04 December 2012

Postscript: I can get back on

In December 2010, I suddenly became partially paralyzed and the prognosis was dire. My regular doctor was convinced I had a tumor growing in my spine, but it turned out one of my discs had exploded (her term), shooting its contents into my spinal canal and damaging two of the major nerves that fed my right leg. Four other discs were in various states of collapse. I was shuffled off to a surgeon who specialized in "complicated" cases but who also was conservative in treatment. He asked me my goal. I told him I wanted a fully functioning leg. He was blunt: that wasn't going to happen.

And it hasn't.

What followed was two years of pain and frustration and learning accommodation. Two years of refusing pain meds and injections, and doing physical therapy. The first two years of the rest of my life with permanent loss of function in my back, hip and right leg. I fought with myself daily: there would be no self pity, just the hard work of getting back as much ability as I could. But anger at losing another bit of myself, losing the things that I loved to do, was frequently overwhelming.

For someone who is complicated, my joys are pretty simple: travel and concerts. Time with friends and family. My life is a physically active one filled with running for planes and gardening, entertaining and exercise, hiking, biking, doing things.

Or it was.

Without really thinking much about it, I turned my back on a lot of what and who I loved. Rage is poisonous that way, even more than physical inability.

But the daughter wanted to go to a concert. Grudgingly, I bought tickets two weeks before the show, though I'd known about it for months. If I couldn't go whole, if I had to sit through the show and politely clap, I didn't want to be there.

But we went and it was magic. Sheer magic. And tentatively I stood. I moved, carefully at first and then with a little more abandon. Sure, it hurt some, and I had to sit down periodically, but it was good. And I was happy, really happy, for the first time in a long time.

So I got on a plane.

D. met me at the airport. We laughed like we hadn't laughed for a long time. Next night, we went over to the arena and bounced and sang and danced. It was my first concert out on the road in two years, my maiden flight with a very changed body.

It was magic. Sheer magic.

Leaving the arena, my right leg dragged like it hasn't for months. It embarrasses me when this happens, when I can't control it, but that night I didn't care because I was happy. And my back hurts and my leg hurts and my hip hurts which tells me that I need to learn to moderate the bouncing and dancing. But I'll pay the price for three hours of joy.

My body... My body sucks. But my body has sucked since I was 15, when the pediatrician told me I had crappy knees and bad ligaments and that I would need to strengthen all my muscle groups to keep my joints from popping out. And on and on it's gone. What happened two years ago is nothing new, strictly speaking, just more painful and debilitating. Given world enough and time, someday I will probably be carrying enough hardware in my spine to be the Bionic Woman. I've done what I can to keep this shell in good shape, but I've reached the point where it's all beyond my control. And no, I don't like it when I'm not in control.

But what I learned two weeks ago and again, two days ago, is that I'm also not in control of my heart. My heart--the emotional construct--is whole and fully functioning. It is very much alive and well, and uninterested in rage. It wants the good and the harmonious, the sun and the air, the bass, the drums and the guitar.

And if the love remains...

Go listen to some great music: "Far Cry" from the album Snakes and Arrows by Rush. Also "Bravado" from the album Roll the Bones by Rush. Mostly written in Houston Hobby airport while I waited for my flight home. This post is brought to you by the letter "L."

Sent from my iPhone

06 October 2012

I never heard nothing like you

Really, this is it.

But there was one last thing to say, to send into the impermanence of the ether.

(Impermanence. That's important. Read fast. You know what happens next.)

It's this:

I've never seen anyone like you.

I've never heard anyone like you.

You are why I kept writing as long as I did.

You.

Go listen to some good music: "Do Ya" from the album A New World Record by Electric Light Orchestra. I do. Feelings are permanent though words may not be.

04 October 2012

You just keep on trying 'til you run out of cake

It's a momentous day!

Hell did freeze over (Rush was nominated for inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which I think makes many people very happy. Me? I've been a fan for decades, will still be a fan, and don't need anyone else to validate my fandom. I mean, obviously. Female? Rush fan? Yeah, that. So, nice, but also whatever.)

More importantly (to me, anyway), I'm out of cake. This brings us to the natural end of Out of the Kitchen.

It's time.

For those of you who are still interested in what I have to say (why?), there is good news. I have another blog! It is called When All This Actual Life Played Out. It's true that a picture is worth a thousand words, though periodically I seem to need a thousand words to explain the picture. In any event, it's pictures and words, though mostly pictures. Perhaps, if I'm motivated and/or bored, a recipe.

Remember, I do what I must because I can. That's kind of always been the point here.

But before I go, one last story. It's worth it, and I'll let you make of it what you will.

Back in March, the son and I were en route to his bus stop early one morning. As many of you know, and others might have figured out, I walked my kids to and from school from 2001 until 2011, and then just the son to the same school through June of 2012, because it served as the pick up spot for the bus that took him off to high school. Over the 11 years that we made that walk, we went through various permutations of time and who was being escorted when and where. The good part of those 11 years was all the chatter and laughter shared with my two children on our way to and/or from, dragging rolling backpacks and science projects, while the son insisted that I never, ever actually drive them to or from school even if it was pouring rain.

(I did drive when it was pouring rain. The downside of driving is that because of the way the streets are controlled, it actually took twice the time to drive that it did to walk. And the walk was nice. Except for when I had to deal with bad drivers ignoring us in the crosswalk. Things got a bit iffy then. I have a temper. And a camera. And a will to see wrongs righted.)

Anyway. A morning last March. I'd left the son off, and I was walking back home, enjoying the cool morning and the sun rising, and the birds and all that. As I walked down a side street, a car approached and pulled up alongside me. This, of course, is pretty much guaranteed to put my hackles up, especially at 6:55 am on a quiet street. The male driver put down his passenger side window and said, "Your son must be getting ready to graduate from high school."

I expected, "Where is the nearest Starbucks?" or "How do I get to the freeway from here?"

If there had been a roof for me to go through, I probably would have. Every klaxon known to motherhood was going off in my head. And to his credit, the man--a nice-looking man a few years older than me, driving a nice car--correctly interpreted the look on my face (those of you who actually know me understand I was not sporting a big, happy smile), and hurriedly added, "I've seen you walking your children to school for 10 or 11 years, and I've watched them grow up...I kind of feel like I grew up with you."

"Oh," I replied, still very uncomfortable with where all this was going.

"I'm a teacher," he continued, "and I guess your son was probably in second grade when I first started to see you walk here every day when I was driving to work. And he's grown up so much...and," here he laughed, "then there was the beard."

I thawed a bit, "Yeah, the beard."

"So, I guessed that he must be getting close to graduating."

"Yes," I told him. "In a few months."

"I'd like to get him something for graduation. It's like you guys have been part of my life, too, all these years. It was always good to see you laughing and talking while you walked..."

"That's very kind of you," I told him. "But..."

"Does he like Starbucks? You know, like just maybe a little gift card..."

And I thought. I thought about pedophiles and the ways that strangers gain people's trust for all the wrong reasons. And I thought that this might simply be a nice man who was very much on the level. And I thought about how his words could have easily come out of my mouth under similar circumstances for all the same reasons. I thought about how many times I've written right here about the strange and beautiful connections we make with one another in the oddest and most unexpected of ways.

Still, it made me edgy.

"Look," I said, and I tried to make my voice kind, "it's a very generous offer, but he really doesn't drink coffee or visit places like that. I do appreciate what you've said, though."

"Okay," he said, "I'll think of something."

Still uneasy, I texted the son the substance of the conversation when I got home, along with a description of the man and his car, figuring that it's best to cover all the bases. The son was also uneasy, but I pointed out it was within the realm of possibility that this was actually just a nice a person.

And I felt sad that I was so disinclined to trust others.

Time passed, as it will, and many mornings, I drove the son to his bus stop, but only because the boy was in a theater production and there was too much stuff to actually carry on foot.

After a few weeks, I was walking home one sunny morning, and the same car pulled over. The driver rolled down the passenger side window and the man handed me a small package.

"For your son," he said, and smiled.

"It's really kind of you," I told him.

He waved and drove off.

When the son got home that afternoon, I gave him the package. He looked at me, a little ill at ease. But he opened it and inside was a book, a children's book but very appropriate, and a brief note.

"To a mom and her son," it said.

It was very simple and contained a good deal of what the man had already told me along with the revelation that one his own sons had considered the university the son planned to attend. He went on to say, "...I always wondered how long [seeing us walk to school] might last. I regretted the day I might see you walking alone, because I could tell how much joy it brought your mom to walk with you. Many kids wouldn't allow their parents that simple pleasure.....good luck, enjoy the book, and never forget who was with you every step of the way, and I mean that literally."

It was an incredibly sweet and perceptive sentiment, a truly kind gesture.

We only saw the man one other time before the son's high school days ended, and he was driving in traffic, but he caught sight of us and I waved, smiling. He smiled back, hugely, and honked.

The son had written him a thank you note, but we never had the opportunity to give it to him. Probably, now that school is back in session, I should go down the street and wait to see if he drives by.

For this stranger, the simple fact of our existence meant something--something good and something nice. For him, too, my son's graduation was an ending.

Endings frequently are very sad. But they also open new doors, offer new possibilities and sometimes give us new knowledge that we might not have been privy to. The son finished a chapter of his life, but he's reveling in the new. He loves being at university and all the grand challenges and opportunities that have presented themselves. I miss him, but am enjoying his hilarious texts and the increased freedom his independence gives me.

Here then, is the end. But I am already looking forward to the beginnings, the next things. I know they are out there: the ones I've created, the ones I hope for, the ones still a mystery. As I wrote six years ago: "I've just made an enormous change in my life, and enormous changes must be acknowledged in similarly enormous ways. And anyway, I'm also enormously fickle and very easily bored, so I'll figure out the whole blogging thing, get bored, and start mass-producing scones or something. The kitchen part isn't figurative, by any means."

And it's not. I may be out of cake, but there are always scones.

Go listen to some good music: "Still Alive" from the album The Orange Box (Original Soundtrack) by GlaDOS and Jonathan Coulton. I do, of course, reserve the right to change my mind. But I don't think I'm going to.

01 October 2012

We do what we must because we can

Yes, I had to pick a very goofy song.

Because I'm in a very pissy mood.

(You've been warned. That was a joke. Haha. Fat chance.)

Anyway.

It's October.

Still alive.

Go listen to some good music: "Still Alive" from the album The Orange Box (Original Soundtrack) by GlaDOS and Jonathan Coulton. No, I've never played these games but the kids love 'em and I've heard this song sooooo many times. And it was so fitting. In any event, I think my frustration and I will now go to sleep. I have a meeting tomorrow with a person I don't want to talk to and a phone call with more people I don't want to talk to. And all these things I don't want (and shouldn't have to) do are creating an enormous black hole in my available time and available psyche. Gah.

25 September 2012

Your guess is as good as mine

So here we are again.

Chaos!

On Sunday, my house was inundated with student filmmakers. We knew the daughter's production schedule would ratchet up this year--the conservatory director gives everyone a rundown of what the whole four years looks like so we know the commitment.  For this class, as her screenplay was chosen for a group filming project, she's director.

And her film requires a residential interior scene.

(Does this remind anyone else of the time I had a thousand people looking in my refrigerator for the son's male refrigerator blindness project? Yeah, me too.)

I'll give the kids a great deal of credit: they were organized and they knew what they wanted and needed to accomplish. They had the room dressed, lit and ready to go. Of course, we were having a mini-heatwave, so I kept turning the air conditioning down to account for the heat generated by the lights.

Nothing caught fire.

The parent who owned the big lights was here supervising as well, so I just kept out of the way, listening to the daughter call, "Action!" Which made me smile.

And all went well until I suddenly heard cries of, "Mrs. S.!" "MOMMY!" "L.'s mom!"

I have not been called "L.'s mom" since the daughter was in fifth grade.

I went to investigate the problem.

"We need to make CH cry," the daughter told me. Their actress, one of the daughter's closest friends, sat amidst the blankets on the son's former bed looking at me expectantly. As was the rest of the film crew.

"Okay...?" I asked, slightly puzzled.

"So...!" the daughter said impatiently, gesturing emphatically with both hands.

Clearly, I was meant to make some sort of magic. I thought for a moment.

Within minutes, CH had tears streaming decoratively down her face.

Later, the other parent emerged to get a bottle of water. We chatted for a few moments about how well the our filmmaking team was doing in getting their scene down and how wonderfully motivated everyone was.

"We all have our jobs, and they are getting done," he said serenely.

"Even when we have to make them cry," I said with a small smile.

"And you do it well!" he laughed.

Saline solution is a wonderful thing.

Go listen to some good music: "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face" from the album A Rush of Blood to the Head by Coldplay. Yeah, ok, maybe not the most entertaining post in the universe. But this is my life at the moment. And I could have done the heart attack version of my drive home tonight. THAT would be entertaining.


19 September 2012

You let your mind out somewhere down the road

A text with my morning coffee:

The son: I have to work the Saturday you're here. If I can figure out a way to trade the hours, I will.

Me: No no no. Not if it's a hassle and you risk losing hours (and dollars). I wouldn't ask that of you. No worries, I can entertain myself.

The son: I don't want to punish you for making the effort to come out and see me!

Me: Don't stress about it. I'll go sit in a bar and pick up spies until you're done. The we can go have dinner! (without the spies)

The son: 'Pick up spies'? Please. What spy would be good enough for your discerning tastes? They're all greasy and shifty-looking. You wouldn't like them at all.

Me: Or! I'll shoot up to Philly after Saturday lunch, see Rush, and be back in time for Sunday brunch!

While unlikely, it would be far better than spies.

Go listen to some good music: "Don't Bring Me Down" from the album Discovery by Electric Light Orchestra.

12 September 2012

Fallen empires

My horoscope warned me this morning that I must always remember that I don't live in a vacuum. It's something that I remind myself of quite frequently, especially as I write here. Everything has repercussions and I am conscious of my responsibility to myself, my subject matter and my audience. Not that I am able to gauge every action and reaction and consequence, and occasionally, I'm taken by surprise at how some things are taken. Fortunately, it's always been benign; who knew that posting a photo of an old pair of Birkenstocks would take the web by storm.

Would that others thought as carefully of their actions.

I was reading the news over my morning coffee, which was how I learned of the killing of Christopher Stevens, US Ambassador to Libya; Sean Smith of the State Department; and two other US diplomats in Benghazi.

From what I've read of him today, Stevens wasn't interested in living in a vacuum and made a point of getting out onto the streets of the places where he served in the diplomatic service. He appears to have been well-regarded by the Libyans, many of whom were photographed today holding up signs apologizing for his death and proclaiming him a friend.

It is heartbreaking that the work of fools--and I'm not speaking here of just the terrorists who were directly involved in the attack, but also of the terrorists who fomented it--can bring down good work. Stupid, thoughtless fools with stupid, thoughtless agendas.

We all have agendas. We raise our children with our agendas, something that was brought home to me today, when the son forwarded me a polite email he'd received from his college that noted information about his ethnicity was missing from his file.

"THIS," he wrote me.

Yes, that. That which I taught him and his sister: certainly we are all different and that's fine, but at the end of the list and the end of the differences, we are all human and that is, ultimately, the only label that matters. To say otherwise? Vacuum.

So, that. And that a man had to stand on a Libyan street today holding a sign that read "Sorry People of America this is not the behavior of our Islam and Prophet."

But also that the life, perhaps more than the death, of another man moved him to do so.

Go listen to some good music: "Fallen Empires" from the album Fallen Empires by Snow Patrol. There but for the grace of God.

11 September 2012

A kiss on the wind and we'll make the land

Sometimes, it looks as though you are reading my mind, that we are tuned to the same frequency, that our desires align. We search one another's actions in so far as possible, but more, we search one another's words, looking for subtext, seeking clues, willing useful information to appear.

I've struggled all these years with the place where reality and illusion intersect. What is and what I want, trying to believe that they are the same thing. But I'm far too rational to accept that at face value. I ask: what have I projected on what is? Where have I created a complicated mosaic that completes the picture I like when a very simple and less desirable outcome might be the truth? For a moment, I convince myself of the miracle and run toward it with all my heart until my unbelievably reasonable (and absolutely no fun) brain pulls me up short and asks, "Pardon me, but are you insane?"

So I amass evidence with the idea of convincing myself that no, I am not insane, and yes, this is what is going on, and yes, I should be heading that direction full tilt...

And reason rolls its eyes at me.

Meanwhile, you are watching all of this out of context, so you probably imagine that I am a madwoman or at the least, very fickle. At which point, you roll your eyes at me.

And I'm sad.

On and on it goes.

It's my fault, I'm the first to admit. I lack confidence when it comes to challenging my rational brain's suggestion that it's all far too improbable. I think of all the times I could have done something different, and lost my nerve because, well, wouldn't it all be a miracle? Or a lot of wishful thinking. But when I look at, on the face of it, your face on it, reason says that yes, there is no rational explanation that excludes the miracle.

(Yes, you can read that again. I'll wait.)

Miracles, real miracles, aren't magical, I think. They don't arise from fate or some mysterious being. When you think about it, they stem from choice. They only look magical because sometimes they seem so improbable or they arise from circumstances that weren't immediately obvious. But do we see them as improbable only because we missed or misread the probability? We made a choice to be in the same place at the same time because we liked the same thing. We are tuned to the same frequency and our desires align. So really it's no wonder.

Well, it is a wonder. It's a miracle!

Most assuredly, I am not the thing miracles are made of. But it's possible I am someone miracles are made for. Improbability only exists because I said it did.

At which point, I can almost believe.

And if you meet me half way...

Go listen to some good music: "Jig of Life" from the album Hounds of Love by Kate Bush. Yes, this very much has a point, and was written for a particular situation, though it has plenty of applications. Also, I started having an irrational amount of fun with it. As a musical note, I listened to this album incessantly when it came out, and it brought joy and hope to an otherwise rather dark time in my life. Funny how that happens.

10 September 2012

A missing part of me

I will be back on the East Coast for a weekend near the middle of next month, and I was poking around on Google to see what was going on, what I might do for additional amusement. I have a precious Friday morning all to myself before I am launched into more parental stuff. There are museums, my favorite cheese shop...

It caught my eye immediately: Master class with Suzanne Farrell Ballet. Intermediate and advanced adult students.

What wouldn't I give?

I have an old and comfortable pair of toe shoes that I couldn't quite bear to get rid of when I gave up pointe ten years ago after an ankle injury. They are a small reminder. Even as a young child, I wanted to take ballet, and like the piano lessons I also coveted, was never allowed to do so. So, when I got a job washing dishes at a restaurant at 16, I immediately went to the local ballet school and signed up for classes to supplement the lessons in modern dance I'd wangled my way into at my high school. It didn't matter how tired I was; it didn't matter how many hours I'd already danced that day, how much homework I had, I never missed one of my 7pm classes.

Tenacity granted me pointe shoes.

For a moment, I allowed myself the possibility of taking that class. It's an opportunity that I would have sacrificed a good deal for. I'd watched Suzanne Farrell for years, studying her technique through the auspices of PBS' Live at Lincoln Center. To be able to take a class with her company...I could feel the smooth wood of a barre under my hand, hear an upright piano pound out beats to the tune of Mozart.

I smiled at the thought, and a little regretfully, closed the window.

No more barres. Just another bar in my cage.

This is the place where tenacity does not win the day.

Still, half a day to myself. Time that is mine. Time for a small adventure. And perhaps that is where tenacity does win.

Go listen to some good music: "The Anarchist" from the album Clockwork Angels by Rush. I was bemused to discover that some people believe I have fallen into the Slough of Despond where my...inability...is concerned. True, I am not happy about it. True, I force feed myself perspective, and you might not believe the lengths I've gone in this regard. But mostly? Where what I can and can't do comes into play, I live in an ecstasy of rage. No acceptance, no bargaining, no peace. Just sheer rage.

02 September 2012

Fantasy

Me: "I assume you haven't eaten breakfast."

The spouse, peering blearily at his computer, reading glasses perched on the end of his nose: "You assume correctly."

I begin to assemble ingredients, heat the waffle iron and start stirring things together.

The spouse, reading from a pop-up window on his screen: "Fantasy football player M: 'I am so messed up. What day is it? Did I miss the draft?'"

Me: "A little early to be messed up on a Sunday morning."

The spouse: "He's always messed up."

Me, primly: "Would you like a can of beer with those waffles?"

The spouse: "GAH!"

Me: "If you tell them I am making you beer and waffles for breakfast in honor of draft day, I guarantee they will all want to come over."

The spouse snorts. A moment later, he laughs out loud.

The spouse, reading from his screen: "Neighbor J: 'Can I come over?'"

Me, waving my spatula merrily: "Told you!"

The spouse, reading from his screen: "Neighbor B: 'Solid. I like her style.'"

Me: "I wonder if I should take a tray over to Neighbor J. A waffle and a can of Coors."

The spouse: "DO IT!"

Me, musingly: "Of course, P (his wife and my friend) probably wouldn't appreciate it."

The spouse, reading from his screen: "Neighbor B: 'We are all out of Squirrel Juice.'"

I have a refrigerator full of Squirrel Juice (Coors Light) that I've been trying to get the spouse to dispose of but I held my peace. Better than having them all crowded in my kitchen next year.


DRAFT DAY WHOLE WHEAT WAFFLES (BEER OPTIONAL)

3 c. whole wheat flour
4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 3/4 c. milk
1/4 c. orange juice
1/3 c. unsweetened applesauce
1/3 c. vegetable oil
2 eggs

Preheat waffle iron according to manufacturer's directions.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, orange juice, applesauce, oil and eggs. Pour milk mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined (there will still be some lumps). Cook waffles according to the directions that came with the waffle iron.

Makes about a dozen standard-size waffles. Leftovers can be frozen for later use.

The base for this recipe is the King Arthur whole wheat waffle recipe. I doubled their proportions and made a few changes including reducing the salt, adding cinnamon and substituting applesauce for half the oil, which makes a slightly more cake-like waffle that I prefer, though it is still quite light, with a pleasantly crunchy outside.

Go listen to some good music: "Fantasy" from the album Greatest Hits by Earth, Wind & Fire.

27 August 2012

But listen closely

He had to be at a mandatory orientation event at 4 pm. It was time to say goodbye.

I hugged him tight and whispered in his ear, "Whatever you need, I am here."

"Don't cry," he said under his breath, his voice cracking.

"I never cry," I told him fiercely and let him go so the rest of the family could say goodbye.

And I didn't until about a half-hour later when a Jesuit in the parent session started talking about leave-taking.

It was just enough to mess up my mascara.

***************************

Friday was a long day of flying, then a frantic scramble to the dorm with fully-loaded suitcases. Saturday was more of the same: picking up cards and setting up accounts; finding a hardware store to acquire necessary bits and pieces to keep the upper bunk from falling on the roommate in the middle of the night; hauling the empty suitcases back to the hotel.

Saying goodbye.

I left National at the crack of dawn Sunday.

***************************

This morning, quite literally the moment I stepped into the kitchen to get my first cup of coffee, my cell phone buzzed insistently, signalling an incoming text.

"Mom," it read. "Know where I might find some Q-Tips?"

Go listen to some amusing music: "Time Warp" from the album The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture).

23 August 2012

Time is fleeting

Monday night, the daughter was moping about the start of school the next morning.

"Erm," I said. "You don't need me to go into school with you in the morning, do you?"

The daughter looked at me as though I had a screw loose, but her expression quickly softened to sympathy.

"No, but you can if you want to," she replied.

"Oh, I don't want to," I hastened to assure her. "And I didn't really think you wanted me to. It's just that sometimes you surprise me and want things I wasn't expecting."

"No, really, it's ok," she told me firmly.

Which is as it should be. Still, it was only a year ago that she wanted me to walk her almost as far as the front door.

**********

In mere days, the son will board a plane and fly across the country to begin his university career. Since we returned from Europe, my energies have been largely directed toward getting him out of here. With bed sheets. And toiletries. And his clothes.

I tend to keep grief tucked away until I am ready to contend with it. So, I've ferried him to the doctor and the DMV and stores. I've helped him pack and sort, and I've kept my own counsel. It's unlikely that I will explode in tears when it comes time to say goodbye. This is not my way; I don't cry much.

But there are times. I cried when he got his first vaccinations; his look of shock when the needles went in made me feel as though I'd somehow betrayed him, that I'd allowed pain into his life. I cried when I left him at preschool for the first time; he had taken the first step on the road away.

Eventually, I will probably cry this time, too. Not for him, but for me. He is on the road to adventure, and I think he's smart enough, I think we've raised him well enough, that he will fly.

And I will fly, too, in new patterns and to new destinations and new dreams. I expect his path to cross mine, hopefully, again and again in the future.

It's just that he will no longer travel alongside me.

Which is as it should be.

But I will miss him.

Go listen to some amusing music: "Time Warp" from the album The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture). Word of warning: I am not anti-vaccination. Do not come here looking for that fight.

03 August 2012

The best thing that you can do is take whatever comes to you

I have a lovely friend who is from the south of France. She is a woman of enormous energy and tremendous conviction. She is tiny and gorgeous and well-dressed, even when dressed casually. I can look at her, and I can see, rationally, that she has an overly large nose, skin that is damaged a bit by the sun, hair that's just a little over processed. But on her these flaws become, perversely, things of beauty, possibly because she just radiates. She rejoices in energy, health, grooming, natural good looks, and good nature. Around her, I tend to feel like a huge, clumsy creature, ungainly and unsophisticated. I know my inadequacies are in my own head, which tend to make them more bearable, and the pleasure I take in our friendship is tremendous, which trumps however monstrous I might feel.

That, in a nutshell, describes my visit to Paris.

As much as I love to travel, I will freely admit that Paris has never been on my must-visit list. Of course, I've seen the movies, I've read the great (and not so great) French authors and French philosophers. For whatever reason, though, no imagining of this city has ever grabbed me in the way that other cities have.

Not, of course, that I would turn down an opportunity to go there.

Arriving anywhere after a 10.5 hour flight is disconcerting: the sun is too bright or the clouds make everything sinister. I long ago devised a way to move my family through jet lag quickly: get where you're going mid-day, check into your hotel, and then head out the door for the afternoon. No naps! An early dinner and early to bed, and the next day, you're good to go. In Amsterdam years ago, I walked the daughter through the Floating Flower Market. When we traveled to London, everyone went on a romp through Hyde Park. After arrival in Paris, we trekked to the Jardin des Tuileries. It's officially tradition.

I'd spent the taxi ride from Charles de Gaulle craning around looking at the people and the buildings and the cars. Suddenly, after traveling a broad avenue, and passing the Palais Garnier, we were at our hotel, small, charming, seeming so Parisian with red geraniums in window boxes. The sun briefly smiled on us when we got to the hotel but by the time we were checked in and washed up, the rain clouds had moved in. I felt filthy and travel-stained, ill-dressed and exhausted, ungainly and unsophisticated, but I knotted my scarf around my neck in preparation for heading out the door, hoping I looked more European than turista. As we walked down the Avenue de l'Opéra, the sky became ever more threatening. Still, I loitered, looking in the shop windows which were advertising the summer sales as people dodged around me. Panhandlers held out cups as we passed, and bits of litter danced down the street in the wind. It started raining right as we arrived at the Louvre.

No matter. It was Paris. There was IM Pei's pyramid, the Seine was just over that way. You are Here.

The daughter was hungry (of course), and I spotted a patisserie in a kiosk at the edge of the gardens. I dug in my bag for some euros, and asked her sotto voce what she wanted. She pointed. I closed my eyes for a moment (which underscored just how tired I really was), thought up some words, went up to the register and ripped out a request for pain au chocolat in French.

I don't, as I've frequently pointed out, speak French. I can read it reasonably well, and I can understand at least some of what's said to me, but I have a horror of trying to actually speak it. And when I'm in a place where I have a working knowledge of the language but am far from fluent, my brain unfortunately switches into "foreign language" mode and I have been known to create horrifying mashups of whatever words come to hand. So it could be German-Russian-Danish or French-Spanish-English. It's completely unintentional, and I've gotten to the point where it almost doesn't embarrass me anymore. The reaction of my listeners can be pretty hilarious, however.

So there I was, standing in the Tuileries, obtaining pain au chocolat in French. As I completed the transaction, down to exchanging the final "merci" with the nice girl behind the counter, lightning flashed, illuminating the cloud-dark afternoon. Everyone scurried for shelter.

The bang overhead was tremendous. The rain shower turned to heavy pelting drops.

"I think we should go back to the hotel," said the son nervously. The spouse swiftly agreed while the daughter nibbled at her snack.

I laughed. Just laughed. There I was standing in Paris, under a tree in a thunderstorm, a gigantic Ferris wheel turning slowly in front of me. I was tired and mussed and damp, but I was in Paris.

The Eiffel Tower was shrouded in fog, and the Arc d'Triomphe was barely visible in the downpour.

You are Here.

Go listen to some good music: "Time Flies" from the album The Incident by Porcupine Tree.

26 July 2012

The whole world is festering with unhappy souls

I got home around midnight after spending nearly three weeks in Europe.

Early this morning, as I staggered through the grocery store check out, the man in front of me raged about "the riots in Anaheim." He derided the "agitators" and the "leftists." I frowned in confusion.

I still haven't quite figured out what has been going on--most of the news I saw centered on the Olympics and the appalling happenings in Colorado--but he was clearly offering up only one side of the story. The checker at another store was measured in his response and the spouse merely shrugged, "I didn't want to tell you."

My garage is littered with luggage, exploding with kilos of laundry. My brain struggles with language. Much of the last three weeks has been careful negotiation, best exemplified by dinner at an Italian restaurant in Luxembourg, where the waiter denied knowledge of English, I fussed about my bad French and we eventually came to mutual agreement in Spanish--he was Catalan. So I ordered for the table, and chattered happily, only occasionally tossing in a French verb by mistake.

I close my eyes and see signs in Dutch.

Four years ago, which was when I last visited Europe, the world was on the brink of financial collapse, though no one quite knew it yet. This time, Europe is only too aware that the world is again on the brink. The US seems to continue blithely unaware, focusing in the main on the upcoming election. An election that in many ways seems to matter very little.

My desk is strewn with euro coins and the odd pound note. Strange currencies, and they've changed by the day--euros one, pounds the next. I left for the grocery with the euros in prominence forgetting I'm back in the land of the dollar.

For a moment, I dreamed of a sheep farm in Ireland.

"You'd give up the apple orchard in Norway?" the daughter asked, mocking me only a little.

"No," I told her. "I want that too."

I've not written here in a month, and I truly believed I might never write here again. I disconnected in that time that I was away: no Twitter, little news, none of the websites I generally frequent. I checked email once daily for emergencies, and once daily was about all I could get. Satellite internet is sketchy at best. But no matter. I missed none of it.

I've come back oddly energized. Walking through an alley in Dublin, I looked at the artwork in a bike shed and wanted. Then, I told myself to turn it around. Why had I never thought of this myself?

In the airport in Paris, I was confronted by a poster of a female athlete without a foot. I don't think of what I've lost, she said, but of what I still have.

In the last year--perhaps even the last four years--I've focused primarily on what I've lost.

It rained. Unrelentingly. Record rain. Crops-ruined, cars-floating-down-streets rain. High temperatures rarely topped 65F. And when I saw the news, I saw that the East Coast was suffering record heat, that southern Europe was burning.

This was not a fun trip, though it was meant to be. It was a trip of hard thinking and hard lessons. I spent most of it wanting it to end, desperately wanting to be home. I spent some of it walking with a cane, much of it in pain, but with two feet.  I saw mean, mean people being horrifically nasty to one another, really shockingly awful. I met some amazing, funny, smart people. I was told, repeatedly, to guard my purse against pickpockets.

I took many photos.

It may have been the trip I needed the most.

Go listen to some good music: "Merry Little Minuet" from the album ...from the "Hungry i" by The Kingston Trio. Seek out this song; it is hilarious. Some of this trip was too, though I'm not sure I remember what.

26 June 2012

Endless and trackless

A few months ago, I found the end of the Internet, and being me, didn't look back.

The Internet is dead. Long live my garden.

(I have tomatoes. Tomatillos. Tiny chili peppers. Eleven herbs and spices.)

And that is the long and short of it. Boredom.

Which, as I so frequently tell you, does not translate into having nothing to do. I am, in fact, a whirling dervish of activity especially now, as I prepare to travel into the Wild Blue Whatever. That is a real place and the place where my life is heading in general. No clue what I'll find when I get there. Getting there, however, is proving to be an exercise in itself. And I suppose that is how it should be.

The Game of Life. Those little cars with the little pink and blue pegs that always fall out of them at the most inopportune moments.

I have stories yet to be told. Funny stories. And interesting stories. Touching stories. And at least one threw-me-for-a-loop story. And yet, the temptation to end here, now, is incredibly strong.

Boredom. See also "laziness."

It is perhaps the recognition of the laziness that fuels that one micron in my brain that is willing to keep typing.

For now.

Maybe.

Go listen to some good music: "Seven Cities of Gold" from the album Clockwork Angels by Rush. As usual, the spaces between, what is left unsaid, may be the most important information of all.


06 June 2012

In the half-light we run

Perhaps the daughter said it best this evening, "You know it's coming--he was old--but it's so sad when they go."

And losing Ray Bradbury elicited a loud and heartfelt, "Oh, no!" from me this morning.

As a child, a young adult, I was a reader. I devoured books, read one fast and grabbed another. I was voracious for story and character. In some ways, it's a miracle that I remember anything I read--it wasn't unusual for me to read four to six books in a day--but there were those authors that stayed with me, the ones who painted landscapes with words, the ones who turned emotion into stark reality.

The very best authors open doors, allowing us to peek into other times and live in other worlds while keeping us grounded with a commonality of experience.

Lightning rod.

A paperback copy of Farenheit 451 sat on my parents' end table for a long time.  My mother would read--historical novels and later, bodice rippers--but my father couldn't be persuaded to pick up a book, and a small pile of unread material accumulated. I wasn't supposed to read my parents books, but I remember picking up Farenheit 451, first just to read the back cover, later to read the blurb in the front, and finally, to read the story.

The Hound scared the hell out of me. I can still envision that nightmare creature, all metal and needles, that my 10-year-old self envisioned while I read. And when I finished, quailing inwardly after my first encounter with dystopian literature, I started it again.

Because that's what you do with Bradbury. Read it again.

I can't say how many times I've read Farenheit 451. Five? Six? But I reread it a few years ago, and was left with a sense of deep unease at how profoundly prescient it felt: in-ear radios and TV walls? While book burnings and bannings continue, the desire to attack knowledge itself is far more disturbing. (Un)Intelligent Design, anyone?

I've written it before, but there is no better evocation of the sensation of wearing new sneakers than Bradbury's description in Dandelion Wine. Reading that passage so many years ago, I was immediately thrown back to a very particular moment in my own childhood as I sprang and bounced on the sidewalk outside the Sprouse Reitz in a brand new pair of Keds, marveling at the sensation of new rubber souls. I was captivated by a gorgeously captured childhood moment that preceded my own by decades, but mirrored it so very perfectly.

Bradbury wrote so much and I read so much of what he wrote: The Martian Chronicles, the short stories contained in The Illustrated Man and October Country--October Country! The very title pulls you into territory that is eerily familiar and completely alien--more that I know I'm missing at the moment. But none of his books sang to me in quite the way that Something Wicked This Way Comes did, another book I've read over and over, always discovering something new in the terror and poignance of those pages. I remember vividly the first time I finished the book. I was babysitting, and it was late evening in the summer. The back of this family's house was all windows, and a thunderstorm was brewing. The real house creaked and the wind moaned as I read about the demonic carousel, and the fiendish carnival. While branches lashed in the book, they were really thrashing out in the backyard. And even though I was 17, I felt again the primal fear of childhood nightmares, and while the goosebumps rose on my arms, I still couldn't put the book down. And when I finished, awash in the joy and fear of childhood, the terrors of the inevitable march that is growing up, the ineffable sorrows of adulthood, I started to read it again.

Because that is what you do with Bradbury.

Read it again.

Go listen to some good music: "Half Light 1" from the album The Suburbs by Arcade Fire.


31 May 2012

Some things are pure and some things are right

Tonight, my firstborn graduated high school.

I read those words again, and it doesn't even seem possible. At the same time, I think it was all said and done in our heads when his first-choice college accepted him.

I was not anxious to attend the ceremony. There are years of history in this blog to account for that.  But it was both amusing and gratifying to see that somehow the school got movie critic and author Leonard Maltin as a speaker, and his message was letter perfect: follow your heart and your passions.

He told the story of how his passion for movies led to his first publishing contract at the age of 17, how doing what he loved kept him on the path that provided gainful and enjoyable employment, a fulfilling life.

His words sounded really familiar.

I keep telling myself that I've done what I can. I say aloud that my work is done here. The words sound right when I hear them.

It's up to the son now.

Go listen to some good music: "Month of May" from the album The Suburbs by Arcade Fire.

24 May 2012

How far we've come

Endings.

The son is finished with high school, for all intents and purposes, with the exception of a final project that he and a group are trying to complete. Prom is on Saturday. The son has been nominated for Prom King, and so we indulged his flair for the theatrical and rented him tails and bought him a top hat. He'll be a sight, no doubt about it.

Graduation follows next week.

Of course, everyone feels the burden of the seniors leaving. Most of them have been a fixture on the campus for the last four years, visible in different ways: academically, athletically, artistically.

For the last three years, the son has been heavily involved in the creation of the school's monthly news video. It's a half hour of school news, important dates, profiles of teachers and alumni, and comedy bits created by the multimedia class. The first year he was in the class, the son was tagged for the job as the video's featured personality, and in subsequent years, as part of the video's schtick, had to fend off pretenders to his crown.

This year, the new teacher really gave the kids their head, and over the course of the year, they created a pretty coherent show, the episodes of which wove together to form a series. Naturally, the final show was the farewell to the seniors, several of whom, like the son, had been heavily involved for years.

(We'll skip the part where I actually did get choked up watching my kid say farewell to something that's been a part of him for all this time, and seeing him grow magically from 15 to 18 in the course of a few seconds.)

As we watched the finale and the senior tribute last night, I suddenly had a brainstorm. His participation actually needed to be retired in the way a great ballplayer's number gets retired. I discussed the idea with the son who laughed out loud, and agreed it was a great idea.

The son's school requires that students wear a uniform. The boys have a choice of polo shirt to wear with their black Dickies, and the son has always favored the green shirt. I've been fairly fortunate in that his uniform shirts have fit him all four years, and I've only needed to replace one because a girl got makeup all over it last year. But as you can imagine, the shirts are looking pretty decrepit after four years, and I've been looking forward to throwing them away.

Today, I bought a large shadow box and tonight, the son and I took one of his old green polo shirts and mounted it in the box along with his name and the dates he'd been the video's featured personality as well as a screen capture of him wearing the green shirt from one of the videos. Tomorrow, he will present his retired polo to the teacher who I suspect will be hip to the joke.

How far my boy has come. And after years of rage against the machine that is his school, I am glad that I am creating the last laugh, one that those who count will surely appreciate even while it mystifies those who have never understood anyway.

Go listen to some good music: "How Far We've Come" from the album Exile on Mainstream by Matchbox Twenty.

22 May 2012

We travel on the road to adventure

My first thought this morning: I don't have to be afraid of anything.

And for some reason, immediately thought of this day, four years ago. Thought about the most selfish thing I've ever done, which was also the most perfect thing: a gift to myself. And I could say that it was only a gift to myself, but I know that wasn't true.

Again, I felt the cool wind off the river, which made the tiny blossoms and fluffs of Minnesota spring dance in the air. Walking across bridges and anywhere; an almost unbearable sense of life. Concert upon concert, a musical heartbeat replacing my own.

Almost as quickly, my brain skipped backward to the dry and scorching days of late May in Arizona. My first camera, blossoming cactus, dark skies and star-filled nights standing on the roof of the house, hearing music from other rooms, other worlds, a life that I hadn't yet discovered. And joining in, I danced in the dark, kicking up the dry grass with my bare feet, a child whirling, airborne, willing herself into the universe.

It was awesome.

It is, still, awesome.

Go listen to some good music: "Dreamline" from the album Roll the Bones by Rush.

21 May 2012

I am...I said

A tale of two cards:

"There is no one alive who is you-er than you."

and

"Dreams that are dared, a passion for living...
And a smile that says 'You aint' seen nothin' yet.'"

These were given to me by women who have known me for decades, who have tried to reinvent me into something more comfortable for decades. 

And they have failed in their quest for decades because decades ago I made a decision. That decision was that I would be as good as I could, I would be as kind as I could, I would keep to the moral high ground as best I could, but I wasn't going to change for anyone.

In a sense, I read them as rueful capitulation. With amusement. 

Oh, I take advice and constructive criticism, absorbing what is just and what is right. I am not static, and while bull-headed perhaps, I am not (usually) unreasonable. 

But this, this is what I am.

*****

This morning I had to place a call to Paris. I didn't want to. But it was necessary. A very unexpected necessity.

I am fluent in a couple of  languages. French is not one of them. My spoken French is cringe-inducing, though I read it reasonably well.

Through long experience and much travel, I've learned that it is generally appreciated if one at least attempts a respectful query in the local language before requesting assistance in English. And so, I know the basics in a number of languages, and will use them without shame. And while I know the basics in French, I don't ever want to actually speak French if I don't have to.

This morning I listened to the phone ring out thousands of miles away and prepared to embarrass myself. I hoped that I might reach an automated line which would give me the option for an English speaker up front while I ran through the phrases I'd need if I didn't.

A woman answered the phone. She spoke rapid-fire French in a light and lilting tone, her very voice bringing with it the elegance of the language and a sense of youth and beauty and Paris in the spring.

In my head, I loudly pronounced an Anglo-Saxonism, took a deep breath, and very clearly made a request. In French. And she responded. In French.

Flinging myself into the breach, I said,  "Je m'appelle..."

Because that is who I am.

Go listen to some good music: "I Am...I Said" from the album Hot August Night by Neil Diamond. Prior to deploying to southeast Asia near the end of the Vietnam War, my much-older cousin gave me a bunch of his cassette tapes. Hot August Night was one of them, and it was the first time I heard Neil Diamond. This song spoke volumes to me with its sense of being caught between worlds and I first heard it at a difficult time in my life --the joys of elementary school--when I had teachers trying to figure out what to do with me and my contemporaries torturing me for being different. It was a relief to come to the conclusion that I was who I was and if others didn't like me for that, they didn't have to.


01 May 2012

In the month of May

And so, we begin again.

When it comes to food, this family is the embodiment of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Me: Is it healthy? The spouse: Do I want it? The son: I want it to have meat. The daughter: Just make pasta.

To add to the fun, I don't have a lot of time to cook elaborate meals on weeknights, so I'm always up for something delicious and easy. I found a great idea to cook tri-tip in barbecue sauce in the crockpot. Brilliance, I thought. I'll try it! I thought. But I needed to find a recipe for a tangy and spicy sauce. Preferably one without ketchup (sorry! I wasn't kidding about the picky). Ketchup frequently contains all sorts of weird stuff. It's also often cloyingly sweet, and sweet was precisely what I was trying to avoid.

Like most sauces, I think of barbecue sauce as something highly personal. Because there's really sweet stuff and sort of smoky stuff and very spicy stuff. I don't like the sweet stuff and I sure haven't found a bottled type that I like, even if they didn't all seem to have some sort of suspect ingredient (or 12). The son likes it sweeter, the spouse doesn't want indigestion, the daughter wants it hot.

So, off I went hunting for a homemade barbecue sauce. And every single one included ketchup.

I'm not for a minute going to pretend that I know anything in particular about barbecue. I know there's KC and Texas and whatever, mops and dry rubs and sauces, but their varied and appropriate use? No. Do I mind that I don't know? Not really. I do make pretty good ribs (that recipe is around here somewhere), even though I don't really like them. It's one of those things that I do for everyone else in the family. And yeah, if we go to a barbecue place, I'll probably be eating a salad (it might have smoked meat on it, I admit). But I do know what I want a sauce to taste like.

So, after reading recipes for a couple of hours, I hit on a combination of things that I thought would be pretty good and would generally appeal to the family. This morning, I made the sauce, and the spouse and daughter loved it (the son clings to his bottled sauce, and that's fine). The spouse said it reminded him of the sauce that we got at a barbecue restaurant in Studio City that has long since closed (I can't remember the name; we always called it The Pig Joint because the owner had it decked out with pig paraphernalia).

Tomorrow, I make tri-tip in the crockpot with my own barbecue sauce.

Homemade No Ketchup Barbecue Sauce

1 Tbl olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c. brown sugar
2 Tbs. molasses
1/2 c apple cider vinegar
1/8 c white wine vinegar
2 tsp liquid smoke
2 Tbl Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbl spice mix (recipe follows)
1/8 tsp cayenne
1/4-1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce
1 28 oz can organic chopped tomatoes
1 6 oz can organic tomato paste

Heat olive oil in a 3-qt saucepan. Saute onion on medium-low heat until soft, 7-10 minutes. Add garlic and saute an additional 2-3 minutes. Whisk together brown sugar, molasses, vinegars, liquid smoke, Worcestershire sauce, spice mix, cayenne and Tabasco sauce and add to the pan, stirring to incorporate. Stir in chopped tomatoes and tomato paste, mixing well. Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered over low heat for up to 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the sauce cooks down to the desired consistency. Test for seasoning. Let cool and put in blender. Blend until smooth. Makes approximately 4 cups of sauce.

Spice Mix

1 Tbl seasoned salt
1 Tbl Hungarian paprika
1 Tbl smoked paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1-1/2 tsp chili powder
3/4 tsp rubbed sage
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp ground chipotle chili
Pinch ground made
Pinch of ground cloves

Whisk together. This will make a little more than you need for the sauce, so there is extra if you want to add extra kick to the sauce.

Where credit is due:

The Spohrs are Multiplying for the crockpot tri-tip idea.

Cooking for Engineers for method and thoughts on sauce ingredients and proportions.

The Yummy Life for ingredient ideas and basic proportions for the spice mix. I also referred to her variations on barbecue sauces.

Go forth and experiment.

Go listen to some good music: "Month of May" from the album The Suburbs by Arcade Fire. And another thing: Sometimes I hear from people who believe that because I don't like something--and say so!--I am somehow casting aspersion on their choices. This couldn't be further from the truth. If you like ketchup in your sauce, please use it! Like I said, this is all about personal preferences.

27 April 2012

You make the best of what's still around

The last few weeks have been a war of attrition. The son's laptop went. Something died in the attic (thank you, Mr. Exterminator, for taking it away). My vacuum cleaner (yes, I am ashamed to admit that it was this vacuum cleaner, four years later) blew up in a whir of dying motor and smoke. I need to replace the desktop that I am currently typing on (6 years old and failing), along with the cable modem attached to it (7 years old and tortoise-slow). Need I mention that the desktop replacement is sitting in a corner in an unopened box? My oven needs to be inspected after the top oven broiler turned itself on while I was baking muffins...

Gods, the list is endless.

Meanwhile, I'm in charge of finding a hotel in Paris.

(I did. Thank you, J.)

And I'm meant to be finding other things.

(Less said about that the better.)

The son has been nominated for Prom King (I wish I was kidding), which requires yet another tux rental. Allemande left, and it's IB and AP testing season. Blink, and the kid will be graduating. Before I've even realized it, we'll be packing up his room and transporting it to a dorm.

The daughter just passed her blue belt exam in Taekwondo, and finished the required academic standardized testing for the year. The insanities of the public education system (even though she's in a charter school). I have been contracted to make three dozen Scottish oatcakes for her Geography presentation.

(I haven't baked cupcakes all year.)

She is supposed to start driver training over the summer. She will be eligible for her learner's permit in September. How do I do this?

I am not sure how it transpired that my time telescoped to the point of non-existence. There is never any time--I am always driving somewhere or grocery shopping--I am always in the midst of doing something, and nothing ever gets done.

It is driving me berserk.

I plan menus and cook meals. The in-laws are getting on in age. They, too, are fighting a war of attrition, mainly in their abilities. My mother-in-law has never enjoyed cooking, and recently murmured how much she dislikes trying to come up with dinner. I've figured out how to make them easy-to-reheat meals of things they enjoy: individual tamale pies for my father-in-law; little meatloaves for my mother-in-law. I wrap them for freezing with instructions for cooking, a week of meals at a time. They've gone over well so far, and unbeknownst to them, I stuff those little casseroles with extra vegetables and healthy fats and lean protein, so I can rest assured that they are getting at least some wholesome food with as much nutrition as I can pack into it.

I can never let well enough alone. I need to help. One of my greatest failings, probably, along with a supreme lack of patience.

Those moments when I do escape for a moment (and I did the other day. More about that in another post) are such an incredible relief. Just stepping into the back garden in the morning and admiring my burgeoning tomatillo plant or snipping a few leaves off one of the dozens of cilantro plants I've started in window boxes and pots creates a sense of calm. I talk to the phoebe who is tending a nest over one of the daughter's bedroom windows, and as I stood very quietly next to the fountain, one of rufous hummingbirds settled in for  a very thorough bath just inches from my knee, completely undisturbed by my presence.

Everything will come together at some point; it usually does, despite the fact that ambiguity and lack of unimpeded forward motion make me wild with annoyance.

Until then, I make the best of what's at my disposal.

Go listen to some good music: "When the World is Running Down" from the album Zenyatta Mondatta by The Police. And that's not even touching on the insanity of what's going on in the nation and the world at large. I am just a frustrated micron.


24 April 2012

I can feel it in my fingers

Shooting emails back and forth with D. today, I felt a frisson of excitement that I haven't felt for awhile.

About damn time.

Yesterday, I wrote a large check and, full stop, put an end to speculation, query and search. That is done. In a few months, I will have kids on both coasts. Thus, I will become bicoastal. No one, apparently, sees this coming.

I never fail in long-range planning.

It takes me time, but eventually, I shift from focusing on "can't" to "hell, yeah, still can." So, I can't ride an inflatable around the Channel Islands to shoot photos of birds. There's plenty of other trouble I can get into.

And will.

I'm young yet. There's time.

Go listen to some good music: "The Weight of Love" from the album Fallen Empires by Snow Patrol. Tomorrow, a real post (maybe). And Blogger, damn them, has introduced a new interface, which I hate, so I'm hoping for no formatting errors. Five minutes later: oh yeah, formatting errors up the wazoo. And I wonder why I'm reluctant to post...

13 April 2012

What the moral of the back story could be

Tyranny of the blank page. The longer I don't write, the easier it becomes not to write.

To be fair, I haven't felt like I've had much to contribute to the universal conversation. So much of late has been lather, rinse, repeat. And by the time I have time to sit down in front of this form, I don't have anything to say. It's been drained; I'm exsanguinated.

The son has ruined three white dress shirts in under a month. One for each theatrical production in which he's appeared, and one for the school video news magazine. I finally began charging for replacement. Though he would never admit to it, today when he called to alert me to the destruction of the third shirt, he was almost in tears. I could hear it in his voice. As much as I am, he's ready for high school to be finished.

Today, we had what nearly amounted to a typhoon. I've been through hurricanes, and for a couple of hours, this was close to as bad with flooding rain and insane winds. Trying to pick the daughter up from school was an absolute circus. I crawled down 4th Street as the thunder rumbled, the wind roared and the skies opened. Intersections were filled with up to three feet of water. By evening, the sun shone and a rainbow bisected the sky.

Earlier in the week, the son's laptop died an unexpected death. I will never buy another computer from HP; these two that I purchased for the son and the daughter have been unmitigated disasters. I'd already replaced the daughter's but I was hoping to get through the end of the school year with the son's. It wasn't to be, and I purchased the replacement I'd already picked out from Lenovo. At least I thought I had. It turns out that trying to buy directly from Lenovo is a Very Bad Idea. I've been on the phone with multiple people, through failed orders ("we just changed our software!") and now being told that the computer in question won't be available for four months after expecting to wait four weeks. The HP goes to a repairman tomorrow to see if he can fix it for under $100.

I'm not holding my breath.

Easter and my MIL's birthday were within a week of one another. She dearly desired Peking Duck, and so we had Peking Duck for Easter. Odder things have happened, I'm sure.

I've survived two concurrent weeks of Spring Break. The daughter's started when the son and I were in DC, and I had the pleasure of her company last week. I'd promised her a food truck experience (gourmet food trucks are huge here), and keeping to my word, we enjoyed Taco Maria for lunch one day, followed by an afternoon of antique store browsing and visiting the fabric store. Believe me when I say that Taco Maria's carnitas a la naranja are to die for. I'll be hunting them down again. The daughter pronounced them "OMG good," and then went around the rest of the afternoon singing, "I'm part of the food truck movement."

I had the son this week. He was intrigued by the daughter's food truck fun, and while we went in search of The Viking Truck to no avail, we did enjoy Chomp Chomp Nation. We split a bunch of items, but both of us thought the Sloppy Tots were pretty darn good. We sat in my car (it was raining) and ate companionably. As he's not particularly interested in antique stores, he was adequately thrilled that I graciously allowed him to sign me on to Skyrim, an Xbox game I'd gotten the daughter for Christmas that the spouse, the daughter and the son play with tremendous enthusiasm. Of course, it was cause for considerable comment that by the end of two hours, I was a Level 5 Khajit warrior who excels in two-handed combat, and that I'd dispatched a Drauger Overlord with two chops. And I hadn't died once. When the son texted one of his friends regarding my accomplishments, the friend quipped, "Are you sure your mom isn't Dragonborn?"

They forget I've been playing these sorts of games since Dungeon (the one that became Zork) which was nothing more than a text-based adventure written by some guys from MIT that we played on dumb terminals.

And the world moves on.

I am sickened by so much of what goes on around me. I am revolted by the Santorums and Romneys, truly disgusted. These are people who breathe life into Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. I've told the son, who read the book and was horrified, that I'm buying copies for his female friends. They need to be afraid. There is no balm in Gilead.

But that is another time, another post, maybe another blog. I spend plenty of time in the daylight in a state of rage, and I've tried not to bring that here. Though sometimes I wonder if it's time for a bigger noise, a bigger splash. Like my Skyrim character, I am known for stealth, known for attacking when it's least expected and most effective.

But I dislike confrontation. I dislike discord. I prefer peace. I strive for serenity. I wish others did as well. I wish people would just learn to damn well leave each other alone, to agree to disagree. I may believe--and I do--that women who give birth to 20 children are mentally ill, but if they are doing no harm, do I have a right to try to stop what I see as mania simply because I don't agree with it?

Buried in the detritus of my desk, amongst earrings and notes on the back of envelopes, bottles of pain medication that I won't take and book one of The Walking Dead, I found two black jelly beans. Licorice. I have a profound dislike of licorice, a visceral abhorrence that extends to anise of any sort. They make me uneasy, those jelly beans, staring at me like two dark eyes, ready to leave purple stains on my calendar should they come into contact with any droplet of water or coffee. And yet, I've not dispensed with them--why?

There is something unguided in the sky tonight. I know what it is, and I hug the knowledge with quiet glee to myself. It is mine, all mine. I hear the call, siren song, and know the moment it will turn into.

Our arms full of miracles.

Go listen to some good music: "Go Places" from the album Challengers by The New P*rnographers. Also I've borrowed two lines from the song "Unguided" from the same album. Meaning? You decide. To me, an exercise to start writing again and to unload some of the things that I think about.

01 April 2012

And the beat goes on

Home again, and waiting for Delta to deliver the luggage they sent first to San Diego and then to Salt Lake City. Thanks, Delta! I always wanted my dirty clothing to travel several hundred more miles than I did.

But, home again.

The weekend was a whirlwind, and it represented the final portion of the intelligence gathering stage--as if we haven't been doing enough of that for the last two years. Still, it helped the son to arrive at a decision. He's been quite fortunate to have been accepted for admission to a lot of very fine schools, including the two top state universities.

I'm just glad that this part is done.

I can't believe I have to go through it all again with the daughter, starting next year when she sits for her first PSAT.

I do firmly believe that at some point, I will be able to turn these two over to the world at large so they can start leading their own lives and I can get on with mine.

These days, it seems like a fond hope.

Go listen to some good music: "Ball of Confusion" from the album Express by Love and Rockets.

29 March 2012

Rocket through the wilderness

The son and I are sitting in DFW en route to DCA. We've been shunted back and forth from gate to gate. I already have a far too intimate acquaintance with Concourse C from years of flying in and out of here.

This is a trip I really didn't want to take, but an expensive and life-important decision is riding on the weekend. This is how it goes. This is how we roll.

Last weekend, we went to see The Hunger Games. It's one of those stories that resonates differently with different generations. My kids, of course, thrilled to the action, the wise and wily children. For me as a parent, the idea of children battling to the death... There aren't even words.

Perhaps, though, the defining moment was near the end when Cato sobbed that this was what he knew, that he'd only been trained to kill. I just looked at the spouse. While we don't train our children to kill, we do tend to train them to a single purpose. Right now, I couldn't even tell you what that purpose is.

Like Katniss, I've never wanted what's been foisted on me with regards to raising my children. Insofar as it's been possible, we've avoided The Path, or what I more commonly refer to as the recipe or the cookbook. And in the process, I've pissed off a lot of people because my way has paid off. I've lost friends for following my gut and letting my kids follow their hearts.

Do I think my way is the only way? Gods, no. But for us, I still believe it was the right way. Could I have done it better? Gods, yes. Still, here we are. The boy, I think, is equipped to do amazing things if he so chooses. And now, it's up to him. And in time the daughter will follow.

This is how it goes. This is how we roll.

So here I am on airplane and despite my brave words, I feel a certain terror, hoping that I'm right and that I've done well by this child, that I've trained him to live a life, not just get into a top-rated university or several.

Go listen to some good music: "Roam" from the album Cosmic Thing by the B-52s.


Sent from my iPhone

13 March 2012

Here in my own skin

The infernal machine is cranking up again.

(There's more than one, you know.)

I'm off to Washington, D.C., in a couple of weeks. Of course, the cherry blossoms will be peaking early this year, before I get there. So it goes. And this time, I'm sort of sneaking in. No notification of my dear extended family. There's been so much chaos in the last year; I need to be away. Just me, in a city.

The gears begin to gnash. The wheel squeaks a bit. But I'm well enough for extended travel. So, I'm going back to Europe. I try never to pass up an opportunity when the cosmos offers it. I've learned--God, I've learned and learned--that you never know when that opportunity is your last.

I'll never ride a horse again. One of many reasons that I'm so glad that I grabbed the reins and rode that damned bitey horse in Iceland. But on the upside, I can probably still ride a bicycle.

It's a war of attrition, this body of mine. My doctors tell me I'm too young, tell me to stay active, but when I suggest an activity, I get quelling looks, conditionals. A lot of "don't." It sounds more like they would have me spend a lot of time not.

To hell with that. I'm too young. I haven't even reached 50 yet.

So Europe. There will probably be a bicycle.

But there is a lot of work that needs to be done between now and then. We know how that goes. The risk (and pain), the reward (and, probably, pain). Coming back takes time. You've got to want it.

I don't really know how to live any other way, even in this body of mine.

Go listen to some music: "Deep Blue" from the album The Suburbs by Arcade Fire.

05 March 2012

I know my faults

We'll skip the dream landscape. Last night was nothing but zombies.

Today started with me behaving badly. I don't precisely regret that; I just wish I could learn how to do it differently. I'd like to behave badly in a useful fashion. This is what I seek: better bad behavior.

Truly.

Go listen to some music: "Civilian" from the album Civilian by Wye Oak.

04 March 2012

...and now it's found us

I dream of you. You and I inhabit gardens I've never seen and night-dark streets crowded with the nameless and faceless. But it's always the same garden and familiar streets.

Crowds frighten me now as they never have before. I fear being jostled. I fear being body-slammed. I fear losing my balance. I fear damage. I sit, finally, exhausted and in pain. The exhaustion is part of the dream; the pain is real.

You always find me. You have some amazing radar, some keen sixth sense that sends you where I am. We are bound by some otherworldly thread, and as you never fail to locate me, I hear you at odd times when you are nowhere near. I can't explain it and I've never tried. We both seem to accept it as part of the logic of whatever relationship it is that we share, of the strange and happy circumstances that threw us together, of that moment of recognition years ago where it all began.

You are willing me to see you, to look past the milling masses between us and to acknowledge you there. I want to--oh, you will never know how much I want to--but the crowd is insurmountable, and simple fear keeps me pinned to the ground. Fear and doubt. I am so sure that I am right; I am equally sure that I am so wrong.

I feel rather than see the slump of your shoulders; your disappointment in me manifests itself in the language of your body.

"Here I am!" my heart cries out. "I am here."

But you know where I am. And while you wait for me, you also choose not to move through the throng in the street dimly lit with old-fashioned lamps. We are chess pieces in our own game, locked in stalemate, each with compelling reasons to move forward and to hold back. I wonder if fear and doubt binds you as much as they do me.

Today, I worked in the garden, setting out new plants: flowers that are beautiful and herald spring; herbs for the food that I make. The sun was hot, and I washed pots and filled them; raked last autumn's leaves out of beds; and methodically set plants to grow alongside the seeds I planted. I watched the moon rise in the east as I worked, while the sun moved toward the horizon in the west.

I thought of you, of the seeds we've sown, of what may yet grow.

Above me, the sky turned to blue velvet and the stars sparkled in sharp relief.

Go listen to some music: "The Lightning Strike" from the album A Hundred Million Suns by Snow Patrol.

29 February 2012

The long and winding road...

...to hell that is paved with good intentions.

It's been quite a month. I've got a few hours to finish documents for the latest round of the kid's financial aid applications. Ridiculous what this process has become.

I was sad to hear of Davy Jones' death this morning. Another little piece of childhood gone to dust. I never watched The Monkees TV show--I really don't care for that kind of slapstick comedy--but their music was ubiquitous, and so much of that pop was really good pop. Cheerful and singable and accessible. And even pre-pubescent, I was wholly susceptible to the charms of Davy Jones and the late Jack Wild. Of course, the charm waned a little by the time I hit about 11, and realized that I was taller than both of them.

(Inevitably, I ended up taller than the average US male, too.)

Alright, back to the grind. It's a new month tomorrow. Aren't I happy.

Go listen to some music: "The Long and Winding Road" from the album Let It Be by The Beatles.

23 February 2012

...all that I could give you was a reputation

The daughter: So C. was telling me today that her mom went out to walk the dog last night...and there were raccoons on the roof!

The son: Were they dancing? Carousing? Throwing coconuts at people?

The daughter, giggling insanely: No, they were...they were...they were doing it!

The spouse groans.

Me: 'Tis the season.

The daughter, still giggling as only teenage girls speaking of such things can giggle: So, her dad went out and threw a tennis ball at them.

Me: Which, of course, had no effect whatsoever.

The daughter, now with affronted giggles: No! They looked at him and went right back to it.

The son: Her dad...that's the guy who looks like Mick Jagger, right? Oh man, I love it. Mick Jagger in a trench coat throwing tennis balls at raccoons on the roof! Just picture it.

The daughter, now seriously affronted: He doesn't look like Mick Jagger. He looks exactly like Bill Nighy!

Me, interjecting with some severity: I think it's time to do homework...

The son, wandering off down the hall: No, he looks like Mick Jagger. I said it the moment I saw him...

The daughter, her voice echoing back from her room: He does not. He could be Bill Nighy...

Go listen to some music: "Only the Good Die Young" from the album The Stranger by Billy Joel. Really, the poor man looks like neither Mick Jagger nor Bill Nighy. Well, maybe Bill Nighy from the Still Crazy era.

17 February 2012

Do not annoy the queen

A site called Blogger-Index has been caught stealing my feed wholesale and reposting it on its advertising-laden spam blog. Since I would never allow anyone to repost my work and reap ad revenue from it, let alone a site that can't spell and doesn't use proper grammar, I've shortened the feed so that very little is visible. If you regularly read via feed, you will need to click through the feed headline to gain access to the blog. Blogger-Index has been put on notice that it is to remove all my blog content from its site, and I'm taking appropriate action regarding copyright infringement.


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I've been blogging for a pretty long time now and I have definite ideas about the process. You could call this a personal blog, or you could call it a soapbox. You could call it a work in progress. You could call it the place where I call people out who claim to be authorities, but misidentify the workings of glyphosate.

(Alright, truth is I did that on Twitter.)

It's true that I'm a mother. A wife. A woman. And I write. All that makes me...a writer.

And this is where I write, at least where you can see it, as a way to process life. I write other things. Some of those things are out in the public eye, some of them have been used in various proceedings, some live in corporate archives. From time to time, I have contributed to the overall store of knowledge in the world, and that pleases me. But here, I write for myself, and to some extent for my friends and family, and also for those who want to tag along for the ride. It matters little whether you know my real name or recognize it or care. Here is just that: here.

I made a quite conscious decision when I started writing here about what here isn't. It isn't ad-supported. There are no giveaways or affiliate programs. I do get pitches regularly, some of which are mindbogglingly inappropriate and some of which are downright laughable. "We want you to become one of our online journalists and write for our publication...for free."

Seriously.

I write about my kids, but I'm not a mommy blogger. I'm as likely to write about bovine spongiform encephalopathy or a certain knuckleheaded Big Pharma company or the use of pesticides on bananas. I write about cooking because I do a lot of it, but I'm not going to sponsor a cookware giveaway. (Yes, and I said no)

Others have questioned why I am adamant about this and much of it has to do with being beholden to no one here. IRL I write for hire. Here I write about whatever strikes my fancy.

So if you think you want to offer me an opportunity, read what's been written here over the last five years with some care. I do get traffic, but it tends to be teachers, scientists, men.


********************


I finally finished Haruki Murakami's massive 1Q84. I am left with the feeling that a lot was lost in translation.

I didn't dislike it; to the contrary, on finishing, I felt as though a door had been closed to another world I'd been inhabiting for the last month or so, and I actually rather miss the characters. Amusingly, I read the LA Times review last night, and found a similar sentiment there.

But I also didn't particularly like it. I know the book originally appeared as three separate volumes in Japan, which might explain some of the repetitious information that appeared ("previously on 1Q84..."), but the level of repetition in dialogue was downright annoying. And the unending discussion of the characters' intimate relations verged on the nauseating. Part of me wondered if this was Murakami's commentary on the nonstop intimacy to which we are subjected in TV, movies, media, books, but the story didn't seem clever enough to make that connection. The writing (or translation) was frequently completely flat, sometimes quite awkward. And yet, the overall quality of the story was very immersive. Still, I walked away with the sense that I gained nothing from the exercise of reading it, and I'm not sure I can hazard a guess at what Murakami was attempting to convey.

Frustrating.

Caught stealing

A site called Blogger-Index has been caught stealing my feed wholesale and reposting it on its advertising-laden spam blog. Since I would never allow anyone to repost my work and reap ad revenue from it, let alone a site that can't spell and doesn't use proper grammar, I've shortened the feed so that very little is visible. If you regularly read via feed, you will need to click through the feed headline to gain access to the blog. Blogger-Index has been put on notice that it is to remove all my blog content from its site, and I'm taking appropriate action regarding copyright infringement.

Go listen to some music: "Been Caught Stealing" from the album Ritual de lo Habitual by Jane's Addiction. And this is a habitual ritual for Blogger-Index.

13 February 2012

El condor pasa (if I could)

Separately and as a group, my family suffers from obliviousness, though in all of us it takes different forms. I firmly believe that I am invisible, and it comes as a wild shock to me when others notice my existence. A good deal of the world is invisible to the spouse. The son apparently has little clue that there is a world beyond his home, school and computer, and the daughter? Oh, the daughter. She is the daughter.

Recently, the spouse was sent off on a business trip. This is not uncommon, and as usual, the trip was last minute and came at a most inconvenient time. Between the two of us, we arranged, but nonetheless, he had to fly a zillion miles to the back of beyond--nice back of beyond, but back of beyond--and then turn around and fly back a zillion miles home a few hours later. I pointed out that I once did a 48-hour trip to Puerto Rico, and he pointed out that I had gone to a concert, not a site visit at a really nasty site. He had a point.

In any event, I packed him off and off he went with ill grace, and he flew, and he arrived at his destination and he called me when he arrived.

He sounded uncommonly giddy.

"I had a really nice flight," he trilled. "I sat next to the nicest fellow. He said he's an actor."

"Mmm," I replied. The flight originated in Los Angeles. Everyone here is an actor.

"He told me about some of the movies he'd been in," the spouse persisted. "I haven't seen any of them..."

"Mmm," I replied, thinking that the person had probably been an extra. I admit that I'm a bit jaded, having done my time in the entertainment industry.

The spouse mentioned that the individual in question had a part in a film that had been nominated for an Academy Award some years back. "I don't think he quite believed me when I told him I didn't know who he was," the spouse laughed, "but I told him that you'd probably seen all the movies he'd been in."

"Mmm," I murmured.

"His name is..." the spouse said a first name, and then quickly slurred the last name.

"Mmm," I responded.

His taxi arrived to retrieve him and he promised to call me the next morning when he'd completed his site visit.

It was as I was hanging up that I put the name of the movie and the 1/2 a name of the actor together. I called the spouse back.

"YOU SAT NEXT TO...?" I shrieked and named a name.

"That's what the last name was!" the spouse laughed. "I'd forgotten exactly what it was. So you know who he is?"

"AGH!" I cried. The kids and I had tried to get him to watch another movie the actor was in over the summer, and then I'd forced still another film on the daughter, who promptly fell in love. "Your daughter is going to kill you," I told him when I finally had breath.

Said daughter appeared in the doorway and yelled, "DAD SAT NEXT TO WHO?"

And I told her and she fell against the door jamb, uttering a classic little moan of dismay.

"So everyone knows who this person is except me?" asked the spouse with amusement.

"Evidently," I told him drily.

"He's the nicest guy. We talked about travel and motorcycles. I told him that he really needed to visit the Canadian Rockies," the spouse said, the pleasure in his voice laced with the tiniest bit of smugness.

And given the length of that flight and the general awfulness of the trip, I certainly didn't begrudge the spouse the fun he had that evening. And truly, the spouse is the nicest guy, so his seatmate really lucked out, too.

The daughter, however, still gets a bit tetchy when the subject comes up. "It's a bit of a sore point," she allows, "that Dad had all the luck, and didn't even know who he was sitting next to."

Go listen to some music: "El Condor Pasa (If I Could)" from the album Greatest Hits by Simon & Garfunkel.

09 February 2012

You'll see your problems multiply

Dinner.

Me to the son: There's more food if you're still hungry.

The son: No, I'll just wait for cake.

Me: Well, if you want, I'll call you when I serve dessert, since everyone else is still eating.

The son: Well! I have stuff I need to do first!

Me, puzzled: What?

The son, with great drama and gestures: Bring in those.

He exits into the garage.

Me to the rest of the assemblage: He just needs to wheel the garbage cans to the side of the house. You'd think he had to take them to the back of the beyond.

The daughter: The Arctic Circle.

The spouse: The Serengeti.

The daughter: With no food or water.

The spouse: Armed with a toothpick.

Me: To fight off the sand fleas.

The daughter: What's a sand flea?

The spouse: A flea.

Me, helpfully: It lives in the sand.

The daughter: It would be hard to catch a flea. You can't even step on it. It would sink into the sand.

Me: Hence the toothpick.

The son returns and washes his hands.

The son: What's this about a toothpick?

The spouse: We figured you were using it to joust with a sand flea.

The son, without missing a beat: No, actually, I dropped the toothpick and it was all hand-to-hand combat from there. Where's the cake?

Go listen to some music: "Policy of Truth" from the album Violator by Depeche Mode.