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.


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.