31 October 2007

Five little pumpkins

True to form, I ended up putting together the 5th grade Halloween party in record time.

Now, I must go open the door to the neighborhood ghouls.

Happy Halloween.

Go listen to some good music: "Five Little Pumpkins" (traditional).

28 October 2007

We're having much more fun

J. offers me a glass of Barolo while costumed little girls run wildly through her house, shrieking.

The little girls are all dressed in the same dress though in different colors, except for the daughter who is happily dressed as a pirate, complete with an eyepatch I donated and an earring from her great-grandmother's costume jewelry collection.

I've known many of these parents for years, but I am easy with only a few of them, and of those present only J. really, so I accept the glass of wine.

I sip my wine and make an effort to attend to the conversation which revolves around a) the fires, b) the class Halloween parties to be held at school next week and c) the fact that the daughter's class has no room parent. This is something that needs to be dissected and examined, exclaimed about and worried over.

I've already spent four years as a room parent, two years each for each child, when both were much younger. It is an exhausting and thankless job, and I'm more than happy never to do it again. Still, I always seem to end up on committees for things.

With regret, I hear myself say unenthusiastically, "I'll talk to the teacher on Monday."

Shrieking little girls run back the opposite direction, destination bounce house.

I surreptitiously check my watch. The spouse is supposed to rescue me at 5.

JB, my other mommy friend, shows up, and I relax a little. JB could not be more unlike me, but we were seatmates on the tourbus during the dreaded 4th grade trip last spring, the good girls on the bad bus, as we called ourselves, and we found a lot to laugh about. We settle in for a chat.

Shrieking little girls run downstairs.

I have nursed my Barolo for an hour and a half; J. offers me a second glass and brings out some wonderful French cheese.

The spouse arrives, and co-opts my wine. I point him toward the food, and suggest to the daughter that we will be leaving in 15 minutes. She rejoins the shrieking little girls.

As we begin to make our farewells, J. is putting together tremendous plates of food for me to take to the son, telling me about her frustrating efforts trying to get tickets to see Hannah Montana. G., her husband, murmurs disparagingly about that and tells us proudly about taking their teenage son to see X recently. The spouse and I laugh and mention that we, too, have seen X. G. calls to another guest, "They're X fans too!" Preppy M. exclaims in glee, and G. says, "And we all look so normal."

We spend an enthusiastic few minutes talking about the shows we've all seen lately.

Someone taps my arm, and I turn to the mother beside me. She asks, "Now you are going to talk to the teacher about the Halloween party, right...?"

When worlds collide.

Go listen to some good music: "We're having much more fun" from the album More Fun in the New World by X.

27 October 2007


The daughter, as she popped onto my bed this morning: "I had the funniest dream last night and it wasn't even a nightmare. There were these kids and they turned into animals, well, except one was a hamburger, and they were shooting the bad guys which were these women in business suits with high-heeled shoes for heads, and the guys in business suits had cootie-catchers for heads and they were driving around in pink sports cars..."

Me: "It sounds like you might be writing the script for the second Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie."

The daughter and the spouse: "Huh?"

Interstitial moment:

The son: "E. doesn't believe that you took me to a rock concert. She doesn't believe you go to rock concerts!"

Me: "Oh. Do you need me to tell her that I went to eight this summer?"

The son: "Puh. You know what E. is like; she probably wouldn't believe you."

The son and daughter spend the next five minutes reciting one of their favorite Monty Python sketches.

Me: "Does it occur to you that your friends think I'm the scariest, strictest parent in the school, and here I take you to rock concerts and allow you to watch wholly inappropriate TV shows?"

The son: "Cool!"

Go listen to some good music: "Ironic" from the album Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette.

26 October 2007


The hummingbirds were fighting over the backyard fountain this morning. Such territorial little creatures and they were both determined to have a bath.

It was the first indication that the world is trying to right itself.

A real sea breeze this afternoon, and it blew the smoke back to the east. The sky was filled with mare's tails, the air was breathable, and the kids and I walked home from school.

The local news radio reported llamas running loose in the canyons.

Tomorrow, sorting clothing for a family who was less fortunate than we were. Begin the cleanup process outdoors. I dread stirring up more ash; I dread finding the inevitable evidence of how lucky we were.

Then, take the daughter to her best friend's Halloween party, and have a glass of wine with the other parents, and inevitably, discuss the fires.

Where would I rather be? Anywhere but here.

And if I had a choice, I'd rather be in Stockholm.

The daughter and I were talking about our Baltic trip of 2006 tonight. We'll be going back to Europe in 2008, and she is trying to wangle a trip to Cardiff while we're there. Not because she wants to go to Wales so much as she wants to see if she can catch sight of John Barrowman or David Tennant while they're filming Torchwood and Doctor Who, respectively. She is definitely developing the one-track mind of the 10-year-old with a serious crush.

"Oh come on," I told her. "Filming is boring. Remember how much fun we had on our last trip? Remember how cool the Viking Ship Museum was in Oslo? I didn't think I'd ever get you out of there. Remember the Hermitage? I didn't think I'd get you out of there either."

"They probably have museums in Cardiff," she said, primly.

I suppose I should just be grateful that the girl knows where Cardiff is. That she knows where Lapland is (because she's been there, and because she developed a little crush on our delightful guide, who we decided must be the Lapp Orlando Bloom), that she can say that she's visited Helsinki and Estonia and has seen the midnight sun.

If I get my way, our next trip will involve Katla and Hekla, and maybe another rollicking bicycle ride...anywhere but here.

Go listen to some good music: "Carbon" from the album Scarlet's Walk by Tori Amos.

25 October 2007

This unrest

I was awakened at 5:30 this morning by a helicopter hovering over my house. Initially, I couldn't figure out what the persistent rumble was, and then panic took over my brain: HELICOPTER! FIRE'S BACK!

The spouse stirred, and I said, "What the hell is that?"

"A helicopter," he murmured, unconcerned.

It wandered back and forth over our neighborhood for half an hour then wandered away, just in time for KUSC to pop on the clock radio and play the Granadian national anthem.

I ASK you!

"The helicopter was probably to do with Bush's visit today," the spouse said, philosophically, getting up.

At least the Governator had the decency to keep his arrival down the street quiet yesterday.

The sky remains a hellish soup with the return of the fog. It's all a tradeoff.

I finally had to venture out today because the daughter's head will explode if she doesn't get a Halloween costume soon. Most of the debris from downed trees has been cleaned up, with the exception of a stray branch here and there. As I drove to the stores, ash fell merrily and persistently.

The daughter wants to be a "pirate-ess" (her term), and the son wants to be Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The daughter will be discouraged to learn that I bought her a boy's outfit because the option for her was "Tavern Wench" and I draw the line at any sort of wench for my 10-year-old. I drew the line at a leather trench coat for the son weeks ago, and he'll have to make do with a black tee, tight black jeans and fangs, and if I'm feeling charitable, I'll spike his hair.

Pushing my cart through Target felt surreal. The two women whining about the ash on their patios were unbearable, almost as bad as the Halloween toy that was malfunctioning somewhere in the store, uttering a piercing scream that ended in a strangled yelp, over and over and over. We are still getting reports of friends who have been displaced, who don't know if they have patios anymore. And apparently, my mother-in-law has been fielding a large number of calls wondering about us. Our phone line and voicemail appear to be malfunctioning, which I only discovered last night.

I fled Target before I said something I'd regret. I want this to be over. I want the smoke to abate. I want everyone to be able to go home and find they have a home.

If I could wave my magic wand...

When I got back to the parking lot, my dark blue car was completely covered in fine white ash. It scattered back into the sky as I drove away.

Go listen to some good music: "This Unrest" from the album Tinderbox by Siouxsie and the Banshees.

24 October 2007

Closer to fine

...darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
And lightness has a call that's hard to hear

I am trying to yank my head out of the whole fire thing right now, or yank the fire thing out of my head, if you prefer, even though my entire house smells appallingly of smoke at the moment. I'm not sure what's going on outside, but there is some evil yellow-gray-blue inversion covering the sky. It looks like maybe some fog moved in with a bit of onshore flow and procreated with the smoke, which classically, of course, is smog, but this is rather more hellish looking and smelling. With the shift of the wind, I think we're not only getting whatever is coming out of Modjeska, but also Camp Pendleton. Ash chunks the size of horseflies. I worry there is llama mixed in it...I still don't know what happened to those poor beasties.

Today has been a day of very random thoughts.


We were in AffSub over the weekend, and discovered that The House With the Very Good Address and Very Bad Attitude was for sale. We visited the open house, not letting on that we owned the place 10 years ago.

The exterior had been painted a very dreadful brownish green, and the house squatted miserably on its lot like a troll. It was an odd sensation to step back into the house, and in some ways, it was like stepping back 17 years in time. There were the same track lights we'd installed to illuminate our art. The mantle that the spouse had finished and mounted above the fireplace looked exactly the same. The built-in bookcase I'd had custom made to go into a bizarre and useless doorway. The same knobs I'd screwed onto the kitchen and bathroom cabinets, the same bloody white berber carpet. Of course, the walls were no longer pink and blue.


No, I do not plan to watch the World Series. Yes, this would be called sour grapes. Go Rockies!


I loved sour apple gum as a child and would walk to the local Circle K to stock up on long sticks of it for, I think, a nickel. My mother hated the smell of it, and I had to chew it outside. Salditos were the other treat of my childhood: dried salted plums. We would stick them in half a lemon and chew on them for the afternoon. A single pack would suffice for most of the kids in the neighborhood. It's a wonder any of us have enamel on our teeth.


From the "don't try this at home" files: it is impossible to change a surgical dressing that is in the middle of one's back. I know because I tried it. I struggled with the old dressing for at least ten minutes before I ripped it off and then couldn't land the new on actually on top of the stitches. Instead, I landed the adhesive on top the stitches. I don't recommend that.

The stitches actually look kind of cool because they go right up my spine. If I could only figure out a way to work them into a Halloween costume...


I love it when I have to edit a post 4 or 5 times because I couldn't get it right the first 3 or 4 times.

Go listen to some good music: "Closer to Fine" from the album Retrospective by Indigo Girls.

Everything counts

Yesterday morning at 6 a.m., it was 80 degrees.

This morning, 63.

No wind, just a slight breeze.

The sun rose in a blaze of red through the ash from Modjeska Canyon.

Most disturbing news video of the morning: llamas peacefully eating in a corral yesterday; today, nothing but ash.

Edited to add photos taken this morning:


I-5 was closed this morning because of the fire down at Camp Pendleton. The spouse took these as he headed south toward La Jolla.

Go listen to some good music: "Everything Counts" from the album Construction Time Again by Depeche Mode.

23 October 2007

Face the fire

Strain is telling on everyone. Eyes are wide, voices are high. Driving the couple of miles to the doctor yesterday, I had to avoid erratic motorists...why? How does swerving in and out of lanes, driving too fast or too slow mitigate smoke, ash and heavy wind? If they'd been avoiding all the downed tree limbs in the road, it would have been understandable, but they were plowing straight through them.

It took the spouse three hours to drive home from La Jolla last night as thousands of evacuees headed for the beaches and shelters.

I picked up the children in the car yesterday, something reserved for illness or inclement weather since we live only a few blocks from school (and secretly, we all enjoy the walk home from school together). Ash fell like snow, though it wasn't so terrible as the fallout from the Old Fire a few years ago. The kids were kept indoors, all outdoor activity suspended. I've kept the house sealed as well and resisted the temptation to go out and clean up debris. I can't stand all the dry pine straw that is covering my yard, a fire hazard in itself, especially with 5% humidity.

"What is it, Mom?" the son asked yesterday as we pulled into the garage. "What's in the ash that's so bad?"

Everything that's burned, I told him. Chunks of...stuff, trees, plants, buildings. Small, but big enough to irritate lung tissue. Heavy metals like arsenic and lead, and pesticides and asbestos. All the junk that gets aerosolized when it burns.

"I wish I hadn't asked," he groused.

The firefighters, bless them, held the Santiago fire to within a couple of miles of us, right at the spot where I used to jump off the bike trail on my ride home from work. In fire's fickle way, when the wind shifted yesterday, it headed west to go threaten another community and then went north into the canyons. To keep calm amongst family and friends, I'd told everyone Sunday night after the fire jumped the first toll road, "Don't worry, it would have to burn through a lot to get to us." And it did burn through a lot. Sunday night, watching the news, I saw it marching inexorably in our direction.

"My God," I breathed to the spouse, "it is moving so fast."

Today, there are tens of thousands of acres burned, hundreds of homes lost, thousands displaced. Possibly the most difficult part of all of this is knowing that we have faced similarly terrible conditions time and time again, most recently nearly exactly four years ago, and no one has taken the steps to prevent that from happening again. The same dead trees sit in the San Bernardino mountains, the same inadequate resources for fighting wildfires are all that are available today, people continue to live in areas that can't be defended. Water resources have long been stretched to the absolute limit, and as the state continues to allow more and more construction and more and more people to move in, it will only get worse.

But they'll think about it tomorrow. Why not go build another golf course in Palm Springs?

The wind has dropped, though a stiff breeze continues. The sky changed to orange an hour or so ago, and I went to the window to see a ferocious new plume of smoke, signalling that the fire has taken on new vigor.

It is so dry that it feels as though tiny pins are being stuck into my skin, especially mid-back where a new set of stitches graces my spine.

Go listen to some good music: "Face the Fire" from the album Phoenix by Dan Fogelberg.

On a lighter note:

I've gotten a lot of hits on, of all things, my mention of a marzipan spider. I have a terrible feeling that you are all looking for a recipe. This is how you make the cake:

Bake two standard 8-9" cake layers. The spouse believes that yellow cake is the only suitable cake for cake. Choose your own flavor.

Either make your own buttercream frosting (It takes 5 minutes! Just do it: beat together a 1 lb. box of powdered sugar, 1/4 c. milk, 1 tsp. vanilla extract and 1 stick of softened salted butter until well blended) or get a can of the premade vanilla stuff. Stir in red and yellow food coloring until you get the shade of orange you like. Frost the cake. Using a tube of black frosting for writing on cakes, make thin concentric circles around the entire cake. Take a narrow skewer or toothpick and gently pull it vertically through your circles at nicely spaced intervals. This will create a web-like effect.

To make the spider: marzipan is readily available at most grocery stores in the baking section, but I like Stramondo organic marzipan from Sicily. Break off a couple of small hunks, one slightly larger than the other. Mix up food coloring to get a nice black-brown color, and roll it into the marzipan. Form the smaller chunk into a head and the larger into a body. Place strategically onto your web, and trim licorice whips to make suitably spidery legs.

Note to those with food allergies: marzipan is made from almonds. Plan accordingly.

22 October 2007


We are currently under a red flag warning and are experiencing hurricane force winds. I've already lost power 4 times. Fires--at last count there were 13 major ones--are burning everywhere, including down the road a piece. We were under voluntary evacuation orders very early this morning; those have since been lifted for the moment.

Wind is a California disaster, as much of a problem as earthquakes, floods and landslides. Every year in the autumn, we endure a weather condition variously known as Santa Ana winds, devil winds or in our house, "bendy tree," so named after the doubled over palm tree usually shown on the local weather forecast to symbolize wind.

Wind out of the south or west is usually because a rainstorm is coming in off the ocean, and we get a nice seabreeze most afternoons from the south or southwest. I am fine with those, generally. It is the wicked sustained gale that blows out of the north or northeast that I simply cannot endure. Some people posit that negative ions come along on the Santa Anas, but I can assure you that I am the only negative ion to worry about around here when the wind blows.

I don't like the dust and dirt, that's for sure. I don't like the allergens that blow in from the north. I don't like watching the power lines arc and spark as they dance in the wind. But what I really don't like is the local news stations' implicit invitation to all arsonists when they trumpet insistently--it's BONE DRY! FIRE WEATHER! GUSTING WINDS!--that a red flag warning has been posted.

They announced this morning that the fire burning nearest us is arson.

Like wind and earthquakes and drought and floods and landslides, brush fires are a fact of life in this region. The fire cycle is actually a beneficial part of the natural ecology here, but given the lack of natural ecology in Southern California these days, fire is now a much more implicit threat.

We came a little too close to losing our previous house to a brush fire. Certain things are required if one is to live responsibly in a wildfire area, and while we'd done all those things and created a defensible zone, the wind, the heat and the general aridity were all against us. I remember a sense of bizarre calm as I placed the photo albums, important papers and the cat carrier next to the door to the garage. We were fortunate that night, and the evacuation call never came, the fire never reached the ridge above us. But it's not something you easily forget.

Last night, the daughter sat in a state of nervous anticipation as the orange glow to the east deepened and spread; the son cracked bad jokes; and the spouse grumped that the Soaring Rodents playoff game had been called for smoke. I had the kids put clothes next to their beds, "just in case!" I told the daughter. "If we're prepared, then everything will be ok."

Magical thinking, but even I needed it at that point.

I finally dozed sometime between 1:30 and 2 this morning, waking again when the quivering cat parked himself behind my knees, and waking repeatedly as the deep booming gusts of wind rattled the windows.

The winds have kicked back into high gear this morning; we knew they would. It's one of the things I loathe most about the Santa Ana winds: you simply have to wait them out.

So far, we've been lucky; others unfortunately have been less so. As always, gratitude to the men and women of the fire agencies who are out on the front lines protecting life and limb.

Go listen to some music: "Windy" from the album The Association: Greatest Hits! by The Association.

21 October 2007

Ring of fire

The daughter: "Mommy, doesn't it look like it's going to rain?"

Me: "Expletive! No, honey, that would be smoke."

Go listen to some good music: "Ring of Fire" from the album The Index Masters by Wall of Voodoo.

20 October 2007


...'Cause the world ain't ready for nothing like Y-O-U

Dinner tonight at the local Japanese restaurant:

Waitress: "Would you like ice cream?"

The daughter: "Green tea, please!"

The son: "Green tea, please!"

The spouse: "Green tea, please!"

Me: "I'm fine, thanks."

The son: "You have to be the odd one out."

Me: "That's my job."

The spouse, picking up a bowl full of wasabi: "Look at it this way. Mama is the wasabi. Everyone else is the dish."

Go listen to some good music: "T-R-O-U-B-L-E" from the album Greatest Hits From the Beginning by Travis Tritt.

19 October 2007

No time this time

This morning, I didn't get up on the wrong side of the bed. I never do. There is frequently a cat there, looking at me querulously, querying something along the lines of "Are you dead?" This morning, I simply didn't want to get up. After hours of fighting HTML on the blog template, I finally went to bed way too late (early this morning), and then, couldn't fall asleep. The children were home from school because parent/teacher conferences were scheduled instead, and the spouse left at an ungodly hour to go supervise drill rigs at a landslide down south. My brother called last night, proposing an impromptu breakfast visit with his two young ones and wife, as they were having a barely scheduled vacation to the north of us, and we hadn't seen each other in three years when we were having a barely scheduled vacation where they live.

"I have to leave at 10:30," I warned him. "Parent/teacher conferences."

"We'll bring breakfast," he enthused.

I love my brother. Actually, in some ways, I adore my brother. He is only 18 months younger than I am, and he was very much my personal plaything as a baby, and my personal punching bag in our later years. He couldn't wait to grow taller than me, which he finally did in his sophomore year of high school.

"I'm taller than you!" he crowed in triumph from a lofty height of one inch above the top of my head.

"So?" I replied crushingly. I believe I broke his heart that day because I wouldn't let him pick a fight.

(He's now a good five inches taller than I am, of course, but we've long since stopped trying to bury the hatchet in one another's head. We do, however, wage a war of escalation in seeing who can hand out the most godawful toys at Christmas. I am definitely winning.)

Anyway, knowing what Friday morning traffic would be like, I dragged my sorry carcass out from under the covers, and made muffins and hard boiled eggs and brewed more coffee. The phone began ringing around 8, my sister-in-law, looking for directions.

I hid the muffins from the cat, took a fast shower, and fielded another phone call, this time from my brother.

Wiggling into my jeans, I took another call from my sister-in-law. They'd gotten off the freeway precisely where I told them not to. Five minutes of tense negotiation and I got them headed back in the right direction.

"We'll have time for a glass of water and cigarette with you," my brother mourned. None of us smoke, of course.

"Not to worry," I told him, "I've got breakfast ready here."

I hadn't seen my little nephews in three years. They are now six and four, solemn and sweet and a little shy.

"Let's go eat muffins!" I said when they hopped out of the car, and that was a sufficient ice breaker, leading to the consumption of many hard boiled eggs and juice, and a fall from one of the bar stools which was made better with a trip to the Lego bin.

Forty minutes and we had to say our goodbyes. My visits with my brother are frequently of such short duration, and always this scattered. When he was in the military, I never knew when he might show up, or with which buddy, or what kind of nasty gear last washed in a river in Bahrain he might try to sneak into my washing machine before I caught him. He and his friends knew I would produce a meal for anyone who came to the door, and would lend a sympathetic ear when someone's dog died or girlfriend cheated. Sometimes, they got clean flight suits out of the deal, too. In return, my house was frequently buzzed by various military aircraft, wings waggling in friendly fashion, perhaps most memorably the night of September 11, 2001, an old friend letting me know that he was my watcher in the skies.

So muffins and hard boiled eggs, bruised dignity eased with Legos--really nothing has changed. I don't know when we will next meet up or how; it may be a brief telephone call from a foreign airport during a long layover, or a barbecue in someone's backyard. However it happens, though, we take the time to make these connections. And we feel blessed that we can.

Go listen to some good music: "No Time This Time" from the album Regatta de Blanc by The Police.

18 October 2007

Turn it on again

Genesis is one of those bands that I remember the exact moment I heard them for the first time. I was standing in my childhood bedroom, my little clock radio tuned to the AOR station, KWFM. Peter Gabriel's voice rose in the haunting chorus of "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway," and I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. Of course, by the time I actually heard the song for the first time in the late 1970s, Peter Gabriel had long since left Genesis, and it would be another 5 years before I bought a Genesis album. It would be nearly 30 before I saw them live: at the spouse's prompting we saw them at the Hollywood Bowl last Saturday night.

It was an enjoyable show; Phil Collins seemed to have fun working the audience, and they played a nice cross-section of music. It's funny because the spouse prefers later Genesis, while I'm more a fan of the earlier stuff, and the kids were just happy to sing and dance to "Land of Confusion" and "I Can't Dance." The band did a stellar rendition of "In the Cage," and it was great to hear "I Know What I Like," and a medley of "Home by the Sea" and "Second Home by the Sea." I was also looking forward to the drum duet, but as it started, I realized that my children will now think that drum solos are de rigueur at rock concerts, given they've also seen Rush live twice.

It's great fun to take the kids to concerts, and we started them out young with the summer classical concerts at Irvine Meadows. Nothing is better than eating homemade chocolate cake under the foggy So Cal summer sky while listening to the "1812 Overture" with cannons. At least, that was my theory and over time, I had them sufficiently well trained that they could sit through a performance of Handel's Messiah, though I don't remember exactly what I bribed them with so they would.

From classical music, we moved up to musical theater, and they've delighted in (seriously) The Lion King, Riverdance and Cats.

Then, I decided they were ready for their first rock concert.

This was a relatively pragmatic choice for several reasons: one, I figured that based on personal experience (which involved telling an elaborate untruth to two sets of parents so my friend and I could go to see the Eagles when we were 13), it was better that I take my children to see their first rock concert, and two, it is just bloody impossible to get a baby sitter in Southern California. The third reason is simply self-preservation: by exposing my children to the right music, I reduce the chance that I will have to sit through Hannah Montana.

And that's how my children ended up seeing Rush on the R30 tour, which featured an extremely memorable appearance by Jack Black. Of course, the daughter actually managed to fall asleep during “2112,” and remains the only person I know who has slept through Rush. Don’t get the wrong idea: she loves the music, but she’s a stickler for a 9 p.m. bedtime.

(Note to those who doubt my good judgment: yes, they were wearing earplugs. I wear earplugs, for Pete's sake. Yes, they were coached on the likelihood that they would see illegal drug use and inappropriate alcohol consumption. Again, from personal experience, I've found that children benefit from an inoculation of seeing adults behaving like idiots under the influence, especially when they can contrast that with their own parents' behavior, which is beyond reproach).

Later that same summer, we all saw the Indigo Girls at the Britt Festival with a group of friends, which was also good fun.

Still, the kids were anxious to see Rush again when the Snakes & Arrows tour came through in July. With fifth row orchestra seats, they had a great view of the show, and the daughter was so excited when “Limelight,” the show opener, started that she couldn’t decide whether to air drum, air bass or air guitar, and so, tried to do all three at once.

Honestly, it was about the funniest thing I’ve ever watched her attempt. And fortunately, she also forgot that her favorite baseball player ever, Tim Salmon, was sitting about 15 seats away from us because once she saw him, she attached herself like a barnacle to my side.

There’s something distinctly cool about watching your kids sing along to songs you’ve loved for years, although I’d have to admit I’m a bit more subdued when they are around (okay, okay. The word "subdued" ceases to exist when I hear "Natural Science"). But it’s well worth it. Live music, whether it’s Beethoven or Rush, is one of the joys of my life, and sharing that passion with my offspring is priceless.

Go listen to some good music: "Turn It On Again" from the album Duke by Genesis.

17 October 2007

Grim grinning ghosts

The spouse, muttering in the pantry: "I thought you said you bought Halloween candy."

Me, working feverishly at my computer, trying to write a blog entry: "I did."

More rummaging noises from the pantry.

The spouse: "Well, where is it?"

Me: "It's not Halloween."

Grumpy noises from the pantry.

Me: "It's on the floor, by the wine rack."

Further rummaging noises.

The spouse, incredulous: "This?"

He is waving a package of gummi body parts at me.

Me: "Yup."

The spouse: "And this?"

An enormous bag of Dum-Dums.

Me: "Yup."

The spouse: "You call this Halloween candy?"

Me: "I call it the kind I won't eat."

Go listen to some good music: "Grim Grinning Ghosts," lyrics by X. Atencio and music by Buddy Baker.

16 October 2007


Happy birthday to the one I love.

True to form, his natal day was heralded by an earthquake. It frequently is. But what could be more appropriate for a man who has devoted his career to studying geologic processes?

The spouse never asks for much for his birthday...he's really not allowed to since I bought him a vintage Cadillac convertible a few years ago. But his really special gift every year is that I bake him a birthday cake...with real buttercream frosting.

How this marvel will be decorated is always a subject of great debate and consideration. The unwritten rule is that it must be yellow cake, and because it's October, hence Halloween, the frosting must generally be orange colored (hey, it's his cake). One year, I drew an elaborate spider web on the cake and made a giant marzipan spider to place on it. Another year, it was decked out with mellowcreme pumpkins, another of his seasonal favorites.

A few weeks ago, we were in the hardware store, and a copy of Country Living caught his eye. Gracing the cover was a cake with orange frosting slathered in chocolate glaze.

So, guess what I've been making all day?

Actually, the project would have been somewhat less time consuming if it hadn't been for Milton, the cat who eats everything and anything. I hid the layers after I'd baked them, but brought them back out to begin the frosting process. I think I turned my back for less than five minutes, but that was plenty of time for him to consume a large portion of one layer. After shrieking the mother of all curse words at him (and yeah, all the windows in the house were open. Sorry, neighbors!) and waving my arms wildly, I regrouped and realized that layer was unsalvageable. So as quickly as possible, I baked another two layers.

Now I just have to hope that I can get the entire thing frosted, chilled and glazed before midnight.

What's an earthquake compared with birthday cake disaster?

Go listen to some good music: "Birthday" by The Beatles from The White Album

15 October 2007


Two days ago, I cut off my hair.

Well, actually, the nice woman who cuts my hair cut off my hair.

I do this occasionally.

For a very long time, I had long straight-ish hair. My hair isn't all that straight, really; it has a tendency to get wavy, and I have the darndest ringlets behind my ears and at the nape of my neck. But back in the day, it was long and all one length, mostly because that made it easier to put it up in a big heavy bun when I was dancing.

Then, it became habit.

My hair length wandered between mid-back and waist.

I never thought too much about how personal identity is wrapped up in one's hair until the summer I spent too much time drying my hair in the sun and inadvertently became strawberry blonde. Someone referred to me as a blonde, and I was stunned because I've always been so militantly brunette.

In 1983, I broke up with my long-time boyfriend.

I promptly, and I mean within days, cut off 2 feet of hair. For the first time ever, I had a fringe and layers. It was as though I'd shed something I no longer needed.

No one recognized me.

Before it could become habit, I had the nice woman who cut my hair in those days shave the sides of my head, leaving the top long. I could put my hair into a mohawk if I wanted to.

Sometimes I did. And I'd put on radical makeup and go nightclubbing.

It was the '80s after all.

I got bored and let my hair grow back. For a bit, I sort of had a mullet.

And then I got a bob.

Then, I was supposed to get married. It was long again, and I got it permed.

I looked like a brunette cotton ball. Fortunately, my hair grows very fast and it was manageable again by wedding day.

Then suddenly, my hair was back halfway down my back.

Bobbed it.

And so it went.

Most recently, I'd let it grow longer again. The fringe remains, and it has become habit, necessary habit and it's better than Botox. Three years ago, it was a longish pageboy, and for the last year or so, it's been stylishly drifting past my shoulders.

I'd been squinting at it over the summer, and thinking that it was time to cut it off. I haven't worn it in a bob since about 2002.

When I sat down in the chair on Saturday, the nice woman who cuts my hair asked what I wanted.

"Cut it all off," I told her.


"Like this," I told her, showing her my driver's license.


"Off," I said.

It is soft and fluffy and kind of cute. I can't decide if I look older or younger, but somehow I look less tired, and more like I want to smile. Like I've shed something I no longer needed.

Go listen to some good music: "Hair" from the album Hair: Original Broadway Cast

11 October 2007

Orange crush

...hell any county it's just like heaven here

There are many reasons why I'm deliberately vague about where I live. When asked, I mention the state; when pressed, I allow it's the southern part; when pushed, I might mention the greater metropolitan area, and when backed into a corner, I'm just grateful that I don't live in Irvine. This, though, is one of the major reasons that I avoid any and all mention of my actual whereabouts (which happen to be in the far tonier and unplanned north. Enough said).

I still can't quite figure out where they got "real" in the title, though. I don't think the guy who developed the show has sufficient imagination to see the joke.

Go listen to some good music: "Orange Crush" from the album Green by R.E.M.

10 October 2007

I see red

A few days ago, I had minor surgery on my back, near my waist. Just about a dozen stitches, no big deal. The doctor told me she'd leave the stitches in a little longer because that's an area that sees a little more stretching, and she wanted to make sure that everything would hold together nicely.

So the stitches came out a day or so ago.

I have ripped the entire thing open. I don't even know how. It's not like I've been out doing the hammer throw or anything. (Yes, I used to compete in both discus and shot put. That's a surprise, isn't it?)

So tomorrow, I have to go back in and get sewn up again.

The Energizer Bunny. She keeps going and going.

Go listen to some good music: "I See Red" from the album More Fun in the New World by X.

09 October 2007

Learning to fly

...condition grounded
but determined to try...

A little over a year ago, I tore the arch of my left foot on my morning run. That injury has informed my life like no injury before it.

I've always been an extremely active person. At the age of two, riding my tricycle wildly around the laundry room, I crashed into a machine and went headlong through the door and into the tub. I still bear the scar below my left eyebrow.

Concussions (2), sprains (uncountable), a fall down the stairs, broken toes (all of them, some twice), time on crutches (months over the course of years), all these bear testament to my Energizer Bunny lifestyle. Scars tell the story of falls off bikes, falls on slippery tennis courts and cinder-covered tracks, a fall onto a pile of rocks I was jumping over (because it was there!), kicking the barre instead of into the air, and a really good slide into second base playing kickball. Cactus spines in my legs, glass in my thumb, a hunk of asphalt in one knee.

One moment, you're running, at peace with yourself and the world, just hitting that high, and the next something goes *pop* and you and the world come crashing down.

Six months ago, after months of unsuccessful treatment and a crop of complications, the doctor told me it was time for surgery.

Naturally, I balked. I had an extremely busy summer planned, and there was no way anyone was putting any restrictions on it. Childish, yes; stupid, almost certainly, given I'm facing the threat of the tendons in my ankle ripping out and incapacitating me completely. But in the wake of a quite perfect summer, tendons intact, I know I made the right decision because I'd never have forgiven myself if I'd opted to sit it out.

And even if I hadn't had a wild summer planned, I'd probably still have balked. Surgical outcomes are always subject to failure. What if I went through the surgery, months of recovery and then still couldn't return to some semblance of my normal routine? That was unthinkable.

At the same time the doctor said the "s" word, he also told me in no uncertain terms that weight-bearing exercise was out of the question. Buy a stationary bike, he told me. That's your exercise.

Well, there's a reason I don't go to a gym. I don't like machines. I like the great outdoors, I like to watch the birds when I'm biking down the river path, I like to see what people are doing in their gardens, I like to run through the hills around my house and reach the summit and look at Catalina in the distance. It's infinitely more satisfying than sitting in my house on a stationary bike.

But I took him at his word. I bought the bike. I've used it religiously since April. I hate it with something bordering on passion, and about the best amusement I can get from it is making the heart rate monitor attached to it go crazy. It's very small amusement.

And I've cheated slightly by doing a little ballet, very little, to keep the muscles the bike doesn't exercise intact.

Okay, well, I also cheated by standing and dancing for hours at a time while the band tore it up onstage all summer, but that was why I didn't have surgery, so I'm not sure it counts as cheating.

A few weeks ago, I decided that it was worth testing the foot, gently, as if a summer full of hard rock concerts and plane flights wasn't sufficient test, to see if there was any chance of a return to "normal activity" without surgery.

I began with a short, slow meander (that's 2.5 miles at 4 mph to normal people), no hills, good sidewalks, nothing uneven. Just a walk. Some pain and a bit of snap-crackle-and-pop in the ankle, but it wasn't the brutal unyielding pain to which I'd become accustomed. Tried again two days later, and it was little worse, and two days after that, a lot worse.

I sat out for two more days, pondering, while an hour on the exercise bike grew ever more wearisome.

This morning was beautiful, clear, cool, blue October weather. My body and soul screamed to be out in the hills.

Why not? Isn't that the real test?

I fire up the Ipod with my running list, and no intention of running, and take off. Snow Patrol, "Make This Go On Forever" as I round the corner of my street.

...first time that I felt connected to anything...

An orange plane, clean against the blue sky, heads into the airport. For a moment, I am connected to everything around me.

But then, there are gardeners. Everywhere. They are throwing manure. Everywhere. They are in my way.

Rihanna. "Shut up and drive." Good advice. This one makes me laugh because I will always associate it with the Kiss and Fly at O'Hare, which is where I first heard it while D. was doing doughnuts in the rental car trying to find the Kiss and Fly. Of course, we'd already been to Indiana (accidentally) that morning and in a toll plaza with a tour bus from the band we'd seen the night before (which is why we ended up in Indiana). Infinitely more cheeful, I ignore the gardeners and zoom on to my next destination, the main drag. This is all sidewalk, but it's canted toward the street, which makes traversing it a bit painful. I step with deliberation, and directly onto the injury site. Even though the arch twinges when it hits the ground, I have to do this. If I don't, I am skewing my gait, and pressuring those failing tendons. I fear stepping wrong; in my imagination, I can literally feel the tendons rip out from behind my ankle.

ELO, Wolfmother and Tori Amos take me up into the hills. I am moving at a pretty fast pace, but I'm feeling tension in the ankle. This is not good, and it suddenly dawns on me that if something goes horribly wrong, I'm more than a mile away from home.

And I forgot my cell phone.

For a moment I debate going further up into the hills, but instead listen to the voice that says "Don't push it."

Well, I'm already pushing it, but...no need to be crazy about it.

It never occurs to me to just go home.

Even so, the next right takes me well and truly into the hills anyway, a hill so steep that I have trouble biking up it when I ride this way. I maintain my pace, but my heel is starting to scream. As I hit the base of the hill, I am still moving fast, and a truck coming out of a driveway tries to cut me off.

"Don't try it," I mouth at the driver, who simply stares at me while he waits.

...barking at strangers and speaking in tongues...

Some things never change, I think with just the slightest smug satisfaction.

I am not running up this hill. I so do not want to even go up this hill. I am still moving, but I don't want to be. I take a deep breath, never slackening my pace and let the bass line do the talking.

...one day I feel I'm ahead of the wheel
and the next it's rolling over me...

Frustration washes over me as I feel the deep burn start in the peroneal tendons. My ankle is on fire and I'm not even halfway up the hill. The Energizer Bunny cannot keep going and going.

I can get back on

And suddenly, in a white hot burst of light, just like those fireworks all summer long, I suddenly feel intense joy and well being. I haven't broken my pace, I am panting and sweating, and my left leg from the knee down wants to shrivel and die, but I am ready to scream with joy, as I walk the last ten paces to the top of the hill.

This is where running, if I were running, meets sex: runner's high. And I am not running, but I am at the top of the hill and I'm so damned happy I could explode. I start carefully down the other side, ecstatic and in an agony of physical pain.

Sounds weird, I know. But at the moment that I hit the worst pain and the best high, I knew the decision was made: I need to go back and see if the doctor still believes surgery is indicated. And if he does, I need to do it.

And finally, I am ok with that.

Go and listen to some good music from my Ipod running list:
"Make This Go On Forever" from the album Eyes Open by Snow Patrol
"Shut Up and Drive" from the album Good Girl Gone Bad by Rihanna
"Don't Bring Me Down" from the album Discovery by Electric Light Orchestra
"Joker and the Thief" from the album Wolfmother by Wolfmother
"Raspberry Swirl" from the album From the Choirgirl Hotel by Tori Amos
"Far Cry" from the album Snakes and Arrows by Rush

Go listen to some more good music: "Learning to Fly" from the album Echoes by Pink Floyd.

08 October 2007

Sunshine of your love

Both the children are in the throes of crushes at the moment. Love is in the air, even if it's autumn.

They are at the ages where crushes are very much the thing. For the daughter, it's mainly actors--David Tennant (Dr. Who), John Barrowman (Torchwood), and Orlando Bloom (anything she's old enough to see), though I've just learned the junior high History teacher has also become an object of affection. I couldn't help but point out that he is far too short.

The age of actresses has largely passed for the son; he keeps an ever-changing ranking of the girls in his class, and I was recently treated to the current top 5. I teased him about T., the new girl, but he responded, with something bordering on disgust, "Every time I get the courage to talk to her, she's surrounded by the other girls."

A tough lesson to learn so young. "Yup," I told him, "at this age they run in packs. And you don't even want to know what they're talking about in the girls' restroom."

At this, the spouse burst into laughter. Years ago, on our first real date, we doubled with some mutual friends of ours. He was horrified when my friend S. and I disappeared into the ladies' room together. "What were you doing in there?" he asked plaintively, later. "I thought you were climbing out the window to escape me."

"Riding the rollercoaster," I told him drily. I've learned that many men believe there are carnival rides in the women's room, hence the immense amount of time we seem to spend in them. Reality pales in comparison, of course.

(As an aside, there used to be a nice little restaurant in West Hollywood that actually featured an enormous rocking giraffe in the women's room. So the guys aren't entirely wrong there.)

What were S. and I doing in the ladies? S. was flipping out. In my usual showstopping fashion, I'd asked my date about the subject matter of his Ph.D. thesis. He told me, and I chirped, "Oh! You mean like the air pillow mechanism that so-and-so proposed in the USGS monograph he wrote?"

The silence at the table was profound. "Yeah," said my date, who'd just decided to marry me. "You've READ it?"

"Yes," I said, breezily.

In the ladies room, S. was shrieking, "You've read whatever you were talking about? How did you know?"

I shrugged. My previous boyfriend had given me the monograph to read, thinking I'd find it interesting.

That's what girls talk about in the ladies' room. Science.

Let's face it: crushes, and the management thereof, are a science. A few nights ago, the daughter was talking about (but not ranking) her various crushes, and hiding her face in her pillow at appropriate moments in extreme embarrassment.

"Look," I said fondly, "crushes are perfectly normal and sweet and nothing to be embarrassed about. They make you feel nice and it's happy and good, so enjoy it and don't worry if your brother teases you about them, because we've got more than enough ammo to take care of him."

She emerged from the bed clothes long enough to ask, "Do you have any crushes, Mommy?"

"Uh," I said.

"You have a crush on Dad, right?"

"Well, no. We're well past the crush stage. I love him."

She digested this.

"So, who do you have a crush on?"

I laughed. "Even if I did have a crush, do you think I'm going to tell you?"

She was indignant. "I told you. It's not like I'm going to tell Dad, or anything."

"Oh yeah, I can just see it. I say, 'George Clooney,' and you yell, 'Daaaaaaaaaad, Mom has a crush on George Clooooooooooooooooooooney!' Right?"

"You have a crush on George Clooney? Ocean's Eleven? Yeah, he's pretty cute. DAAAAAAAAD..."

"I do not have a crush on George Clooney. Yes, he's very cute, but sorry, no crush."

Not, of course, that there is anything wrong with George Clooney. He is quite easy on the eyes, has a great voice, and frequently plays the perfect rogue.

But I have a very attractive spouse. Smart, too. I recently pointed out to him that George Clooney has nothing on him.

Who needs a crush?

Go listen to some good music: "Sunshine of Your Love" from the album Disraeli Gears by Cream.

05 October 2007

Waking the witch

The daughter: Wouldn't it be fun to be able to ride a broomstick?

Me: I do. Frequently.

The daughter: You do?

The son: When she's not riding a vacuum cleaner.

Me: It's what the modern witch drives.

Go listen to some good music: "Waking the Witch" from the album Hounds of Love by Kate Bush.

04 October 2007

Secret garden

Why I plant herbs in the windowbox under my kitchen window:

When the breeze blows, as it is today, my whole house smells like fresh basil.

Go listen to some good music: "Secret Garden" from the album Eve by the Alan Parsons Project.

02 October 2007


I hear it as I work, high-pitched, excited.

The only other sound to break the monotony of homestyle silence is someone's gardener attacking the street with a blower.

I work on, suppressing rage and frustration. Some days are just like this.

The call comes again.

I'm fairly certain I recognize the sound. I saw them last week giving as good as they got while a crow harried them.

Once more, the cry, loud and long.

I have to look.

Outside, I scan the October sky. A mild Santa Ana started yesterday, so the air is clear and warm, slightly breezy. The call sounded from the north, but I see nothing that direction. I turn, 90 degrees, 180 degrees, looking along the horizon, 270 degrees, but nothing.

Slowly, I move my eyes further upward, and there they are, a pair of redtail hawks, almost directly above my head, gliding along the thermals in slow dipping circles. One outspread tail flashes red, and as the other enters the sun's corona, it becomes a glowing chevron, blazing crimson along wings and tail. They rise higher and higher, flying ever closer to the sun, the scarlet and copper of their feathers shooting flame into the blue of the sky.

Go listen to some good music: "Phoenix" from the album Phoenix by Dan Fogelberg.

01 October 2007

What you see

What you see is what you get
What the hell did you expect?

The spouse and I were charged with entertaining two visiting Soviet scientists, one of whom was the head of the earth sciences division of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. The near international incident that occurred later in the day doesn't figure in this story, but we thought it might be nice to take them to lunch at the Big Famous Movie Studio where I was employed.

I duly made reservations for four in the executive dining room.

Soviets were a funny bunch. They tended to look like they'd just stepped out of a 1960s spy movie, even if they were scientists, what with the bad suits, suspicious squints, and copious quantities of cigarettes.

The nice waiter offered them menus, which were immediately tossed aside.

"Just a little salad and meat," said the junior scientist after a quick consultation in Russian with his superior.

The executive dining room menu was not extensive, and had maybe 6 entrees on it. After a hushed and hurried conversation with the waiter (who, accustomed to the over-the-top Hollywood types, was really bemused by this behavior and the desire for something simple), I turned back to B., the junior scientist, and told him not to worry, the kitchen would find something suitable.

"That's the problem with America," B. growled, with a glint of humor in his squint. "Too many choices."

His words resonate nearly every time I engage in my least favorite chore of the week: grocery shopping.

I just wanted some toilet paper. There is one extremely long row devoted to toilet paper. Generic, branded, store brand. Soft, ultra soft, single-ply, double-ply, single roll, double roll, six rolls with the same amount as 24.

What is the point, other than to waste an extreme amount of my time hunting for whatever it was I bought last time that worked just fine?

Tide. I don't actually like Tide, but they make the high efficiency detergent that my nice water-responsible washing machine guzzles. However, Tide HE comes in 47 different sizes, liquid or powder, and the bottles and formulation undergo a radical redesign about every 3.7 months. In fact, I saw one bottle today that purports to clean 96 loads, but for the life of me, I didn't know how one would get it open. It was roughly the shape of an orange lizard, with two spouts. Is there something I should know?

My method of grocery shopping involves a concept called autopilot. Although I will make a list, I'm usually too time pressed to be very efficient about it, and I tend to menu plan while I'm figuring out what's on sale, and what looks good in the butcher case. My method requires that I start at one end of the store and move through each aisle, knowing unerringly what to grab because I have the whole layout of the store memorized. The grocery stores love to muck this up, though, starting with a months-long strike about 4 years ago. At that point, I abandoned the big local chains for a natural food chain, and was perfectly happy...until the natural food chain moved two months ago. This may be So Cal, but I don't consider driving a 14-mile round trip for groceries a viable option.

So grocery shopping has once again become even more of a prickly misery than it usually is.

And the worst part of returning to a big local chain store is that they may have thousands of choices, but they don't have what I want. I like Stonyfield Farms yogurt because it is nice and healthy without a lot of really icky stuff in it. I like Clover organic milk, not ultra-pasteurized Horizon. Kashi Go Lean waffles, not Lifestream. And no factory-farmed meat!

But in this game, what you see is what you get.

Go listen to some good music: "What You See" from the album Only a Lad by Oingo Boingo.