December 24, 2012


Twenty-one months today, Christmas Eve. 

Her stocking is so tiny. Appropriately, I suppose. White fabric and red stitching. Empty.

I’ve been thinking about putting a handwritten note in it this year. Something to fill the empty pocket.

I’ve thought about adding a note every Christmas, and keeping them in there year round, until I add another note, until her stocking has lost it’s color and the stitching is coming apart and it’s stuffed full of letters from a heartbroken old man, still hopelessly in love, still missing his little girl.

+++

December 24, 2012:

Dearest M,

I’m sorry.

Love,

Dad

December 4, 2012

I'm back writing for Glow In the Woods this week, talking about our pending move from Los Angeles. Please feel free to stop by Glow and join the discussion. 

November 26, 2012

Leo had been crying for thirty-five minutes from his pack n play. And not just those tiresome whiny sounds, where more drool leaves the mouth than tears leave the eyes. These were the shrieking, new upper teeth cries, the kind of noise that can be downright debilitating, sending your heart into your throat and your hands into your ears.

I was folding laundry to distract myself. Stella was quietly building a fort. It was 8:30am yesterday morning and we were hunkering down for the long haul.

It wasn’t until he finally fell asleep that I looked over at Stella to initiate some sort of 'we made it' hug. She seemed particularly downcast, more troubled than I’ve seen her in the past. Her head hung low, her eyes staring downwards at her hands as she shuffled her fingers over a small piece of broken balloon, the kind of listless fidgeting you do when you’re down.

It’s hard listening to Leo cry for that long, isn’t babe.


It’s not about that Dad. She says it so matter of factly, so confidently, as if she's three going on fifteen.

It’s about her, she said, pointing to the picture of Margot on our mantle.

I wish I had a sister.

It was the first time I remember her being sad about Margot for her sake. Her despondence wasn’t for our sake and it wasn’t an excuse for having a rough day. I could see the internalization happening in her eyes, the strange feeling of loss, of what could have been.

I pulled her close and we started crying together.

I love you sweetie.

I love you too Daddy, she whispered back.

Will you help me remember Margot? I asked.

Yeah.

Will you help me remember Margot? She asked.

Yeah.

November 24, 2012

I'm not exactly sure what to write about the tattoo's we've gotten since Margot was here.

The simple answer, I suppose, is that we got tattoo's after she died because, well, there didn't seem like much else to do. We were home again, in fragmented pieces, crawling through a quiet house, facing a vacant crib and trying our damnedest to keep our heads above water. Out of the emptiness, there arose this inexplicable need to do something, anything to pass the time. In one way, getting inked was no different than all of the road trips and restaurant hopping we did in those early months. It was another reason to get out of bed.

The deeper meaning, of course, was that we wanted to etch Margot's existence onto ourselves in the most permanent way possible. We went with a simple design, two circles for each of our children at the time, something profound for us but vague enough for the rest of the world. Stella and Margot, sisters, equally important, equally present in our beings.

After Leo was born, I added a third circle. Kari went with something more complex...




November 6, 2012

We recently trekked to Indianapolis, the city my youngest sister and parents reside in, to see if a move there would be something to consider more seriously.

A new adventure has been tugging at us ever since Leo was born and we have been tossing around ideas over late night drinks ever since. There was the six month camper van trip through Canada, from West to East, which we shelved rather quickly on account of the newborn which would have accompanied us. There was the temporary move overseas, probably to somewhere like Central America, where we could live on next to nothing, volunteer somewhere and give the kids a taste of another culture. There was Portland, which is always just sitting there being perfect little Portland, the utopia for free spirited, liberal, composting hippies who don't mind the rain. Not to mention some of our closest friends just inhabited the place.

Never would I have guessed we would be traveling to Downtown Indianapolis in the cold of November to scope the place out.
After a week of exploring the city, eating at places like Yats, drinking in bars like Chatterbox, and long walks through Fountain Square, one of Downtown's most promising neighborhoods, we were ready to take the cold dark plunge to the middle of America.
In the end, the difficult decision to leave our home and closest friends was made more bearable by the wonderful reality of being within walking distance of family. And we've always wanted to learn how to fix up houses, which every home in Downtown Indy seems to be in need of, sans the ones that are already boarded up. And of course, the possibility of our mortgage payment being in the same ballpark as Stella's preschool bill in Los Angeles is always a nice bonus. 

We arrived back in LA on Sunday morning, just a few hours before electronically signing an agreement to buy the house above, a beauty of a place built in 1870, with high ceilings and big windows and ornate trim work that made my woodworking heart swell. It is also a glorified 2200 square foot dump, in need of just about everything you can imagine fixing on an old house, which will hopefully suit us just fine.

As long as the underwriter decides we are still loan approved, and the appraiser thinks the house is worth more than the loan we are asking for, and the second inspection doesn't reveal something catastrophic that the first inspection missed, this place will be waiting for us come Christmas.:)

October 18, 2012

[Preface: In light of my revamped blog look, which is nearly finalized, and a new logo, designed by my talented friend Kate, it seemed appropriate to write a pathetically long, memoir-ish post about why I am still blogging, after nine years and five hundred posts.]



Confession #1: I have been blogging on the internet since the summer of 2003. You won’t see any of those first posts, but they are there, meticulously counted and indexed in my own personal archives, forever saved in draft format so I can (thankfully) be the only one who sees them.

Confession #2: I have been blogging in my head since sometime in the fall of 1986, when I first remember the need to scribble down and document the happenings of my life. I was fresh out of kindergarten.

+++


If you were to go back in time, to my late elementary and junior high years, and examine my bedroom, this is what you would find: a single bed, which required a small climb to get into, but was sufficient none the less; a metal desk with a wood veneer top; a closet full of socks and white washed Wrangler jeans and the only pair of Nike shoes I could afford, which usually were blue or maroon or a strange combination of colors that persuaded stores like Foot Locker to lower the price until it was affordable for kids like me, who wanted Nike shoes but couldn’t pay for the standard white or black ones. There was a plastic orange nerf basketball hoop affixed to the top of my closet door; a small stack of my favorite books, which included Where The Red Fern Grows, Hatchet and Baseball Fever; a drawer full of journals filled with abbreviated notes about my life and diaries from road trips, both of which included little doodles and printed pictures taped within the pages; and last, but perhaps as telling as the journals that filled my drawer, you would find a giant, wall sized bulletin board with blue trim that my Grandfather built for me. This was my masterpiece, the place I called my own, the board on which I could document my collecting habit with meticulous detail and a level of grandeur that could only be rivaled by the comic book and baseball card collectors of my day.

The board represented years of collecting and organizing, from the insanely trivial, like when I spent an entire summer consuming Reeses Pieces and then saved and hung each and every bright orange plastic wrapper (four thumbtacks per wrapper, of course), to the more important things, like Baseball game ticket stubs, back when they were hard tickets and simple in design, with serif fonts and seat numbers and sometimes, a color picture of the team logo. I had magazine cut outs of iconic pictures of the day, like Bo Jackson posing with a baseball bat and football gear, and the cover of Pearl Jam’s Ten record and the famous poster of Michael Jordan soaring for a dunk from the free throw line. Along the top of the wall sized bulletin board were Baseball hats, hung systematically on nails, each representing a different team.

Eventually, when it was time to leave the home of my childhood, I packed up my vast collection in boxes, and then, promptly, started new, more appropriately aged collections, like patches from every country I’ve visited, vintage picture frames and city maps.

+++


Confession #3: If I didn’t stop myself over the years from going into an all out collecting frenzy, I would have gathered license plates from the forty-eight states I’ve been to and t-shirts from each of the National Parks I’ve ventured in and rocks from every mile of the Pacific Crest Trail I’ve hiked and a small piece of timber from every batch of reclaimed wood I’ve worked with over the past several years.

Confession #4: I once had the idea to cover an entire wall with a series of maps from every state in America, neatly laid out with where each State belonged in relation to the other, and then to use a highlighter to mark every single highway and interstate I traveled on in each of the states. This is something I still dream of doing for my kids, since I can now accurately keep track from birth.

Confession #5: When my family bought our first desktop computer, I spent an entire Baseball season inputting every single Houston Astro’s box score into a spreadsheet purely for my own statistical analysis. All 162 games.

+++


So you can imagine my sheer relief and astonishment when I first learned about what blogging was. My mind went racing with questions. There is a way to organize all of the ways I already document my life? A place where I can write and post pictures and keep track of all the stuff I’m already keeping track of? And it will be in one place? And I can have some creative control over how it will look? It was an idea I had spent my whole life waiting to find out about, the light at the end of a long tunnel dedicated to documentation. 

Nine years and five hundred some posts later, Jack at Random is simply a place where I can document my family record through writing, photography and statistics. It’s my creative, writing and collecting outlet, a space where all of my hobbies can come together under one roof. It’s a place where I can reflect and remember what we were up to in any given month. It gives way to all of the content that goes into the books Kari prints every two years, the physical documentation of our lives. It has survived many unproductive tangents, like when I wrote highly uncritical film reviews or when I broadcast the messy personal details of my faith deconstruction or when I briefly delved into politics in the summer of 2008.  It has plowed through several years of a readership that consisted solely of my wife and mother. It has documented many of the books I’ve read and the films I’ve watched over the past decade.  It has been with me through nearly every month of my life since I graduated from University, including living in Sydney and moving to Los Angeles and the two hundred and sixteen days in 2007 when Kari and I when gallivanting around the world. It was here through my vocational ups and downs, from preacher to eBay to woodworker.

It was here waiting for me with a blinking cursor when my first daughter Stella was born. And when my second daughter  Margot died. And when my son Leo was born a year later. 

In thirty-three years of living, there have been many things that I have quit or fell out of love with. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an ambassador for staying the course. But I can say with some measure of certainty the things that have been most consistent throughout my life: my love for the game of Baseball. My penchant for collecting. A ridiculously happy marriage. Not eating cheese. And this blog.

So I suppose, to answer the question of the piece, I blog because I’ve always been blogging, on scraps of paper and bulletin boards, in leather bound journals and in countless collections that currently live in small tin canisters and boxes and behind glass frames.


The answer to why I blog is fairly straightforward once put into context. The harder question to answer is why I have spent a lifetime meticulously documenting my journey through collecting objects and experiences and data. I have asked myself over the past several years why I do these things. What prompted me to fill all of those journals with pictures and doodles and notes on my normal life? Why on earth would I collect meaningless things like candy wrappers and box scores? Why do I feel the need to keep track of the countries I’ve traveled in by collecting patches? Is it simply a personality trait, a complicated strain of my DNA? Or does it fill a deeper need to remember where I’ve been? Or a need to feel like I’ve done something with myself, however trite some of these collecting endeavors may have been?

The answer, I’m afraid, after years of contemplation and interesting discussions with my wife, is that I don’t know.

I simply don’t know.

What I do know is that my three and a half year old daughter likes to collect things. Objects she has deemed worthy of keeping and protecting at all costs. A series of rotating boxes contain her “special treasures” which includes, among other things, three marbles, a screw, one dice, one wooden scrabble letter, small rocks from our trips to the beach, a painted quarter and what appears to be a small metal hook she found in the yard one day. This small collection was started all on her own, over a year ago, and is revered and treasured almost as much as her stuffed animal sleeping partner, George. 

Her more recent collecting journey has led to those pennies you retrieve from an apparatus after cranking a wheel, which flattens the penny and stamps something kitschy onto it. She has a penny from the LA zoo, one from Northern California and one from Budapest that was worth more to her than anything else I could have brought back (expect for, perhaps, a twirly pink dress with different shades of pink rainbows on the sleeves and princesses on the front who were dressed in pink).

After her sister died, we started collecting rocks from the river that we poured M’s ashes into. We pick one special rock per visit and add it to a glass jar that sits in Margot’s corner of the living room. We rarely go anywhere special these days without her wanting to collect a rock for Margot’s jar, an act so common that it’s more and more beautiful and less and less heartbreaking.

I don’t know why I have spent most of my days documenting my life, or why my daughter seems to have picked up the same habit, but as I peer into our future of collecting rocks and pennies and taking pictures and perhaps even posting blogs together, I find the best companion a Father could ask for, the ultimate pay off for all these years of collecting.

October 13, 2012

A while back, I stumbled upon an Apartment Therapy feature on Cathy McMurray, an artist from Portland. I was immediately drawn to her mixed media paintings of nature and landscapes, which are done with such vivid color and striking detail and originality that I hoped one of her works would eventually make it's way into our home.

In January, she posted a new piece, Caldera, which she painted on locally sourced wood, and then wrote beautifully about new beginnings, both of which resonated with me as we approached the one year anniversary of Margot's death.

After trading emails, Cathy and I came up with an art for furniture swap, artist and artisan, which involved trading Caldera for three hexagon shelves that I would make for her out of reclaimed pine.

A few months later, our trade was complete. :)






You can find more of Cathy's beautiful (and affordable) work in her Etsy shop. She also has a regularly updated blog, Habit of Art, that features new artwork and beautiful images from in and around Portland.

September 29, 2012

I'm back writing for Glow In the Woods this week, talking about donating Margot's heart valves and the story that is yet to be written. Please feel free to stop by Glow and read my post, She's In California Somewhere, and join the discussion.

September 26, 2012

Hard to resist posting such a display. Volume would help. :)







September 21, 2012

He doesn't like to be alone.

Stella could lay for an hour, sometimes longer, content with an occasional check in. She would lie on our vanilla colored shag rug and roll over and stare towards the North and grab the leg on our coffee table, all without uttering a single needy cry.  Perhaps it was the natural light from our seventh floor loft with floor to ceiling windows? Or a gift from her Mother, content with little, independently satisfied?

Leo likes to be within a few feet, or better yet, within an arms length from a human being. He cries when left alone and he quiets when the rest of us are talking, our collective familiar chatter ringing comfort.

+++

We have been listening to the blues lately, mostly Robert Johnson, and he bounces around like he understands, like he had a front row seat to the grief.

+++

Does he smile more than Stella? Hard to say, to remember, but it sure feels like his grin is a permanent fixture. I feel like it was work with Stella, total exaggeration and animal sounds and scrunched up faces. With Leo, I can almost glance at him and he beams with cheekiness.


And all of this comparing? Inevitable, I suppose.

Left from the comparison mix is M of course, poor middle child, who none the less lurks around every grin and gesture and the subtle personality previews, revealing herself in fragments through her brother and sister, leaving us guessing at who our little girl was to be.

+++

I take the 3am feeding while Kari pumps from the kitchen and it's damn near the best part of my day, even though the day is only three hours old, coming before the sun rises, before wrestling with Stella, before a poured drink with Kari on the porch post bedtime. He lays next to me in the dark, groggy and needy, head lifted just a little from the arch of Kari's pillow. I hold the glass bottle and find his mouth and then nuzzle my face against the side of his. My nose rests below his chin, my forehead against his thinning hair, my lips against his arm and chest. He gulps and swallows with this perfected evolutionary rhythm and I kiss his arm and he tinkers with my hand and these moments are, perhaps, what I will be thinking about should the time come when we build his first sand castle and take our first hike and walk him into kindergarten.

I think that is all for now.

September 7, 2012

So my friend Sally and her friend Tonia recently got together to embark on an amazing artistic endeavor, a journey through some beautiful fairy tales, one for every day in August. Somehow, almost inconceivably, Tonia was able to draw and design thirty-one beautiful prints, showcasing fairy tales from The Little Mermaid to Thumbelina to Jack and the Beanstalk.

Four years ago in August, Sally's firstborn child, Hope, was stillborn after forty-one weeks in utero. She has written beautifully since losing Hope, sharing her story from the raw edges of grief and opening herself up to the babyloss community in ways that few others have. I have followed her journey from across the Pacific, walking behind her footsteps, learning from her experience.

100% of the sales from these prints will go directly to the Stillbirth Foundation in Australia, which seeks to fund and encourage stillbirth research and increase public awareness about it. All of the 10" X 10" prints are $20 and shipping to the USA is $16, no matter how many prints you order. If you're interested in buying a piece, please go here to see all 31 prints and ordering information: http://www.stillbirthfoundation.org.au/fairytalesforhope

These were our favorites:

August 27, 2012

Dearest M,

It doesn't really go away, does it? The pain returns as freely as it dissipates, like when the joints in my hip flare up, like the pain in my back, always there waiting for me after a rough nights sleep or carrying your sister on my shoulders for way too many blocks.

It's gotten so busy around here, with your brother and all. I'm afraid I haven't stopped long enough to just sit with you. I find myself alone for the first time in months, I mean really alone, in strange cities and foreign languages, and you're all I can think about.

Slow down for a day and you rush in like a freight train.

Hey dad, you say. Remember? 

Yes, darling.

We have done so well, you and I, working toward integration, living together without as many tears, without so much heartbreak. I see you sitting there on the shelf and I know the pain has evolved. The space where you reside in my brain is no different than where the other two and your mother live, right out front, covering more mental and emotional ground than everything else combined, and even all of these thoughts about you have morphed into something vaguely uplifting. We are progressing. I can see this.

And then I get alone with you - without you - and everything seems to crumble for a time. No matter the progress, however important it may be, no matter the integration and the beauty, the acceptance, no matter how much I mentally talk myself down from the pain, no matter how much I tell myself to keep walking, you, you, you, my second daughter with blue eyes and big hands and Bray cheeks are never coming back.

I miss you something awful my dear. I would give anything to hold you again, just a little bit longer. Another hour or two, or another day. Sometimes I wish we hadn't donated your heart valves so we could have had more time. I wish I could have followed you around the city until you ended up back in my hands. Your sister is getting so big and so old and I desperately wish you guys were playing together. Movie nights aren't the same without you. Or going out for dinner or taking little trips, or anything else for that matter.

Whatever is left of you and however complicated this father and daughter relationship is, I love you Margot June.

Dad

August 23, 2012

The last two days of my trip included more walking and riding around the city, more delicious food, a swimming break at the thermal baths, Hungary Independence day celebrations and a few important stops with my parents to say goodbye to their close friends, which luckily for me, took us into their homes for some authentic Hungarian food, history and culture.

Some captions below:


Inside an M1 subway car, the oldest subway line in continental Europe




Heroe's Square






Fireworks over the Danube









Friends Zule, Ella and KrisztiƔn



Zule, Ella and KrisztiƔn's home, one of eleven flats in this pre WW2 mansion. Still has bullet holes and bomb damage from World War 2.


View of the city from Buda Castle






Exploring a woodworker's shop



Downstairs neighbors and friends, Frank and Maria



Frank and Maria's Home

August 19, 2012

I landed in Budapest in the evening, daylight fading, to cheers from a raucous crowd of youngsters in the back of the plane, who by all accounts, seemed to find the routine landing something of a marvel. 

This is my second stint in Hungary, having backpacked here with Kari and friends in 2008. We arrived then by train from Bratislava, with wide eyes and little money and frisbees to keep us occupied when we weren't gallivanting around. Back then we wandered around with little knowledge of the city, as you do in foreign countries, trying to figure out public transport and circumventing language differences and hoping to find some good food without yelp or recommendations. It wouldn't be like that this time around.

My Father, who had just flown in from England, was waiting for me as I walked out of customs and into the waiting area. We embraced for the first time in Hungary, our eighth country to share a hug, and then grabbed a taxi into the city.

After three years living in Budapest, my parents are headed back home, which isn't actually somewhere they have ever lived, but it's at least in relative proximity to where they used to call home before packing their bags for Europe. I'm here to help them pack. To enjoy meals at their favorite restaurants, to reflect over coffee, to walk their neighborhood and see the city through their experienced eyes.
Home for them is moving, but what a home it was.




On Saturday we made our way to the Freedom Bridge, which spans over the great Danube River and links the Buda side of Budapest to the Pest side of Budapest. My parents wanted to leave their mark on the city in the form of a love lock on the bridge, joining a multitude of other locks, which symbolize....forever love. :)





August 4, 2012

The last few days of our trip included a day fighting the crowds at Crater Lake National Park and two perfect days exploring the town of Ashland, OR.

Our cabin near Crater Lake ended up being a cinder block, smoke smell disaster, but it was almost worth it for one night to have these views and a free canoe for exploring the local river.


Crater Lake was beautiful, but until the kids are older and more mobile (i.e. they can hike more than a mile), the day was a mild let down. I think the droves of people made it difficult as well, especially coming off ten days exploring the Lost Coast, which we mostly had to ourselves.



We spent our time in Ashland playing in the creek that flows through the center of town and eating at delicious places like Mix. The lemon meringue pie was almost worth the entire trip to OR.


July 27, 2012

Welcome to Humboldt County, where the substance is green and the landscape even greener!

There is so much to do and see here that we felt like a week barely scratched the surface. Our six days here included hikes through Redwood National and State Parks, a jaw dropping drive through the Lost Coast, lazy afternoons strolling around town and two days exploring hidden beaches near the village of Trinidad (see captions below). And to cap off the week, we rented a sweet little cottage in the laid back town of Arcata, which afforded us the ability to walk just about everywhere in town, including a stroll to the best tasting meal of our whole trip.

There is so much more to say about our experience here, the way Stella came alive, the down to earth kindness of just about everyone living in Humboldt, the magic of being on the road, but I'm afraid my time is short this morning!

Being in Humboldt also meant we got to spend time with our babyloss blogger friend Laura and her partner Jeff. There is nothing quite like being able to connect with someone from this community and our three hour lunch was still not enough time.



College Cove Beach near Trinidad. We had this huge beach all to ourselves.


Old Town Eureka

Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Found a swing, College Cove Beach

1. Found a herd of Elk 2. College Cove Beach. 3. Blueberry picking. 4. LEO

Eureka, near Old Town
 

College Cove Beach

Top left: Hiking through Fern Canyon before falling in water. Right: Hiking through Fern Canyon after falling in water. Bottom Left: Bear suit at Luffenholtz Beach, near Trinidad

Redwood National Park

College Cove Beach



College Cove Beach

Redwood National Park

Giant slugs, Redwood National Park

Slideshow