22 September 2006

Everyday Writing

I'm a fool for office supplies. Sales on school supplies? Heaven. My fingers just itch to take home one more cute notebook or neat organizer. Unfortunately, I can't justify buying multiple spiral-bound notebooks, folders, or little plastic pencil holders any more. First grade for Katrina is just a few years away. Poor thing will have more paper and pencils than she'll know what to do with.

From my observations, the obsession with pens, paper, pencils, blank books, etc., is common among writers and editors. I once subscribed to a very large e-mail discussion group for copyeditors. There were serious discussions on which brands and colors of pencils were the best for hard-copy editing. Hey, when you use red pencils for hours on end, it's useful to know which brands keep a point and which ones just break off. And some pencils just don't show up well, which is important when you're sending pages and pages to an author or a typesetter.

Ahem, well, back to my point. A few years ago, I found the best pen for my repetitive-motion strained hands. The Dr. Grip gel ink pen is fatter than the standard pen, with a soft plastic coating where you hold it. And gel ink writes so much more smoothly than the older ballpoint pen ink. I had two of these pens but lost one recently, so I had a great excuse to buy the dark pink one. I was all excited to start using it in German class.

Yes, I AM a geek. Did you have any doubt?

11 September 2006

I Remember

I was at the doctor's office in Centreville, Virginia. We talked about my 6 months of gastrointestinal symptoms. At one point, he was called out of the exam room, and when he came back in, the conversation went on without a hitch. Later I wondered if he knew then. Finally, he said, "well, I think you may have irritable bowel syndrome, but let me do one more blood test. It's a long shot, but a few of my IBS patients have actually had celiac disease."

Blood draw over, I got in my car and turned on the radio. WMAL 1630 AM. The usual talk show was not on. It was a feed from CBS. Planes had hit the World Trade Center.

It was chilling. I drove to the ATM nearby. I had plans to go to a furniture store about 25 minutes away. We were looking for a couch for our new house, which was still being built. In the meantime, we were living with Jon's parents.

Then the national feed was interrupted by the local guy. The radio station was getting phone calls from people driving on the highway past the Pentagon. They put one of them on. The man said that he had seen a plane hit the Pentagon.

I felt frozen inside. What was happening? And what should I do? I tried to call Jon on my cell. He was working at Ft. Belvior, a military base in Alexandria. Was he okay? The call didn't go through.

The national feed was back on, with the Pentagon story as well. I was waiting at a traffic light on Rt. 29. The news folks were saying that there could be 10,000 people in the World Trade Center.

Then, the towers fell. My tears came. All I could think was "all those people! all those people!" I looked around at the people in the cars next to me. Had they heard? I didn't see anyone in obvious distress.

My cell rang. It was Jon. "Where are you?" he asked. I babbled something about where I was and that I couldn't decide to go on to the furniture store or not. "Go home," he said. When I kept talking, he became more forceful. "Just go home now." So I did. Later, Jon told me why he was so insistent: my car had military stickers on the windshield. At that point, who knew what target would be next?

Jon's dad was working from home that day. I had an editing project I needed to work on, too. But neither of us worked. We sat in their family room watching the news. Jon's mom was working in Georgetown. She called and said she didn't know when she'd be home because of the traffic. Jon also didn't know when he'd be home. The base was shut down for security. No one in or out. Jon's dad called his mother in Wisconsin. I tried to call my parents but kept getting fast busy signals. Either I or they got through eventually.

As it turned out, both Jon and his mom made it home by late afternoon. I don't remember what happened the rest of the day. I think the TV was on the whole day and into the evening. I remember watching Congress sing "God Bless America" on the steps. A part of me thought it was just for show, but it was still moving. I wish they would remember now the solidarity they showed then.

Two days later, I saw my counselor for perhaps the second or third time. I had started with her because of my lingering depression from the loss of our first baby in an early miscarriage. I told her that my loss didn't seem so awful right now. That I felt self-indulgent even being sad about it, when such a terrible thing had just happened. She said that everyone she had seen in the past few days had said the same thing. But a loss is a loss, she said, and it's all right to feel sad about it, even if you don't think it's as bad as someone else's.

A week later, my doctor called. My blood test for celiac disease was positive. I could confirm it with an endoscopy, but why not just go on a gluten-free diet and see if it worked?

Three months later, I discovered I was pregnant.

My daughter is now four years old. September 11 will be to her like the moon landing is to me. History. Something that happened before she was born.

It will seem remote to her, something she reads about in a school book.

But I will remember. And I will pray--as perhaps my grandparents prayed during World War II--that her generation will never experience such darkness, such evil. But I know that it probably will.

07 September 2006

Impressions of Ireland

We arrived at the Dublin Airport late last Thursday night. The driver of the hotel shuttle jokes with us and the four young Irish passengers as he races through the night on the "wrong" side of the road. I understand about one word in three. The Dublin accent is strong, and they talk very fast.

Next morning, up and off to Galway. Our GPS system gets lost as soon as we leave the main city. We're on a brand-new road. The Tom-Tom shows us driving through a field.

Soon enough, though, the nice highway gives way to a two-lane road. Spoiled by the great roads in Germany, we forgot how an easy 2-hour trip on a highway can turn into a 5-hour trip on a road that goes through every little town.

But what towns they are. From Dublin onward, building projects abound. Road works, houses, whole housing developments. Mansions that would look right at home in the richer suburbs of DC.

We make it to Galway much later than we hoped. The city has grown enormously since I attended a semester abroad there in 1991; and it is even bigger and more congested than when Jon and I visited in the late 90s. The cow pasture I used to cut across when I walked from my house to the University College Galway campus is now the site of "luxury student apartments." In 1991, I read that Irish college students were the poorest students in the world. Evidently, that is no longer the case.

The pedestrian zone in Galway, however, is exactly as I remember it. The older, historical parts of cities in Europe don't change that much. Buildings change hands, but they are usually renovated rather than torn down and replaced. The American-style 50s diner has been replaced by a kebab restaurant, but the jewelry stores and gift shops are pretty much where I left them.

Up early for the trip to Cork, by way of the Cliffs of Moher and Blarney Castle. We and our traveling companions, who have never been to Ireland, repeat three comments as we wend our way down the west coast: (1) "I can't believe how bad these roads are"; (2) "Look at that house. It's beautiful! or It's huge!"; and (3) "Wow. I gotta take a picture. This is beautiful."

Even as we bounce along bumpy, narrow, winding roads (did I say bumpy?) through the wilds of the Burren, we saw new stately homes set in the middle of fields. I wondered where the inhabitants worked. It would be a long commute to Galway, but there seemed to be nothing but rocks, pastures, and in the distance the sea.

Even the Cliffs of Moher were under construction. The low, rickety wall to keep people from the edge of the cliff has been replaced by a high, slate wall backed by mounds of earth. And the hill before the Cliffs has been laid open to prepare for a new underground visitor's centre. There is a temporary centre and parking across the street. Many more people were visiting the Cliffs than I recall from past visits. The gift shop was so crowded that we don't even bother to browse. But the beauty of the Cliffs themselves are undimmed.

Katrina is less interested in the Cliffs than in the slate walls. She can't see over them anyway, unless we lift her up. Jon shows her the spiral-like raised lines on them and explains that they were made by worm trails. She is fascinated. She wants to know where the worms are.

A few hours later, Blarney Castle. The steps up are scarier than I remember. Maybe because I have an enthusiastic 4-year-old ahead of me--really, above me--who has no fear of the spiral staircase, whose feet drift closer and closer to the narrow portion of the stairs. She, of course, is the princess of the castle and all she surveys.

Our bed and breakfast that night is in Cobh, a small town on an island in the Cork harbor. It is not in the Tom-Tom...just like the Cliffs of Moher and pretty much anything outside of the cities. Our map is not great, and our directions to the hotel even worse. After an hour or so of confusion, we finally arrive. Curiously, the restaurant attached to the hotel is Chinese. I wonder how the Chinese wait staff and cooks found their way to a tiny little tourist town on the south edge of Ireland. They are very solicitious of my gluten intolerance, and I have my first dinner in a Chinese restaurant since I was diagnosed with celiac 5 years ago. It is amazingly good, even without soy sauce.

The next day, a short drive to Waterford. Katrina loves watching the glass-blowing at the Waterford Crystal Factory, but the rest of the tour bores her. As does the shopping. The same is true for M., the 11-year-old daughter of our traveling companions.

Later, we take a walk through Waterford's pedestrian zone. Then, the highlight of the trip for an 11-year-old girl: the discovery of a Claire's store. It's evening, so the store is closed. We're leaving the next morning to catch our flight out of Dublin. We plan to be in front of Claire's when it opens the next morning at 9:30 am and back to the hotel to check out by 10 am. Both girls are excited. Katrina can't wait to get some "jewels."

Sure enough, at 9:30 am, both moms and girls are standing outside the door. It takes only 15 minutes for Katrina and M. to pick out approximately 30 Euros worth of assorted gee-gaws. (I did add a bit to Katrina's basket by buying a headband that might not slide out of her hair, as well as a pair of leg warmers in case she continues her dresses-only policy into the dead of winter. Again.)

In the car again, we find that the roads improve the closer we get to Dublin. We make it to the Dublin airport early enough to consider going somewhere else first, but late enough to decide to play it safe. Much sitting around and then standing in lines ensues, which is much longer and more frustrating than the actual two-hour flight itself.

We arrive at Hahn airport a little before 10 pm. Katrina falls asleep in the car and makes a smooth transition to her own bed. We stumble into bed at 11:30 pm. A lovely trip, if a little too much driving. Next time, we'll take it slower.

And as I drift off to sleep, I can't help but smile: with the new day begins a new school year for Katrina.