31 December 2007

An end has a start

You came on your own
That's how you'll leave


Another year come and almost gone.

It was the best of years and while I can't honestly say it was the worst of years, we had some pretty awful moments. But who doesn't?

It was a busy year, which isn't exactly unusual for us. Working in the consulting world on the sorts of projects the spouse and I were involved in isn't conducive to a quiet life. Fortunately, we made the move to simplify things a bit, which was a relief to everyone except those I worked with because "simplifying" also meant that I gave up the office and returned to freelancing. While I miss the challenge of the work I was doing, I don't miss the chaos. I am abundantly capable of making my own chaos.

Time for my own year-end list. These were, by and large, the good things. The bad things, well, I try to learn from them, and move on.


SINGLE MOST AWE-INSPIRING MOMENT OF THE YEAR:

Standing at the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns at twilight and watching the bats set out on their nightly hunt for food. Second place would go to watching my family's reaction to White Sands National Monument. Third goes to watching my 10-year-old daughter spill out impassioned rage as she wrote her reaction to Hiroshima in the guest book at the National Atomic Museum.


BEST BOOK I READ THAT WAS ACTUALLY PUBLISHED IN 2007:

I tend to do things in my own time frame. However, I caught this one shortly after it was published: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell. Not nice, not happy, but the story caught my attention and I didn't put it down.


SINGLE MOST BIZARRE MOMENT OF THE YEAR:

The daughter was "discovered," and cast in a TV show. No way, no how did any of us see that one coming. To my relief, the show didn't go anywhere. Selfish, I know, but I'm just not stage mommy material.


BEST ALBUMS I BOUGHT THIS YEAR:

Porcupine Tree, Fear of a Blank Planet, released April 2007. Stunning music, stunningly bleak lyrics. "Xbox is a God to me." Indeed.

Rush, Snakes & Arrows, released May 2007. Stunning music, thoughtful and thought-provoking lyrics. "All my life I’ve been workin’ them angels overtime." My mother would certainly agree.


BEST AIR TRAVEL MOMENT:

TSA is frequently reviled and rightfully so. However, the respect and courtesy the agents in the Albuquerque airport showed to the son, who was stuck in an immobilization cast and on crutches, cannot go unmentioned. It was July, the height of the summer travel season, and they were really kind to him. I remain grateful for that consideration.


BEST PLACE I STAYED WHEN I WAS AWAY FROM HOME:

Without a doubt, Casa de Suenos in Albuquerque. We had La Mirador suite, a tailor-made thunderstorm, and homemade breakfast. Everyone had a great time here.

The runner-up would be Intercontinental Toronto Centre for the view alone, but the service was generally excellent too.


...when you caught my eye
I saw everywhere I'd been
And want to go to...


BEST CONCERT I SAW THIS YEAR:

Rush, First Midwest Bank Amphitheater, Tinley Park, Illinois, September 8.

This show isn't just the best show I saw this year, it's in the top 10 of those I've seen in my life. I've been listening to this band for...um...ever, and I've seen them play live many times, each show uniquely wonderful in its own right. But the energy level this particular night was simply phenomenal. That this was one of two shows where D. and I had managed to get front row seats certainly didn't hurt, nor did it hurt that my favorite live version of "Natural Science" was recorded off the same stage, so hearing it live that night was a huge treat (ok, hearing it live any night is a treat, but it was really special that night). Then there's Snakes & Arrows: that album was meant to be heard live. If I have any quibble with what was played from it, it's only that I would have added "We Hold On" to the setlist. Definitely a night of visceral excitement, aural bliss and tremendous fun.

Genesis should get an honorable mention. The stage set up was very cool, the light show was quite something, and the setlist was a good balance of older and newer material. While the Hollywood Bowl is one of my least favorite venues period, the show's sound was pretty good. But after watching Rush tear it up onstage, Genesis was just a little...tame.


BEST THING THAT HAPPENED THIS YEAR:
The best thing happened many times this year: it's that moment, when you meet someone else's eye--your spouse, your child, your friend, a stranger--and you both smile. Just because. Because you're both enjoying the same moment, because you both saw something that struck you as funny, because you're both stuck waiting on the same plane. It's a moment of connection in the best possible sense.


I'd like to finish out the year with eloquence. But I'm too tired. Be safe, be good, and remember to eat your black-eyed peas.

Happy New Year.

...with hope in your hands
and air to breathe


Go listen to some good music: "An End Has a Start" from the album An End Has a Start by Editors.

30 December 2007

Rock on

Rock Band may have been the smartest Christmas gift I got for the family.

With the son parked on the couch, alternately grumping and elated depending on his painkiller levels, everyone has been taking a crack at being part of the band.

Both the kids have done well with the clarinet and in the vocal music program at school, so they've both been fairly content to thrash away at the instruments (the drums have defied everyone who's tried them so far) and to take turns singing. While the son and I were at the hospital on Friday, the spouse kept the daughter occupied by playing with her, he on guitar, she singing. The daughter has gotten just a bit cocky playing the part of vocalist, and she confided to me that she'd allowed her father a chance to sing but, "He was terrible."

Yesterday, while sorting laundry, I heard her shrieking "Paranoid." I went out to the family room to investigate, and the spouse announced wryly, "It's Ozzette." She's definitely not shy about belting out whatever she's singing.

The son has really gotten a kick out of the singing part, too, though he's had a little more difficulty staying on key since his voice changed. The spouse passed me in the kitchen this afternoon, rolling his eyes at the caterwauling going on. "I need to go outside," he whispered.

When the daughter regained control of the mic and delivered several extremely flat renditions of "Don't Fear the Reaper," I decided that maybe it was time I take a turn at the game.

"Can I try that song?" I asked the daughter.

"Mom," she said, scoffing only slightly, "you really can't sing."

"Maybe," I replied, "but why not give me a chance?"

Reluctantly, she handed over the microphone.

"Geez, Mom," said the son, as the game praised my pitch and phrasing as awesome, "you're good."

And what do you know? I scored 100%, with a 35 phrase run.

"You were good, Mommy," the daughter said humbly.

"I got 100%!" I responded.

"You don't have to gloat," she snarked.

Then I went on to score 100% on Nirvana's "In Bloom," 98% on The Rolling Stones "Gimme Shelter," and 90% on REM's "Orange Crush."

It was pretty funny to see the looks on the kids' faces as the game announced that the old lady who had just picked up the microphone had "serious skills."

Not that I take it to heart, of course, because I know I can't sing for beans, despite years singing choral music. The game only reads pitch and phrasing, so it's pretty easy to succeed if you know the words and music. Make me sing something by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and it's all over.

Still, it doesn't hurt for the teen and 'tween to think Mommy's got skillz. At least until they figure out my secret.

Go listen to some good music: "Rock On" from the album Rock On by David Essex.

28 December 2007

Better now

The slide into inevitability was slow.

In January, the son and another boy fell over each other playing basketball. The other boy, a slight child who might be five feet tall, was fine. The son, a lanky near six-footer, dislocated his patella. I picked him up from school and drove him straight to the pediatrician, who x-rayed him, immobilized him, advised me on follow-up care, and sent me home with a kid on crutches. After rest, followed by physical therapy, life returned to normal.

Until the son took a swing at a pinata on Fourth of July.

The pediatrician gave me the name of an orthopedic surgery group. Of course, the first available appointment was when I was in Toronto.

I was standing in the hotel lobby when the spouse called me.

"Surgery," he told me.

The pediatrician had been of the opinion that surgery wouldn't be likely, but he wanted a surgeon to take a look at the son to see exactly what was going on. What the surgeon saw was pretty much the worst case scenario.

"What do they have to repair?" I asked.

"Not repair," said the spouse, "replace. There is nothing holding his kneecap in place. They have to replace the ligament in his knee."

The son wanted surgery done sooner rather than later. The surgeon said it could be done at Christmas or Summer 2008. We opted for Christmas. Surgery was scheduled for December 28.

This morning as we rode up the elevator at the hospital, the son slumped against the wall.

"Now I'm nervous," he told me.

Young teens are at such an odd place in their lives. Like a half-grown tomcat, the son looks so close to manhood, but at the same time he's still just a child. Standing in the pre-op room in an enormous hospital gown, clutching his adult-sized clothes and his father's old leather jacket, he looked more vulnerable than I've seen him in a very long time. In the bed, IV stuck in his hand, he was content to watch cartoons on the Disney Channel for the first time in years. We sat quietly, not talking much, and my usually gregarious boy was silent, allowing me to navigate the discussions with the nurses and doctors. I saw the son's facial expression alter only once. The anesthesiologist was extremely patronizing, and I nearly bit my tongue in half trying not to bite his head off. The son seemed lost between laughter and panic as I struggled to contain my inner virago.

My children do not suffer from separation anxiety, but I do. Every new parting from them is a uniquely painful experience...first day of school, first overnight, first trip away from home. Watching the nurses wheel him away toward the operating room was gut wrenching. Every child's autopsy report I'd read at work, every set of medical records detailing a child's death in a hospital haunted me.

But I knew that fear and random accident aside, I had it easy. The son was in for a long surgery and a long recovery, but he doesn't have cancer. His injury isn't life threatening, just inconvenient and painful. He will carry a piece of another person in him for the rest of his days, but I bless the generosity of the person who allowed the body s/he would no longer need to benefit others.

The waiting room was freezing. I huddled into my chair, yanking my jacket around me, and stared at the hideous industrial carpeting.

Three hours later, the surgeon appeared. He looked happy and smelled of cigarette smoke.

"It went great," he said, and without looking at me once, went into excited detail about exactly what he'd done. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that like engineers, surgeons have no social skills, and I practiced patience.

A few minutes later, I was called to the recovery room. A very sweet and very enthusiastic nurse greeted me. The son lay completely unconscious on his gurney, looking for all the world like a passed out frat boy. I couldn't help but grin at him, and the nurse laughed happily, "He snored just a little."

Which had been the son's biggest fear.

We got him home, and after consuming several large bowls of rice and some chocolate and a slice of cherry pie with whipped cream, he sat comfortably on the couch and laughed his way through "Mr. Bean's Holiday." When I asked him how he felt, he said enthusiastically, "I feel great!"

I know it's the painkiller talking, and for tonight, that's ok. He has months of recovery before him, but we jumped the first hurdle today.

Go listen to some good music: "Better Now" from the album Youth by Collective Soul.

23 December 2007

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
























It was the only way to keep the cat out of the tree.

December 2005


However you celebrate the holiday, please celebrate with kindness. See you in the new year.

Go listen to some good music: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" originally from the movie Meet Me in St. Louis, lyrics by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane. An interesting little history of this song is here.


Updated 1:05 pm to add:


Baby Jesus statue gets GPS for Christmas. The daughter should be thrilled.

21 December 2007

Lyin' eyes

My mother called today. I was huffing and puffing through an interval workout on the exercise bike, which did not deter her. The woman was on a mission.

Mother: "Do you like the Eagles?"

Me, really certain that through all my heavy breathing, I did not just hear her ask that: "What?"

Mother: "The Eagles. You know, the rock group the Eagles. Do you like them?"

Me: "Um. They were the very first rock concert I ever went to. Remember? SK and I were like...13."

I'm trying not to laugh. This is a famous story in my personal mythology.

Mother: "Well, they have a new album out. They cut a deal with Walmart and it's only being sold there. Do you want me to pick up a copy for you?"

How in the hell does my mother know this? My mother, who is rapidly nearing her 70th birthday. My mother, who lives in the far unlit no longer unknown outskirts of Atlanta.

Me: "Um. What?"

Mother, patiently: "I was listening to an interview with them, and they did a deal with Walmart so that they could cut back on piracy, and the album is only being distributed through Walmart. I bought your sister K. a copy for her stocking, and I was wondering if you'd like me to get you a copy."

Me, filled with nameless guilt: "Um. Sure. Thank you. But only if it's not very expensive."

Mother: "It's $11. They produced it themselves to cut costs."

This is my mother?

Mother, suddenly sounding stern: "Barry Manilow was your first rock concert."

Me, deciding cravenly to allow her to believe that she is having a major senior moment: "Um. No. It was the Eagles."

Mother: "What is the name of that band you're always going to see?"

Oops, thin ice. I was in Atlanta seeing that band in June. She doesn't know this.

"You didn't tell her?" the brother goggled at me during Thanksgiving dinner.

"I was in Atlanta for 12 hours!" I squealed. "Sandwiched in between hosting the 8th grade luncheon and picking up the kids on their last day of school."

There is nothing like watching a 40-year-old, 6'3" ex-Marine giggle hysterically.

Mother: "Is it the Rolling Stones?"

Me: "No!"

Mother: "I thought it started with 'r'..."

Me: "Mother, thanks so much for thinking of us when you heard about that Eagles album."

There may be no way to hide my lying eyes, but at least she can't see them over the phone.

Go listen to some good music: "Lyin' Eyes" from the album One of These Nights by the Eagles.

20 December 2007

The day that Lassie went to the moon

I usually enjoy looking at my site stats and the [periodically weird] searches that bring people here.

Liberty Bell March (aka Monty Python's Flying Circus Theme)

Shesmovedon

John Phillips Sousa and Porcupine Tree

It's entirely possible that this is exactly what I was trying to accomplish.

Then again...

Go listen to some good music: "The Day That Lassie Went to the Moon" by Camper Van Beethoven from the album Telephone Free Landslide Victory

19 December 2007

Would I lie to you?

The spouse greets me with a hot cup of coffee and bad news.

I struggle to untangle myself from the comforter, even more grateful than usual for the thoughtfulness that brings the coffee. I woke up, inexplicably, at 2:30 am and didn't fall asleep again until sometime after 4.

"The son says he doesn't feel well," the spouse sighs heavily.

"What's wrong?" I ask clutching my cup and dreading the words "he feels sick to his stomach."

But that's not it. "Headache, really sore throat," the spouse replies.

"Oh," I reply, somewhat cheered. "Does he have a fever?"

"Well, he's warmer than the daughter," the spouse tells me.

That doesn't mean anything. If you touch my skin, I exude the approximate warmth of a glacier. Nurses attempting to take my temperature have asked whether I've considered the possibility that I might be dead. The son, conversely, always burns hot. I'll have to locate the thermomometer.

I stare at my coffee cup, still mostly asleep. Finally, I chug the contents and stagger out to the kitchen. The son has gone back to bed after eating a yogurt and drinking a glass of juice.

I wander around, looking fruitlessly for the thermometer. No piece of durable equipment moves more than that thing, and when I need it, I can never find it. When the kids were younger, I used to have one in practically every room in the house.

Finally, I give up and head into the son's room. He stares at me, heavy-eyed.

"So," I say. "What's the problem?"

"A headache," he moans. "Burning sore throat, and it's swollen." He clutches his throat dramatically.

"Mmmm," I respond.

"My eyes, my eyes!" he cries, throwing a hand over them. "I can't focus my eyes!"

"Did you forget to do a project or something for school?"

"MO-OM!" he wails, cut to the core. That I would doubt my obviously ailing son! "I'm si-i-i-i-ck!"

I put my forearm to his forehead. Warm, but normal warm.

I grab a flashlight and look at his throat, which is indeed red. He sniffles pathetically.

"And my nose. It's running. But sometimes, it's stuffed."

I check him for rashes, but his skin is clear. He's got a cold.

"Okay, do you want to cut the dramatics and give me the real scoop on how you feel?"

He looks at me doubtfully.

"Look," I say with some exasperation. "I never send you to school when you're sick; I don't want to infect the other kids in time for the holidays. You know you aren't going to get any Xbox time. So just tell me what's wrong!"

"Headache," he says in his normal voice. "Sore throat. I ache."

I bring him two Tylenol and another cup of juice. He moans in gratitude.

He's turning into a man right on schedule.

Go listen to some good music: "Would I Lie to You?" from the album Greatest Hits by Eurythmics.

18 December 2007

Tuesday's child

One of my greatest pleasures in winter is curling up in my big red chair with a book. It's better, of course, if it's raining outside (and it is!), there's a fire in the fireplace (needs to be cleaned out), the children aren't squabbling about something (they are), and I have a big cup of hot coffee (I do). The cat loves it, too, because he knows that when I park myself in that chair, I'll likely be there for awhile, so he takes advantage of a warm lap.

I read voraciously. I devour books. I read them fast. And if they're really good, I go back and read them again.

Last night, I picked up A.S. Byatt's Possession one more time, even though I've re-read it several times in the years since it was first published. The sheer beauty of her prose in this particular book is astonishing, and her sense of humor is astounding. It's not just that she makes fun of everything to do with the study of literature, it's a humor that is sympathetic toward her characters, even affectionate. And it's all the more astounding because I so thoroughly disliked her Frederica Potter tetralogy.

Possession is lovely. It's about an underemployed, hapless and rather hopeless young man in mid-1980s England who discovers a hitherto unknown relationship between two Victorian poets. His journey of self-discovery is mirrored by literary discovery as he unravels the mystery. Epic and romantic, I'm already lost in it again.

I just finished another go with Alice Thomas Ellis' Inn at the Edge of the World, a tale of a group of people disenchanted with Christmas who gather at a dismal inn to hide from the holiday. Ellis was a staunch Catholic who ran afoul of the Church with her public denouncement of its increasing liberalism. While her fiction hints at a religious agenda, it's wickedly funny and fey, and casts an acerbic eye on the general human condition.

I've also recently reread Ann-Marie Macdonald's Fall on Your Knees and The Way the Crow Flies. The former is good, but the latter is beautiful, and Macdonald captures both the optimism and the fear of the 1960s, as well as the simplicity and death of childhood.

Other winter-worthy picks:

The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy: an enormous, juicy family saga.

The Shellseekers by Rosamunde Pilcher: Pilcher is generally known as a romance novelist, but this multi-generational novel is huge and beautifully realized.

The Avenue by R.F. Delderfield: the lives and fortunes of a neighborhood in London from the end of World War I to the end of World War II.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: Set in World War II Germany with Death as the narrator.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman: fantastic fun in an alternate London Underground.

And if you're really ambitious:

The Lymond Chronicles and The House of Niccolo, two interwoven series by Dorothy Dunnett. Fourteen volumes in all, they tell the incredible sagas of two very singular men set against the backdrop of history.

What are you waiting for? Grab a cup of something warm, a blanket and a book and read!

Go listen to some good music: "Tuesday's Child" from the album Scarlet and Other Stories by All About Eve.

17 December 2007

Teach your children

When I was a child, there were a few times that other people made Christmas possible for my brother, sisters and I. I have never been able to give back enough to repay that generosity.

In the past, the spouse, our children and I have provided Christmas gifts and meals to families in need through the Salvation Army and other organizations. We have also provided gifts for children in foster care, and in each of those instances, while the families' or children's identities were kept private, we knew their circumstances, ages, and wishes. The circumstances were usually dire--in one instance the father and primary breadwinner had died of a sudden illness--and the wishes were usually modest. But it was important to me that those people know there was someone out there who cared about them. And it was even more important to show my children that we take care of those who aren't as fortunate as we are.

Because the kindness of others taught me that.

Because I know from experience that a little kindness can go a very long way.

This afternoon, the spouse forwarded me an email about the employee of a subcontractor who lost his arm in a work-related accident recently. He and his wife are expecting their first child this month, and the company is trying to raise funds for his care and rehabilitation. On the way home from school, I told the kids the story. I told them that I'd planned to buy them each one more gift, or we could donate the money I'd planned to spend to this young man and his family.

No hesitation on their part. We don't need anything else, they both agreed. Give it to him.

I thanked them and told them I was proud of them for thinking of someone else.

"You shouldn't be proud of us," the son said. "This is what you taught us."

But I'm proud because they took the lesson to heart.

Go listen to some good music: "Teach Your Children" from the album Deja Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

16 December 2007

Arrival of the Queen of Sheba
























The florist made it so huge that my arm hurt for days afterward.

Los Angeles, California
December 1988

Go listen to some good music: "Solomon, oratorio, HWV 67 Arrival of the Queen of Sheba" composed by George Frideric Handel from the album 25 Wedding Favorites.

15 December 2007

Carol of the bells

The kids who will be in CHOC this season aren't the only ones who benefit from this.



Go listen to some good music: "Carol of the Bells" from the album Christmas Favorites by the Tucson Boys Chorus.



14 December 2007

Covenant dance

I did something completely out of character this morning.

I went Christmas shopping. In a mall.

A long time ago, before malls became a way of life, became an imperative, I used to enjoy Christmas shopping. The halls weren't decked until after Thanksgiving, choirs would carol with reckless abandon, and the smelly old Santa would cheerfully give you a candy cane, no photo required. For teenage girls, it was a high energy social event. My friend SK and I would meet on a December Saturday morning, usually at the Record Bar, where we would spend some time pawing through all the new vinyl, looking surreptitiously for boys we knew, so we could giggle, point, shriek, and then go enjoy lunch at Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour. We probably bought things, though I have no recollection of what; mostly, we went for the entertainment. I do remember, with a certain fondness, the gruesome taste of the TAB floats we would order with lunch.

Christmas shopping was also about decoding my siblings' lists for my mother. I've never forgotten the morning she dropped me off on her way to work, and the hesitant look on her face as she said, "Your brother wants that lung album for Christmas. Would you see if you can find it for me?"

"Lung album?" I stared. Record album? Picture album? Lungs???

"You know...I'm sure you know which one it is. By the guy who was on The Beverly Hillbillies."

The poor woman knew exactly what she sounded like trying to explain this to me, and it was written all over her face: I was the only one who could save her from complete and total humiliation, the kind purposefully waged by teenage boys upon their mothers. Though I was also a teenager, she was tacitly hopeful that I could be relied upon, for at least 10 minutes, by virtue of my XX chromosomes, to come to her aid.

And, fortunately for us both, the penny finally dropped.

Aqualung by Jethro Tull. I duly traveled to the Wherehouse, and saved her bacon.

The son believes he can wage a similar war of Christmas terror. He's given me a neatly written list of about 40 items that he'd be grateful to receive for Christmas, MSRP filled in, and where I can find them. Really, remarkably organized for a 13-year-old. Among the 35 or so games noted, are two Xbox 360 games that are rated M. Now, I do pay attention to ratings, but I don't necessarily dismiss books or movies or games out of hand because of a rating. However, I read, watch or play first and make a judgment. And at the moment, I'm not really in the mood to do field research on Mass Effect or Bioshock.

So, they're getting Rock Band instead.

I bought it today, the apparently more difficult to find "special edition," and I was the only female in the store, and probably the only one over 30. A tall, thin young man with slightly protrubant brown eyes, and longish brown hair answered my questions with a definable air of nervousness. Sort of like he was talking to his mother and she maybe knew too much. It amused me to think that back in the Record Bar days, he probably would have merited pointing and giggling, while today I was just mildly annoyed that he was taking so long to ring up my purchase.

As I signed the credit card slip, he said with a sudden burst of inspiration, "You know, there's always Halo 3."

"That's what I'm getting for Christmas," I told him.

For a moment, there was complete silence. Then he grinned.

"Cool," he said.

I took my packages and left the store.

Go listen to some good music: "Covenant Dance" from the album Halo: The Soundtrack by Martin O'Donnell & Michael Salvatori.

13 December 2007

You're gonna get your fingers burned

Watch me closely, be aware
That all I do is only to surprise you
Every move is sleight of hand
And every word is planned to mystify you


Burnout. Everything I write is itchy and awkward, like a bad sweater.

I can't stop yawning and I can't get warm. The former because I am suddenly paralyzingly exhausted for no especially good reason. The latter because I'm too cheap to turn up the heat, and I can't seem to remember to add more layers.

"It was 35 degrees this morning!" the checker at Trader Joe's exclaimed to me.

I need to plan a holiday party for the fifth grade class. It only needs to last 40 minutes, but again...paralysis. Burnout. I cannot muster the energy to assign a cheese tray or fruit plate or find someone to donate some cunning little snowman plates. A game. You want I should figure out a game for them to play? Oh noooooooooooooooo...

Must write a letter to those parents. By tomorrow morning.

The remainder of this year is yawning, too. Like a giant consuming maw. The son needs new glasses. Everyone still needs a flu shot. Then there's that holiday thing.

*yawn*

Doesn't yawning indicate lack of oxygen? Perhaps I should just stop holding my breath.

I'm mishearing things with a vengeance.

"I just finished testing your daughter on science," the spouse tells me severely. "Rhizoids, ferns, and liverwurst."

"Liverwurst?" I ask in mystification. Is there a secret relationship between rhizoids and liverwurst of which I am unaware? Did I drink too much wine with dinner?

For the last week, my whereabouts in 2008 has been a hot topic of conversation. Right now, it looks like I'm going to be everywhere.

"But you can't drive a car in 2008," the son told me today. "You can't be in a car."

"I can't walk down the street," I laughed.

"I guess you just have to stay in the house all year," he grinned.

"A car will crash into the house," I told him.

"MO-OM!"

Must write that letter. NOW.

*yawn*

And who the heck messed up my header, Blogger? I know this one wasn't me.


Go listen to some good music: "You're Gonna Get Your Fingers Burned" from the album Eye in the Sky by the Alan Parson Project.

11 December 2007

Over the hills and far away

Cold morning and windy. Remnants of the system that brought some rain over the weekend flit over the sun. There are thunderstorms over the ocean.

My ankle cracks painfully as I put my shoes on. I pull a light running jacket over my tee and venture out, the heavy breeze cutting through my lightweight Adidas pants.

I cannot get warm, even though it's not that cold out: sunny and maybe 50F. I pull the arms of the jacket down over my hands, and I'm off.

Over the hills and far away.

Blame it on "Malignant Narcissism." I am nothing if not consistent in everything, even pace and gait. MalNar happens to pop up on the playlist right at the place where I turn and stay on the flat, or go straight and into the hills. The sheer irony of the moment never fails to strike me. Malignant narcissism, oh yeah.

Home again, four miles later.

The cat and I discuss the relative merit of his consuming a bit of the pork roast that is stewing in the pot of the posole. He makes do with dry kibble instead and retires to sun himself in the middle of my bed.

Time to pick up the kids. I give the posole one last stir and tamp down the pot lid against cat assault.

The son is in a preternaturally good mood. His debate team did very well in the weekend tournament and the kids are still riding the high of success, toting their little trophies around everywhere. They also had a field trip to the Juvenile Detention Center today, and perversely, this made him very happy.

"Mom," he says with tremendous excitement, "the judge reminded me so much of YOU!"

I raise an eyebrow in query.

"He said, 'I am not here to be the friend of these children; I am here to punish them! I do not regret punishing them.' He sounded just like you!"

"Ohhh boy," I breathe. I'm not sure how he manages to make my parenting style sound like I was trained at Guantanamo.

"It was just so cool," he continues to enthuse. "He was just like you. Mom, I LOVE YOU!"

"My Mom," I say to the sky, "Inspiring love through terror."

"Yeah, exactly!" he grins. "It's GREAT."

Dear God.

Send them off to do homework after they have a snack. Time to shred the pork roast. I turn on "Kashmir." Loud. Dance around the kitchen while I collect up instruments for shredding. The cat dances under my feet; he's been on posole watch for the last three hours, and finally! Action.

The daughter appears, bearing math homework.

"Geez, Mommy," she says, putting her hands over her ears,"do you have to listen to the music so loud?"

"Yes," I reply. That's me: torturer, latent teenager.

The spouse calls.

"You've reached the house of the woman who inspires love through terror and whose children complain that she listens to music too loud. Can I help you?"

Choking on laughter, the spouse asks, "Oh my God, what are you listening to?"

"Right now, 'Black Dog.' Next, 'Immigrant Song,'" I tell him.

Always a curiosity. Over the weekend, one of my neighbors was rhapsodizing about my style of dress. "You're so classic," she told me. Perplexing, because she usually sees me in workout clothes. Or, if we're all very unfortunate, first thing in the morning in my pajamas. At the moment, I'm wearing shreds of pork on my jeans. And shrieking to a song about Vikings and threshing oars.

The cat mews hopefully below.

Many is a word that only leaves you guessing
Guessing 'bout a thing you really ought to know
You really ought to know...
I really ought to know...


Go listen to some good music: "Over the Hills and Far Away" from the album Houses of the Holy by Led Zeppelin.

09 December 2007

Life during wartime



















Radar Station B-71, Klamath River, California
July 2004

Go listen to some good music: "Life During Wartime" from the album Fear of Music by Talking Heads.

08 December 2007

Come sail away

The son: "Mom, R. just called. She's waiting for you at the H.'s house."

Me, balancing a casserole with the wreckage of the artichoke dip: "Oh, for Pete's sake..."

The son: "She said she baked a cake just for you."

I silently roll my eyes and put away the stuff I'm carrying. The spouse and I head out to the last house. It's cold and breezy, with occasional spits of rain.

R. attacks me as I enter the house.

R.: "I called your house. You gotta try my cake! I made it for you. It's in the kitchen."

Me: "I know you called my house. Cripes, woman, give me a second!"

R.: "Your son sounded scared when I called."

Me: "Psychotic, cake-baking neighbors frighten him."

R.: "You're offending me."

I go into the kitchen where the desserts are arrayed, and take a slice of R.'s cake and a slice of something chocolate. This year, people have made more food than I have ever seen at this party.

The noise is deafening. When the spouse and I showed up, ten minutes late, to the first house several hours ago, about half the neighborhood had already set sail for the Island of Inebriation. By the last house, there were a lot of crossed eyes and loud, happy voices.

I scan the sideboard, looking for something stronger than coffee. R. has followed me into the kitchen.

R.: "What do you need?"

Me: "I need to get drunk."

R.: "What? You hardly even drink!"

Me: "I know."

R.: "How is my cake? I made it just for you!"

She didn't, of course, make it for me. She made it because it's good and showstopping and looks fabulous. But this is the game that R. and I play. It's a game of alternating compliment and insult. She loves me because I play along, because I call her beloved pug "little pig" in Hawaiian, and because I say completely outrageous things, usually about her dogs ("Why don't you make Kahlua Pug for the next party?").

I take a bite of the cake. It's good and very sweet.

Me: "Interesting."

R. frowns.

Me: "It's good!"

R.'s face relaxes.

Me, taking another bite and talking, unforgiveably, with my mouth full: "But I can tell you didn't hand grate fresh coconut on it. This stuff is out of a bag."

R.: "I HATE you! Why am I even friends with you?"

Me, trying not to laugh coconut all over my plate: "Because I don't tell your husband that you let your dog poop all over my lawn in the middle of the night."

R.'s eyes get huge: "Omigod. Don't tell him that."

I take a bite of the chocolate cake. R. pulls the plate out of my hand.

R.: "You want to see my Christmas trees? Come look at my Christmas trees."

Me, plaintively: "Can I get a drink first?"

Go listen to some music: "Come Sail Away" from the album The Grand Illusion by Styx.

05 December 2007

Holiday on the moon

It's December, but it's California, so it was about 60F out when I decided to grill skirt steak for dinner. We do odd things here, like grill dinner in December, while it's snowing elsewhere. And we wear sweatshirts with shorts and sandals while we're doing it. Actually, I hate to admit I'm wearing those blasted Birkenstocks right now, although with jeans and a long-sleeved tee because it's the time of year when I can't decide if I'm warm or freezing. Mostly, I'm freezing but the part of my brain that knows I have a cache of warm clothes somewhere hasn't kicked in yet.

It's dark at 5 pm, and the back patio where the enormous bbq sits is dark as pitch. Grilling by a camping lantern has a certain romance, but can create uncertain cooking results. Fortunately, I've camped often enough that I cook pretty well in the dark.

The skirt steak was delicious. No matter how much I buy, my family hoovers it all up in one go.

So much for leftovers.

Go listen to some good music: "Holiday on the Moon" from the album Express by Love and Rockets.

04 December 2007

All I really want

And all I really want is some patience
A way to calm the angry voice


So, did I do what I asked everyone else to do today?

Yes. I was nice. At least twice. In fact, I was so nice to the checker in the grocery store, she wished me happy holidays twice.

Then I completely undid the good by losing my temper with an idiot on a cell phone.

I have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to bad driving, and that tolerance level zooms into the negative numbers when I see this stuff in my neighborhood.

We do not have sidewalks on our street. This can make walking through here a challenge when visitors drive around with a bat-out-of-hell mentality. This afternoon, I was walking the kids home from school and some stupid female I didn't recognize came tearing around a corner and narrowly missed hitting the son. Not only was she driving on the wrong side of the road, she was, of course, busily yapping on the phone.

I went ballistic.



And all I really want is to talk recipes.

This is an absolute show-stopper of a dip, and is excellent for all those holiday parties where you have to bring something. In fact, I make it for the neighborhood progressive dinner every year, and it's gone in about five minutes. For parties, I double the recipe and serve it with water crackers.


Artichoke Dip

Serves 8-10

1 tsp butter
2 c. grated mozzarella
1 c. grated parmesan cheese
1 c. mayonnaise
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 14-oz. cans water-packed artichoke hearts, drained and chopped.

Grease a medium glass or ceramic baking dish with butter and set aside. Mix mozzarella, parmesan, mayonnaise, and garlic together in a medium bowl, then stir in artichokes. Transfer to prepared dish, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat over to 325. Uncover dip and bake until edges begin to brown, about 30 minutes. Stir, then continue baking for 30-40 minutes more. Set aside to let cool briefly. Serve warm.


This recipe was originally published in Saveur magazine (December 2003, p. 85), but I couldn't find the recipe on their website. So, I hope they'll forgive me for sharing it here.



Give back:

Have you ever given blood? I was just about to the 2 gallon mark (you give 1 pint each time you donate) when I was diagnosed with heart disease in my early 20s and told that I could no longer donate. Giving blood takes a little bit of time, but generally less than an hour, and it's about the easiest way you personally can help to save someone's life.

I donated the first time when I was 17, and it was for a friend of mine who'd been severely injured in a car accident.

Does it hurt? Only when they stick the needle in and that's pretty minimal--this coming from someone who really, really, really hates needles.

Check out the Red Cross to find out what you can do to give the gift of life. Sappy as it sounds, someone out there will really thank you.


Go listen to some good music: "All I Really Want" from the album Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morisette.

03 December 2007

Hallelujah Chorus

2003

The grandparents stumble out from the family room, half awake. The fireplace won't light. The spouse opens the traditional Christmas morning box of See's candy and Grandad immediately drops it on the Kirghiz rug. My father-in-law is precisely the reason I bought such a highly patterned rug in the first place. He drops things. Usually glasses of red wine, but boxes of chocolate are a close second. This way, the stains are less obvious, and he doesn't have to feel badly about it, and I can safely serve red wine and chocolate.

After successfully grinding chocolate pastilles that he can't see into the nap of the rug, Grandad delicately places the pink paper crown from his cracker onto his head. Grandma makes rude noises. The kids quiver with excitement. "Carol of the Bells" roars in the background. Someone starts talking about the year I dropped the yule log. I never drop things, so this incident is always brought out and examined with delight.

The fireplace won't light.

I love my family.



Give back:

Whatever you practice, whatever you preach, even if it's nothing at all, there is always a time to give back, and I'm choosing this time to talk about it. Those of us in the developed world where computers and blogs are a pleasant way of life are blessed with an embarrassment of riches, whether we recognize it or not.

I'm not suggesting that any of us get up tomorrow morning and save the world. I mean, it would be great, and if any of you have the means and wherewithal to do so, please don't hold back. However, I'm very much a pragmatist. So let's start small.

Your assignment for tomorrow: Be nice to someone. Hold the door for the person coming in behind you and smile at them as you make the effort. When the server asks how you are, tell 'em you're great and ask with sincerity, how are they today? Thank the cashier who rings you up, and do it loud enough for her to hear you and smile while you say it. Forget the posturing, and just let the other car onto the freeway.

Yes, we should all be doing this anyway, but how many of us are just distracted enough, or stressed enough or angry enough to sort of conveniently forget? Most of Southern California, from personal observation.

So tomorrow, be nice. Just once. It won't kill you. It might even make you happy. And it tends to be contagious.

Go listen to some good music: "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah from the album Joy to the World by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

02 December 2007

Canary in a coal mine


















Where those stocking stuffers for bad children come from

Gillette, Wyoming
August 2003


Go listen to some good music: "Canary in a Coal Mine" from the album Zenyatta Mondatta by The Police.

01 December 2007

These days

My last act of November was to break my blog.

Break it. I broke it.

The archives were gone. Labels gone. My name was gone. My entire sidebar was gone.

I still don't know how I did it.

(I thought that my cavalier NaBloPoMo attitude--let's all post until the Internet explodes!--had translated into actually breaking the Internet.)

My first act of December was to fix the template.

I'm better now.

I think I'll just pretend I don't have a blog for the next couple of days.

*rabbit*


Go listen to some good music: "These Days" from the album Life's Rich Pageant by REM.

30 November 2007

These boots are made for walkin'

So this is it. Last day of NaNoWriMo (who?) and NaBloPoMo. At least I finished the latter!

I can say that I am glad that I forced myself to post every day. It pushed me to work a little harder and show a little creativity, and I tried not to phone in any posts (not saying I didn't).

I learned something very important this month and I learned it at fussy.org, where Mrs. Kennedy, NaBloPoMo founder, was posting pictures of shoes. I've yet to write about my own personal shoe fetish (alive and well it is, foot injury, or no), but she put my mind to rest on one very important point.

My Birkenstocks were fashionable in Paris in the summer of 2005. This is a tremendous relief.

When I was in Las Vegas over the summer, it turned out I was going to be meeting a couple of people I hadn't planned on meeting. Which means I was sartorially unprepared for actually meeting anyone but my friends, who've never given any indication they care about how I'm dressed. I had packed for Vegas, for being on my (injured) foot alot in a very hot and smoky place. Since the dread foot injury, I have been able to wear three pairs of shoes: my lovely walking shoes which carefully cradle $450 worth of orthotics,























a pair of low-heeled ankle boots that were recommended to me when it became clear I was not going to submit to surgery prior to summer and I was going to a multitude of rock concerts,























and the Birkenstocks I bought in desperation when I was told not to wear sandals...EVER.

















The Birkenstocks are just comfortable enough that I can actually walk in them and the style--Gizeh--is close enough to attractive that I don't feel like I'm wearing Birkenstocks. Too much.

So what had I packed for Las Vegas? The Birkenstocks. I couldn't see lugging the ankle boots, even for the concert we were going to, and I sure as heck wasn't wearing the walking shoes. So, what was I going to be wearing for this meeting? The damned Birkenstocks. Along with, of course, my trademark too big jeans. For once, I'd actually packed a shirt that did fit, which was too bad because it spoiled the overall effect of Birkenstocks and over large jeans.

And now I know that in addition to a shirt that fit, I was wearing hot-in-'05 Birks. Which sort of does spoil the effect of the over large jeans. But there you go.

Clearly, I have written enough for one month; thank you to those of you who went the distance with me and read what I wrote this month. You have no idea how much I appreciate it.

Farewell, November.

See you in January.

joking!


Go listen to some good music: "These Boots are Made for Walkin'" from the album Boots by Nancy Sinatra.




And given it's my last day to help blow up the Internet:

























Not that I can actually wear them at this point.

29 November 2007

She blinded me with science

One of the horrors of the junior high years is The Science Fair. I've spent years now as a judge, and for the last two years, the son has been a participant.

The son did well last year and actually won a cash prize at the county level, which was nice for him. It was an interesting project, with some surprising results, and I rather wish that he'd decided to follow through with additional testing this year, but no, he wants to do something new. Of course.

Since the spouse and I have both worked in the sciences, and the son is something of a science superstar at school, he is naturally expected to have a really awesome project. Unfortunately, for him, Mom and Dad are less than helpful (read: we are not the sort of parents who do projects for our kids. Although last year, of necessity, we did help him with construction since he dislocated his patella in the middle of the proceedings and was having some difficulty pouring concrete while ensconced in an immobilization brace). This hasn't stopped him from pestering me for the last week.

The son: "I need a topic for the science fair."

Me: "That's nice. What are you going to do?"

The son: "Maybe we should talk about this next week."

Me: "I'm not talking about it at all."

The son: "MO-OM!"

Me, reciting familiar sermon: "I already graduated from eighth grade and feel no need to do the work again..."

The son: "MO-OM."

Me: "'Synchronized Sneering: a mother-son perspective.'"

The son sighs.

Me, dramatically: "How about 'Male Refrigerator Blindness: Fact or Urban Legend'?"

Silence. The son and I look at each other.

In unison: "Heyyyyyyyyy."

Me: "It would be really funny. You could test the whole neighborhood. I bet we could even get the Soaring Rodents to participate if we pay them a beer."

The son: "This is great. GREAT! I'm writing it in pen!!!"

Me, temporizing: "Talk to Mr. H. first."

The son, running toward his room, crowing: "Great! GREATTTTTT!"

Male Refrigerator Blindness has long been a family joke, the spouse the usual butt of the joke. It originated, in our family anyway, with an Anne Taintor postcard and the fact that the spouse can't find anything in the refrigerator. Or the pantry. Or the garage. Or the storage shed.

I can't remember exactly why I googled MRB last weekend, but I found Refrigerator blindness: selective loss of visual acuity in association with a common foraging behaviour in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. We were in hysterics reading it.

If it flies, it could be one of the funniest science fair projects ever.

Go listen to some good music: "She Blinded Me With Science" from the album The Golden Age of Wireless by Thomas Dolby.

28 November 2007

Better on the hard side

Five years ago, at carloading:

Mrs. M., the daughter's kindergarten teacher: "Um, Mrs. S., today I found L. standing on the turning bars at recess."

Me: "Oh dear."

Mrs. M.: "She was standing on the one that's six feet off the ground."

Me: "WHAT?"

Mrs. M: "She was very well balanced. And grinning from ear to ear."

Me: "Oh my God."


On the walk home from school today:

The daughter, who went on a field trip today: "I rode the high wire bike."

Me, having no idea what she was talking about: "Cool. Was it fun?"

The daughter: "Yeah!"

A little later:

The daughter: "I really liked riding the high wire bike!"

Me, now a bit suspicious: "How high was this thing off the ground?"

The daughter: "There was a net."

Me: "That doesn't answer the question."

The daughter: "Three stories."

Me: "WHAT?"

The daughter: "But there was a net."

Me: "You were three stories off the ground?"

The daughter: "There was a net!"

Me: "Oh, thank God I didn't chaperone this trip."

Go listen to some good music: "Better on the Hard Side" from the album ...undone by The Lucy Show.

27 November 2007

Steal my sunshine

This is a PSA. And it's not the first I've put out here.

Make an appointment with a dermatologist. Take a friend or someone you love.

Why? Because I've just gotten more biopsy results back: I am four for four. In a little less than a year, I've had four moles removed, all of which showed precancerous changes consistent with the development of melanoma. That means that I don't have cancer, but left to their own devices, those little buggers would have become melanoma.

This is important for a very specific reason: I've never been a sun-worshipper and never laid out in the sun for hours seeking the perfect tan. I've never been near a tanning bed. According to my doctor, that's likely why I don't actually have melanoma yet.

Still, I have gotten my share of sun exposure. I had at least one serious sunburn as a child, just from playing outdoors in the desert sun. I lead an active life, and have spent time hiking, biking, swimming, playing tennis and skiing. I ran track in school and ran for exercise. I garden. But I've used sunscreen since it became available, and I wear hats and sunglasses, and don't go outdoors during peak exposure hours.

I am a realist and I am a product of my northern European heritage: I have fair skin that burns and green eyes, and my natural hair color is dark reddish brown.

Four moles, three strikes on physical characteristics. I am out.

But I'm also lucky. I'm lucky because so far I don't have cancer. I am not so lucky because I have yet another little biopsy to look forward to. Not so lucky because after this, they go over my entire body centimeter by centimeter and for the rest of my life, we pay attention to each spot and watch to see if it changes. I've officially graduated from wearing sunscreen to wearing sun-protective clothing that more or less resembles a Tyvek suit when I'm outdoors.

According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma only accounts for about 4% of all skin cancers, but it accounts for 79% of all skin cancer deaths.

And let's not forget the other two forms of skin cancer: basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. More easily treatable and less deadly, but do you really want to mess with that?

Those of us with fair skin and light eyes are at the greatest risk of developing skin cancer, but that doesn't excuse those of you with darker skin and darker eyes from getting yourselves checked. Your risk may be lessened, but that doesn't mean you are immune.

Get yourself checked. It's slightly chilly sitting in that paper gown, but otherwise painless. Forget the tan, forget the tanning beds. Sunscreen. Hats. Sunglasses. Stay out of the sun during peak exposure hours--that would be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

I don't want skin cancer.

Neither do you.

Go listen to some music: "Steal My Sunshine" from the album You Can't Stop the Bum Rush by Len.

26 November 2007

Clocks

'Tis the season for overload.

Crazy numbers of parties and gatherings. And everyone gets mad if we miss one. Fortunately, I have a legitimate excuse not to go on the booze cruise--I have to be at a high school open house. Because someday I have to decide on a high school for the son.

I ran into my friend R. yesterday. "Are you coming to the last house?" she demanded, referring to the neighborhood round-robin event.

"I never go to the last house!" I told her. At that point, the sober are usually gathering up dollies with which to transport the completely wasted home, and I invariably have to be up at the crack of dawn the next morning to go to brunch or something, so I don't want to be out too late ferrying three-sheets-to-the-wind revellers about.

"I'm making cake! Homemade, not from a box, cake! You have to come."

"Five minutes," I told her. "You better have a piece ready as I run in the door."

The kids have unconscionable numbers of projects and insane amounts of homework because they are going to have two weeks off. Imagine. The son takes the SAT this weekend, and spends all next Saturday debating at a tournament. While I'm sitting there as his guardian, I'll be planning the fifth grade class holiday fete. They've also been invited to innumerable events, and it looks like I'll be hosting a Christmas tea for a group of girls.

Decorate the house? Who do you think I am, Martha Stewart?

R. asks me every year, "What's your theme?"

"CHRISTMAS," I tell her.

Dental appointments. Everyone has to have their teeth cleaned before the end of the year.

And I literally just remembered that I have to do the open-enrollment paperwork, speaking of insurance and things medical.

I already told the family they have to do without Christmas goose. This year: roast beast with Yorkshire pudding. Something that does not involves siphoning off four cups of fat during the roasting process.

Four more posts and I will have fulfilled my NaBloPoMo obligation. It's been fun, though.

What I'm looking forward to: baking cookies with the kids. No matter what else happens during the holiday, we always do this and it is so much fun, especially when I'm as tired and loopy as I was last year, and used the last of the gingerbread dough to make not a gingerbread man, but a gingerbread man part. The family nature of this blog means I can't actually post the picture.

But I might send it out as my Christmas card.

Go listen to some good music: "Clocks" from the album A Rush of Blood to the Head by Coldplay.

25 November 2007

Grand Canyon Suite

























Monument Valley, Arizona
August 2005

Go listen to some good music: "Grand Canyon Suite: II. Painted Desert" from the album Grofe: Grand Canyon Suite by Cincinnati Pops Orchestra and Erich Kunzel.

24 November 2007

Where the streets have no name

Black Friday found me in my usual Friday spot: the less-than-beloved exercise bike. I had to do something about the inordinate amount of cheese I'd consumed the day before.

Early-bird specials? Door-busters? A mall?

No.

Today, however, I ventured into the heart of darkness, and am completely out of sorts.

J. and her daughter A. very kindly invited the daughter and me on an expedition to American Girl Place off Beverly Boulevard. It's a treat the girls have been anticipating for some time.

Of course, today, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, it turned into an endurance test.

The drive from where we were to where we were going took over two hours. Add to that a minimum of 30 minutes looking for a parking spot in the structure.

The outdoor mall area was completely mobbed. We managed a slow shuffle through the throngs around and about the stores before we got to our destination.

People enjoy this?

The girls had a great time admiring all the goodies for their dolls. That was the point of the journey. J. and I had fun chatting, and that was a good time.

That's the bit I'll keep and try not to think about the rest.

Go listen to some good music: "Where the Streets Have No Name" from the album The Joshua Tree by U2.

23 November 2007

As a child

The turkey has been eaten and we've disposed of the body. Tomorrow is trash day, after all.

The brother arrived in state (really, driving a rental Mercedes, which made all of us laugh) bearing gifts of Stone IPA and sunflowers. I put out food and more food, and cooked more food, and the smell of roasting turkey was as wonderful as it ever is.

Even the giblets didn't smell bad stewing away in their pot.

My dutch oven was destroyed in a small catastrophe last week, and I did find myself somewhat bereft. Down one pot, and it was more difficult to cook!

The daughter made cloverleaf rolls, the son ate an entire can of black olives except for the four I managed to grab. My brother and I were almost solely responsible for taking out a wheel of cheese. Around here, we like the collective names of things: murder of crows, pod of dolphins. I think this was a heart attack of cheese.

Two full boxes of Carr's crackers disappeared down the assembled gullets.

When I redesigned my kitchen, I wanted it to be a place of gathering since people always seem to end up in the kitchen. And so it was: the daughter came and went and the son, and the brother and the spouse and I chatted and snacked while I cooked. It was all very companionable. Every few minutes I forgot what I was doing and had to consult my list, but everything went into the oven when it was supposed to, and came out of the oven when it was supposed to, and we were ready to eat exactly two hours after I had planned to, which was about right.

It's entirely possible that this was the most perfect turkey I have ever cooked. It was juicy and tender, and the spouse was joined by my brother in ripping off the crunchy skin. Amazing what food is like when it is cooked with love.

We solved the problems of the world over dinner, after the brother offered grace, blessing us all and everyone, and most especially our troops. We are a military family, though few members have been career military, and those who serve hold a special place for us, always.

By the end of dinner, I had been elected president. Again.

We took a walk through the neighborhood and admired all the gatherings and the screaming children and the general happy mayhem.

Over pumpkin and mincemeat pie, eggnog and coffee, we planned our strategy for survival of the zombie apocalypse. Ultimately, we decided it all hinged on the beer.

When we were children, the best thing about holiday dinners was that our father would start telling stories of his childhood and his time in Africa. We hung transfixed on every word, and as we grew, we would ask him to tell our favorites: the time our uncle blew up our aunt's school bell with a blasting cap, about his chimp getting drunk on banana beer.

In the midst of strategizing the zombie apocalypse, my brother and I started talking about 28 Weeks Later.

"It was the soundtrack!" I told him. "I'd forgotten how effective the music in 28 Days Later was, and when I heard it again, all I could think was 'uuuuuuh-oooooooh.'"

"'Tubular Bells,'" he said. "I still can't listen to 'Tubular Bells.'"

"We have that!" the son piped up.

"Wasn't it you and E. who sneaked behind the drive-in and watched The Exorcist? I just remember you coming back in the house and both of you couldn't do anything but stare," I told him. And talk shifted to music, and the radio stations we listened to, and the crystal radio that gave us access to a brave new world.

All night, I watched my children hanging on our words.

Go listen to some good music: "As a Child" from the album 99.9 F by Suzanne Vega.

22 November 2007

From the New World

My brother called me about an hour ago, asking in a casual fashion what we were doing for Thanksgiving.

"Staying home, cooking and eating," I told him, happily. "You're invited."

"Good," he replied, "because I didn't want to invite myself."

Turns out he will be in town until early Friday morning.

I never, ever know where he will turn up next.

And that's ok.

That he has a place to land here with us is one more thing for which to be thankful.

And I am.

Go listen to some good music: "Symphony #9: From the New World. IV. Allegro Con Fuoco" from the album Dvorak: Symphony #9: "From the New World" by Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

21 November 2007

Jupiter, bringer of jollity

Now that I've spent an hour on the exercise bike, I can start thinking about the main order of business.

Food.

Today, I'll be making pumpkin pie (from my grandmother's recipe, which isn't so very different from anyone else's recipe, but hey, it's the one my grandmother used to make), and mincemeat pie. I have made my own mincemeat, but the condensed stuff I cook up from a package is really just as good since I follow my mother's practice of adding extra raisins and apples. The kids and I will also make the cranberry relish tonight because it tastes better when it sits for a bit in the refrigerator.

Since tomorrow is a giant food orgy, tonight we'll have what the kids call "dinner on one plate:" a melange of goodies. High quality salami, Cowgirl Creamery's Mt. Tam cheese, hummus that I make based on the recipe from Zov's Bistro, good old-fashioned onion dip, grapes and apples and carrots and celery and olives, and for the adults, Gluehwein.

Mmmm mmmm good.


Go listen to some good music: "Jupiter" from the album Holst: The Planets by Eugene Ormandy.

20 November 2007

Breakdown

Nearly five months ago, the dishwasher ceased to function.

Now, this is just a diswasher, right? You call the repair guy and they come out and fix the dishwasher and all is right with the world, right?

Wrong.

Our house is old by California standards, which is to say that it is older than I am. It was custom built in the 1960s for a retired couple. The bedrooms are enormous, the living areas reasonably sized, but the original kitchen was a tiny galley, big enough to turn around in, but not actually large enough to cook in. I ask you: what fits in a 22-inch oven other than a frozen chicken pot pie?

Mrs. Retired Person obviously had little intention of cooking much else.

Fortunately, there was a large breezeway separating the kitchen from the garage and we eyeballed that and made some measurements and when we bought the house 10 years ago, we bought it with the understanding that we would be pushing the kitchen out into the breezeway.

That was accomplished five years ago (the contractor needed a year's lead time to get the project started. Welcome to California).

Being the research-oriented person I am, I tirelessly tested and read about the appliances I wanted to install. I'm also not the sort of person who buys matching suites of furniture, so I have one sort of cooktop and a different sort of oven and a Bosch dishwasher.

Bosch. The finest of German engineering. All reviewers raved about the ease of use, the quietness, the water saving.

Everyone failed to mention that it had a lifespan of five years.

Actually, I got lucky. A lot of people who bought the same model at the same time watched the expensive repairs mount up from the moment the thing was installed. But I didn't find that out until later.

One bright July morning, the spouse told me that the diswasher had stopped in mid-cycle the previous night, and now would only make a terrible noise, but not do anything else.

This was an expensive dishwasher. So after scouring the Yellow Pages and finding no authorized repair places listed, I called Bosch.

After leaving me on hold interminably, Bosch offered to fix my dishwasher. I think it was $199 for the first 20 minutes and I don't remember the charge for each 20 minutes thereafter, but it was alot. Parts and labor, separate, of course. I tried not to scream, and asked when they could be here.

In three weeks, the man on the phone told me.

I asked for the number of an independent authorized repairman.

He never returned my call.

I finally sought out a list of places that at least sold Bosch dishwashers. Sears. Well, that seemed like a slam dunk. They'd send a repairman out in a week and it would only cost me $65 for the service call.

Only.

So, back I went into research mode to see what was what with these dishwashers, and dear God, the picture was not pretty. Failed control boards, burned out motors, no repair less than $300.

The little man came and he told me that the motor was burned out. They'd have to order the parts, would have them in two to three weeks, and the cost, including parts and labor, would be $565.00.

"I can buy a new diswasher for that!" I cried in outrage.

"And you should," said the repairman. "Because I guarantee you that you'll lose the control board in a year or less and that will be $300 to replace. In fact, you're lucky it hasn't already failed."

So. The broken dishwasher sat.

"Are we going to get a new dishwasher?" the spouse began to inquire at fairly regular intervals. As chief dishwasher, he really didn't want to continue washing plates and glasses and cutlery, too.

I groaned. Epinions had approximately 2,400 different dishwasher models listed. And after the failure with the Bosch, I didn't even want to begin the hunt again.

Eventually, I did start. Where to narrow it down? I didn't want to spend $1000 for another dishwasher, but I wanted one that wouldn't flood my kitchen when I was absent for three weeks. I read professional reviews and pitted them against consumer reviews. Bosch was completely eliminated before we even started. That would be called throwing good money after bad.

After comparing and contrasting Maytag and Whirlpool, I finally settled on a Whirlpool Gold, and we ventured off to buy the dishwasher. I looked at the models I liked, pointed, and we paid.

"It'll be here in two weeks," the little man told me.

That was October 6. Two weeks came, two weeks went. I called the salesroom.

"Uh, a couple more days," I was told.

Ten days came, ten days went.

The spouse called them. He left messages. No one called back.

Next morning, I got a call.

"Ma'am, you wanted stainless or white?" another little man asked.

"WHITE. STAINLESS TUB. WHERE. IS. MY. DISHWASHER?" I hollered.

"I have the vendor on the line. I'll call you right back," he told me nervously.

He called me back while I was intercepting a call from the spouse.

"We have it in stock," said the message. "Please call me back."

I called back and left a message.

Six hours later, having heard nothing, I called again and left another message.

Next morning, I got a message: Please call to arrange delivery.

Last Friday, a very friendly little man delivered the dishwasher. It is sitting in my garage because the place that sells them does not install them.

At 8:30 this morning, the little man who is to install the thing today called and said he'd be here between 10 and 1. I can only hope that by the end of the day, I will once again have a dishwasher.

How many little men does it take to get a dishwasher?

Way too many.

Go listen to some good music: "Breakdown" from the album I Robot by The Alan Parsons Project.

19 November 2007

New toy

For my birthday, which was months ago, the spouse got me a gadget. I have a deep dislike of gadgets in general--they are usually expensive, they always take up room, and they are often equipped with a learning curve--but the spouse frequently finds me things that are both useful and amusing. The birthday gadget is a turntable that allows one to download music from LPs directly onto one's computer with the aid of a USB cord and some slightly iffy software. We still have somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 record albums, and a lot of mine are sufficiently obscure that they aren't available on CD, much less iTunes.

The gadget sat on the coffee table, unopened, until last weekend when the spouse got completely fed up with me circling the thing like it was an unexploded bomb, and he attached it to my computer.

Within 5 minutes, I was downloading The Lucy Show's ...undone album. With a little software magic, I'd eliminated a lot of the white noise associated with a 22-year-old vinyl disc that had seen a tremendous amount of use, and voila! I was listening to one of my favorite albums on my computer and it sounded better than I expected.

Pretty cool.

It didn't take me long to find 15 (fifteen!) albums that need to be transferred. I'm sure my neighbors will be much happier listening to Jean Pierre Rampal's Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano this weekend than they were last week listening to Oingo Boingo's "Insanity."

But then, they know I often listen to things that will make your ears bleed. It's the only defense against what some of them are listening to.

Go listen to some good music: "New Toy" from the album Lucky Number: the Best of Lene Lovich by Lene Lovich.

18 November 2007

Roads to Moscow























St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow, USSR
March 1984

Go listen to some good music: "Roads to Moscow" from the album Past, Present & Future by Al Stewart.

17 November 2007

O Tannenbaum

The Christmas tree farm opened this morning. Usually we don't venture in there on opening day because it's chaos, and although I love chaos that I am orchestrating, I don't like chaos others are orchestrating. So, avoidance.

But this morning, the spouse needed to go to the office, and I had an early hair appointment, so we decided to make a morning out of it, and ventured into the tree farm at about 10:30 a.m.

You could still see the whites of the eyes of the employees when we pulled in. We didn't know it, but on opening day, you're supposed to drive into the Irvine Meadows parking lot and walk into the tree farm from there.

(Every year as we are choosing our tree, I can't help but look up into the sea of empty seats and lawn at Irvine Meadows and smile reminiscently about the shows I've seen there. Similarly, when I'm sitting at Irvine Meadows, I look over at the tree farm and wonder which tree I'll end up with come November.)

Still, they let us in at the usual entrance. In a shaking voice, the man told us that 4,000 people had descended upon the tree farm an hour and a half earlier. "Some of them," he said in wonderment, "had been in the parking lot since 3 a.m."

Who knew people were so concerned about getting that perfect tree?!

Anyway, we drove down the row for the medium-sized trees, hopped out of the car, pawed at a few likely candidates, and made a decision on which one we all liked. In under five minutes. We high-fived the son, who had found the tree we all liked, hopped back in the car, and drove off to the trailer to pay.

Everyone was happy. In a month or so, we will go back to claim the tree--I am a firm believer in waiting until the last possible moment to put it up--clean it up, try to remove wayward snails and decorate away.

Go listen to some good music: "O Tannenbaum" from the album Joy to the World by The Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

16 November 2007

Hoedown

So.

Thanksgiving.

We in the U.S. celebrate it next week. I sort of didn't realize it was so soon until my family enlightened me the other night. I've been in one those "don't-know-the-date" fugues of late. I mean, I knew it was November, just not that next Thursday had crept up out of more or less nowhere.

I ran out to the grocery store yesterday (I was auditioning yet another new grocery. It failed miserably. Just so you know.) and bought the necessary items because I do not shop the week of a major holiday. The insanity and bad tempers and shoving people are holiday killers for me. I stay away.

I found a nice little (12 lb.) turkey, and appropriate pie-making things. Potatoes and rolls are a given, not to mention stuff for the dreadful green bean casserole the spouse loves. You know the one. Full of cream of mushroom soup and fried onions from a can.

Still, green bean casserole is better than the godawful brussels sprouts my mother used to make. These days, I actually like brussels sprouts, but I buy the tiny ones, not the huge bitter monsters my mother used to make. GAH.

Oranges for cranberry relish. That's what I'm talking about. A little turkey, some gravy, a lot of cranberry relish, a good bottle of wine, pie and coffee, and I'm happy.

We were, of course, invited to the spouse's parents' for dinner, but that's just too complicated. So we're staying--happily--home.

I cook nearly every day, but Thanksgiving dinner is one meal I really enjoy making. It just smells so good, except possibly for giblets being turned into stock. Even the cat runs from that smell.

But roasting turkey...yum! Yeasty rolls rising...yum! Pumpkin and mincemeat pies baking...yum!

The kids are old enough to take part in the creation of the meal, not just the eating. Last year, the daughter made the cloverleaf rolls pretty much on her own, which was just thrilling for her. And the son did a good job of picking over cranberries to remove the inevitable icky sqooshy ones, and I think he stirred together all the goop for the casserole.

Because I treat raw meat like what it is--a mass of bacteria requiring a HazMat suit--I deal with things turkey and make the gravy because creating the roux is both fussy and fun.

The spouse carefully removes all the skin from the turkey. It is his favorite part of the day, with the possible exception of mimosas for breakfast--his contribution to the actual creation part.

And the cat? His job is to be under foot from the moment I get out of bed. It's a job he does well! I stepped on him at least three times last year.

Perhaps we can set a new record this year.

Go listen to some good music: "Hoedown" (part four of Rodeo) from the album The Copland Collection: Orchestral and Ballet Works by Aaron Copland & the London Symphony Orchestra.

15 November 2007

The Liberty Bell March

Update 22 January 2008: Okay, a lot of you are showing up at this post trying to listen to the Liberty Bell March. There is a decent (but not a marching band) version here, or visit Amazon.com or iTunes to hear a brief excerpt.


Early morning, almost a picture perfect fall day with clear sky, cool air and chirping birds.

The high school marching band is practicing.

The school is roughly a mile away, just below the hills, and when the atmospherics are right in the fall, I can hear the beat of the drums, and occasionally, the brass. I love it.

My own high school was only 3 blocks from my house, and hearing the marching band practice around 7 am was always a thrill. I loved the reverberation of the percussion, and the anticipation of going to a Friday night football game.

Not that I went for the football. I went for the band.

My high school's football team was traditionally terrible but the marching band and jazz band won countless awards under the tireless direction of a terrific leader, so they were always great fun to watch and to listen to. I had a lot of friends in the band, and between my sophomore and junior years, casually dated at least five different guys in the band (most of whom I was already tutoring in math and science anyway, so the dating was more friendly than romantic). Friday night home games were a tremendous social occasion.

It was always a bonus when there was a post-game dance in the boys' gym; we'd get up huge mobs and dance away en masse to whatever the local radio DJs who'd been hired for the occasion could be persuaded to put on the turntables that night. It was generally a blast.

I never had the chance to study music in school, which irritated me no end. Fortunately, the son and daughter are required to take instrumental music in fifth and sixth grade. Both study clarinet, and the son actually got pretty good, while the daughter has only just begun, so we are enduring a great deal of squeaking in the evening. I banned a lot of the possibilities, including trumpet, trombone and violin. The boy across the street was just unbearable to listen to when he started studying trumpet, though I'm pleased to report that not only did I hear him this morning marching about at the high school, he also tried out for the all-high school band for the Rose Parade.

If we see him marching down Colorado Boulevard on New Year's Day, all those ear-shattering garage practice sessions so many years ago will have been worth it.

Go listen to some good music: "The Liberty Bell March" from the album The Marches of John Philip Sousa by John Philip Sousa.

14 November 2007

Bad mood Mom

There are people in the world you are meant to meet.

D. and I were intended to meet.

It's not just that we both happened to attend a concert five years ago in a place where neither of us lived, watching a band that girls aren't supposed to like. Because we didn't meet that night and only discovered that coincidence much later.

We met on a rainy afternoon on a muddy road outside of Denver.

It's not just that we are twin daughters of different parents, alike in sympathies, different in experience.

We tell stories and make new ones.

Call it fate. Call it kismet. Call it what it really is: one hell of a lot of fun.

Call it two women tearing a swath through the United States and Canada.

We're only at home when we're on the fly...

Happy Birthday, D.!

Go listen to some good music: "Bad Mood Mom" from the album Bad Mood Mom and Other Good Mood Songs by Jamie Broza.

13 November 2007

Mystery achievement

Today, I am in A Mood.

Like Gemini dreams, Gemini moods can be a force to be reckoned with.

Facing another round of cut-and-sew on my back at midday, I decided to get out early this morning. I was going to be good and just take a little walk...two miles, no more. But I was itchy and anxious and annoyed, and couldn't settle into a good pace. The turnoff for two miles came...

...and went...

and I headed for the hills.

I was already sore. But I didn't care. I needed to move.

Up the hill I went.

No runner's high today but oh my god, the imperative to run when I was headed back down the hill was almost unbearable. I know it's a physiological response--the body wants to expend energy efficiently and walking fast is spectacularly inefficient for someone with long legs--but the fact that I like to run doesn't help.

I haven't run since September 2006.

By the time I had reached the bottom of the hill, I'd regained something akin to equanimity.

Risk/benefit. What is the risk? What is the benefit? I know the risk, and this time the benefit outweighed it. It was Pollyanna who showed up at the doctor's office, even if she was Pollyanna with an edge.

Go listen to some good music: "Mystery Achievement" from the album The Pretenders by The Pretenders.