25 May 2011

All my designs simplified

I am currently reading Sheri Holman's Witches on the Road Tonight, and while I've not gotten very far yet, there was a passage early on wherein one of the characters, a female photographer working for the WPA thinks about taking a photo, musing over the difference between documenting what is interesting and documenting what is important.

What is interesting.

What is important.

Importance tends to take precedence in my life, marching along through my days with a military precision (and occasionally, a mournful dirge). Responsibility lies heavily on my shoulders.

But I'm drawn so much more to what is interesting.

Usually, after a day or week of taking photographs, I can go back and look at the set and tell you exactly what I wanted to accomplish with each frame. Whether or not I was successful is another matter, but I don't tend toward randomness. Tonight, posting the photo of the cat statue from the Met, I remembered precisely what I was thinking when I took it: "I bet I can do a good job with this." The decision had already been made to take a photo (because the subject was interesting--to me, anyway), but I believed I could also make a serviceable photo of it. And it led me into thinking about the choices I make not only of what I post, but what I photograph.

And what that says about me.

Recent days have been difficult and exasperating, and all of us are stretched thin, particularly with regards to patience. In my family, we've all, in different measure, been dealing with people who are making bad choices and the repercussions tend to splatter on anyone who is nearby, even if you don't have direct contact with the person or situation. Bad drivers, angry people, bizarre behaviour...there's been a rash of it lately. People who don't recognize what is important, so stuck are they in their own tiny heads, hellbent on feeding their own selfish little egos.

What is important

What is interesting.

It is worth knowing the difference. It is worth making choices that don't reflect poorly on you and cause trouble for those around you.

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

24 May 2011

Hitch a ride

Milton hates suitcases.

Not a surprise, really. Suitcases mean someone is going somewhere, and that his little world is about the become disordered. And perhaps, whoever is left will forget to feed him.

(Or worse, he'll be sent off to the vet for the duration.)

He visibly tenses up when he hears the tell tale sound of zippers or sees the things rolling down the hallway. He paces. He runs around. He crouches and looks miserable.

A month or so ago, I decided to bite the bullet and buy a new set of suitcases as the old set has been around the world (no joke), and it shows. Baggage handlers are none too gentle and the metal supports inside the bags are visibly cattywampus, and the outsides are filthy and fraying.

Besides, everyone has red suitcases these days.

Macys was having a sale, and I had an extra discount, and at the end of the day, I got new Samsonite luggage for a reasonably decent price. Of course, I couldn't find what I wanted in the store, so it had to be shipped to the house.

The cartons arrived while the daughter and I were in New York, and Milton made them his, not knowing, of course, that they contained suitcases. Milton loves boxes. He likes sitting atop them, standing upon them, jumping on them, and generally behaving like the King of the (Cardboard) Mountain. So, he loved and enjoyed the cartons until I got back and decided they required unpacking.

Imagine his dismay to hear...suitcases.

Well, the suitcases have been sitting in the dining room for the last several days because it turns out they are larger than the old suitcases and I can't lift them into the storage area above the closet anyway, so they sit, pretty and blue and rolly. And do they roll. They are spinners, so they move about with very little provocation.

Milton has largely ignored them except to note that they are in his way.

Last night in the course of some errand, the spouse moved the larger suitcases near Milton's scratching post. Neither of us really thought anything of it, but today, when I was doing all my horrible rehabilitation exercises, I noticed Milton sniffing around the wheels. He went on to have a long and luxurious scratch on his post, and then he jumped up on top of the large Chinese vase that sits behind his post. He stood there for a moment while I watched, sniffing the nearest suitcase with great care, and I could see what he was thinking and I assumed it would end in disaster.

He stood there quietly for a moment, and then he leaped gracefully to the top of the suitcase. His weight and momentum were sufficient to set it in motion, and he perched there happily, rolling gracefully across the dining room floor, King of the Mountain, Head of the Parade.

Go listen to some music: "Hitch a Ride" from the album Boston by Boston.

22 May 2011

As far as my eyes can see

The son texted me to say that his prom date loved her corsage (3 white roses, 3 purple orchids, silver ribbon), and I told him, "Always trust yr mama."

Still, it was a relief. Kids these days!

(I have one old enough to go to the prom. How is that possible? I'm prepping for him to go to college, but I can't get over prom. Even now, they are limo-ing to dinner. He was so nervous. I told him, "Dude. It's a party. With your friends.")

Yesterday was an exceedingly long day. We were up before the crack of dawn and out the door at 5:30 am to work a charity event, a fundraiser for cancer. Chilling to see so many of those who were being honored in memoriam were people born the same year I was and five years either direction. But it was also heartening to see their families turning out to rally for awareness and research. And it was moving for those volunteers who were holding the memorial placards when the families approached. The daughter teared up when the parents of the woman (4 years older than me, died two years ago) whose sign she held walked up to her and softly said, "That was our girl." The young woman next to the daughter who had a memorial placard for a man was high-fived by his friends and family.

A healthy reminder to cherish ourselves and our loved ones.

The boy survived the prom and then kept me up until 3 am with post-party decompression. So, an exceedingly long day. Then my brother called me at 9:30 this morning, completely unrepentant that he'd awakened me since our mother called him a bit earlier and got him out of bed.

And we laughed.

When I got off the phone with him, two teenagers looked at me expectantly, making hopeful faces regarding breakfast. I thought for a moment, but really the decision was made in a flash.

"Cake for breakfast," I announced.

"Hooray!" they cheered.

Always eat dessert first.

Go listen to some good music: "Old and Wise" from the album Eye in the Sky by Alan Parsons Project.

19 May 2011

Rap-ture. Be pure.

They were everywhere in New York, especially on the street corners, mainly oldish men in bad suits, wild-eyed and serious of mien, holding hand-drawn placards urging everyone to repent.

Or maybe it was the same man, and I just kept seeing him in different places.

Or maybe I was just stuck in a bad sci-fi movie.

It's End Times again.

I seem to remember that one of the many Raptures predicted in my lifetime came right before my 17th birthday. This time, though, I've put my foot down and said forget it. I want my birthday cake Sunday. You'll have to Rapture without me.

(The son quipped that everyone who doesn't have a date for Prom may now no longer have to worry.)

Whatever my own belief system, I feel fairly convinced that my idea of Heaven isn't quite the same as that of folks who are campaigning for the Apocalypse. I find, in particular, their lack of humility disturbing and their absolutism odd. For people who claim to hold the Bible as it is written in such reverence, they seem to be making up an awful lot as they go along. God, in his own words, as they apparently believe, was a pretty straightforward God: do this. Don't do that. Yeah, someday the world will end.

No one of us is guaranteed a tomorrow. Isn't the challenge to pick ourselves up every day, to find the beauty and goodness in front of us where we can and to make more when possible? Why waste the time and energy on meaningless calculations when you could really be doing the work of the God you claim to hold in such esteem? What are you going to do Saturday evening when Jesus appears before you and says, "Instead of sitting around with a slide rule trying to divine mysteries that are my purview, why weren't you out feeding the hungry, comforting the sad and nursing the sick?"

Those men on the street corners in New York? They didn't look happy. They didn't look like people who were planning on Heaven as a place of comfort and love. They looked judgmental, condemnatory, and like they were already in Hell.

So, what comes after May 21? For me, cake. While the self-righteous are being sucked up by their Heavenly vacuum-cleaner, I will be prepping for cake. And more trials. And more joy. And beautiful days. And hard days. I'm a glass half-full kind of girl, and if I am here for a reason, it's to perpetuate the good for as long as is given me.

And while we're at it:

If you're ready for a zombie apocalypse, then you're ready for any emergency. emergency.cdc.gov

Because it's good to be prepared.


Go listen to some good music: "Rapture" from the album Autoamerican by Blondie.

18 May 2011

No one mourns the wicked

The daughter's classmates have branded the school trip to D.C. "boring."

But they didn't get to see Wicked on Broadway.

There were several must-see, must-do items on the daughter's list, and a Broadway show was one of them.

(Along with days at the Met, a trip to the top of the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Matilda the Cat of the Algonquin Hotel...you get the picture).

I've successfully avoided Wicked for the 7 or 8 years it's been playing, primarily because I read the book when it came out, and while I liked the book a great deal, I couldn't see how anyone could adapt such a complicated story for the stage. And the subject matter didn't seem to lend itself to a musical. The fact that everyone loved it didn't convince me either. Everyone loved Les Miserables too, which I found singularly unimpressive and frankly, miserable.

But the daughter wanted to see Wicked, I found 12th row center matinee seats, and I really wasn't in the mood to have a Spiderman dropped on my head.

The Gershwin, as it turns out is a lovely theater, and our seats were excellent. The stage was fabulous, the sets were beautiful, and if the story was a bit thin (not to mention rather changed), and if the character of Glinda was a little too over the top and Elphaba a bit bland (though both actresses were wonderful and both had gorgeous voices), it was nonetheless a completely enjoyable show, and by its finish, I was applauding as enthusiastically as everyone else.

And yet, the opening song took me by surprise. I'd never heard any of the show's music, didn't know anything about the story's adaptation. Given the events of the week prior to our trip, it was eerie and unpleasant, a weird counterpoint to my constant awareness of the city as a player in a much greater drama. In the context of the show, of course, it is the Witch's backstory that explains her, gives her life meaning, shows us how we have misjudged her, creates sympathy. It's a clever device, particularly as a prequel to a book and movie that are so definitive about her character as The Wizard of Oz is. The story that Wicked tells, particularly in the book, is highly political, very overtly so. And because of her inconvenient political leanings, the Witch is made out to be a terrorist by the corrupt powers that be, which ultimately conspire to assasinate her.

And sitting there listening to the opening number, I thought about those who would frame reality in similar context, who would have us think "freedom fighter" and "noble cause," despite the fact that "wrongdoer" and "murderer" were far more accurate. It's true that there are two sides to every story as Wicked points out. Elphaba's cause may have been just; she may have been on the side of right, but real life is rarely so simple. There are two sides to every story, but sometimes both sides paint the exact same portrait of pure evil.

Go listen to some good music: "No One Mourns the Wicked" from the album Wicked (Original Broadway Cast Recording).

17 May 2011

Here is where you got lost

I have a fairly unerring sense of direction. That sometimes fails me.

The daughter and I arrived above ground again, and I surreptitiously pulled out my map to try to get my bearings. Let's face it, nothing says "please steal my purse" in a big city like being distracted by something else. And no sooner had I gotten the map out than a very nice lady approached me and said, "Honey, do you need directions?"

I smiled, tucked my bag firmly under my arm, glanced around just in case, and said a little sheepishly that I just needed to be pointed in the direction of the Met.

(I'm not particularly paranoid as a rule, but remember that this was a mere week after certain events had taken place, and the city was on high alert, too. The police and military presence was pretty unnerving. I was even more cautious given the fact the daughter was with me.)

But the lady turned out to be just that: a lady and one who had a desire to be helpful.

"Oh, you just keep walking straight that way," she pointed, "and you'll be fine."

I thanked her for her kindness, and she replied, "You know, I always appreciate it when someone helps me when I'm in a strange country, so I'm glad to help out here."

Strange...country? After our benefactor went on her way, the daughter shrugged extravagantly and I smiled.

(We are frequently, to our huge amusement, taken for being from somewhere other than the U.S. Often, we're believed to be Canadian; the spouse has been mistaken for German, somewhat explicable because he looks German, and I'm often asked if I'm from Britain, which makes no sense whatever.)

We walked past the stately apartment buildings, the daughter crooning over every dog she saw. And we arrived at the wall surrounding Central Park, and I promptly turned the wrong direction, but covered my error nicely by telling the daughter she should see at least a little of it. After we admired the reservoir and the ducks and the shady trees, I neatly turned back the direction we should have gone in the first place, and we arrived at the museum with no further ado, to spend several hours lost in museum-bliss.

Go listen to some good music: "Mutiny, I Promise You" from the album Challengers by The New P*rnographers. I'm not sure any huge stories came out of this trip. I liked the small ones.

16 May 2011

Hiss of the train

New York stinks.

It's true. There is a miasma of excrement, subway steam, sewage, food odor, body odor, and cigarette smoke that creates a funk you can almost cut. It is also quite possibly the filthiest city I have ever seen. How can a city be so dirty?

And yet it is beautiful, alive and compelling.

After a pretty decent night's sleep and a nice breakfast at our hotel and a quick conference with the doorman and a map, the daughter and I stepped out onto the crowded pavement our first morning in New York. Her eyes widened, and I set out down the sidewalk at a brisk clip, in search of Grand Central Terminal, and the subway station below its grand main concourse.

It was a beautiful day. Bryant Park was in full bloom, the breeze was brisk, and the sun was warm.

And there were people everywhere. The daughter took my elbow in both her hands and held on as we joined the human tide.

People in New York are almost hilarious to watch. There is a dance, a flow around the slow and distracted, the occasional bounce of human pinballs against one another, seemingly without umbrage. I just tend to move fast at all times, and so, dodged and weaved with the best of them, past the man eating and reading a book as he walked, past gawking tourists who stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to take a photo of themselves with their phones, past the people talking on their cell phones.

It wasn't long before we arrived at Grand Central, which is wholly impressive unto itself. The daughter clung harder to my arm as we entered the dim, bustling warren that is the subway station, a place that is very much alive with the smell of human, metal, and cold, old concrete.

(There are dust bunnies everywhere down there. Flitting across the floor, on the stairs. Other fauna, too, not made of dust. While we waited on the platform at one point, the daughter asked, "What's rodenticide?" pointing at a sign warning of its use on the far wall. When I told her, she said dismissively, "The train would get you first.")

I've ridden subways in so many cities, and nothing beats New York for sheer confusion. Signs here and signs there, a paucity of information about local and express trains. After I got our Metro cards, I hauled the daughter toward the Uptown platform but she stood fast like a mule and said, "How do you know that's the right one?"

"Because," I said reasonably, "that's where we're going."

"But how do you know?" she insisted.

"We're at 42nd Street. We're going to 86th. Up," I told her.

She still looked dubious, but got on the 6 train when it arrived.

Go listen to some good music: "Trains" from the album In Absentia by Porcupine Tree.

15 May 2011

Travel. Arrival.

This is how it happened:

The K-8 the son attended and the daughter is now finishing has this affinity for school trips, starting in fourth grade. I think the state sort of follows something similar: Sacramento, outdoor ed, and so forth, but I'm not certain whether they are mandatory. I don't get the impression they are, though at the kids' school, it pretty much works out that way.

Three years ago, the son embarked on the eighth grade trip which was to go to Washington, D.C. and NYC. The trip cost something like $2,500 for five days and was to include meals, transportation, side trips, entrance fees, etc. Try to imagine my fury when it transpired that accomodation was putting 4 teenage boys in a room with 2 beds. That meals largely consisted of food court pizza. That they spent most of their time sitting on a bus. To top it off, the son got home with hives so severe that he almost ended up in the ER (I gave him a large dose of Benadryl and an hour for it to take effect...which blessedly it did).

Slightly less than 2 years later, I took the entire family to DC (which happens to be my hometown) for close to the same price, and they stayed at the Willard and never once ate pizza. And they saw just about everything the city had to offer (including some of my relatives, who are a show unto themselves).

At that point, I made the daughter an offer: skip the DC trip and I'd take her to New York that week. She can't stand the school trips anyway, and she jumped at the chance to go to New York.

Which is how we ended up at JFK last Monday night.

The driver arrived at the airport as arranged, and we packed the luggage into the car and headed toward Manhattan. Slowly, as there was construction everywhere, and then the driver tore willy-nilly through residential neighborhoods, trying to avoid the jammed expressway.

The daughter sat, wide-eyed, absorbing all she saw: row houses and locked gates, fire escapes and tunnels, at last lighting up as she finally caught sight of the Empire State Building in the distance. And I couldn't help but smile.

My New York was the New York of books: Harriet the Spy, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Portrait of Jenny, and later, after I'd visited New York the first time, Shirley Jackson's short stories. Growing up in a desert, bereft of culture, I voraciously and vicariously consumed Harriet's Upper Eastside childhood: a world of the weird and the wacky, a world of resources and resourcefulness. And really, an egg cream? I desperately wanted to try one.

And Claudia and Jamie Kincaid? Even at 7, when I first read From the Mixed Up Files..., I knew that there was more than a little of Claudia in me. I was bored, too, and underappreciated, but more to the point, I had a tremendous talent for organization and I was frequently told I was bossy. Face it, it does follow on, a bit. Especially when one is 7. Or nine. Or 11. And bored. And I loved museums, even at such a young age. I cherished the sense of history, the dim lighting, the feeling of otherness. (In yet another childhood favorite, Eleanor Cameron's The Court of the Stone Children, I could deeply relate to Nina's desire to "be something in a museum.") So the idea of running away and living in a museum undetected was tremendously appealing. As was the kids' resourcefulness. And of course, the Automat and the UN and cat statues with earrings.

The daughter, too, had an idea of New York. I'm not sure exactly what it was, but I know that a good deal of it revolved around From the Mixed Up Files... because she and the son loved it every bit as much as I did, and possibly highest on her list of things to do was to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Which we did. Twice.

But that first night, I just watched the play of light on her face as the car pulled up at our hotel, mere feet from the center of Times Square.

Go listen to some good music: "Pilgrimage" from the album Days of Open Hand by Suzanne Vega. By the time I first visited the Met in the mid-1980s, it had changed a good deal from the time that From the Mixed Up Files... was written. This go round, it had changed even more, and I found it difficult to approve. For the record, I've yet to try an egg cream, and Horn and Hardart's has long since disappeared.

13 May 2011

You tell yourself you will stay in but...

The daughter and I flew in from New York at some point this afternoon...

It was a very early morning and when I sat down to write, I very literally fell asleep at the keyboard.

I still have so much on tap for the next couple of days. Suffice to say that I'm glad I went. And I'm glad I'm back.

(And yes, for all of you asking the eternal question, it hurt. A lot.)

It started with checking in at LAX, flying all afternoon and arriving at JFK. JFK was just as I remembered it...

Go listen to some good music: "New York" from the album All That You Can't Leave Behind by U2.

11 May 2011

New York New York

I am in New York & this smart phone blogging really isn't working as planned. I can't even send email for some unknown reason. Suffice to say the daughter & I are very busy. We are staying right at Times Square and are trying to see everything. There will be stories.

Go listen to some good music: "New York" from the album All That You Can't Leave Behind by U2.

08 May 2011

You might think

I'm very much alive and reasonably well. It's been a heck of a...year.

So just when the number of readers here is suddenly exploding (you can't all be content scrapers, can you?), I've stopped writing. I think it's cyclical, but mostly I'm so busy that all I can manage is running from point A to point Z.

At any rate, don't expect much of me in the coming week. I may post photos on my photo blog and if I have the energy, possibly at Twitter. This is not a promise. Just a maybe.

Maybe.

I got an iPhone. I'm still trying to figure it out.

Which has nothing to do with anything.

Good night.

Go listen to some music: "You Might Think" from the album Heartbeat City by The Cars. Seriously. I cannot stop yawning...

03 May 2011

Chorale I (Za Ba Ma)

Unsurprisingly, it's been head down, nose to the grindstone, full speed ahead.

Sunday, as I was readying to go to the tea party, the phone rang. It was the spouse.

"What did you forget?" I sighed.

"I think I dropped my Blackberry in the cab," he told me. Thus ensued a frantic half-hour wherein I called his phone over and over, listening for a ring as I wandered the house and garage. I finally called the cab company and explained the dilemma to the dispatcher, who messaged the driver, who called me. As I spoke with the driver, I could hear, in the background, the spouse's phone merrily chiming away.

At this point, I entered a phase of intense negotiation with the driver as to how the thing would be returned. Multiple phone calls were made; hours passed. Day turned to night; there were more calls; night turned to day.

And finally, when everyone had despaired of ever seeing the stupid thing again, it made it home.

I hate stuff.

(and so saying, my iPhone arrived today. Not that I've had the energy to even open the box yet. I may never open the box, actually.)

In the midst of all this, the son is busy with AP and IB testing, whilst the daughter is embroiled in her school's standardized testing.

(standard issue parental rant eliminated. But honestly! When I went to school we did a few things besides taking tests all the time.)

Anyway.

The daughter is busily gearing up for a fundraiser she is running this weekend that will benefit Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer. The son did a similar fundraiser three years ago; you can read about it here. I'll be posting a link to her fundraising page later this week (I didn't with the son because such things make me feel weird, but it's a good cause), and local friends, you know where to go for lemonade (yes, with lemons from my tree) and baked goods (of course).

I very rarely post links to other blogs (possibly because I rarely have time to read other blogs), but photographer Kyle Cassidy wrote a really lovely and thought-provoking post about books and reading at his blog.

(Two people--three, if you count me--influenced the purchase of the iPhone sitting in a box on my entry table. His posts on and photography with an iPhone make him one of them.)

At her blog, Eden Kennedy is running a Mother's Day-themed contest and some of the comments are pretty hilarious. One of them is mine, and I dare you to figure out which one.

Yes, yes, I know I have another blog. It will be updated soon. Promise.

(iPhone. Remember?)

Alright, I'm outta here. Miles to go before I sleep and all that.

Go listen to some good music: "Chorale I (Za Ba Ma)" from the album The Journey: The Best of Adiemus by Adiemus. The first my family ever heard of Adiemus was in Kartchner Caverns, of all places. I thought the central conceit behind the music was interesting, and you find yourself singing along even though there aren't any words. This particular song became a family in joke because we inserted our own words around the sounds the singers were making. It wasn't obscene or anything, but at the moment, they might be considered topical. Which would be my entire comment on the topic.

01 May 2011

Someone's in the kitchen

I've not written much about cooking lately, though I continue to do just that, multiple times per day, multiple days per week.

I've made countless macaroni cheeses, vanilla cheesecake bars (simple and pretty excellent), soups and stews of all varieties, glazed ham for Easter, roasted chicken, grilled fish, tandooris...you get the idea.

One of my neighbors had the lovely idea to do a mother-daughter tea, ostensibly to watch the Royal Wedding, but really, I think, to do a mother-daughter tea, with hats and china and nice things to eat. And it was a fun event for which a number of us contributed goodies.

I, of course, volunteered to make scones. I made two types, an honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned cream scone, as well as a slightly healthier cranberry-orange scone.

("Healthy" is relative. Both recipes contain butter and cream, but the cranberry-orange scone at least nods to health with the addition of white whole wheat flour and some dried fruit.)

I always tell people that if you can make a biscuit, you can make a scone, and the cream scone recipe really is a keeper. It whips up in about a half-hour, inclusive of baking, and it has a really nice cakey texture, but it's light and tender, not like the heavy bombs that usually pass for scones in US coffee houses (you know who you are). Although such classic scones are generally embellished with lemon curd (love!) or clotted cream or jam, this one actually has such a good flavor on its own that you can eat it plain.

Of course, it's rare that I make a recipe exactly as written, and in this case, I've made a lot of scones in my time, so I've found ways that I like to do things. The recipe calls for an egg wash before baking the scones, but instead, I brushed the scones with additional cream and sprinkled them with coarse sugar prior to baking. I've found that an egg wash often imparts an eggy flavor that can overwhelm the rest of the recipe, which is why I prefer the cream. I also left out the currants this time around. Rather than greasing the baking sheet, which can burn the bottoms of the scones at high temperature, I opted to line my pan with parchment paper.

Our lovely hostess made pretty tea sandwiches with pastel colored bread that she'd ordered from a bakery, and they were quite good: cream cheese with cucumber and chicken salad and egg. There were fresh strawberries and cookies and tiny tarts embellished with fresh raspberries alongside prettily iced cupcakes.

All in all, it was a very civilized way to spend a pretty spring afternoon.

Go listen to some good music: "I've Been Working on the Railroad" is a well-known folk song. Although I couldn't find specific attribution, Wikipedia had an interesting story about the song here. Naturally, one should take Wikipedia with a good bit of salt.