25 February 2010

Words

I really dislike forcing myself to write when there is nothing to say. I dislike babbling.

As sometimes happens, I'm really busy at the moment. But it's not the sort of busy that I can or want to write about. It's not fun stuff, not stuff worth sharing. It's largely stuff that makes me cranky. And I'm far too distracted by all the stuff going on around me to be coherent in this arena. Some things are nearing completion (spouse is healed; surgery bills are nearly sorted, with minimal bloodletting. Only one provider has tried to overcharge us so far); some things are in a holding pattern (my life!).

At the moment, though, I'm tired of the sound of my own voice--and I'm never all that fond of it to begin with.

(A couple of years ago, we were traveling and there were masses of crabby people everywhere. The son, riffing on the film 28 Days Later, decided he wanted to direct a video spoof called 28 Complaints Later. Every once in a while, particularly when we are around a family member who loves to complain, he will mouth at me "28 complaints later..." Which is still hilarious. Except that I'm starting to feel like I'm on at least complaint #12 myself. Which isn't so hilarious.)

So, I'm off into self-imposed exile. I suspect I'll be back sooner rather than later. Sometimes writing a blog feels a lot like being in a pressure cooker and I need to let some of the steam off in a different way right now.

And we all know that probably means I'll be weeding and pruning trees.

Go listen to some good music: "Words" from the album The Best of Missing Persons by Missing Persons. Today, I charged up and down hills...5.3 miles to be precise...in an exhausting attempt to get to "reboot." My patience is so thin, which never pleases me. And I hate whining!

23 February 2010

Illegitimi non carborundum (end of story)

Last month, I talked about my little run-in with McNeil Consumer Healthcare, makers of Motrin. I called McNeil, a division of Johnson & Johnson, to ask for a refund for a large bottle (200+ capsules) of Motrin, the lot number of which was part of the recent recall of apparently contaminated product. While the woes of McNeil weren't quite on par with those that prompted Toyota's massive recall, it runs contrary to good business practice to tell your customers to throw away their product and then make it difficult to get reimbursed for the damaged goods.

Anyway, I recounted almost verbatim the conversation I had with the representative from McNeil, and how it took practically pulling his teeth to get him to hand over a coupon that would fully reimburse my loss.

Believe it or not, the coupon showed up. It was for the purchase price--up to $20--of a single bottle of Motrin. While I was happy to get my coupon, which I have since redeemed on the single most expensive bottle of Motrin I could find (because, yes, I have a vindictive streak that sometimes comes out to play), was it really worth the loss of my goodwill to play this game? While my blog doesn't have the power of say Dooce, was it worth having me post negatively about the experience I had? Because I'm sitting here talking about it, and so far this year, that's the single most popular post on my blog.

And believe me, I'm still annoyed.

Go listen to some good music: "Fight Song" from the album Keep Color by Republic Tigers. For reasons I can't explain, I get hit by crawlers from social media sites with startling frequency. So watch your P's and Q's! Next on my agenda: the fact that boxes of pasta have been reduced to 3/4's their former size.

22 February 2010

Psychobabble

I know. I'm signed up for NaBloPoMo. And I've missed two days. Such is life. I've been too busy to write, too busy to think.

A funny little, practically nonexistent storm blew through late yesterday, leaving the air clear and the wind ripping today. A small reminder that it is still winter, despite a warm weekend a couple of weeks ago.

I am longing for the future, though I've vowed not to wish my days away.

Go listen to some good music: "Psychobabble" from the album Eye in the Sky by The Alan Parsons Project. I was trying to stay up to watch the ice dancing, though I'm not much of a fan of the Olympics, but NO! NBC you are nuts if you think I'm going to stay up any longer. Good night!

20 February 2010

Closer to the heart


















My house is covered with confetti: tiny, glittery, pink hearts.

Today, I took the daughter and her friends bowling, at the daughter's request. The local alley is clean and well-managed, a safe and fun place for a group of girls to spend an afternoon, prior to gorging themselves on pizza, pasta, salad and cake; playing Rock Band; and telling ghost stories.

And spreading metallic pink hearts everywhere.

We got their shoes, and headed to our assigned lane. I helped them search for balls; they are all such tall girls, but slightly built, so the heavier balls wouldn't do. And there was the matter of fingers getting stuck. Finally, shoed and with appropriate rolling hardware, they were ready to go.

Who knew that bowling was such a collaborative sport? I remember going with the CYO group occasionally in high school, and never was there so much dancing and arm waving and multiple pairs of feet bounding around the wood.

I got them drinks--lemonade all around--and then I found a chair at a table a discreet distance away and settled in to wait, a tiny pad of paper and a pen at my disposal. Music was playing over the house PA, a decent selection of classic rock that was loud enough to enjoy, but not deafening. As I watched the dancing, the arm waving, the kibbutzing, the name changing on the scoring console, and occasionally, a ball traveling down the lane, I heard a very recognizable voice singing.

"You can be the captain..."

I smiled.

At that moment, the daughter bowled a strike and turned around with her daughter-patented look of pleasure and surprise.

"MOMMY!" she yelled, just in case I hadn't noticed, not in the least bit fazed that she was 13 years old, and technically not supposed to deign to notice my presence.

I applauded, grinning at her.

Go listen to some good music: "Closer to the Heart" from the album Farewell to Kings by Rush. Yes, I do have an unwritten rule that a band only gets one appearance per month, but hey, some rules are made to be broken.

18 February 2010

Lazy

I learned the rudiments of cooking at a pretty young age: by the time I was 12, I was frequently in charge of making dinner because my mother worked nights. So cooking was a trial by fire, sometimes literally.

(The burn scars tell some of the story. I also learned that if you break an egg into a quantity of really hot oil, the egg explodes magnificently.)

I worked in a restaurant for a couple of years in high school, which also helped me to learn a good deal about food prep, as well as the joys of locking people in the walk-in refrigerator, and sneaking pizzas to the other kitchen help.

By the time I was in college, I was sufficiently well versed in feeding large numbers of people that I was signed on to cook Monday night dinners for my sorority. It was actually fun and not a bad way to learn the virtues of budgeting and cooking for a lot of people with little money.

The sure sign that I actually liked the man I was dating at any given time was that I'd cook him dinner. Some had specific likes--one hoped I could pull off a nice curry--while some just couldn't believe that I would cook.

One of the dishes I made pretty frequently was one I'd actually found on the back of a Campbell's soup can: Chicken and rice cooked in mushroom soup. Today, it sounds fairly revolting to me, but 20 years ago, it was fast, it was pretty inexpensive, the presentation was attractive, and it tasted pretty good.

But even if I fell out of love with canned cream of mushroom soup--mainly because I learned to make my own, which was so insanely good that there was no going back to the can--I recognized that the basics of that chicken and rice recipe were sound, and I adapted it to suit my current lifestyle. And it still tastes pretty good.


Chicken and Rice with Mushrooms

1 Tbl. olive oil
1 c. red onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
3 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, each breast cut in half if they're large
2-1/4 c. of low-sodium chicken broth or mushroom broth
1-1/2 tsp. of dried thyme, crumbled
1/4 tsp. dried rosemary, crumbled
1/4 tsp. dried tarragon, crumbled
1-1/2 c. long-grain rice
Salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet with a lid. Saute onions and garlic over medium heat until soft and translucent. Add sliced mushrooms and continue cooking until mushrooms have released their liquid, 5-7 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and push the vegetables to the center of the skillet. Place chicken breasts in hot skillet around the edge and brown on both sides. Add broth, thyme, rosemary and tarragon, and bring to a boil, distributing herbs and onion-mushroom mixture throughout. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes. Add rice, and stir gently to distribute throughout the pan. Return to boil, cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the broth has been absorbed and the rice is tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serves six.

Go listen to some good music: "Lazy" from the album Earth, Sun, Moon by Love and Rockets. I was comparatively lazy. I'd originally planned to make that chicken into chicken curry, but could not face that and pulao rice and spiced green beans.

17 February 2010

Under ice















Cape Farewell, Greenland
July 2008

Icebergs are secretive and magnificent. They breathe and move, and seem very much alive. The color of the ice is stunning, and the color of the water surrounding them filled me with wonder and amazement.

This photograph was shot without filters of any sort. This was the color of the air, the ice and the water. When I took this photo, I had become used to how Greenland and the surrounding area looked, but going back now to the photos I took, I am stunned once again by its grandeur.

(Click to enlarge)

Go listen to some good music: "Under Ice" from the album Hounds of Love by Kate Bush. It was a bad day. This was a lovely reminder that escape is possible. And yes, I have a compulsive need to fix things.

16 February 2010

Did I have a dream...?

The son had the day off from school, so we drove a little (16, remember?) and he helped me with various shopping tasks, then we had lunch and he played Halo and I fell asleep on the couch while he played.

I don't nap, but this time, I fell asleep hard.

At the grocery, it turned out that the Valentine's candy was 50% off, I had a coupon for M&Ms and...AND...the Easter candy was already on sale. This is why I don't take children to the grocery store: I come home with an enormous heart filled with chocolate, bags of M&Ms and...AND...Robin's Eggs. On sale.

And yeah, the daughter's birthday is on Sunday, so I have to bake a chocolate cake (if you're a long-time reader, you know that this is tradition and that I bake whatever sort of cake the birthday-ee requests, which, in this case, is chocolate fudge with buttercream frosting and blue writing. And taking all her friends bowling, but that's another story. Also with dinner at the local Italian joint, which is still another story. While I figure out how to get the son to his friend's Sweet 16 party at another restaurant. And did I mention that he's been invited to a second one of those next month?)

But I digress.

Then, I finished a short story that I was writing, and I was very pleased with it. I called the son, who read it and said in a shivery voice, "That's disturbing." And I replied, "Good!" because it was supposed to be disturbing. I submitted the story where it was meant to be submitted and felt inordinately pleased with myself.

I was waiting to find out if we'd have to take a visiting person, who is also a friend, to dinner, which it turned out that we didn't, and though I like her immensely, this was also an immense relief. Because I've also got an insurance person coming over this week, and the daughter wants a sleepover for her birthday. And my house is a disaster area, covered in EoBs and surgery bills, and outdoors there are weeds everywhere thanks to 11" of rain. No matter how many I pull, there are more.

As well, the daughter needed to prepare for her debate tomorrow.

You see where this is going.

Or perhaps you don't.

It was actually going somewhere. Perhaps toward the dream I had last night where I kept pulling bunches of green onions out of my refrigerator. My refrigerator was like a clown car filled with green onions.

I didn't have that dream. It had me.

Go listen to some good music: "Nocturne" from the album Vapor Trails by Rush. The kids have just nominated Swiss skater Stephane Lambel to be the next Doctor for Doctor Who because they still object to the selection of Matt Smith. I know: complete non sequitur, but isn't this entire blog a non sequitur? (The answer is "yes" if you were wondering).

15 February 2010

In the Hall of the Mountain King

The desert sped past the windows of the vehicle and the man beside me pointed out features, scarps, rock types. He talked about geologic time, schist, flow and fault.

I watched the mountains and rock floor, contemplating the color of the sky, noting the relative amount of water the desert had received with winter rains.

Finally, in frustration, he said, "I guess this stuff doesn't interest you."

With a small sigh but no impatience, I pointed out features, scarps and rock types. I talked about schist, flow and fault. I noted basalts and alluvial fans, which had not come up in this conversation.

He was silent for a moment, digesting what he had just learned.

"You were listening," he remarked quietly.

I absorb information like a sponge and I can assimilate many things simultaneously. I may not always look like I'm listening. If information doesn't make immediate sense, I file it away for later reconsideration. I watch, I take note, I sing, I write, I knit. I look around me and I contemplate the color of the light.

But I am always paying attention.

Go listen to some good music: "Peer Gynt Suite No.1, Op. 46: 4. In the Hall of the Mountain King" from the album Grieg: Peer Gynt Suites by Berliner Philharmoniker and Herbert von Karajan. The music does suit, but it also came up this morning when the son asked if I minded if he showered, and I told him he could go cavort in the fountain instead, and he danced around humming part of Peer Gynt.

14 February 2010

Year of the cat

"I met a woman the other night at a party," said my supervisor early one morning. This was the first real job I held when I graduated from college, and a tentative friendship had developed between the two of us, though G. was old enough to be my mother.

"Mmm?" I murmured interrogatively, as I date stamped rhythmically, paying attention to neither what she was saying nor what I was stamping.

"She does handwriting analysis."

"Mmm," I said again.

"I gave her a sample of your handwriting."

That got my attention. I looked up. G. wore a funny smile.

"You just walk around with samples of people's handwriting in your bag? So you have them handy when you run into a handwriting analyst?" I asked.

I was 22.

She continued to consider me with the same odd smile.

"She was quite interested in your penmanship," she continued.

"I learned cursive in Catholic school," I replied obscurely, as if that explained everything anyone needed to know.

"She said that your handwriting indicated you were very mysterious. A mysterious woman," G. told me.

I shook my head and picked up my date stamp.

"I'm not," I replied, emphatically and returned to my work.

Go listen to some good music: "Year of the Cat" from the album Year of the Cat by Al Stewart. This really happened. I don't claim mystery, though. I am actually appallingly boring.

13 February 2010

Carry on

Today, I had to spend some time with a woman I've known for many years. I don't dislike her; she is a genuine and caring individual, but there is one way that she consistently irritates me.

Our first pregnancies overlapped, and her son was born a few months before mine. And at that moment, in her mind, it was Game On.

So for 16 years, it's been a child-rearing competition. At least in her mind. I don't play.

My notion of raising kids is pretty simple. You get what is handed to you when the kid is born. I don't believe in a tabula rasa. If you've had children, you know they are born with personalities and foibles; there is no blank slate. You try to emphasize the good in each one and mitigate the bad, and you need to realize that you have a limited time in which to work your magic and influence their behavior.

I've never been one for shoving things down my kids' throats. I've given them many opportunities, and activities always have been available to them. But they weren't interested in karate. Or soccer. Or music lessons. Or dance lessons. Now learning how to create video games? That one was Da Bomb. Traveling? Any day of the week. Hiking? Sure thing. Having the necessary materials to recreate the Trojan War on a child scale? Right on target.

Because those are my kids.

My friend is constantly lecturing me on what I should be doing because I am a concerned and loving mother, using her own experience and the experience of her friends as example. And yet, my kids are completely successful, though I constantly ignore her.

I should emphasize that she is not alone in lecturing me. I get it from all quarters, particularly amongst the parents of the son's friends. And though I am outside the box, although we choose our own path, although both my children are academically successful and kind, well-behaved human beings, I still get lectured.

My own life has followed a path so far outside the box that this may be the reason that I am unafraid of straying from the road more heavily traveled. And that is what I want for my own strong-willed children. I offer guidance and suggestion; they are aware that they have my support. They know that I have one desire for them and one requirement. The desire is that they choose to do something honorable with their lives that will make them happy. The requirement is that they be capable of supporting themselves. I will help them within reason, but the heavy lifting is theirs.

Not long ago, another parent I know informed me that my approach is "unrealistic." For whom, I wonder. And I wonder how much more unrealistic than the approach of parents who have burned their children out by the age of 18, forcing them into every conceivable sport and activity as well as tutoring, in the hopes of making their kids successful.

My ego is not tied to my kids' success. It is not about how my kids stack up compared with other people's kids. And today, as my friend lectured me about why the son must take SAT subject tests this year, I realized that she is chasing something unrealistic. Her happiness rests on making this kid something. I'm not even sure that she knows what it is.

Most importantly, as she went on and on about the error of my ways, I recognized that I was wholly at peace with the way we were doing things. And I have every confidence that both my children will have the tools they need to make their own ways in the world and to live their lives with joy and compassion. I am satisfied that they will create their own success.

Go listen to some good music: "Carry On" from the album Deja Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It's funny how people are always tell me how wrong my parenting is while extolling the virtues of my children.

12 February 2010

To make this last for as long as I could

The first time I felt connected anything.

The way you taught me to look past everything I had ever learned.

The final word in the final sentence you uttered to me was...

I still dream of you sometimes.

Go listen to some good music: "Make this Go On Forever" from the album Eyes Open by Snow Patrol. The first three lines come from the chorus of this song, as does the title, which has been on my running playlist since I could still run (that's over three years ago). They have particular meaning for me, recall one of those perfect moments in time, and yesterday, a post was coming together around those words when I was exploring the new piece of trail, but when I sat down to write it out today, what I had in my head was just gone. Today, less will have to be more.

11 February 2010

Oh yeah oh yeah oh oh yeah

(a beetle-legged woman ain't got no soul? What? You know, I used to haunt music stores just to get my hands on sheet music so I could figure out what the heck he was singing.)

A modicum of calm has returned, and just in time. By late yesterday, I was starting to make noises about showing up in people's offices if things didn't start getting done and given my reputation as a woman with a very sharp tongue...you know, Glowing Galadriel and all that...no one really wants to go there. Including me, to be honest.

I wrote that at 9 am, and the day mostly went downhill from there. The toll road people are like zombies. That account just won't die! It's been nearly two months since I tried to cancel it, and I'm still getting bills from them. So that was one phone call. An investment person trying to get me to go to a seminar tonight. More back and forth with the people up north. "There was an issue with printing the check run...but we'll overnight it tonight instead!" Trying to figure out why I've received no EOBs from the insurance about the hospital and the MRI.

Endless aggravation.

On the up side, on the oh yeah oh yeah oh oh yeah side, I had a lovely sunny day, a balmy 53F, so I went to explore the newly reopened, newly rehabbed portion of the channel trail.

(I wrote about sneaking past the fences about nine months ago.)

All told, it's maybe a mile's worth of trail that's been tidied, but it's been nicely done, and part of it even has a faux creek bed that follows the original drainage. Clearly a necessity, based on the flow patterns from recent storms that I could already see incised into the loose sand. The advantage is that it will give me another, possibly easier entrance to the whole of the trail, which is nice.

But really, I need to get back on my bike, with my camera, and see if Peters Canyon and San Diego Creek are open for a good ride.

Go listen to some good music: "Black Dog" from the album Best of Led Zeppelin, Vol. 1 by Led Zeppelin. I'm too lazy to look this one up, though I know we have it on vinyl, too. Not that anyone believes I listen to Led Zeppelin. Or Rush. Or Porcupine Tree. The list goes on.

10 February 2010

Holding out for a hero



Milton
January 2010

When you rescue an animal, it's often difficult to know what it might have been through before the two of you joined forces. My half-feral calico wanted nothing more than to climb under the covers with me and curl into the safety of my midsection while I slept. She did not care for men, at least until she met the spouse in her dotage, and the spouse became one of her best friends.

Milton came to me a half-starved, half-kitten. All I knew from the shelter is that he'd been dumped twice by foster families for no particular reason. He had no behaviour problems, no health problems, no personality issues other than being somewhat shy. And he loved dogs.

He does love dogs. I know he misses Mitzi, our lovely, completely egregious American Eskimo, who died almost 4 years ago. He will still look for her in the place where her pen used to be. When I catch him in the window looking at dogs being taken for walks, he seems almost wistful.

He is an indoor cat, and would be even if he didn't choose that life. There are too many dangers here for a 9-lb. furball, and he would be too great a danger to the birds. He will venture out as far as the front steps when I am working in the yard, and he is content to watch from that vantage point unless the crows get too close and then he will flee into the house. Otherwise, I work for awhile, and then he suggests the possibility of lunch, and I suggest the possibility of a good game of "Oh! There's an organic apple sticker on your tail!"

Go listen to some music: "Holding Out for a Hero" from the album Super Hits by Bonnie Tyler.

09 February 2010

Gardening at night

I see it, small with second-story windows that peep out like eyes below the slant of the dark roof, set deep in a tree-filled retreat, hidden and green. A rose rambles along the rail of a wood fence, spilling blossom pink and fragrant. Other flowers gather near the door, by the gate, in window boxes, indistinct only because I haven't named them yet. The grass is deep and luxuriant, soft and velvet beneath my feet. The furnishings inside the cottage have been chosen for comfort and beauty. The chairs bid visitors to linger before the fire with a cup of tea or glass of wine, while the wooden tables invite the touch of a hand on their smooth and burnished surfaces. A cat--or four--curls on a cushion. The rooms are filled with books and light plays on old carpets in soft colors. The only sounds that break the silence are cat snores, the argument of a mockingbird, the fall of ash in the fireplace, the susurrus of wind playing through leaves.

I see it when I have weeks like this.

Go listen to some good music: "Gardening at Night" from the EP Chronic Town by REM.

08 February 2010

Tear the roof off the sucker

I am very sparing with personal information. If I feel that the questioner or questionnaire doesn't require a certain answer, then I won't provide one. I started this on my PSAT test when asked to identify my race (not required).

I am the bane of Census takers and Human Resources employees. I have perfected the silent stare. I can be silent for as long as necessary. The 2000 Census taker thought he could wait me out.

Nope.

When filling out the paper work for my last job, I did not provide the (not required) race or ethnicity data, and sent it in, and went about my business.

So when my three month anniversary rolled around and I went from probationary to regular employee, I got a call from Human Resources. The woman on the other end politely commented that I'd forgotten to fill out the race and ethnicity data, and would I tell her what that information was. I politely but firmly replied that I had not forgotten, and that no, I would not provide that information.

The following week, I got another call from Human Resources, from the first woman's manager. It appeared that I'd neglected to fill in the race and ethnicity data...

No, I replied.

My phone didn't ring for a bit, and then one day I got a phone call from someone way UP in Human Resources. They had to make their required quarterly reporting on hiring data, and there was no race or ethnicity data on me...

I waited.

...so if I wouldn't mind telling them...

I replied, politely, "I'm sure you are aware that I am not required by law to provide that information."

"Yes," she said in a steely tone, "but I am required by law to report that information to the government."

"I see," I said.

"So...," she replied.

"I'm afraid not," I told her.

"If you don't tell me, I am required to make something up."

"Feel free," I said breezily.

"You know, I can pretty much tell what you are."

"Then you're set," I told her.

The daughter is reading yet another horrible book for school that appears to be identical in content to books she's been assigned in each of the last three years. She is not pleased. In an attempt to make this one more fun, since all the kids are balking at reading essentially the same plot set in the same country, the teacher gave an assignment to do the family's Chinese horoscopes.

The daughter: "Mommy, what year were born?"

Me, immediately suspicious: "Who wants to know?"

The daughter: "Mrs. H."

Me: "Mmmm."

I thought for a brief moment.

Me: "1974."

The daughter: "Is that the Year of the Tiger."

Me: "Yup."

And I smiled.

Go listen to some good music: "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)" from the album The Best of Parliament by Parliament. Best. Fucking. Bass. Line. Ever. At least for tonight's purposes.

07 February 2010

Eminence front

I'll refrain from commenting on tonight's half-time entertainment, but the commercials. Usually, I can count on the Super Bowl for something interesting, but most of these ranged from crass to more crass to really boring.

(The Shuffle ad was kind of funny, if you remember Ditka and the Bears, and though I am not a football fan, even I recognized that one.)

What was with all the people without pants? Besides utterly gross? The Go Daddy ads? My 12-year-old announced loudly that she found them really offensive. I cannot stand those stupid baby ads (E-trade?). Even the Budweiser horsies didn't elicit more than a tepid "Cute."

And who knew that the ham-eating pig ads were Boost Mobile? I had no idea until I was looking up Boost Mobile to find out when the original Shuffle ad aired (neither the spouse nor I could remember). Not good advertising, really, if your pig overshadows your product.

Since I don't watch the game (but congratulations, New Orleans, on your first appearance and win), I usually spend most of the afternoon cooking. Or doing laundry. Or doing both.

Pretty Simple Buffalo Wings

3 lbs of chicken wings, cut into pieces, tips removed
2 Tbl butter
3/4 cup Frank's Red Hot Sauce
Dash of Tabasco

Preheat oven to 425F. Put chicken wings on rimmed baking sheet and bake until they reach desired crispness, at least 30-40 minutes. Melt butter in a small saucepan and add hot sauces, stirring until combined. Keep sauce warm until wings are done. Remove wings from oven at end of cooking time and toss with sauce in a large bowl until they they are evenly covered. Serve immediately with dressing and celery sticks.

I used both this recipe and the recipe from the back of the Frank's bottle for inspiration. The daughter and I are fond of dipping our celery sticks in the wing sauce (yes, I know that's sort of missing the point of the celery), so I make sure there's a little extra hot sauce. The first recipe also includes a really good and easy bleu cheese dressing recipe, though I add a little more lemon juice to mine.

Go listen to some good music: "Eminence Front" from the album It's Hard by The Who. I swear, when this song first came out, I thought they were singing "Living is fun." Who knew?

06 February 2010

...it starts with an earthquake...

On February 5, 1994, I rolled over in bed, and my water broke, and I thought, well there goes the Rush concert I'd planned to go to that night, and I murmured to the still-sleeping spouse, "It seems to be time."

In a perfect world, I would have had a nice normal labor and a small sweet baby would have popped out at the end, and everyone would have been happy. Of course, my life (and more to the point, my body) has its own internal logic, and after 36 hours, my generally non-existent blood pressure reaching stroke levels, the doctor said, we need to do a c-section, and I said, "No."

I said no because the baby was fine. That was all I was hearing: "the baby is fine." It seemed such a waste to do a cesarean just because I was far from fine.

Eventually, I acquiesced, not because I was afraid of dying, but because I was getting bored, and everyone was getting more insistent and the spouse looked very distressed. The hospital staff swung into motion, and as the fluorescent lights zipped by overhead while they hurried me, strapped to a gurney, to the OR, I laughed inside and thought, "I have to remember this. It's like a movie."

I was strapped, Christ-like, to the operating table, and I thought, "Trite!" and there was murmuring and fussing and tugging. Then an outraged scream. And several faces staring, frightened, down into my guts.

Suddenly, I was very, very tired, and nothing much seemed to matter.

"What is it?" I asked, knowing full well he was a boy, but it seemed right to ask.

The anesthesiologist, a lovely woman, stroked my hair and whispered that everything would be alright.

I heard a surgeon, I'm not sure which one, call a time of birth. It occurred to me that there was suddenly a new person in the room.

The spouse disappeared and then the squalling stopped. A bit later, the nurse waved a squinting bundle over me.

"Kiss him!" she cried gaily. He stared at me and I stared at him. Then I closed my eyes. By the time I'd been closed up, cleaned up, and sent to recovery, it was February 7.

His birth was heralded by the Northridge earthquake, and there were two aftershocks to the quake--one greater than M5, one greater than M4--while I labored in the hospital. It rained the day he was born, and the day after dawned clear and blue, giving me a stunning view of the mountains from my hospital room.

The son is 16 today. Mud is raining down from those same mountains this morning, and it continues to amaze me that such a calm, loving and thoughtful young man should be constantly attended by the Furies.

Go listen to some good music: "It's the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)" from the album Document by REM. It's not just the son, of course. In the weeks preceding the daughter's birth, La Canada suffered an epic windstorm that knocked out our power for 4 days. Our friends suggested that perhaps we shouldn't have any more children. The spouse contends that this Nature's way of balancing itself since our kids are so good. And truthfully, I never took that labor seriously, though I was failing.

05 February 2010

Rock around the clock

My life is full of unfinished business at the moment, and with days like today, I'm no closer to finishing anything.

Then there is the open unfinished business, which isn't going to be finished any time soon. Some business has its own time frame, it's own momentum, it's own energy and nothing I do will budge it. I know. And in this case half the fun may be the finishing. It's just slow.

And I'm not patient.

It is raining. I know it seems like I've talked a lot about rain lately, but truth to tell, we aren't even close to this year's full allocation of rain. We've officially been declared out of a drought, which here is meaningless. With all the waste, it's always drought.

(Whoops, don't let my water politics show.)

The LA Times, of all things, led me to the most impossibly funny site: Unhappy Hipsters. Definitely good for a giggle, especially if you've ever worked with architects or have an opinion about architecture. Probably even if you haven't and you don't.

And now that I've enjoyed a glass of wine and a lot of laughter with our friends whilst picking up the daughter, I bid you, "Bonne nuit!"

Go listen to some music: "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and His Comets was briefly used as the theme song to the 1970s TV show Happy Days. This is only significant because tonight G. said that the daughter looked like Pinky Tuscadero and she had no idea what he was talking about. And she doesn't, but it was still funny.

04 February 2010

Before I come undone

It was a day of untying.

I've read the Wall St. Journal for years. More than 20, actually, and I've had a subscription to it for at least 15.

Well, Rupert Murdoch bought out Dow Jones a couple of years ago, and that was the beginning of the end.

Breaking up is hard to do if you're like me and addicted to good writing and good editing and proper news reporting. I avidly read certain columnists and writers, and generally enjoyed the part of my day spent with the Journal.

But the writers I enjoyed have largely disappeared, dispersed to different and sometimes better publications, and the paper has become something that I no longer enjoy, is no longer relevant to my life.

So I severed the tie, canceled the subscription. It was the last newspaper subscription that I had.

Though it was the proper thing to do, it made me rather sad.

The daughter went off skiing today, which made me nervous. She tends to be the one who clings to the cord that binds us, seeks to be near me. But she will soon be 13, and she was wild to go on this trip. The girl is whip smart when it comes to books, and one of the dimmer bulbs in God's chandelier when it comes to good sense. I was left to hope in silence that she wouldn't give me cause to regret letting her go.

*snip*

Untying is a slow process. I am seeing that tidying and letting go are part and parcel of the same thing. A lot of tidying is required now, in my house, in my life, in my relationships.

Part of the .html when I add a photograph here says "deselect Image Gracefully." I find that is what I am trying to accomplish: deselecting gracefully.

It's like shedding an old skin.

Go listen to some good music: "Bring Me to Life" from the album Fallen by Evanescence. And yes! I still read the newspaper.

03 February 2010

O Scotland's Hills for Me!















Whins of Milton, Stirling, Stirlingshire
August 2008

The constituent parts of my family have lived in North America for many hundreds of years, the most recent immigrants being a set of great-grandparents from Ireland who landed here more than 100 years ago. As a melange of bits Northern European, I've never particularly identified with any one country or heritage, and so, have cheerfully embraced pretty much everything. And yet, of all the countries I've traveled, certain places tug rather insistently. Scotland was one of those.

Go listen to some good music: "O Scotland's Hills for Me!" by William Gardiner. And thanks to this lovely list of traditional Scottish songs for the suggestion.

02 February 2010

Sunrise, sunset

(You do realize that I'm doing NaBloPoMo this month, right? The theme is TIES, if I didn't mention that. Not that I'm necessarily running with that, but I am following my own thread that ties in. Okay, we're good.)

History is easily rewritten. Spoils go to the victor, as does the writing of history. We talk about redaction, beyond its original meaning, or reinterpretation, or revisionism. Perhaps without meaning to, we rewrite our own histories, making ourselves or our motivations a little better than they were, or making those of others just a little worse.

There are reasons to reexamine history, though here, I'm not talking about history in the larger sense, not world events. Our own lives sometimes are worth reexamination from a more mature perspective, from a place of greater understanding.

Looking back, I did grow up in the Wild West, far more wild in the 1970s than it is today. I remember when I was 14 being so annoyed with my cousin T. who asked me, as I sat drinking iced tea in the infinitely more genteel suburb of Arlington, if we still had to worry about Indians. I told him sarcastically that yes, they were frequently a problem when we rode our horses to McDonald's.

(Okay, so we did sometimes ride horses to Circle K when we were visiting friends on what was then the Far East Side. Which today is roughly the center of town.)

Our childhood world was far more rule bound than what I see today, but it also seems that we had infinitely more freedom to run amok, through alleys and washes, up into the mountains and to our friends' homes, the only injunction, "Be home by dinner." If we were home by dinner, hands washed and bikes put away, whatever happened in between didn't matter. Much, anyway. The rules were made and enforced by adults who, far from dismissing us, guided us with iron hands and watched over us with eagle eyes.

When I was 10, I had a paper route. It was probably 60 or 70 houses all told, which to a 10-year-old carrying the papers on her bike, seemed Herculean.

Because I get bored easily, I worked on my aim and my arm. I wanted to toss papers effortlessly, with a wild grace, and not land them on the roof (though I did, a few times), or in a hedge (did that, too), or a tree (yup), or a mud puddle. I told myself stories about why I was doing this job. I sang songs peddling up the road. I got to know more of my customers as monthly collection time came around, and while a few were younger families, most were retirees, and I generally went to special pains to make sure that their papers landed in convenient places as the majority of them were kind.

One old gentleman in particular took to lying in wait for me every afternoon. It started in the spring as the weather began to warm and he would sit on his tiny front porch, in the shade. He called out to me as I approached on my bike, would I be so kind as to bring his paper to him? He had gout and a heart condition and arthritis, which was why he lived in this hot, dry climate, because his family made him, and it would be difficult for him to get the paper if I left it in the yard.

I didn't want to take it to him for any number of reasons. First, I'd been taught not to chat with strangers, and even if this man was a customer, he was still a stranger. Second, his house was early on my route, so the bag of papers hanging around my neck was full and very, very heavy, which made mounting and dismounting my bike a bit of an issue. But even from a distance, I could see that he had a cane, and his foot was swollen, and the weather beaten skin of his face was tinged blue beneath the handsome abundance of silver white hair.

This put me in a quandary. I'd been raised to be respectful of my elders, and to be obedient. At school, it was being beaten into me in religion class that it was up to me to singlehandedly make the world a better place in order to earn my place in Heaven, even if my mother would murder me for breaking her rules here on Earth. Ultimately, it came down to doing what I knew was right, and I staggered off my bike and took him his paper. He thanked me graciously in his heavily accented English, and asked if I would like iced tea, which I hastily declined, as nowhere in the Christian charity rulebook did it dictate that I needed break my mother's rules to that extent. I waved goodbye and rode off in the opposite direction of the sunset.

It was the beginning of a relationship of sorts. He would be waiting there for me every afternoon, full of questions that he leveled at me in his gruff but kind voice: what was my name? what grade was I in at school? did I do well at school? did I like throwing papers? would I like some iced tea? I would answer a few questions as quickly and politely as possible, decline the offer of tea, and hurry on my way.

When collection time rolled around again, a grey-haired woman I took to be the old man's wife answered the door of his house. She paid me without comment, but as I turned to leave, she said, "You know, you don't need to bring his paper to him. It's ok to throw it in the yard and he can wait until I get it. He's just lonely."

Oftentimes, it is so difficult for children to see outside of themselves, and this is the natural order of things. But in that moment, I recognized that this poor man looked forward to my daily visits just to have someone to talk to for a few moments. The fact that he waited for a not very communicative almost 11-year-old girl strikes me as unutterably sad, especially the part where the not very communicative girl took great pains to scuttle away as quickly as possible. The angel who kept score of charity points couldn't have thought too highly of this behavior.

"It's ok," I told the woman. "I don't mind bringing it up to him."

Spring was passing into summer, and the days were growing hotter. The next time the old gentleman offered me iced tea, I accepted. He asked me to come into the house, but I declined, telling him it was better I stayed and watched my bike. In the balance of my mother killing me for going into a stranger's house vs. acts of charity, going into the house was really pushing it. As he entered the house, I watched him touch a small box on the door frame and kiss his fingers. He returned a few moments later with a tall glass filled with ice and tea. It was cold and sweet.

When I finished I thanked him and handed him the glass and he seemed so delighted I'd finally accepted his hospitality.

"Now," he told me, "it's getting hot, and they are getting fussed if I am outside in the heat." He tapped his chest. "If you don't see me out here, please, please, open the door and put the paper here."

He beckoned me closer and pointed to the small bookcase inside the door. I wrestled with discomfort--opening the door of someone's house without knocking for permission was so many miles outside the boundaries of what I'd been taught was acceptable behaviour!--but finally, I nodded miserable assent.

"Thank you, thank you," he said in his heavy accent, clearly pleased that he was not going to have to figure out some other way to collar me every day. My eyes strayed upward to the little box he'd touched earlier, and I tried to make out the design on it.

"The mezuzah," he told me, following my gaze. "I am a Jew. It protects the house and the family."

I nodded, having already noticed that he periodically wore a yarmulke.

"You're not a Jew," he continued. "You are what?"

"Catholic," I replied.

"Catholic, ok," he smiled.

And so it went. I delivered his paper on the top of the bookcase, always tapping gently at the door to announce my presence, and would be beckoned in to where he sat in expectation in his easy chair by the door. I would be given iced tea and told about his family fussing over his bad heart ("but they don't visit!"). He would tell me small stories about his life.

One day, he gestured to a series of black and white photographs on a small strip of wall.

"I was a Jewish cowboy!" he exclaimed with pride. "Nobody ever hear of a Jewish cowboy. You hear of a Jewish cowboy? No. See? That's me."

He was unmistakable in those photographs, tall, slim and movie-star handsome standing before a saguaro, dressed in leathers, on horses, next to horses, carrying a lasso, with other cowboys. The photos could almost have been stills from a film made a very, very long time ago. I looked at them while he talked about what hard work it had been.

The day I opened the door and found him sleeping in his easy chair, I quietly left the paper and went away. Next day, I showed up to a tremendous ruckus.

"You didn't wake me up!" he cried. "You left the paper while I was sleeping! You got to wake me up if you ever see me sleeping again."

Fortunately, the issue never arose because I would never in a million years have dreamed of awakening him. But daily we would chat about this and that: what I was studying in school? did I like it? He wished he'd had more school. He wished his grandchildren would visit more. He wished everyone would fuss less about his health.

One day, he did have visitors, and he introduced me to them with a certain pride. This was his paper girl, and she brought his paper every day, just so, and she would visit with him. He beamed. They stared at me like the interloper I felt myself to be, and I fled.

When the time came for me to give up the paper route, I told him that I wouldn't be delivering his paper any more with real regret.

"But you'll still visit, yes?" he asked. "You'll visit."

Of course, I intended to. I wish the happy ending of this story was that I was the gracious and charming child that I'd have liked to have been. But with the self-centeredness of youth, I worried about my schoolwork and dreamed about boys and didn't think too frequently about the old Jewish cowboy who talked to me the way he'd have talked to his grandchildren, if they'd only visited more.

A year or two later, I was taking my younger siblings out trick-or-treating, and we were near his house. It occurred to me that it would be nice to stop, and that Halloween was a good excuse for doing so. As we approached the house, I could see the inner door was open, and through the screen door it was evident that the living room was in disarray, half-filled boxes scattered about the floor. I tapped at the screen door, and his wife, the woman who'd told me it was ok just to toss the paper in the yard, answered, holding a picture in a frame. She recognized me immediately. Her husband had died a few weeks earlier, she told me, and she was moving soon to another state, closer to her grandchildren.

"He missed you so much," she said, without accusation. "No one ever made time to talk to him the way you did."

And to my everlasting shame and sorrow, I hadn't made enough time for him either. But I've never forgotten him or his stories. Some piece of his history is tied to mine, and I can still see him, standing tall and strong and young in a faded photograph on the wall of a little desert house.

Go listen to some good music: "Sunrise, Sunset" from the musical Fiddler on the Roof, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein. Yeah, this story still breaks my heart. I wish I'd been better than I was.

01 February 2010

Now my feet won't touch the ground

Orange County is about as anonymous a place as one can get: streets are identical, as are houses and landscapes, strip malls, shopping centers, restaurants. I can easily get lost only a mile from my home because it is all the same, boring, blanc mange.

I went back to the District last year, and was relieved to see different, although I know there are plenty of cookie cutter suburbs in Maryland and Virginia. Even Tucson, where I lived in older childhood, has succumbed to Southern California style housing. It is abominable. My cousin still lives not far from where our mothers grew up in D.C. proper, from where I grew up (now a posh condo complex, evidently), from where our grandmother lived out the remainder of her life near Dupont Circle. Although he rebuilt the houses that stand on the property, they are different, retaining the original flavor of the neighbor in which he lives. I love it.

(When we were in our early 20's, both unattached, T. and I used to talk about buying our mothers' childhood house near Sibley Hospital in a graceful neighborhood of large houses and trees. We talked about how we'd bring it back to its original beauty--someone had painted all the original woodwork--and split the house down the middle. Who knows but we will still do it someday.)

For a long time, I lived in weird old neighborhoods in Los Angeles, and for years I didn't have a car, so I traversed Eagle Rock and Pasadena, Hollywood and Sherman Oaks, Beverly Hills and West L.A. on foot and by public transport. You see so little when you are driving car. You see such a lot when you aren't driving. When you are out in the world on foot or on public transport, you become known to the old man who runs the butcher shop on the corner, the bus driver who worries the day you didn't show up on his bus, the woman who runs the flower stand, the family that runs the taqueria who have your order on the counter for you when they see you walking across the parking lot. That is community in my book, and what I try to create wherever I go. In Los Angeles, it just existed; here, I have to look for the ties that make this place more mine. I have to work far harder at it. But it was there this morning when I walked down to the Italian market to buy meatballs. The women there are of advancing age, each an individual and a character in her stripey hat and red apron, and they all call me "dear," and wonder which of the special Italian cookies my children like best. Community is in the waiter at the Mexican restaurant we frequent, who we hadn't seen in years but ran into on Saturday, who we watched grow from busboy to waiter, teen to manhood, while he watched our children grow from babies to teenagers.

The ties that keep me where I am now are so fragile. I rebelled at the idea of leaving Los Angeles, not because I'm so dearly in love with L.A., but because it allowed for individuality and character in a way that I've never found here. Here I remain an oddity. It would be dishonest to say that I've been wholly unhappy, that I haven't carved out a niche, that I've found no good in this place. But my eyes are on the door, and the slender bonds exist mostly in the people who have become a small part of my own community, including those who live in our neighborhood, those I've gotten to know through the children's schools, the people that I meet when I'm walking down the street. They create stability in a world that always seems out of control. It is strange to think that my children will remember this place where I am so uncomfortable as their home, that they will feel a sense of nostalgia for an area that I can't wait to escape.

Go listen to some good music: "Now My Feet Won't Touch the Ground" from the album Prospekt's March by Coldplay.