31 January 2010


"Let's go," he said with a smile, this man I knew in the dream but didn't know in the conscious world.

I followed him through winding streets and old brick buildings, walking on wet sidewalks and dusty wooden floors. Through a throng of people at a small market, all of them shouting, seeming to argue or bargain, in a language I recognized but didn't know.

This, I thought in the dream, this is what I'm meant to do. This is an adventure.

I lost my guide along the way, but I was unperturbed. I felt at ease, and ready for anything. I had my bearings and a map and my phone.


I ventured back outdoors, and examined a road for signs of flooding, not because it was adventure, but because I am me, and then stopped at a stoop to listen to someone who was talking. I was invited inside to take tea.

I don't know where I am going, only that I am going. I've never been too interested in looking backward. I prefer to move forward. San Diego is set in stone, and while obstacles are starting to appear, I am thinking ahead.

South of France?


Tomorrow is a new month, and I think I'll do NaBloPoMo. I need change, to change, to ring the changes.

Whatever comes my way.

Go listen to some good music: "Changes" from the album 90125 by Yes.

Say it ain't so

A quick note on commenting:

One of the reasons that comment moderation is enabled is to prevent comment spam, which, as you may be aware, is just rife on blogs. I read a number of languages, none of which unfortunately is an Asian language, and so, my computers are not enabled for any Asian fonts. If you wish to comment, you will need to do so in a language in which I have some reading proficiency, and those largely have Roman alphabets, though I do read some non-Roman languages as well.

However, if I can't understand what you've written, your comment will not be approved. If you leave a comment in a language other than English in which I have some proficiency, it's not spam and it doesn't violate general good taste, I will approve it, and provide a translation (heaven help you).

Thanks for your understanding.

Go listen to some music: "Say It Ain't So" from the album Weezer by Weezer. Also, for anyone who needs reminding I DO NOT PROVIDE DOWNLOADS OF ANYTHING, EVER. If you like the music, go buy it from a legitimate source.

27 January 2010

Supermassive black hole

I'd never even heard of the Twilight books until right about the time the movie came out and all the swooning began. Though it's aimed at the daughter's age group, she couldn't be bothered to read it, and even though women my age seem equally obsessed, I was mostly just mystified.

So, honestly, no one around here really paid much attention.

The first movie hit the one of the cable channels sometime in the last month (I think there's been a second one since?), and we scrolled cheerfully past it on our way to watch 9, District 9, Up, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad World, and whatever else we've watched in the last month. I did ask the daughter if she wanted to watch Twilight so she'd know what all her friends were squeeing about, but she just shrugged and shook her head.

I pedal away on my exercise bike for 70 minutes three times per week, which is generally beyond boring. Sometimes I read and sometimes I watch a movie just so I'll stay on the dumb thing, and while I was pedaling this week, there was Twilight. So I decided to find out what all the squeeing was about.

I'm not sure I've completely figured it out, really. What I got out of it over the course of two exercise bike sessions was a lame-brain girl with a single facial expression and a guy who'd be cute if makeup had remembered to put his vampire white on his neck as well as his face instead of making me worry over why his neck was a normal, healthy pink while his face looked like a bloodsucker's. And then there are other "good" and "bad" vampires and a whole bunch of high school students who would have fit right in at my high school.

But that, I think, is the appeal, isn't it? It's nothing more than high school melodrama. Teens can completely relate the film to their own lives, and women my age just remember what it felt like to fall in love with that guy.

(Who hopefully didn't look like he was running around in clown makeup).

Not my sort of movie, honestly, but hey, I'm sure most of the people who loved it wouldn't find the sort of movies I like very appealing.

Go listen to some good music: "Supermassive Black Hole" from the album Black Holes and Revelations by Muse. I do love a well-crafted romantic movie, and one of my favorites remains Room With a View, which the daughter and I watched over the summer. She really liked it, too. The next movie I'm anxious to see is Fish Tank, which from what I understand, is not romantic.

25 January 2010

It just grew there wild

It didn't, of course. It's growing in my front garden. And it flowers beautifully every January.

Back to the grocery list. We're having tacos with leftover lechon asado (I skipped the habanero glaze on this, though I love habaneros) for dinner tomorrow.

Just in case you were wondering.

Go listen to some good music: "Use It" from the album Twin Cinema by New P*rnographers. I do, in point of fact, have a cast-iron stomach.

24 January 2010

Steer your life by these stars

Years ago, as a gift, my late aunt sent me a porcelain dish made from a cast of the author George Sand's hands. She had dainty hands, though they were a little plump, but overall quite tiny for a woman who so rocked the literary world in her time.

I like hands, and I always find myself examining others', their shape and the length of the fingers, how they attach at the wrist, the way they move when a person talks...or don't. Hands tell stories; hands can talk even when their owners aren't. I like to watch hands at work, whether playing a musical instrument, gardening, writing or communicating. Some people (like me!) still actually write with pens, and I find it instructive to see how people hold their writing instruments.

When I was very young, I would sit with an elderly neighbor on Sundays while her daughter and son-in-law went to Mass. Mrs. K. was quite near 100, and I was there mainly to make cups of tea and ensure that she didn't fall down. Most of the time she dozed while I was there, being a very, very old lady, but sometimes she felt quite chatty and would tell me stories of her youth in late Victorian England.

"A lady is always known by her hands," she told me, and she would demonstrate how to properly apply lotion so that one's hands would be nice. She also told me that she never got arthritis because she was careful to massage her fingers every day, and indeed, her hands were very supple and youthful looking.

It was probably about the same time period, I remember admiring another aunt's hands, after she commented on how very long and thin my fingers were. She dismissed my compliment, stating her hands "had been through the meat grinder," and she ordered me to safeguard my own.

I admit I largely disregarded the advice of those two ladies. My own hands are scarred and rough, but strong with use. In high school, I worked in an Italian restaurant, and my fingers were covered in tiny knife cuts from slicing pepperoni, peppers, and onions. The narrow pizza ovens left burn marks all over the backs of my hands. Even now, I occasionally feel the sting of a hot pot, and it's not unusual for some part of one of my hands to be covered with a band-aid. I worked my way through college, and the work often entailed cleaning houses, my hands busy, reddened like Cinderella's, while my head was a thousand miles away dreaming of a thousand more interesting things I might be doing. These days, I have a terrible tendency to forget my gardening gloves and I go rootling after weeds with my bare hands, which leaves them stained with dirt and grass. Still, my hands are strong, and I beat bread dough with glee and my fingers are adept at finding and prodding sore muscles.

I can dress my hands nicely, though, when I remember Mrs. K.'s injunction to swath them in lotion, and I shape my nails and paint them with a lightly with polish. I have a couple of pretty rings that show off my long fingers, and if I don't think too hard about the vast quantities of onion and garlic that pass between my fingers and my long kitchen knife, I can almost imagine my hands as elegant.

When I employed by Big Entertainment Company, Halloween was always a huge celebration at the division in which I worked. Employees came to work in costume, and there was often a small party in the morning. One of the gentlemen who'd been with the company since practically the beginning of time would dress himself in rich satin robes, purple and white, and was resplendent, a large satin turban perched on his elderly head.

"J. is a swami. You have to let him read your palm," my friend AK told me with excitement the first year I worked in that division. "He's really good, and everything he's told me has happened."

I demurred, of course, but AK dragged me by the arm, and cried out, "J! J! Tell A. her fortune!"

He smiled at me, a perfect old gentleman twinkle in his eye.

"You'd like to consult the Swami?" he asked, theatrically.

"Yes," said AK, yanking on my hand.

"Alright then," he replied, taking my left hand, palm up. He smoothed its wrinkles with his thumb, turning my hand this way and that in the light. He looked at it for a long time, and I imagined he was formulating his spiel.

"You've worked so hard," he murmured, dropping his swami voice. "This is a hand that's worked hard. But you'll have an interesting life because of it. This, though, this..."

And he turned my hand to the side, his thumbs framing two deep and distinct lines there.

"You'll have two great loves in your life. Two grand passions. Both will last a very long time. See how one line starts farther back from the other? You may not even know him yet," he looked at my face to see if I was following along. "This is real love, true love, the kind most people are lucky to get once. You're very lucky. Your heart is big enough to love them both."

I resisted the impulse to pull my hand from his grasp, a little alarmed by the intensity of his demeanor, but as quickly as he'd dropped his swami persona, it returned.

"And don't worry," he said, sotto voce, all theatrics once again as he patted the back of my hand, twinkling. "If your second suitor never shows, I'd be happy to step in."

As I walked away, a bit dazed by the unexpectedness of the encounter, J.'s wife patted me on the back.

"He's a rascal," she laughed. "He just likes to hold the girls' hands."

J. died a few years ago, well into his 90s, and in my time at Big Entertainment Company, I did get to know, a little bit, the kind man who was quite a raconteur, in addition to being our resident fortune teller. I never offered my hand to him again, yet I couldn't help but remember his odd prophecy and funny little offer, a bit saddened that he wouldn't be there if my second suitor never shows, the one he'd seen written on my hand.

Go listen to some good music: "Constellation of the Heart" from the album The Red Shoes by Kate Bush. All is well, and I am ready--past ready--to go.

23 January 2010

How is your life today?

The house smells of honey. I'm baking granola bars because I have a lot of honey in the house: A colleague has an avocado ranch and he gifted us with a rather large jar from the ranch's beehives. So, I found Ina Garten's recipe for these bars, which seems a nice way to use the abundance of honey.

(We've since broken into the granola bars, and they're very good, though I might cut back a little on the honey and add some cinnamon. I can never resist fiddling.)

Perhaps next I will make oatmeal cookies. Or butterscotch cookies. I have a vast amount of oatmeal around the house, too, because I frequently make muesli for breakfast.

The cat is curled warm and sweet and soft in my lap, and typing around his rear and his twitching ears is a bit of a challenge. I try to accommodate him, but occasionally, he sighs and shifts, and I feel an ear flick my inner arm again, and I adjust my posture accordingly.

The sun is out, really out, for the first time in days. My (unofficial) rain gauge registered about 7.3" of rain for the period beginning last Sunday afternoon, which is rather a lot for desert-y Southern California (average 15" total rainfall per year). The ground squelches underfoot, and I'm drying out the garage where we seem to have had water incursion under the slab. Next week, evidently, we get some more of the same. I am not ungrateful for the water, but the sheer volume, especially on denuded slopes, is wearing.

(I wrote a lengthy "why you need to evacuate when they tell you to evacuate" post that I didn't publish because it would seem unnecessarily harsh to those who don't know about the sort of work I'm often involved with. And those for whom the harshness was necessary would be unlikely to read it. The gist was that I don't want to read about what I already know: what happens to people whose bones are ground by Mother Nature to make her bread.)

Of course, it has been all disaster, all the time of late. The spouse is expert in interpreting remote sensing data, and he donated time to examine photographs of areas of destruction in and around Port-au-Prince. As he worked through his grids, he'd call me over to offer an opinion. I am not expert, and often, I see the image backward: depression in the relief that is actually elevation. I can adjust my vision to accommodate the reality when I'm told, no, that's a hill, not a hole in the ground. So I had to look carefully, to see where walls were gone, to try to suss out the origin of rubble. There is some small comfort in the intellectual. It does a little to mitigate the horror, gives me a moment to recalibrate my inner eye.

The last three months, I have not stopped moving. I have been caretaker, nurse, mother, chef, Santa, worker bee, all the million little pieces of motion that make up my daily life. I am ready for the shift. I am orchestrating it, adjusting each movement. Mid-March is set, the workshop confirmed, train timetables accounted for. I feel an interesting terror at the prospect of putting myself out there, far from the anonymity that I prize. But also an elation. It is a new direction. It's what I need as much as what I want.

And beyond? For April, I am toying with the idea of flight, the real thing, on a plane. Where, I don't know yet. There will be a concert I want to see in the Midwest; a promise made to go back to the District; a trip to New York that was put aside last year. Any of it can happen. All I know for certain is that it's time to take my life back on the road. Alone.

Go listen to some good music: "How Is Your Life Today?" from the album Lightbulb Sun by Porcupine Tree. All is well, and I am ready--past ready--to go.

20 January 2010

Illegitimi non carborundum

McNeil Consumer Healthcare is recalling large lots of a number of its OTC medications, including Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl, Rolaids, Simply Sleep and St. Joseph aspirin. I hadn't thought much about the recall although we use Motrin, Tylenol and Benadryl with some frequency around here until I realized that I'd just bought two new packages of Motrin.

I got an email this morning advising me to go the McNeil recall website, which I did in order to look up the lot numbers of my Motrin.

Naturally, the large 225-caplet bottle of Motrin I have is subject to the recall.

Both the spouse and I have been taking Motrin from this lot, and neither of us noticed anything off about it, nor have we noticed any of the side effects listed on the recall notice. However, the recall notice states clearly: "Consumers who purchased product from the lots included in this recall should stop using the product and contact McNeil Consumer Healthcare for instructions on a refund or replacement."

I groaned because I don't want to worry about refund or replacement. I know how manufacturers love to give consumers the RUN AROUND on issues like this.

But! I paid $16.00 for this bottle of Motrin which is about 1/4 used and I've been told by the manufacturer to get rid of it and NOT use it. And the chemical that has apparently contaminated some of these medications sounds pretty nasty.

So, the McNeil site is supposed to tell me how to get my refund/replacement. If it does, then the information is very well hidden because I looked at every page and found nothing.

Next, I called the phone number given for their Consumer Care Center.

Pretty much what you might expect. A man answered the phone, and I explained that I had a bottle of Motrin subject to the recall and wanted my money back.

The person in question requested the lot number and UPC code from the bottle. Then I was put on hold while the information I provided was verified as part of the recall.

I'd already done this, of course, and the wait was interminable.

He returned, apologized for the wait, and asked if we'd had any adverse effects from using the product. No, I told him.

He would be happy to offer me a coupon, he said.

That sounded suspicious. How much of a coupon, I asked.

One dollar off my next purchase of Motrin, he replied.

I lost my temper in the rather biting way I can lose my temper (which does not entail yelling, but clearly demonstrates that I am not pleased). I pointed out (knowing the call was being recorded) that none of this recall was my idea, that McNeil had evidently provided me with a contaminated product, that I'd barely used the bottle of Motrin that I was now being told to dispose of and that $1 off of a $16.00 bottle of pain reliever was $15.00 too little compensation.

(Sorry, McNeil. I told your guy it was a $20.00 bottle of Motrin because I couldn't remember the exact price but knew it was alot. I've since found the receipt. It cost me $16.00, which is still quite bad enough.)

I could hear the spouse laughing at me from another room.

The man on the phone up-ed the ante and offered me a $2.00 coupon.

I protested in outrage about the insult of a $2.00 coupon. I WANTED THE ENTIRE PURCHASE PRICE REFUNDED. I am not unreasonable, but I do believe in being treated fairly.

Well, he said in tones of dudgeon, if I wasn't satisfied with what they were offering, he'd give me a coupon for the full amount. He said this like the money was coming out of his own pocket.

Why, I asked, should I be satisfied with anything less than the full amount? If McNeil wants to prorate my refund by the pill, I'd be happy to send them the bottle. However, $2.00 doesn't begin to cover the cost of the bottle, what's still in it, and now, the aggravation of trying to get rid of the stuff.

I suspect that this final offer was...less than honest. The response was too quick and too pat, and came after I'd been told that the maximum coupon that was being offered was $2.00. I don't believe that I will ever see a coupon for the full purchase price of my bottle of Motrin. I do believe that I was told this to get me off the phone.

This is poor business practice, admittedly, but it turns out the recall story is even more disturbing. After I got off the phone, I did a bit of research on the recall. USA Today reported a few days ago that McNeil knew about the problem that led to the recall in early 2008, adding "The FDA sent McNeil a warning letter for violating manufacturing standards and failing to report and investigate the problem in a timely way, [Deborah Autor, the director of the FDA's Office of Compliance of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research] said."


McNeil, you've certainly lost my goodwill for putting me through the nonsense of that phone call, and you and your parent company Johnson & Johnson have lost my business.

Go listen to some good music: "Fight Song" from the album Keep Color by Republic Tigers. The spouse said that he was laughing because when I get righteous about something, I will "wallop" the object of my displeasure with it "again and again and again." He added, "They just don't stand a chance."

19 January 2010

Laughter in the rain

This morning, I shuffled the kids off to school (boy to final exams, girl to student body meeting, school and basketball game), shuffled the spouse off to the office (first time on his own since surgery) and shuffled myself off to the grocery store (where I spend more time than I do my own home).

The skies were clear when I got up this morning, and after leaving the kids at school, the sun rose, drenching the skies in glorious hues of peach and gold.

Not long afterward, goodbye sun, hello more grey gloom.

Hey, we need the rain.

So I wander off and do my thing--post office, bank, buying food--and everyone is talking about the weather, of course.

Get home, unload car. The wind has picked up and the trees are crackling in breeze.

The rain begins (yes, this is going somewhere).

I field calls from various people, and check the radar because the spouse is planning to pick up the son from school, and it's a bit of a drive.

The Weather Channel shows its usual reassuringly orange list of warnings: High Surf, Special Weather Statement, etc. I scroll down. There is a line of rain bearing down on us. It isn't even red. It's black. I refresh the browser, thinking it's an error, and suddenly, it's flashing red at me.

Tornado Warning.

Not watch. Warning.

My area is listed. With a time. I have an officially scheduled date with a tornado. Somehow this feels like it comes straight out of Ira Levin's This Perfect Day, where the weather is computerized.

I flip on the TV and the emergency alert is simultaneously blaring and flashing while a banner is scrolling along the bottom, telling me "get thee to the basement."

But this is Southern California. One house in 100, maybe 1000, actually has a basement.

Well, the banner says conversationally, get under a work bench.

I have a potting bench. Outdoors.

Dig a ditch? says the banner. Lie flat and cover your head with your hands?

That would be tantamount to drowning, given the several inches of water covering all available soil.

Hmm, says the banner.

The cat and I will go to the pantry. It's an interior room. The cat will be happy since his bag of food is in there.

Well, says the banner, sounding doubtful, alright.

It rained like hell. For maybe an hour. An inch of rain said my (unofficial) rain gauge. The wind blew briefly. The thunder cracked, a little weakly, and gave up.

I heard that one of the beaches saw some water spoutish action, though.

The sun came out. There was a rainbow. My date stood me up. I'm ok with that on this occasion.

This was storm #2 of five. Whatever will they throw at us next?

Go listen to some music: "Laughter in the Rain" from the album Sedaka's Back by Neil Sedaka. Unbelievably, the son and I heard this yesterday at Trader Joe's. Someone's laughing, though. This whacked weather is proof!

18 January 2010

Rainy days and Mondays

So, it started raining around 3 pm yesterday, and the weather forecasters said, "This is not the storm. This is just some showers."

Around the same time, someone also said we'd get 6" of rain by morning, and we were disbelieving to say the least. Quite rightfully so, of course.

Got up really early this morning because the son had an early doctor's appointment, and it was still showery.

"Not the storm," they said.

Alrighty, then.

Of course, the storm or not, it was wet out, and I had to be out in it most of the morning through the early afternoon, which is always a good time.

So, this is what not the storm looks like:

(and yes, all that frightful weedy stuff between the slates sprang up, fully formed, after all the work I put in on Saturday. Grr.)

Eventually, the storm arrived, and world turned grey with the downpour. The house fairly thrummed with the sound of wind and pouring water. The children, home for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, buzzed with excitement (native Californians, you know. Rain is such a novelty).

This is what the storm looks like:

In a very short period of time, the pavers were under water:

We ended with 2.5" of rain by my (unofficial) rain gauge by about 3:30 pm, at which point the sun came out, and I ran out with my ladder and cleared the gutters again (40-ft. Italian stone pine in the back 40. The thing sheds 6-inch long, sharp, nasty needles at a tremendous rate, and since we're still supposed to get another 10" or so of rain throughout the remainder of the week, starting later tonight, I wanted the gutters unburdened as both they and the ground drains were overwhelmed by the hour-long typhoon we had.

And while I was at it, and while I had light, I pulled up a barrel full of weedy stuff.

It'll be back by morning.

Go listen to some music: "Rainy Days and Mondays" from the album Carpenters by The Carpenters.

16 January 2010

Spirit in the sky

Orange County, California
January 2010

Go listen to some music: "Spirit in the Sky" from the album Spirit in the Sky - The Definitive Anthology by Norman Greenbaum. After several hours of clearing gutters and checking drains and general gardening, we had a spectacular sunset.

15 January 2010

Here comes the rain again


Doesn't that look like fun?

According to all the weather models, our specific area is likely to see 8"-16" rain over the course of the next week, starting Sunday. So, I'll be spending the weekend battening down the hatches, which mostly just means ensuring that drains and gutters are clear and everything is put away and buying a few extra batteries.

Then I'll plan to spend the next couple of weeks in my favorite chair with a good book.

(As if.)

Go listen to some good music: "Here Comes the Rain Again" from the album Hold Your Fire by Eurythmics. Yeah, usually when they forecast something like this, we get 0" of rain. Then again, we've been known to get our entire seasonal rain fall in four days. We'll see...

14 January 2010

The point of departure

...is not to return.

So, I existed in a sort of limbo.

To some extent, I knew that would be the case. I knew I'd hibernate, assimilate everything, and then, move onward.

Sometimes, though, it just doesn't go quite according to the script as I've written it.

But the shift has come, finally. I know something's going on, and it's sending roots and tendrils into every part of my life.

I have a piano. I'm sure a lot of people have a piano, but the thing here is that I have a piano. And I've had a piano for about four years.

I'm a little afraid of it, this bit of mahogany beauty and sound, this glorious construction of wood and things that might possibly create music.

Growing up, there were two things I wanted: I wanted music lessons and I wanted dance lessons. I finally managed to wangle the dance lessons when I was able to get into the modern dance program in school (it was free, so there was no stopping me once I'd passed the audition), and when I had a job, I was able to pay for the ballet lessons I'd always coveted.

But music remained out of my reach. I couldn't afford an instrument, let alone lessons. And I really wanted to play the piano (or the drums. If you dream, dream big, right?).

Fifty/fifty, I figured. I'd managed fifty percent of what I wanted and I'd managed it on my own, which given what I was up against, wasn't bad.

So, I let it go.

Music lessons are part of the curriculum at the elementary the kids attended, and for a total of four years, I listened to both of them honking and wheezing away on the clarinet (the son actually enjoyed it and got rather good). But they more I listened to them complain, the more I thought (but never spoke) about how much I'd have given for the opportunity. It is the way of things, I suppose.

Then out of the blue, several years ago, my mother-in-law announced she was giving me a piano for my birthday. There was an ulterior motive involved, of course, and it was that I should start the children on piano lessons.

There is neither interest on the kids' part nor time for piano lessons. Both of them have heavy academic loads and the daughter plays basketball and is part of the team for the county Pentathlon while the son is in the group that produces all the school news videos. And they evidently feel that the clarinet fed the need for musical education.

So the piano sits, a little reproachfully, where I occasionally run my fingers over the keys and cringe at my inability to bring anything but discordance from it.

The tuner is coming again.

I have a piano teacher.

Sometimes I'm a little afraid of my object of desire, but I can be persuaded to commit.

I feel the shift.

I have a camera. I'm sure a lot of people have a camera, but the thing here is that I bought myself my first real camera about three years ago, a gorgeous Nikon that sits like it belongs in my hand. I decided that I had to stop making do with the little point and shoots that people either passed on to me or gave me as a gift. So I closed my eyes to the cost and I bought myself a real camera, and I use it and I love it, but I could use it so much better than I do.

In March, for the first time in years, I'm taking a class, going to a workshop in San Diego to learn about photographing small things. I like photographing small things, but I'm not terribly good at it. I like my camera but I need to know it better, and I need to refresh a good deal about taking photographs properly and not lazily. I need to expand my skills, but the need is the echo of the desire.

Tectonic shift.

It's what I've been expecting. And it's finally happening.

I've been dreaming vividly of strange things, of things that not only might be, but things that could be.

Anything can happen.

And if past experience is any indication, it will.

Go listen to some good music: "Prime Mover" from the album Hold Your Fire by Rush. I haven't been this excited in awhile. And travel? Oh, there will be travel. Nothing can stop me now. Well, a lot can stop me now, which doesn't mean that I'm in the mood to let it. Year of the Tiger.

12 January 2010

The hardest part

When you're the one looking at "what went wrong?" in a situation, you really need to focus on the facts at hand. Did the person die because a pharmaceutical company did something wrong, or was it the family's negligence in caring for the person that caused the death? Did the kid get cancer because of an exposure to a toxic chemical, or because there was a genetic predisposition in that family, demonstrated by the three other relatives with the same cancer? Did people die in a landslide because someone overwatered or illegally graded a slope, or was it simply bad luck?

What you don't want to know? You don't want to know that the kid loved Legos and strawberry ice cream. You don't want to think about the pregnant woman buried in the mud, and you don't want to worry that she woke up when the mountain moved over her and you hope to god that she went quietly as she slept, that she never knew what hit her. You don't want to hear the man proudly proclaiming that he never met a vegetable that he ate because there's some humor there, but he's long since died and the lack of vegetables didn't help. You go home and you hug your kids at night, knowing that someone, somewhere no longer has one to hug.

You don't want to know that.

The easy stuff is the angle of repose, and how air conditioner dust is properly collected. Tracing the evidence of the blast radius with your finger on a photograph, if you can contain the thought of what the blast did to the people in the tower, of what exactly that debris you are tracing comprises. Examining video of enormous dust storms, looking at the place the fault ruptured the crust of the earth. Seeing how the buildings fell down, recognizing the trajectory of a crane's collapse.

That's the easy part.

Haiti, of all places. Of all the places that could not afford an M7 earthquake. We've already looked at the plates, and talked about the historical seismicity. We have intimate familiarity with strike-slip faults and aftershock sequences. But I can't bear to think about the human toll, the people buried under badly built structures, the newly-minted orphans and childless parents, the potential for disease yet to come, the damage and devastation in the place that could least afford it, and none of us will even begin to be able to comprehend it until the sun rises.

That's the hardest part.

Go listen to some good music: "The Hardest Part" from the album X & Y by Coldplay. It takes a toll. You try to put it away, the knowing stuff, but it takes a toll. And the toll is never really paid.

09 January 2010

To one in Paradise

The daughter: "Mommy, what did Milton write?"

Me: "Paradise Lost."

The daughter, in a small voice: "Oh."

Me: "Also Paradise Regained."

The son, chortling: "Yeah, which is about eight lines long."

The son never misses a chance to remind everyone that, along with me, he's the only one in the family who's actually read Milton. But the daughter's question seemed a little odd, given the fact we have at least three copies of Paradise Lost wandering around the house.

Me, giving the son a warning glare and asking the daughter: "Why did you want to know?"

The daughter: "Well, in English, Mrs. H. asked, 'Who knows what Milton wrote?' And then she said that it started with P. and L."

Me: "I take it you didn't know the correct answer."

The daughter, head hanging: "I said Pippi Longstocking."

I choked back a startled laugh, while the son guffawed out loud.

Me, recovering: "Well, that's unique."

The daughter: "Mrs. D. was in the room, too, and she laughed so loud the room shook."

I can hear Mrs. D. two blocks away when she's hollering for children at car loading, so this was an unsurprising revelation.

The daughter continuing defensively: "I didn't know."

The spouse, in a deep, sepulchral tone: "And Pippi Longstocking was cast out of Heaven, pigtails flaming."

At which, everyone laughed so hard the house shook.

Go listen to some good music: "To One in Paradise" from the album Tales of Mystery and Imagination by The Alan Parsons Project. The daughter has recently taken to reading Poe. I'm sure she'll get to Milton eventually.

07 January 2010


I stood at the crosswalk, waiting for the light to change, aimlessly punching at the walk signal button. The lights have been retimed (again) and it takes forever for me to get across the street.

To my left, across the intersection, sitting in the bike lane, which also functions as the right turn lane on this four-lane, divided and extremely busy bit of main artery, was an elderly man in a motorized wheelchair.

It's worth noting that there is an extremely wide and level sidewalk adjacent to this avenue, replete with ramps leading in and out of the crosswalks.

His light changed, and while I waited for my walk signal, I watched with no small amazement as his wheelchair pottered and coughed across the intersection at a top speed of maybe 2 miles per hour. In the bike lane. With no orange flag, no safety markings whatsoever.

I stepped far back on my piece of sidewalk to make sure that he had plenty of room to access the ramp, because please, god, he wasn't going to stay in the bike lane which was rapidly becoming a bus lane into which a bus was about to enter?

He noted that I'd stepped away from the ramp and gave me a filthy look as he passed, continuing on his way into the path of the oncoming bus. I stared at his retreating chair in wonderment.

A male urinal was attached to the back of his chair, dirty with use, a small bit of yellowish fluid swirling merrily at the bottom of the container as he trundled up the road.

Go listen to some good music: "Crazy" from the album Scarlet's Walk by Tori Amos. If I'd had a phone with me, I'd have called the sheriff to come and have a chat with the man, but it was another 25 minutes before I had access to one, at which point, he could have been anywhere.

04 January 2010

Listen to what the man said

The spouse had his first post-surgical appointment today.

As I sat in the exam room while he waited to have the staples removed, a magazine in the rack caught my eye.

Arthritis Today.

My god, I thought. How depressing. Is it just for doctors? Do people actually subscribe to it?

I went to high school with a girl who had juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. She was always nice, always upbeat, but I always wondered how much pain she suffered every day.

Seventy minutes on the exercise bike this morning left my own joints aching. I've been feeling my age for the last several months, and there are days when I wonder if I can continue at the pace I set for myself.

I looked at the diagrams of joints on the wall.

I thought about the people in wheelchairs in the waiting room.

I'll take the pain and tomorrow, lift weights and walk two miles in addition to the two I already walk every day. Both are customary on Tuesdays and Thursdays, like the 70 minutes on the bike Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I know the benefits far outweigh the discomfort.

The Hidden Benefits of Exercise
And Why More is Even Better

Yeah, I didn't want to hear that last one either.


Go listen to some music: "Listen to What the Man Said" from the album All the Best by Paul McCartney. If you've read here for long, you know I've been pretty athletic my entire life. Generally, I accept that I am far better off for the exercise regimen I keep: with the exception of the last year, I deal with less asthma, fewer bouts of bronchitis and other respiratory ills, and usually my cruddy joints will behave themselves. But ohmygod, there are days when I don't even want to think about moving.

02 January 2010

You could be happy

The cat has learned a new trick. He jumps onto the printer on my desk and methodically knocks all my paperwork to the floor. Not all at once, mind you, but in series, to the side, to the front, so the Explanation of Benefit statements and receipts that litter my space awaiting resolution, bills awaiting payment, letters requiring replies, fly to the far ends of the kitchen floor.

Then he looks at me and slowly blinks.

I've had to move the wastebasket from the side of my desk because he's knocked too many important items into it.

Tonight, chasing dust mice under the monitor (if I can only get through tomorrow. In-laws, you know), I find a single long whisker that he has dropped on the polished wood.

I can be happy when I am alone.

I can be happy watching a movie with my family.

I can be happy standing solitary in a crowd of strangers.

I believe that someday I can be happy again.

Go listen to some good music: "You Could Be Happy" from the album Eyes Open by Snow Patrol. Yes, I generally get along pretty well with my in-laws, but my MIL can make me extremely tense, which she's excelling at right about now.

01 January 2010

If you'd only say yes...

What happens now is anybody's guess.

It's a new year! Aren't you happy?

2002-2008 were some of the best and most instructive years of my life. I want 2010 to be the next chapter.

Which is why I'm not holding on to hope. That's a far more passive approach than I usually take with life. Not to say that I always have a clear cut plan. Often I return home from looking at the world only to wail, "...but what am I supposed to do?"

Oh, I know I'm supposed to be there. And there. And wherever else I'm intended to show up. And I do it for you. And for them. And the second cousin in Virginia. Why isn't always immediately apparent.

(sometimes it's just for fun)

Things happen. I laugh. I worry. I wonder. I think up the next adventure.

But I can't do it alone. Even if I want to. I always try to do things alone. I take charge; I don't delegate, and I put the full burden on myself. It doesn't always work that way. It can't. I know that now.

So come along with me. It'll be an adventure. I already know the what, and I've worked out the why doesn't matter, if there is even an answer to that one. We've already come this far.


Go listen to some good music: "Yes" from the album Viva La Vida by Coldplay. That was fun. Sometimes, I love words.