31 December 2010

An end has a start - 2010

I long ago abandoned the idea of New Year's resolutions, though I always have a long list of long and short term goals in mind. Resolutions sound more like penance: Bless me, Father, for I have sinned, and this is how I'm going to make it good. No. I'm only too well aware of my own deficiencies, and I'd rather address the stuff that I know I need to fix than to have some third party bless me with his/her own action plan. With age, I've learned that one makes goals attainable, or what is the point of setting them? And I don't mean that one should aim low, but I aim for reasonable.

2010 wasn't the gut punch that 2009 turned out to be, but it was far from smooth sailing. Still, I made good on my promise to take back my life and get back on track, even if there were days that it looked more like grim determination than living beautifully. I wasn't raised to be selfish, but this year I reminded myself that a little responsible selfishness--also called taking care of oneself--makes me a happy girl. So, I took a photography workshop that reset an internal (infernal?) machine and opened up a different path to me (beginnings) though it was also a return of sorts to something that I'd long enjoyed. And I went out amongst strangers, which I'm sometimes loath to do.

To that end, I also took off on the concert trail again. Albuquerque, Columbus and Pittsburgh. Each with its own charms and challenges, but mine, all mine. For the most part, hugely satisfying in that regard. And it was a time to meet up with friends and have long, funny conversations that lasted late into the night.

Oh, the year was still rife with anxiety: kid planning for college, kid planning for high school, the employment situation, the depressing reality of California in general. But I've regained the ability to back out of the gloom and into the light. Sometimes kicking and screaming, sometimes through nightmares and sleeplessness, but in a better place altogether than last year.

SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING I'D LIKE EVERYONE TO CONSIDER DOING IN 2011:

Go do something good, worthy or awesome that you've never done before or haven't done in a long time. Start going for walks (call it "spying on the neighbor's gardening project" if going for a walk sounds too much like exercise); volunteer at your local library or soup kitchen; teach a kid or an adult to read; be creative. I will report on my own endeavor as the year progresses.

BEST BOOK I READ THAT WAS ACTUALLY PUBLISHED IN 2010:

I can only think of one book I read that was published in 2010, but fortunately, it was pretty good: Maggie O'Farrell's The Hand That First Held Mine. I think that I've liked some of her previous works better, but she is someone whose writing I really enjoy. Otherwise, I was pretty much reading Dorothy Dunnett, Alice Thomas Ellis, Margaret Atwood, and after several months, I finally finished The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

BEST ALBUM I BOUGHT THIS YEAR:

The New Pornographers' Together takes honors this year. I also really liked the Muse stuff I picked up this year, but while I find some of the lyrics quite thoughtful, I find some of the themes hilarious. In a good way. I mean, I don't think they take themselves overly seriously. At least I hope not.

BEST PLACE I STAYED WHEN I WAS AWAY FROM HOME:

Hands down, Fairmont Pittsburgh. Lovely staff, nicely furnished rooms, and for crying out loud, they upgraded me to a suite that would make most apartment dwellers envious.

Hidden Ridge Resort in Banff was perfect when the family was traveling over the summer. We had a large 2-bedroom plus loft condo within walking distance of the downtown area for a quite reasonable price. We also had a kitchen, and everyone was grateful for a couple of Meals by Mommy in the midst of a long driving vacation.

SINGLE MOST BIZARRE MOMENT OF THE YEAR:

Watching my 16-year-old son slalom my car around the Irvine Meadows parking lot on a summer afternoon as he exhibited his new defensive driving skills during his class "graduation" while in the background, Rush was soundchecking on the stage for the evening's concert. It was one of those seriously weird moments in life when multiple facets of my youth and adulthood all collided in the hot summer air. It was odd watching the bemusement on the other parents' faces at all the noise coming from the amphitheater while I was thinking, "Cool!" And of course, we were at the show that night.

BEST CONCERT I SAW THIS YEAR:

Tie!

Rush Time Machine Tour, August 13, Irvine Meadows, Irvine, CA, and August 29, Nationwide Arena, Columbus, OH. I enjoy every show, of course, but these two were the best of the four that I saw. At Irvine, watching my 13-year-old daughter air guitar like a mad thing made me laugh out loud, and my 16-year-old son caught one of the t-shirts tossed out by guitarist Alex Lifeson, which made the boy's night. And Columbus was just a blast.

Muse, September 24, Honda Center, Anaheim, CA. Really have come to like their music and the show was one of those unexpected little gems of showmanship that are just so much fun. Not too many bands I'm willing to see more than once, but these guys I'd see again.

THE MOMENT WHEN I FELT MY HEART IMPLODE:

Out in the world, I am generally circumspect. I watch people, and I keep a carefully crafted pleasant expression on my face. I try not to give too much away about what I am thinking or what I am feeling. But there are a few people out there who can catch me off guard, can see what I think I'm keeping close and unrevealed, catch me in that moment when I laugh out loud--in joy, in appreciation, with sheer happiness. And that night, in that brief, single moment of shared laughter, I felt my heart implode. I was brought up to believe I shouldn't take chances, but the leap paid off because I forgot for a moment to disguise myself, and we laughed together. The memory is one of the best of the year.

We none of us know what the future might bring. Last year, I said I intended to live life beautifully, and I approached that goal with a certain unbeautiful determination. In 2011, more beauty, more beginnings, more middles, desirable endings. As I said, this will be the year of fixing and there is a lot in my life that requires that. But I don't feel the need to approach it like an auto mechanic (though I imagine my doctors will be approaching me that way. *sigh*). Here's to beauty; here's to artistry; here's to moments of shared laughter and undisguised happiness.

My wish for everyone is that we come out shining on the other side. Thank you, as always, for spending time with me.

Be safe, be good and remember to eat your black-eyed peas.

...with hope in your hands
and air to breathe


Go listen to some good music: "An End Has a Start" from the album An End Has a Start by Editors.

30 December 2010

The weight of circumstances

We'd planned to go to Sequoia at Thanksgiving but my mother-in-law surprised me by announcing they'd decided to join us for Thanksgiving dinner. My in-laws are in their 80s, and I know our time together is limited. They dote on my children, and I couldn't deny them the opportunity to spend that time with the kids.

(No, I'm not the saint my peers nicknamed me back in Catholic school. I was utterly annoyed that I'd have to cook dinner when I was looking forward to someone else doing the deed, even if I knew it wouldn't be as good as mine. But I can be annoyed and still graciously do the right thing, which is nice, but not exactly saintly.)

I told the kids, who were also disappointed in the change of plans, that we'd go at Christmas instead. Brave words from the woman who 15 years ago today, trapped in the airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, with a 20-month-old (it was so not my idea), swore she'd never travel at the holidays ever again.

And so, the morning of the 27th, we packed up to go. And as I proceeded down the front steps to get in the car, my right knee gave way under my weight, not enough so that I fell, but enough to make me murmur in surprise, "That was weird."

Not weird, though. Just my treacherous body betraying me again.

We generally visit Sequoia during the off-season. As it turns out, Christmas is not the off season. It also turned out that the park has seen a vast accumulation of early snow. Chains were required, not a particular difficulty since we tend to carry chains when we go into the mountains in the winter.

We arrived late Monday, and smiled happily at the snowpack and the Milky Way. While we had dinner at the lodge, we planned for sledding the next day. And that occurred, though not so successfully as we might have liked, given the vast numbers of completely clueless individuals crashing into one another on the hill. As we walked across the snowy field, bemoaning the idiots who were letting their dogs relieve themselves everywhere in the crystalline snow at the bottom of the sledding hill, the muscles in my right leg gave way completely and I fell into 18 inches of powder. I waved off the concerned noises of my family, and got back to my feet, but it didn't escape my notice that the inside of my knee was completely numb.

As the day of departure approached, we'd watched the weather carefully, so we knew to expect some snow Wednesday, and we'd packed accordingly. But nothing prepared us (or anybody else, it appeared) for the 4+ feet of snow that started to fall Tuesday night.

Huge, wet flakes.






































Yes, under there somewhere was our car. For most people staying at Wuksachi, Wednesday afternoon's entertainment was digging their cars out, even though it was still snowing quite heavily. Some of the younger ones, however, just played in the snow while their parents swung shovels and ice scrapers.

After all that excitement (and a good dinner), we retired to our usual National Park lodge evening preoccupation, a rousing game of Hearts.

(We visit national parks with regularity, and have stayed in numerous lodges, from the TV-free Jackson Lake Lodge to the leaning Oregon Caves Chateau to the sadly filthy Glacier Park Lodge. The daughter always brings a pack of playing cards.)

This morning, the temperature was 10F, and the snow cracked ominously under our feet. We pulled out as early as was practical, and slowly made our way down the road. It was a long and difficult drive home.

Despite the circumstances, we made the best of our little holiday.

The year is drawing to a close, and I see quite a lot of fixing in my future. 2011: the year of fixes. The bathroom must be fixed, the front garden must be fixed.

Ominously, I must be fixed.

Not, frankly, what I had in mind.

Go listen to some good music: "Roll the Bones" from the album Roll the Bones by Rush. It's probably a herniated disc...and yeah, I know, a pretty disjointed little tale. I'm trying to keep the words "excruciating" and "painful" out of the mix. Also: long day. Also: very tired. Also: mad as hell that something else is broken. GAH!

24 December 2010

You're a pal and a confidante

LS and I have known each other for a bit over 30 years. We were fast friends in high school, but she moved away our senior year, and somehow, we've managed to stay in touch through time and distance.

Today, we sat next to each other at the restaurant where we had lunch, and we watched our daughters chatter away to each other, only minutes after they'd first met. They are four months apart in age, as are LS and I, and nearly the same age now as their mothers were when we first met.

The talk was animated, the laughter genuine.

"I thought so," LS said softly, with a small smile.

"Yup," I nodded, watching my daughter's bright face.

Go listen to some music: "Thank You for Being a Friend" from the album All This and Heaven Too by Andrew Gold. No, I don't really care for the song, but the sentiment is right, and so is the time period. Ah, the late 1970s...

21 December 2010

Rainy day

It was a sudden whooshing noise. I was going to make a joke that a spaceship was flying over. And really, I thought it was a plane going by.

But it was actually the sound of water. The sound of the water main in front our house failing catastrophically.

The force was so great that the pavement has lifted inches. All in the space of an hour. When I went to investigate the water bubbling up, I smelled natural gas, too.

So I called everyone: the gas company, the water service.

The water guys smelled gas, too. All the way up to the corner, they said.

The backhoe is now here. They are digging out in the pouring rain, and of course, I feel guilty. I feel like I somehow caused this. Even though I know the house has been here for fifty years and the water main probably as long. Even though I know the water guys have been out here numerous times in recent years, doing exactly what they are doing now, in front of other people's houses.

Later:

As it turns out, I won one and I lost one.

The line leading from the water meter to the street shattered. As I'd guessed, it was as old as the house, ancient galvanized piping that belonged to the water service of the city that supplies our house. They were the nicest people, cheerfully slogging through the rain and mud to fix the connection.

The men from the gas company were nice, too, even though it turned out that there was indeed a leak in the gas line, and it was on my side of the meter. The plumber I called out (the same one who visited me two weeks ago) grumbled a bit about being asked to "play in the rain," but ultimately, he was kind and efficient and got the leak fixed in no time. And finally, the second of the gentlemen from the gas company returned of his own volition, only minutes after I'd placed the service call, to restore my gas and check all my appliances. I couldn't thank him enough, and he laughed and said, "I thought to myself, 'that poor lady had enough for one day without having to wait until 8pm to get her gas back.'"

But I assured him that I was grateful for his thoughtfulness.

Yesterday, I had to deal with a single nasty cretin who ruined my entire day. Today, I had a group of the kindest and most professional individuals who brightened my entire week, despite the circumstances, and went a little way to reminding me that there are only two sorts of people in the world. Today, I got the good people.

Go listen to some good music: "Rainy Day" from the album Prospekt's March by Coldplay. All's well that ends well, but gods was it nervewracking 'til the end.

19 December 2010

I'm collecting vinyl

And looking for a neutral subject on which to blog.

(I'm gonna DJ at the end of the world!)

Anyway.

I'm not a mommy blogger, so I know you're not here to read about vomiting kids. (I was lucky. It was just the one, but gods! She was sick. And I was disinfecting the bathroom for days. Okay, 'nough about that.)

I'm not a mommy blogger, so I know you're not here to read about the politics of mommies and schools and school parties. (I was not lucky there. I was not fit for human consumption Friday. I think I probably owe a half dozen people apologies, though I mostly managed to confine myself to looking furious and not actually saying anything. I think. Okay, 'nough about that. But DAMN.)

(She'd like a lover's wings to fly on...)

Anyway.

I don't write about health issues, so I'm going to fail to mention that the muscles in my back are in spasm, and it's hard to sit down. Or lie down. Or stand up.

(I could have kept my head down. I might have kept my mouth shut.)

There. That brings you up to date.

Go listen to some good music: "I'm Gonna DJ" from the album Accelerate by REM. It's all good. Mostly. Okay, the muscle spasms not so much. Been there, done that. Once they went into spasm when I was standing on a roof, so this looks like Easy Street. It, too, will pass. Probably.

Okay, real blog post tomorrow. Maybe.

12 December 2010

The hills are alive

...with the sound of illness.

I suppose it's fitting given the way the rest of the week went (I'm opting to believe that today is the end of last week rather the beginning of next week).

The cat didn't start singing for his breakfast until 6:30 am, which was something, but then I was reawakened an hour later by the sound of the daughter being sick. So far, every half an hour...

And somewhere in the midst of cleaning up and doing laundry and planning for everyone else to go down with the stomach bug in the coming week, I suddenly realized that my throat was really sore. And that I was sneezing rather a lot. And that I had this irritating, raspy cough.

Hurrah.

While I tuck the daughter back into bed and stroke her hair, looking at her pale and unhappy face, I search for perspective. She is a strong and healthy girl with a bad dose of what's probably Norovirus. This is misery, but it's not a child whose already precarious health is being threatened by cholera. Yes, I hate having a runny nose. Yes, cleaning the bathroom every half an hour is a pain, but I have a bathroom to clean.

Still, it's never easy watching one's children get ill. Harder when they're younger, but they seem to return to that young and vulnerable state when they don't feel well. Relentlessly, I run through checklists in my head: fever? headache? rash? disorientation? dehydration? Also indicators for? And I know it's a fool's errand to set myself on this path, but it's how my brain works: what if I miss something crucial?

Possibly one of my more unfortunate tendencies.

Then as I stroke her hair and watch her eyelids flutter closed, I remind myself that I am fortunate that this, too, will pass.

Go listen to some good music: "The Sound of Music" from the album The Sound of Music [Original Soundtrack], music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Even though I want to whine, I don't cut myself a lot of slack with this sort of thing; I know that we're lucky to have a roof over our heads, access to health care and so on. Maybe one of my better tendencies. Still, ugh, I cannot emphasize how much I hate dealing with stomach illness. *shudder*

11 December 2010

Coming out the woodwork...

Like childbirth, one forgets the process of home renovation. There is so much pain before getting to the end result.

Installing the refrigerator was a week long ordeal. The refrigerator came and visited three times before it finally was bolted into its space. Construction was required.

It was ridiculous.

The window installers didn't make it Friday.

"Tomorrow?" the woman in the front office said hopefully yesterday. "Between 11 and 1?"

"Sure," I told her, swiftly calculating. The son was having a passel of classmates over to work on a final project for a class. They were due to arrive between 1 and 2...so the installers should be gone or close to gone.

And I still had to make a shopping run (for ingredients...didn't really have a refrigerator for a week) before assembling the dessert I am supposed to take to a party (yes, assembly required).

I washed up the new fridge and stocked it with what little was left from the week last night.

I went to bed pretty early. I actually slept for the first time in a week.

The spouse was meant to go for a massage at 9:30 in the morning. At 9:15 I ran out the door for a fast shopping trip.

At 9:30, my cell phone began vibrating madly in my pocket while I was perusing chocolate sprinkles in the baking aisle. I gasped loudly in surprise, and the man standing next to me looked at me like I was mad.

"They're here," the spouse said. "The window installers. I need to leave."

I ran for the check out. We'll draw a discreet veil over the wacky people who were in front me.

I got home and shooed the spouse out the door.

The window is in.

The cake is baking.

The pudding is cooling.

Labor, for the moment, is done.

Tomorrow is *sigh* another day.

Go listen to some good music: "Home by the Sea" from the album Genesis by Genesis. I know it's about a haunted house. But aren't all houses at least a little haunted, if only by the ghost of past bad renovations and horrendous contractors? Oh, the stories I could tell. Make your hair stand on end.

09 December 2010

Livin' la vida loca

Last night, I went to pick up the daughter from basketball practice. A fire truck, paramedic van and ambulance sat in the school driveway in the failing light. I ran across the street.

Crazy life? Mine is crazy. In good ways and bad ways.

The crazy, at least yesterday, was not so much in a good way.

The wall finally got patched about 7 pm last night. But not until after I had to call 5 drywallers to see if they'd do it (only 2 returned calls, and now I have to cancel the one who was coming tomorrow because in the end, my neighbor who is a contractor heard about my dire straits and showed up to fix it for me. Item: purchase one very nice bottle of wine for him.).

The son took his laptop to school yesterday for a project and returned home with a virus-laden machine, courtesy of one of his nitwit friends and said person's virus-laden flash drive. That was six hours of repair time.

And the ambulance, fire truck and paramedic van? I ran up to the glass doors of the school and the daughter came into lobby as I arrived. When she saw me, she burst into tears. She and her teammates were practicing when one of the girls tripped and fell, breaking her arm, quite horrifically, in two places. The daughter had never seen displaced bone or deformed, blackening flesh before and while one of the coaches helped the injured girl, the daughter was charged with getting someone to call for outside help.

As she told me this, I patted and soothed, and while we stood there, the injured girl was wheeled out.

"It's ok, L!" she said, and clearly she had been given something to ease her discomfort.

"Hey, look!" I whispered to the daughter. "She really lucked out. She got the cute firefighters!"

And the daughter laughed then because one of the men really was good looking.

And while I said aloud that a broken arm is really small in the overall scheme of things that can go wrong, I held a good thought for N.'s mother, because I know that for mothers, even a stubbed toe can look like disaster when it's your kid. And I know how miserable I'd be if it was my daughter with the broken arm.

Today, the coach commended the daughter for keeping her head in an emergency.

Tomorrow, the refrigerator should be installed. Perhaps the third time will be the charm. Tomorrow, the window that an energetic friend literally pulled out of its frame (the window's fifty years old. I suppose it's not surprising) will be replaced. Next week, I start interviewing men with sledgehammers.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

Though I look like more skimmed milk than mocha, I'll dance next time it rains. I will wear you out. I wear me out.

Life is crazy that way.

Go listen to some music: "Livin' la Vida Loca" from the album Ricky Martin by Ricky Martin. Poor little N. has surgery tomorrow to repair her arm, which really makes my heart ache for her family. My whole family has decided that this week really really really needs to end. Now.

07 December 2010

Believe it

So, I bought a refrigerator. Simple enough, no? NO.

Years ago, we remodeled our kitchen, nice custom cabinets, new appliances (the existing ones dated back to 1979), blah, blah, blah. I wouldn't, however, give up my existing refrigerator because it was only about a year old. I just couldn't see spending a fortune on a new one when the old one had plenty of life in it yet. But being at least somewhat clever, I had the space designed for a built-in. You know, home resale value and all that.

So. Cut to 2009, and the old Maytag begins to very literally fall apart. I nursed it along until now. And found a nice Thermador at a (sort of, but not really because built-ins are freaking expensive) reasonable price.

That was on Saturday.

If I get into the installation question, we'll be here all day. Suffice to say, the salespeople didn't talk to each other about who installs what where. They ended up throwing in a certified installer because they really screwed that one up.

So, it transpires I'm taking delivery on this thing yesterday. That was on Monday.

But! There are three steps leading up to our front door! GAH!

Everyone runs around in circles. Another person, a different dolly and a REAL installer are needed. For crying out loud. I make arrangements to be here this morning to take delivery of the refrigerator, again.

As it turns out, our original salesperson is also an installer. He shows up with refrigerator, special dolly and adjunct red shirt.

"I'm concerned about that pipe for the water line..." he says. To be very fair to him, he is tremendously professional, hugely apologetic and nice as pie.

And it turns out that the refrigerator cannot be installed because the plumber did not correctly install the water line for the space. Even though I have no intention of hooking up the ice maker, the roughed in pipe sticks out too far for the refrigerator to go in.

Just another reason to hate the plumber who worked on my kitchen because he really did screw up everything he touched, and I had to have him back countless times to fix leaks and connections that he didn't do right the first time.

So, here I sit waiting on a new plumber to show up and fix the latest problem.

I'll still be here tomorrow morning, waiting on delivery of the refrigerator. Maybe third time will be the charm.

Somehow, I doubt it.

Update, 1 pm: Just a plumber, huh? Nope, the plumber has come and gone. Now I'm trying to find someone to repair the drywall...

Go listen to some good music: "Believe It" from the album 7 Day Weekend by The CS Angels. No, the song has nothing to do with the post, really, but with other things that are going on. Really, there is always so much going on, and I don't write about 98% of it. And most amusingly, my best friend from high school called while I was in the process of unloading the old refrigerator for the second time this morning, and she and her family are coming to visit at Christmas. Very cool.

06 December 2010

Winter contingency

The son: "What are we doing this weekend?"

Me, groaning: "Really. Busy. Weekend."

The son: "Oh. Well, if I have to go to somebody's house Saturday morning...?"

Me: "?"

The son: "Finals project for History."

Me: "Well, somebody could come over here."

The son, into cellphone that I didn't know he was holding: "Dude. We can do it here. We just need to touch base with the other guys. That ok? Ok, man, talk to you later."

Me: "?"

The son, with some excitement: "...and then we can play on the Xbox when we're done with the project...!"

Me: "Uh, I don't remember saying anything about that."

The son, slightly severely: "Mom. These are the guys who know you play Halo."

Me, incredulously: "You want me to play with you?"

The son: "Rawk!"

Go listen to some music: "Winter Contingency" from the album Halo Reach (Original soundtrack) by Martin O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori. This was the funniest part of my day. I've been quite insanely busy and would rather be anywhere but here. But I have a contingency clause in my contract, though I can't use that option for a bit yet. Enough said?

03 December 2010

It's a world of laughter

We were en route to the optician to replace the son's glasses. He does a superb job of breaking them. Frequently. And he wears contacts most of the time.

I started whistling Muse's "Hysteria." Not that I was feeling particularly hysterical. It's just been running through my head.

(Another story entirely. Not in any way related to Muse.)

The daughter joined in.

The son sighed.

"Just so long as it's not 'Small World,'" he said.

In perfect harmony and with no preliminaries, the daughter and I began to sing loudly in unison:

"It's a small world after all, it's a small world after all, it's a small world after all, it's a small, small world!"

Go listen to some music: "It's a Small World (After All)," written by Richard and Robert Sherman. When I left the studio for another division, my VP told me gravely, "You know they play 'Small World' all day long on the PA, don't you?" As to the other, read the lyrics. No, not "Small World."

01 December 2010

Have we got contact?

Administrative stuff:

This is my blog and it's run by Blogger's TOS and it's governed by my rules.

I have one very big rule:

Play nice.

Spam is not nice. I moderate comments so spam comments never make it on board, and now I'm seeing what looks like spam followers. And evidently, spam followers can email my real followers with spam. That is not nice. So if I think you are a spam follower, you are blocked. Simple as that. If I've blocked you and you are a real person with a real interest in my blog (why?), please email me and I will reinstate you (Rule #2: Play fair). Real people: if you get spam email from anyone listed as following me, please email me and I will block that follower.

Are we all clear on this? Good. Because that brings us to rule #3:

Do not annoy me.

Go listen to some good music: "Contact" by The Police from the album Regatta de Blanc.

30 November 2010

What is my life

Don't worry; I said my piece last night. As I told the son, yesterday was a day that got progressively more exasperating the longer it went on. And by the end, having deleted 8,000 emails offering various black and cyber come-ons and finally, getting a call from a telemarketer with an auto-dialer trying to sell me a loan modification that I don't need (only slightly worse than the damn bank that's trying to sell me insurance I don't want), I just blew a gasket.

And I wasn't trying to sound overly sanctimonious--only somewhat sanctimonious. I buy things. I have a fondness for cashmere. I buy copious quantities of music. Vast amounts of music. Way too much music. Music on disc and music live. And books. But trying to sell me a lifestyle? Boys and girls, that is so 1985.

Today, I saw old friends and co-workers, and I sat and talked to them, and it was fun. DHM made a funny comment about low-maintenance friendship: we've been promising to meet for coffee for almost 4 years. But in no time, we were off and running, planning lunch (Zov's, woman! Great Mediterranean and the desserts...!). CL wondered aloud when we'd all pack up and go to another concert ("When it's $10!" LS replied, which was what we paid for Aerosmith). And everyone wanted to know where the son plans to go to college. ("I don't know," I said, waving my hands vaguely. "I'm going to put him on eBay and send him to the highest bidder.")

The son has grown a goatee and the daughter had her first basketball game. I got a photo of her looking radiant and of him looking like...a Viking.

Tomorrow is a new month: I have parties and brunches to attend and stuff to do, and I'm making the most wonderfully evil sounding fudge and toffee trifle for the neighborhood do. And maybe something else. Because I've become the person who brings two desserts.

I have plans to make. I promised the daughter New York, tea at The Plaza, a day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That happens in May during travel week unless I drop dead between now and then. I promised my beloved TD that I would come "home" to DC to visit him solo, and April is looking very promising for that.

I have projects to complete. Okay, so NaNoWriMo went about the same way it does every year, but I've actually got something I like. And then there is: Bathroom. Sledgehammer. NOW.

That is life.

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

29 November 2010

To keep us trapped in greed

So, why exactly am I supposed to want to watch TV on the subway that is not my living room? Not that Southern California has anything that resembles public transportation.

And why do I need hundreds of apps? Endless games? Stuff, stuff and more stuff?

Is it any wonder that zombies--the ultimate consumers--are reigning supreme in the media these days?

I have no intention of being at world's beck and call, ever. So, sorry if my phone doesn't pick up my email. Or if I decline to post via the mobile capabilities. I have a very nice 7-year-old iPod that plays music when I'm walking; I don't really desire an upgrade. "Rule the air," my cell phone provider intones. Um, no, thank you. And honestly? I'm not interested in anyone who thinks s/he should rule the air. Spend 30 seconds on Twitter and it's brutally clear that very few people have much to say. Don't think I exempt myself from that criticism, which is why I don't advertise this little corner of the web.

Over the holiday, a relative tried to sell me on the merits of, variously, the iPad, the iPhone, and one of those book readers. I declined all of them, as did my offspring. I don't want more stuff. Why would I want to be tied to stuff? Stuff does not weed the garden. Stuff does not make me happy. Stuff does not provide the moonrise or the Northern lights. Stuff does not cook dinner. Stuff does not improve my life. And I feel greedy because I'm planning to buy myself another camera lens, something I actually want and will use.

"I don't really want anything material for Christmas," the daughter said recently, her voice slightly fraught. The son agreed.

"I'd rather focus on the experience anyway," I told them. "I'd rather make cookies with you guys and then eat them in front of the fireplace."

What do my children remember about the Christmases of their lives? Not what they got, but what we did. That they get to eat See's candy for breakfast. That I cook them a Victorian feast. That we listen to Patrick Stewart's A Christmas Carol and "that old CD of Christmas songs." That sometimes Grandma and Grandad spend the night, and then it's really crazy fun. That we stick ribbons on the cat and watch him run around. That the cat pulls down the tree. That the dog always knew where her present was.

Of course there will be some gifts. The daughter covets a particular cardigan; the son would like some (real) books. The spouse is demanding Rock Band 3 (hours of fun for the whole family, believe me). I will defer Christmas for myself until I can go off and have an adventure (and possibly a new camera lens). We will do right by others who otherwise wouldn't be celebrating.

So, I won't be buying a lot of cheap Chinese garbage this year to satisfy the demands of my own government. I've never been a profligate spender and I don't intend to start now in order to support some Federal Reserve fantasy. I don't watch much TV anyway, and I'm sure as heck not going to start watching it on my stupid phone. I have a life, and I rather enjoy living it.

There's no app for that.

Go listen to some good music: "Uprising" by Muse from the album The Resistance. Yup, I'm all over the map tonight. Truth is I don't actually care how others spend their time or money; I'm nice like that! Whatever floats your boat. What I object to is that so many people I know and the great gods of advertising are constantly trying to convince me that I should want to spend my time and money the same way. I know exactly what I want, thank you, and it has nothing to do with electronics or badly made clothing or useless gadgets. [holiday rant] end [/holiday rant]

25 November 2010

The world is

First thing, I received an email from my nephew--my late older brother's only child--only to discover he has been deployed to Afghanistan.

It wasn't the news I was looking for.

Another year, another war, another pilot.

I cooked with a vengeance, and I thought about him, about the men and women with whom he would share his day today, so far from home.

My in-laws arrived, and I fed my family everything I'd spent two days cooking. The son was pleased with his mincemeat pie and the rolls I showed him how to make; the daughter smiled over the pumpkin pie she made, along with the rolls she assembled and the green bean casserole she stirred. My MIL said she couldn't eat another bite and then had seconds. My FIL poured gravy all over his plate and ate with gusto. There were toasts and laughter and discussions of other family members, near and far.

Another year, another holiday, another gathering.

And I am grateful: that I had the opportunity to wish the boy, now a man, who looks so much like his father a Happy Thanksgiving though he's half a world away. That I have my own dear little family, and an extended family who sometimes drive me crazy, but who I love nonetheless. I am grateful that I have the means and the wherewithal to put a meal on the table, to feed those I care about (and not poison them. Oh, careful as I am about food safety, I still worry about that!). And I'm grateful to those who write the books I read, the movies I watch, the music I listen to for entertaining me and challenging me. And I'm grateful to my friends, near and far, who entertain me and challenge me and feed my mind and heart.

Not every day is great; some we just endure. But each minute is a bridge to the next, a span to the future, to possibility, to potential, to the hope of something better.

Another moment, another opportunity to cherish, another door to open.

Or window, if the door doesn't present itself.

And I sat there, this afternoon, really too tired to eat, my hands sore with burns from hot pots and the oven, watching the daughter giggle and the son down glass after glass of sparkling apple cider, listening to the spouse talk with his parents and my MIL laugh over the son's Miami Vice stubble, and I was just glad, really happy, that it was all possible.

Go listen to some good music: "Tom Sawyer" by Rush from the album Moving Pictures. And the new stuffing I made was awful, but the son inexplicably loved it. A crystal salt shaker somehow broke, and I brought out the good china. Yeah, the stuff that has to be washed by hand!

24 November 2010

Pressure...

Feeling a little stressed about Thanksgiving? I'm not, much. I'm still cleaning up after the last round of house guests before the next bunch descends.

And I have to cook enough food for an army.

What else is new?

Anyway, if you're feeling overwhelmed by tomorrow's cooking foray, read this Q&A with Butter Queen Paula Deen. I was laughing out loud. (Link via PopCandy.)

(Of course, you know my turkey has been in the refrigerator for a couple of days already...)

And you know, something she didn't talk about, but I'll just add: expect the unexpected guest. I get at least one almost every year. You just add another chair to the table, and set another place. Even if it's the person you most loathe in the world (and I've had him or her, too). It's nothing to get wound up about, though I know people who do (and sometimes, it's been me).

Okay, I'm off to make pies. And mashed potatoes. And cranberry sauce. And to cut up vegetables. And clean up the mincemeat that leaked all over the refrigerator last night...

You know the drill.

Go listen to some good music: "Under Pressure" by Queen & David Bowie from the album Best of Bowie. I canNOT seem to type straight today...

23 November 2010

Oranges and lemons (2010)

Mincemeat is simmering on the back of the cook top and it smells like the holidays. It makes me very explicably happy. The son and I made it together this year; I had him washing and coring and slicing the apples while I zested citrus and processed fruit and added stuff. Then he stirred the resultant brew. Now it is just cooking. And smelling delicious.

(There is a photo here at When All This Actual Life Played Out. If you wondered what homemade mincemeat looks like.)

It's a bit amusing to see that I posted the recipe for this stuff a year ago today. I don't know why things like that amuse me. Congruence.

And today, the window man came and measured and gave me an estimate and I ordered. Another step in the right direction, I hope. I have the bathroom designer and I'm looking for the contractor and I'm choosing fixtures.

Would that I had a magic wand or could just snap my fingers.

But I'm happy nonetheless.

Go sing a nursery rhyme: "Oranges and Lemons" is a traditional English nursery rhyme.

20 November 2010

Hedwig's theme

(Caution: possible spoilers)

I don't think I've missed taking the kids to an opening weekend showing of any of the Harry Potter movies (and I think we got most of the books day of release...and I read most of them aloud to the assembled company because that's the kind of mother I am and that's the kind of family I have). The new Potter movie was no exception; we saw it this morning.

Although I generally enjoyed the books, the movies have been less compelling. The last one was so awful that I came close to chewing my fingers off out of sheer boredom (the daughter was also bored, but the son liked it). I don't think I liked the one previous, either, and honestly, the books are so rich in detail I don't think it would be possible to completely do them justice.

It has been interesting to watch the growth of the young actors to adulthood. Whereas chubby-faced Daniel Radcliffe had exactly one expression in the first film (mouth hanging open), he's added a few more in the intervening years, and has evolved through teenage awkwardness to a more accomplished young man. Watching him grow up physically on screen has been a bit instructive for me: amusingly, my own son looked so much like a blonde Harry Potter that children would stop in the street to stare at him, tugging on their parents' clothes and whispering, "It's Harry Potter!" In much the same fashion, I've watched him grow from a chubby-faced, bespectacled child through awkward adolescence and into a truly handsome and funny young adult.

Deathly Hallows, Part 1 was certainly better than the last two films. The dissolution of the magical world was evident in the physical destruction that was everywhere, as well as the more personal degradation of the Malfoy family and others. But I'm always distressed by the cavalier treatment of death: poof! Bye, Hedwig! Poof! Bye, Mad Eye! Poof! Bye, Dobby! The film's treatment of Hedwig's death--really, the death of Harry's childhood--surprised me the most because of the complete lack of response to it. The death of a truly minor character evoked more emotion in the film. This doesn't bode particularly well for Part 2, where a large chunk of the cast will get offed.

Oh well, I suppose I should review Red, which the kids and I saw last week and which had us laughing out loud. Oh, for the good old days.

Go listen to some good music: "Hedwig's Theme" from the album Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) by John Williams. I've become increasingly resistant to going to the movie theater, but I was astonished that the theater today was less than 25% full.

19 November 2010

You can only cover so much territory, of course

But I don't do such a bad job.

There are days when it doesn't take much for my mood to do a 180. This morning was just such an example, and I felt a great deal more cheerful embarking on a multi-mile hike, and even managed to get the gutters cleaned out before this weekend's Weather Armageddon (aka STORMWATCH!). A friend of mine saw me charging up the hill and called me later, wondering aloud if "that grin on your face means something."

Naturally it does.

It means I will get through the weekend (and STORMWATCH!), as well as next week (lists upon lists of groceries notwithstanding), and probably the quasi dead zone that is the early part of the year (the son in NOLA notwithstanding. My quest to encourage them to devote some of their time to service to others has him off to build houses there, my nervousness about it notwithstanding). I had vague plans regarding the first quarter of 2011, and I'm seeing things maybe firming up a bit.

My need to shake things up notwithstanding.

I will get through the weekend, and Thursday, and December. It stands to reason that the next few months may be massive, particularly if the cycle of three years ago is an indication.

I can't stop thinking big.

Go listen to some good music: "Your Hands (Together)" from the album Together by The New P*rnographers. I wasn't kidding about the tired part last night. After the gutters, I showered and fed my mother lunch and collapsed on the couch and slept for at least an hour. Unheard of for me.

18 November 2010

...so don't give me more

At present, I have a houseguest. So I'm being entertaining.

I am at one of those points where everyone and everything is extraordinarily demanding. I am very tired. So much so that I'm just sort of sitting here staring at the screen.

And I have little to say beyond that at the moment.

Go listen to some good music: "Whatever's Left" from the album Final Straw by Snow Patrol. I haven't seen my mother in 2.5 years, and she's become old. I'm seeing early signs of senility, which is weird and sad and scary. We have little common ground, it seems, and I'm finding conversation is frequently awkward.

15 November 2010

Pinball wizard

I am not the wizard. I am the pinball.

Take what you know of my life, and it's not tough to figure that things haven't exactly been peachy.

Go listen to some good music: "Pinball Wizard" from the album Tommy by The Who. Personally, I've always preferred Elton John's version.

11 November 2010

Shining face to face


11 November 2010

I know. There's a reason why I have a photo blog, but when I was looking at the images I took tonight, I was thinking about my fascination with taking photos of the moon. Look at the edge where the light fades into darkness. Look at the craters. Look inside the craters. You are seeing shadows that are hundreds of thousands of miles away, courtesy of the small magic of a wonderful lens, and the strange, pixelated wonder of a photo on this even stranger electronic communication.

So very simple. So very complicated.

It's excruciatingly clear tonight, thanks to those gruesome winds that have been blowing all day. But the clarity is the payoff. And while I stood out in the black dark, wind whipping my hair around my head, under the brilliant light of a slice of moon, I thought about the craters and the shadows, and the other people who might stop for a moment to look at them, maybe even at the same moment I was standing there looking at them. Of the other people who might see them here.

So very simple. So very complicated.

Go listen to some great music: "Between Sun & Moon" from the album Counterparts by Rush. Hmm. There's a new label in there...

10 November 2010

You got me running, going out of my mind

Really, it was one of those days.

You know, drama, and random endless stupidity.

The spouse sort of capped things off by dumping hot wings sauce all over and inside my purse. I'm still trying to get it out of my cell phone.

And if I get one more phone call asking me to upgrade some service, or another email that uses a term like "talking points" or "on message"...

What did I say a few days ago? I sleep now, and when I wake it's tomorrow? Sounds like good advice.

Go listen to some music: "Don't Bring Me Down" from the album Greatest Hits by Electric Light Orchestra. Don't even get me started on needing to replace the refrigerator and trying to find a replacement light bulb for my washing machine.

09 November 2010

For a few dollars more (or not)

A quick note for those of you who read via the feed: I'm having trouble with content scrapers, so the feed posts will be temporarily shortened. To read the entire post, you'll need to click through to the blog. I'm sorry for the inconvenience; I do expect it to be temporary. This is an ongoing problem; I'm just feeling particularly ornery tonight.

AT was teasing me this morning about getting co-opted into cooking Thanksgiving dinner and I said a little sourly that while she was enjoying her planned vacation with her children, she could think about me slaving away in the kitchen preparing to entertain my in-laws. She laughed.

"So," she said. "How many days will it take you to prepare? Two? Three?"

I considered.

"About 24 hours all told," I told her, and then confessed, "I can pretty much make Thanksgiving dinner in my sleep."

My in-laws are traditionalists, so I am not allowed to make anything "weird." I'm going out on a limb making cornbread stuffing this year rather than the usual herbed stuff. My family requires that certain things appear: mincemeat pie, pumpkin pie. Well, and turkey.

"Oh, you see?" she said. "You cook every day. Think about all those people who only cook a couple of times a year. They don't even know what they're doing!"

I suppose she has a point.

Besides not being able to find mincemeat (not to worry, I've given up and just make it from scratch now), deals on turkey have been thin on the ground this year. I ended up lugging a 20-lb. frozen turkey about a half mile today (don't ask. Possessed.), but hey! I got it for 50 cents a pound.

I just called it weightlifting. Though my weights aren't usually that cold.


Thanksgiving dinner menu

Brie en Croƻte with Cherries and Pistachios with toasted french bread rounds
Homemade hummus with whole wheat pita
Crudite with dip
Champagne

Turkey with sage gravy
Cornbread and sausage stuffing
Roasted garlic mashed potatoes
Brussels sprouts
Green bean casserole
Cranberry orange relish
Cloverleaf rolls with butter
Pinot Noir
Riesling

Pumpkin pie with whipped cream
Mincemeat pie
Coffee

Now, if I can just find the Riesling that my MIL liked so much a couple of years ago, I'll be good to go.

Go listen to some music: "For a Few Dollars More" by Ennio Morricone from the album 50 Movie Theme Hits: Gold Edition.

08 November 2010

Symphony #25 in G Minor, K 183 - 1. Allegro con brio


"Why, yes. I am sitting in your box. What of it?"

A palate cleanser.

I remember the first time that I used "alcoholic" and a reference to my father in the same sentence. There was no sense of relief at saying the truth, only a dreadful feeling that I was going to be struck by lightning for being an undutiful daughter. Less allegro con brio and more andante with false bravado. I feel much that way now.

Anyway, I think I'm done with that. Hopefully, it's done with me.

Now, off to rejoin my regularly scheduled life, which today included zombie apocalypse at the grocery store.

And I think my life is boring.

Go listen to some good music: "Mozart: Symphony #25 in G Minor, K 183 - 1. Allegro con brio" from the album Mozart Symphonies 21-25 performed by Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

07 November 2010

I will not let you in

Where does one draw the line? It's always the question I face in blogging and in real life.

The story I've been wrestling with is the story of the boy who wouldn't take "no" for an answer and who grew up into the man who wouldn't take "no" for an answer and who finally got scary and weird enough to really frighten me.

Recently, I've been reading Shreve Stockton's account of dealing with a stalker. He found her through her websites and began his campaign of harassment through email. Reading her story has left me in awe of her courage, but it also opened the door to nightmares, to memories I try to keep at bay. And my story is different: he was no stranger, but someone I knew, and his behaviour escalated over the course of 10 years.

He started when I was 15 and it seemed so innocuous.

He was just another kid. Remarkable mostly for his snide and arrogant self-assurance. He was in my freshman English class. I gave him no thought at all.

It wasn't until our sophomore year that I really spoke to him. My friend LS and I spent our afternoons in the school library, finishing our homework, talking. People would come and go, hang out with us for awhile, move on. He came and sat at the table where we were working one afternoon. It turned out that we had similar taste in music and books. Then, he got my phone number from another person, and started calling me. It was all very innocent, friendly even. Eventually, he asked me to go out with him. I declined. While I thought he was interesting to talk to, he was not the sort of person I would have ever considered as boyfriend material, partly because he had a well-defined mean streak, partly because I didn't find him at all attractive.

And initially, all seemed well. We talked about books and music and movies and Monty Python. We talked about teachers and classes. Then he began spinning fantasies that revolved around me. I asked him to stop. The fantasies became uncomfortably suggestive. I stopped taking his calls.

He persisted at school, but carefully. I was polite. He got a girlfriend. I was relieved. Then the girlfriend began calling me at his behest for "advice," which confused me. They broke up and he informed me the girlfriend was a ploy to make me jealous. I was furious and reiterated that I didn't want to date him.

It sounds like a soap opera, doesn't it? Stupid teenage drama. That's what I thought, too. Books, movies, pop songs, the purveyors of fantasy, make it seem that being the object of someone's obsession is somehow alluring, at least until the crazy really manifests. It's not. It's denigrating, aggravating and time consuming. There is nothing nice or desirable about it.

Senior year, I started dating ML, a boy I knew from the school newspaper, and it was the first time that one of my relationships turned a bit more serious. We were a couple.

That's when things started getting ugly.

He found moments to denigrate ML publicly, to ask crude questions about our relationship. I called him out for his bad behaviour.

He told me that it was all my fault that he was behaving badly. But he backed off, and once we finished high school, I didn't hear from him for nearly three years.

My relationship with ML continued for a time after we went off to different colleges, but eventually ended. I'm not sure how he got wind that ML and I were no longer seeing each other, but he showed up at my parents' house the first time I visited after ML and I called it off.

Initially, I was pleased with opportunity to catch up on our friendship, but his behaviour soon became quite off-putting. He began by criticizing my hair (short, after years of hanging nearly to my waist), my weight (the slim side of normal for my height, but a few pounds heavier than the stage weight I'd maintained for dancing), my clothing. College had changed me, he declared. He didn't like what he was seeing, the person I'd become. And then he wanted to know if I'd changed my mind about going out with him.

I told him firmly that I was willing to be friends with him, but that I had nothing else to offer him. Then out of the blue, he asked if I'd consider marrying him in the future, despite the fact he'd had no contact with me for years. I told him it was very unlikely.

When I returned to school, he began to call frequently. He asked me again to marry him. I told him no. He didn't want my friendship, he told me decisively. He could prove his devotion, he was sure of it. But he wanted a relationship with me, or nothing. If I lost him altogether, it was all my fault.

Then it's done, I told him.

And I thought it was. He vanished again.

It was eighteen months later when his behaviour became alarming.

One afternoon, my mother called me to tell me that he'd shown up at her house, looking for me. He got my address and phone number from her and then told her that he was planning to go to California over the weekend to find me. Something about his demeanor, something he said that carried an implicit threat, really distressed her.

"I'm afraid he's going to harm you," she told me. I'm not sure what frightened me more: that she thought he was going to hurt me, or that the same thought had already occurred to me.

I stayed with a friend that weekend, so I never knew if the threatened visit was just that, or if he did show up. Shortly thereafter, I arrived at work one morning after having taken a vacation day, and one of my coworkers told me that a man had come looking for me while I was gone.

"He said that another man had asked him to check up on you," she said. "They're friends of yours from high school?"

The man who'd come to pay me a visit was someone who'd gone to the same high school with us. He'd come at the behest of my stalker, to what end, I was never certain.

Everyone I knew was told not to give my address, phone number or place of business to anyone.

I'll never know how he might have guessed that I'd returned to town for graduate school, but one night when I was working on an assignment in the library, he came up behind me, and announced in a loud voice, "I've been waiting for this moment for three years."

I gasped, a not unusual reaction to someone sneaking up behind one and yelling.

He said angrily, "Don't be melodramatic. You expected me."

Which I very much hadn't, of course. And his behaviour was so bizarre that the woman I was studying with wanted to get campus security. I told her not to worry, and agreed to meet with him at an off-campus watering hole, a very well-known and busy place.

He wanted to talk, and he told me about his life in those intervening years, unsatisfactory jobs, a failed marriage. He bragged about the lengths he'd gone to in order to keep tabs on me. How he'd sent various people after me to keep an eye on my activities. How he planned to drive out to California to try to find me. A grand, romantic adventure.

"I'm getting married," I told him.

His face fell.

"In December," I said with finality.

That was the last time I saw him.

I still have nightmares about him, worry that he continues to lurk in the shadows. Given his propensity for reappearing after years of absence, I was uneasy for a long time. Given his uncanny ability to find me, to know when I'd gone through changes in my life, I hired a private detective to help me clamp down on my personal information, and I remain vigilant, removing every trace that I can. The Internet makes that so much harder, but fortunately, I started that project before the Internet.

I went back through years of journals, looking for my response to what he was doing at the time this was going on, because of course, what eventually transpired colored my memories of the situation. I hoped that I'd see no evidence that I'd ever treated him as more than a friend, that I'd never given him any reason to hope for something different. And curiously, he shows up in my writings almost not at all until his behaviour got out of hand. While I carefully dissect full conversations with boys I liked over the years, he gets an occasional cursory mention in much the same vein as those mentioning my other friends.

I questioned--and still do--posting this. It's not out of some desire for revenge, for a way to be hurtful toward someone who did a bang up job of hurting himself. My dearest wish is that he finally found someone with whom to share his life, someone who appreciated him in a way that I never did or could.

I suppose that what I hope for myself is some way to understand what seemed an ordinary situation that got extraordinarily out of control. I am not some femme fatale, just a rather painfully ordinary woman who likes nice relationships without drama. I don't understand manipulative behaviour, or someone's need to control someone else. That's not love, not a partnership.

Even now, reading this over, I hear his voice: "It's all your fault." "You've blown this out of proportion." But reading over my journals, the conclusion I came to was that I never took it seriously enough.

Go listen to some good music: "Get Out of My House" from the album The Dreaming by Kate Bush. Read fast. I can't guarantee this one will stay up.

05 November 2010

You can't push it underground

I am wrestling with writing a difficult post at the moment. It concerns a problem, an ongoing incident, that colored my world in an unpleasant way from the ages of 15 to 25. Part of me says don't even bring it up because the post may never see the light of day. Part of me is trying to hold myself accountable to ensure that it does see the light of day. Some stories feel like they should be told, and I've tried to tell this one before. But it makes me very uncomfortable.

Still, there's the possibility that my experience might help someone else.

Please bear with me while I wrestle.

Go listen to some good music: "Time is Running Out" from the album Absolution by Muse. Still happy.

03 November 2010

Turn the page

The daughter recently read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and she asked me to read it, too. I don't generally read YA fiction, but the premise looked sufficiently interesting and I'd just finished a 14-book historical epic, so something a little simpler seemed in order.

I can tell you it's adolescent dystopian literature of the highest order, and I was unsurprised to find that the author is near my own age. Hello, Soylent Green, Westworld, Deathrace 2000, and Logan's Run. Admittedly, I didn't see most of those movies until 20 years after they'd been released, but I certainly got my fair share of dystopian literature, like William Sleator's House of Stairs, William Golding's Lord of the Flies, and John Christopher's Tripod Trilogy.

I've now read all three books in this series--The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay--and I have the usual complaints about the writing and plotting. Too much telling, too little showing. A failure to rely upon the wits of the reader. A heroine who is almost too annoying to endure and whose inconsistent behaviour frequently makes her less than believable. What works, though, is that the story is interesting, and Collins does a smashing job of demonstrating the psychological toll that battle takes on those who live through it.

In our discussions of the books thus far (once I'd finished the first book, the son picked it up--I guess he needed a break from Sartre, Camus and Kafka), the kids are really disturbed by the heroine, Katniss.

"She is such a dork!" the son exploded tonight.

"She is so dumb!" the daughter exclaimed.

And Katniss is a dork. And she is obtuse. But she is also a survivor, and there are things about her character that ring true in ways that my two don't understand, unbelievable and inconsistent emotional detachment notwithstanding. My children have always been, essentially, safe. They don't know what it was like to live through the Cold War. They've never skipped a meal to save money, or walked rather than taken the bus because the fare could be better used for something else. They've never been without adequate clothing. They've never waited in a hospital emergency room, injured and frightened, for the parent who didn't show up. They've never lacked for guidance; they've never lacked for love. They've never had cause to believe that they aren't worthy of what others have offered them.

Near the end of the story, Katniss says that someday she will have to explain to others that on her worst days, it's difficult to take pleasure in anything because she lives in the fear that everything she cherishes will be taken away from her. I know that fear; I've relived it time and again. Most days, most years, I can put it away, lock it up, until something triggers those memories.

There's an upside to that sort of stress, though: I'm good at triage, good at breaking down an emergency into manageable pieces, good at survival. Sometimes, I worry that my children have had it too easy. I'm frustrated that they lack some of the skills I have, that they take their good fortune for granted. But conversely, I would never wish the alternative on them. My gift to my children, I hope, will be the knowledge of how to survive without the fear that survival is all there is.

Go listen to some good music: "Turn the Page" from the album Hold Your Fire by Rush. Still happy.

02 November 2010

I trust I can rely on your vote

Seriously? That's the best slate of candidates you can come up with?

It's an INSULT.

I've been voting since I became eligible to vote in the 1980s. I've missed exactly one election, a minor one, right after the son was born. And I voted today. Except that every single one of the candidates I voted for was a write in. And if you know how California voting machines operate, you know that writing in that many candidates was a labor of love. You have to dial in every single letter. I know some people with extraordinarily long names.

(I voted for myself for Controller. I know what the actual job is, but I did if for the title alone. If the title fits...)

I've let my contempt for particular candidates show in this way in the past: writing in my dead dog for someone particularly egregious, for example. This, however, is the first time that I've come up with my very own ballot. And I crafted it with some care: a successful business woman with loads of accounting experience was my vote for Treasurer. Another friend who is extremely no-nonsense and very well organized was my pick for Superintendent of Schools. She'd do a far better job than the idiots who've been in there, wasting everyone's time and money.

I believe in the process although I've long been quite convinced that it's pretty well broken. I don't believe in political parties, and it makes me mad as hell that two self-serving groups like the Democrats and Republicans have a stranglehold not only on the process but the government.

I know an awful lot of people who aren't voting today out of disgust or apathy. Fine. Whatever floats your boat. But I've been given the right to use my voice, and while mine may be the one no one in government wants to hear, I'm using it anyway:

You may be on the ballot, but I don't have to vote for you.

Go listen to some good music: "Electioneering" from the album Ok Computer, by Radiohead. Am I still happy? Yup.

01 November 2010

You're mine, mine

The problem with an endeavor like this is the danger of repetition. There is plenty in my life that is repetitious: a seemingly endless cycle of taking kids, grocery, exercise bike, cooking, work, bills, gardening, getting kids, their school stuff.

Lather rinse repeat.

And again.

I spend a lot of time out and about, though not as out or about as I'd always like. Hence, I make forays. I run away to places. Unexpected places. Places that look like whim.

But they aren't.

So what do I do here in the moments of silence? I can't always write what wanders through my head. Bits of novel plot (yes, NaNoWriMo. Again.). Bits of outrage. Bits of life plotting. Lots of boring stuff. Lots of stuff that isn't appropriate source material.

So how about a recipe for applesauce cake?

That's what I thought.

I decided not to do NaBloPoMo on this blog this year, but I will be posting daily at The Other Blog. And since I have a finite store of photos at hand, that is going to mean I have to get out (somehow) and take more.

Right?

(Stop laughing. Yes, I know it's November. And that my mother will be here in a mere two weeks.)

I had a good summer.

Black holes? Check.

Revelations? Check.

The road is lit only by fire and I am all charged up and ready to go but...

There's always a "but."

The "but" is that I need to practice patience (I am not patient).

There is another caveat, though, another "but." It's rather better. I may have to wait, but if I've learned anything in the last few years, I've learned what I've got.

And it's mine. All mine.

Go listen to some good music: "Your Hands (Together)" from the album Together, by The New P*rnographers. Am I happy? Yup. You should be, too.

31 October 2010

The good ship Lollipop

Tonight, I lit the candles in the pumpkins (I'm old fashioned, and I like the smell of fresh pumpkin charring), and in the ceramic lanterns, and then the daughter and I settled into our chairs on the front walk to await ghouls and goblins (and far too many teenagers. But the worst, a 40-something male dressed in what looked like a Super Mario Brothers outfit, trying to hide in the middle of a pack of small children).

"Can I tell you about Frankenstein?" the daughter asked, nibbling on a candy from our bowl of treats. She has a final on the book tomorrow.

"Okay," I murmured, looking up at the darkening sky, listening to the shouts coming from other streets, a harbinger of the evening's entertainment.

And she proceeded, over the course of the next two hours and perhaps 40 visitors, to recount the entire plot of the novel.

After we collected up the ceramic lanterns and the pumpkins and our chairs, the daughter scampered after bits of wrapper and paper.

"I ate a lot of candy," she said, a little pleased, a little shamefaced.

Nothing like a lot of sugar and a lot of Frankenstein, and some quality time with one's daughter on a chilly Halloween evening.

Go listen to some music: "On the Good Ship Lollipop" from the film Bright Eyes, a song immortalized by Shirley Temple.

30 October 2010

Dirty deeds

Once upon a time, TV (and movies and books) relied upon the audience's imagination to fill in the little blanks, the delicate bits of plot that people really don't need spelled out for them. Like "what happens when you're stuck in a room with a really unattractive man who needs to answer the call of nature and there's hordes of slavering zombies between him and the restroom?" Seriously, I trust that he will find a solution. But I don't need to actually know what that solution is.

Dead Set didn't just spell it out once, the writers felt the need to grind everyone's face in it.

Do the scatalogical jokes fly in this house? You bet. I've got a 16-year-old son. And I have no particular objection to scatalogical humor in its proper context. For crying out loud, my brother and I were watching Monty Python as soon as it hit this shore.

And viscera? Okay, yeah, I like zombies. The occasional vampire. A werewolf. Space aliens. Well-crafted horror is great. But again, ugh factor? Don't need it so much. After all, I'm the person who had Gray's Anatomy (the real thing, not the TV show) in her office. I know from viscera.

Need I even go into the profanity? Can we get a little creative and maybe have some real dialogue? Sure, I understand that this show is self-referential, a take-off on reality TV. And I found Dead Set tedious for exactly the reasons I don't watch reality TV. Even the characters in the show are mostly dumb as posts.

Here's the thing, though: I'm not particularly prudish. What bothers me most about this is that the writers and producers are squandering precious minutes on this gratuitous, truly unfunny bathroom humor when they could be using that time on creating a really good plot. Because Dead Set could have used some good plot instead of showing up DOA.

Did I finish up this week's good deeds and immediately come down with a nasty and irritating little virus that is making me very cranky?

You got it.

Go listen to some music: "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" from the album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap by AC/DC.

28 October 2010

The safest way into tomorrow

Ah.

The wind picked up yesterday, though the gusts were mild, enough to clear out the haze, enough to dry up the moisture.

Dawn saw wind-whipped tendrils of pink cloud, seemingly bursting from the mountains below.

After leaving the boy at the bus stop, as I headed back up the street, a flash of silver in the eastern sky caught my attention. A plane, winking like a star, caught the early sunlight as it flew out into the morning. I watched it until it disappeared.

It wasn't even a wish exactly. I just thought, "If I can only get through..."

And now I'll sleep and then it's tomorrow.

Go listen to some good music: "The Safest Way Into Tomorrow" from the album Night Castle by Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

26 October 2010

Cannot wear that on your sleeve

In the aftermath of yesterday's frustration, stemming from things that seem so petty and ridiculous to me (and yes, I know the idea is to curb the excess of some individuals, but I tend to operate from a place of common sense where these things are concerned and am so tired of being rule-bound because of a few lunatics), I went to shop for items for holiday meals for the less fortunate.

Each year, we support various charities that provide food to the hungry, and at the holidays, we make a special effort to help with making up food boxes for a celebratory meal. When I was a child and times were difficult, friends made such things possible for us. I don't mind being an invisible friend to someone else while I have the means to do so.

The boxes come with specific instructions: we fill them with cans of vegetables and fruit, boxes of rice and potatoes and stuffing mix, fruit juice, beans, and other items. Even as I purchase the items on the list, I fantasize about tucking something extra in: a loaf of homemade bread, a bag of homemade cookies, though I know this would never be allowed.

I try to remind myself that it's enough to help feed others, but it never feels like enough. Oh, I know I'm providing a meal for 6-8 people with each box that I fill, but I'm distressed by what I perceive as the poor quality of the food: white rice, instant mashed potatoes, canned foods high in sodium and sugar, and I launch into another fantasy about teaching people transitioning out of a shelter or motel how to cook proper nutritious and easy meals that are also inexpensive. It's one thing I learned long ago, how to squeeze a penny until it screams.

But how can I make my $2 meal that you cook yourself compete with the 99 cent burrito sitting under the heat lamp at the local drive-through?

I'm weird, I know, fuming over the handling of school parties, ready to throw their rulebook out the window, and then fretting about the possibility that I'm contributing to a disadvantaged person's heart disease or diabetes by following the rules and buying them processed foods I'd never eat myself.

There must be a better way. But I sure haven't figured it out yet, though I like this idea.

Go listen to some good music: "Pretty Persuasion" from the album Reckoning by REM.

25 October 2010

She's got pretty persuasion

There are days...

(Did you think Pollyanna is my default setting? No, you know better.)

There are days. And this is one of them.

(The son just texted me to tell me that he was nominated for Homecoming Prince today--Prince? Not King? How about Emperor? Have I ever confessed publicly that I was nominated for Homecoming Queen? I withdrew my name... I was sure someone was doing it to embarrass me. Now that IS my default setting.)

J. and I are both sort of take-charge mothers, which is good because there is a significant lack of leadership in the daughter's class. This is how I've ended up being a room mother for like...I don't know...7 years (and I keep trying to withdraw my name!). Last week, I was at the parent-teacher conferences, and I asked the homeroom teacher what was going on with the party that is supposed to be held this Friday because I'd been asked to help room parent again this year, and I'd heard nothing from anyone about anything.

And of course, she didn't know.

Somehow, I missed a significant piece of paper at the beginning the year which more or less announced the take over of the room parenting stuff by the parent association. I'm not overly fond of the parent association as they tend to operate like a secret government. And this despite the fact that I'm friendly with the president of said secret government parent association since his daughter is one of my daughter's closest friends.

So J. and I--separately and in tandem--are trying to get more information about what and where and why and most importantly, who is planning to pay for this stuff since J. was told by the parent association not to collect funds for the parties. The intrigue, for crying out loud. Over parties for schoolchildren.

Then J. told me that the parent association has decided that the entire junior high will party together, which J. and I know from experience is A Very Bad Idea. The classes do not mingle because they are mostly segregated by grade, and therefore they do not know each other, and do not wish to mingle. At a party where everyone is forced to mingle, no one has fun.

"Alright," I said during one of our four phone conversations today, "I think we go rogue, collect the funds we need, plan a party for our kids and parent association can do whatever they want with everyone else."

And J. laughed so hard...

Go listen to some good music: "Pretty Persuasion" from the album Reckoning by REM. Ok. Seriously. This is a kids' party: a tray of cupcakes, a couple of bags of chips and some juice or water, maybe some Halloween music, a few decorations. All the kids want to do is hang out after their costume parade. THIS IS NOT BRAIN SURGERY. And further, no, as a room parent, I'm not helping out with the parent association's initiatives. If I wanted to be part of the parent association, I would have joined the parent association.

24 October 2010

Don't you feel sick with shame?

So, my entire avocado harvest was stolen off the tree. Every last fruit, about 3 dozen in all. This is the first time that my tree has produced a respectable harvest and I'm rather furious.

I have a pretty good idea who is responsible; I've had trouble with this bunch since they moved in. Regardless, I'm not bothering with accusations. But I know a nice man who would be more than happy to erect a 12 ft. fence between our properties in addition to the wall that already exists.

And it will have spikes. Very painful spikes.

Go listen to some good music: "Shame" from the album Mania by The Lucy Show.

23 October 2010

I bought it on eBay

We have elections coming up here. Some of my more amazing choices:

Carly "I got fired from HP, so let me finish sinking California next!" Fiorina vs. Barbara Boxer (let's see, she's been in government for 20 years. What exactly has she done?) for Senate.

Meg eBay "I didn't know she was an illegal alien" Whitman vs. Former Governor Moonbeam Brown for Governor. And people thought the Governator was bad.

The Public Policy Institute of California has noted that residents of California aren't happy with the choices offered them for governor. What a big surprise! And people in California are distrustful of the government. They no longer like political parties (I haven't belonged to one in over 20 years, but evidently, everyone else just recently discovered that was an option), including the Lowest-Common-Denominator party, aka the "Tea" party.

And remember: I'll vote. I always vote. Not that I'll vote for the available livestock.

Go listen to some music: "I Bought It on eBay" by Weird Al Yankovic. I've been disgusted by the political process for a long time. When politics becomes an industry, largely run by TV, what does it have to do with governing?

20 October 2010

I've traveled half the world to say...

I do like to travel. If you hadn't figured that out.

Sometimes, the cities and town are a bit pedestrian. Sometimes, they have an intense energy of their own. Sometimes, the people are simply like the ones you pass on the sidewalk at home. Sometimes, they are exceedingly memorable.

Last night, I published a photo of a passageway in Bergen, Norway. This was one of our jaunts when we had an actual guide, a small and improbably Italian young man, and he was the one who'd dragged us to this particular courtyard (from whence I immediately ran away and started snapping photos elsewhere). He was rather adorable, and we privately dubbed him Frodo Hughes, for reasons I think I'll decline to explain. And the adorable? It wasn't because he was sweet or anything so mushy, though he was kind and friendly without being effusive. It had more to do with his passion for guiding (in some cases, herding), and his complete bemusement over certain aspects of Norwegian social life. I never entirely comprehended the story, but he told us about some law against imbibing alcohol during the work week, and thus, everyone got falling down drunk at the weekend.

"Saturday night, it's Armageddon! People rolling around in the street!" Mr. Frodo Hughes told us emphatically, railing with a blistering incomprehension at such behavior.

So "It's Armageddon!" became the familial tagline for a good portion of the trip, because we found it hilarious.

I encounter a lot of drivers, too. Taxi drivers, shuttle drivers, hired drivers. They always have a story or six, and some also have abundant good humor, a necessary ingredient when members of the extended family are thrown into the mix. A darling man that I hired to drive us from London to Dover gave us a little extra tour of London when he heard that the daughter really wanted to see Big Ben. And he put up with a certain elderly woman's non-stop litany of complaints until she fell asleep. I tipped him hugely at the end, and he seemed loathe to take it.

"Miss," he asked, holding the bills. "Are you sure?"

I assured him he'd earned every pence.

And then, there are the times you visit someplace, and you are being watched the whole time: microphones, cameras, guides, and everyone else.

My first night in Soviet-era Moscow, we were shuttled to an elderly hotel because with typical Soviet efficiency, our rooms at the Intourist hotel "weren't ready." When, finally, after what seemed year of flying, passport control, customs and wandering the ring road in search of a place to stay, we were dumped at this horrible building. We hoped for the best, and eventually, got a key, got past the key lady, and got into our room.

"Wha...?" my travel companion C.H. murmured, staring up at the ceiling.

I started, probably unforgivably, laughing. Maybe it was just hysteria after a day plus of travel, the harrassment at the passport station, the lack of sleep, but the two microphones each dangling from a foot of wire from the ceiling had to be the funniest thing I'd ever seen--at least until the moment 8 years in the future on my second trip to Soviet-era Moscow when I spotted the camera lens in the eye of a portrait of Marx.

(I am SO not making this up.)

"Dobryĭ vecher," I sang out, and continued in Russian, "Are you listening?"

(Watching the excellent film The Lives of Others brought the memories of that time back quite eerily. I wondered then, and still do, who were those people listening? What did they think of our inane college-student chatter?)

And so, I travel. I travel with my family; I travel on my own. One of the saving graces of my life is possessing the ability to move about by myself, to be comfortable doing so. I travel carefully, always, but with intention, with a desire to discover more of the world, more of the people who live in it. I have so much fun, but I learn so much along the way. There are stories out there, waiting to be told. People, waiting to be met. Friends to see again. Music to listen to. Hikes to be taken. Delicious food to be discovered. Companionship, camaraderie, the fascinating conversation with someone you may never meet again.

The world is a portrait, a photo, a mirror. I step into it and become better.

Go listen to some good music: "I Belong to You/Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix" from the album The Resistance by Muse. Subtext? This is me you're talking to...

19 October 2010

Slow down

Gemini: Tuesday, Oct 19th, 2010 -- You aren't easily pulled off course today because you know what others need and are willing to adapt without losing sight of your own goals. Unfortunately, your desire to make everything work smoothly might be misunderstood. Don't waste time explaining yourself if anyone suggests that you are weak because you are so flexible. Just bend in the breeze while holding on to your position with confidence.

I guess that sums it up.

I awoke to thunder and rain. We've had a strange little autumn so far with several showery days. I must say I like it, even though I had to venture out and charge around to what sounded like heavy artillery from Pendleton.

(The news warns us when they're firing the big guns down south. You can occasionally hear a crack or feel a shudder.)

It was rather perfect Halloween weather, and all day the gray gloom and showers and thunder seemed like the background for a scary movie. The only thing scary, though, was trying to find construction paper that met the Spanish teacher's exacting specifications. Three stores later, success.

I've had a strange craving for deli. The sort of deli you can only get at a deli, not the misnamed, ubiquitous sandwiches sold by every grocery. I miss the deli from my childhood: owned by a curmudgeonly old man who seemed to hate kids, but still sold us halvah and rock candy. The butcher was a dear man, and the smell of the pastrami he would lavish on sandwiches... But hands down, the best thing about the place was the half-sours. They made their own, and they were bright green and crunchy: the Platonic form of the pickle. That's the thing I really miss.

I sense a field trip in the offing.

But for now, attention to getting to the next day, avoiding the obstacles and moving forward. Sometimes in the most unexpected ways.

And it's going to rain again tomorrow, which is good.

Go listen to some good music: "Moves" from the album Together by The New P*rnographers. A better day. Sometimes the progress is slow, but it's still forward.

18 October 2010

These things get louder

So this is what happens:

A month ago, my MIL asked if we'd like to go on a cruise at Christmas. I thanked her for her generosity and declined.

(We did this once, many years ago. It was not just a nightmare, it was a disaster. And right there, 20-month-old in tow at the San Juan airport, I said that I was NEVER traveling during the holidays EVER again. I've stuck to that for 14 years so far. And trust me, it's not a unilateral decision.)

So yesterday, celebrating the spouse's birthday at Octoberfest with his parents, my MIL made a glum face and said that even though we didn't want to go on a cruise, everyone else did. I kept my neutral face on (you wonder why this is my default expression?) and expressed my desire that they all have a lovely time, while inwardly cheering. No one had said anything about the rest of the family at the time that we'd been asked, so not going was the best possible decision here. I'm not sure why my MIL makes a glum face when she offers up these announcements. She is hoping that we feel we're missing out? Most assuredly, we don't.

(The spouse dislikes--intensely--several people in his extended family. This makes family gatherings incredibly awkward, and listening to his diatribes before, during and after makes me very tense. Thus, I'm all about avoidance.)

"Since we'll be gone at Christmas," my MIL continued, "we thought we'd come down to your house for Thanksgiving, and you can cook. Hahahahaha!"

And there went the plans to go to Sequoia for Thanksgiving.

Then, my mother called today.

"I'm coming to visit you for Thanksgiving!" she said.

"You might as well. B & C already invited themselves," I told her.

"Oh well, I promised your brother I'd spend actual Thanksgiving with him. I'm coming to your house the week before."

Again, does anyone ask? I'd never dream of assuming that I'm just welcome to show up at anyone's door, family or not. I'm so worried about being a bother to others that I could never even consider such a course of action, and will steer clear if I think that an invitation is not sincere or that someone feels forced into issuing one.

It's certainly not that I begrudge my family my time, or the energy it takes to entertain them or cook for them. It's that the demands continue to escalate until there is nothing left, each individual somehow believing that their needs are the only ones I'm being asked to meet. It doesn't matter how frequently I say or demonstrate that this is not the case.

Eyes on the door.

Go listen to some good music: "Moves" from the album Together by The New P*rnographers. I know plenty of women who face this same problem, and some men, too, though the men I know seem to be better at saying "no." I'm not really a doormat, but I'm trying to be faithful to the idea that there is finite time here. I don't want to be the one regretting that I didn't make time for the grandparents at the holidays. And to be fair, I made time for myself for Albuquerque and Columbus and Pittsburgh. Would do it again in a heartbeat.