It took a long time to get my thoughts together. I'm still a little overwhelmed, but here's the rundown of my life since late last week. Those of you think a picture really does paint a thousand words will find the links helpful; you'll find the photos in my Mac galleries when you click on them.
Driving in the rain to the airport on a Friday afternoon
Yeah, that's not going to turn out well. It's just not. I left the office at 1 p.m., and didn't get to him, standing outside in a leather jacket and shorts, until almost 3. the airport is 38 miles from me. The math doesn't add up; welcome to Chicago. But we were undaunted! There was White Castle to eat! Pants to buy! And more food!
Our traditional first stop each time Rice visits is White Castle. When you live in Tucson, this is a luxury ... a necessity. A delicious diversion. I behaved ... I ordered nothing, and ate only a few of Mike's fries.
Once we had Mike moved into Chez Mags for the weekend, it was time for a trip to Old Navy. It was chillier in Chicago than originally forecast. And from there, we headed to Bahama Breeze for dinner. Big mistake. I cannot resist the deliciousness that is crab claws, and yet I know that two things I ought not eat with my gallbladder are rich things and fatty things. Crabmeat drenched in butter? Not smart. And yes, I paid for it later. Truly, though it was delicious, is was not worth it.
Attack of the Killer Gallbladder
I had such great plans for getting up on Saturday and going to the gym, but the pain and medication from the night before had other plans. Honestly, I had a horrible time getting back to life at all on Saturday; woozy, tired and borderline nauseous all day. Finally around 5 I fixed myself a cup of ginger tea and took a shower, which seemed to help. Good thing, because I had plans!
The Best Man
Yes, Saturday night I returned to see The Best Man at the Geneva Underground Playhouse. This time, I took Shakespeare to the theater; big fun! We started the evening with Chinese food (steamed chicken and broccoli for me; not taking any chances with my stupid gallbladder) and Mongolian beef for my lovely dinner companion. We enjoyed the show very much, especially Eric's performance - truly a stunning portrayal of a dying ex-President.
After the show, we were invited to Steve and Pat Lord's house to share in the cast party. Now I have a serious rule about how people who aren't cast members don't belong at a cast party, but Shakespeare was game (and she won the rock/scissors/paper contest) and several people seemed to want us there, so we went.
I am so glad we did. We were welcomed as if we'd been along for the ride from day one. I was touched by how warm and kind everyone was, genuinely interested in both Jess and I. Probably the most stunning facet of the evening, however, was the moment I met Angelicque Cate. I've known of her forever, because she was cast in a role I auditioned for back in 1980-something, and I've held the grudge ever since. But as we stood together in the same space, it became clear that some of life's baggage simply begs to be set down. It was time, and I thoroughly enjoyed her company. I guess you just never know.
As the night wore on and we gathered around the fire in the backyard, warmed by the good company and the red wine, I felt like I was part of something great. It was a wonderful feeling.
Sliding in the mud and loud alarms
Knowing I had to get up early the next day, however, I eventually had to leave the warmth of the fire and head to my car. But not before I slipped in some rather lovely mud in front of Steve and Pat's house and pretty much coated my left shoe in the stuff. Spa treatment for leather, right? Anyway, I got into the car, started it up, and realized it was 2:09 a.m.! My plan was to leave the house at 9 in the morning, and I was an hour away from home. At best, I'd get six hours of rest. But in reality, I got home at 3, took a shower and was in bed by 3:30. When the alarm went off at 8:30, it was SnoozeFest 2009.
Mike and I finally got on the road at around 10:30, and we picked up the Comfy Traveling Car (my sister's Grand Cherokee) at 11:30. By the time we had lunch (more Chinese) and actually got on the road, it was almost 1. But I'm not convinced we cared, because life, after all, is about the journey much more than it is the destination.
What up, Doudna?
Our first destination along this particular journey was the campus of Eastern Illinois University, where we went to school together a decade+ ago. Our purpose? Checking out the Doudna Fine Arts Center. As the Center's Web site says, "This newly renovated and greatly expanded facility boasts several public arts venues." Ask Mike and I, and we'll pretty much just tell you it's a beautiful, huge building with at least one theater that has near-perfect acoustics. Not that I walked up to center stage in the empty, dark theater to test them out or anything.
The Road to a Friend's is Never Long
Soon it was time to head to Brian and Patty Poulter's house. Following Patty's directions absolutely cracked me up. "If you reach the Golf Course, you have gone too far. If you reach Lincoln Lob Cabin, you are in 1843."
We arrived at their beautiful home, hugged the dogs and the Poulters, and got started with the business of catching up. So much time has passed, and yet the good times are still there, the humor still alive and the love still very much intact. Brian was my first favorite professor in college, and the first to take a chance on the 29-year-old transfer student by allowing me to edit a campus publication. I will always believe that had a profound effect on my college experience, and I will always be grateful.
It was an evening of delicious food (I have to recreate the strawberry appetizer thing; I dream of it now) and wine and conversation and doggy hugs. Stories of wrist rockets, Antiques Roadshow, motorcycle travels, don't be so stupid and the politics of education carried us through the evening. When it was time to turn in, I crawled onto a marshmallow (truly, the guest bedroom at Chez Poulter has the most comfy mattress in creation) and slept like a contented baby. Except I didn't wet the bed.
Touch Me in the Morning
That song is now pretty much a morning tradition, thanks to Patty telling us how Brian sang it to her one morning. We were up and out nearly on time, thanks to Patty's coffee and breakfast waiting for us. Then it was into the car and back North, with a stop in Champaign to celebrate Ryan's commissioning.
Mike and I met up with the family at the Alma Mater statue at just before 9 a.m. for the private commissioning ceremony. As we walked up, the recognition just sort of washed over the family as one by one they realized Mike was, indeed, here. It was a magical moment fueled by tears, and yes, I saw Ryan's lip quiver in what we can only assume is the Marine equivalent of crying. The support of family at the important crossroads of life is so critical, and I'm incredibly glad Mike was able to share in Ryan's day. Watching Ryan and his friend take their oath of service was powerful and meaningful. He's a Marine now, for sure, I kept thinking. He is no longer "ours" ... he belongs to our country.
After the private ceremony, Mike and I dashed off to feed the meter and get my camera before the full ceremony began. We hurried back to meet up with the family, because Ryan had something to say to everyone.
In the Words of a Marine
In the wee hours of the morning, Ryan had written something to his family. He related each piece of his uniform to the members of his family, and the ways we encourage, support and inspire him. As his sister Tori read his letter, Ryan's very real transition from child to adult seemed to wash over us. His turn of phrase was beautiful as he spoke about the people he loves most in this world. Most shocking to me, though, was when he included "and of course Maggie" in with his other stepbrothers and sisters. I know I'm not really family; I understand that there is no DNA evidence to support me being a part of it. And still, time and again, I learn that they just don't care. I'm theirs and they are mine, period.
Moments passed and it was time to head into the Joint Service Commissioning Ceremony. What a grand event! (Although, frankly, I think they needed a live band rather than a CD, but that's just me.) A large gathering of men in uniform - you'll get no complaints from me. We watched as each commissioned officer was presented to the crowd, and once again when they individually processed through the Arch of Sabers (which is every bit as cool as it sounds) and received their first salute. Nope, I didn't cry. I'm just not the sentimental type, remember?
Time to Celebrate
After the ceremonies were finished, it was time to relax. We gathered at Hessel Park (some of us took longer than others; Rice and I needed Dunkin Donuts and a change of clothes) to grill burgers and hot dogs and eat cake and enjoy a day in the sun with family, which included Ryan's dear friend Isaiah and his family, and that sweet Errin who made me laugh. It was a fantastic time to relax with family, squish the babies (complete with projectile vomit!), catch up with Cindy and enjoy the sunshine. The food was wonderful (there's just something about a burger on the grill) and the company even better.
Sometimes I am amazed at how seamlessly the Carlsons have accepted me as part of the family. Just a year ago, I met Cindy, and I knew who her kids were because I saw them at the wedding. I didn't meet them until after that, though. I met Ryan and Tori at the lake house last July, and I didn't meet J.J. until January of this year. But that didn't stop J.J. from asking me if I'd met her friend Chris at the wedding; I had to remind J.J. that I hadn't even met her at the wedding! It's awesome to me that they must feel like they've known me forever. What a privilege.
You Drive Me Crazy
Because all things must come to an end, pretty soon it was time for Rice and I to fire up the GPS and point the Jeep toward home. Because nothing in my life happens without a little bit of drama, I missed my turnoff for 47 and ended up taking some serious backroads to Montgomery. Mike used this opportunity to sleep. I used this opportunity to test out the accelerator. And I know this much for sure: I really like Kathie's car.
Soon we were home. Well, I was; Rice still had a flight in front of him. Our 3:30 a.m. alarms came pretty stinking early, but I think we both agree that it was worth it. I would do it again in a heartbeat, because there were countless perfect moments over the past four days that will be among my favorite memories for a long time to come.