One Tale From The Crypt

Halloween is fine. I’m not big on dressing up, but I will if asked. A few years in a row, I’ve worn my Batman t-shirt to work. This year is the first year any of my students acknowledged it. Someone asked, “Is Batman your favorite?” I was like, “Yes.” Good talk!

This year, I had plans! DB asked if I wanted to go to a crypt in a cathedral. I was like, Why is that even a question? Of course, I want to see a crypt! Remember the catacombs? I like dark places under holy buildings. Totally my jam. Like, holy jam.

The weather decided to be Halloweenish all day–windy with a chance of trees falling on me, so I remained appropriately terrified all day (S texted me to ask if I had PTSD, and I was like, yes, yes I do).

I just realized–I don’t think I ever wrote about the time the tree fell on me at work. That’s the short version: A tree fell on me at work. I survived. No, I didn’t sue.

Anyway, the wind remained whipping well into the darkness when DB and I went to the cathedral. At the threshold, a woman greeted us and handed us each a bag. I thanked her and then said to DB, We can go home now because my night has already been made. A bag! I didn’t even know was in it! I was thrilled to simply have them give me a bag.

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Not. Creepy. At. All.

Then we checked in and the woman said to us, “Now you’ve been checked in; let’s see if you’ll be checking out.” Ah, ok. So it’s going to be that kind of night.

We sat towards the back of the church waiting for the group ahead of us to finish. Then we moved to the front where there was a screen and a handful of people clad in black roaming around, guiding people to seats in the dark. We then watched a film that was supposed to look old-timey. It was the story of a guy, Something Stewart, who basically owned Garden City. Then he died. Then his grave was robbed. Then eventually the widow tracked down his remains and had this cathedral built as a huge gravestone for him. She hid his remains so they couldn’t get stolen again. The end.

Then some guy basically pounced out from behind the screen to greet us, asking if we’d heard the bells tolling. Now I kind of expected that to happen because I’d heard a shout from the group ahead of us. The women in front of us, however, did not expect anything scary to happen, so they jumped, completely startled. Then one of them proceeded to take at least five of the same picture of everything we passed, so that slowed down our progress towards the crypt.

We were guided by another man who carried a lantern. We found the spiral staircase, and the three women freaked out about that. I don’t know if the stairs or the spiral was scary for them, but they were terrified. The staircase was really narrow and it was hard to see, but it was still kinda neat. Not as terrifying as, say, a gigantic tree falling down on  you. (That’s now my measurement of terror: tree tragedy).

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This is the face of fear.

At the bottom of the staircase was reason to be freaked out. A woman was sitting in a corner, wearing a black veil, praying loudly. There was smoke pumping in from the hallway. Now things were getting weird. The three women also freaked out more when the smoke machine made noise.

Next we met a statue of Mr. Stewart’s widow. It was surrounded by candles. We heard more about her efforts to find him. Then the guide was like, Oh, look, it seems like his funeral is about to start.

We walked to the other side of the room where there were mourners and chairs. DB and I sat in a back row and noticed the body in the coffin was totally a real person. We were like, he’s totally going to move. The guide narrated more but it was hard to hear because the widow with the black veil sat in the front row and started wailing, and the guy comforting her kept making snide remarks about the dead guy, which was really funny. Then, sure enough, that dead body moved. And sure enough, the three women somehow didn’t see that coming and shouted in terror. This? Was entertaining.

We then moved toward the hallway again, hearing more about grave robbers. As we entered the hall, we were greeted with two grave robbers trying to seem like they weren’t robbing a grave–which was super funny–and enough smoke to make your lungs simply stop working. Before that happened, we were ushered into a crypt where there was more smoke but I’m pretty sure it was real smoke because we were lighting candles.

This was nice. It was an interesting way to forget the spooky for a moment and light a candle for someone. My candle wouldn’t light. DB lit my match twice because that wouldn’t light at first, and then I tried five candles before getting one to catch. Then we stepped back to take in the glow. It was heavenly, which makes sense because we were in a cathedral.

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That woman who was scared and took a billion photos? Yep, that’s her. And now I look like the psychopath for snapping this.

On the way out, there was a basket of candy! This is how every mass should end! We took some pieces and put them into our bags. Then we found our way out by climbing up the creepy stairs outside. There was smoke drifting about as we ascended, and the wind was still whipping around. It was still Halloween and still super eerie and we still don’t know where this guy’s remains remain. However, I do know where all the candy went. Plus, there was more candy in our bags along with some pamphlets about the cathedral. Really, the contents of the bag weren’t as exciting as the act of getting the bag itself.

So to recap, Halloween was awesome because:

  1. Someone acknowledged my Batman t-shirt
  2. Bags
  3. Creepy crypt
  4. No tree incidents

Now that’s a good All Hallow’s Eve.

Retreating Out Of The Comfort Zone

Juxtaposition! Fun to say and a literary device that comes up in most of my classes. It means putting together seemingly unlike things to show how they go together in some way. Like Reference.com says a good example of juxtaposition is “Romeo’s description of Juliet in Act I, Scene 5: ‘It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night/ Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear.’.” I have no idea what any of that means, but let’s just say it’s helpful. Okay, I’m realizing that maybe I don’t know what juxtaposition is after all. Now’s a good time to remind everyone that I’m a teacher. Hence, the aforementioned classes. Hence, my current shame in not being able to explain the thing I constantly explain. [I’m tempted to go into a side note about APA citation, but that would turn into a tangent that probably won’t come back around to anything soon. I’ll save that for another time.]

So anyway, if you think of things that don’t seem to go together, you might say Me, Nature, and Anyone Under The Age Of Old. That means my weekend was one of juxtaposition. I spent Friday night and all of Saturday in nature with teens. Yes, I know, I’ll say it again: Me. Outdoors. Young people. I’m branching out, yall! Oh, gawd, branching out. That’s a pun! Paranomasia is the fancy word for punning. I’m a teacher!

If it seems I’m going nowhere fast with this, I concur. I’m still on a high from an incredibly delightful writers’ retreat I was invited to in Fishkill. The writers were in grades 9 – 12. The retreat was on camp grounds. The “what to bring” list included a sleeping bag and a flashlight. Ergo, the list may as well have included biggest fears. In the past few years, I’ve been liking nature more. I know, I’ve ranted about trees, but aside from trees, nature has been nice. I loved staying on the lake in Ohio. Granted, we were in a gorgeous house, but still, a lake is nature. I’ve been walking outside a whole lot. I sat on the ground when I was in yoga teacher training and we had lunch in the park. This is progress.

So I packed up my dad’s military sleeping bag, a flashlight, and a Kerouac book, and I drove up to Fishkill. I found the camp grounds. Shortly after my arrival, one of the chaperones also arrived. I got out of my car. Now that there was more than one person, a bear would have a choice.

The organizer who invited me showed up a bit later as the young writers arrived. They all had comfy blankets, big duffel bags, and smiles. We all made our way to the cabins. The teens were staying in bunks. The chaperones and I were staying a bit up the hill in a different building.

Buildings! Not tents! Buildings! This is my kind of being one with nature. Walls!

This building reminded me of college dorms. I chose a room with one bed because that’s all this gal needs. Roughing! It! And the room I chose had a moth in it that I found when I shifted the curtains. Now, I could have screamed. I could have taken my stuff and chosen a different room. I could have gotten in my car and drove home. Instead, I smushed it. Apologies to all my animal loving friends. Seriously, I’m sorry. It’s just that, well, it doesn’t belong indoors. I’m also more sorry because while I thought I’d killed it, I’d actually just maimed it, and one of the chaperones offered to come on in and finish it off for me, and I said, Sure, which meant omigod yes please god yes.

Then when I went to the bathroom, there was a daddy longlegs scurrying around. So I killed it. I know! I’m so sorry!

Side note: all this has happened since I realized I’m probably a Buddhist. Which I usually can’t spell right on the first try. My life has a lot going on right now, clearly.

Back to the bug murders. There were only two. The next day, a tiny spider crawled into my bag before I could stop it, and I just left it. I also moved a spider off my desk in class today instead of smushing it. Progress. Again, back to the campgrounds–I got a tour of the buildings we’d be using, which were the meal hall and the music building, which was gorgeous. There was a planetarium next door. Heaven! And a pond nearby. More nature to get accustomed to, but since I’d stayed on that lake in Ohio, this was pretty much the same, only with less corn and more geese.

We had dinner and played ice breaking games. We wrote a little. I did my best to memorize names. Being in a room of strangers has never been my most favorite place to be, and so I did take a few moments to warm up and feel out the vibes. All the vibes were positive, for sure, but still, social awkwardness doesn’t simply fade away because you tell it not to come along to the writing workshop. There was the juxtaposition of me, young people, and nature happening all at once, so the awkwardness was going to be a factor. That’s just who I am. And also who I am includes letting it happen and then letting it go, which I did. I sat in awe of the camaraderie of these students and teachers who had spent an entire day at school doing school things and now were bounding around with so much energy and jazz. I felt so tired but their energy lifted me.

Also lifting my spirits was the promise of s’mores that came true right after ice breakers. I mean, this is what being in nature is about–putting sugar on a stick and making a sandwich with chocolate and sweet crackers.

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I went to my room after a short stint eating s’mores. Going back to my room proved to be another notch in my braving nature belt. I used my flashlight to find my way back. It was the kind of dark where you can’t see your hand in front of your face. I went the wrong way at first and talked out loud to myself, instructing myself where to go and not to fall. I found my way to the right path and back to the right building. I heard all kinds of critters in the leaves, and there was a huge spider crawling up the side of the door, and I didn’t try to kill any of them. Because they were outside where they belong. But also because I didn’t feel scared of them. They were simply living, the same way I was simply living, and they weren’t trying to kill me, either. This is an example of Buddhism. (No it’s not).

Workshop day arrived! Up at 5 to meditate and yoga and then a walk outside at sunrise to the pond and back. Some of the writers were already up and about, some jogging, some writing, some doing homework. Talk about dedication. These are my people.

There was breakfast and then another walk and then, writing writing writing. My theme was spaces and places. We read some things. We wrote some things. We read and wrote some more. There was a lot of talking and sharing. There were breakout sessions and regrouping. Anything I suggested was met with such creativity and openness.

Then lunch time came. I ended the morning recapping that we’d discussed and wrote about physical and geographical spaces and places. After the break, we’d be going places in our minds. Oooh.

Upholding my promise, I started the afternoon with meditation. (Hello, Buddha).  This meditation began with one mat, one body, one room. At its height, it reached out to beyond the galaxies, beyond the universe. Then we all returned home to the mind and heart. I sent them off to write what the journey had told them to write, or to do whatever their sense of self desired. This twenty minutes of doing turned into almost forty by the time everyone reconvened. Oooh, meditation. That’s what it can do.

We spent the rest of the day by the pond. At one point, a scout group came trudging around the water, some scouts with large sticks twice their size in hand. They went into the planetarium while we stayed on the dock, creating and sharing. That’s right, we stayed outside. The entire afternoon in the sun that grew hot enough to warrant a strip down; I began the day in a scarf and a coat and a blanket wrapped around me, and I ended the day with all that tossed to the side. Fireflies and spiders crept about on the wooden picnic tables. Squirrels and chipmunks skittered and scattered. Crickets chirped the entire time.

The day had been one of those blurs, ending in a circle of summing up the experience while the sun went down. Everyone headed to regroup and work on writing while I headed to the hall to write a piece that had been in my queue for almost two weeks. Then there was dinner and then I realized I had to leave if I wanted to stay awake while driving, and if I didn’t leave, I’d have to stay in nature for one more night, which actually didn’t seem so bad after all. But I prefer my own bed so I said my goodbyes, gave some hugs, and left with all the feels. Feels of pride for having been way out of my comfort zone, feels of gratitude for having met wonderful and creative people, feels of inspiration for writing and reading. What good fortune that I got to have such an experience.

Juxtaposition, in apparently my own definition, shows the difference in things while simultaneously showing how they go together in some way. I’ve learned that me and nature have a pretty good connection once I settle in. I mean, I stopped killing things after the first hour. And me and the youth? Yeah, there was some solid common ground there, too. While this retreat was for them, I totally came out of it with fresh wisdom that I couldn’t have gotten any other way and wouldn’t have it otherwise.

Oh, and I got a shirt!

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The Universal Language of Poetry (And The Socially Awkward)

I was so fortunate to be asked to read for The Americas Poetry Festival of New York,  a series of multilingual poetry readings and talks across several days and venues. Also, I was included in their anthology. This is a happening. This is so me.

My reading was at the Consulate of Argentina in Manhattan. Ooh, how fancy does that sound? I know,right!

In a bit of a drizzle, I made my rainy way to the Starbucks a block away from the consulate where an entire fleet of cyclists were at rest. I shared a table with a man and his helmet. Fact: he was not part of the fleet. He was a lone cyclist. I don’t understand outdoor sports done in the rain. This is why I don’t ride a bike anymore. Yep, that’s the reason.

Anyways, when the call time rolled around, I headed to the Consulate and arrived at the same time as a gentleman who came to listen. Interestingly, he greeted me in Spanish, and I replied in English, and then we were greeted by a man I’ll call the Silver Fox of Argentina who spoke to us both in English, ushering is into a room with couches where others waited.

Then several groups of people came in all speaking Spanish and went directly upstairs. The Silver Fox of Argentina seemed to know them. I wasn’t sure, though, because, you know, language.

Speaking of–let’s talk about my mad language skillz . I’ve got none. I’m like really super good at English, but other languages? My brain cannot compute. Nine years of Spanish education and the most I can say is Me llamo Cristina y no me gusts la basura. Loosely translated, that means They call me Christina Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die. Or maybe it means something about the trash can. Either way, not very helpful for further conversation.

My senior year of high school was spent sharing a classroom with 8th graders taking Italian 1 because none of us seniors wanted to enroll in AP Spanish literature. In my one year of Italian, I learned quanianihai? Loosely translated: how many years do you have?

So here I am at the Consulate of Argentina, and the Silver Fox of Argentina tells us all in English that we can go upstairs now. We all go upstairs and the people in the little lounge at the top of the steps clearly know each other, but I can’t understand what they’re saying because they’re speaking in Spanish. Then in the auditorium through the double doors next to the lounge area are people hugging and greeting each other. In Spanish. Slowly, I’m realizing that I’m pretty much the only person here who is not speaking Spanish, and I have no idea what’s going on so I wind up texting a few people whose answers to me were to either yell Defect! or simply Que? Which loosely translates to K?

Now I could have asked someone who looked like they were in charge about what was going on. I could have gone up to anyone near the microphone set up or anyone adjusting the posters for the event to introduce myself and ask for the organizer. If you think all this sounds logical, FOR SHAME! You don’t know me at all. I mean, I can barely do that in a room of people speaking English. You think I’m gonna start introducing myself to people who are speaking a completely different language. Ha ha! I scoff at your confidence in my social abilities.

Instead, I did what any normal adult would do. I walked around like I was casing the joint until I saw everyone start to settle in.

Everyone sits down, so I sit down. Then several people go to the front of the room to start. And they start speaking in Spanish. It then dawns on me that I’m in the Consulate of Argentina and not only are the social conversations in Spanish, but the entire program is going to be en Espanol. Loose translation: in Spanish.

I understood every 8th word, like when they were saying the next reader’s country and name. I understood some of the poetry because that was read more slowly.

Then the poet from Mexico read a poem in English! Okay, now we were bilingual! Then he explained and read his second poem in Spanish. I’m not exactly sure what was going on because he had in his ear buds and carried his phone in his face and kept his eyes closed (ojos!) and bumped into people and things as he walked around and recited, but he didn’t bump into as many things as you may expect.

Another poet read poems in several languages. Okay, now we were multilingual!

My plan was to sit there until I heard my name. It was all I could do. A few poets later the stars aligned and I heard, Now is Christina Rau here?

Yes! I am! I am Christina Rau! I understand the words coming forth from your mouth, ma’am. Yes, that is me! I am here! Yes! My hand shot straight up and I may have jumped with glee. I didn’t have to figure out when I was going next after all.

I made it to the podium, and I could have said Hola or Buenos tardes, but instead I said Good evening because I didn’t want to give anyone the impression that I may be able to hold any kind of conversation in Spanish. I read my few poems without any commentary and then at the end when I could have said Gracias I said thank you and made my way to my chair.

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This lovely person in the crowd Instagrammed some of my reading. I’m still not 100% sure what she wrote, but I recognize my name and poetry, so I’m going to say it’s a-okay.

The director found me and showed me my poem in the anthology, handing  over my own copy. It’s a fabulous book!

Then a few more poets went and there were announcements and reasons to clap. I clapped because that’s what you do when an entire room claps. That’s also how The Handmaid’s Tale begins, but what’s a gal to do? Simply do what everyone else is doing and be okay with it.

All the readers were called to the stage for photos, and that I understood and was able to thank all the organizers who gathered around. Then we said we’d try to do something out  on Long Island. We spoke in English. And there was then wine and snacks, and I left because I don’t speak the language of alcohol anymore either.

On my way out, the gentleman who had walked in with me was also leaving. And in Spanish he wished me a good night (or cursed me out—I wouldn’t know the difference) and I said good night to him in English. Because nine years of Spanish taught me to stick with what I know.

Someone should probably point me in the direction of the Rosetta stone. Or a Spanish-English dictionary. I may not be able to wrap my brain around another language perfectly, but I can sure try.

The One With The Pop Up Without A Ball Pit

S, R, and I visited Central Perk and the apartments nearby all in one place when we visited the Friends pop-up. No germy ballpit here! Instead, replicas of the Friends’s version of NYC.

Each friend had a dedicated section. Ross’s pivoting couch and comic book. Rachel and Monica’s purple door. Joey’s piled on clothes. Phoebe’s artwork. Chandler and Joey’s apartment. There was a wall dedicated to all the pets. And also, Central Perk.

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You could buy coffee at the end, but some of the coffee was sold out. Which never happened on Friends. But it doesn’t matter. Friendship is the point, right?

S, thank you for being a friend.

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Marco! Polo! Pyramid!

As you may know by now, I was a contestant on $100000 Pyramid.

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If you know that, then you probably know I did not win $150000 and a trip, which is the most you can win. I also didn’t win $100000 or a trip or any combination of any numbers of moneys and trips.

However, I did win.
I won LIFE.

I got to play games during the audition process. I got to play games during the day we taped. I got to play games on television.

I got to meet Michael Strahan, make a weird face at him, yell Marco to his Polo, and also awkwardly pass him in the hallway not realizing it was him and having to go back to shake his hand only after everyone pointed out to me that I’d snubbed Michael Strahan.

I got to meet Katie Couric and Mario Cantone. These two people make me feel better about living in this world. They were so kind and so down-to-Earth and so into wanting to play a fun game and maybe even win.

I got to meet some incredibly fun and fabulous people. By the time we were ready to play for real, I’d gotten to know the casting team and the other contestants pretty well–as well as you can when you’re in a room for a day–and they are also people who make me feel better about living in this world.

It’s a very unique kind of joy that unfolds when you’re meeting people who love the same things you love when that love is something that not everyone gets to experience.

I lost a lot of rounds. I was nervous for months, thinking about how I may have looked sad or disappointed.

Then in the season finale, there I was, smiling the whole time. Losing round after round, I laughed and smiled and laughed and smiled. Because it wasn’t losing. It was living.

I had my family and a friend there to witness every second. They brought snacks. They brought flowers. Friends who weren’t there sent texts, sent messages, and posted pictures of me on tv on their feeds. I heard from people I haven’t heard from in years. The next day at work, one of the office admins could barely contain her excitement because she watches the show and didn’t know I’d be on and she was so giddy about it.

I also made these faces.

The gratitude I feel still makes all my insides all gushy. I feel like I’m soaring every time I think about it, and even when I don’t. I’m walking around on a game show high that won’t quit.

Then in my writing for the sciences class, this happened:

Student: Professor, can I ask a weird question?

Me: Always.

Student: Were you on tv?

Me: Yes.

Other Student: Are you a vegan?

Me: Odd follow-up, but no.

Other students: What show were you on?

Me: Have you heard of $100000 Pyramid?

Most students: No.

Me: Well, [first student who asked] how did you know?

Student: My parents watch, and I saw you on the screen when I walked in.

Me: Oh, did you watch, too?

Student; No, I just saw you and left.

Me: Yep, that  sounds about right.

Moral of this story: Stay humble, bruh.

PS: My mom and brother got me Rice-A-Roni as a consolation prize because the 70s were sometimes better.

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PPS: Why is this post entitled Marco Polo? You’ll have to watch this little gem to find out.

Take That, Heart Disease and ALZ

Team Joe Rau completed two walks this autumn and raised money for two fantastic charities.

Heart Walk

The Long Island Heart Walk took us to the boardwalk at Jones Beach. This was super special since that’s where my brother used to take my dad for beach days. We arrived geared up for a Fall walk, and it turned out to be more like summer. First we checked out the shoreline. Such a pretty day for a walk. After walking around from booth to booth trying to win things (I won a hat! He one a keychain! Thanks, Chase Bank!), we walked over to the start line and waited. Then we waited some more. Then we followed suit with a slew of other walkers and unceremoniously began the walk before anyone cut the ribbon. We went around it, not through it, because we’re not dicks.

We pretty much started at the beginning of the boardwalk and walked under overpasses and to the far end. Does it surprise anyone that I was sweating profusely? No? Good. Because that’s exactly what I was doing. My brother was explaining why there was no breeze whenever I pointed out that there was no breeze. What neither of us could explain was why there was a prop plane flying a banner over the water, advertising the Heart Walk. I’m hoping it was a volunteer plane because that’s not why I’m raising money. There’s no need to fly a banner over where the people who already know about the walk are walking. (This is the same issue I have with charities sending me stuff in the mail asking for money after I’ve already given them money. Online. Stop killing trees and wasting postage on the money I’m raising for you please).

We came up to a point in the path where the boardwalk was kind of no longer a boardwalk. We saw people hiking up into the brush over a small hill around a turn where the path became unseeable unless you took the turn with them. We both realized at that point that we’d been walking for quite some time. The walk should have been three miles. We were already at two, which meant that we’d get another two walking back.

2 + 2 = 4
I. AM. A. MATH. GENIUS!

It’s at that point we decided to turn back, seeing that no one from the Heart Association was anywhere along the path to tell us when to turn around. I suppose they thought no one would go up into the brush. However, reaching the brush was still farther than necessary.

The silver lining here was the beautiful walk along the boardwalk. You just can’t beat Long Island beaches.

ALZ Walk

Two weeks later, Team Joe Rau was in Queens for The Walk To End ALZ in support of the Alzheimer’s Association. We arrived and found parking because of the very uninterested volunteers pointing casually in the direction of parking lots. On the plus side, we found parking! On the negative side, the parking lot smelled like pee! We hurried away from there and on over to the grassy area to sign in.

We got bracelets, the kind that stick to the hair on your arms, and then got flowers to carry in honor of our dad and others. We got free snacks because that’s how the ALZ Association rolls–cereal bars and bananas all day, yo. We also took pictures in the photo booth.

We signed a memory wall. We checked out the giveaways and got free bags. Because I need another bag to put into one of my three large and overflowing bags of bags in my coat closet. My brother picked up some catalogs about Flushing. Then we went back to the pee parking lot to put our now filled bags in the car.

Back to the start line. There was a lot of storytelling and explaining about why we were there. The sun was out, shining and hot. I was ready to go. They were not as they talked more. Then we held up our flowers, and that made the waiting worth it. Everyone had flowers spinning in the wind, and it was so pretty. Then there was more talking until finally they cut the ribbon and off we went!

My brother and I aren’t speed walkers as a profession, but we could probably win an Olympic walking event. We caught up to the front pretty quickly. Leading us on the walk was a cheerleading squad. I appreciate pep, for sure! However, when you cheer about Alzheimer’s, even when it’s against ALZ, it still sounds wrong.  Intention? Fantastic! Outcome? No thank you stop cheering about Alzheimer’s please.

We walked by the World’s Fair building and then around it, seeing it from an angle we’d never seen it before. Then we came upon the Unisphere. Yup, this walk was also pretty breathtaking. Everyone stopped to take pictures. The cheer squad climbed into a pyramid for photos. That’s when we made our move and lost them and headed to the front of the pack. We were not the first to finish, but we were some of the first. That’s when I took the worst finish line picture in the history of finish line photos. Then we got more snacks because the ALZ Association understands the power of food as appreciation. I got an apple. He got a bag of kettle potato chips. All was right with the world. When we got back to my brother’s place, we planted our flowers in his garden.

Because we have awesomely generous people in our lives, we raised:

  • $575 for the American Heart Association
  • $305 for the Alzheimer’s Association

If you are a generous person who missed our walks, you can still donate:

Serendipity has me featuring at a poetry reading at Sip This on October 15, which is my dad’s birthday. So while we’re not walking, Team Joe Rau will be on hand to collect donations for the Wounded Warrior Project. That’s an in-person donation collection, but feel free to donate online if you can’t make the reading and still want to donate.

Also at that reading? Some fun Elvis trivia and, of course, giveaways!

Then Team Joe Rau is pretty much done for the season. We’ll see you next Autumn. Or sooner if another charity walk finds its way to our sneakers.

Happiness Lies In Birthday Pie

Last year, I spent my birthday surrounded by color with S. A ball pit was involved. No surprise there.

Perhaps the surprise is that this year’s birthday did not involve a ball pit. Though it is ball pit adjacent, time-wise, considering that questionable zodiac excursion.

Almost-Birthday Birthday Gift From Me To Me

On Friday night, I took myself to a reiki circle. I felt like I was floating at one point. Ooh.

Museum Sans Ball Pit

My mom and I went to The Metropolitan Museum of Art and got lost pretty much all day. The guiding factor in every set of directions we received was to go right or left at the large column.

Never Enough Moon

I thought the moon exhibit was going to be that one tiny gallery the photography exhibits are always in. It was there for sure, but it was also sprawling across four other galleries! As if watching the moon landing 18 times at the Cradle of Aviation weren’t enough, we watched again. We also saw early drawings that mapped the moon and daguerreotypes that mirrored the moon. One gallery was devoted to an exhibit I had seen part of at the Whitney when I was sabbaticalling, and its inspiration led to some poems in Liberating The Astronauts. That was the room in which the Guardian of the Glass Case scolded me for touching the exhibit. I didn’t touch it. I tapped it. When he turned around, I touched it a lot. Like a lot a lot. So much so that my mom grabbed my hand and led me away, and in good timing because after that, the guy stared at me until we asked him where to get to the next gallery and got out of there. This outer space stuff is quite compelling.

Never Enough Rooftops

My mom has been a New Yorker her entire life and my birthday this year marked the first time she’d ever been to the roof of The Met. When we got up there, she kept asking me which way the park was and where 5th Ave was, and I was like, You’re asking the wrong child. My brother would know right away. I had no clue. I pointed to a building and was like, Well, that’s the Woolworth Building, right? And then I saw another building and was all, Or maybe that’s the Woolworth Building. Really, one of the many buildings had to be the Woolworth Building. Unless it’s no longer there. In which case, what the hell happened to the Woolworth Building?!?!

Aside from the cityscape views, the artwork fell in line with an outer space vibe. I tried to figure out which orb was Earth and then what planets the other orbs were. Then I read the description of the exhibit and found that it didn’t necessarily replicate our solar system. So then I simply chose one as Earth.

Cramped and Loud and Awesome

Guitars. Drum sets. Pianos. Flashy sequined outfits. Psychedelic concert posters. Film footage of loud music in action. Cram it all into tiny galleries and you’ve got yourself a musical masterpiece. We didn’t get to see everything because every room was overrun by music fans. Still, we saw enough and got to listen to some dang good tunes.

Once we found our way out of the museum, mom hopped in a cab, and I walked down to  Pig N Whistle to meet up with S and R for a fun dinner. Along the way, I took in some public art and some sunny rays.

Bags and Dessert #1

And dinner was fun! S gave me back the bag I gave her for her birthday because, as you may recall, 82% of our friendship is giving each other bags neither of us wants to carry. To top off our dinner, the two of them sang Happy Birthday while the server set down a bowl of vanilla ice cream with a candle in front of me. No one really wanted to eat the ice cream, but S and I split some of it as R made the wise choice of not eating it at all.

Then to show how much they really care, they walked with me to Penn. Through Times Square. At night. On a Saturday. I mean, That! Is! Love!

A Healthy Interlude

I taught my regular Power Hour yoga class on Sunday morning. I was feeling a little icky from the ice cream, but a morning workout followed by the yoga turned that around. I thanked the women for showing up, explaining it was my birthday weekend, and they were all like, Awww, yeay! Because that’s how people react when you tell them it’s your birthday.

(Semi-Free) Lunch and Dessert #2

On Sunday, my brother and I went to my mom’s to have some Panera. They deliver! Not really. They use Door Dash to deliver, and they dashed out without any of the sides for our entrees. After five minutes on the phone with a manager who was “logging the incident,” I wound up with a free pick two in my future that I could pick up when I went to pick up my sides at a later date. Somehow it was impossible for them to simply have Door Dash bring the sides. Sides are complicated.

Then my aunt and uncle came over, and they sang Happy Birthday as I sat beneath the traditional Haphy Birthday sign (yes, that’s spelled wrong; a story for another time). Then we ate pie! Apple pie! And it was delicious!

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Dinner = Dessert #3

I didn’t eat a whole lot after that because I knew what was on the horizon. DB can make fire, so we made s’mores. They were the healthy kind because we used Trader Joe’s dark chocolate and Trader Joe’s marshmallows.

Fact: Trader Joe’s marshmallows do not roast in the same way other marshmallows do.

Fact: Chunks of dark chocolate do not melt in the same way thin milk chocolate does.

Fact: My s’mores are better than your s’mores.

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A Healthy Recovery

Sugar hangovers can last for a really super long time when your body isn’t used to sweets. My body was super angry, and the hangover is just about over itself now that it’s been almost a week. Yep, that’s what sugar does to you. To make the recovery sweet in that non-sugar way, at work on Monday, S handed over a basket of veggies she’d harvested from her garden! You know what helps a sugar shocked body settle down? A slow-cooker kale and celery frittata!

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I’m still celebrating, you know, but not simply for my birthday. Every day is a celebration. Every day is a good day. These have been good, good days, and I’m so thankful for every moment.

 

Your Horoscope: 12 Rooms & Cellophane

The plan was a fun one. S bought us tix to a limited-time pop-up museum down on Bleecker that was all about the zodiac. We are Virgos, truly, and the pics on Insta looked like a good time.

Then S got sick, so I was faced with possibly going to a pop-up by myself. Boooo. The whole point of a pop-up exhibit is to go with someone to see fun installations and maybe roll around in a ball pit and then make fun of each other when you get stuck. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out Candytopia and The Color Factory. You may notice a trend that my fellow Virgo is my main pop-up go-to.

Luckily, the only other person I know who has a focus group side hustle was willing to go with me because we were going to already be in NYC for a focus group.

Side note: If you didn’t know it, I’ve got a focus group side hustle. I go to focus groups where people ask me my opinion on things and I answer and they give me money. Yeah, I’m an influencer.

Side note: I know only one other person in the world who does this. I mean, clearly, there’s a realm of people who do, but DB is the first person I’ve met outside of a focus group who does it, too.

Anyway, so after focus grouping for over two hours about buying a lot of points to travel the world and being in debt for eternity, we walked down to Bleecker from the 40s because it was one of those sunny city days that had a breeze and didn’t get you sweaty until you stopped walking. If you think I was going to say one of those days when you don’t sweat, then you don’t know me at all. Shame on you.

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You can stay here for a zillion points that cost five trillion dollars.

We found the doorway to the zodiac thingie because there was a pink neon piece of paper with an arrow markered on it that said This Way To The Zodiac. Hmm, okay, helpful, but also, construction paper? Interesting start.

On the plus side, we were greeted immediately, asked our signs, and given glow-in-the-dark bracelets. Also, we got stickers! One each. I got a whale. He got a dolphin. We were encouraged to stick them on the wall of the second room and write a message. Fantastic!

Also a plus, the Pisces room caused some dizziness but it was worth it. There was a clear blow-up cushion thingie that I sat on for a while. On the floor was the Pisces sign made out of seashells which I thought wasn’t the greatest idea since seashells and shoes don’t make good friends. We didn’t step on them.

I think Leo was the jungle room. This room had great lighting and a bamboo chair that made me think of that time I was in McLean, Virginia, and I played that safari-themed mini-golf where a gorilla jumped out at me when I sat in a jungle chair like this one. Luckily, the budget clearly didn’t allow for things to jump out at me, so this experience was less scary. It made for some uber boss photos.

Then there was the Virgo room. It was purpled-black-light. You know those long lunch tables you see in school cafeterias? Yeah, so, there was one of those in there. Across the small room was a purple chair shaped like a hand. Then there was the word Virgo taped to the wall. And a lot of empty space. A lot of cellophane. A lot of hmmm that’s an interesting interpretation of a zodiac sign. And then more cellophane.

The most confusing rooms were towards the end. One was a white room that had a small white te-pee-like tent with a white shag rug and pillows in it. Next to the tent was a pail of soaps that were were free to take. I was like, You wanna go in? DB was like, Not particularly–do you think people have had sex in there? Hmm, possibly. There was a little sign that requested you take your shoes off before going in, so maybe people hadn’t stopped at their shoes. The other super confusing room had standing silhouettes of men holding cameras. They were wrapped in red boas. Yeah, I don’t know.

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Not to disappoint, one of the rooms had a ball pit. It was a sad little ball pit that I didn’t crawl into. That room also had cellophane walls. There was a cool take-off of a cereal box as artwork, though, so instead of crawling into the germ pit, I oohed and aahed at the artwork. When we went into the next room which was fire red and tiny, whoever was behind us had wandered into the ball pit and balls were rolling into the room we were in. We spent only a little time there as to avoid possible ball pit bacteria following us around. Also, I’m not sure how Capricorns, cereal, and ball pits are related.

Side note: When I crawled through the marshmallow pit at Candytopia, we were there practically on opening day, so that meant less of a germfest. As for The Color Factory, well, I loved that place so much that I willed away any possibility of catching typhus.

The pop-up was put together in under a week. It was up for five days. It supported local artists. The concept was fabulous. The execution reminded me of when I was in high school and each grade competed against each other for best decorated hallway. Aside from that, however, it was an experience that I’ll never have again, and I’m so grateful that S was willing to go and gave me an early birthday gift and that DB was willing to step in and didn’t ditch out once we started going through and saw all the cellophane and he even indulged me when I saw David’s Tea next door and bolted in to grab some.

So really, all this adds up to is:

it’s Virgo season and my birthday is soon. Yeay!

Summertime Still

My Brother Had An Art Opening

After years of hearing it suggested, my brother showed his art in a group exhibit at Sip This. The opening saw lots of family and also lots of sales. Hooray! You can still see Summer Landscapes but for only a short time. You can buy one of the few that are left on the walls, or you can contact the photographer if you’re interested in any other landscape photography. He’s got winter stuff. Spring and fall stuff. City stuff. Country stuff. Lots of gritty stuff. I’m not an agent. Just a fan. A friggin happy proud sis and fan.

 

Sip This Had A Birthday Party

Going 8 years strong, Sip This is a local community heaven. Sure, I know, it’s a coffee house, but really, it’s the place that’s been the hub of all things art, commerce, social, supportive, and whatever other kind of gathering you can think of. Love them!

My Longest Friend Had A Birthday

It’s Virgo season! S decided to celebrate her birthday with trivia. We headed to Juke Bar in NYC. It’s the best bar. They are super accommodating if you want to reserve a table (no minimum or deposit needed). They let you bring in food. They offer interesting cocktails. As for the trivia, ooh, it was a tight race. Because there were seven of us, we split into two teams: Team It’s My Birthday and Team It’s Her Birthday. Team It’s Her Birthday (which I was on) was leading by a point for two rounds. Then came a round about sandwiches and another about HBO that included a theme song from First And Ten that starred Delta Burke (which S knew. of course) and then a bonus question about harmonicas. Also, Ryan Sutter is not a hockey player. What all this adds up to is Team It’s Her Birthday tied for third. Team It’s My Birthday came in second and won a round of shots. A good day for a birthday. A great day for longest friends.

 

I Took A Defensive Driving Course

AAA offers an online course complete with videos of car crashes. I learned that I should be using some sort of pedal extenders because I’m under 5’5″. Also, they want me to move my mirrors. We are all apparently not using our mirrors in the right position. You know how long it took me to get them where they should be? Now they want me to rethink the whole positioning? That’s, like, rethinking who I am at my core.

Fun Was Had From City To Suburb

Line dancing has been iffy because of the weather. One night after the rain, they had a squeegee guy come out onto the concrete and mop up the puddles so we could dance! Otherwise, it’s been canceled. Sigh.

 

A bunch of poetry readings have been fun. I read at the Gazebo and made crazy poet faces. Then I dedicated an entire album on my FB writer page to crazy poet faces over the years. In addition to Gazebo readings, mine and others, I headed to others from Sip This (how many times can I say that in this post?) to Industry.

In watching news, I started watching the newest season of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. I also started Veronica Mars with EA; we also saw Hobbes & Shaw, which was not a work of cinematic genius but was a work of pretty things to look at. Here, things means Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. I am not ashamed. I’m still binging The Mindy Project. I’m watching Big Brother and enjoying the captioning as well as the Long Island / New Jersey accents.

[Click the pic.twitter.com link to see captioning at its comedic best].

Because Liberating The Astronauts won the SFPA Elgin Award last year, I’m committed to reading as many nominated collections as I can and voting this year. I bought six that really struck a chord with me, and as of yesterday, I finished reading all six. Hooray! Also, I met my Goodreads challenge already. That’s barely a dent in my TBR pile, but it’s still a dent. I’m back to reading books from Book Expo now.

I did some write-ups based on interactions from Book Expo that appeared on Book Riot. More to come! Also a piece about Whitman–yes another one–is about to come out. This one is about the exhibit at The Morgan Library, which also had an exhibit about Maurice Sendak that I didn’t write about because big costumes scare me and that’s pretty much what the whole exhibit was about.

 

Another fun thing I saw in the city was Bat Out Of Hell, the musical based on Meatloaf’s music, with much thanks to my friend DB for getting us comped tickets. While most of the music was Meatloaf, there were other surprises that were simply outstanding. Some of the plot and scenes and dancing didn’t make sense to me, but I didn’t really care because it was so entertaining. Before the show, there was a huge half a head that needed to be inspected in Central Park.

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I finally got to see Long Island’s Best Wedding Band live! Sound Chaser played at an Italian feast nearby, so clearly they do weddings and more, and they were fabulous! Yeay! Also, my mom danced and some drunk dudes danced with her.

 Odds and Ends

I helped my brother build a shelf. The shelf fell apart. I’m writing a very strong letter because it couldn’t have been our fault. I used a power drill and everything.

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Some of the prettiest sunsets and sunrises came through my window.

 

 

OH, Ironman!

My cousins tackled the Ironman in Ohio, and I was there to watch. My part in this challenge was simple: do whatever they wanted me to do.

So my brother and I drove by corn fields upon cornfields to stand in the blazing sun for hours to catch a glimpse of them for 30 seconds. SO WORTH IT.

My brother and I drove back and prepared a barbecue, complete with decorations of congratulations. SO WORTH IT, especially since my brother has fire-phobia and the grill caught on fire when he was grilling so there was a lot of spatula waving and running away.

I cleaned the kitchen, and my brother threw out the garbage. I sat on the deck, and everyone went swimming in nature’s water where there were ducks and plants and other live creatures below the surface. We all laughed a lot. We all caught up a lot. My brother, my uncle, and I froze in the tundra of the lower level of the house.

My cousins asked me to sign my books they’d bought and brought. My cousin read a poem from the book, and then so did my brother.

There was some drinking, and I had half a sip of a kamikaze and remembered why they were so dangerous. Also dangerous is the incredible loyalty my family has towards me after this past year and a half.

There was a boat debacle in which my cousin needed to pull a boat with some water in it out of the water before it rained so there would not be more water in it. My brother was then enlisted to help, which entailed a lot of supervising. My other cousin then went down and practically lifted the boat all on her own. Then there was the need to flip it over. The rest of us stood above on the balcony, acting like Statler and Waldorf. The scene offered some great comedy for the family sitting on their deck across the lake from us.

There was a birthday celebration. More decorating. Some cake. There were early morning conversations over tea. There were loads of dishwashing in a dishwasher that fell out of the wall when opened.

There was also sightseeing. My brother and I hit up Columbus where we found:

A scrap metal horse and other large things. Ohio State campus is a city unto itself.

The Arnold Schwarzenegger statue. After driving in circles and not finding it anywhere, I pulled the car over and yelled at the map. That’s when my brother looked up and said, Hey, is that it? And it was! Hooray!

The World’s Largest Gavel. Under construction so I couldn’t get up on it, but I got up as near it as possible, and it was gavelicious.

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Scioto Mile. This was like my brother’s Becket Shrine of Canterbury. We walked along the mile and found public art, which is, as we all know, one of my top ten favorite things in the entire world.

A deer on a bridge. Not much more to say about that.

The German Village. For us little Raus, this was heaven. We found The Book Loft, which has 32 rooms of reading pleasure. We also found Schmidt’s Haus Restaurant and Schmidt’s Fudge Haus, and it was like home.

Back at the house, more swimming, more lounging, more laughs. I taught a quick yoga class. There was always something cooking or baking in the kitchen. We all had matching shirts.

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Family. Is. Everything.