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.


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


'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?


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.


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


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?


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.


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.


"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




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.

12 November 2007

New moon on Monday

Driving home tonight, there was a spectacular sliver of moon setting in the west. It looked positively enormous and we could clearly see earthshine and everything. It almost made up for spending 4 hours shopping for clothing for two children who insist on growing out of everything they own.

Go listen to some music: "New Moon on Monday" from the album Seven and the Ragged Tiger by Duran Duran.

11 November 2007

This is the picture

White Sands, New Mexico
July 2007

Go listen to some good music: "This is the Picture (Excellent Birds)" from the album So by Peter Gabriel.

10 November 2007

What is life

Tonight, I was digging around in some boxes, mostly looking for inspiration for my rapidly sinking Titanic of a NaNoWriMo novel, and I found a variety of things that made me laugh, made me sad, and made me remember.

Then, there was the set of notecards.

I remember playing this little game in college, twenty-odd years ago, at the behest of my then roommate. She'd done it for a class and thought I'd find it interesting.

She gave me ten notecards. I don't remember how the years were chosen; it may have fallen to me to choose them or there may have been a formula for it. But each was to be dated and then I had to predict what I thought I'd accomplish that year. On the tenth, I was to write "Death" and fill in the year I thought it would occur, where, how and what I'd leave behind.

The first card was, naturally, the year I believed I'd graduate from college. When you're in college, that's all that really matters.
Reality: good prediction!

1985: I'd achieve "real" status in the world. Translation: out of college, making real money at a real job and living something akin to a real life.
Reality: yup, it happened. Sort of a no-brainer, though.

1987: Publishing anything.
Reality: Not until 1996, but man, that thing has legs and gets cited all over the place.

1989: Massive traveling.
Reality: massive traveling is always my reality. But I think I traveled more in 1988 and 1990.

1992: Having a child.
Reality: miscarried my first child August 1992.

1995: Learning to speak my tenth language--Basque--fluently.
Reality: wow! That was random! No, I don't speak Basque, fluently or otherwise. I came close to taking a class in Uzbek, though.

2000: Buying a home in another part of the world.
Reality: I'm not sure moving behind the Orange Curtain in 1998 counts. But it is another part of the world.

2003-4 (New Year's Eve and Day): Having a 20-year reunion with all my college friends.
Reality: I am married to a college friend, but he's the only one I keep in touch with.

2007 (no kidding: there's a card for 2007, which really shocked me): achieving all the little things that no one really thinks about but are still really important: being in good physical shape, having good companions, and living with ambiance.
Reality: I am in really good physical shape and I think it's incredibly generous of my early 20s self to believe that my 40s self could maintain that. I am blessed with great companions and friends, so I score there, too. I have no idea what I meant with the ambiance, but I suspect that what I was doing this summer would count in a very big way.

And the last card:

Go listen to some good music: "What is Life" from the album The Best of George Harrison by George Harrison.

09 November 2007

O come, o come, Emmanuel


I need to get pictures of the kids for holiday cards. Since it was the first Christmas we were celebrating in our more southerly Southern California house, I had the bright idea to drive down to San Juan Capistrano and take pictures at the mission.

It's one of those brilliant winter days, the light is terrible for outdoor photography, and San Juan Capistrano is abloom and beautiful. I snap a few photos, and inevitably, someone has to go to the bathroom. The spouse whisks the son off to the restroom, and the daughter, who is 20 months old, disappears around a corner. I pursue the girl, only to find her climbing through the barrier designed to keep people out of the life-sized creche. She is standing in front of plastic Mary, looking into the empty hay-filled bed.

"Baby Jesus?" she questions emphatically, pointing. Every fiber in her little body says, "Where the hell is Baby Jesus? I know he's supposed to be THERE!"

"Not until Christmas," I tell her. "Come on out."


This is a command. Since Mama is apparently ineffectual, she begins hunting in the creche for the lost baby herself.

Of course, a priest shows up, tall and sere in his long brown Franciscan robes. He looks at the daughter; he looks at me. I know he is thinking that the daughter is an undisciplined devil baby, and I'm the mother-from-hell.

"She's looking for Baby Jesus," I tell him wearily.

"Christmas," he tells the daughter. She gives him what can only be described as a sneer.

"Baby Jesus," she says again, with strained patience, pointing at the empty bed.

The priest gives me a significant look, and strides away.

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

08 November 2007

Clowns of death

The son: "What was the name of that pesticide again?"

Me, preoccupied: "Didn't it say in the article? DBCP."

The son: "I thought it was something else."

Me: "Dibromochloropropane."

The son: "Uh...could you spell that?"

I write on a piece of paper "1,2-Dibromo-3-chloropropane."

The son looks at the paper: "I thought it started with an 'n'."

Me: "Oh. Nemagon. That was the brand name."

The son, shaking his head: "I can't believe this stuff."

Me: "Well, it's one reason why I buy organic bananas."

He wanders away to finish the report he's writing.

Go listen to some good music: "Clowns of Death" from the album Farewell - Live from the Universal Amphitheatre by Oingo Boingo.

07 November 2007

Available light

Flame to fog; temperatures at the century mark to temperatures in the 60s. All in two weeks. Autumn is making its mark, for the moment, on the capricious Southern California non-weather.

I don't like the fog--I never have--but I enjoy the cool and appreciate the damp, at least for the moment. Yesterday, I went for a walk and had goose bumps before I reached the end of the first block. It was a small marvel.

Then there is the time change, which wreaks no small measure of havoc on our household, particularly for the cat, who doesn't live by the clock, but by his stomach, and for me. I am a stranger to the concept of Daylight and Standard time; I learned to tell time in a place where this didn't exist, and still puzzle over the ideas of "fall back" and "spring forward." Twice a year, I have to ask the spouse, "which way are we going?" And he will enunciate slowly, "Spring forward" or "Fall back" as if I'm a rather slow child.

Other than the cat requesting dinner at 8:30 instead of 10:00 and my attempts to get the clocks set to the right hour, the most striking difference wrought by the time change is the quality of the light. It's the odd confluence of the autumnal movement of the sun coupled with a sudden hour's difference as to where it's supposed to be. Though I never seem to notice the difference in the morning, I feel the uneasy sense that I'm late when I leave to pick up the children in the afternoon because the sun is so low in the sky.

I always have difficulty taking photographs in the autumn and winter in California. Something about the light this time of year always tricks my eye. There is an unreal quality to the way it slants through the trees and it lights the outdoors in such a different way. I rediscover this everytime I try to photograph the children for the family Christmas card.

And it is the light, almost more than the change in temperature or the few leaves that fall from the trees, that heralds the end of the year for me.

My brother called today, waiting out his on-call duties, far from home. "I'm bored," he admitted, adding, "but I thought of calling you before I was bored!"

It is more than boredom, though; he is worried and he needs to talk. We have both noticed our circle of friends and loved ones, not widening but contracting as people we have known for years are becoming debilitated and dying. Not just the older generations, most of whom are now gone, but those of our own generation as well.

"I feel like our family is dissolving," he tells me.

We talk for a long time about this, about the problems that both of us see, about possible solutions, about our aging mother. It is not all regret and sadness; the conversation is punctuated by laughter and memory and plans for the future. I'm struck, as always, by how different and how similar we are. I'm struck, too, by the fact that he has placed himself so firmly in his middle years, how he sees himself moving rapidly toward autumn, while I am cheerfully entrenched in summer.

When I think of him, I think of the happy boy with a headful of blonde hair grinning in the photograph that our father took of us years ago for Christmas. Our younger sisters both have goofy grins, and I, the eldest, sit quietly and carefully, my smile tentative at best. The light was poor that day, and our father, a professional photographer, had little patience for his subjects, but my siblings were impervious to that while I sat painfully aware that I was not doing anything right.

I wonder when that changed, when I traded in painful awareness for simply allowing myself to be. Did I spring forward? Fall back? Or did I stop caring which way I was going and just go?

It was chilly today, but my brother's call left me feeling warmed and cheered, despite some of the sad things we talked about. Perhaps it's because different as we are, similar as we are, wherever we are, we see the world in the same light.

Go listen to some good music: "Available Light" from the album Presto by Rush.

06 November 2007

Take me out

I have a headache.

I've had a headache for six days.

It's making writing somewhat impossible, but I want to point out I haven't missed a post yet.

At moments like this, the mad plan that a team of doctors proposed to take my head apart and put it back together again in a somewhat different configuration seems slightly less mad. At least, it doesn't sound any more mad than putting my head down on the nearest train track, which actually sounds like relief. The doctors couldn't tell me if the surgery would relieve the headaches, although that was the putative reason for doing it.

I don't regret saying no to two years of surgery.

I probably would regret putting my head on the train track.

And now I must make meatloaf. I promised the spouse I would.

Go listen to some good music: "Take Me Out" from the album Franz Ferdinand by Franz Ferdinand.

05 November 2007

Dead Man's Party

The daughter and I are sprawled on the sofa watching Oingo Boingo's farewell performance DVD. We are singing--loudly--to "Dead Man's Party." Enormous puppet skeletons are dancing on the stage with Danny Elfman and company. I am drumming on the top of the daughter's head.

"It's only meeeeeeeee..."

All is right in the world.

Go listen to some good music: "Dead Man's Party" from the album Dead Man's Party by Oingo Boingo.


As of Sunday night, I'm officially at 10% completion: over 5,000 words. Some of them are even good words. And we don't have to mention that I'm currently behind my goal by 1800 words...

04 November 2007


Two nights ago, around 11 pm, I was indulging my OCD by going round the house and checking all the windows and doors 4 times before I went to bed. Looking out at the dark street while testing the locks on one of the front windows, I noticed a flashlight bobbing up the street.

I watched the flashlight bob up past my house, stopping briefly on my lawn, and I started to get irritated. There are two planned communities near by and the unpleasant people who live in them tend to walk their dogs in our neighborhood and let them poop on our lawns. I believe in training both the owner and the dog, so when I catch them at it, I turn the sprinkler on them, which is both effective and hilarious. I was beginning to think that it was time for the sprinkler.

The flashlight bobbed up to the corner, turned and came back down the street, and stopped in my flower bed.

Enough, I thought, and grabbed my 2-foot long Maglite and flipped on the front light.

"Do you need something?" I hollered in the direction of the flashlight.

A sheepish laugh emerged from the hooded figure and a pug began to bark wheezily but enthusiastically at me.

"What are you doing out here at this hour?" I demanded of my friend and neighbor R.

"He won't poop in our yard anymore," she wailed. "So I have to take him out."

Of course, I had to snark at her about letting the dog poop in my flowers ("I cleaned it all up," she cried), not to mention tease her about how close she came to getting the sprinkler treatment.

"You wouldn't," she said in horror.

"I do," I assured her.

We hadn't seen each other in a few weeks, and we ended up standing on my front walk, laughing and talking for two hours.

After she and the dog wandered off home, I locked up my house again, and checked all the doors and windows for a fifth time, snickering.

"I thought you were coming to bed hours ago," complained the spouse drowsily.

"I was out talking to R.," I told him.

"At this hour? what was she doing out?"

"Letting her dog poop on the lawn," I laughed, and turned off the light.

Go listen to some good music: "Shout" from the album Songs From the Big Chair by Tears for Fears.

03 November 2007

Welcome to the occupation

The son is looking for breakfast.

Me: "There are three boxes of Luna Bars in the pantry."

The son, rummaging, emerges with a Luna Sunrise Vanilla Almond bar.

Me: "Why do you guys insist on eating my Luna Bars? There are Dulce de Leche and Chocolate Peppermint bars in there."

The son, indignant: "They're not yours!"

Me: "They are too mine! I buy them for me."

The son: "You say we have to share everything."

Me: "Look, I make the rules. I don't have to abide by them."

The son: "That's so cheap!"


The son, reading Luna Bar wrapper: "This has a lot of vitamins. Do I still need to take a vitamin?"

Me: "Sure. That only has part of your requirement."

The son, in the pantry, rummaging.

Me: "Make sure you take your vitamin, not mine."

The son: "I can't find them..."

More rummaging noises in the pantry.

The son, muffled: "Oh ok, here they are."


The son, referring to his father's Male Refrigerator Blindness*: "See, I'm not a complete man. I look behind things."

Me: "Thank God I left something behind in your DNA."

*defined as the blindness that strikes men when they open the refrigerator door and immediately bellow, "I can't find it!" even though they haven't actually looked for what they want.

Go listen to some good music: "Welcome to the Occupation" from the album Document by REM.

02 November 2007

Bombs away

This is how it started:

I was writing a novel...

No, this is how it started:

I was an International Relations major and I was destined to save the world by becoming the first female Secretary General of the United Nations and in my off time, I would be dancing with Bella Lewitzky or ABT...

No, that was my parents' version. Except for the dancing part. That was my version.

I really did plan to double major in International Relations and Dance, which is no stranger than the guy I knew who double majored in Premed and English. My high school classmates called me "the dancing diplomat." Of course, the really tactless ones called me "most likely to be taken hostage."

But that's another story.

So, this is how it went:

I was writing a novel in partial fulfillment of my A.B. degree. I'd long since bagged International Relations for an interdisciplinary major comprising all sorts of things: literature, weird languages, women's studies, political science, you know...stuff.

So. Novel. What possesses a woman (who could have done something easy, like, you know, take a test) to write a novel when she's already working 40 hours a week, and taking 6 credits over the full class load limit?

Hello. That would be me.

The operative words were caffeine and loud music. The operative words were caffeine and The Police. It seemed I listened to "Bombs Away" far more than would be considered socially acceptable.

So my roommates started calling me "guerrilla girl." Because of the caffeine and the music and the propensity for dropping, screaming, out of the trees.

Then there were the cupcakes. I've never lobbed a grenade, but I have been known to toss a flaming cupcake or two off a balcony.

While yelling, "Halley's Comet!"


Confidential to the fabulous CL: Thanks for telling me about NaBloPoMo! "Let's all post until the Internet explodes!"

Go listen to some good music: "Bombs Away" from the album Zenyatta Mondatta by The Police.

01 November 2007

Marche Slave, Op. 31

I simply want to point out that in the first 16 minutes of November, I wrote 270 words of fiction.

Some people will understand why this is important; for those who don't, fear not, it may become clear later in the month.

All I can say is that it's better than last year when I wrote 64 words of fiction the entire month.

Naked Mole Rats Dreaming

The animal lay half on its side at the juncture of the four tunnels. Its legs kicked periodically, and its body jerked, consumed by REM sleep. Another naked mole rat appeared from the southern tunnel, and without even pausing, ran over the sleeping rat. The latter didn’t wake.

Nope, I have absolutely no idea where that was going. But it doesn't matter because I ended up writing about 100,000 non-fiction words on such mundane things as DDT, mercury and engineering failures. Or whatever I was working on last November. Ochratoxin, bird flu, prion diseases.

And I'm supposed to put a landslide database together right about now.

Laughs hysterically.


Go listen to some good music: "Marche Slave, Op. 31" by Tchaikovsky.