26 June 2007

Sausalito summernight

I'll have a burger and a root beer
You feed the heap some of the grape
A shot of premium to boot, dear
We'll get across the Golden Gate


They are middle-aged guys, overweight guys, younger guys, dads of teenagers and dads of toddlers. The tie that binds them, beyond being guys, is enjoyment of softball, and a willingness to drink Coors Light.

They gather on Sunday nights, and play a game or two in a men's league. Some of the opposing teams they like, and some they really don't, but it's Sunday night, the most depressing night of the week when you work M-F, and there is softball and beer.

Well, there's softball. There isn't supposed to be beer, but the Soaring Rodents sneak it in their bat bags, giggling over their "rodent juice." About once a season, they get caught by the umpire, and they have to pour their beer out, and they all look guilty and sulky and about 5 years old.

Being middle-aged and young, overweight and not, married or divorced, stressed with work and family life, they are not predictable in terms of their sports prowess. Sometimes they don't win more than a game or two in a season. Sometimes, like now, they win 14 in a row.

They rarely have fans because Sundays are tough if you have kids who have to go to school on Monday. Usually they just show up and play, and that's good enough, especially if there is also beer. I send the spouse off with a kiss and a simple injunction: "Win."

He likes that.

Last Sunday, however, was the playoffs, and there was no school on Monday, so the kids and I showed up to cheer. "Look! Fans!" said J., the pitcher. His own brood showed up later, and actually by the second game of the doubleheader, the Soaring Rodents had a respectable fan base, who clapped and cheered and squeaked the squeaky rodent toy and yelled, "Rodents!" at the right moment.

The first opposing team showed up in little uniforms. Uniforms are not Rodent style. Sloppy old gym shorts, torn knee braces, t-shirts, dirty caps, your basic motley, now that's Rodent style. The opposing team smirked a little. You could see the wheels turning above those clean little uniforms: sloppy old fat guys.

Until the Rodents got up to bat, and hit 11 runs. That game ended in a mercy win for the boys in motley.

The next team showed up, and they had uniforms, too, after a fashion. And tattoos and a few shaved heads. But the older guys were pretty laid back, the younger ones a little feistier, a little more temperamental. And they were good. But the Rodents still prevailed.

It was a beautiful evening for softball, and I watched the spouse hit a home run. I watched the moon rise. I watched the birds, and my kids throwing a Frisbee and kids flying kites.

The Rodents took the championship, third season running. Feed the heaps some of the hops and all is good.

Go listen to some good music: "Sausalito Summernight" from the album Watts in a Tank by Diesel.

25 June 2007

Live and let die

Profanity was unacceptable in the house in which I grew up (unless, of course, the adults were using it, but to be honest, what they said didn't veer far from "hell" and "damn"). Substitutes like "heck" were ok, but discouraged.

Rock music was unacceptable in the house in which I grew up (sex! drugs! profanity! alternative lifestyles!) until my brother got a crystal AM radio kit for Christmas, and then the genie was out of the bottle. We discovered there was more to music than show tunes, Arthur Fiedler, the Kingston Trio, the Carpenters, the Jackson Five and the hymns we sang at church. To be fair, I still like show tunes, the Kingston Trio (who were far more subversive than I think the parents realized), the Carpenters (who taught me things that would make my mother cringe if she knew), and classical music (talk about a hotbed of alternative lifestyle!). I never did care much for the Jackson Five.

So my brother and I discovered AM radio and Top 20 pop, which was all the AM radio played where we grew up, there apparently not being enough room amongst the commercials for drag racing for the bottom 20 that would have comprised the Top 40. We survived because eventually we would have access to FM radio and AOR, but that was later. And a lot more subversive.

But in the summer of 1973, Paul McCartney and Wings' "Live and Let Die," the theme to the James Bond film of the same name, hit the Top 20. And I bought the single with the meager proceeds of my allowance.

And discovered I could sing profanity.

"...you got to give the other fella HELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL."

But Mom, it's in the song.

It's in the song. Weeeee-hooooooo!

I have no idea why she let us get away with that.

It was a mistake because Wings next single was "Helen Wheels." Which was, of course, "hell on wheels."

But Mom, I'm saying "Helen." See, it's the title of the song.

Children. Honestly. Mine try the same stuff. Sorry, darlings, been there, done that.


Go listen to some good music: "Live and Let Die" from the album All the Best by Paul McCartney.

23 June 2007

Galileo

Breakfast conversation:

The son: "Hey, '20 things you didn't know about Galileo.' Listen to this! 'A hundred years after he died when his body was being moved for reburial, a fan snipped off the middle finger of his right hand as a memento. Galileo's finger is now on display, erect, at the Museum of the History of Science in Florence. The finger points toward Rome.'"

The daughter: "He didn't like Rome?"

The spouse: "I wonder if Tycho Brahe's nose is in the same museum."


"20 things you didn't know about Galileo," Discover, p. 80.

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

22 June 2007

Yesterday once more

The long hot summers of my childhood coupled with my drive to always be doing something coupled with my interest in how things are done coupled with my interest in learning something new...

Did you get all that?

Cut to the chase, that's how I got interested in handicrafts. As well as cooking and telling novel-length epics starring Barbie. And running around the backyard and building dams in tree wells when I was doing my chores and digging to China to the near ruination of the enormous tree we had. And writing and illustrating my own books. I can't claim my interest in kickball generated from the same set of circumstances. That was more pure pleasure in my own brute strength, and wanting to kick the ball over all the guys' heads. And biking into the mountains...that had more to do with running away from boredom.

Anyway.

The summer of 9 or 10, I decided I wanted to learn to knit. And to embroider. And to crochet. And to sew. Preferably all at once.

I am a voracious reader, and have been since about the age of 3, when words suddenly made sense. Growing up in a place where the populace is relatively one-dimensional tends to have certain advantages if there is a good public library, and we were fortunate enough to have one a mile or so away. When I was old enough to have my own library card, I proceeded to check out about half the children's section in one go. The person at the circulation desk admonished that I was only allowed to check out what I could read in 3 weeks, and overhearing this, my mother responded grimly, "Oh, she'll read them."

I was endlessly fascinated by the other worlds that the library offered up to me: travel back into history where little girls embroidered samplers, or helped knit clothing for their families, or collected eggs, or beat up a cake by hand. And there were girls more my contemporaries who were fortunate enough to have attics and basements where old trunks yielded ghosts and web-laden treasures. (But no mouse poop. You notice that? There were never any Hanta-virus infected rats in the basement or rabid bats in the attic. I've never been bothered by the animals themselves, but thoroughly disgusted by the diseases they might carry).

Anyway.

The girls in books knew how to knit, so I wanted to knit. I wanted to know what it was like. I wanted to know how it felt to bake a cake from scratch, and I'll never forget the look on my mother's face when she found me beating cake batter with a wooden spoon with the electric hand mixer sitting idly by. I admit I had to stop short of the wood-burning oven, but having to deal with the pilot light on our cranky 30-year-old gas oven was probably more dangerous anyway.

Recently, the daughter decided she wanted to learn more about knitting and sewing and crocheting. This came about in part because her best friend A. knows how to do some of these things, and in part because the Joes are lacking many of the amenities that makes life livable for a Joe. Mainly, pillows and blankets.

One evening, I found the daughter, who was mightily displeased, fiddling with trying to sew a pillow. A year or so earlier, we'd made a sleeping bag for Ken-as-Legolas-who-is-not-Orlando-Bloom, and she was trading on that knowledge to try to put the pillow together. I sat with her for a bit and helped her to get back on track, and she finished the pillow on her own, quite pleased.

But she mentioned, a little shyly, that she'd like to learn to knit because Jake and Jake and Jake and Tim and Kendrick (Kendrick? When was one of them baptized Kendrick? We realized belatedly that he must have been named for Howie Kendrick, one of our current favorite Angels) lacked blankets. The Barbie Dream House could be a little drafty for a blanketless Joe. So I dragged out a set of knitting needles that looked like it would fit her hands and showed her how to knit.

She hasn't gotten too far on the blanket yet, and now that it is summer, the Joes can sleep somewhat more comfortably in the open air. But I can't help but be amused that a girl who has never been interested in dolls per se, wants to knit things to comfort her Joes.

Go listen to some good music: "Yesterday Once More" from the album Now and Then by The Carpenters.

21 June 2007

Twilight

...a new day will begin...

Tonight after dinner, and a second round of kill-the-flea (how a strictly indoor cat can acquire fleas is beyond me), I slipped out the door with my water bottle. The sky had deepened to that gorgeous velvet blue--twilight.

Twilight is probably my favorite time of day. Sunsets are beautiful, frequently spectacular, as is the dawn (which, all too often, I've seen from the backend of sunset), but there is something about those brief moments between the disappearance of the sun and the onset of night that is heartbreakingly beautiful. It is the death of the day, and the promise of tomorrow.

Tonight, the waxing moon is a mere sliver in the sky, the smile of the Cheshire Cat. Venus sat below, glittering.

Happy first day of summer.

Go listen to some good music: "Twilight" from the album Tripped Into Divine by Dexter Freebish.

19 June 2007

Michael row the boat ashore

My father lost his job with the city when I was 10. It was a prestigious job, a well-paying job, and being a child, even a bright one, I was never quite sure what happened that caused him to lose it. All I know is that was when hope died and our lives were changed forever.

Ten is an interesting age. Still a child, but on the brink of so much change. Concerned with being a child, but trying so hard to understand the adult world. At 10, I was energetic and curious and reasonably responsible, striving for positive recognition from the adults in my world, but still so young. When I look at the daughter, I realize just how young I was.

As that summer I was 10 passed into fall, my mother decided it would be wise if my brother and I were gainfully employed. Of course, I'd been a working kid since the age of nine. Mrs. H. from across the street would pay me a quarter to clean her silver and iron her handkerchiefs. I also acted as companion to another elderly neighbor while her senior citizen daughter and son-in-law attended Mass on Sunday. For this service, I received the handsome sum of $.25 per hour and a small hot fudge sundae from Dairy Queen. I'm sure that no one ever guessed that when I wasn't shuttling blind Mrs. K to and from the bathroom, I was staring goggle-eyed at her daughter's stash of true crime magazines. As I said, energetic, curious and reasonably responsible.

The job that my mother proposed was more of a real one: a paper route. I was old enough for one, but my brother was not, so the route was put in my name, and we split the work. He had the two streets near our home, while I had the two further ones, a total of eight blocks worth of houses to fling newspapers at six afternoons per week and Sunday mornings.

Let's make one thing abundantly clear: at this point in time, newspaper routes were slave labor, which I guess made it ok for kids. The newspaper company charged you for your papers, your rubber bands and other supplies, and fined you if anything went wrong: someone complained, the paper was late or wet, you name it. You were responsible for collecting money for the subscription, and if you had a deadbeat, too bad. If you stopped delivering the paper and they complained, you ate the fine.

It was a racket. The only way you could make money was in tips if you were lucky enough to get any. Some people were kind, but others wouldn't tip no matter how good the service.

It was backbreaking. Those papers weighed a ton, especially on Wednesdays when all the grocery store sale supplements were included, so you got a cardio workout on your bike, as well as weight training. On Sundays, the papers were so huge that my father would also get up and drive us through the neighborhoods in the predawn light as we tossed the enormous piles of paper into people's driveways. They had to be there by 6 am.

It was filthy. I had newsprint so deeply ingrained in the palms of my hands that constant applications of Lava soap wouldn't remove it.

But there was a certain freedom to it, too. A grumpy camaraderie grew out of folding papers with my brother and later, other carriers who used our house as a pickup spot, and no matter how heavy the papers, I was alone with my vast and endless imagination while I wobbled down the street tossing papers here and there.

Sunday mornings were aggravating and exhausting, but there was always the promise of the sunrise, followed by 7 am Mass and a trip to Dunkin Donuts.

And there were the people. Oh, there were rotten people, those crabby ones who wouldn't give you the time of day and who flung the subscription money at you as though they were doing you a favor. There were the hippy freaks in their strung out, drug-induced stupor who were nice, but always stiffed you with a sad explanation while holding a screaming filthy baby. There were lonely old people who just wanted to talk. There were the kind ones who offered you water--from a glass, not the hose--on a killing summer's day.

As with any society, new carriers were viewed with a certain suspicion by the more seasoned ones. And in my brother's and my case, we attended the parochial school rather than the local public, so we were even a little more suspect. The route adjacent to ours was run by a boy my age called M. and his older sister K., who were fairly new to our area. I knew little about them and their two high school-aged sisters, other than they attended the same church as us, and their parents were recently divorced. M. was a cheerful and uncomplicated blonde boy with a sunny disposition. K. was more standoffish and I can still see her petite but sharp-featured face, topped by the same blonde as her brother's.

M. was good about dropping hints our way about dealing with our route. Since he and I had to go the same direction to get to our routes, we'd sometimes ride together for a block or two before. We didn't talk much, but it was companionable and friendly.

The last time I saw M. was on an autumn Sunday morning, a couple of months after my brother and I started our paper route. He was riding his bike toward his route, while my father trundled slowly along, my brother and I standing on the open tailgate of our station wagon. The sun was rising, almost breaking over the top the eastern mountains. M. waved to us, his usual cheery salute. I couldn't see his face, only his body silhouetted by the morning light. He died that same afternoon, instantly, dragged along with his bike under the wheels of a car.

How does a child comes to terms with the idea of forever? I understood that death meant that M. was gone, but not that it was forever.

In a twist of fate that in retrospect was so cruel, my school class was asked to sing at M.'s funeral Mass. We were asked because he was a child and we were children of the same age, because he was a member of our church, and our school was a part of the church. Because the family asked us to. I don't know that even while I was singing I made the connection between the casket in the center aisle and the boy on the bike.

When Mass ended, I was walking back across the parking lot to my math class, and my classmates were chattering about how sad the death of the unknown boy was. "I knew him," I told them. "I knew him."

And in that moment, grief took hold for the first time in my life and forever looked me in the face.

18 June 2007

Make this go on forever

the first time that I felt connected
to anything


Twist off the bottle top and inhale. For most people, a hair product that smells vaguely of coconut and vaguely of something else nice. To me, a newly autumn afternoon in New England, the faintest tinge of chill in the air that is rustling with gold, orange and red. The sun slants in a way that is different from the way it shines in my latitude and in the slightly hazy distance, over a river and a rolling hill, a small white church nestles alone in a dell, a scene from a postcard. If I hold the memory just a little longer, there is my own face reflected in the hotel mirror, and I am, most improbably, giggling. The back of my hand is pressed against my lips to stifle the laughter (who would hear me? The spouse 3,000 miles away who is alarmed by and slightly disapproving of this adventure? The people in the next room, who based on the music they are playing, are here for the same reason I am?). I meet my own eyes in the mirror and mirth wells up again. My brown, bobbed head smells vaguely of coconut and vaguely of something else nice. Inhale again, and the excitement and the music and the joy are there with me.

Another bottle, with a smell now far too sweet but perfect for a preteen, recalls Christmastime and Sherlock Holmes and rock candy and the sticky delight of lip gloss. Life was sweetly honest and happily uncomplicated for that short time, as it should be.

September in California smells of smoke and smog and ozone. The air is hot with anticipation, the hills a crusty brown. It's the start of school with all its itchy misery and sense of the unknown, cheap alcohol and frightened freshman full of bravado.

Clove cigarettes are so 1983.

The cool smell of dusty old concrete, coupled with an acrid whiff of bat, and a breeze from an undetermined source were the dark tunnels of the summer of 1984, the ones we weren't supposed to be in. But with my amazingly large set of administrative keys to EVERYTHING, how could P. and I resist the temptation to explore one Friday evening? Beautiful P. of the silver-gilt hair who "divorced" me shortly afterward when I slipped a security strip in his briefcase, causing him to set off every alarm in the building when he tried to leave. I suppose I deserved it.

Oh woe! The smell of New Orleans in June, red beans and rice and the unfortunate afterburn of horse and someone's overindulgence in Hurricanes the night before. It is the smell of an alternate Disneyland, an evil dark ride.

Paper has its own smell, and safely tucked in the window seat in the corner of the Children's Room, I literally stuck my nose in a book. Nearly every single book in that little library. Stories swirled through my head: Camazotz, and detectives in togas and Alfred Hitchcock and the Emerald City of Oz. And each had its own smell, its own texture, its own life.

Arizona monsoon season is filled with unbearable humidity. The wind sings, calling up dust and ghosts, and an angry yellow sky. There is hope in the smell of far-off rain, the sweetness of sage and the ozone of lightening, so different from the pollution-based ozone of California. It is the promise of relief from the torrid heat. Tornados touch down, glass breaks, hail tears into the trees, the mud, anything in its path. Incomprehensible yearning accompanied those storms, a desire for rebirth and baptism, a need for change and movement.

It was years before I realized that I knew the smell of water.

Growing up in the desert, one accepts the small graces and the gifts that are offered. There is simplicity and peace in that existence, but it wasn't an existence I could embrace because it was always complicated by desire that even now I fail to comprehend. Memory beckons, and the need for another adventure, another moment in time. The genie refuses to stay in the bottle for long.

Go listen to some good music: "Make This Go On Forever" from the album Eyes Open by Snow Patrol.

15 June 2007

School's out

The kinder are officially out of school for the summer although their brains checked out two weeks ago.

As one mom said to me as I was leaving the school this morning, "Now it's the moms' turn to start marking the calendar with red X's."

And she isn't kidding! I did something I haven't done in years and didn't sign them up for any camp at all, which after a few hours with them, I am regretting mightily. (We don't do summer school. They work so hard during the school year that I don't see the point of more school. I voluntarily went to summer school in high school to get out of some fairly dreary classes, and I've done just fine, thank you so very much.)

I know they'll settle down a bit by Monday, but the daughter is already badgering me to take her places. I don't wanna take her places! The son already has his face stuck to the TV, Xbox controller in hand. Dude, you will be seeing limits!

Rules start Monday. Cooking class starts Monday. *sigh*

As to seriously more important things, I am still reeling from the mid-week flight to the southeastern US for a concert. I finished with the 8th grade luncheon over at school (how I end up running this stuff...), packed, and was on a plane at the crack of dawn the next morning, and was back the following morning for the final day of school. I am really reeling from the concert, which passed in such a blur that I'm only still assimilating what happened. But was it fabulous! D. and I were in fine form, and we had a blast.

Whatever else you do this summer, go to a rock concert and reconnect with the joy of loud music on a sultry summer night!

Go listen to some good music: "School's Out" from the album The Best of Alice Cooper: Mascara & Monsters by Alice Cooper.

08 June 2007

Honey

As an antidote to last night's "We'll always have Leningrad and madeleines, darling" post (yes, we do travel quite a bit, but I don't have the opportunity to enjoy fine dining in Oslo all that often), I was going to do a 10 Best Dives Wherein to Have a Divey Experience, but then I realized that a lot of the places that came to mind weren't dives so much as just not fine dining. So instead, I present 10 Places with Ambience for a Good Meal, or Just a Fun Meal at Least Once Upon A Time, and One Dive. Keep in mind that some of the places no longer exist, or may no longer exist, or have changed hands. Still, not Leningrad.

The Dive:

The Red Lion Tavern in Silverlake. They serve mostly decent German food, although the potato pancakes come from something that might have been a potato in another solar system, and Spaten. But the decor. Holy mackerel!

A dive that no longer exists in its Platonic form: The Bucket. When I went to the Bucket, it was owned and run by an unbelievably foul-mouthed Basque. When he ladled an enormous helping of the Sauce That Defies Description over your French fries, you didn't balk (and once you tasted it, you wouldn't have wanted to because it was egregiously good and probably carried half of Gilroy's garlic harvest in it). But the insults! the invective! the profanity!

Not quite a dive, but in no way fine dining: The Original Tommy's in Eagle Rock. Cheeseburger. With chili. Trust me. (and yeah, I know it's cooler to go to the original Original Tommy's on Rampart, but really, the food's better here.)

That taquito stand in Olvera Street. Yeah, it probably has a name, but I only know it by sight. Not exactly the Platonic form of taquito, but hot and crunchy and darn tasty with salsa and that green stuff. When you're done, you turn around and buy sweets from the stand opposite. Especially the tamarind-chili goop.

When I was in college, it's entirely possible that on one or two occasions, I actually ate 3 meals a day at Arturo's Mexican Restaurant. The price was right, and the bean and cheese burrito with guacamole was heaven in a tortilla. The family knew us so well that they started preparing our order when we pulled up in the parking lot. But what was really scary was about 15 years later when I was enormously pregnant with the daughter, and had to have a burrito or die, I walked in the door, and Mrs. Arturo said, "I remember you!"

The Pig Joint. I don't know what The Pig Joint was actually called, but we called it The Pig Joint because there were pigs, everywhere. Stuffed pigs, iron pigs, pig quilts. Pigs flew. It was on Moorpark in Studio City, and closed a long time ago, but it had good barbecue, Dixie beer and *the*best*dill*pickles. On the rare occasions I have to be in the Valley, I mourn the loss of The Pig Joint.

Eegees, Tucson. Eegees started out as two guys in a van with frozen lemonade at UA football games. There's now one on every street corner in Tucson, but I still remember the good days when it was just the dreadful room with the swamp cooler on Speedway. My mouth waters just thinking about a hot grinder. And my favorite eegee, Pina Colada, wasn't an original flavor--only strawberry and lemon held that distinction, but everyone liked it so much when it was a monthly flavor that the owners finally acceded to popular demand and made it a regular flavor. Get a large one and watch your tongue turn a truly hideous shade of orange.

Well, the John Bull Pub in Pasadena had lots of ambiance, all in a weird sort of mock Tudor way, and great sausage rolls. Seriously great sausage rolls. Another one that bit the dust.

Molina's Midway in Tucson. Not great Mexican food, but sopaipillas. And they turned a blind eye to kids like me who filled them to bursting with honey. Now for great *New* Mexican food, nothing beats The Shed in Santa Fe. And the Frontier in Albuquerque has cinnamon rolls as big as your head.

I must specially mention El Minuto Cafe in downtown Tucson. Certainly a case of you can't go home again, but we visited this restaurant with some frequency when I was a child. They called their quesadillas "cheese crisps" (or maybe it was just us) and served them roaring hot on a cast iron stand. But my favorite was the bean chimichanga. I know, deep down, that puppy was fried in lard, but oh... And the jukebox. "And Honey, I miss you...and I'm feeling blue..." Yup.

Go listen to some music: "Honey" from the album The Best of Bobby Goldsboro by Bobby Goldsboro.

Love that song or hate it, go read this, mostly because it was funny.

07 June 2007

Strawberry letter #23

Memorable meals with people I love are just stupendous. Food and drink really should be cause for celebration, and should take time (no, to molecular gastronomy, but a resounding yes! yes! yes! to slow food...and I'm not talking just preparation).

Tonight, I was reading in Saveur magazine, a writer's story of the profound impact that meals with an older French friend had had on his life and approach to food. I have been cooking since a pretty young age. I think I first "made" something when I was 4 or 5. My mother had been cooking navy bean soup, and I remember playing with celery strings and leaves and stray beans and bits of carrot. I put them all in a tiny medicine cup with a little water and let it "cook" on the counter for several hours. I insisted that my mother eat my delicious soup, but she demurred. In retrospect, I don't blame her at all. But that day spent in the kitchen with her certainly had an impact on my desire to cook.

Oddly enough, today I also came across a contemporary recipe for the first dessert I ever made: Lemon Pudding. It's not what it sounds like. It's actually a lemon cake that creates a lemon "pudding" in the bottom of the baking dish. My first dessert and my first technical error. I didn't know how to fold in egg whites, but there was a "fold" setting on the electric hand mixer. Whoops. Not quite the same thing.

I plan to teach the son and daughter true cooking over the summer, and have promised them that they will each plan a meal and cook it from soup to nuts. They are very receptive to this idea, and I remember how excited my brother and I were when we did this with my mother. We planned the meal, and we were allowed to choose table decorations, too. We both had so much fun. He and I both grew up to be quite good cooks and neither of us fears entertaining.

Historical cuisine fascinates me as well, and when I was in college, studying literature, I took the passages where the characters were eating very seriously. I've already mentioned that I couldn't get on board with Proust and his madeleines (*and* a recipe for madeleines today, too!), but there are fabulous feasts and descriptions of food to be found everywhere from The Girl with the Pearl Earring to War and Peace.

I also studied several languages, and came to the conclusion that food, language, literature and parties are essential to understanding culture. Besides, the more vodka you drink, the better that Russian rolls off your tongue. Garlic and salt are a must, and wow, that's another story altogether. So is blowing up an egg while making huevos rancheros...bet you didn't know eggs explode when they hit too-hot oil. Neither did I.

But back to memorable meals. One evening my dearest high school compadre L. and I were at her house. It was a Sunday evening, and L.'s mother invited me to stay over for dinner. "Just beef stew," she told me, but what a stew. She put fresh dill weed in the stew (L. refused the dill with a sort of horror), and it was one of the most savory meals I've ever had. We ate and debated the relative merits of dill weed and dill seed, and I still tease L. about dill weed (she claims that she actually likes it now).

At a bar in Leningrad, my friend S. and I drank a bottle of the most stellar Georgian sparkling wine ever. It was bright and fresh, and perfectly chilled, and delightful with caviar (yes, I eat that, too). I have no idea what we were drinking but I know that it would never taste the same were I to find it again. The bar itself was memorable with its chilly neon blues and stainless steel, but it was warmed by a wedding party that insisted we join them for the Chicken Dance.

The most delectable smell of mushrooms cooking in butter wafted through an early morning farmer's market in a newly-reunited Berlin. The husband was too busy buying his grams of salami to be bothered with getting me brot mit champignon, but my god, the aroma was heaven in the cool autumn air. He did make up for it later that evening, when we shared mixed plates of grilled foods at a boisterous Yugoslavian restaurant in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

My first really real coffee was at the Espresso Bar in Pasadena, and I was a regular for years, drinking lattes and mochas (and eating madeleines). We would gather during the day, in the evening, in the clove-scented cigarette smoke, writing mid-term papers, or in the words of my roommate S., "whipping off a pair of glasses to make an important point." Posing and laughing about it is ok when you're 20. Especially if you have the sense to laugh about it.

Last summer, the spouse's parents, the son and daughter and the spouse and I went to Europe together. It was the children's first overseas visit, and they were wide-eyed and excited about everything. Our first meal in Amsterdam was dinner at an Indonesian restaurant near the Floating Flower Market where we accomplished ordering using a combination of English, German and pointing. Truly one of the best meals ever, though the food was great most of the trip. What can compare to a smoked herring and local beer on a tiny island you've just biked across? Is there anything more bittersweet than sharing an after dinner drink with an elderly parent, knowing that you have to make the most of the time you have left, and that you're spending it laughing and cheering the barman who has just set your glass on fire?

Bittersweet is the memory of four women and a silly Bad Dog eating cheese and strawberries on the back patio and the dog is so happy that the four women are surreptitiously feeding her cheese and making much of her, and the women are so happy because they are eating cheese and strawberries and drinking wine and making much of a dog, together.

Go listen to some good music: "Strawberry Letter #23" from the album Greatest Hits by The Brothers Johnson.

06 June 2007

Sunshine on my shoulders

...gives me cancer...

Okay, we all know those aren't the words to the song, but with all due respect to John Denver, this is a PSA.

I am a fair-skinned girl, and got what my parents always called "the redhead's skin" in the family. I am not a redhead, though my brown has always carried a significant tinge of it. I am also light-eyed. I don't tan. I burn. I always have. My younger siblings, all of whom are light-eyed, and two of whom are blonde, always tanned. I pretty much accepted my fate and didn't lie out in the sun, although I've always lived an active lifestyle, so a certain amount of sun exposure (and commensurate burning) was the norm. Pretty much the worst sunburn I ever got was when I was 14, and my cousin and I fell asleep on the beach at Ocean City. You didn't have to tell me twice that it was a bad idea, and when sunscreen became widely available, I embraced the use of it, enthusiastically.

About 20 years ago, I got a call from my mother, and she told me that the ophthalmologist I'd seen as a child had recently died. I was a bit puzzled as he'd been newly in practice when I was 12, so I figured he had to be a fairly young man. Indeed, he was only 48, and he'd died of melanoma. He was an avid bicyclist, and the Arizona sun had taken its toll.

Shortly thereafter, thinking back on that Ocean City sunburn, I made an appointment with the dermatologist to have some of the really large moles scattered over my body removed. The biopsies all came back normal, which was a relief.

Within a few years, both the spouse's thesis advisor and another Ph.D. candidate had cancers removed from their faces. I started buying the spouse protective sun gear and high test sunscreen for his field work. He is blonde and light-eyed, though with a somewhat more olive skin than mine.

When I am outdoors, gardening, exercising, what have you, I wear sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses (did I mention that one of my dearest friends from high school had cataract surgery at 36? It was linked to sun exposure.) Even with protective gear, I've noticed a subtle darkening of my skin. Nonetheless, I wasn't prepared for the doctor's words last December.

"I don't like the look of that mole on your stomach. Let's make an appointment to remove it."

"My stomach hasn't seen the light of day in about 30 years," I blustered. "And besides, that mole has been there forever."

My doctor is relatively imperturbable. "Make an appointment," she said.

A week later, she was happily sawing out a chunk of my stomach, and nattering cheerfully on about how fortunate I was that she did cross stitch, because I should have a really nice scar.

I spent the next week or so grumbling about the hideous stitches in my belly, feeling heavily put upon. When I went to have the stitches out, she told me the cytology had shown precancerous changes in the mole. While I didn't have cancer yet, that mole had been quietly making the move. She assured me the margins were clear so no further surgery was indicated. For *that* mole. There's another one my back she's anxious to remove.

Nice scars are a relative thing. This nice scar is about an inch long and an unpleasant red. It's straight and even, and frankly, ugly. It itches, even months later. I am grateful, however, it isn't anywhere visible like my face. But relatively nice, especially if you've ever seen some of the surgery done on people with melanoma.

We don't know what my mole would have become had it been allowed to grow up and fulfill it's cancerous destiny. Squamous cell carcinoma, maybe, or perhaps the big M. Part of me doesn't want to know, but part of me does. What else is lurking in my body, ready to spring out without warning? Will I spend the next 40 years having bits of me cut off to stem the tide? And I've been careful compared with most people I know.

A couple of weeks ago, I was chatting with a lovely young woman, a physically lovely young woman, who mentioned her bad habit of visiting tanning beds. I started in on the lecture, but her glazed look told me she'd heard it all before. So I showed her the scar on my stomach, and said, "Imagine that on your face."

So yeah, here I've resorted to scare tactics. If that isn't enough, though, allow me to appeal to your vanity. I am the oldest of four siblings. The two younger girls, 5 years and 9 years younger than I am, are sunbathing veterans. The accumulated sun damage is writ large on their skin.

Put us in a room together and just look at us. You'd think I was the youngest by a long shot.


For the record: Dooce's recent announcement that she is having another skin cancer removed was the impetus for this entry. I'm always up for scaring sunscreen onto people's bodies.

Go listen to some good music: "Sunshine On My Shoulders" from the album John Denver's Greatest Hits by John Denver.


05 June 2007

The present tense

...when you lose the past
the future makes no sense...


Next week, my concert budette and I will meet up in the southeastern U.S. to go to a rock concert. I've been traveling to various places to see concerts for some years, and as I've aged (read: have more disposable income), this has become an increasingly delightful practice. I've discovered it's a great way to meet up with far-flung friends at venues one might not otherwise have an opportunity to visit. It's also a fun way to see a favorite band outside one's comfort zone, and in this way, I've been to some great shows at places like Radio City Music Hall and Red Rocks.

Few bands visited the place where I grew up with the regularity that they visit places like Los Angeles. Still, as a teen, I managed to see some pretty big names, though not everyone I'd have liked to. I made up for lost time when I moved to California for college, and half the fun was camping out somewhere like the Greek Theater to be first in line for tickets. The tickets never quite worked out to be as great as one hoped, but some of those shows were never-to-be-forgotten experiences.

Around the time I started having children, it seemed that my rock concert-going days had reached an end. Not only was there the enormous pain of trying to find a babysitter, I'd somehow become a reputable citizen sans the big hair I sported when I saw REM at Radio City. It didn't feel right telling my manager that I would be in late the next day (without mentioning that I'd be up all the night before at a show), or ditching work in order to head over to a record store where some band was signing.

Then there was the matter of my subscription seats to the symphony. To be fair, I've been listening to classical music since I was *that high*, but suddenly, bouncing from a Rush concert to an evening of Beethoven just felt weird.

I had become boring. And worse, my life had become defined by marriage and children alone. I'd lost track of what made me the person the spouse wanted to marry, and hadn't learned that being a good mommy and being me weren't mutually exclusive.

For my birthday a few years back, the spouse presented me with concert tickets. Rock concert tickets. HARD rock concert tickets. Halfway through that show, I rediscovered the big-haired girl who loved deafening music and who could dance three hours non-stop without ever feeling the pain. Sure, she was under a few layers of spit up and cat hair and paint marks from the kindergarten class' latest art project, but she was still there.

Within a month, she'd booked a trip to New England to see a rock concert.

And she's never looked back.

Go listen to some good music: "The Present Tense" from the album My Favorite Headache by Geddy Lee.

04 June 2007

Take me out to the ball game

I love baseball.

One of my earliest memories is sitting on my father's knee, watching the Game of the Week.

The spouse decided I would become an Angels fan (in this household, we'll stand for "Anaheim Angels," prefer "California Angels," and scoff, snarling, at the LA Angeles. Mr. Moreno has a lot to answer to with regards to this organization).

Anyway. I had to be an Angels fan because he'd been an Angels fan since high school.

Angels fan. Twenty-ish years. To be an Angels fan generally requires a certain masochistic tendency.

But! This particular bunch is the best as a group for a really long time. And it's a nice team. There are people you can get behind: Vlad, Figgy, Cabrera, Gary Mathews, Howie Kendrick, Garrett Anderson, Mike Napoli (we call him "Bluto," but it's an affectionate nickname, in much the way that "Pinhead" is not an affectionate nickname for A.J. Pierzynski), even that earnest little dude, Reggie Willets.

Right now, they're beating Minnesota 16-1. I feel a bit sorry for the rookie pitcher whose ERA just hit 216 (ok, I'm snickering a bit, too, but he's a young guy, and that can really put the whammy on a player). I don't think I've ever heard of an ERA so high.

I do enjoy watching these guys, even if I refuse to actually go to the stadium. But I still miss Benjie Molina. *sigh*

Still, I'd love to see them win the series again.

Update: in true Angels' style, they are now attempting to lose a game for which they had a 15-run lead a few minutes ago. Go Angels!

Go sing a good song: "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" lyrics by Jack Norworth, music by Albert Von Tilzer.

03 June 2007

Clearest indication

"Mom! I think you better go take Dad's temperature. He just gave me his Roadkill Grille t-shirt."

I hold up the tube of Blistex I've just retrieved from the dryer. "Don't worry, he's fine."

Go listen to some good music: "Clearest Indication" from the album Sea of No Cares by Great Big Sea.

02 June 2007

You know my name

arm yourself
because no one else here
will save you


(The spouse says this should be called "The Sounds of Silence." Decide for yourself.)

I discovered at a young age that there is nothing like a show of power to make a bully back down. My best friend's younger brother J. was just such a bully. I don't remember how he was threatening me, but I remember my response.

"Don't make me hurt you."

We were both about 7. I'd never seen a boy backpedal so fast. The sense of power was overwhelming.

A year or so later, T. beat up my younger brother on the playground. T. was at least two years older than me, making him three years older than my brother. Nothing like an unfair fight to make my blood boil, and after school one day, I let T. know that he would not be bloodying my brother's nose again, or he'd have me to contend with. To say I was seething would be an understatement. When I am that angry, the words tend to flow off my tongue with the consistency of hot lava. T. did not bother my brother again.

Words can be a powerful weapon, and sometimes the threat of retribution, especially if it is only hinted at and not explicitly stated, is enough to stop violence in its tracks. And let's face it, I'm fortunate because I have the height and physique to back up the words if it really comes down to it.

Recently, I was in the position of chaperoning a group of 7th and 8th grade boys in the classroom that served as their dressing room during the school's musical. My placement in the room was a strategic move by the drama and music teachers: apparently most of these children were raised by hyenas, and so have no manners nor respect for anyone, including themselves. "I know you're a tough parent," said Ms. H., and it sounded a bit like a prayer.

The previous night, the miscreants had torn the classroom apart, writing obscenities on the whiteboard and then affixing them there with hairspray, messing up the overhead projector and the teachers' computers, yelling like the aforementioned hyenas, destroying school supplies. With paying customers sitting in the school auditorium. Their parents and family members.

When the door closed on me and 20 young teen boys as the show started, I clapped my hands and shouted, "Gentlemen!" Silence and 20 pairs of eyes, some of them startled. "Sit down, please, and all eyes front." Grumbling compliance. When I had their attention, I started.

"I was put in here with you tonight because I am the mean mom. Because you were misbehaving last night. Please don't make me be the mean mom. I do not want to embarrass my son by getting angry with you. I do not want to embarrass any of you by calling you out in front of your friends. I will do it if I have to. Do not put me in that position."

I expected at least one of them to issue a challenge, but it really didn't happen. It was a long evening, but with a few reminders, only one with a raised voice, we got through it without incident.

"Thank you," said the music teacher. "Thank you," said the administrator. "Thank you," said several of the boys.

I am not a perfect parent. I am impatient and sometimes dismissive. I am probably too restrictive. But I try to rule my house with a combination of high expectations, appropriate punishments, love and kindness. The expectations are given up front, so there is never any question of what is supposed to happen. My children, who are not perfect children and who come up with endless new ways to try my patience, know that I love them, and we play together and laugh together and have fun together. Their friends know that my house rules stand, everyone plays their part, and we are all cool when we spend time together.

But I am not their friend.

I am the Empress of the Universe, the Big Kahuna, Goddess of All She Sees and Hears.

I am Mom.

Go listen to some good music: "You Know My Name" by Chris Cornell from the Casino Royale soundtrack.

01 June 2007

The Creator has a mastertape


...I stared into the void too late...


I discovered this morning that OotK has become Google-able. The irony of last night's entry is not lost on me.

So, now that you can find me, let's take care of some business.

If you've wandered in here unbeknownst to me, welcome. If you're wondering why I'm doing this, the truth is that I have absolutely no idea, though the May 31 entry may shed some light on it for both of us. I do not have a theme (that would be for my friend R. who always wants to know my theme. According to her, even my Christmas needs a theme, and "Christmas" is not good enough. You know what, R.? I owe you. Wait until I bring up your Lenten Christmas tree.)

Why "Out of the Kitchen?" 'Cause that's where I am. I designed my kitchen with my office space included. I can braise roasts, edit scientific papers, and help with homework simultaneously. And incidentally, that's not a theme.

"Endlessly rocking?" Love music. Love music. Love, love, love music. There is nearly always music playing in this house, or heaven help us, someone is singing. Using song titles for the entries totally amuses me. Using obscure song titles for the entries amuses me even more. Sometimes, it doesn't take much to amuse me.

Who am I? I am the disembodied voice on TV gameshows, the narrator of nightmares, the voice that comforts the lost child...ok, never mind. Really, I am nobody. I just like to write for the sake of hearing myself write. So let's be clear about this: these opinions are mine and mine alone, and they are generally just that. Opinions. Mine. You are welcome to be amused by them, bored by them, or ignore them completely. If I annoy you, sorry. It's nothing personal. If I complain that your clothing line looks like bedsheets, it's directed at your clothes, not you. And don't you want to know that I'm not going to buy your bedsheets so you can design something I like? After all, I have the voting dollar, so you might be the celeb designer, but I'm the one with the money, and by capitalist standards, that puts me a little higher on the food chain.

I'm not writing this because I need anyone to validate my opinions. I'm quite capable of issuing myself all the validation I need. If I give you something to think about, great. I like it when people think. Truly, an increasingly lost art (and back to the bedsheets...if you don't need me to validate your designs and other people are cool with wearing bedsheets, well, my opinion still stands and I still won't buy them, but good for you, and we'll agree to disagree).

One more really important thing: I take the world around me very seriously. I take others' safety and well-being really seriously. I don't take myself seriously. I love a good soapbox, but even I find myself irritatingly self-righteous sometimes. There it is.

Go listen to some good music: "The Creator has a Mastertape" from the album In Absentia by Porcupine Tree.