My second to last first date

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 11.04.35 AMIt is the end of another long night at my bar. I am spitting out orders to the closing staff, and swallowing the last sip of my single drink of the night. A medium sized man approaches me. Despite the late hour he is unlike the other drinkers who linger. His calm surrounds him in a cloud and I want to step into it.

I can’t quite tell which celebrity he looks like. But one of them. It remains just on the outskirts of my brain as we talk, and I am distracted by this and his forearms while he asks as many questions as he answers. The lines in his dark skin make him seem older than his age. So do his quiet voice and still soul. I wonder if I will corrupt him or he will fix me. In either case there will be a equalization of our energy. He talks to me about green building and takes me to his modest handmade house by the stream. It is starting to seem like all of the guys at my cosmopolitan bar live in houses made of gently worn wood. I offer myself a quick “that’s what she said” and laugh a bit as I am looking through his book shelf. He wants to know which title I found funny and I search for one, but they are all as serious as he is so I let the laugh linger, unexplained.

[Tweet theme=”basic-white”] I wonder if I will corrupt him or he will fix me. via @annawritesstuff[/Tweet]

As he sets the table I remind myself that it is unlikely to be bear like the last failed date. In fact it is actual chicken, not just something that tastes like it. I imagine myself here, sharp edges warn down in a lovely way. Acid replaced by base.

I am still pulling out the dead dad story to make myself seem less like a privileged priss. I lived my childhood in his reflected glow and now I live my adulthood in his shadow. He created actual art not just renovated restaurants. My description is t is relevant not just animated. My father’s collection is being showcased at a museum in Montreal that is prestigious and less than two hours away. We make a date to drive to the opening together and to go to the celebratory dinner that follows.

He picks me up in a coat and tie, an anathema in Vermont and more so on him. A lump forms in my throat that I never swallow down. At first I think this is attraction, but realize that the way I can’t breathe feels bad. At the museum I feel even worse. I look at the pieces that I lived with growing up. They are separated by glass, lit too brightly, they are as apart from me as I am from my escort. In the gallery I can barely hear the curator’s talk through the rushing sound in my head. He reaches for my hand to offer comfort and I tell him I am drowning under waves of grief which might not actually be a lie. He drives me home in silence after we beg off of the fancy dinner which puts out our French speaking hosts. I barely talk as we cross the border.

I am thinking of my father, of the art that is timeless yet somehow no longer mine. Breathing is still hard until I bring to mind the man from the dog park who will one day become my husband. I wish it was him driving the car.

As I climb out of the car I have no idea that he will be the last. I know that it went differently, that I didn’t either let him or force him to sleep with me. That this one final time I didn’t ponder the power play. I froze. I sent him away. I stepped out of his car and into my new life, where I didn’t always spit all over people, but I would take my medicine and swallow my fury until I could reabsorb it into some semblance of self.

I did all of this with Steve. But that is another story.


Depending on your attitude our family has either an evolved or creepy relationship to the meat we eat.

Local food was easy to find in Vermont, particularly with the growth of Bread and Butter Farm mere blocks from our house. In the early days of Bread and Butter when Adam just had one milk cow we would drive a half an hour to Essex. I would return with glass jars filled with the raw milk that didn’t require me to pop lactaid and (theoretically) gave my boys the benefit of all the vegetables they wouldn’t eat in one creamy cup.

Then Marilyn dried up.

So we ate her.

We would chew through her not so tender meat and thank her by name as we sat around the dinner table. It was the closest we came to a blessing.

Guests found it creepy.

I figured if we are going to eat meat we should know the animals as well as we could, ensure that they had comfortable and healthy lives, and introduce our boys to the true impact of being an omnivore.

In Colorado we don’t yet know our animals by name. However we keep it local. Our garage freezer is full of succulent piglet that a friend sourced for us from a farm so small it doesn’t have a name. We pick up our full kitchen farm share on Tuesdays which include pantry items, welcome and confusing vegetables, Noosa yogurt, eggs, herbs and meat.

Which is the point of this post.

Llast night we ate llama.

And despite my lyrical remembrance of Marilyn I have a completely illogical response to our dinner.

I eat cow and pig and sheep and chicken. Regularly. It is pretty llikely that the llama had a good life before he ended up on my plate. The llama farms I know are almost the definition of free range.

Steve added fresh herbs and manchego into the llama llumps. I gritted my teeth and ate it.

It was delicious, and I hated every bit.

I remembered the llama that guarded the sheep at Shelburne Farms. How if you got close to Freckles’ charges she would spit at you. My boys would try to get close enough to gain her attention without receiving a llama shower.

Why do I happily eat the lamb and have to force down their guardians?

I have no llogic about the llama.

Rubbing it in

Walking to the coffee house in the sunshine I was composing a post about upper butts and tight jeans. I’ve been working longer hours on my book project and most of my thoughtful thoughts are knitting themselves into sentences over there. Here at the blog I am writing about Donuts and Candy Bars. I’m not sure those posts were totally unrelated to tight jeans and upper butts, but at least I was sticking to the light froth theme of the blog this week.

Then I sat down and worked my inbox. My goal to keep it one screen deep is always within reach which feels like some sort of major accomplishment.

At the top of the list was a note from a friend that I clicked on with all the gusto I could muster. In my mind I was tearing it open to get to the good inside. He worried I was missing the fall and sent some pictures. That fucker.

All of my skinny jean hula hooping humor was gone at the glimpse of the majesty of the season.

Vermonters…this is the first time I haven’t earned that view with you. I was in Denver last winter laughing at people shivering in head to toe parkas in 30 degrees. My son didn’t wear a winter coat all year. I have found the cost to that luxury. I know the Aspens here gleam gold…the relative beauty of the peaks of the Rocky Mountains versus the lush green peaks of Vermont can be argued (and endlessly are at our house.) The difference is that I don’t feel that I earned all of that beauty with my suffering.

I remember it. I remember cresting the hills in my car and seeing barns and hay and pastures fringed by the tapestry of reds and oranges and how I felt full of awe. Like a physical feeling of awe and contentment. The feeling never got old, many times a day the views would unfold in front of me and wake up that same feeling. Then once a season my avid outdoor son would convince me to take a fall hike where I would cap off my whining and stumbling and desire to quit with a rest at the top of a (not so) high peak and feel my blood pumping in every fingertip and hair follicle. All the days I spent indoor in winter, all of the times I braced myself to slip on ice and climbed the dirty hills of snow to try to get to a parking meter had earned me this exact moment.

It was as if the land below me had summed up all of my suffering and balanced it out in an explosive equation of ecstasy.

Head outside you intrepid Vermonters and soak it in, the organic orgasmic oranges, the ravishing reds and the grateful golds. You have earned it.

I will sit my upper butt down and get back to emptying my inbox.

We are we?

Yesterday I watched Leo lie in the dentist chair receiving his first filling. After a fair amount of thought we agreed to the nitrous oxide. He lay outstretched, nose covered by a grape flavored mask, mouth stretched by dental tools, eyes wrapped in sunglasses to shield him from the bright light. I found myself looking away from his face, at his still tanned legs. Looking at scrapes, and pen marks that told the story of his last few months. He is a newly eight year old. He is my son. He is not a patient his legs told me. Except he was. In regular life I am more than a mom, although I don’t know exactly what else, and in this small room I am only a mom. He is only a patient. The dentist and her assistant refer to me as “mom” whether it is for Leo’s sake or theirs that is what I have become. I am fine with that. For now I really am only a mom. I don’t exist outside this chair. There is something about medical care, even something as benign and quick as a filling, that strips away all of our other identifiers. We don’t live beyond that room.

It makes me think of other moms. Moms whose kids are acutely ill, who spend not hours but days and weeks and months in the hospital. How do they keep their kids whole? Battling both the disease and the separateness from real life that keeps us away from the activities and responsibilities that define us.

Moving to a new place, spending my time in different ways, and being asked at school pick up and dinner parties what it is that I do has set off a newly old string of questions.

Can you be a writer if you don’t write? Can you be an investor if the last check you wrote was a month ago? Can you be any one thing?

How much are our current actions tied to our current sense of self? And how much can we and do we rely on our past as identity and guide?

It is the difference between the noun and the verb.

One of my new friends in Colorado lost her sister years ago. The exact number of years ago that she had been alive. So each day from now on makes more life lived as an only child than as a sister. But does that make her an only child? Certainly not. Is she still a sister? Can you sister in your mind?

I wanted to have three children. I wanted the act of brothering to be multiple, so each relationship was unique between two, but the definition of a sibling was based on a few. Like being a daughter was for me.

I was such a different daughter to my father than my mother. Adoring, attentive, amused. It seems anathema now as I am alternately tolerant and bitchy, curious and judgmental, open and closed to my mom. It is a living relationship with the contrasts of most, changed by the weather of my mind. And hers.

I am a daughter. I am a daughter to my mom. I am my father’s daughter. It is woven into me. But can I be his daughter when I don’t daughter?

My father would rule a room. Seated at the head of the table he would command attention by being provocative, or introducing a novel idea, or just being mean. All eyes were on him. I have a bit of that now. One on one I am a real friend, listening and talking, remembering dates and events and following up and through. In a group I am the entertainer. Afterwards I am tired, I tell myself to listen more, leave jokes untold.

I don’t think of myself as a social spark. But at some point do our actions start to tell the story more than the descriptions in our minds.

Oliver was a Vermonter. Just a few months ago he lived there, and in his mind he will again. Eventually he will be able to control that, but for now he talks about Camel’s Hump and maple creemees, he talks about his old school’s jog- a thon, and the fall weather. We moved a lot within the same town, so his home became broader than our walls. His sense of place was the state. Is he still a Vermonter? By the twist of an early birth he was born in Massachusetts, but he forgave himself because he was living where he was meant to be. Now without an origin or a present he is Vermontless. And he feels like less because of it.

Is he a Vermonter? Will he always be?

How much of our sense of self comes from the verb?

Who ARE we?


Because I am a rule bender my first public 5/5 post (inspired by Christina) is actually a 1/5. One image, five quick written thoughts.

Screenshot 2014-06-05 07.49.07

1 & 2. Summer and child. These two are timeless. They could be from any era. Mostly I see her arm. Look at how strong it is. It has carried trays, her body in countless yoga poses, friends and now this one. She is an old friend, who knew me in my last life. I remember times when she was not so strong. I was not so strong. She prompted the first painful shot of loss last night at our goodbye Vermont party. And then told me she was leaving too.

3 & 4. Jess and belly. She was the very first employee of the waiting room. She stayed from first day to last. Her talents are legion. She writes and takes photographs, and generally adds beauty to life. She treads lightly in life. I want to say with caution if there is a more gentle way to say that. But really, at least in the days I knew her moment to moment…with caution. And more than a decade later she puts forth the ultimate act of optimism. The cataclysmic change of motherhood.

5. The relationships. You can see their connection. I can feel mine behind the camera. I think anyone can see the silken lines that connect those 3…4. Behind them stand other friends. Ones I have loved differently, more like balls on a pool table at a comedy club. We need that all. Life and friends cant entirely be slender connections revealed by the sun slanting just so. Even if they take center stage in the photo.

Shelburne Farmers Market

It is a punch line I am happy to be part of. The Shelburne farmers market.

It is sunny like all of the markets of my memory. This can’t be true to the calendar, more our choice of days to attend, but here it is. Golden and green and grassy. Full of toddlers dragging around under caffeinated moms, kids in soccer t shirts and your choice of local lamb.

The berry farm doesn’t yet have berries and are selling some sort of potted plant. They are the only stand to have any plastic. I imagine the other vendors shunning them.

There is farmer Dave, who let my boys push his wheelbarrow before they could really reach its handles. Today he stands in front of his weathered wood boxes filled with greens. He is grey and lined from the sun and the years. He greets us and I hurry past…looking for Chaga chai which seems to have disappeared for 2014.

It was many many years ago that I burst through my neighbor’s door in tears. I was searching for my friend and very surprised to find farmer Dave. This was before they were married, before they lived together and he held me as I wept. He wrapped in his blanket, and me in my shame.

I still feel an echo and don’t offer him quite the greeting that our history suggests. I blame it on the kid, who flurries past me in search of cheddar cheese, I pantomime a bit of a tug and a rush, but I am just pretending. I could chat a bit while Leo looks after himself, the only risk that he would leave zero cubes of 2 year cheddar for others to sample.

But I don’t. There will be no vendor at whichever farmers market that I go to I Denver that has helped me fall apart and come together again when I was in my twenties.

After cheese leo and I have burned through our allotted $20 so we head to the edge of the market. We are in the green banana phase of moving. We will not be chefs again in Vermont so we left our basket at home. We will eat our brunches standing with friends. We find them near the crepes. (Famously grown in the fields of Vermont)

Leo disappears into the enormous stand of white pines. He sees several classmates on branches and clambers up to join them. Oliver shakes his head slowly. It was just last summer that he has fallen from these trees. From 12 feet up he hit his chin and fell to the ground onto his back.

His friend calls out: “Ollie, come here, these are the absolute best climbing trees in the world.”

“I don’t think so.” Oliver answers. He settles to the ground to eat his crepe, but not before I have prompted him to stick out his tongue to his friends father. The dad gives an appropriately demonstrative response to the snaking white line where he bit through it during the fall.

In a few minutes we gather each other, we have no farmers market haul to pack into the car. The boys are chattering excitedly about the afternoon. I am picturing Oliver’s tongue sticking out from his little freckled face. I picture the scar and remember the scare, and the mark the market has left on us.

Long and winding road

Screenshot 2014-05-21 11.39.01

The earth is packed so hard it feels like pavement. But it isn’t. It has responded to the pressures of horse drawn carriages and tractors, skipping school children and sheep crossing. There was the time that I had to work together with freckles the llama to help the flock cross the street. They bleated and kept a semblance of order. I tried not to get spit on and wished I had my camera. Just by being there I was part of it. The farm: Shelburne, Vermont.

There is the turn where the wind whips even on the stillest day, the spot where I cant talk for the hill, and the payoff of the fields and mountains and lake. The true meaning of breathtaking where diaphragm and lungs pause so all of your energy can go into your eyes.

For so long I tried to capture it on film, timing my walk for the light. Finally I realized it was not to take with me. It about being there. Seeing there.

There are other pieces too. Wagon rides and chickens stealing turkey sandwiches, concerts and wedding, cocktails on the lawn of the inn, late nights in the game room shooting pool. A year of school. Camp and milking and calf day. Sampling cheese and baking bread. Birds of prey and water flowing over roads. Sugaring and reading pages attached to trees. Making music on wooden masks and inspecting lightening marks on trees.

So many many memories.

It is the walks that have become part of me. Footsteps on the hard packed earth, paced below my heart rate, feeling and seeing more than thinking. Out of me in this magical place.

Can’t get enough of Shelburbia? (part 2)

Now you can live in the very house that has hosted this blog.

Screenshot 2014-03-13 19.32.06

Some of our highlights:
•making smores in the kitchen fireplace
•building a bridge over the creek
•the boys washing each others’ backs during full family showers (tmi? too bad)
•a mudroom that swallows instead of spits
•puzzles in the late afternoon sunlight
•late dinners on the screened in porch
•jumping off of the stairs
•a mid winter neighborhood store where neighbors actually trudge through the snow to buy things
•building forts in the basement
•learning to play pool in the basement
•sampling beer from three separate beverage fridges
•sitting at the table long enough for the candles to burn down
•jumping around the furniture without touching the floor
•crafting signs for clubs
•watching for the bus in the window seat
•listening to frogs in the pond
•catching frogs in the pond
•golfing in the front yard
•spraying ourselves in the face trying to figure out the bidet
•actually enjoying the song of the washer and dryer completing their cycles.
•watching the sunset over the woods
•walking to town through the woods

And the flipside:
•using the kitchen fireplace at the same time as the indoor grill, having the hood suck the smoke into the room and set off the smoke detectors
•falling through the bridge over the creek
•two slippery boys shoving each other into the glass door during family showers
•I cant think of a downside to the mudroom
•late afternoon sunlight interfering with the screen in the living room
•wondering why I can dim the lights in the screened porch but not the dining room. Easy fix, but still.
•feeling panicked about Leo breaking himself jumping off of the stairs
•Having the kids try to charge us to buy our groceries back.
•Having the cats pee all over the basement
•Pool balls ricocheting every which way, including into a box of breakable items
•Hearing the sad beep of the beverage fridge as its door has been left open for the umpteenth time by a small person living in our house.
•Actually almost lighting the house on fire letting the candles burn down.
•That inevitable bedtime burst of energy from the boys as they almost literally climb the walls shrieking just when the grownups are done parenting for the day.
•Stepping over signs for clubs that have been sitting on the garage floor for months
•missing the school bus…despite a clear view of it driving by.
•Being kept awake by the frogs through the open bedroom window
•Having to convince a six year old that a frog would not fare well as a pet in a house with cats
•Wondering if there is something wrong with you that you cant really figure out the point of the bidet. I mean, its the worst part of the shower and almost as much work.
•Doing so much laundry that you find yourself singing the washer dryer song.
•Watching the sunset at 4:00 for so much of the year.
•Being eaten alive by bugs when you try to walk in the woods in the “spring”

Its hard not to feel an attachment to this house. Our family has been our family here. The highlights are so bright that the flipsides hide in their shadows. Just like the toys and clothes we give away to help us move more lightly we tell ourselves that someone else will love it here. It is hard to imagine the sights and sounds and smells of a new home. I bet there will be fewer frogs.

Sometimes a name

The call came about 14 minutes after I had fallen back to sleep. I almost didn’t answer, but it came in quick succession between the home line and my cell phone and my first thought is always something about the kids. So I slid the phone into my fumbling hand and croaked out a hello.

“Anna, its Paul, Paul Bohne.” I had known who Paul was at the first syllable. I went on to decline his invitation to sit on a committee for Shelburne and talk briefly about an engineering report. I asked about his retirement timeline and told him I was moving away.

The other half of the conversation was going on in my head alone.

The mayor of Denver is extraordinarily unlikely to call my cell phone and invite me to sit on a committee.

Rewinding to the beginning of the weekend Steve and I left the boys on the spur of the moment with a sitter they have known since infancy. She calls them her little bros and takes them for adventures in the woods. In a single text we arranged for rock solid care for our kids for three days…starting the next day.

It will be a long time before we can leave our kids for days in a new city. And it will never be with someone who has known them forever.

An adventure in the woods while we were in the city.
An adventure in the woods while we were in the city.

So we flew to Denver and decided to move to the house in the urban neighborhood. We drove around in literal and figurative circles checking out suburbs of Denver, Boulder (holy teenage version of Burlington), and suburbs of boulder. We had dinner with our Vermont friend who was visiting Denver and our Vermont friend who had relocated to Denver. We toasted our plan.

The next morning we packed our bag, thinking about how to tell our kids and drove to the very last house showing in the Shelburne of Boulder.

The house was 1/3 of a mile from an excellent elementary school and had wind-sucked-out-of-you mountain views. It was for sale by owner and he showed us around pointing out its quirks. It was built in the 70s and had the wide plank diagonal siding over the full width stone fireplace in the living room that is a hallmark of that era in the West. It had glazing to the catherdral ceiling, and strange indoor windows between the master bedroom and the living room. It had a kitchen that needed updating. In addition to its late midcentury vibe it sported an indoor swimming pool. Not a glorified bathtub. A nine foot deep with diving board heated indoor swimming pool. And a sauna. And a tennis court/basketball court. Which they flooded in the winter to make an ice rink. He apologized about the quality of the ice reminding us that with the 300 days of sun it was hard to keep it smooth enough for anything but nighttime skating. Under the lights.

Tennis court with a view.
Tennis court with a view.

From every single one of these places there were rocky mountain views.

As we drove away to check out the town I was sad all over again. We had chosen to leave Shelburne. And here it was presenting itself to us again in a sunshine-y tech job filled package. We stopped at the Niwot market where they roast their own coffee and a woman introduced herself. She had overheard us talking as we walked in and she wanted to pitch the town. The family that owned the market had handwritten signs about local produce and a free lending library of books. Our brand of cleaners were on site.

We drove down Main Street. It had antique shops and a tavern, a few coffee shops and a florist. Everywhere fit people with dogs walked and biked and jogged. Each one of them waved at us through the windshield.

We had lunch at the local lunch spot. Around us teenagers greeted each other across tables, tall boys mostly. We popped into the liquor store to check out the beer selection. It was excellent.

We drove away in silence.

We had already chosen Denver.

Someone had tied a bow on Shelburbia and dropped it at our feet. Or tied a bow on us and dropped us in Shelburbia.

Steve drove us to the airport and we were completely silent. We had said it all already. What do we choose, the idyllic family life or the unknown?

The Denver house is in a neighborhood too, but it is part of the city. There are places to walk, but also traffic. The lots are small, and the houses historic. They don’t have storage, or pot fillers or pools. The kitchen is just three feet wide. Forget the pot filler, the cabinets might not even fit a pot.

We could discuss it all again, but we had already decided.

So we got on the plane, bumped into a friend from Burlington and told her we were moving to Denver, not Shelburbia West.

This morning after my chat with Paul I headed to the Shelburne supermarket. I know there are supermarkets in Denver, but I hadn’t found one, and it seemed unlikely that it would feel like Shelburne market. I walked through the aisles picking up a Misty Knoll chicken for dinner, not even looking at the price because we only have so many misty knoll roast chickens ahead of us.

As a unloaded at the register I realized that for the first time in years I hadn’t bumped into anyone I knew. For the hundreth time in years I had forgotten my reusable bags, and as I loaded apples and animal cracker into the brown paper bags I heard my name. The next person had slipped into line.

And I knew him.

No real news

File this list under things that don’t surprise me.

1. The Burlington school budget failed. I did not pay that much attention to the budget, so its possible that this was a good thing. But in general I like to imagine that the school board and the citizens can find a balance that works for both property owners and quality education. This is a challenge for sure but it is not an unexpected challenge.

2. Women’s Health says I am right about fucking your husband. Its always nice to have someone else do the leg work to prove my personal theories. It could be that happy couples have more sex, or that more sex leads to happier couples…but either way its worth some time in the sheets.

Women’s Health tells it like we already knew it was.

3. IBM is looking to the cloud, and not so into hardware these days. It is no secret that IBM is moving away from hardware, and Steve is which will effect Chittenden county in general and my family in particular. The layoffs were not as piercing this time, but they are not over.

4. My not quite family member got an incredible send off by NPR and the NY Times. If you can use words like obscurantist while being interviewed by Newsweek you might make a good dinner date. “I’m an obscurantist,” Mr. Kaplan told Newsweek in 1980. “I’m drawn to people whose lives have a certain mystery — mysteries that aren’t going to be solved, that are too sacred to be solved.”

5. Shelburbia just can’t support affordable eateries. I called it my happy place and met friends there at least three times a week. Sometimes it felt like the only place that had sun in all of Vermont.

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Where should I go for a breakfast sandwich?