event, a Christmas ravioli dinner.

There are other things that are unexpected, variations that make the holidays interesting.  Yes, my sister and I will get in trouble for whispering and giggling in church, but the results vary.  We didn’t do it much as kids, when we were busy serving as altar-girls, but as adults, it seems that we can’t help ourselves.  “I’m sitting next to Kristin!” my little (30-year-old) sister demanded.  I climbed over my grandparents and mother to kneel next to her at the bend in the pew, my knees widely straddling to different kneelers.  We kept it together until my mom turned us in to my grandmother for whispering.  The resulting boxing motions made by my 89-year-old, heathen grandmother sent me into fits of stifled laughter that brought tears rolling down my cheeks.

When the mass got to the “prayers of the faithful,” a time when parishioners pray aloud their hopes for world peace, the healing of friends and family members, and the memories of lost loved ones, my sister gripped my hand tightly.  It wasn’t because she was distraught or devout in her prayers.  It was to keep me from saying anything.  As an adult, I’ve found the prayers of the faithful a nice gesture, a time to fix the positive thoughts of those in the high-ceilinged room on the betterment of all.

During a previous Christmas mass, I opened my mouth to voice a prayer for a family-friend who had suffered an accident and was undergoing a difficult recovery.  I imagined the positive energy floating to the hospital bed, and the warm feeling the family would feel knowing that people were sending love.  I didn’t hear the gasps down the pew when I said the name, but it became clear that I’d let a cat out of the bag as soon as mass was over and groups of people darted in my direction.  Apparently, the accident wasn’t public knowledge and I’d missed that piece of information.  Fortunately, my family clued me into the situation, and I was able to rapidly employ Jedi mind-tricks.  When we got home from church, the message light was already flashing on the phone, the sign of a truly small town.

From that point on, we referred to the incident as “the time Kristin ruined Christmas”.  This year, however, I kept my jaw firmly clenched and my sister and I celebrated when I made it through mass without ruining the Christmas of 2009.  I left it to the frozen, overburdened powerlines to try to do that.

As we drove down the road to my sister’s house after Christmas mass, she noted that the streetlights were out.  I watched as porch lights extinguished at the passing of our truck.  Pulling up to the house, we saw the telltale sign of jerky flashlight bursts against the inside of the window coverings that told us the power was out.  We walked Cathy to the door and told her to come to the parents’ house if it got too cold.  Her parents-in-law were visiting, and the temperature was dipping below zero (that’s Fahrenheit, people).

When we pulled into Ketchum, a 20 minute ride from Cathy’s house, we found the traffic-lights were out.  That meant it was a darn big power outage – on Christmas Eve.  Fortunately, the lights were on at my parent’s place, so I powered up my laptop and climbed into bed, ready for a Christmas ritual of my own.  Woot.com is one of my online loves.  It’s an electronics clearing house that posts a new item every night at midnight central time.  Every so often, they post something called a “Random Bag of Crap” – $3.00 for 3 pieces of random electronics (and other stuff).  Everything from blow-up tiki huts, to Nintendo wiis and insulated beer mugs for $3.00.  Hundreds of thousands of people compete for these coveted items.  Usually the BOCs are posted randomly – but Christmas is one of the few days you can plan ahead to be ready for them.

So I sat in bed with 7 minutes to go, my account loaded and my credit card at the ready.  And then the power went out.  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooo!!!!  The wireless router was no longer available.  I stayed up for the next 7 minutes, hoping that the power would roar back up in time.  At about 10 after, I gave up the ghost, dug around for my headlamp, and tried to get some sleep.  Surely, the power would be on by morning.

When my dad bought a generator for the Y2K meltdown, I laughed at him.  We sat in front of the tv and watched the celebrations in Australia and China as nothing happened.  Fireworks went off and the lights stayed on.  No computers burst into fire and no bank accounts were lost.

The generator stayed in the garage for 10 years, next to the 5 gallon container of gas.  When we woke up this year on Christmas morning, it was 55 degrees in my sister’s house, and you could see your breath in many houses in the valley.  But, at the Flickinger house, it was a different story.  Walking up the stairs to the kitchen, I saw a funny blue light.  Candles were lit and my mom was warming water for hot drinks; the 6 gas burners of the stove were on high.


Soon there was a roaring fire in the fireplace, and the sound of my dad pull-starting the generator in the garage.

It took a while to get the 10-year-old generator going, but he had it up and humming, and powering the furnace before breakfast.  Breakfast, however was on the barbecue.  For the past 5 or 6 years (maybe longer), we’ve had the same thing for Christmas breakfast.  It’s a breakfast strada.  A what?  A breakfast strada.  Here’s how it works:  You take a box of Eggo waffles, cheese, ham (if you like), and layer them in a 13×9 baking dish.  After 2 layers of each, you pour a scrambled egg mixture (including milk and cayenne pepper) over the top.  Bake and devour.  Just for the record, you can bake it on a barbecue, though it might result in a slightly burned bottom.

By noon, we’d eaten, opened our presents, played monopoly (another Christmas ritual for my bro-in-law and me), and started setting the table for Christmas dinner.  Mom had already calculated what parts of the ravioli dinner could be cooked on the gas stove, and practically giggled when she told us we could do everything without the power.

But the Christmas gods are just, and they like ravioli as much as the rest of us.  They didn’t want to take chances.  Right on time, the power clicked on.  17,000 people had been without power for 15 hours on a really cold day.  But all was well now.  Furnaces roared to life as Mom dropped the first raviolis into the boiling water.  Nothing could ruin Christmas now.

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January 4, 2010   Comments Off on Christmas in the mountains

Roman holiday

The best way to see Rome is from the back of a scooter.  I say the back, because you aren’t fully aware of the impending doom that is around every hairpin turn, swerve, screeching stop and turbo acceleration.  So long as you can get used to these and let go of the need to control anything, I think it’s the best way, for sure.

“Rome traffic is fluid, so don’t be afraid or anything.”  He’d picked me up at my hotel and buckled a helmet on my grinning head.  “You’re going to have the ride of your life.”  Now we were zipping down the street in front of the floodlit Colosseum.

“Oh, I’m not afraid,” I half-shouted, bumping helmets as I tried to get close enough for him to hear.  “I’m just holding on.”  It was true.  I was grinning ear-to-ear, but wasn’t about to let my grip slip off the little handles on either side of my thighs.

Fabio is another amazing Italy contact:  a friend of a friend, who after a couple of emails back and forth was taking me out to show me his city – from the back of his scooter.


“Tell me what you did today so I know what you’ve already seen.”

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!  I looked at him, unable to begin a sentence.  I’d seen quite a lot.  It had been a couple of the longest days of sightseeing I’d ever had.  I started down the list, but we got sidetracked, or he stopped listening or something happened, because we had cruised past the forum, palatine hill, and nameless other piazzas, and were now passing the Coliseum.  Fabio was narrating from the front seat.  This was simultaneously entertaining and nerve-racking.

“Oh yes, I saw this today, it’s beautiful.”  “You went inside, too?”  He was surprised.   “Yup.  It was great.”

“I’m trying to figure out how you did everything today.”  So was I.  “Well, I did coliseum, forum, palatine hill and the pantheon this morning and then the Vatican this afternoon.”  “But you didn’t do the Vatican museum today.”  It was more of a statement than a question.  “Oh no, I did.”  I’m not sure he believed me.  I’d also done the Sistine chapel, St. Peter’s and Trevi again.

“Well, have you seen the pyramid crypt?”  I’d only seen it in guidebooks.  So we headed there.  It’s a pyramid shaped crypt that makes up part of the wall of the non-catholic cemetery.  “It’s really a pyramid” I was informed.  Well, it certainly looked like a pyramid.

We next drove past the Circuis  Maximus, an old chariot racing track.  Then we drove up a hill to “the keyhole.”  I’d never heard of it, but Fabio assured me that it was a very famous place.  We pulled into what appeared to be a military-guarded parking lot.  Fabio took me over to a building on the edge of the lot closest to the military guys, and pointed to a large, round keyhole.  “Have a look.”

Keyhole view

“This is the smallest sovereign nation on earth. You’ve heard of the order of Malta?  This is their place.”  I looked up and saw the Malta cross in concrete above the door.  Fabio told me this single building is the headquarters, and is its own sovereign entity.  That’s why it was guarded by guys in camo, who were watching us closely.  Fabio seemed terribly unconcerned.  This was his city.

“That’s the most famous view in Rome.”  I motioned for him to take a look.  He just smiled wryly.  “That’s alright.  I know it.”

He took me past several churches.  “That one is the oldest Christian church in Rome.”  “Those are all from 500.”  “That one is from 900.”  “Bellisima!” he declared as we rode past each.  The suffix ‘issima’ means ‘the most.’  Apparently every church in Rome is the most beautiful.  Or the most old.  Or something that the rest of the world has copied.  The Greek part of me wanted to say something about the fact that the Roman temples that many churches now inhabited were, in fact, modeled on the Greek temples of the ancient world.  I kept my mouth shut, though.  I was on the back of a scooter, getting a private tour of Rome, and I was happy to be there.

We’d decided to cross the river to a part of town I hadn’t seen yet.  Trastevere was a medieval part of town where people still live and work.   A bustling neighborhood that boasts its part of the medieval wall that used to be closed at night to keep out thieves.  We pulled up to a large, high building .  It had no paint and a very plain façade, except for the torches set in brackets, sending up large, flickering flames.

Fabio knew I was vegetarian and went out of his way to find a place that would accommodate me.  “I would have taken you to another place, but they would probably be unfriendly to a vegetarian.”  I pictured myself being slapped by a steak.  “Roman food is very…earthy,” he said, bringing his hand down through the air in front of him.  I reassured him that I can almost always find a pasta or pizza to make due with.  And this place we had come was a pizzeria.  More pizza!

We walked up a flight of steep, narrow stairs to a heavy door on the second floor, and pushed.  The inside of the restaurant was dark and had bare, rocky walls decorated with old, wooden farming equipment.

Tonight, Fabio ordered for us, explaining that I was vegetarian and that I didn’t drink.  It was nice not to have to struggle through the conversation with the waiter.

We started with bruschetta.  “You know what it is?”  Oh yes.  Terribly yummy toasted bread with stuff on it.  The only thing I had always wondered about was how to say the word.  Ours were lovely large, thick pieces of bread toasted perfectly so the inside was still chewy.  We had three.  One was a kind of garlic oil, one a chunky, marinated tomato, and one diced, seasoned mushrooms.


Fabio kept telling me to eat.  We were two lawyers, and I had someone across from me who wanted to talk politics.  Global politics, American politics, Italian politics, everything.  And in English.  We were talking about the past three US presidential elections, the state of Italian politics, the political situation at the time of the first two World Wars, pending US judicial decisions, military theory, and more.  The conversation and the bruschetta was excellent.

And then my pizza came.

Roman pizza

As you can see the pizza in Rome is a little different than the pizza I’d been eating elsewhere.  It was thicker.  And the toppings were thicker.  Instead of the really thin slices of eggplant and peppers I’d had on almost all of my other pizzas, this one had thick, juicy slabs of eggplant, and mounds of peppers.

I don’t know if this was truly indicative of Roman pizza, but it was good.

The conversation continued on, winding through our careers.  We eventually found ourselves talking about happiness.  What was it?  Could you be happy bringing happiness to others?  Was happiness a collective or a personal experience?  Was it worthwhile pursuing.  Fabio is a smart guy.  We sparred regarding the functionality of lying, military force, and fear.  “I wish I was as sure as you are,” he said in response to some binary comment I’d made.  “Oh honey, I’m not sure about anything really.  I’m just trying to be happy.”  In the end we came to no conclusions and agreed that it was a good result.

We walked back out into the night, through a group of people smoking on the narrow stairs.  Italy passed laws banning smoking in places like restaurants, but they don’t seem to have mirrored the US laws that require smoking to take place away from the buildings.  “That’s horrible.  I would never do that,” said Fabio as we pushed our way through the crowd, and he took out a pack of cigarettes.

I asked him how he was a marathon runner who smoked and he assured me that it was just a myth that you coughed if you smoke.  I gave him a fair amount of crap, and he told me a story about hitting the wall at mile 20 in one of his races, and asking a guy on the side of the road for a cigarette.  The picture of him running with the cigarette made the local paper.

We headed to the river for a quick look at the view.  He seemed totally unconcerned as we wedged ourselves through tall young men drinking bottles of beer.  I paused to take a picture of the gorgeous river.

Tiber at night

It was nice to have a guide.  I would never have come across the river at night by myself.  Not because of Rome, but because of me.

Fabio wanted to show me more of the neighborhood, so we walked the streets of Trastevere.  He pointed out more old buildings and beautiful churches, and insisted on taking a picture of me with one.

Old church, young woman

While he took the picture, a wild-looking dude walked up and opened his mouth right in front of the camera that was balanced on a bush.  Fabio stood up, looked at the guy, and said something to the effect of “now that’s not even funny.”  He was still dressed in his suit from work and looked like he was going to slap the dude, who just shrugged, laughed and walked off.  Fabio’s expression was far from amused.  I was chuckling a little at the interaction.

We walked a bit more, Fabio pointing out his old haunts, especially noting the place where he used to get late night pastry – now closed up.  This was truly a man after my own heart.  Politics and pastry in the same night.

We found the scooter and crossed the river again in search of an excellent cappuccino.  After several u-turns and dead ends (evidently they change the streets around in Rome on a regular basis), we were in a familiar piazza.  I asked him if he’d had the pizza at the little shop.  “You’ve eaten there?”  He was starting to sound like he didn’t believe everything I had done.  I had coffee in the piazza already, but at the place across the street from where we were headed.  It seemed I was one shop away from the purported best coffee in Rome.

We ordered a couple of coffees, and waited at the bar while Fabio explained that many Italians order a glass of water with their coffee in order to cleanse their palate.  I’d noticed the water but didn’t realize its purpose.  The coffee arrived and Fabio insisted on another picture.

Roman coffee

“Well, at least you have proove that you were here.”

I can’t really say if the coffee was good.  Fabio seemed mildly pleased, but they had sugared the coffee for us, something I never do, so it was a very different experience.  It was like drinking a cup of flavored sugar, or something from Starbucks.  I finished it off, though, crunching the grains at the bottom of the cup.  I hadn’t had dessert, so the coffee would suffice.

We were in the neighborhood of the original location of Fabio’s university, as well as his high school.  His high school had been housed in the building where Galileo was held while he was on trial.  You could see the observatory where he was working at the time.  Pretty amazing.  Fabio took me around the corner from the coffee shop to show me a little fountain – one of many in Rome.  This one was frequented by students at the university before their exams.  Drinking from the fountain was supposed to bring good luck on the tests.

Book fountain

As I raised my camera to take a picture, Fabio reached out and pulled a bit of garbage from behind one of the concrete spheres, with a disgusted look on his face.  He took the garbage with us and found a garbage can.  This was his city, and he was clearly very proud of it.

It was now almost midnight and we both had early days in the morning.  So we climbed back on the scooter and headed back to my hotel.  I gave him a big American hug and offered to take him around Portland if we found ourselves there at the same time.  He agreed and hopped back on the scooter.  I’m not so sure we’ve got the oldest or most beautiful of anything in Portland, but maybe I could find a friend with a scooter.  Portland might look pretty cool from the back of a scooter.

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December 16, 2009   3 Comments

Fornaci on ice

Yesterday was another good day.  After a couple of hard days, I was able to settle back into my surroundings and really enjoy where I am.

The morning was filled with the usual routine:  coffee, breakfast, a trip to the fashion outlet, work in the studio.  You know, the usual.  Lunch was a makeshift affair, during which I made one of the tastiest sandwiches ever from some wonderful bread, eggs, cheese and zuccnini.

Best sandwich ever

While at the house of Luigi and Andre, I learned about a tradition where the kids leave their Christmas lists out in their boots for Santa’s elves to pick up.

Elf Boots

Evidently a candle is left out for the elves to blow out.  That’s how you know they’ve been there.  That and the trail of glitter they leave.  It seems like a rather messy tradition to me, but I was assured that it’s really quite wonderful.

After lunch, I hiked up to the duomo.  I hadn’t been up there for a while, and it was a beautifully blustery winter day.  The views from the duomo are fantastic.  The town of Barga stretches out beneath it and the alps reach up from the horizon.

Pane from duomo

I walked in front of the duomo to snap a picture, and saw its doors standing open.  I realized I hadn’t been inside yet!  Insanity.  So I pulled off my little knit hat and ducked inside.  The duomo is beautiful.  It’s dark, but beautiful.  I took a moment to let my eyes adjust and then walked around a bit.  A lone photographer was crouched in front of the famous pulpit, trying to capture the light on the marble lions.  I didn’t even try.  My little camera is no match for dark spaces.

I walked up to one of the side chapels to light a candle for my families – American and Italian.   These were the electric variety, so I plunked in my coin, picked one out and plugged it in.  And I chuckled.

Electric duomo candles

Then I turned back to the cathedral door.  I’d forgotten how beautiful the view is from inside the duomo itself.  I can understand why people travel here for special ceremonies.

Pane from inside duomo

I took a couple of minutes to absorb the beauty of the mountains, then headed down the hill back into the town itself.  This weekend is a long weekend, due to the feast of the immaculate conception.  Yes, Italy shuts down for a couple of days to celebrate the immaculate conception.  In Barga the weekend also happens to be a celebration of chocolate.  “Barga Ciocolata” is in town.  Many of the storefronts that usually sit empty are filled with chocolate vendors.  There are tents with chocolatiers hocking their goods, and little ciocolata calda stands everywhere.

Barga ciocolata

The town is alive with chocolate-crazed tourists and locals hopped up on sugar and cocoa, and possibly thoughts of virgin mothers – hard to say.  The chocolate really seemed primary.  After making a circuit of the chocolate route, I picked out a little ciocolata calda stand that looked like it was a non-profit fundraiser, and bought 4 cups to take back to the studio.  Once I got back there, I looked up the words from the sign on the little table.  I was glad to find out it was the anti-leukemia society.   I hadn’t been sure exactly what I was supporting, but the ladies selling the chocolate were nice – and smoking.

The chocolate was divine.

Ciocolata Calda

The ladies had some kind of electric chocolate pot that warmed up the mixture.  They just pushed a button and sat back.  I need one of these magic pots, I think.  I walked around the bustling town, enjoying the excitement of a destination location.  The hilltop town of Barga in the midst of one of its festivals reminds me a bit of the sleepy Idaho town I grew up in.  One day it’s dead-quiet and the next inundated with an influx of visitors.  It might feel like an invasion to some, but the ebb and flow of this kind of place is a comfort to me.  New people bring new dollars, but they also bring smiles.  In a small town, where everyone knows everyone else’s business, it can seem easier to smile at strangers.

We drank our chocolate, packed up, and headed down the hill.  On the way down, we were treated to a spectacular light show that also reminded me of Idaho.

Barga/Fornaci sunset

The sunset was soft and pink and dramatic on the newly snow-covered mountains.

The day belonged to Barga, but the night to Fornaci.  I had a date.  The main square of Fornaci had been flooded to make an ice skating rink, and I’d promised Tommy I’d go with him.  This was the night.  But it was cold.  So, I reached into the closet, pulled out several layers of Icebreaker and got myself ready for some serious fun.

One of the bonuses of growing up in a world-famous ski resort is the excellent winter sports opportunities it presents.  Sun Valley is known for its ski hills, but it also has a pair of Olympic-sized ice rinks.  The Sun Valley Ice Shows are legendary.  My sister and I even spent one season testing whether we were cut-out for competitive skating.  It turns out we were not – but we did get to skate with folks like Scott Hamilton in one of the shows.  What that means is that, while I’m not a good skater, I’m not terrible, either.  And I like to go fast.  The best day I had on the ice ever was the day I rented a pair of speed skates and spent a couple of hours being told to slow down.

(Sidenote:  I’ve seriously considered joining the Rose City Roller Derby.  Like in rugby, I’m not big, but I’m fast, so I think I could make it work.  I’ve already picked out my moniker:  Maxi Pad.  I figure I’ll put padding all over my outfit just in case.  Let me know what you think.)

So Tom and I rented our skates (which were blue plastic hockey-type skates, and soaking wet inside) and headed out onto the bumpy rink.  The rinks I’m used to are pretty big, and smooth.  The rinks at Sun Valley kick people off every hour or so to clean the ice with a Zamboni.  This ice on the little piazza in Fornaci is a week old, and has endured several days of rain.  Tom assured me that it was smooth the first day.  Regardless, it was great – just a little extra challenging.

Piazza ice

The scene put me back 20 years (I can’t believe I can remember 20 years ago) to an outdoor rink where the boys in the skating club were playing “chicken” and jokingly challenged the girls, thinking nobody would bite.  I can remember the look on Clay Josephie’s face as I looked up at him from the ground after running headlong into him.  Shock and amusement.  It’s a shame the women’s hockey league didn’t start up until after I left Idaho.

Anyway, we did a lap together, and then Tommy found some of his friends who were watching.  He seemed content chatting and skating little bits at a time.  I, on the other hand, took a couple of warm-up laps, remembering how to push off out of the cross-over , and turned up the speed.  And then I fell.  It was a great, flailing, turning, choppy, nearly-recovered fall.  Hockey skates are very different from figure-skates.  They’re really maneuverable, but they don’t have the comb on the front of the blade that you can use to stop yourself.  If you try, you will fall.  Consider that a public service announcement.

There were so many people crammed onto the little rink that I couldn’t go very fast, so the fall was more humorous than anything.  I ended up skating into and picking up people more times than I fell, and only one boy pushed me (clearly jealous of my super-cool cross-over).  I even controlled myself when a girl who looked about 12 darted out in front of me, raced into the corner, crossed-over, and looked back at me.  I wanted to take a few running steps and spray her with ice.  But I didn’t.  I’m much more mature than that – I’m like 14.

After an hour, I was tired.  I’d been skating hard.  Tom, however, was ready for more.  “10 minuti, Tom, okay?”  “Si!  Or 20 or 40…”  Fortunately, the rink closed in 20 minutes, so our fun was coming to a close.  My feet were not so happy with me, and my right hip-flexor was ready for a break.  I kept thinking “okay, 2 more laps and it’s time to go”.  Eventually, I wrangled Tommy, and we headed home for taco night.

That’s right, folks, taco night!  I’d picked up tortillas, chips, salsa and refried beans.  These were all specialty items and there wasn’t much selection.  The chips came in a tiny little bag, and the beans looked like they’d been on the shelf for years.  While the others had chicken tacos, I served up veggie tacos with cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, peppers and leeks.  Super-yummy!

Veggie taco

These were a staple when Leigh and I would cook.  If you haven’t tried making tacos with veggies, try it.  Just start with the slowest cooking veggies first and basically stir fry them with taco seasoning.

We all had fun assembling our tacos and sharing our different techniques:  mozzarella cheese substituted for cheddar and refried beans made their debut in the household.

Bruised and contentedly-full, we all climbed into pajamas to watch a movie with Luigi, who was spending the night.  All said, it was a pretty perfect day, what with the chocolate and skating and tacos and pajamas and all.

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December 8, 2009   Comments Off on Fornaci on ice

Heart of lightness

It’s been a week since I returned from Venice.  The trip was magical, and touched me in a very deep place.   It gave me a glimpse of the strength I have.  How I’ve picked up, and moved along when I wasn’t enjoying the life I was living, and gone to explore new things.  It also made me yearn to share the experience.

When I returned to my temporary home in Fornaci, I was deeply pensive, and more than a little withdrawn.  A couple of medical issues with pets and family at home made me wish, with tremendous force, that I was there.  Which made me examine the choices I’ve made.  And that made me more than a little unhappy with myself.  I didn’t want to examine my choices!  I wanted to be happy, damn it!  Who was I to ruin my own fun – again?!

Truthfully, I don’t know the last time I was so upset.  I thought I’d found a new path.  One that would allow me to live more freely and examine myself less (I can be a little rough on myself).  Funny thing is, even when I’m in a beautiful, amazing place, it’s still me who is here.  Even the magic of Venice can’t mask that, it seems.

Like anyone, I’ve gone through periods of self-reflection, and questioning.  They can be tough and usually last quite a while – grey periods of wondering what I’m doing with my life, how I’m making a difference in the world, or how I’m improving myself.  Usually I work through them in the context of career and relationship and whatever else I have to distract me.  One of the great gifts of being so far away from everything I know is that I’m stripped of the usual distractions.  I can’t hide from myself.  I can’t use humor or intellect or team sports, or anything really.  It’s a great gift, and a new challenge.  It’s something I asked for when I took this leap, for sure.  But, now that it was here, I realized that I hadn’t expected it to be so hard.

This period of reflection was black.  Not Grey, black.  I cried so hard I couldn’t see when I woke up the next morning.  Cried so hard I gasped like a child, hyperventilating in my self-examination.  It sucked big time.  I really worried it would go on for the duration of my trip, or that I’d have to pack it up and leave early.  Or that I’d stop leaping.  But I have friends here, too, loving friends who sat with me while I cried, and rubbed my shoulders.  And it passed.  Two days after it came, I woke up, and it was gone.

I know now that I won’t stop examining myself.  I’m not sure I’d want to.  It might be that, now I’ve taken a leap and put myself in a new context, these periods will be dark.  More intense.  But maybe they’ll be quicker.  Maybe I’ll be able to learn from them more easily.  I mean, maybe not.  Maybe they’ll just suck and I’ll end up crying alone in a crappy hotel room.  Who knows, but this time it passed quickly.  And I’m still here enjoying myself.  I’m still here loving what I’m doing.  And I’ve shed the unreasonable, irrational belief that, by changing what I’m doing with my life, I will stop examining it.  I’m still the deeply-flawed person that I was when I left, but I’m finding ways to make peace with those flaws.  And I’m having far more light days than dark ones.  Maybe for right now, that’s enough.

As a new friend of mine said to me this week, “a beach in Hawaii or Australia isn’t a bad place to ‘find yourself'”.  I couldn’t agree more.

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December 7, 2009   3 Comments