31 December 2011

An end has a start - 2011

So, a year then.

A year where paralysis physical morphed into paralysis mental. A year of pain. More pain than I've known in years.

Paralysis is painful. Who knew?

Physically, I've regained 70% of the use of my right leg. And that is that. Walking can still be difficult; standing for long periods is unwise. Climbing takes thought and is very uncomfortable. There is a limit to how long I can drive.

I don't care for limits.

This is not the year I wanted. It was a year of looking inward but not in a happy way. Probably, I learned something from it. I have yet to figure out what.

Still, there was light. Pain or no pain, I took the daughter to New York. I took the son to Chicago. I took the entire family on a crazed tour of the Northeast. I paid for it--in pain--but I'd not have missed any of it for the world.

Perhaps that is the lesson. Can't walk? So what. Show up anyway.

Which is what I did.

SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING I'D LIKE EVERYONE TO CONSIDER DOING IN 2012:

Well, truly, I'd like everyone to stay in nice physical shape so they never have to deal with paralysis and pain, but truth is, I was in good physical shape and it happened anyway. Hmph.

There are lots of worthy causes out there. Help someone. Even if it's yourself.

BEST BOOK I READ THAT WAS ACTUALLY PUBLISHED IN 2011:

Yikes. I don't know. I read a lot of books this year, partly because I spent a lot of time not moving. I really liked Julian Barnes' Sense of an Ending. Presently, I am embedded in--trust me, the verb works--the English translation of Haruki Murakami's 1Q84, which is...bizarre. But I've found that with Murakami, the best thing to do is get in the car and let him drive, even if you have no idea where he's going. The only time he's really disappointed me was A Wild Sheep Chase, which I found pretty much unreadable. Anyway, I know I read other stuff this year. Right now, I just can't think what.

BEST ALBUM I BOUGHT THIS YEAR:

Foo Fighters, Wasting Light

BEST PLACE I STAYED WHEN I WAS AWAY FROM HOME:

The daughter and I just really enjoyed our stay at the Casablanca Hotel in New York. The rooms were tiny, but the service and amenities were impeccable and the location--literally steps away from Times Square--couldn't be beat.

Later in the summer when we were back in NYC, the whole family stayed at The Pearl. The rooms (for New York) were really spacious, and the service was friendly. It didn't quite stack up to the Casablanca in terms of amenities, though they tried, and it was well situated near Times Square. We just loved the E&E Grill next door where we had one of the best and most fun dinners ever, with really good food and wonderful service.

The son and I also stayed at Hotel Monaco in Chicago (see a theme here?), which was nice, too, and we shared the best Cuban sandwich (PORK BELLY!) and truffle fries at the South Water Kitchen.

SINGLE MOST BIZARRE MOMENT OF THE YEAR:

MRI? Getting a needle rammed into my spinal column? Ergh.

BEST CONCERT I SAW THIS YEAR:

There was only one (though I did see Wicked twice, once in New York and once in Los Angeles), and even though I had to sit through half of it, it still would have been the best concert I saw this year: Rush, June 20, 2011, Universal Amphitheater, Los Angeles.

THE MOMENT WHEN I FELT MY HEART IMPLODE:

The daughter's acceptance to OCHSA. The son's acceptance to a really good university. I have raised these kids to be their own people, to be accountable to themselves and I am so very proud of them.

And there was that moment. It was a moment that included others but one I cherish quietly and keep to myself.

It was the moments like these that kept me from drowning this year.

We none of us know what the future might bring, and this year, nothing could have been truer. I figured out ways to maintain perspective, no matter how hard it was. And yes, my doctors did approach me like mechanics, as did a team of physical therapists, and I'm grateful to all of them for their insight, their compassion, and their on-going interest in my well-being. In 2012, I just have to put everything back together.

And I will. I am like that.

Because I am, at heart, an eternal optimist, here is to new adventures, new travels, new stuff to do and to love for us all. My wish for everyone continues to be that we come out shining on the other side. Thank you, as always, for spending time with me.

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

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

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

20 December 2011

Santa Claus is coming to town

My photo albums (non-existent, except on my computer) are surprisingly devoid of photos of the kids with Santa. The reason is simple. I did it once. The son screamed bloody hell after a few moments of looking utterly terrified.

I never really tried it again.

Red suit, big beard, or horrifying halitosis, for some reason, the son took umbrage to Santa that year. He was nearly two and two is a fairly impressionable age. And the dude, though pleasant, had the worst case of bad breath I've ever encountered, and I wasn't even that close to him. It was enough to scare me.

Naturally, the whole thing was my mother-in-law's idea, but I agreed with no hesitation. The Santa visit was one of the staples of my childhood, though without all of today's photo packages. There were no photos, in fact, unless one's parent took one, and when we went to see Santa down at local mall, the real prize was receiving a candy cane. It was just a fun and silly event, an excuse to get out of the house, and an opportunity to enjoy the decorations in the department stores.

Shortly after the son was born, my MIL instituted Wednesday lunch. She often met up with some of her friends for lunch at the Bullocks' tea room, and she wanted to show off her latest grandchild, so the son and I were invited along one afternoon.

(Okay, I'm back. I got distracted reading about department store history in Southern California. There is a building near the daughter's school that I recently realized used to be a department store; I was wandering around and I was actually looking at the buildings, and of course, the old display windows were still evident in what now houses social services offices. I've just discovered it was a Buffums, an old high-end, family-owned department store chain that I believe is now defunct. Not that this has anything to do with the post I'm writing.)

Evidently, she enjoyed the lunch--I am well-mannered and the son is entertaining--and invited us again. It became an outing that she and I would embark upon every couple of weeks. Lunch evolved into lunch and a little shopping, and naturally, when the holidays rolled around, Santa figured in.

The photo shows the son straining away from Santa. It was before he began bellowing.

"That man smells so bad!" my MIL murmured to me after I retrieved my red-faced and tucked him back into his stroller. "No wonder the boy didn't want to sit on his lap."

By the following year, I was expecting the daughter and because of complications, I was supposed to rest, so there were few lunches and no trip to see Santa. In later years around the holidays, I'd suggest that we might go and have a chat with the Man in Red, but the kids would look at me and shake their heads violently in the negative. Receiving a candy cane at brunch at the Athenaeum from Santa was about their speed--he traversed the dining rooms with a basket of candy and offered greetings to everyone--but they would decline to have a photo taken with him when he was holding court in front of the Ath's tree.

Thus, my photo albums are devoid of photos of the kids with Santa.

And through the years, when they watch A Christmas Story, and Santa pushes Ralphie down the slide with his foot yelling "HO HO HO!" the kids point to screen and say, "See, Mom? See?" as if the proof for their years of refusal is right there.

Go listen to some music: "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" was written by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie and is sung by everyone.

19 December 2011

Who's that girl?

Since the school year started, we see her most mornings, the son and I. It's early, so you tend to recognize the people who are out and about: an older couple with their coffee, the woman with the young Australian shepherd, another woman who meets her daughter to go for a walk, and this girl, clearly walking to school, the high school up the street. I always notice the younger ones because it's early, and as a parent I feel protective. The son noticed her because she is cute, of middling height, slim, with long hair. She noticed the son, which I teased him about, just a little, because he is insecure about his looks, and it was important that he know he was being checked out.

I feel an odd fondness for this girl I don't know at all. She walks briskly, with purpose, sometimes eating her breakfast as she goes. She's dressed modishly, but modestly. She stands tall, but without the swagger and attitude of most teens, and she doesn't carry the snarky, mean girl attitude that I see on so many her age. She seems to be thinking about things.

I notice when I haven't seen her in the morning.

The son notices, too.

The first report was Thursday evening, and a little shiver went up my spine. I check the sheriff's department blotter in the newspaper to keep up with what's going on in the neighborhood, especially when there's been a nearby fire or we see emergency vehicles.

"Missing juvenile," it said. "Sixteen year old female. Left note that she would be home by 6pm. Hasn't returned."

Lots of kids around here, I told myself, despite the fact everything matched up too closely.

The next morning, there was a photo in the paper. It was fuzzy and the girl who was pictured had her hair pulled back, but I felt an uncomfortable certainty. Still, we weren't quite sure it was her. I chat with the woman who meets her daughter, so I'd surely recognize her, and occasionally I exchange stiff nods with the older couple, but I tend to avoid looking at the teens passing by unless they're causing trouble or are known to me. It seems a nicety.

The half-familiar, half-unfamiliar photo gave me pause. I was unpleasantly reminded of Shirley Jackson's short story, "The Missing Girl," in which no one quite remembers or quite recalls anything about the girl who has disappeared. In this day and age, could someone fall through the cracks so easily? Are too many of us averting our eyes politely?

She still was missing the following the day. A new gallery of photos showed up in the newspaper, and it was then we knew: it was without doubt the girl we see walking in the morning.

"Oh no," said the son. "Should we say something?"

"What?" I asked him. "That we see her walking in the morning? We haven't seen her since earlier in the week. We haven't any information that can help."

I understood his frustration, though. We weren't friends or family, just two random strangers who recognized someone in danger, and we were powerless to help. She was a piece of our world, just a small bit, someone who passed by in the morning, but we wanted her back, safe, where she belonged.

So often these stories don't have a happy ending. This time, at least, the missing girl was recovered, evidently safe and sound. I know more about her now because of the newspaper stories, her name and what she likes to do and that she's had a rough time recently. I know she has family and friends who care about her. It's unlikely she'll ever know that two random strangers worried over her absence.

But I know. She is a piece of my world, a tiny bit, back where she belongs.

Go listen to some music: "Who's That Girl?" from the album Greatest Hits by Eurythmics.

16 December 2011

We need a little Christmas

And by that, I mean we need a little generosity, which people sometimes remember is the hallmark of the season but mostly forget in the wave of Black Friday and gimme, gimme, gimme promotions. Two of the most offensive things that I've seen this year are ads referring to "giftmas" and the Best Buy "Game On, Santa" ads.

The winter holidays are a difficult time of year for me. My father was unemployed or underemployed for a significant part of my childhood, so we lived close to the bone. Christmas for me became more about putting up the tree, baking and enjoying the lights than about gifts. Even now, receiving gifts is a source of confusion and distress for me (though I'll take your love, affection, friendship, smiles, hugs and laughter any day of the week). I love the music, and loved caroling (you asked. My favorite is "Carol of the Bells."). We always got books through the kindness of a family friend, and clothing from a relative (usually the only new clothes I ever had), and some stuff here and there. My mother would squirrel away funds in a Christmas account to pay for presents and a dinner that was a little nicer.

It's funny how some of these options are no longer available to families trying to keep afloat. The banks discourage saving, and recently, I read that those of us who do save are responsible for the crappy economy because we are "hoarding money." How times change.

Still, I was happy to see a couple of years ago that some stores had wised up and rather than relying upon credit cards, were back to offering layaway where customers pick out merchandise and the store holds it while the customer makes payments. It was a method of purchase that was utilized a great deal when I was a kid.

And I was even more heartened to read yesterday about all of Kmart's "layaway angels," strangers who were paying off others' accounts so kids would have toys and clothing at Christmas. A woman in Indiana paid for thousands of dollars worth of merchandise, and only asked that people "remember Ben," evidently a reference to her late husband.

Generosity comes in many forms, and a lot of them are much smaller and less newsworthy but just as welcome and equally awesome. Whether you are in need or can give, you, too, can be generous. It's as simple as what should be common courtesy: holding a door for another person or letting a car merge on the freeway without making them fight for a space. Remember to say please. Remember to thank the person who held the door for you.

If you've got bigger ideas, though, the possibilities for kindness are endless. Find out what your local food bank or homeless shelter needs and provide a few items. Food banks have been emptied because of the increased need, and even if you can only give a few boxes of pasta or a couple of cans of vegetables, you'll help feed someone else. Homeless shelters are often on the look out for new underwear and warm socks for their clients, and many can also use toiletries. The daughter and I spent an afternoon assembling hygiene kits for our local rescue mission, while the son and I packed holiday meal boxes for another charity. We gave small gifts to our local children's hospital for kids who will be stuck there receiving treatment during the holidays. We also support Donors Choose, and a whole bunch of kids in high poverty schools will be returning to brand new sets of books when they go back to class in 2012. Because I believe in the power of reading and the gift of possibility.

Or you can always head out to Kmart.

Just don't forget that generosity is a gift that comes in all shapes and sizes.

Go listen to some music: "We Need a Little Christmas" from the musical Mame, book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. Yes, this song does send a bit of a mixed message, but as the story goes, the protagonist has lost all her money in the Crash of 1929, and is calling for a little cheer to raise everyone's spirits. I'm calling for good works, but you know me. And if you really know me, the charities I support the most are those devoted to education and animals. Anonymously, for the most part.

15 December 2011

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire

It occurred to me tonight as I wrote Christmas cards to my brother and one of my sisters that the Christmas card has become obsolete. No wonder the Postal Service is bankrupt.

Cards came pouring in every holiday season when I was a child. Many of them were from friends of my parents or more distant relatives, people they only heard from once or twice a year. Phone calls were expensive then and letters, time-consuming. So people saved up their family news for Christmas and birthday cards.

For us, some of these people were mysterious, and their cards prompted stories of high school days or adventures in the Congo. Large or small, filled with photos of other people's children, full of news or just signed with a name, the cards were always interesting.

I sent Christmas cards religiously though they weren't necessarily religious, even in the years that pregnancy crippled my hands. Finally, though, when the children were young and I was over-committed in every direction, I gave up the practice because something had to go, and I didn't want to give up baking and I couldn't give up the room-mother job.

Friends bore with us, though, and I'd dash off a quick note when I could. I always promised myself that I'd send everyone Valentine's cards or St. Patrick's cards to make up for the holiday deficit, but of course, that never happened.

(And I have to admit I abominate the holiday letter, though I do enjoy getting them from close friends. One set of friends in particular writes a pretty hilarious one. But then there is the relative--the spouse's, by marriage--who produced a five-page tome that dissected and discussed at length the many ailments and deficiencies of that family's friends and relations. It became so ghastly that it demanded a dramatic recitation every year. For better or worse, many of the ailing have since passed on, and the letter is down to two pages because the younger generations are still reasonably healthy.)

In any event, the majority of the cards we are receiving his year are from businesses. Our insurance agent has checked in, as has one of our financial people, and the electrician. A few family members have sent cards as well, mostly those we do not see frequently.

With the advent of social media, of course, everyone is now in everyone else's face all the time, so there is no need to catch up during the holidays to relate the news. Everyone knows what you had for lunch and where and probably, with whom. A few days ago, a friend texted me from a restaurant on the East Coast where we'd had lunch as kids. I was amused--and somewhat flummoxed.

For those of us who eschew Facebook (me!), there is still email, texting and yes, the now-inexpensive phone call. I keep up with most of my friends electronically, even if it isn't Twitter or Facebook (and for the record, those of you who read this? No, I don't expect a Christmas card, except maybe you with the stuff on the cats. I have posole for you, BTW.)

See what I mean?

Go listen to some music: "The Christmas Song" written by Mel Torme and Bob Wells, and sung by just about everyone.

12 December 2011

Everything's not lost

Eighteen years ago, I was pregnant. Because I'd miscarried my first pregnancy, I focused on getting through the first trimester. Three months, I thought, and then all will be well.

The danger of knowing too little.

Well, of course, that was the most naive thought in the world, but I'd never been a parent. When the son had his first birthday, all I could think about was that he'd survived his first year, safe and healthy. I hadn't dropped him on his head, or my greatest fear, missed some desperately important symptom that would tell me he had meningitis or some terrible genetic anomaly.

The danger of knowing too much.

We knew what he was from the moment of birth, one of those wide-awake children who want to know it all, do it all, see it all, be it all. He was his mother, through and through. He was also a terribly frustrated infant because he was bored. Life got a little easier when he could do some things for himself. Ah, those times when I found him back in his room, reading to his toy trains, or putting Chapstick on their faces. I remember his excited and confused face when he awoke from a vivid dream. And there was his imagination--it knew no bounds, whether he was building weaponry out of plastic vegetables or recounting stories of a world of his own making. Such a bright spark.

I've written, ad nauseum probably, about the challenges of growing up profoundly gifted and of raising a profoundly gifted kid. But there is joy in both as well, a strange joy that is as complicated as the gift itself.

I can't say how many hours of sleep I've lost over this kid. I followed my gut. I followed common sense. I followed love. I instilled discipline. I instilled responsibility. I instilled morality.

I worried.

I know what it is to grow up isolated. I know what it is to hide. I know what it is to feel like an imposter in all I do. I know what it's like to want to reach out to the rest of world and not know how to do it. I didn't want that for him.

I raged. I fought. I was sick with despair. I ignored the fashion, the herd, the conventional wisdom. I paid for it. But I ran with my heart and my head; I let him run with his.

And I worried. I feared that in my stubbornness and hubris, I would ruin him. That I was, in fact, doing it wrong.

But he's grown into this amazing person. We see it, his teachers see it, his friends see it, others see it.

None of this has ever been about me. I know too many people who want to exploit their children's status to elevate their own. I have my own gifts, my own life, my own loves. Raising him has been about him, about allowing him his gifts, about giving him the love, the understanding, the support and even the tough talk to enable him to use them well, but in a way of his choosing.

Bit by bit, especially in the last year, things are falling together. He's stubborn, too, but he'll figure it out. He's close to launch, and I think he'll be alright. I'm coming to the place where I've given him about all the guidance that I can, at least for now, but I think I'll be turning him over to those who are capable of helping him to continue his journey.

I'm not so naive anymore to think it will be all smooth sailing, but I hope the bumps are few and minor.

That's the reality of knowing enough.

Go listen to some music: "Everything's Not Lost" from the album Parachutes by Coldplay. The son received his first college acceptance today. The relief and gratitude is immense. The fun of figuring out how to pay for it is just beginning, and we await more news as the week progresses.

03 December 2011

Trace amounts

Interesting article today: Some Asians' college strategy: Don't check 'Asian'.

The line that everyone was fed when I was a child was that everyone is created equal. This came in the wake of the civil rights movement of the mid-1960s, and I was happy to believe it. I never thought any differently of the kids with whom I went to school based on their skin color, religion, whatever, and my friends were of all different colors and beliefs. People who weren't my friends were those who had personal qualities that I didn't like: the bullies, the mean, and the intentionally stupid. While my parents were largely wise enough to keep their mouths shut about how they might have felt about this, in the early 1970s, the only thing that was really a big deal was the woman who was divorced and raising her son on her own. Everyone whispered about that.

(I only met her a few times because her son was in my class for a couple of years. What struck me first was that she was tall and pretty in her blonde bouffant. The second was the air of sadness in her smile but I always put that down to the fact that her son was a creep. Other reasons didn't occur to me until I was much older.)

In any event, relations amongst the races and religions was peaceful in our neighborhood, and pretty much everyone was represented on the teams and in the classrooms. Again, while I've no idea what the adults were thinking, the kids clearly didn't think much about it. Interracial dating at my high school? You bet. Crossing religious lines? Yup. My high school boyfriend came from a conservative Jewish family, which didn't sit especially well with either set of parents, given my conservative Catholic background.

When did they start asking the race question on forms? I don't know. But I remember the first time I didn't answer the question: my PSAT test. And I remember the process by which I chose not to answer it: everyone says race doesn't matter. Well, then it doesn't matter.

It still doesn't matter. Ladies and gentleman, you can not have it both ways. Either race and ethnicity always count, if you can even accurately define either, or they never count.

(You can read here how I cheerfully made hash out of one HR manager's attempt to pigeonhole me.)

I raised my kids not to fill in those boxes either, and there was a memorable day when the daughter was in junior kindergarten when race and ethnicity happened to come up in classroom conversation. The daughter politely declined to claim any particular label and a boy (Caucasian, different ethnicity) said derisively to the daughter, "You're WHITE!" And the daughter jumped to her feet, drawing herself up to her full 4-year-old height, and yelled, "I am NOT. I am PINK!"

And I still cry with laughter when I tell this story. And pride because no one puts the daughter in a box.

So, as the son is filling out his college applications, he hums and sighs and skips the race box.

"No worries," I tell him soothingly. "They don't list Mossacubian as a choice anyway."

Go listen to some music: "Trace Amounts" from the album Halo: The Soundtrack by Martin O'Donnell & Michael Salvatori. Consider this: most people don't know the difference between race and ethnicity anyway. Given my Heinz 57 ethnicity, racially I could be anything regardless of what I might appear to be visually. And doesn't that pretty much apply to EVERYONE? So sorry, I don't play that game.

02 December 2011

...will you read my book?

While I could write about my dislike of social media and my pleasure in beating that game rather than playing it, or why Feedburner is driving me bonkers (why would you purchase a service and then just leave it to rot? No support, and if the damn thing's broken, which it is, again, the only thing you can do is taunt Feedburner on Twitter. Yeah, guilty) or why I refuse to buy anything from Talbots anymore, all that is so negative.

So, let's talk books.

At the moment, I'm reading Haruki Murakami's 1Q84, which is very Murakami, meaning it's quite different. Then again, I read a lot of contemporary Japanese novels, so I have a pretty good idea of what I'm in for. So far, I'm engaged. (For what it's worth, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles is one of my favorite books in any language.)

Prior to taking on that tome (almost 1,000 pages), I read Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending, which is just wickedly written. And amazingly short. That isn't to say it's too short, because it's really quite perfect. But this is one of those cases where the writing and structure is all. Without the power of his words, Barnes' story would be just another mundane account of a mundane life.

Before that, it was Margaret Atwood's frighteningly gleeful romp through a horrifying dystopia, Oryx and Crake. Maybe it's because I follow Atwood on Twitter and see her often mischievous and funny commentary there, but the black humor of this story seemed much in evidence to me. ChickieNobs...for crying out loud. These days, it's rare for me to find a book that I don't want to put down, but this one was so addictive that I launched straight into its companion, The Year of the Flood, as soon as I finished. It's accurate to say that I enjoyed the second book as well, though it feels strange to use "enjoy" in the context of a story that features sweet-looking canines called wolvogs that lure you in with their excited waggy tails and then eat you. I hope the third book materializes.

(I was a bit surprised to realize that I've been reading Atwood for more than 20 years, starting with The Edible Woman when I was in college.)

And because I'm suddenly overwhelmingly tired, that's it for this edition of "What's on my Nightstand."

Good night.

Go listen to some music: "Paperback Writer" by The Beatles.

01 December 2011

Serenade for winds: I. Moderato, quasi marcia

Several days ago, the orange banner started streaming across the bottom of our TV set, warning of impending doom: a cold Santa Ana condition. According to the National Weather Service, Orange County was among the three counties expected to see the brunt of it. And they were talking winds of 50 mph with gusts up to 80 mph.

If you've had to withstand winds of 80 mph, you know it's not a lot of fun. The noise alone is enough to drive me mad. The year the daughter was born, we had to deal with a night of 120 mph winds (as measured by the Jet Propulsion Lab below our mesa), which left us without power for 4 days.

Really not fun.

So I spent the early part of the week getting stuff out of harm's way. The patio furniture, and the little lights that are around. Made sure that I had batteries for the lanterns, that necessary laundry was done, and there was food that could be easily cooked on the stove.

(Here's something to think about: if the power goes out, so does everything that runs on electricity. This is why my cooktop and water heater are both gas powered. Even if it's dark, I can cook and everyone can bathe... Trust me, this has come in handy on more than one occasion, to the envy of those in all-electric kitchens. And I'd be solar powered if it didn't cost about half of what my house is worth to install the panels.)

So, we hunkered down and waited for 7pm Wednesday night when Windmageddon was slated to begin.

But all was quiet. Around 9pm, I checked the news. To my surprise, I discovered that LAX was diverting flights because of heavy cross winds, and power was down all over LA County. I received an email from my MIL--who was sitting in the dark with her iPad--entitled "Blowing off the hill." I went to bed at 11 and peacefully slept through the night.

Upon waking, we were greeted with horrible photos out of Pasadena. Trees were down; buildings and cars were smashed.

The leaves out my window barely fluttered in the dawning light.

Around 9am, I finally raised my FIL on his cell phone. Their power was still down, so they couldn't get the cars out of the garage, but it sounded too dangerous to go out anyway. They were remarkably cheerful chatting about broken planters and another relative's market umbrellas floating about in the swimming pool.

I went out to run errands, bothered by no more than a stray breeze.

Finally, about an hour before I was due to pick up the daughter, we got some pretty substantial gusts and one of my garbage bins tipped over. By then, we'd been downgraded to a wind advisory.

I'm not disappointed that our adverse weather failed to materialize. I know there's plenty of time yet for us to see a really bad windstorm. I feel sorry for those who have to deal with the mess in LA County. I was especially unhappy to see that Altadena's Christmas Tree Lane lost trees. My friends and I used to visit every Christmas to see the lights when we were in college, and later, the spouse and I took the kids there every year. The deodars are huge, and at the holidays, resplendent in their lights.

And like the holidays, the Santa Anas are a yearly event, but definitely one I could live without.

Go listen to some music: "Serenade for Winds, Op. 44: I. Moderato, quasi marcia" by Dvorak. I guess my plotting to bring the in-laws down here paid off because their power came back on at midday so I could stop worrying.

30 November 2011

Take another little piece of my heart now

Today, the Angels traded young pitcher Tyler Chatwood for Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta. The speculation is that veteran Angels catcher Jeff Mathis won't be offered a new contract. This makes me sad. I like Mathis; he works hard, and defensively he's a pretty good player. Offensively, he could stand to improve--a lot. Then again, you could say that about a lot of the Angels.

I know that these days especially, sports are a business, and GMs live and breathe player stats. Fine. But I also like Mathis because he seems like a good guy. With all the not-good people running around professional sports, being a good person wins a lot of points with me. I appreciate those who are good-natured; who try to be leaders in their communities, whether it's a clubhouse or a neighborhood; and who understand that it's best to leave ego out of the equation. That's pretty true of how I look at everyone, though, whether it's the people down the street, the guy who collects my garbage, the person who delivers the mail, the player on the field, the actor on the screen, the band on the stage. Nice person, hard worker, does his/her best at the job--that is the way to win my heart. Stats, yeah, stats are great: Oscars, gold records, most catalogs delivered, biggest zucchini on the block. Those aren't the measure of the person, though, and not always an indicator of the talent.

I've always followed the players. I get some grief about being sentimental, but that's ok. That's part of the measure of me.

Go listen to some music: "Piece of My Heart" from the album Cheap Thrills by Big Brother and the Holding Company.

28 November 2011

Don abandons Alice

The daughter, in a worried voice: "Mommy, what would you do if I became a zombie?"

Me, in light and reassuring tones: "Lock you in the shed like on Shaun of the Dead and play Xbox with you."

The daughter giggled.

Me: "And feed you the occasional chicken."

The daughter, distressed again: "But don't break its leg first!"

Me: "You know I wouldn't do that. I'd just buy you Rosie Organic chickens from the grocery. Only the best for my zombie daughter. Okay?"

The daughter, yanking hard on my neck to hug me: "Okay."

Go listen to some music: "Don Abandons Alice" from the album 28 Weeks Later (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) by John Murphy. This Q&A is brought to you by last night's episode of AMC's The Walking Dead, and no, no one gave me anything to mention either the show or the chicken.

24 November 2011

The Nutcracker Ballet: Arrival of Drosselmeyer

The mincemeat pie went in the oven at 6:45 am. The pumpkin pie followed at 7:15 am. That was the flow of my day.

By 10 am, the turkey had been wrangled, stuffed, into the waiting oven. The cat sat on the bar stool nearest and kept careful watch on the bird. Just in case it should jump up on its trussed legs and try to run away.

The grandparents, bearing gifts and appetizers, arrived a little after noon.

The son peeled potatoes and mixed green bean casserole. The daughter formed and set the cloverleaf rolls to rise.

The gravy boiled and boiled and boiled.

Talk and football ebbed and flowed from the family room. The usual fuss was made that I was working too hard. A bigger fuss was made about my back. I waved them off.

By 2 pm, both ovens were hard at work, filled with casseroles and bread and turkey. The gravy boiled.

I mashed potatoes, and gave plates from my wedding china to the daughter to put on dining room table. The crystal sparkled. The gravy boiled.

Wine was poured and blessings were said as I bustled to and from the kitchen with hot dishes. Finally, everything was on the table, and I sat. Toasts were made and bread was passed and broken. The grandparents opined that they were very fortunate that they had our calm and quiet little house to visit for the meal (they were also invited to a larger and far less intimate gathering but chose us instead). I watched as everyone ate the meal I'd spent the day working on, trading the salt for the butter, asking for refills of gravy, or another turkey leg, celebrating the daughter's rolls and the son's green beans.

Food is nourishment, but a meal, thoughtfully prepared, is an act of love. I am not patting myself on the back; this is a communal effort and this year, putting dinner together was also an act of will, but I feel the press of time. Every year, I am faced with the realization there may not be another meal like this; next year, the son is likely to be elsewhere, and my in-laws are octogenarians. But every year that I cook Thanksgiving dinner is a fixed point in time, immutable, a point where we are all together, making the same silly jokes ("clink the glasses!" my mother-in-law always says gleefully), eating the same basic meal, a moment when neither the past nor the future figures, no matter our ages or whether the gravy was thick or thin.

And I watched the assembled company raising glasses filled with the wine my father-in-law brought or sparkling apple cider, and I was conscious of that moment, of what I'd created, of what we'd all created together as a family, and I was thankful.

Go listen to some good music: "The Nutcracker Ballet: Arrival of Drosselmeyer" from the album Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker performed by Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker. For those unfamiliar with the ballet, Drosselmeyer is a magician.

20 November 2011

Can't you wait for me?

On the heels of the Death Migraine came the Cold from Hell (thank you, darling daughter). This is the sort of virulent virus you expect to get when your wee ones are in school for the first time, not into their teens. I would blog but not only can I not think straight, I can't stop sneezing. I look like one of the horrible Nyquil commercials with the baggy watery eyes and red, runny nose. So it's me and a box of Kleenex.

(Okay, several boxes of Kleenex. I had to run out this morning in extremis and buy five more boxes because the son now has it, too.)

And yes, I have guests coming, starting Wednesday...

But I told the spouse, and I meant it, I'll take two weeks of this over one day of stomach flu.

(crossing fingers)

Be back soon.

(fingers crossed)

Go listen to some good music: "The Twister" from the album ...undone by The Lucy Show. This album always screams Thanksgiving to me. I listened to it non-stop during one of the most difficult Novembers of my life. This is undone...

15 November 2011

Autumn knowingly stared

Coming off a 6-day cluster/migraine/tension headache combo. This one played cat and mouse for a bit--now you feel me, now you don't--but the wave crashed big Saturday morning. Fortunately, it's usually years between events like this.

Given the way the year has run, not a surprise it happened now, I suppose.

But other stuff is in the offing. Thanksgiving is next week, and of course, I have dinner guests to plan for. The menu will be pretty much the same as last year, though I'm bagging the cornbread dressing (no one liked it, including me) for the more traditional chestnut variety. I'm not allowed much deviation from the standards, especially this year since the son is worrying this might be his last Thanksgiving at home for awhile.

(Another college interview coming up. No wonder I'm getting death migraines.)

And times flows onward.

Go listen to some good music: "Gold Dust" from the album Scarlet's Walk by Tori Amos.

11 November 2011

And dreaming I'm alive

The days slide away, lost in other work, other responsibilities, a black hole called life.

I try to see the last year, to visualize what has occurred.

So much is blank, especially in the first six months of the year. Paralysis not only of the body, but of the mind.

I don't want to deal with the darkness. I want to move forward, always forward, and I have no desire to dwell on the bad. I have lived with chronic ills for so long, and I have no patience for limits or lack thereof. I figure out ways around, through if necessary, and fight to regain as much ground as I can.

A spinal injury has proved much more difficult to conquer.

When the kids were babies, we noticed that they would become extremely fussy in the days before they hit some developmental milestone, before they made some tremendous leap forward.

Recovery has been something like that: milestones, small rewards for really good behaviour. It has been a learning experience, my body the teacher, and my willful brain the student. I never want to give anything up, make any concessions. I never want to stop what I am doing.

The surgeon warned me recovery would be slow. He also expressed concern over whether I'd be willing to wait this out, whether I realized how long this road would be, whether I could find the patience. It's been ten and one-half months.

Over the summer, the pain ramped up again. The consensus seems to be that the disc tore open further. At that point, I was ready to schedule surgery.

But then, the pain backed off again. It was at that point that I saw the pattern: often the greatest pain came before the biggest leap forward. The day I couldn't even move my leg off the table to the day when I was lifting it with a three-pound weight attached. I'll not regain all the use or sensation in my leg--I still start with surprise when my hand brushes the part that is dead--but I have most of it back, and other muscles have learned to take over the burden of the muscles that have been weakened. Mostly now I walk straight and true, with only rare traces of a limp or debility. If you didn't know me, it would probably be hard to tell that there is a problem.

So, progress it is then. And closer to fine.

Go listen to some good music: "Hysteria" from the album Absolution by Muse.

08 November 2011

Never was there ever a cat so clever

After I waved off the spouse and daughter this morning, I turned to find Olivier, Neighborhood Cat About Town, lying on the sisal mat before my front door. He looked over at me, let out his harsh miaou, stood and wrapped his tail around the front post, his mien expectant. I walked over and briefly stroked him with one finger between the ears--he can be unpredictable and mean--and he lifted his head and blinked at me in the way that cats tell you that they love you.

Or that they will love you if you feed them.

It never fails to amaze me that somewhere in his silly cat brain, he recalls that I took care of him a long, long time ago. That the onset of cold and rain reminds him that he found safe haven, food and a warm bed in the same place he was curled this morning. That even though he has a devoted family of his own with whom he lives quite happily, he returns to me when winter threatens.

And expects that I will feed him.

Cats.

Go listen to some good music: "Mr. Mistoffelees" from the album Cats (Original Broadway Cast Recording).

07 November 2011

Hatchet, ax and saw

The light has changed. Time has changed.

The shadows lengthen early; at 1:30, it looks more like late afternoon, and the air is crisp and bright after the rain. Light sparkles and cracks. "Hectic" is the word that always comes to mind.

The translucent wings of some tiny creatures refract the light as they zig zag crazily through the golden air. Phoebe chases after them, swooping and darting, and it's quiet enough that I can hear her tiny beak snap as it closes on each hapless insect. She and her mate peep and make happy noises while they flit about in hot pursuit of dinner.

Small death giving small life. The food chain.



Last week was nuts.

Our lot is large. The house is not large, but adequate. So there's a lot of square footage on which there is no house. A good deal of it is occupied by trees.

Really freaking huge trees. A forty-foot pine. Six thirty-foot ficus. A twenty-foot olive with a three-foot diameter trunk. An enormous magnolia. A tall, skinny eucalyptus. And bit players like orange, lemon, kaffir lime, tangelo and purple plum. Not to mention a multi-trunked crepe myrtle.

(There used to be more trees. We pulled out 20 dead fruit trees the summer after we moved in. Of course, we hadn't known they were dead, but we bought the house in the winter. Let that be a lesson to you.)

Tree-trimming is a yearly event, and because the pine needs to be done in cold weather, the crew is usually out here this time of year. Back when we bought the place, I hired an arborist--the only position I've ever thought of as household staff--to help me keep up with this situation.

The arborist and I talked at the end of September, and the office called to schedule the work. The day came, and I waited. And waited. Finally, the office called to tell me there'd be a double crew showing up at 11. And they did. And they started by eating their lunch.

The foreman and I talked. The arborist showed up and we talked. The guys got to work. More talk. More work.

I will admit that tree trimming day is the one day of the year where I'm pretty much in a state of non-stop panic. I know these guys are trained. Well-insured. But they are hanging a huge distance off the ground from my tree. Swinging power tools back and forth. The electrical lines run back there. Really, it's enough to give me a heart attack.

(Yes, too many years of disaster work. Also, when you read of some of the accidents that happen...)

Then it was getting close to the end of the day, and suddenly, the trucks were gone and there were ladders on the ground and ropes hanging from the tree. They were nowhere near being finished.

The next day, the Santa Ana winds kicked up. "It's too dangerous," said the arborist.

"I do not want them in my trees when the wind is blowing," I said with great feeling.

They returned Thursday. Branches and limbs fell and were roped down. The chipper started up four different times. The street looked as though I'd removed an entire forest.

I'd made an executive decision over the summer to remove the olive tree. I've got a half formed plan to build an extra room off that side of the house, but more, I need light for the vegetable garden. When I told the arborist to put its removal on the estimate, he groaned a little with anguish.

"I understand, though," he said.

I felt guilty, I admit. My back garden has become home to a large number of different birds, and I try to maintain a good balance to keep it tidy, but natural. The olive was a pretty and mature tree, albeit a messy one.

I couldn't watch last week when they cut it down. When I finally looked, they'd just cut away the last hunk of trunk. The trimmer saw me looking through the window and he gestured to the stump. I nodded.

When they'd cleared enough away, I went out to look and I walked over to the trunk, so much larger in death than it had ever seemed in life. It was then that I saw the truth, the cancer growing in the tree's heartwood, a six-inch diameter ring of wet rot that had devoured the inner portion of part of the trunk. It had already taken hold in another portion of the trunk as well. The tree probably wouldn't have lasted another two years.

The day was ending and the foreman told me they'd be back another day to grind the stump.

The house is filled with light, and the trees that remain are lifted and tidier, raising their branches to the heavens. But I look out the window and there is a hole in the vista, a huge new patch of sky that replaces the grey green leaves and gnarled branches of the olive. The stump still remains, a silent reproach.

Even knowing it was diseased, not long for this world, I am sad at the loss of the tree. A little death, perhaps, but one that may give larger life come the spring.

Go listen to some good music: "The Trees" from the album Hemispheres by Rush.

02 November 2011

From the start in your own way

This week has been brutal. And it's only Wednesday.

Still, a victory. If you read the photo blog, you've seen some of what when on. I'll leave it, but yes. Victory.

And there's been more. A grieving friend. Mediating a crisis.

Oh, and the son and his college applications. And the financial aid applications, which are like doing the taxes without the records.

The space in which I'm traveling.

Somehow, with grace. I don't always. I am impatient. My most grievous fault. I've no interest in explaining what is clear to me, what should be clear to everyone. If there is a problem, dispatch it, quickly and thoroughly. If you've got an issue, communicate it, politely and promptly. Don't leave it to fester and grow, a canker.

Somewhere, I found grace. Somewhere, I found calm. Somewhere, I found the right words.

A new month. It always feels like a clean slate. But this one got off on the wrong foot, and it's left me feeling dejected, oddly bereft.

And yes, it's November. I always participate in two things in November. This year, it's only one, the hard one that requires 50,000 words. I'm no longer part of the one that I always finish. Ownership changed, and the new platform is one with which I've no wish to associate.

From the start in my own way.

My life may be a puzzle, but at least I know where I fit.

Go listen to some good music: "Square One" from the album X&Y by Coldplay. Nope, that wasn't planned, Coldplay two entries running. The randomizer picked up the song, and it just hit that nerve. This is one of those songs I feel physically. My head is pretty much elsewhere, though, to be honest.

26 October 2011

Para-para-para-DISE!

The drive too and from the daughter's school is generally unspeakable. I drive the route at rush hour, which just adds to the fun, but there are railroad tracks and commuter trains, and the good people of Santa Ana who believe that darting into traffic is a great idea.

Over the last three months, I've gotten reasonably accustomed to the circus on the road, but there are still days that make me roll my eyes. One day the railroad signal was broken and the lights flashed red non-stop and the arms went up and down at random, and sometimes a train went by and sometimes it didn't. So, it took half an hour to go about 3 blocks as drivers clenched their teeth and made a dash across both the tracks and a major intersection. An excellent time was had by all.

Generally, by the time I get to the daughter's school and get parked, I need a moment to compose myself. Then, by the time I've collected her and gotten back out of downtown, I'm usually a little more relaxed.

Today, driving up the other thoroughfare toward home, I commented, "I can NOT get that song 'Paradise' out of my head."

"I've had a calliope version of 'Do Your Ears Hang Low?' stuck in my head all day," the daughter grumped. "They played it on the announcements."

"Ew," I sympathized.

And then she began to sing it. Loudly.

"Okay," I told her. "I get the picture."

And on she went.

"It was PARA! PARA! PARA-DISE!" I shrieked at the top of my lungs to counter the horrible ditty she was singing.

"Mom!" she said, recoiling a little.

"Well..." I temporized.

"RUN TO THE HILLS RUN FO-OR YOUR LIVES," she bellowed, taking advantage of the lull I'd created.

"You keep that up and I'll sing 'Small World,'" I threatened.

"Hey, I was going to sing that next," she said sulkily.

By the time we got home, the car was ringing with a mash-up of all four.

Go listen to some good music: "Paradise" from the album Mylo Xyloto by Coldplay.

25 October 2011

But you can dip your feet every once in awhile

A Very Famous Author reportedly will be visiting the daughter's school. She has been contemplating how to speak with him should the appropriate moment present itself, since the gentleman in question is very approachable and evidently enjoys talking with his fans.

"Just tell him how much you've enjoyed his books, and that one of them inspired you to go into filmmaking and to audition for the school," I advised.

"But how do I end the conversation?" she fretted.

"'Thank you for your time' works pretty well," I told her.

She looked at me doubtfully.

"Well, you could try 'will you marry me?'" I tossed over my shoulder as I left her room.

"Moooooooom-MMMMMEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" Her wail followed me down the hall.

Fourteen. It is the best age.

Go listen to some good music: "When You Were Young" from the album Sam's Town by The Killers. Granted, I've never tried that, though I've occasionally wondered what would happen if I did.

24 October 2011

Someone left a cake out in the rain

Not that it was raining. Or that I baked a cake.

But it was something of a perfect autumn day, so I did bake bread. And cookies. I needed both for lunches and didn't have time for the grocery. Bread is one of those things I can do in my sleep. And as the daughter's Health teacher is putting a huge emphasis on nutrition, she's getting increasingly picky about food stuff, so a good loaf of hearty, fiber-rich, additive-free bread seemed like a good thing. On the drive home last week, I was subjected to 20 questions about my knowledge of animal husbandry.

The daughter, outraged: "Did you know they stuff chickens in these tiny little cages and they can't move?"

Me: "Did you know they stuff your stuffed chickens with arsenic?"

The daughter: "They do? And you buy them?"

Me: "I most assuredly do not buy arsenic-laced chicken."

She also came home filled with indignation over McDonalds (I can't remember the last time we had McDonalds. About the only fast food I'll agree to is Chipotle and that happens about once every six months. Did I mention that I cook? A lot? To the tune of about 20 meals per week? Okay, occasionally I cheat and have Amy's Cheese Enchiladas for lunch because they are really close to the ones I make and I don't have to make dozens just to satisfy my enchilada craving).

The teacher talked about why corn-fed stuff isn't the best nutritional choice.

Then I explained GMO crops to her.

Nothing like throwing a little fuel on the fire.

Never have that recipe again.

Go listen to some music: "MacArthur Park" from the album The Journey: the Very Best of Donna Summer by Donna Summer. I do rather enjoy the histrionics of this version of the song. And the daughter's indignation was rather wonderful because she was so very indignant. At least she's thinking.

23 October 2011

...but I keep my mouth shut

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a party, and one of the people I was speaking with asked about the kids and where they were in school.

"The son is a senior this year," I said with a significant sigh.

"Oh, so you're going through that crap," she replied, having just sent her youngest to college.

And we are in the thick of it.

As much as I'm trying to divorce myself from the process, as much as I'm trying to keep myself out of the equation, I keep getting pulled back in. It's a bit like a horror movie where the protagonist escapes for a moment only to be grabbed by the legs and dragged into the darkness.

Less said, the better.

Go listen to some good music: "Face Up" from the album Roll the Bones by Rush. This is just where I am right now. And it means that I can't be much of anywhere else. I'm exasperated.

18 October 2011

Did you ever imagine the last thing you'd hear

D. and I are having an ongoing conversation about zombies, survival and end of the world scenarios. She's started watching The Walking Dead, which may well have been my favorite show of last season (this season's premiere was a little slow with all that traversing the woods stuff).

Zombies are my guilty pleasure, sort of. Vampires, witches...so done. Of course, it helps that both Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland were two of the funniest movies ever. The daughter watches Zombieland every chance she gets, and probably has seen it 50 times now. Shaun of the Dead is a little more disgusting, but Bill Nighy as a zombie? Priceless. And Coldplay zombies...even if we had to watch the movie's grossest scene 3 dozen times to figure out which ones they were. And I really liked 28 Days Later, which was a perfect meditation on the infectiousness of rage (honestly, the zombies surprised the hell out of me. Went into it with no idea it was a zombie movie).

(The son, who was still pretty young, desperately wanted to see 28 Days Later. So I made it a condition that he also had to watch Danny Boyle's Millions, and I turned it into a lesson on film making. He was still trying to climb into my lap by the end of 28 Days Later, but he learned an appreciation for Boyle's technique. And I'm so damn clever that now he wants to double major in theater and physics. Or something. *roll eyes*)

At the beginning of the year, when I was spending untold hours huddled in various angles of repose trying to shut my screaming nerves up, I watched a lot of movies, mostly because I was in so much discomfort that I had little ability to concentrate on anything, and if I happened to fall asleep, or my mind wandered, no loss. It turned into something of an apocalypse marathon--along with the occasional Euro-romance--in part, because that was about all that was on. The Book of Eli, The Road, zombie this that and the other thing, super bugs making crazy people, you name it. It was the end of the world as we know it, and no one was fine.

It's a sign of the times, of course. The banks and governments and corporations are the blood-suckers; consumers the fast-moving herd of zombies.

Lessons! They're everywhere!

And, of course, The Walking Dead is full of morals, too. Who, really, are the walkers? The zombies or the displaced survivors? (Or, if lessons aren't your thing, you can just take untold joy in tough guys threatening to feed a good guy to their dogs...who turn out to be fearsome little pocket puppies.) Do you stop and let go of life or keep moving, hoping for better?

My Apocalyptathon came at the time when I'd almost lost basic ambulation, and was facing the possibility of its permanence (the permanent loss--sensory and function--ultimately shook out at about 20-30%). I was dead to the world there for awhile, pretty literally, as I lost myself within myself, trying to figure out a survival strategy, or if I even wanted one. I have little memory of the first six or so months of this year, it was such a struggle. It's hard to accept that I no longer have a state that can be considered 100%--and never will again. So it goes. I'm learning to work with what I've got. It's what survivors do.

The world kicks my butt.

At least for now, I can still kick back.

Go listen to some good music: "Arriving Somewhere But Not Here" from the album Deadwing by Porcupine Tree.

15 October 2011

There's something going on that's not quite right

I stopped into the shop to pick up coffee. I chose a couple of bags, and waited behind the couple in front of me to pay.

The man behind the counter took the bags, asked me if I wanted the beans ground and when I declined, rang them up. I handed him a couple of bills from my wallet, and waited while he made change. He handed it to me, and pulled the receipt from the register, saying, "Now, if you'll just sign here for me."

I stared at him, confused. "Sign what?"

"Uh, you're supposed to sign if it's more than $25," he said, stuttering slightly.

"It was less than $25," I pointed out, "and I paid in cash."

"How about we just tear this up?" he said, slowly ripping my receipt in pieces.

I frowned at him and took my bags, shaking my head, and left.

I can't decide if he was high or if he was trying to make me accessory to some sort of fraud.

Go listen to some good music: "Strange" from the album Document by REM. Because dishonesty is generally the furthest thing from my mind, I never expect it of others, and the idea that he might have been messing with the register didn't occur to me until later.

14 October 2011

Don't say there's nothing more to say

Fridays are frenetic. Everything that didn't happen the rest of the week usually has to happen on Friday. And the daughter gets out of school early.

Given that most days I pick the daughter up during rush hour, you would think that a three-hour break would make that part of my life a little easier. Guess again. The school is at the epicenter of the county seat: the court houses, the probation offices, the public health center, the aid offices. So the main drag is a nightmare mid-afternoon.

It's a rough area. The police patrol. Young men on skateboards and bikes speed by on the sidewalk and we assess each other. Sketchy-looking people abound, talking to themselves, sleeping it off on the grass medians. I came of age in the 1980s when homelessness skyrocketed in California, and I became used to the delicate dance of negotiating with panhandlers.

"Do you have any spare change?" I would be asked. In those days, I didn't have spare anything.

"Can I buy you a meal?" I would counter, knowing full well that it was likely any money I handed over would go toward a bottle of Thunderbird or a bag of something worse, but unable to bear the thought of a hungry person.

More often than not, the questioner would accompany me to a nearby restaurant. There was a hot-dog stand in Pasadena that got a lot of business from me.

Homelessness was just rampant in those days, and daily in the newspapers, there were opinion pieces and news items. I remember reading one such piece where the author opined that it was not my right to determine how I might aid a homeless person. If they asked for money, I should give them money, not offer them food instead, regardless of how that money might be used. Coming from a home ruined by alcoholism and drug addiction, I couldn't have disagreed more, and I stuck to my guns. A meal or nothing.

The idealism of youth. I still want to save the world. Even from itself.

The rules seem different today. There is wariness, evasiveness, a delicate dance that depends upon me not acknowledging their existence and vice versa. Even more, I've long outgrown the callow girl who offered a meal. Now, authority hangs about me; I have presence.

And so today, I ventured over to pick up the daughter. It wasn't a normal sort of day. A few blocks from the school, the man who shot up a hair salon two days ago, killing eight people, was making his first court appearance. A pall has hung over the county since this murder spree occurred, with the sort of collateral damage one sees in the proximity of a blast zone. There is a heaviness in the air; people seem subdued, but on pins and needles, giving no quarter.

I was early, and I went to the place where I usually stand, a pillar that shades me from the sun. I checked email while I waited for the daughter.

As I've noted, there tends to be a cast of characters in the vicinity. There is a man who always leers at me. I stare stolidly over his head whenever I see him, and when I say over his head, I do mean over his head. I'm easily six inches taller than he is. There is a security guard I see frequently, a polite and friendly man with whom I exchange an acknowledging nod and smile when we pass. There are children at the school I've come to recognize and who I ignore as a pleasantry.

Today, the area in front of the school was empty, and as I read and deleted, I suddenly noted movement in my periphery, and glanced up to see an older man rooting through the garbage can in the breezeway. I thought he was looking for recyclables; this has become increasingly common in recent years. He'd definitely hit hard times and was dressed in stained clothing, carrying two satchels over his shoulder. He continued to rifle through the can slowly, but with purpose.

Then I saw him stuff a partially-eaten roll into his mouth, and pull out a take-out box partially filled with salad. He sat down and began to eat the salad.

I was filled with a sick sense of dread and wondered what to do. Some people look at homelessness as a political statement around here, and eating discarded food is seen as an honorable way of decrying how much food tends to get wasted. As I tried to assess his motivation--real hunger or mental illness or something else--I saw a young girl, one of the students, approach him, holding out an apple in one hand and a snack bar in the other.

My chest tightened, which means one thing in most people, but something else altogether in me. The man made a brusque gesture, brushing her off. Her shoulders fell a bit, and she turned and walked away, reentering the far building. I couldn't move fast enough to catch her, to tell her she did the right thing, not to stop doing the right thing even if her offering was rejected this time. I've been there. You don't stop.

More students were beginning to erupt from the buildings as their day ended. An official-looking person walked by about then, and caught sight of the man eating as the students massed about. He stopped, and in a polite and non-threatening way, asked the man to move on. The man gathered his belongings and slowly moved my direction. As he passed me, he made a dismissive wave in my direction, muttering under his breath.

The daughter came running up to me, breathless and happy, from the same direction. As we walked toward the car, she caught sight of the man, now sitting further down the road on a planter. Her grip on my arm tightened, and I squeezed her hand reassuringly, mentally making note of the easily transported non-perishables that can be brown-bagged and carried in my straw tote.

Go listen to some good music: "Arlandria" from the album Wasting Light by Foo Fighters. It struck me as strange that two Fridays in a row, I've been witness to things I don't necessarily want to see.

13 October 2011

You feel like you're going where you've been before

The moon was full and the garden was suffused with light.

I dreamed.

I was in a crowd. I am frequently in crowds and I am uncomfortable in crowds. It could have been any place, any large gathering: a baseball game, a concert, an arena...

("Green Monster," my every day waking brain whispered. "Whatever," I told it, even though I found myself looking around for any evidence of Red Sox paraphernalia. No, just people across the way who appeared to have been tucked into a horizontal display, like a large-scale, human-sized card rack. This didn't even make me blink.)

You were there, somewhere in the crowd. I hadn't seen you, I wasn't expecting you. I just knew. Sometimes I just know. You occupy some part of my brain, someplace I try to keep you hidden away. I bring you out when I need a boost, when I am unhappy and I need warmth and a little joy. Of course, you burst out on your own, too. Sometimes I hear you. Sometimes I think of you, a flicker across synapses, a flash of memory, when I'm busy with the business of my life. It's a reminder that you, too, are a part of my life. Often, it seems you know this better than I do.

I couldn't move--the crowd was an obstacle--but I craned around heads that seemed like immobile card cutouts, until I caught sight of you in the distance. I moved left, moved right, trying to get a better view.

("And what?" whispered my waking brain, sounding smug, jeering a little. "Shut up!" my dreaming self told it. "You make a hash of this every time you get the chance. Let me do this.")

But I lost sight of you. I moved right, moved left, unsure if you'd seen me.

I moved right...you were there, but looking elsewhere.

I dodged to the left, around the silhouetted head blocking my view.

You were there, looking at me through a break in the crowd. It was the smile, the look in your eyes. It was the reassurance that I shouldn't need anymore, but I do. I do.

I tried to push through, but you were gone, gone as fast as you'd gotten there.

I held my breath a beat, wondering if you'd return, and when you didn't, I turned and moved away through the masses that no longer held me back. I held tight to sight of your face, the happiness bright in your eyes and curving your lips. I memorized the flash of your strong teeth in that smile, how your hair fell, the pleased but slightly mischievous expression on your face.

When I woke, the moon was setting in the western sky, Jupiter sparkling above it.

Go listen to some good music: "Talk" from the album X&Y by Coldplay. Sometimes the subconscious mind is a hoot. The Boston reference has everything to do with something that's been a bit of a struggle the last few days, and has to do with baseball only in the most oblique fashion. And reassurance? Yes, I've needed some reassurance in recent days.

12 October 2011

This is not a sitcom

where everything's alright

Last night, the full moon.

I dreamed.

(But that's for later).

Today, a day of steady and exhausting activity. Muddled thoughts. Enervating heat.

I am not slowing down enough to make myself understood to those around me. I am impatient. I don't want to explain the path from A to B. I just want people to get it.

Read my mind.

This isn't fair of me. It's one of my greater failings. I frustrate those around me when I won't give them time to catch up. It's a grand frustration for me, as well.

Don't make me explain.

But my own internal, infernal machine propels me forward.

There is never enough time.

Onward.

Go listen to some good music: "Stay" from the album Dead Man's Party by Oingo Boingo. There was also a terrible shooting at the beach this afternoon, and I think the entire county is reeling from the brutality of it.

11 October 2011

Where do we go now?

Tuesday, Oct 11th, 2011 -- If your enthusiasm prompted you to go too far yesterday, you might need to make an apology, pull back on the reins and reconsider your next move before you make matters worse. Ironically, your optimism may not be dampened; it's just that your goals are intertwined with others and you cannot charge off on your own. There's no reason to be discouraged; regrouping before you push forward again will only increase your chances of success. - Tarot.com

It made me laugh.

But I don't think I went too far yesterday. I'm actually hearing the opposite. And I think that I made it clear that while I'm sympathetic to the plight of those who have fallen on hard times, right now, I'm not standing with anyone, particularly as the Democrats are seeking to make the Occupy movement their Tea Party.

In some regards, we are all guilty of creating the place where we find ourselves now. As much as I don't want to, I still buy things made in China, clothing made somewhere else off shore. I still use the banks that I revile and patronize the corporations that we are excoriating. Often, I feel trapped in a web that I didn't seek, didn't ask for and certainly didn't vote for. While I have too many choices in toilet paper, I have no voice in how my tax money is used.

It's going to be hard work, the sort that no one ever seems to want to do, but to get this country back on its feet, there is going to need to be an overhaul of everything: the tax code (sorry, Cain, but yours doesn't work. National sales tax? No and hell no. Let's think in terms of a national luxury tax), the educational system, treatment of illegal labor, the list is endless. If you're rich, good for you! But no special consideration, no perqs, no loopholes. And if you're not rich, well you're going to have to figure out how to earn all those nice things you want, because no more damn free ride.

I have solutions. Just ask me. But believe you me, they are the sort of solutions that the politicians fear and the populace dislikes. They are the hard solutions, the ones that require personal responsibility and a level playing field. Everybody steps up, helps out, pays their fair share. And everyone does have to stop standing on the backs of the middle class: our backs are broken. What are you going to do when you've bled us dry? You should worry about that because we're just about there.

Alright, I've had enough of this. Tomorrow is another day. Maybe even a better day.

Go listen to some good music: "Sweet Child o' Mine" from the album Appetite for Destruction by Guns N' Roses.

10 October 2011

Uprising

When the son and I left for Chicago on Thursday, the Occupy movement still seemed to be very much a creature of social media. Saturday morning, I heard reporting on it on CNN while we were waiting in the departure lounge at O'Hare, and then when I actually got home there were some articles on Yahoo News and in the local newspaper, along with some stories in larger newspapers. It's grown from there, and yesterday's New York Times included a very cogent opinion piece on the protests. Also an opinion piece on why the plutocrats are panicking. As author Margaret Atwood rightly noted on Twitter this morning, echoes of the French Revolution.

CNN seemed to go out of its way to find some of the most incoherent individuals it could to speak with. I am not surprised; I've no doubt the 1% wants to portray the protesters as crackpots to the extent possible. I've seen them referred to as "mobs" and "the great unwashed." And no doubt, some are crackpots, some are opportunists, and some are troublemakers but most are just really angry, disenfranchised citizens. In fact, some of them look a lot like me.

Everyone has a story, and while there are common threads--unemployed, under employed and uninsured--a good deal of the rage is directed at the banks and financial institutions that taxpayers were forced to bail out and that are now stealing, quite literally, the rest of our money. Plenty is aimed at the large corporations that also got bailouts at our expense.

Like so many others in this country, I was raised with the notion that if I worked hard, played fair, and saved a percentage of my salary, I would earn my way to financial stability. So I worked long hours, and saved money. I've never been afraid of hard work, and no job has ever been beneath me. I can't tell you how many children I've cared for, how many toilets I scrubbed for the privilege of higher education. And though the only toilets I presently scrub are my own, we live modestly and we've been careful with our means and our resources. In short, we've done all the right things.

At the same time, we saw our health insurance premiums skyrocket to $24,000 this year. We made the scary decision to go to a high deductible plan. We're watching our retirement plans shrinking. The banks feel that they no longer need to pay us for the privilege of using our savings. The best interest rate we see? 0.01% I am trying to teach my children the value of saving...why? Oh no, wait. I'm supposed to be teaching them to spend their money to continue shoring up the corporations I've already shored up. Buy more useless garbage. While I search for more ways to cut the weekly grocery bill that just seems to keep climbing.

Yes, as a matter of fact, I'm mad as hell.

Since I was in Chicago, after my pressing chores in the city, I decided to take a walk down to the Federal Reserve Bank there, and the Chicago Board of Trade. You can read more about that here. It was Friday afternoon, so while there were protesters about, it was all pretty quiet. But I took some photos and spoke with some of the people on the street. Some were young, some a good deal older than me. Some evinced a sense of theater, some just wanted their voices heard.

No one declined my requests for photographs.

"Why don't you get your press credentials?" the spouse asked me impatiently when I showed him the fruits of my labor after I got home.

"I'm not press," I told him. "I'm just a woman with a camera."

And for the moment, I don't want to be aligned with any group. Freelance has always suited me well, and it allows me objectivity, observer status. But I'm similarly not interested in being silent.

And I won't be silent because I'm mad as hell.

I'm mad as hell at the 1% who are destroying my life, expecting me to bail them out, expecting me to enrich their bonus packages, expecting me to keep them solvent. I'm mad as hell at the Republicans who think that I shouldn't be complaining that I'm not in the 1% because I haven't worked hard enough? That assumption is so deeply fallacious that I can't even find the appropriate words to address it. And no, I don't want your Mercedes or BMW. I could have your Mercedes or BMW, but I've got far better sense.

But there is another facet to this as well. I'm mad as hell at whatever the percentage of the 99% partied like it was 1999 on what they decided was free credit, living like they were the 1% until the bill came due and they couldn't pay it. I'm mad as hell at those who serially file bankruptcy and think it's ok. I'm mad as hell at the people who ran property values into the ground, partying like it was 1999 in mansions they couldn't begin to afford on no-down payment loans that the banks had no business giving them. I'm mad as hell at the people who used their houses as piggy banks--let the good times roll! And now they've been foreclosed, upon or are in danger of it, they, too, expect me to bail them out.

Like hell.

You see, I'm stuck in the middle. Here I am, between the devil and the deep blue sea. I've got all the liars and the cheats, the Democrats and the Republicans, the rich ones and the newly poor ones, whether they live high on the hog on Wall Street, or formerly lived high on the hog in Irvine and Newport Beach looking to me, stealing from me, the person who worked her ass off for financial stability, has always paid her bills, doesn't live above her means, has no entitlement issues.

How dare any of you--rich or the victim of your own bad decision making--think that I owe you my hard-earned money? How dare any of you think that you are entitled to anything that I have worked for?

So, no, for the moment, I align myself with no one. And yes, I feel for those who didn't bring this garbage down on their own heads, who worked hard and played fair and tried to earn their right to financial stability.

It's you that I'll fight for.

The rest of you? What are you going to do when I pick up my toys and go elsewhere? You think I can't?

Think again.

Go listen to some good music: "Uprising" from the album The Resistance by Muse.

07 October 2011

Here I hide in the heart of the city

Remember what I said about an American Autumn?

Well, the Occupy (insert major city) movement is starting to look just like that.

We had to explain to the kids exactly what's going on, but yesterday, I was at the airport, reading about Occupy (insert major city).

And, of course, the son and I are traveling.

"Hey, kid," I said to him. "Guess where we're going tomorrow."

"Oh god," he said, quietly. "You are going to get me arrested."

(This was before today's info session when he learned about two students of the institution we visited and how they got arrested...by the FBI. With job offers following.)

He shares more than just my DNA.

Go listen to some good music: "Presto" from the album Presto by Rush. I let the boy pick the title. I'm becoming increasingly protective of the son as he is in the application process, and no, I don't plan to get him arrested...

05 October 2011

How a young heart really feels

The daughter: "Mommy, can I ask you a question, even if it is after the fact?"

Me, trying to negotiate the traffic on the rain-wet streets: "Sure. What?"

The daughter: "My friend's boyfriend broke up with her."

Me: "I'm sorry to hear that."

The daughter: "Me, too. But I didn't know what to say."

Me: "'I'm sorry' always works. Then you can let her talk about how she feels and be sympathetic."

The daughter: "Well, that's what I did. And my other friend and I held her hand while she cried and we hugged her."

Me: "Sounds like you did the right thing."

The daughter: "They were together for eight months."

Me: "Then she's probably feeling pretty sad."

The daughter: "Yeah. I'm glad I don't have to deal with that. Well, sometimes I wish I had a boyfriend, but...ugh."

Me: "Well, right now, probably the most important thing is to learn how to be friends. If someone can't be a good friend, they probably won't be a good boyfriend or girlfriend. And even if you love someone, it's important to be friends, too."

The daughter: "There's a boy. I think he likes me. He talks to me all the time and says nice things. I mean he talks to me all the time."

She giggles.

Me, with mock severity: "So, a few weeks ago, all you can do is complain that no one talks to you, and now you complain because they are talking to you?"

The daughter: "Mommmmmy! I'm not complaining."

Me: "You're complaining. Unbelievable."

The daughter: "And there's this other boy...he shook my hand for no reason."

Me, laughing: "Oh this. THIS. Sounds like high school. And he likes you."

The daughter: "But, Mommy..."

Me: "Ah. And he's that boy."

The daughter: "What do you mean?"

Me: "Hair kind of hangs, wears glasses, and a flannel shirt open over a t-shirt."

The daughter: "Yeah! And he's really tall, and he's got this neck..."

Me: "He'll grow into the neck eventually."

The daughter: "How do you know all this?"

Me, smiling at the stop light: "High school. Been there."

Go listen to some music: "Puppy Love" by Donny Osmond. I'm just grateful that my daughter actually talks to me.

04 October 2011

And the sky is grey

The son: "It's raining."

Me: "No way."

The son: "Yeah, it's coming down pretty hard."

Me: "No way. It's not even supposed to rain until tomorrow."

I peer out the kitchen window and in the pre-dawn gloom, ascertain that it is, indeed, pouring.

Me, sighing: "Alright. We'll need to leave five minutes early."

The son, hopefully: "We could walk."

Me: "You'll get soaked."

The son: "We have umbrellas."

Me: "Dude! The skies have opened."

The son: "I don't mind."

Me: "Your hair."

The son: "I'll be ready to go five minutes early..."

Go listen to some good music: "California Dreamin'" from the album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears by The Mamas & The Papas. Winter has arrived for the moment. What's wild is that it will be considerably warmer in Chicago than it will be here.

01 October 2011

Oh my my

This week, I've been all over the map (figuratively this time, not literally), devoting time to causes, back-to-school nights, and finding a new primary physician because mine announced she was moving an hour away, and I am not driving an hour to go to the doctor (who has apparently forgotten that I was having a little issue with paralysis earlier this year... I wasn't doing too well driving three blocks). And if the kids have to do a lot of paperwork for college applications, I'm not sure it's anything compared to what the parents have to fill out. Digital signatures, for crying out loud. Not that that is everything, of course, but that was making me crazy enough last night.

It's October. October. I feel like I missed half of this year.

Then again, I did, rather.

It's going to be a busy week. It's going to be a rather chaotic month.

Tonight, I got an email from the son who was forwarding me a College Board come on: Take the SATII Language with Listening! Earn college credit!

Errr, I wrote back to him, you already scored over 700 on a language SATII, earned an AP 5 and an IB 7. You think you still have something to prove?

I could hear him laughing from his room.

This is what is pushed. More tests! More tests! Create a nation of test-takers! Teach them to memorize, not to apply, and god forbid, not to think!

I tell my kids, "You want to be culturally literate? You have to watch this movie. You have to visit this country. You have to read this book. You have to try this food. Everything is interwoven. Understand history and your friends and your enemies through their words, your eyes, your ears, your stomach."

People stare at me when I suggest this, the same people who can't believe that my kids bring tandoori in their lunch one day, kalbi the next and boeuf bourguignon another day, with a generous dollop of vegan whatever I happened to make the night before. My kids read Swift and Orwell and Atwood on their own, for fun. They've seen the Hermitage, camped out in bear country, ridden on horseback through lava fields, watched ballet, heard Beethoven's 9th performed with a full orchestra and chorus, traced the path of the Milky Way in midwinter. They've done charitable work on a large scale, but also gotten a can off the shelf for the elderly person who couldn't reach it. You can memorize all you want, but you won't know the facts until you live them. You make the most of the opportunities that are handed to you, and create the opportunities that you can. Fortunately for me, my children get that.

I suppose that's what matters.

This then, is a taste of October.

Go listen to some good music: "Oh My My" from the album Blast From Your Past by Ringo Starr. It's been a wild week, promises to be another, and yes, my passion meter is on overload at the moment. I've seen a lot of hysteria (about various things) of late, and never underestimate the power of hysteria as a contagion.

27 September 2011

Find our way home

Today, the daughter took a stab at a difficult problem in her Algebra II class. Evidently, a couple of other kids had tried, but weren't successful in solving it. She offered up her solution, and another student, a boy she has characterized as a bit of a smart alec, challenged her solution, so she explained why hers would work, evidently in a cheerful and matter-of-fact sort of way. When she finished, the rest of her classmates broke out in spontaneous applause.

The daughter was taken aback (but really pleased), while the teacher called, "Wait, wait! I haven't even told you if it was the right answer."

Of course, it was.



Sometimes, the son and daughter are in competition with one another in ways that I can't even begin to fathom. It turns out that the son has nursed a bit of a grudge about the New York trip the daughter and I took together, even though he had the opportunity to go to New York his eighth grade year, and again this summer.

Of course, I didn't take him to see Wicked.

In any event, he evidently sees this upcoming Chicago trip as Revenge of the Son, except he sort of feels as though I'm not taking him quite so nice a place (s'ok, I don't get it either), and that I owe him a show. (!!! Where does he come up with these ideas? Especially since I've made arrangements for him to see Wicked at the holidays!) Naturally, we'll be hitting Chicago during an entertainment lull--everything is either this weekend or after we've left. I'll figure something out.

And the daughter seems a bit down that she's going to school, not Chicago.

There is no winning this.

Go listen to some good music: "Find Our Way Home" from the album The Christmas Attic by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. There is no perfect school. I know this. But so far, the daughter seems to be making a clean transition into her new environs, and her teachers evidently enjoy her. Worth noting that she'd one of the youngest in that math class.

23 September 2011

Wild wild life

Autumn began, and the weather was pleasant, and I had all the windows open tonight. While I was in the back of the house, I heard something crashing around in the side yard.

This is not unusual. There are cats and opossums and raccoons that meander about at night, along with the occasional bobcat or coyote. The daughter frequently complains that she hears something lumbering around, and the sideyard is particularly noisy because there are so many dead leaves and seed pods on the ground.

So I heard the crashing under the windows and didn't think much about it, wondering if Olivier hadn't yet been put in for the night. He got his head chomped by a coyote a year or so ago, so his people are pretty vigilant about locking him up after dark.

It was the little vocalization that made me look up. A soft sort of whuffling, a combination sniffle and snort.

I stopped what I was doing and listened. It was not the next door neighbor's dog.

And again. Whuffle, snort, sigh. Nothing particularly aggressive about; it was actually a rather satisfied noise.

Naturally, the sideyard is the darkest part of the entire lot, so I grabbed my very large and very heavy maglite, and went out into the garden. Dried berries from the ficus were plinking down onto the dead leaves in that vicinity, but there was otherwise no sound. I switched on the maglite and walked quietly toward the side of the house, shining the bright beam along margins and behind plants, expecting the glow of eyes at any moment.

Nothing.

I stopped and listened carefully.

Nothing.

I ventured further into the sideyard, moving slowly because I didn't want to startle something that might be lurking behind the air-conditioning unit or a shrub. I've had huge, fully grown raccoons rear up on their hind legs in a very threatening fashion when I had cause to pass by them on the studio lot, and the last thing I wanted to do was corner a frightened animal in the dark.

There was a patter of berries behind me and I startled, jerking in surprise at the sound, and swung my flashlight around.

Nothing.

I started back toward the french doors where I'd exited, when I heard the excited and angry chatter of a bird in another yard, fairly distant from where I was standing. It sounded very much like a bird that's been startled awake by a predator, and I decided that whatever I'd heard snuffling about had already wandered off in search of more interesting entertainment.

At that moment, a rain of dried berries showered down around me, and I paused to consider the fact that my garden is filled by any number of very large trees, and that presently, I was standing under one of them. Irresistibly, I thought of heffalumps and woozles and most particularly, jagulars that drop on unsuspecting heads.

I didn't exactly flee, but I removed myself rapidly to the house.

Go listen to some good music: "Wild Wild Life" from the album Best of Talking Heads by Talking Heads. Heffalumps, woozles and jagulars are, of course, the invention of A.A. Milne, creator of the Winnie-the-Pooh stores.