31 October 2009

Ride of the Valkyries

I love the smell of pumpkin burning in the night.

It smells like Halloween.

Go listen to some good music: Die Walk├╝re by Richard Wagner.

HA! One of the pumpkins went critical and was totally aflame. The candle inside guttered and all the wax caught fire, and the whole thing was glowing (and smoking--all the flaming was contained within the pumpkin). The daughter was highly annoyed that I found it so funny because it was the pumpkin she'd carved. I doused it and put a votive inside it and all was well.

29 October 2009

Something was bound to go right sometime today

The coldest morning of autumn yet, a balmy 44F at dawn. The cat had stubbornly taken possession of my feet, and when I tried to dislodge him, he attempted biting me.

Tinge of pink in the darkened sky as I took the son to school, breeze kicking stingingly, stubbornly. It was dry and windy overnight, though not so windy as further north where a cable broke on the Bay Bridge, or in LA where 70 mph winds were downing power lines. I can accept dry and cold and a small mess in the garden.

Pink contrail to the north, and already we see the jets heading out of John Wayne. Our direction because it's a little windy. The first one out is listing a bit drunkenly, only one wing light that we can see.

More planes follow in quick succession. All the times I've been on those runways at dawn, sitting in the lineup to head out to Manchester, Atlanta, Toronto, Phoenix, San Juan, watching the sun break over the eastern mountains, over the top of the airport.

After leaving the son with his friends at the bus stop, on the return trip, the birds are just waking, and starting to discuss the morning with each other in excited, high pitched calls. It's too early for the parrots, but I see two hawks, flapping into the air with some effort. One is clearly looking for fun and as I watch, it tests the air currents for lift, and failing to get the effect it wants, beats its wings again and drops into another glide, searching for the right bit of wind. A small group of swallows soars off in the opposite direction.

The breeze is spinning the Halloween whirligigs the daughter put out on the lawn. I unlock the door. The house is warm, but a little fusty after the fresh morning air.

I quickly scramble eggs for the spouse, who has an early physical therapy appointment, and the daughter, who can't seem to wake up. They are running late, but finally, fed and with lunches, I kiss and wave them out the door to begin my real day.

With some effort, I slay a dragon. Stubbornly. It takes the better part of the day to accomplish, but when I've done this thing, I feel some of the fear that has been dogging me for the last year flow away.

I changed, but my world didn't. I changed but the world didn't. And for a year, I've been struggling with the remnants of a society that is irreparably broken, with outmoded business models that have virtually ceased to function. But here, at least, I've taken back something, one thing, that is mine.

After this little victory, I go out and clean up another 17 barrels worth of yard waste. Did I say that I had 25 to go? Ha! There's easily another 50 out there with what the winds have kicked up and the vine that ate Orange County.

But it is progress. Finally, again, progress.

Go listen to some good music: "The Lightning Strike" from the album A Hundred Million Suns by Snow Patrol.

24 October 2009

Great Pumpkin Waltz

One of the amazing things that goes along with raising your children is the whole dissection game. And I'm not talking dissection in the high school biology class sense but the game that grandparents love to play: He's got my eyes and Aunt Fifi's nose! She's a Jones through and through! Oh dear God, please don't let those be Grandpa Lester's ears I'm seeing there...

You probably know what I mean.

I recognized immediately that the blubbery bundle being waved at me as I lay strapped to the operating table late that February night was a mini-me, a tiny male version of myself. And within days, it was wildly evident that he had my personality and my brain. For better or worse, I'd recreated myself.

The son processes information in exactly the same way that I do, all the good, lightning speed ways and all the bad no-I-don't-want-to-backtrack-and-tell-you-how-the-miracle-occurred-because-that's-boring ways. The daughter, on the other hand, processes information exactly like her father does, in a slow, rigorous and detailed fashion. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages.

Of course, both kids got gifts from both parents, and thus, the son has a certain amount of his father's sensitive nature. What the daughter evidently also got was my amazing stubborn streak. I will not do as I'm told, and will, in fact, go out of my way to do exactly what everyone tells me I can't.

(Like wasps. Think about those wasps. And the chain saw. And the ladders. Yup.)

This has its advantages and its disadvantages.

"Can't," of course, is the operative word, not "shouldn't." Morality doesn't come into play here. The daughter and I are both strong proponents of knowing what's right and what's wrong, and we're both ready to do battle for what we believe in. Also, don't tell us that we're incapable, weaker, not good enough.

When I was eight weeks pregnant with the daughter, I had a threatened miscarriage. The spouse was half a world away on a job, and I spent my days running after an active 2-1/2 year old. I called the o.b., and she set up an appointment to have an ultrasound done to see if the pregnancy was still viable and make sure there wasn't some terrible complication.

The next afternoon, I lay in a cold basement room and watched the daughter's fierce little heart beat. She was a fighter from the start, and seven months later, came into the world screaming with vigor and she kept right on screaming until we left the hospital. At that point, she settled quietly into her life, and only screamed when she had an ear infection or I attempted some heinous crime on her person, like making her wear a dress.

Yesterday at the parent-teacher conferences, the daughter's history teacher told me that although the girl is a quiet, respectful and well-behaved child, he is thrilled to see her fierce commitment to standing up for herself. She won't back down, won't cave in to peer pressure. She has a strong sense of what is right, and what should be done, and she also doesn't stand by when another child is being bullied.

She is very much her own person.

The talk at school recently turned to Halloween, and what costumes everyone would wear to trick or treat. Evidently, the daughter didn't really contribute to the conversation, as she'd already confided to me that she wasn't interested in trick or treating this year. One of the other 7th grade girls asked what she planned to wear, and the daughter replied that she wasn't going out this year.

"You're weird!" the first girl opined.

"No, I'm just bored with it," the daughter responded, and her self-assurance spoke volumes.

She still needed a costume option because she has a party to attend and her school has a costume parade every year. Her choice of costume was, as you can see above, very low maintenance, and she cut all the holes in the sheet herself, laughing the whole time.

I'm very proud of her for having the courage of her convictions. I'm happy that she doesn't feel the need to back down, that she is comfortable being matter-of-fact in stating how she feels about something without being offensive, without returning an insult.

You can give the girl a rock. She won't throw it at you, even if you deserve it. She will, instead, very politely place it on your front step, and walk away, head held high.

Go listen to some good music: "Great Pumpkin Waltz" from the album Charlie Brown Holiday Hits by Vince Guaraldi Trio.

23 October 2009

Adventures in solitude

Where to begin?

Well, there was the wasp's nest. The spouse took one look at it and said, "Call the exterminator." Probably not a bad idea, although my unyielding desire to play Superwoman makes me think, "All I need is a can of wasp spray and a cool morning..."

I know. Exterminator.

Then there was the joyous occasion of the spouse's natal day, which involved massive amounts of cooking on my part. Of course, the cooking involved baking a birthday cake. I've never had the top layer of a cake simply shatter, but the spouse watched it come apart with tremendous glee as it ripped open in a perfect Y-shaped triple junction.

"I wasn't sure they actually existed," he enthused, "but here it is forming right before my eyes."

(And you realize that this proves that not only is the Earth NOT a glowing blue marble, it is, in fact, a layer cake, and flat. Score one for the Flat Earthers.)

Geology aside, that cake was definitely a FAIL. Although it tasted just fine.

(Maybe the cream I put in the frosting acted like magma?)

So, things were going along swimmingly.

And the spouse decided to go running around on concrete in his cleats after the Soaring Rodents game (no t-shirt this season) on Sunday. So, yeah, 48-year-old guy goes splat, falling straight arm on his left side.

(Have I mentioned he's left-handed?)

So the doctor said that despite the pain, his arm wasn't broken and 48 hours later, radiology helpfully ruled out a fracture. I attribute his strong bones to a diet of FISH, BROCCOLI, and BRUSSELS SPROUTS, thank you very much. Oh, and liberal doses of homemade muesli, which has a lot of yogurt in it, but he loves the muesli, so it doesn't count.

(Smug? Was I smug? Damn straight I was smug.)

What he does have is a nasty tear of his biceps muscle, though our doctor told him pretty matter of factly that he was fortunate that he hadn't torn the whole thing off his humerus. Good news, that last bit, but on the whole EPIC FAIL.

So that made for an exciting beginning of the week. I relieved my anxieties by putting out 11 bins of yard waste on Thursday.

("Is there anything left in the backyard?" the spouse asked in disbelief. Yes, about 25 more bins of yard waste. The garden goes mad in the summer, and I'm in the process of cleaning up all the trees, shrubs and vines as well as billions of cubic feet of pine straw. You know how dogs shed? Well, our pine tree sheds in September. The back is about 150 feet long, and the canopy of the pine covers probably 90 feet of it. You'd be hard pressed to believe that a needle remains on the tree, but there they are.)

Then there's that neighborhood BOO thing. In all the other excitement going on, I sort of forgot that we were likely to get BOO-ed, and I was caught more or less flatfooted when a pumpkin with some candy and a box of Boo Berry cereal appeared on the doormat. So I ended up baking cupcakes...

Cut to Friday, and naturally, the daughter didn't have school because...PARENT-TEACHER CONFERENCES. So I chatted with teachers, and then I took the daughter to lunch and we shared a fine repast of Buffalo wings and french fries and salad because we like to dip the french fries in the wing sauce. And eat salad. No mother-daughter tea for these two refined ladies...

I also made the best banana muffins ever because when don't I have a few rotting bananas lying around somewhere? The recipe is here, and they were particularly wonderful because they're made with whole wheat pastry flour, which makes them soft and fluffy.

Books? I so enjoyed Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. It's almost a companion piece to High Fidelity, but I liked it even better, and those of you who know me IRL will understand precisely why.

(I've met people like Duncan. I really don't quite comprehend that mentality.)

Concerts? No, I'm most assuredly not going to the Rose Bowl on Sunday. I saw U2 on the Joshua Tree tour, had great seats to the right of the stage, loved the show, and never felt the need to see them again. When the show generates more buzz than the music...

But travel? Yes. Even the horoscope is starting to say it's time to get out of Dodge. It's in the yet-to-come column. More on that later.

And that's how I spent my one-week blog vacation.

Go listen to some good music: "Adventures in Solitude" from the album Live from Soho (iTunes exclusive) by The New P*rnographers. See. No mention of the ALCS, and yes, I saw you peeking last night. Made my week.

15 October 2009

Drawing the line

When I started blogging three-ish years ago, I really didn't expect to be doing it three-ish years later. I started a blog sort of as a joke, sort of as an act of defiance, sort of as an experiment.

Sometimes, it's a lot of fun.

But lately, it hasn't been any fun at all.

What happened was that I started writing. And then people started reading.

I don't know who most of you are. Some of you are friends of mine in the real world. Some of you are nice people who decided to tag along for the ride. Some of you are content scrapers. Some of you are just quiet folks who show up on a pretty regular basis. An interesting stat I read some time back about people who read blogs: 95% of regular readers just go to read, never make a comment. I know that this really bothers a lot of people who write blogs; they want FEEDBACK! Not me. You're always welcome to join the conversation, of course, but if you just want to read, that's fine with me. But then I'm the sort of person who pretty much never leaves comments on other people's blogs.

Because I just write about what happens or what I do or what interests me, there is no overarching theme to my blog. I'm not a mommy blogger by any stretch, nor a recipe blog, nor a book review blog. Really it's all out of the kitchen, sink included. So you've gotten a jolly combination of engineering, disaster preparedness, the joys of teens and preteens, hiking in Norway, and recipes for squash. But I watch the stats, and some of you like the book stuff, and some of you like the recipes and some like the bird pictures and then there's you lot waiting for me to go to another concert. Oh, and dear God, don't let me forget the shoe fetishists. Talk about the law of unintended consequences. But hey, whatever floats your boat.

Anyway. Back to the part where I said this isn't fun anymore.

As readership (and content scraper activity) has grown, I've gotten more stressed about writing here. I've been abundantly stressed the last year as it is, and all the stress is spilling over into every aspect of my real life.

(Ah, this is starting to sound like a whiny break-up post. "It's not you, it's me...")

Okay, it's not forever. A week. I am taking a one-week blog vacation. Because you see, the last several years when I've been on vacation, I'm still blogging! I'm taking notes for posts, taking photos for posts. But for the next week, I'm not thinking about blogging, not taking photos, just walking away. Just think, you won't even have to hear about the ALCS. I'll come back with a new outlook (I hope). Just a week.

You won't even miss me.

(Unless you're a content scraper.)

See you October 23.

Go listen to some good music: "Drawing the Line" from the album The Incident by Porcupine Tree. And hey, I reserve the right to change my mind and come back early.

14 October 2009

I guess I'll just sing louder...

I've spent an inordinate amount of time trying to review the last two books I read: The Help by Kathryn Stockett, and Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger.

I'm getting interrupted about every 30 seconds: children, spouse, my cat, the cats I'm caring for as a favor, the owners of the cats I'm caring for as a favor, rain, my MIL worrying about nonexistent landslides. So it's one of those days where I'm doing a lot and getting nothing done. Upcoming is baking birthday cake (sigh) and making a birthday dinner. Sick children. Partially recovered children getting sick again.


The children's school.

Looking for the sign that says "Exit..."

Oh, and I forgot to mention the wasp's nest!

Me, wasp's nest? Oh yeah, you'd better believe it. Thank GOD it was cold because they were moving a lot more slowly than I was. And there were about 30 of them.

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

11 October 2009

Enter sandman

Had Boston tried, they probably could have come up with a more classless maneuver than that honorary first pitch and highlight reel this morning. It would have been a stretch, but I'm sure possible. A new low, that business. But I hope the Bosox enjoyed the sensation of karma biting them very hard, because I can tell you that every Angel fan watching that game today certainly did.

And those knuckleheads hired by TBS? We turned the volume off the television very fast on Thursday night, and never turned it back on, preferring instead to listen to our usual radio guys. In playoff series of this sort--whether baseball, football, hockey, what have you--commentators should never display the sort of bias that we listened to for about 10 minutes. So TBS, you may have gotten our eyes for the game, but you lost our ears for it, and you lost both for the commercials. Think about that for a bit. Probably not something you want your advertisers knowing.

Okay, enough of that business.


No one would say that word until the game was over.

It's kind of funny, but I've never had a life list for anything. I don't keep a list of birds; I just enjoy them as I see them. I've never had a list of things that I have to do before I die. I love to travel, and I'm thrilled to go where the airplane, music, or mood takes me. And I've seen amazing things with that attitude. I read the books that look interesting. I've had enough of the books-as-vitamins thing, and someday I will read Silas Marner out of curiosity, not because someone said I should.

(My mother could never say enough bad things about Silas Marner, and then I met my future FIL, and it was the same story with him. So I have to look at it for that reason alone someday.)

Anyway, I realized the other day that I really want to go to a World Series game. It's something I've thought about, but always figured "another time." Well, the time is here. If the Angels make the Series, I'm going. I didn't in 2002, in large part because I was recovering from a nasty injury, and the idea of being jostled by a crowd of 45,000 was pretty much unbearable. And for crying out loud, I don't even like football, and I've been to the Superbowl.

If the Angels don't win the ALCS, then another time. But wouldn't an Angels-Dodgers series be fun?

Go listen to some music: "Enter Sandman" from the album Metallica by Metallica. David Eckstein used to use this song as his entrance music when he was up to bat. It cracked us UP! I loved Eckstein, scrappy, hardworking, utterly modest player that he was when he was with the Angels, and probably still is today.

08 October 2009

Don't worry. BE HAPPY!

THAT is what I'm talking about!

Angels shut out Boston; Lackey pitched 7-1/3 scoreless innings. Hunter got a three-run homer.

There was...officiating. *cough*

(That was karmic.)

We're on the fence about going to tomorrow night's game. It would be cheaper, closer and just as noisy to go to the Brewery.


In the Battle of the Bougainvillea, it was not a shut out, though I did, eventually, win. There is much less bougainvillea than there was this morning, but the 8-in. gouge in my arm bears testament to the fact that it was a pitched battle...

And at present, I am reading Audrey Niffenegger's so far rather wonderful ghost story Her Fearful Symmetry. On deck is Nick Hornby's Juliet, Naked, and I've just finished Kathryn Stockett's The Help, which was sort of good and simultaneously, rather awful.

(Don't mind me. I spent the entire day gardening, and I'm slightly delirious...)

Go listen to some music: "Don't Worry, Be Happy" from the album The Best of Bobby McFerrin by Bobby McFerrin. I swear that I've used this song title before, but search on Blogger has been broken for months, and googling it came up with nothing, so...

07 October 2009

Jump around

We've been blessed with some beautifully cool weather, cool enough to make me shiver taking the boy to the bus stop in the morning.

Trust me, I'm not complaining.

I have pumpkins on the steps, and the morning sky has been painted in shades of gold, peach and grey, making for some spectacular sunrises. The daughter started to murmur hopefully about beef stew, one of her favorite meals, and to wear socks to bed. With summer pjs, naturally.

Last night, talking to my friend J., who is French, I let drop that I was whipping up a little boeuf bourguignon for dinner, and she laughed and said, "I was just thinking about making that. It must be the weather!"

(I mean it about the whipping up. I know Julia Child is wildly back in style--no, I haven't seen Julie & Julia--but I've been making this stuff for years, and probably haven't actually used a recipe in 10. What I make is closer to what is described in this N.Y. Times article. Throw in hot homemade biscuits and a salad, et voila! Sadly, there were no leftovers. The daughter had thirds.)

While I was braising beef and baking biscuits and putting together salad, I was watching the Tigers/Twins game for the AL Central playoff berth. Amused me no end that a tie breaker game reached the end of the ninth tied at 4, though I'm sure Detroit was anything but amused. Still, I was pleased that the Twins won, because the Angels can generally beat the Twins as well as the Yankees.

Boston, of course, is another matter. The Angels are quite capable of beating Boston; they just need to convince themselves that they can. Of course, decent officiating always helps, but I agree with Mr. Hunter that those bad calls shouldn't have mattered.

The less we see of That Monkey in the next week, the better.

Go listen to some music: "Jump Around" from the album Best of House of Pain by House of Pain. It is pain! For those not in the know, this is the song played at the stadium when the Rally Monkey makes its appearance. There are Rules governing the Monkey's appearance, and you can read them at rallymonkey.com.The daughter, even now, needs to be reminded of the Rules. And yeah, I know some people will think this is a throw-away post, but neither boeuf bourguignon nor baseball could ever, collectively or singly, be considered throw away anything. But it is true I don't want to go rake pine straw.

06 October 2009

Something real

Isn't it a beauty? I've seen it from time to time on the fountain, but was never quick enough with the camera. Today, however, it stayed around for some time, and later returned to splash in the water. We've a red tail who's a frequent visitor, too, and then there is the elusive grey hawk of which I've only gotten occasional glimpses.

For a sense of the sheer size of the Cooper's hawk, here again is the photo I posted last spring of the white crowned sparrow flying over the same fountain:

What better argument for the urban forest I've created than the sheer numbers of birds?

On the other hand, I could live without the brown widow spiders that have evidently colonized my mailbox. I keep pulling them out (frequently on the mail), and dispensing with them, but they keep returning. I believe in wildlife diversity, but this one is ridiculous.

Perhaps I can find a better predator than me.

Go listen to some good music: "Something Real" from the album All That We Let In by the Indigo Girls.

03 October 2009

Shine on, harvest moon

October 2009
Orange County, California

Go listen to some music: "Shine On, Harvest Moon," lyrics by Jack Norworth; music by Nora Bayes. This photo was taken in extreme lazy style on auto focus, no tripod, and holding my breath. Still, the pine branches made it pretty cool and October-spooky. Alright, yes, I am lazy! And I did work out (after the fact) that the full moon is actually 4 October.

01 October 2009


So with the help of the little chain saw (and the spouse), the poor birch met its end. A neighbor came and hauled off some of the larger upper branches (he makes bird feeders from them), but I still have about 4 feet of trunk that weighs more than a hundred pounds--the tree was rather larger in diameter than one would guess from the photo, and 12-15 feet tall. Still wondering how to deal with the bit that's left.

(An axe! I need an axe!)

It's clear from the stump that the heart wood was completely rotted out.

Poor tree.

Milton, who watched the proceedings from a safe distance, decided that it was time to look cute and pose for his extreme close up. That's what sniffing the lens gets you.

At least I no longer have to worry about the tree spontaneously combusting. We had a few brief hours of autumn a couple of days ago, with temperatures in the low 70sF, and it was a mere 54F when I took the son to school this morning. The air was so clear I could hear the marching band practicing at the high school up the road. However, in the way of schizophrenic So Cal weather, the wind picked up midday and when I retrieved the kids from school, it was a toasty 95F.

I made baked apples for dessert anyway.

Go listen to some music: "Wipe-Out" from the album Walk-Don't Run: All-Time Greatest Hits by The Ventures. No, I'm not listening to The Ventures; I am listening to The Tragically Hip. Have enjoyed them for years, and am wondering if I can figure out a way to see them at the end of the month...in this case, probably unlikely give my current schedule.