28 June 2009

Party on the patio

The phone rang early and woke me (my loud and extraverted friend R., Our Lady, Queen of the Pugs). So, I staggered out to the kitchen, got myself a cup of coffee and looked at the news.

Not unsurprisingly, five minutes later, I was deeply absorbed in a report of a longitudinal study about happiness.

I see the smiles of the knowing few.

(They're not smiling about the content, but about the fact the I'd be reading a longitudinal study with my first cup of coffee.)

Really, it's an incredibly interesting article, so I think everyone should read it, not only for what it says about the study and about the very nebulous concept of happiness, but for what it says about the researchers as well as those researched.

What Makes Us Happy? by Joshua Wolf Shenk. The Atlantic, June 2009.

Then, when you've finished that, you should read Caring for Your Introvert by Jonathan Rauch. It was so much fun (and so very true) that I had to print out a copy for everyone in the family to read. The giggles and laughter provoked by the reading were almost as much fun to listen to as reading the article itself.

When I was growing up, people unable to understand my quietness pronounced me shy. As I got older, "shy" turned to "stuck up," which was sort of horrifying, and later, it became "haughty." With the rare exception, I'm anything but shy. I can get up on stage, sing, dance, talk to people, and I have no problem with making my views known. As to the "stuck up" and "haughty," others have the mistaken notion that I keep quiet because I think I'm superior. Truthfully, I keep quiet because I stink at small talk.

Introvert? To the nth degree.

At Big Entertainment Company, there was always some management game going on, a push for reengineering or better understanding our colleagues or efficiency. One of these ploys was Myers-Briggs testing. I loathed situations like this: I actually had work to do and would have rather done it than sit around and play Hot Potato, or whatever nonsense had been dreamed up for us. So, I stalwartly refused to show up for testing until someone appeared in my office claiming to have orders to pick me up and carry me to the appropriate room if I failed to comply, which would have been sort of fun to see, since I'm nearly 6 feet tall. I finally went, sat down and made quiet, but highly disapproving noises about the whole thing, earning the wrath of the tester.

But her wrath dissipated with scoring my test. Because the test explained everything! Not only did I end up in a Myers-Briggs group that only about 1% of the population lands in, but I was the highest scoring introvert she'd ever seen.

Alrighty then!

Although Rauch's article is quite tongue in cheek, he's quite right about how exhausting it is for this introvert to be in certain social situations. It doesn't bother me to spend time on my own, and in fact, I find it energizing. I'm perfectly comfortable with going to a movie solo or having a meal by myself or visiting a museum. And I'm lucky to have an amazing group of friends with whom I also enjoy spending time, having a meal, sharing a cup of coffee or a movie or an afternoon in the park. I find my friends energizing, too. You want to get to know me? Take a walk with me by the river. You want to watch me shrivel up and die? Put me in a situation where I'm expected to interact with a large group of people I don't know or don't know well. I don't do well in artificial situations with masses of people who want me to make small talk.

My extravert friends have learned this, along with learning that I am most likely to disappear on to the patio during their parties. But they've learned they get good value from me anyway.

Their other introvert friends find me highly entertaining.

And I am happy.

Party on the patio!

Go listen to some music: "Party on the Patio" from the album El Loco by ZZ Top. The upshot of the happiness article, in part, was that happiness has to do with how and with whom you share your life. I'm lucky to share my life with some glorious people, including my family and my incredibly loved friends. So it's funny: my kids are also introverts, but around me they behave like extraverts. And that is driving me in the general direction of an airplane...

25 June 2009

Thriller

It was a hot August afternoon, typical of a Tucson summer, and I had the old gigantic stereo's radio turned on. This was a piece of furniture in its own right, about five feet long and solid wood with a lid that lifted to reveal a turntable and an AM/FM tuner, fancy golden brown cloth covering the speakers. It had vacuum tubes and gave off a smell that was part ozone, part cigarette smoke and part old musty fabric.

I was twirling the tuner knob back and forth between the city's two Top 40 stations, KTKT and KIKX, changing stations in response to a song I didn't like or a commercial break. My mother would emerge from the kitchen periodically to glare at me if I sang too loudly or changed stations too frequently.

Finally, I lighted on one or the other and listened for a bit. Suddenly, uncharacteristically, the DJ came on after a song, and his voice was shaking.

"Elvis Presley has died," he said, and his voice broke.

The news made me feel peculiar in a way that I really couldn't identify. Of course, Elvis Presley was an icon of my mother's era, and while I was familiar with some of his music, I didn't really like it that much. Although she'd told us about how handsome he was when he was younger, and how he'd shaken the industry by shaking his hips, it was a little hard to believe. The guy we were familiar with was the old bloated guy in the white jumpsuit. And as the days passed and more details of Elvis' death emerged, he drifted further from iconic and more toward caricature.

I was barely a teen when Elvis died, and I don't remember how my mother reacted. I do remember how much the DJ's audible tears on the radio that afternoon shook me. And I remember that peculiar sense that something terrible had happened, though it was something I couldn't quite grasp. Though I was in no way grief-stricken, I felt somehow bereft. In later years, I saw bits and pieces of the movies that Elvis was in, and was better able to understand something of his allure even in the wake of the later, more unsavory bits of his life, and I was able to appreciate his enormous contribution to the history of rock music.

So, this afternoon, when I stopped at my computer, pulled up Firefox and saw the headline "Michael Jackson Dead" on latimes.com, I felt peculiar in a way I couldn't quite identify. I think that first I smiled and thought "They have to be joking" while almost simultaneously realizing it was no joke.

Michael Jackson was an icon of my era, the ultimate showman of the 1980s--almost beyond iconic, really. Although I was never a huge fan, never saw him perform live, I'll also never forget sitting in the living room of our sorority house, watching the videos for "Billie Jean" and "Thriller" and "Beat It," while I studied and wrote term papers. Those videos were a delight to watch, with real production values and amazing choreography, mini-Broadway musicals. MM, who lived across the hall from me, played the Thriller album constantly, providing counterpoint to the music coming off MTV downstairs.

Although I believe it's the young man we remember, I can't help but think of the talented child Michael Jackson was, singing with the Jackson Five. Again, while I wasn't a big fan, my brother had one of the Jackson Five's albums, and while the music was catchy, it was so easy to identify with the boy singer who was only a few years older than I was. I can't speak for others, but as a kid I always took a proprietary interest in the talented children near my own age.

Somewhere along the way, though, Michael Jackson changed. He became physically unrecognizable as the boy and even the young man who we loved to watch sing and dance. Whatever demons he battled diminished him, and I for one had to turn away from the sideshow, could not look at the physical wreck, the tragedy he had become. His talent was undeniable, his contribution to the music world tremendous, which made his downward spiral all the more impossible to watch.

I've talked to a few people today who, like me, can't quite equate what they're feeling about the news of Michael Jackson's death. Though we can't say we're grieving, we are bereft. And I wonder if it's because we finally have permission to mourn the loss of that tremendous talent, the beautiful young man who sang and danced his way into our hearts and then vanished from our lives so long ago.

Go listen to some good music: "Thriller" from the album Thriller by Michael Jackson.

24 June 2009

Stories for boys (and girls)

The case of lost time.

Probably best not to go there, because there is just so much there. And it's all bad.

So, we'll just start with today. Because today is the first day of the rest of your life, don't you know?

Were it was so easy, but anyway.

Today.

Today, I was supposed to go to the grocery and to the bank. Soon, the school will be threatening me with something if I don't pay next year's tuition bill. It's not that I can't pay next year's tuition bill, but it's complicated. And it has to do with there. And no stamps. And possibly, terror.

Anyway.

I was up early for the first time in what seems forever, early being 7:30 a.m.

(For the record, if this was the mild edition, I do not want the bad version. EVER.)

So, I was able to get on the exercise bike pretty early, because today is Wednesday, which is an exercise bike day.

I pedaled merrily for 70 minutes.

Okay, so not merrily. But I pedaled.

Then it was 11 and I hadn't eaten breakfast, so I made an egg sandwich with avocado, figuring it would be lunch, too.

Then the daughter started moaning about the state of her closet again. It's a disaster. To be fair, I've shoved a lot in there for storage over the years because she was small and didn't have much when we moved into the house eleven years ago. However, I have a mother-in-law who likes to shop and who is constantly buying them stuff, so there were all kinds of things she's given them shoved in there too.

A couple of months ago, I made the decision to downsize. To be fair, we haven't got that much to begin with--we are, in fact, the only family I know who only has one TV--but stuff creeps in the door, and sometimes it's hard to shift it. Someone finds me a fabulous set of dishes, you know, even though I already have four sets of dishes, or my mother gets a box of my grandmother's costume jewelry--all of it broken--and promptly sends it off to me. No, I don't know why either.

I tend not to be overly sentimental, so there are few things saved from the kids babyhood: I have their first pairs of shoes, the outfits they wore home from the hospital, personalized baby blankets, favorite toys that survived.

And books.

I've written so many times that we are a family of readers. We have more books than the local library, probably (in California, that's not actually much of a feat). And I have a hard time parting with books, so I try to make sure they get good homes when they leave my house, whether I pass them on to someone I think would enjoy them or donate them to the library.

I had few books when I was a child--they were an unaffordable luxury, so I spent hours at the library--and the ones I did have I treasured. When I left for college, I carefully packed them all away. My mother told me they were destroyed in the flood of 1983, but my sister later let on that she'd given them away

That hurt.

As I could afford to, I reconstructed what I could of my childhood book collection. A surprising number of books had gone out of print, but eventually I was able to track some of them down through used book dealers. And in some cases, though I could remember the illustrations and could quote some stories verbatim, I couldn't come up with exact titles or authors. Still, by the time my children came along, I had the core of the my childhood book collection.

If you've read here long, you are familiar with my dislike of shopping. But I must confess, I buy books like there is no tomorrow.

I started reading to the kids when they were very small. Reading should be a habit, and to my mind, two months old was not too young to begin that habit. And they seemed well content with the whole process, which started with books like Moo Baa La La La and Goodnight Moon.

It became such a habit that eventually, the spouse would read to one child at bedtime and I would read to the other. Story books became chapter books, and finally, when Harry Potter arrived, I would read aloud to the assembled company every night. Everyone liked that arrangement because I do voices.

Then we ran out of Potter and the son moved on to American Gods and High Fidelity, while the daughter took on The #1 Ladies' Detective Agency.

As they grew, I packed away the favorite books so that they will have them for their own children some day. There were a lot of favorite books. To the tune of five boxes worth. Large boxes.

And they were all in the daughter's closet.

Today, she and I opened all the boxes. We dispensed with various and sundry odd things that were lying about, cooed over tiny shoes, wondered yet again what we should do with the Russian stuffed bear that was given to the son so long ago, and then we tackled the books.

We created Keep and Give Away piles.

We laughed and exclaimed over what came out of the boxes.

"The Monster at the End of the Book," I waved the slender volume at the daughter.

"OH! Give me that! I haven't seen that in SO long!" she cried.

(I first read that book to my youngest sister a very, very long time ago. It was one of her favorite books, as it was the daughter's. Some of these books I can recite by heart).

The son, alerted by all our noise that something good was happening, appeared in the door of the daughter's bedroom and threw himself into the fray. Before long he and the daughter were competing over who was going to read the next book aloud.

"I'm reading Stone Soup!" the daughter yelled.

"No, I'm going to read I Am a Bunny," the son hollered back.

"'Non non non, Eloise!'" read the daughter.

"'Cats here, cats there, cats and kittens everywhere!'" read the son.

And so, they read to each other.

"Where's Tuesday?" asked the son. "Where's Barnyard Dance?"

"Circle Dogs!" the daughter crowed with delight. "Hey, don't put that in the box yet."

When all was said and done, we were down to three large boxes of books. The other two went out to the driveway, and I sent out an email to the neighborhood this afternoon: "Free kids' books."

The boxes were largely empty by evening.

Go listen to some good music: "Stories for Boys" from the album Boy by U2.

21 June 2009

Tired of sleeping

First day of summer.

Consider this as double meaning, but really, this has dragged on long enough (not summer, of course. That only just started. I'm willing to give it a chance). While I'm generally referring to the plague of...what? Negativity, malaise, fear, uncertainty...that has been bothering nearly everyone I know for almost a year, I'm very specifically referring to this blasted plague that took over my body nearly a week ago. And I am tired of sleeping. And coughing. And sneezing. And headache. And congestion. And all the rest of it.

And I must be on the mend because DAMN! am I cranky.

Go listen to some good music: "Tired of Sleeping" from the album Days of Open Hand by Suzanne Vega. I won't pretend I know precisely what she's talking about in this song; there frequently seems to be a vein of madness that runs through her lyrics. But if ever there were an apt description of some of the dreams I've been having lately... And no, I wasn't kidding when I said it felt like I have lungs full of Quikrete.

18 June 2009

Desire
























The Mourningcloak settled in on one of the purple flowering cones on the butterfly bush. I watched as it gently probed the tiny flowers with its proboscis, and it settled in to feed, its wings quivering slightly, occasionally coming together in a half-beat. It was undisturbed by the buddleia's bobbing in the faint breeze.

When, I wondered, was I last so at ease, so content, so at peace?

I wondered, though I know the answer.

Go listen to some good music: "Desire" from the album Rattle and Hum by U2. Illness makes me melancholy.

17 June 2009

Subterranean homesick alien

My beloved daughter has given me her disease, and I woke this morning after yet another night of vivid and horrific nightmares, with a sore throat and hacking cough and sneezes that rattled the neighbors' windows.

(These have been the very best sort of nightmares, the kind that are so detailed that you can practically smell the room you're in, and that once you finally wake from it, you go right back where you left off when you return to sleep. And try to forget them once day arrives? Ha!)

Endings and beginnings, oh my.

And beginning is never easy, is it?

Go listen to some good music: "Subterranean Homesick Alien" from the album OK Computer by Radiohead. Why this song? Longing. Because not all the old goes to make way for the new. And I'm just ill enough not to be entirely sure what I'm talking about. Or I'm just ill enough to be completely sure of what I'm talking about.

15 June 2009

Nine in the afternoon

Word on the street is that Olivier was indeed the coyote's intended breakfast, though his ornery personality, claws and the neighbor who sent the email running around the street at 2 a.m. evidently all contributed to his survival. From what I've heard, he is resting comfortably at a local vet, after the owners, worried about his mopey behaviour, discovered blood on his fur while petting him.

Olivier is a pain, no two ways about it, but I'm really glad that we weren't discovering bits of him around the neighborhood (this has happened; is completely gruesome), because that would have broken my heart.

Anyway.

First real full day of school's-out-for-summer, and predictably, I have a headache. Have already had the "don't tell me you're bored" talk, and the "torture each other and you're going to summer school" talk, and the "don't bother me when I'm on the exercise bike unless the house is burning down" talk, not to mention the "no, you don't get unlimited computer-Xbox-PSP time" talk.

The headache, though, is less from my beloved offspring, and more from the fact that I woke at 2:55 am, shuddering from a horrific nightmare and didn't get back to sleep for a couple of hours. Fortunately, however, no 6:45 am treks to the bus stop, and so I slept as late as I wanted to.

The fog broke for a bit, and for an hour or so, we had a beautiful, soft late spring day. I went out to retrieve the mail, and the air was scented with gardenia, butterfly bush (I've a massive one--Purple Knight--near the front door) and star jasmine. The fog has rolled back in a little early, and the sea breeze has picked up, making my still-damp workout regalia just a little chilly to be wearing.

Oh, heavens. The new Chucks have just arrived. The daughter will be dancing.
















Mine are the black ones on the right (of course!), and hers are the red on the left. She wears one size smaller than I do (and she's about 7 inches shorter than I am).

Wow. Nothing says summer like new sneakers.

Go listen to some good music: "Nine in the Afternoon" from the album Pretty. Odd. by Panic at the Disco. I'm the world's biggest advocate of not using punctuation as ornamentation, but I do wish Panic had kept the exclamation point. It was pretty. And odd. On a completely different note, there is no more perfect description of the importance of new sneakers in the summer time than that contained in Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine.

14 June 2009

Let there be rock

It's a gold-star kind of day.

Early Thursday, one of the neighbors sent out an email indicating she'd seen a coyote next door to our house in the wee hours, and that the coyote had cornered a cat. Because it was dark, she didn't know if the coyote actually had the cat or if it had run off with the cat or what.

(We live in suburbia, but it's suburbia with an edge, and rather more wildlife than other places. I used to share the road with coyotes on my early morning runs, and little jack rabbits are suddenly everywhere, and the next door neighbor's dog was nearly eviscerated about a year ago--no one saw what, but assumed a bobcat, because we've seen those, too. Periodically, we hear screech owls, and we've spotted golden eagles along with the usual hawks and occasional vultures. I'm a firm believer in living with the wildlife, and taking appropriate precautions to ensure everyone's safety. A sort of long-winded way of saying that my cat is an indoor cat.)

Anyway, there are a couple of cats who are outdoors alot at our end of the neighborhood. One is my feline buddy Max, and the other is the neighborhood nemesis, Olivier. I used to help care for Olivier when he was a homeless half-kitten, until an elderly couple a few doors down adopted him. He can pretend to be all lovey-dovey, but his behaviour is pretty erratic and he likes to attack people. With claws. Milton has very little patience for him and chases him home when he sees Olivier hanging around.

So I read the email, and I began to worry just a little.

I kept an eye out for Max, who lives across the street, and who I usually see roaming around his yard. If he sees me out gardening, he will come by for a visit and a bite of grass (evidently, I grow the best grass around since he is quite partial to it. Fortunately, I don't maintain the best place to poop; that honor goes to another neighbor's bed of sunflowers).

I didn't see him all day Thursday.

Friday passed. No Max.

Saturday. No Max. Not even when the Soaring Rodents returned from the Wild River Fun Fest.

So Sunday, I woke up certain that Max had gone to the grassy yard in the sky. But when I appeared for my coffee, both the spouse and the son piped up: "We saw Max this morning!"

And sure enough, there was Max across the street, following one of his people about.

A bit later, I saw him again, and I opened the front door. He saw me from his driveway and started to walk across the street. "Hi, MAX!" I called, and he came running, giving little mews, and bumped his head against my knee in friendly fashion before he sauntered off to investigate my lawn.

I still haven't seen Olivier, but as the spouse said, put Olivier up against a coyote, and I'd give Olivier the edge.

Then there was this:
















Silly, but delightful.

(For those of you without Rock Band, this is an "achievement." I gold-starred the song. And no, I don't think I'm all that and a bag of chips, but it was still fun, because Rock Band is just a hoot and this song is rated difficult, vocally, although it's not. Also, no that's not my Live gamer tag. And yes, the son is amused that his mother has a Live gamer tag, even if she eschews the whole MMO thing.)

Then there's baseball. Whatever Mike Scioscia said to the Angels when he took them to the woodshed the other night seems to have worked. Last night, Torii Hunter hit three home runs, and today, Jared Weaver pitched a complete shutout, while Juan Rivera hit two homers. Nice work.

(She wisely stays quiet on why it is that the Angels starting pitchers seem to have so many complete games this season...)

And finally, my world seems to be righting itself. It's about time. I hope--fervently--that this is the case and that it stays that way.

Go listen to some music: "Let There Be Rock" from the album Let There Be Rock by AC/DC.

12 June 2009

My own worst enemy (new and improved!)

Let's try this again:

Last week of school, so the son had finals all week, and the daughter finished finals and promptly came down with swine flu (or something. At any rate, she kept me up all night Wednesday because her cough was so horrid and I was plying her with steam). The spouse was supposed to go off on the Soaring Rodent Boat Cruise, but didn't know if he'd be beckoned to testify in a case, so he's missed the fun fest.

On the last day of school, I always treat the kids to something. Sometimes we have a last-day-of-school picnic. This year, the daughter wanted ice cream sundaes, so I bought a load of things like nuts and toppings and cherries and so on. Of course, the bagger at the store didn't put the whipped cream into my bag, and when I opened the container of fudge sauce, something was clearly seriously wrong with it.

I'm plenty annoyed about a lot of things right now, but the fudge sauce was easily remedied.

This afternoon, the son and daughter were mooching around--I think the daughter had been out of school for all of two hours--and they both had that look, and I told them sternly that the first one who said, "I'm bored" would seriously wish s/he hadn't.

A bit later, I walked into the son's room and he was wandering around aimlessly, humming, and he looked at me and said defensively, "Well, I'm bored."

Then he realized what he'd said, and the look on his face said it all.

Fudge sauce is relatively easy to make. The most difficult part is that you have to stand at the stove stirring for 25 minutes while the mixture thickens.

"Look at it this way," I told the son while he stirred. "You can tell all the girls that you know how to make hot fudge sauce from scratch. You will rock."

He was actually rather thrilled about the whole thing, especially when everyone was eating their sundaes after dinner, pronouncing the fudge sauce "excellent!"

Go listen to some good music: "My Own Worst Enemy" from the album A Place in the Sun by Lit. What am I hacked off about? Bad behaviour on the Internet (endemic): bloggers plagued by plagiarism, by content scrapers, by their service providers, and the nasty people who plague online communities, making those of us who are nice, normal people look suspect, too. People tease me about being too innocent and too naive, but there is just some stuff I'd rather not know.

08 June 2009

Come back to the living

The cat woke me early, and all hope of sleep was gone.

Why are the wee hours so damned dark?

Took the son to the bus stop, completely wrecked. But this is it: last week of school. Both have finals, and the daughter in particular is in a fine panic. We don't know why she feels the need to panic.

But we're holding out hope that Friday's promised Knickerbocker Glory will get her through.

(Why a Knickerbocker Glory? As if I know. She found the recipe in a cookbook and is obsessed. An ice cream sundae was a small thing to promise.)

En route home from leaving the son, I realized I felt far less distressed than I did in the early hours of morning when I lay awake. Is denial somehow easier in the cold light of day?

Go listen to some good music: "Come Back to the Living" from the album ...undone by The Lucy Show.

03 June 2009

Wake up, stop dreaming

I was carefully considering a player trade and had just moved the cardboard marker to another square when the huge booming noise came.

"Stop that," I thought irritably, and picked up another cardboard marker, though I couldn't quite tell which player was on it.

The booming started again, and I opened my eyes as a huge flash of light illuminated the bedroom. The cat leapt up on the bed and then took off running for God knows where as the whole house shook with the next bang.

"Nobody said anything about thunder," I groused out loud.

"Yeah, what the hell?" came the spouse's voice.

"It was clear when I checked. And besides I was in the middle of a trade," I said.

"It was...you were what?" he asked.

"Erm..." I replied, realizing that the post I finished just before I went to bed had obviously wandered into my dreams.

Flash BANG!

Followed by boom boom boom, which was the son thundering up the hallway.

"Mommmmmeeeeeee," he wailed. "What's going on?"

"Didn't you get the memo? We're evidently having a thunderstorm."

"It's 2:15 in the morning," he replied, reasonably.

Damn, I thought, I've only been asleep for an hour?

Eventually, the son was persuaded to return to bed (the daughter slept through the whole thing, and this morning was astonished to learn we'd all been up partying without her). The cat was last heard trying to dig through the floorboards to China and I eventually drifted off to sleep once more.

Although we had stunning thunderstorms in Arizona when I was growing up--often daily in the summer--they are fairly rare for us here. The inland deserts certainly get them, but I can only think of a few times in all the 20-odd years I've lived in Southern California that we've had one. It is sufficiently unusual that it was deemed front page news for the local newspaper (something along the lines of County Awakened By Rare Thunderstorm!). It hasn't rained much, but I certainly don't mind the odd weather. Tropical gloom makes a nice change from June gloom, and the cool breeze and overcast is pleasant compared with the dank fug of summer fog.

Go listen to some music: "Wake Up, Stop Dreaming" by Wang Chung from the soundtrack To Live and Die in L.A. I cannot believe my 500th post is about the weather. I cannot believe that my random writing of last night made it into my dreams.

02 June 2009

Shake it up

We saw the Angels play the Dodgers at Dodger stadium at the end of May. Interleague play is always incredibly amusing (especially AL pitchers at bat).

I hadn't been to Dodger stadium in a really long time and it seemed so tiny, although in reality, it has about 10,000 more seats than Angels stadium. We got lucky and had seats about 10 rows up behind home plate. We took my father-in-law along, and it was fun to see his eyes light up when he got wind of where we were sitting. The kids were pretty psyched, too.

The nice lady usher in our section politely did not notice we were all dressed in red, and she handed us our All-Star Game ballots, which for some reason became the focus of the evening for the son. I have no idea why, but he was completely obsessed with that little bit of paper, carefully poking out the holes by the players he wanted. I, of course, managed to put my entire finger through the paper and so gave up on it. I always vote online anyway.

The daughter was completely obsessed with her garlic fries. I try to avoid eating at the ballpark. Only partly because I'm certain I'll get caught on camera with something in my mouth.

As baseball goes, it was a strange and rather sloppy game, though Messrs. Rivera and Hunter both hit nice home runs, which gave us the opportunity to stand up and cheer and applaud. Always good. Another group of Angels fans were sitting in the row in front of us, so we were our own little pod of red, high-fiving and carrying on.

The Dodgers won in extra innings.

It's been a tough season thus far for the Angels. I didn't really expect otherwise, honestly, but they looked good in spring training. Then the pitching rotation fell apart with injuries and the tragic death of Nick Adenhart. As the pitching rotation righted itself, the bullpen imploded. And on and on.

Today was an early game, and I had it on in the background while I was helping with homework and making soup for dinner. Saunders versus Halladay seemed likely to be an interesting match up, especially given Saunders' shut out against Zack Greinke a few weeks ago. But Toronto has a strong team this season and took the game.

I realized during the course of the afternoon that I'd never put in my All-Star votes, so sat down at the computer to do it while I was thinking about it. As if by magic, the son appeared.

"Why are you voting for him?" the son snarked over my shoulder as I marked names.

"Because I can," I snarked back, rather than the more truthful "because he's cute."

"He's not doing so well," the son commented as I marked another name.

Yes, but the daughter adores him, and someone has to save him from the dreadful TV commercials he's making.

So, I'm a sentimentalist rather than a perfectionist. Torii Hunter got my vote because he's an amazing player and he goes out and throws his body at the wall with his whole heart and soul every game. He's lost a teammate and his grandmother this season, but he shows up with a smile and he plays. Marco Scutaro got my vote because I watched him crack a bat at Angels stadium, and then walk over to a group of little boys in Angels jerseys who were sitting in the field boxes. He presented the bat to them and said a few words then returned to his at-bat. It was the sweetest gesture, and the excitement it generated in those kids could have powered the stadium for the rest of the night. Chone Figgins got my vote because when he gets on base, the fun begins. Bengie Molina got my vote because I always enjoyed watching him call games when he was with the Angels. So Vlad isn't exactly hitting them out of the park. I voted for him anyway. He still gets that look when someone throws a little too far inside.

I'm sure that some people only vote for All-Stars who are batting .385 or better, or whatever criteria they use, and that's fine. I didn't inquire of the son who earned his votes, though he was certainly disapproving of some of mine. But then I vote for the guys who keep me giving me reasons to watch the game.

Go listen to some music: "Shake It Up," from the album Shake It Up by The Cars. To think this post started life waxing less than poetic about the inability to accurately predict earthquakes.

01 June 2009

When rivers flow on Mars

Tonight, my children's participation in the instrumental music program came to an end.

Instrumental music is required in the fifth and sixth grade, and the kids play two concerts per year. Because the school is small, the available instruments are few: violins and cellos comprise strings, woodwinds have flutes and clarinets, and brass is represented by trumpet and trombone. Each grade plays separately, and strings play apart from brass and woodwinds, so there are rarely more than three or four kids playing any one instrument, and sometimes as few as 10 on the stage at any one time. Add to that the fact that they only average about a lesson per week, and there is no shortage of homework and sports and other things required that take up their time. Predictably, the winter concert is always dreadful, in part because half the group is usually out ill and in part because most of the children have been playing for only a few months. However abominable they are, they are so earnest, you have to applaud and smile.

I think that instrumental music is a great idea, and I like the fact that my kids had an opportunity that I was never afforded. Still, sitting through the shows isn't easy, but I do it because it's important my children know I support them, and I'd really like them to pursue instrumental music on their own time.

Some of the kids take the music really seriously. The son was always great about practicing the clarinet, and he actually did really well. The daughter, on the other hand, has practiced the clarinet maybe three times in the last three months, earning her the moniker "The Woolly Mammoth," courtesy of her brother, for both the quantity and quality of her squeaks and whiffles when she does play. (Her bff A.'s brother announced that puppies die every time A. picks up her clarinet, so the daughter thought maybe being likened to a woolly mammoth wasn't so bad).

By the time they get to the spring show, the noise has resolved itself into something more like music.

Tonight, as we were preparing to drop her off, the daughter let it be known that she would be playing a solo. All I could think was: you've practiced three times in three months. And I prepared for a barrage of squawking.

J. & G., A,'s parents were sitting behind us. When the first group of strings started, the teacher announced the song they'd be playing.

"Did she say 'Scotland Burning'?" I whispered incredulously.

"I thought it was 'Scotland's Brain," the spouse whispered back.

G. leaned forward. "That's 'London Burning'," he whispered. "Or 'London Calling'."

"We can only hope for The Clash," I murmured.

"Play 'Freebird'," said the spouse sotto voce.

And we all ended up giggling, except for J. who wanted to know what we were talking about in the middle of the children playing.

And so they played, some bits better than others.

Three-quarters of the way through, one of the sixth graders played "Dancing Queen" on the piano. It was incongruous, though she certainly did a passable job and didn't miss a note. But I could only think back to actually dancing to "Dancing Queen" years and years ago and never in a million years dreaming that one day I'd be sitting listening to it at a school instrumental music recital, with lots of little people who hadn't even been thought of in anyone's wildest dreams.

The last segment was the daughter's group, and G. leaned forward again.

"L. looks very...determined," he murmured. The daughter was actually beginning to look like a woolly mammoth, her carefully brushed hair now all over as she craned to look at me out of the very corner of one eye.

Like she would be spitting pieces of clarinet across the stage, I thought.

"All the people playing the flute are girls," whispered the spouse. "How did Ian Anderson ever get the idea to play the flute?"

I kicked him.

"Maybe they'll play 'Locomotive Breath'," he sighed.

The daughter's solo came and she turned bright red, and played without a hitch, without a trace of woolly mammoth, with nary a squeak or squall.

How did you manage that, my child, I wondered, with so little practice?

From the stage, she looked at me again from the very corner of her eye and gave the tiniest smile of triumph.

Go listen to some good music: "When Rivers Flow on Mars," composed by Nancy Telfer. One of the younger girls played this piece on the piano, very perfectly. I'd never heard it before and it gave me goosebumps.