Thursday, December 31, 2009

On to the new year

and good riddance to the old. I have no idea why 2009 was so awful - it just was. The partisanship from the right which crippled Congress; the hatred and racism spewed over the airwaves by the likes of Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh; the idiocy from the left when it became clear that President Obama was only a very smart man and not the magic liberal fairy-godfather they thought they'd elected; and the continuing pressures of recession, high unemployment, and climate change all combined to make everybody in the world crabby, intolerant, and out of sorts.

On the bright side are these: George W. Bush is no longer president. We are not dealing with the worldwide economic depression that seemed inevitable a little more than a year ago. Our troops are leaving Iraq; and although Afghanistan is ramping up, there's a time line in place for our involvement there to end as well. Guantanamo is slowly being shut down. We are finally taking climate change seriously. Our government is re-establishing diplomatic ties around the world. Health care reform bills were passed in both the House and the Senate, and need only to be reconciled for at least some of the horrible inequities in our health care system to be addressed.

So let's ring in the New Year with hope in our hearts and a renewed will to work to make our world the secure and happy place it can still be.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why I haven't blogged in a long, long time

I don't really know. Words fail me.

Here are some other things I haven't been doing:

- Exercising. Really. Not at all. As a result, things that were sagging a bit before now appear to be melting into puddles around my ass and thighs.

- Unpacking the last of my kitchen things and storing them in the new cupboards. They don't look like they'll fit and I don't want to deal with the overflow.

- Gardening. The tomato vines are drooping in my garden like lost souls.

- Removing spots from my carpet. Including two dog-puke stains and three coffee spills. I avert my eyes.

- Writing books. Again, words fail me.

- Feeling Christmas-y. Though I did decorate, and I've been listening to Christmas music almost exclusively, the anticipation and the wonder elude me.

- Watching the news. I can't bear it - all the yammering from talking heads, the spin from so-called journalists, the chasing after stupid stories while the real stuff happens in the shadows. (Really, who - other than his wife - cares if Tiger Woods is a hound-dog instead of a Disney hero? Let's have a comprehensive story on the use of filibusters by the minority in Congress. Contrast and compare with the previous Congress. And if your story shows objectively that one party is more hypocritical and obstructive than the other, don't add some irrelevant nonsense to water your conclusion down.)

So. There you have it. I'm not blogging because I'm in a really, really bad mood.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thanksgiving in the Kitchen

We got this far:

Everything was in place for Thanksgiving, except the tiled backsplash and the range hood. We'd been waiting to take delivery of the accent tile which arrived yesterday. Still on order are three bronze decorative tiles to go above the range, and a panel for the side of the island. Once those come in and are duly installed, we'll really, truly be finished. Our contractor was fabulous!

Friday, November 20, 2009


We're really close, but there was a sad glitch yesterday. First, the good stuff that's finished:

With the cabinets in and the first appliances installed, it was time for granite. And that's when it happened:

Yes. The granite broke. That was yesterday. Today the granite guy is back with a new slab and as I type, he's installing again. This time no one can bear to watch. We're hiding in the rec room, waiting for the all-clear.

Tomorrow (knock wood) the plumber hooks up the sink and dishwasher. Sometime in the next few days, when the tile arrives, my husband will install the tile and then the range hood will go in. It's unlikely that those two things will happen before Thanksgiving, but as long as I have an oven and a sink, I'll be thankful enough.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Starting to look pretty

Now, just imagine it with black granite countertops, some kind of pretty tile backsplash, and white appliances.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Moving ahead

More cupboard pix:

We're still choosing tile. I got as far as placing an order at a local tile distributor, but I canceled it the next morning when I realized that the granite was thicker than I'd taken into account. Luckily, I'd asked them not to put it through until I called. The salesman was unhappy, but that's life. He asked me to come back in and choose something else, but I declined, saying I wanted to wait until the granite was installed.

So. By early next week the cabinets will be complete and the granite will be in. More pix to follow.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Oh, look. It might turn into a kitchen soon!

The floors are in,

the paint's dry,

and here come the first cabinets!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Walls, and Our First Hiccup

Finally, someone made a mistake! It was easily corrected two days later, but still. It's like the first dent in a brand new car - the pressure's off. We're normal. We had a problem.

Here it is, pictorially:

See it? That texture? It was applied to all the walls in the kitchen and extended into the family room in places, where it shared a space with our other, far less textured walls and screamed, "Look at me! I'm not the same!"

So our contractor, who really is wonderful, came over to take a look, shook his head sadly, and said of the plasterer, "You'd think he'd have noticed that it didn't match, wouldn't you?"

The next morning two guys showed up with buckets and scrapers, and within about three hours the walls were smooth again. By the end of the day, the kitchen had a coat of paint. It's hard to reproduce the color in a photo, but it's a nice grayish brown with a little green that shows up in sunlight. My daughter-in-law chose it and it looks good.

Next up, the new floor, still in cartons here but soon to make its appearance. Once the floor's in, the contractor says, things will go pretty fast. They should have the cabinets in before the weekend. (Unless we have another hiccup. What? It could happen.)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Look at me! I'm cat-blogging!

But only because Amelie agreed to sleep on the cushions on the rec-room sectional all afternoon, which is something she rarely does. She usually prefers the roof or the balcony to any indoor location.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pictures of progress

The holes in the walls created by demolition have been repaired.

We have a new ceiling, complete with cans for light fixtures.

The old wallpaper is gone, and the wall has been extended to make room for a pantry-sized cabinet.

All the rough electrical and plumbing is complete, inspected, and approved.

See that pipe at the bottom of the wall? That's the gas line for the new stove.

We've chosen our flooring - 3/4" solid maple. Now we just have to finalize our decisions on paint, tile, under-cabinet lighting, and carpet (for the rest of the house, which will be installed as soon as the kitchen is complete.)

Today the plasterer is applying texture to the formerly papered walls and the ceiling, and then they'll be painted (so, I guess I'd better concentrate on those paint chips shown above...) The flooring will be delivered on Thursday, and will be installed at the end of this weekend, or the beginning of next. Cabinets are to be installed late next week.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I thought this would be harder

The remodel, I mean. Except for needing to pour copious amounts of money into the thing, it's going very smoothly. Here's what we've done so far:

We packed up everything in the kitchen and stored it in other parts of the house. Here you see the living room with the kitchen table and three of our thirty-some boxes of kitchen stuff.

This is my favorite shot of the empty kitchen.

We made a makeshift kitchen in the rec room downstairs, where I cook sitting in a secretary's chair because leaning over to table-height to chop and stir would most likely leave me crippled.

Meanwhile, upstairs, a crew demolished the old kitchen

and we filled the garage with new appliances and cabinets.

Already, the rough electrical and plumbing are done, the walls are patched, and we've passed our first inspection. Today I'm listening to a lot of thumping and banging as the plasterers put in my new ceiling. I keep thinking, Where's the drama? And then I think, Excellent, we have none. So far, so good.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Brief History of (our) Cats

Before we had Roxy, we were cat people. We brought a cat with us from the Midwest when we moved to California, and there has been only one catless period in our lives since, during the three years when we lived in a house too close to the Angeles National Forest to keep our cats from becoming dinner for coyotes.

I know there are people who really, really don't like cats - usually because they're either allergic to them (and who can love an animal that makes your eyes swell and your sinuses clog?), or they don't understand them. For the cat haters out there, here's the key to understanding: cats aren't sneaky, they're a unique combination of predator and prey. There aren't a lot of animals in that class, but imagine the caution that drives a prey animal (think deer) and the grace and precision of a predator (think wolf). Roll those personalities together, wrap them in silky fur, decorate them with a throaty purr, and you've got a cat.

Then there are people who don't like cats because they catch birds. I really don't know what to say to that. My cats have all been in-and-out cats. They've caught some birds, some mice, some rats, some lizards, some grasshoppers, and the occasional moth in their time. It's in their nature and it doesn't bother me, because, as my mother (and probably yours) used to say: I didn't make the world. I just live in it.

So. Here's our list so far:

Alice came with us from Iowa. She was white with big splotches of pastel orange. She was absolutely trusting - when she had her (only) litter, during a cold Iowa winter, she stacked them (so new they were still blind and trembly) on my stomach one night to keep them warm.

Alice was succeeded by Susie and Sheila. Susie sported orange and black polka dots on a field of white. She was our dumbest cat ever, a little nut who liked to nibble on your fingers or your buttons or your shirt or whatever she could get her mouth on. We tried to get her to stop by gently rapping her on the head but she would just put her ears back and go on chewing. Sheila was a gray tabby with a white belly who didn't need anyone to pet her; she'd wriggle the length of her body under any convenient hand over and over again, petting herself.

For a very short time - measured in months, I think - Susie and Sheila shared the house with a half-wild silvery-gray tabby named Max. He learned to tolerate us and even seemed to enjoy being petted on occasion, but when we bought a new house, the change proved too much for him. On moving day, as we brought the cats in, Max streaked out the back door and down the driveway to the street where he turned left and trotted away, never to be seen again.

Next came Daisy and Gizmo. Daisy was an extravagantly pretty calico with half-a-black-mustache splashed on her face. She had a bad habit of napping in cars parked on our street with their windows down. One day she disappeared, and we always suspected that she accidentally hitched a ride to a new life in one of those cars. Gizmo was a tortoiseshell, black with swirls and flecks of brown and white. She liked to flop down on her side and sleep in the sun. When Eldest Daughter put up a picture of a sleeping Giz in her college dorm room, her friends nicknamed her the roadkill cat.

Eventually Giz went to her reward and was replaced by a giant brown tabby named Ratty. He got the name because he was such a sad, ratty-looking thing when we first brought him home; he grew to be a big, lazy lap-cat who purred like an engine and drooled when he was petted. He liked to sleep inside Middle Kid's shirt - with MK still in it - both heads poking out the neck so they looked like some kind of weird two-headed monster.

Ratty was joined by a companion cat, Cleo, an eleven-year-old black female who had briefly shared an apartment with ED. Cleo was sweet as she could be, but she had such terrible breath that Tom built a cathouse (I know, I know) for her on the deck. (And yes, Phoebe, we took her to the vet. He said her teeth had so much plaque that the only way to clean them would be to anesthetize her, and at her age, it was too risky.) Cleo and Ratty liked to bat at each other through the french doors that separate the deck from the rest of the house. When Cleo died at the ripe old age of fourteen, Ratty sat by the door for days, waiting for her to come back.

After Ratty we took in two kittens - Mia, a brown tabby, and Amelie, a gray-brown tabby with a white belly and legs. Mia never lost her kitten voice and, at seven, still mews as though she were two months old. MK borrowed her one day and never gave her back, so now she lives in Irvine and imagines she's at home there. Amelie is shy and skittish. The only person who can get her to come reliably is Youngest Daughter, although I've found that if I pour food in her bowl she'll hear me from wherever she is in the world, and will be waiting at the door when I go to look for her. It's poor, nervous Amelie who's had to learn to deal with Roxy; she's done it, but she still lets us know it wasn't her choice.

I have no idea who our next cat will be. If I could, I'd take one of my dear-departeds back. But the world doesn't work that way, (see above), so all I can say for sure is that there will be another cat, and it will be as individual as its predecessors.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Maybe I should make it a point to open EVERY cupboard once in a while

because this guy was in the cupboard above the stove which was occupied by the hood vent. The vent itself never fit right and got knocked out of place at some point in the past, so this poor guy must have gotten into the attic and then flew down into that cupboard and got stuck. We never heard or smelled anything, so we have no idea how long he'd been there.

Yeah. Yikes. What might we find under the sink?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Who knew remodeling one room would affect all the others?

Before you remodel, you have to get ready to remodel. During the summer we did the shopping part - shopping for contractors, appliances, cabinets, floor coverings, light fixtures, countertops, and even paint. Now the big items are about to be delivered, and we've had to make room for them. We started with the garage.

Our garage was a mess. (Parts of it are still a mess, but that's neither here nor there.) We aren't tidy-garage-type-people. We tell our kids we're going to stay in this house until we die of old age because to sell it, we'd have to empty the garage. We haven't parked a car inside the garage in at least three years - and that was only after an incomprehensible fit of tidying which we got over before we had room for the second car.

Sadly, with the coming remodel, we have to make room not only for a refrigerator, a range, a dishwasher, a sink, and a garbage disposer; we also have to make room for a terrifying number of pre-made cabinets, along with their attendant doors and trim pieces. We started at the beginning of August by donating some furniture to a rummage sale to benefit a family in our town. We stalled after that, but three weeks ago my husband got inspired by the calendar. After days of sorting and lifting and shifting and moving, countless trips to the curb with junk, plus more trips to Goodwill with usable junk, he has made space for most (we hope) of what will start being delivered tomorrow. So that's good.

Inside, I began work on the problems of emptying the kitchen and creating a cookable space somewhere else. The makeshift kitchen will be in our rec room downstairs. In order to achieve that, I had to reclaim Youngest Daughter's craft table, which meant I had to sort through the craft cabinets to make space for the supplies she keeps on her craft table. After days of sorting and discarding, and some necessary furniture rearranging, it's done. I've got a table to put my hot plate, coffee pot, and toaster oven on.

To cook, of course, we'll need water. We could use the bathrooms, but none of them has a sink that will easily admit a pot to be filled and my back isn't crazy about the idea of using a bathtub for routine cooking chores, so my husband moved a utility sink from the garage into the laundry room. (Of course, I had to make room in the laundry room for the see how this goes, right?)

Now, to empty the kitchen. First problem - get that big shelving unit out of the breakfast room. (Why it was there is a whole 'nother discussion, and you really don't want to know anyway.) The only place the shelf will fit is in the family room, and then only if we move YD's computer station to her bedroom. This means we have to move the student desk out of her bedroom, which requires days of emptying and sorting and (as usual) throwing stuff away. Last weekend we got the old desk out and the new desk in, and by yesterday we had the books back on the shelves and the pictures back on the walls in her room.

Also yesterday I got the shelving unit emptied, moved, and refilled in the family room. The breakfast room suddenly looks huge, which is a comfort. Now all I have to do is put the contents of the kitchen into boxes and move them to my husband's office to be stored until the kitchen is done. To make room in his office, we had to move the weight bench to the deck. To make room for the weight bench, we finally got rid of the last bulky Playskool toys. They'd been outside forever, so I had to scrub them first - a process which involved several close encounters with wildlife of the black-widow-spider variety. But it's done, the toys have been donated, and the weight bench is sitting under the macadamia tree.

I bought ten packing boxes at Staples, having told my husband with breezy (and misplaced) confidence, that I thought thirty would do it in the end. Assembled the first box, opened the first cabinet, filled the box with the contents of the first shelf (after throwing a bunch of stuff away), and thought, Oh, shit.

So. If I hadn't already spent so much money on appliances and cabinets, I'd be rethinking my position on remodeling. Seriously.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Saved - or Not

I was raised a Roman Catholic by devout parents, even attending Catholic schools for thirteen years. My husband was raised in a conservative, fundamentalist household. These disparate experiences produced two people who (all belief aside) share a powerful aversion to organized religion. Naturally, our decisions regarding religious education for our children were informed entirely by this attitude. With that in mind, here are some religious memories and maybe an opinion or two.

Once, when she was very young, Eldest Daughter asked me if I would accept Jesus into my heart. It was 6:30 in the morning, I had just crawled out of bed, I had to get to work, and I was really, really tired. "Maybe later," I mumbled.
"But, Mom! Don't you want to be saved?"
"I have to get ready for work right now," I answered, yawning. I was most of the way back to my bedroom before I realized what we'd said. I wheeled around and padded back down the hall.
"Uh, honey? Who have you been talking to?"
"Church people. They come around in a bus. They said we have to be saved."
"Ah. Well, not everybody believes that."
"Do you?"
"No. Not really."
"Oh. Okay." I don't know if she looked relieved, or if I just remember it that way. I offered to talk later, but she lost interest and was spared my ramblings on the subject.

Some years later, in a burst of parental guilt brought on by Middle Kid asking me if I'd ever heard of Noah's Ark, I bought an illustrated children's Bible to read with him. We got through the creation without too much trouble, and Adam and Eve's expulsion from the Garden, and the birth of their sons Cain and Abel. The trouble came after Cain slew Abel, and then ran away to a far land where he met and married a woman-
"Where'd she come from?" my son asked. "I thought there weren't any other people yet."
"Uh," I said. "Erm. I'm not really sure." (I'm a Catholic girl. We're New Testament people.)
"It doesn't make any sense," he said.
"Well, maybe we aren't supposed to take it literally."
"Hm. Never mind. I think I'll make dinner now."
And that was the end of Bible stories for MK.

When she was in elementary school, Youngest Daughter used to attend church occasionally with a friend. One day, though, she seemed troubled when she got home. When I asked her about it, she said she didn't want to go anymore.
"You don't?" I said. "I thought you liked it."
"Not really," she said. "It makes me feel bad."
"It does?"
"They're always telling us we can't be saved unless we believe in the Lord, and well, I just don't."
Uh-oh. That 'saved' thing again. "You know, being saved is a personal thing, honey. There are lots of different ideas about what it means."
"But do you believe in Jesus?"
"I believe that Jesus wanted us to be nicer to each other. And I think that's a really good idea."
"Oh." She wandered off to play. A little later she came back and said, "I still don't want to go anymore."
And that was the end of YD's religious career.

Recently, I went to a funeral. It was a beautiful funeral, a truly lovely - and loving - celebration of a life cut short. After the eulogies and some wonderful music, the pastor stepped up to give us his pastoral message. "There are two kinds of people here today," he said. "The ones who've been saved and will some day sit at Jesus's right hand in heaven, and the ones who won't."
My eyebrows shot up. I turned to the friend I was sitting with and whispered, "Did he just tell us we're going to hell?"
"I think he did," she said in a bemused tone.
"That's kind of rude," I said.
"Yeah. I think so, too."
I listened through the rest of the sermon, and the pastor quoted quite a lot of scripture (all New Testament, which was at least something) to support his allegation. I kept waiting for him to get back to the subject at hand - the funeral, the grieving family, the good life the departed had lived. He never did. Apparently he thought the family would be comforted best by knowing that some of their friends were going to hell.

Which brings me to a list of theological pet peeves:

1. Old Testament 'Christians.' Does not compute. The story of Christianity lies in the New Testament. The Old Testament should be literature.

2. People who thank the Lord after every sentence. Please. God already knows how grateful you are, and the rest of us won't think less of you if you keep it to yourself. We promise.

3. People who insist on pronouncing judgment on everybody else. Crazy radio personalities, crazy politicians, crazy preachers, crazy people carrying signs displaying their opinions as to where various other people will reside after death. Right back at'cha, folks, because you know what? You're just guessing.

4. Relatives who pray for your soul every day, and then tell you about it. What are you supposed to say to that?

5. God as the Candyman. Be good, and God will give you everything your heart desires.

6. God as the Hairy Thunderer. Be good or God'll getcha.

7. Religious enforcers. You know who I mean: the Taliban, extremist Israeli settlers, the likes of Pat Robertson and James Dobson. And who can forget the Spanish Inquisition? Ugh.

8. The rapture, and all veiled threats leveled my way with regards to that event. Excuse me. I intend to inherit the earth, so feel free to rapture yourself right outa my way.

On the plus side, I've known some very nice - and very conscientious - people in my life, people who seem to take the spirit of their religion to heart. But that's a post for another day.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Stuff we don't have anymore

Here's a short list of things I remember well, but which my kids either don't remember at all, or consider quaint and curious.

Television sets without remote controls: back in the day, we got up to change the channel on the television set. There was no channel surfing during the commercials. And some people ended up watching the same channel all night because nobody wanted to get up.

Party lines
: I can't decide if the world is a better place without these, or not. There was so much drama around party lines - sneaking the phone off the cradle and listening in; having conversations interrupted by a crabby neighbor telling us to get off the phone; stopping to chat with your fellow party-liner.

Individual ring tones: I'm not talking Beethoven's Fifth. I'm talking two longs and a short for your house, three shorts for your neighbors', and two shorts and a long for the guy around the corner. Everybody's phone rang every time, and you answered only your ring.

Phones with cords: everybody had a phone table when I was kid, and that's where you sat to talk. Private conversation? Puh-leese - you shouldn't be saying anything you wouldn't say with your mother in the room, anyway.

Phones with rotary dials
: I still love the sound and feel of a rotary dial. Each number sounds different because the dial travels a different distance for each number. I remember a movie where a mystery was solved by someone hearing the sound of a number being dialed and later messing around with the rotary dial until they figured out what the number was.

Metal tv stands with wheels: these were flimsy little things which enabled you to roll the tv into the dining room if there was something special on. Of course, this implies that a) tvs were a lot smaller (and they were! Seventeen inches was considered a reasonable size!) and b) you didn't have to worry about plugging the thing into cable. You used your rabbit ears.

Milk boxes: on the porch. For the delivery of milk in bottles with foil caps. The cream floated just under the cap.

Pedal-operated sewing machines: I really liked sewing on these. Your ability to control the speed of the machine was nearly infinite, limited only by how fast you could pedal.

Push mowers
: I saw a guy mowing his lawn with one of these the other day. I thought, Gosh. He should take better care of his antiques.

Metal garbage cans: I'm sure people still use these somewhere, but in my town it's all big plastic bins provided by the waste removal company. I kinda miss those gun-metal gray cans, with their dents and their lids that didn't fit after the first year or so. Those cans took a lot of punishment - and it showed.

Cranks for rolling car windows up: it's all buttons now.

Typewriters: I still have the little green portable I took away to college with me, but the ribbons are a thing of the past.

Slide rules: yes, I minored in math and I did not own a calculator. When I was in college, a four-function calculator was still a prohibitively-expensive item; I settled for the slide rule and the books of math tables.

Blackboards: and erasers and chalk dust. Last year we got a SmartBoard in the classroom where I tutor - we can now display pages from the computer, or let the kids 'write' on the board and save their writing to a file, or scan text-book pages and display them. No more teachers' pets staying after school to clean the erasers.

Bench seats in cars: three in the front, and three (or four) in the back. We used to wage battles for the front seat and the windows. And some poor schmuck (or, in our family two poor schmucks) had to sit in the middle of the back with no view and no air.

Recess: this was the most important part of the school day when I was a kid. It's when all the socializing happened; when relationships formed or fizzled; when dominance issues were resolved. Now recess in 'structured.' Yikes.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The status quo sucks

Health care reform - that's what I'm talking about. Let's have a little honesty on the subject.

1. The President has recommended goals for reform, and here they are:
  • No discrimination for pre-existing conditions
  • No exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses, deductibles, or co-pays
  • No cost-sharing for preventive care
  • No dropping of coverage for the seriously ill
  • No gender discrimination
  • No annual or lifetime caps on coverage
  • Extended coverage for young adults
  • Guaranteed insurance renewal
Raise your hand if you disagree with any of these. And I don't mean you jump three assumptions into the future and disagree with what some sleazy insurance company hack has told you will be the eventual result. Just stick with the facts, ma'am. I'll bet you'd seriously like you some no-pre-existing-condition-discrimination. I know I would, because AGE is a pre-existing condition.

2. It's not Obamacare. The President has not proposed a bill. He has left the writing of legislation to the Congress. You may call it Senate-care, or House-care, or Washington-care. Or, like me, you may call it better-than-the-crap-we-have-now. Whatever.

3. If you believe that anybody in Washington is planning on killing grandma in order to pay for the plan, then you need help. I hope the coming healthcare reform will cover psychiatric visits so you can become a happier and more grounded person in the near future. Oh, and while we're on the subject, most private plans already cover end-of-life counseling. What are we to make of this?

4. If you believe that the government is going to create panels to rule on your treatment options, then remember this: insurance companies have panels to rule on your treatment options. And the people on those panels get bonuses for saving the company money, i.e. denying you treatment. Feel better about the status quo now?

5. If you think that a government plan will limit your options, then you might want to check to see what options you have. Hm. Only the ones your company offers, you say? And your company changes those options every year? And none of those options include vision or dental? (And how about that psychiatric treatment?)

6. Will you be retiring early? Why not? Uh-huh. You have to wait until you qualify for Medicare, because your company doesn't offer coverage for retirees, and no private insuror will provide coverage to a 59-year-old person. Same here. Sucks, doesn't it?

7. Do your young adult children have insurance? Why not? I see - they haven't been able to find jobs with benefits. Well, maybe they should purchase private plans. Yes, I know they'll have to live at home in order to pay their premiums, but that's the way it goes. At least they don't live in a socialist country. Well, except for the socialized fire and police protection, the roads, the schools, and a few other things.

8. Do you hate your job? Why not give it up? You could be an entrepreneur, and fulfill your lifelong dream of owning a book store or publishing a weekly newspaper or designing jewelry or writing free-lance software. Oh, I forgot - you can't get health insurance because you have asthma, or a bad back, or acne, or allergies, or menstrual pain, or Type I diabetes, or a congenital heart murmur, or...

Well, you get the picture.

9. Are you worried about balancing the budget in Washington? What makes you think keeping the status quo will contribute to that goal? Our health care system is on the brink of collapse; it's a huge burden on business right now. If that burden were lifted, businesses would be more competitive in the world market place. Profits and the workforce could grow, which spurs more growth, and improves tax revenues. Stop looking at it as a new cost - it's not. Reform is intended to shift and contain costs. The potential benefit to our economy is huge.

Frankly, people, the status quo sucks. We need reform. Stop listening to Glenn Beck and that scary blond woman who was on The Daily Show the other day, and start praying that reform succeeds.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Life gets in the way

of blogging. I'll be splitting my time between traveling and remodeling for the next few weeks. Here's my report on the remodel: we've selected our contractor, laid out the plans for the new kitchen, and chosen our cabinets. We'll place the cabinet order next week (after our trip to San Francisco), which means within four or five weeks, the current kitchen will be demolished.

The new kitchen table, which I had intended to order later in the process, arrived today. It's got a nice farmhouse feel to it - rectangular, with the legs set all the way out at the corners so the top doesn't overhang. It can be expanded to seat eight by unfolding a nifty leaf which stores underneath the table top. It's coffee-colored. I've already done a crossword while sitting at it, so it has been appropriately christened into our family.

I bought the table now because I gave the old one away, along with the matching hutch, to be used at a rummage sale to raise money to benefit a family in trouble here in my town. In the few days we spent without a table, I discovered that it's really hard to enjoy the newspaper without a place to prop my elbows. So I bought the new one, even though it means moving it when it comes time to empty the kitchen. It's a small sacrifice.

So far, nothing awful has happened with respect to our remodel. But that, of course, is because it's way too soon for the adventure to turn dangerous. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

And just like that

the squirrels are gone. The nuts are gone, too. This hasn't happened before - that the nuts ran out well ahead of the ripening of the avocados. Honestly, I'm thrilled. I can use my deck without having to sweep it twice a day.

I suppose this is due to our odd weather, which is an accumulation of several years of odd weather. Odd weather has become the new normal - record highs, record lows, weird storm patterns. I'm not sure we'd recognize the weather we used to call 'usual.' Climate change. There you have it in a nutshell. (Pun intended. I apologize.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Random Thoughts on Squirrels

A cat (not mine) killed a squirrel in our backyard last Saturday. Except for the scale of things, it looked just like a lion killing a wildebeest - you know, dragging the squirrel down by the neck, then kicking it with its hind feet while keeping a death grip on the throat. You've seen the drama on Animal Planet, I'm sure. When the squirrel was limp, killer-cat carried it off and we've seen nary hide nor hair of either of them since. I feel as if I should be sorry for the squirrel, but I'm not.

There's a squirrel on the deck right now, winding its way up and down my Engelmann oak. Its tail looks a little scrawny to me - maybe it had a close call with something hungry. It can have all the acorns it wants, but when it starts in on the macadamias I get annoyed. It's not the competition for the nuts, which are hard to open and require roasting and all what-not; it's the mess. See? I just swept that deck earlier this morning. Damn you, you little vandal! (It dropped a nut shell on me while I was taking pictures.)

The birds hate the squirrels, and not without reason. The squirrels eat the bird seed I put out, which is just grossly unfair. Squirrels are capable of drilling a hole in a macadamia shell, and they waste time stealing sunflower seeds? Puh-leese. Leave something for the less fortunate, you little bandits, you.

They'll dispose of my macadamias and then they'll start in on the avocados when they ripen in November. Squirrels love avocados as much as they love macadamias, and when they go after those, they seriously piss me off. In that case it's not the mess; it's the food. We're in direct competition for the avocados.

Eating all those macadamias and avocados (we're squirrel-gourmet-central here) makes our squirrels fat. When one jumps from the tree onto the roof, it sounds like a bear landed up there.

Squirrels are vindictive. If I fight back by throwing things into the tree or poking at them with brooms, they break things I leave on the patio, like lanterns and flower pots. This year the fight has been escalating - they've started knocking things off the balcony, too. I'm beginning to regret my rule that the balcony belongs to my cat - a little Roxy-presence might make a difference. Sadly, my cat (Amelie, who, you must remember, is not the killer) needs the balcony to be safe from coyotes, and she's worked out a truce with the squirrels, a feat she hasn't accomplished with Roxy. She'd rather be eaten by a coyote than share a space with the dog.

In spite of everything, I have to admit that squirrels are cute. If it weren't for the mess and the loss of avocado-goodness, I wouldn't have the heart to cheer killer-cat on. As it is, all I can say is: the killer-cat is cute, too, and it doesn't eat avocados.

Updated to clarify the non-killer nature of my cat.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Why are we born to suffer and die?

There's been a dearth of posts lately because I've been having a bit of an existential crisis brought on by the prospect of turning sixty next year.

Oooh, every time I think of that number I get a little light-headed. Wait a minute, let me just close my eyes for a second. Deep, calming breaths. Inhale, exhale. Ahhhh.

Okay, we'll go on but we'll leave the precise numbers out of it.

So, here's the deal. I'm getting old, and I hate it. I hate the stuff that goes on with your body - the sagging and the bagging and the sun spots on your cheekbones where your glasses reflect, and the shocking discovery that your grandmother's hands have somehow attached themselves to your body. I hate the thick waist and pouchy tummy and unruly gray hair, the sore back and hips from osteoarthritis, the inability to sleep through the night. I hate the new heights to which my cholesterol has soared. (Exercise more and eat less red meat, my doctor advised. Um, I exercise five to six days every week as it is, and I eat red meat about once a month. But, okay. I'll do better.)

More than the physical, though, I hate the mental stuff. I hate losing my glasses and my keys every day. I hate having words slither right out of my mind just when I need them. I hate the way time seems to have speeded up so I can't achieve a fraction of what I need to achieve in a day. I hate the feeling that doors are slamming, that my opportunities are fewer and farther between. (I dealt with the fact that I'd never learn ballet when I turned forty, that I wasn't going to get comfortable with horseback riding when I was fifty. Now, as another zero approaches, I wonder if I'll ever be a published author. Actually, with the economic woes our country and my poor dysfunctional state are experiencing, I wonder if I'll end my days living under a bridge on the 605 Freeway.)

I hate the social stuff, too: the relatives and friends who've died at an alarming pace in the last ten years; the way our conversations have drifted from things we hope to do, to things we've done, to complaints about our receding gums, our weight gain, and our leaky bladders; the inability to appreciate music that doesn't hail from the previous century.

So. I keep wondering, as the characters do in Kilgore Trout's book, Venus on the Half-Shell (I know, I know - Trout is fictional, but the book exists...): Why are we born to suffer and die? The answer in the book is Why not? But I'm still pondering.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

We're remodeling our kitchen

I'm pretty sure this will consume me for the next few months. Our kitchen isn't awful. It's just worn out, doesn't allow traffic to flow, and gets too crowded when more than one person tries to cook at a time. It's that last bit that's the biggest motivator. I like help. I especially like chopping help, because we eat a lot of veggies around here and they all need to be sliced, diced, or julienned.

Right now we're evaluating bids. We've received two, and one is substantially higher than the other. At the moment, I'm inclined to go with the higher bid because it came with item-by-item documentation. I can believe in it. My husband would like to believe in the lower bid, too, so we need to ask questions of the contractors and that's what I'm doing today - assembling a list of questions for each.

This is all a bit scary for us because we had a bad experience with the last general contractor we hired. Seventeen years ago, around the time our youngest was born, we decided to add a bedroom, bathroom, and laundry room. Our contractor did a reasonably good job on that addition, but when we decided to also turn an unfinished area under the garage into a rec room, we ran into trouble. Our contractor disappeared, leaving us a room which was framed but unfinished. My husband and my son worked patiently on weekends for two years to finish the room and the deck onto which it opens. (When they laid the decking, my husband marked the location of every screw. Then he drilled each hole and set the screws in place; my son, who was fifteen by then, came behind and tightened every screw. This took days. After working for several hours, they'd come in rubbing their arms and complaining about being exhausted by all that screwing, causing my eyes to roll back into my head. 'Right,' I'd say.)

Kitchen memories:

When we first moved here, in 1984, the kitchen had avocado green and harvest gold foil wallpaper. No, really, it did.

The guy we bought it from liked to party. The plastic panels which covered the fluorescent fixture had numerous champagne corks embedded in them. He didn't feel the need to remove them, which was part of why we were able to afford the house.

My husband replaced the garbage disposer sometime in the first week. We didn't get that wallpaper down for four (long) years.

Once I turned on the oven to preheat and went back to mixing the cornbread I was making. All of a sudden, a very strange crackly noise began emanating from the upper oven. My husband and I exchanged a glance, and I opened the oven door. Thick black smoke poured out, and below it I could see electrical sparks and something dripping onto the floor of the oven. I stood there, paralyzed, thinking, Oh, shit, the house is going to burn down. I knew this for a certainty because a) my sister's house had burned down a year or so earlier, and b) we'd had a close call a couple of months before when an electric blanket shorted out and started a mattress on fire. So, I just stood there, waiting for somebody to dial 911. My husband reached around me and turned off the oven. The sparks stopped sparking, the ceramic lining of the heating coil stopped dripping, and the smoke stopped smoking. Thank goodness somebody kept their head.

That big black refrigerator you see is the newest appliance we own. It's enormous - absolutely dominates the space. (Well, okay, if I were to reduce the clutter on the front, it might not seem so huge...) My son named it Darth on the day it was delivered. It will be replaced by a white side-by-side, which is taller than Darth but won't stick out so far. (I'm quite sure the clutter will simply transfer to the new location.) We haven't been terribly happy with Darth. It's really very difficult to organize those bottom freezer drawers in any meaningful way.

We bought the range top a few years before we bought Darth. It's black glass. Here's my very best advice: don't ever, ever, ever buy a range top made of black glass. It will always look dirty because there's no cleaning black glass without leaving streaks. By the end of the first week after it came to live in our kitchen, we knew we'd made a mistake. We've been marking time for ten years, waiting an appropriate interval to get rid of that sucker. It (and the double oven) will be replaced by a white, five-burner, double-fuel, double-oven range.

I expect this venture will have its moments. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bears and things

We spent the long weekend at my daughter's place in Lake Arrowhead. It was lovely. We swam off the dock every day, and we took the boat out twice on the Fourth - though it got so crazy crowded with everybody wanting to be on the water for the fireworks show that we tied up the boat around two-ish Saturday afternoon and didn't take it out again. Around eight-fifteen that night, we took flashlights and walked the mile or so to Tavern Bay to watch the annual (pretty darn fantastic) fireworks show over the lake.

To spare my daughter, we agreed on a new cooking scheme - each family took a day and provided all the meals, including clean-up. I promise - this is the way of the future. Everybody got to put their feet up a lot, but everybody went out of their way to prepare meals that were out of the ordinary when it was their turn to cook. Extra special - my daughter's grilled salmon and potato salad, my son's whole wheat buttermilk pancakes, and the open-faced grilled gouda and tomato sandwiches my daughter-in-law made. We had guests for dinner Friday night and they brought a wonderful New Mexico casserole of corn, squash, green chiles, and cheese as a perfect companion to the beef and chicken skewers my husband and I served up.

No trip to Arrowhead is complete without mornings on the deck with coffee and breakfast and some critter-watching. As usual lots of jays and woodpeckers and flickers and hummingbirds and gray squirrels stopped by. Ground squirrels popped up the new staircase to help themselves to the goodies in my daughter's garden-in-pots on the upper deck. And this year we had a larger guest - a black bear meandered up and cleaned out the bird feeders around five on Sunday morning. We're not sure if the lights going on scared it away, or if it had eaten as many nuts and seeds and raisins as it wanted, but by the time we decided to investigate the racket, it was back on the ground and ambling away.

Any lessons? Not a one. We had a good weekend. We ate, played, laughed. Nothing going on here, move along.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bad moon rising. Or something.

Best commentary I've seen on Michael Jackson: A Dismembered Soul.

Farrah Fawcett: A Life in Pictures.

Ed McMahon: A Salute to the King of Sidekicks.

Friends of ours, and this really sucks!

So there you have it. Let's hope next week is better.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The zen of the matriarch under stress

We meant to go to Lake Arrowhead on the Friday before Father's Day, but the universe said no in the form of errands which had to be completed before we could leave, and time being intractable, and energy having limits. So we decided to go Saturday morning. Again, the universe didn't seem to be crazy about the idea, but we persevered.

With organizing and packing and people milling around in the house while I ran from task to task as fast as I could, which wasn't nearly fast enough, I began to feel pretty ragged and unenthusiastic. Minutes before we left, I remembered that I needed to bring some basil from the garden for the pasta salad I had planned for dinner. Everybody was either already in a vehicle (there were two cars making the trip), or standing outside a vehicle trying to hammer one more piece of luggage into place. I took a pair of Cutco kitchen scissors and headed out across the lawn towards the garden.

I was in a mood. I hadn't had enough sleep, I'd had a stubborn headache for three days, and my stomach was a little shaky. Instead of looking forward to spending the weekend with my family, I was wishing they'd leave me so I could spend the weekend in silence, alone, reading books and watching America's Next Top Model reruns on the Oxygen channel. This clearly wouldn't do, so as I tromped through the drizzle I tried to get myself into a better place. Just stay in the moment, I told myself. You have this day to enjoy and you should start now. Look at how happy this little bit of rain is making the yard. Look at the baby sycamore, how big it's gotten in only two years. Look at the garden - wow, the peppers are loaded! And look at those tomatoes ripening so early! And the basil's gorgeous! Mmm, I'll take this bunch right here...snip...ah, smells good...snip...snip...

OUCH. I cut my finger. I cut my god-damned finger with the scissors! OW! I'm bleeding on the basil!


(The weekend worked out just fine, although I never did achieve any sort of Zen state about it.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Middle Kid graduated from high school in June of 1997, on a day a lot like today is shaping up to be - overcast, drizzly, with maybe some actual rain to come later on. Our graduation ceremonies are always held on the football field in the evening, so rain truly puts a damper on things. The picture of MK snapped as he accepted his diploma shows him in a green gown with big wet splotches on the arms and shoulders. What it doesn't show is what was going on in the bleachers.

We were all there - my husband and my two daughters. We all had umbrellas, but because the bleachers were crowded we could only put two of them up. My husband crouched under his umbrella with Youngest Daughter. He was holding a video camera and once he got it pointed in the right direction, he just sat still and watched. I sat with Eldest Daughter under her umbrella. She and I both had flash cameras.

It was raining pretty steadily, but the ceremony went ahead as scheduled. ED is our best photographic documentor of family events, and she was completely in the zone that night. She snapped every important step in the ceremony: the procession into the stadium, each speaker, my son walking across the stage, receiving his diploma, and returning to his seat. Each time she lifted her camera she tilted the umbrella towards me. The top of the umbrella would dump its load of rainwater over my head, a mini cold shower cascading through my hair, over my face, and onto my shoulders. I would close my eyes and gasp and wipe my face and say, "Uh, Honey?" But it was noisy and she was caught up in the spectacle on the field.

Now, if you follow this through to its logical conclusion, you'll see that I not only got thoroughly soaked, I also missed every moment worth a photograph in the entire ceremony. At the end of the evening, ED turned to me, blinked, and said, "Oh, my gosh! What happened to you?"

Fortunately, my husband's video was comprehensive. I saw everything at home, after I'd toweled my hair dry and downed a stiff drink.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Three things that cracked me up

I can see my family rolling their eyes. "Here come the stories," they're saying, and they're right.

Biggest baddest dog:

One night last spring, my husband and I took Roxy for a walk after dinner. Roxy has matured so she's pretty easy to walk, if you don't mind letting her range all around you so she can smell the pee-mail and leave messages of her own. (If you're one of those who needs your dog to stay at heel, forget it. Roxy ain't there, and she ain't never gonna be there, unless she gets too old to sniff and pee.) So we were mostly ignoring the dog and talking, maybe hurrying a little as we came into the home stretch because we didn't want to miss whatever was coming up at the eight o'clock hour on tv.

As we reached the last corner before our house we saw a stray dog standing on the sidewalk, a skinny yellow lab mix with a collar but no leash/owner attached. Roxy seemed skittish, so we kept our eyes on it. It backed away a bit warily as we crossed the street towards it, which made me think it wasn't aggressive, but suddenly it snarled and lunged at Roxy. My husband jumped between Roxy and the stray, stretched himself to a couple of inches taller than I ever knew he could, and lunged right back at that dog, barking in a deep (and yes, scary) voice. The stray did one of those cartoon leaps - straight up, with a spin in mid-air - and ran off down the street yipping with the volume turned all the way up. It eventually turned and ran into what we presumed to be its own backyard. We could still hear it yipping when we reached our front door.

And that's why we call my husband 'Dog.' Heh.

Things that go bump in the night:

To understand this story, you have to know a little bit about the layout of our house. We are situated on a hill with our backyard a full story lower than the front, so street level, to us, is the second floor. That's where the living and dining rooms, kitchen, and family room are located. The bedrooms and bathrooms are on the first floor, with the master bedroom directly beneath the family room.

This happened before the kids were married, on one of DiL's visits from Ireland. On the night in question, my husband and I had gone to bed but the kids were upstairs watching a movie. We could hear the tv faintly, and now and then the kids moving around or talking a little. Then we started hearing this very pronounced, rhythmic, bumping sound. We both became very tense. My husband said, What is that? I said, I don't know. We listened some more. The sound didn't stop.

My husband said, What the hell is that? I said, I don't know. We sat up. Are they-? he said, and I said, No way. They wouldn't. Go find out, he said. I'm not going up there, I said, but of course, I was already getting out of bed. I put on a robe and walked out into the hall and stood at the bottom of the stairs.

Dave? I said. The noise stopped. There was a moment of silence.


Um. We heard a noise.

Another silence. Oh. Sorry.

Okay. Going back to bed.


I got back in bed. Less than sixty seconds later, the noise started again - pretty much the same, though maybe a little faster now. My husband said, Oh, my God. What are they doing? I said, I don't know. He said, Make them stop!

So I crawled back out of bed and went to the bottom of the stairs. Dave?

Silence. What?

What is that noise?

Long silence. Then I heard what sounded like someone getting up, some footsteps, and my son appeared at the top of the stairs with a dish towel dangling from one hand. I spilled an orange soda, he said sheepishly. And I'm trying to scrub it out of the carpet.

Caring for cats:

My eldest daughter is the product of my first marriage. When my (current) husband and I were married, we moved to California. Every summer my daughter would fly back to Iowa to spend six weeks with her dad. The first year, she left us a note (which I still have in an envelope somewhere.) She had just turned seven. Here's what it said:

How to take care of the cats

1 Feed them
2 Pet them
3 Do not swing them by the neck
4 Pay good and lots attention to them

Good advice. We've pretty much followed it ever since, and none of our cats has run off.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Expect the unexpected

We all grow up with some idea of the framework on which we'll build our lives. I'm not talking about hopes and dreams; I'm talking deep background. We might dream of being an astronaut, but unconsciously we assume that when we get back from our spacewalks there'll be a husband or wife, two-point-two children, two cats, and an aquarium. We aspire to win an Oscar, but we assume we'll display it on the mantelpiece of a brick fireplace in a four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath house on a shaded, Midwestern street. We hope to enter politics one day and to serve a term or two in the United States Senate; of course, it will be the great state of Iowa which will elect us to that post.

But in my experience, the framework is as subject to the whims of fate as are the dreams and aspirations. So here are a few aspects of my life that I never expected:

I never thought I'd live in California. I thought the farthest away I was likely to settle from Iowa was Minnesota or, possibly, Colorado. And yet here I am in a house we've owned for twenty-five years, in a town ten miles from the Rose Bowl and so close to the San Gabriel Mountains that north and uphill are synonymous. Two of my three children and my granddaughter are native Californians. I don't own a coat heavy enough for an Iowa winter anymore, and I can't remember the last time I saw an ice scraper.

I never thought I'd have a baby at twenty. I expected to graduate from college and then to work for awhile. Children were on the horizon - so firmly on the horizon that I had no idea when (or even if) I'd have any.

I never thought I'd like baseball, much less serve on the board of a youth baseball league for five years, learn to keep score!, and be glued to my television set during the World Series. And don't even get me started on hockey. (This is what happens when you have a son who likes to play games.)

I never thought I'd have a baby at forty-two. I was ready to retire from the high-pressure world of engineering to write fiction. I thought I'd get up early and write for three or four hours, take a long walk, chat with my agent or my editor, drink coffee in the afternoon with the other writers, and throw together a simple but elegant dinner to be served in my craftsman dining room after dark. Then I'd write a little more and go to bed. Rinse and repeat, every day for the rest of my life. A baby? At my age? Don't be silly. How can that even happen? (Well, I mean, I know how it happens, but to me? Not in a million years.)

I never thought I'd enjoy teaching middle school kids. Math. For free. I really, really, didn't see that coming.

I thought I'd have a lot more use for formal wear. I like to dress up; I thought I'd have many opportunities to do it, and that it would involve plenty of lace and satin and high-heeled slippers. I had no idea I'd spend so much time putting on the good jeans with a tee-shirt, a blazer, and some lipstick, and calling me 'ready.'

I thought I'd always be skinny and toned and bathing-suit-worthy. I mean, I was, for the longest time. And it wasn't as if anything changed in my diet or my exercise habits. But one day I woke up to the realization that I needed a Victorian swim costume if I was going to continue to swim in public places.

I never thought I'd own a dog. My daughter and I were in the car yesterday, waiting for a light to change, and I saw a pudgy middle-aged lady in a lime-green tee-shirt watch from behind while her little gray schnauzer pooped, and then lean over and pick up the poop with her hand gloved in a plastic grocery bag, and then tie the bag shut and walk on carrying a sack of warm shit like a purse. "Oh, dear," I said. "I've turned into that lady." The only difference? My dog is three times the size of hers.

I never expected to love sushi. Well, who in the Midwest does expect something like that? It's beyond comprehension, until you move to the West Coast. And taste it.

Okay, there you have it: the stuff I didn't know I'd live with. If you're young and you're making plans, I advise you to keep this in mind: life is unpredictable. Stay loose. Expect the unexpected.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I'm here

and I'll be posting shortly. What with the Recalcitrant Teen (diagnosed with mono just as the AP tests arrived), the garden (cool mornings sucking up my blogging time as I battle vinca for possession of my front slope), the holiday (mountain, lake, boat, you do the math), and a passel of good books (tent sale at Vroman's, sorry, totally indulgent), I've been buried. But I swear, I'll be back. Very soon. In the meantime, Lee Child's last Jack Reacher novel - Nothing to Lose - is fabulous. (And he has a new one out this month which I haven't seen, called Gone Tomorrow. I'll be reading it as soon as I get my hands on it.)

P.S.: ED has been nagging me for a post; here it is. And the Recalcitrant Teen is a) feeling better and b) making much better grades.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Aging gracefully

I just read an article from the 'Living' section of The Huffington Post about aging gracefully - the premise is that keeping the spine flexible through yoga is key. Okay, I can buy that. Flexibility is definitely important to feeling and looking youthful. But I'm pretty sure there's more to it than that.

The model they've used in the article to demonstrate the recommended yoga pose is no more than twenty-eight years old tops, and that's only if you push me. She's slim and pretty with thick, glossy hair. She's doing the extreme version of the pose - the one we all think we are doing, until we watch ourselves in the mirror and discover that we look a lot more like a coffee table going up and down than a cat arching and stretching its back.

So, this model looks gloriously youthful and graceful, because she is.

But let's talk about the reality of aging. Slim - not so much. There's this thing that happens to your waist - it thickens, even while you're eating and exercising as you always did. Pretty - not so much. There's this thing that happens to your face - it sags in places and puffs in others. You get eye-bags and jowls, and your cheeks seem to fall towards your jaw line, which is itself heading down towards your neck, which is so determined to go south that it pushes out amoeba-like bulges which wobble horribly under your chin. Thick, glossy hair - not so much. Your part - should you be so foolish as to attempt to wear a part in your hair - gets wider and wider. And gray hair is wiry and unruly and it doesn't shine.

Your joints get stiff: hips, knees, fingers, spines. You can't get comfortable enough to sleep at night because your newly-fragile body seems to have developed aversions to every sleeping position known to man. And once you've learned to counter that problem by propping various body parts up with pillows, you discover that there's some kind of sleep circuit in your brain which has shorted out.

Your gums recede, which makes your teeth appear to be longer. (Yes, you're getting a little long in the tooth...) This also creates sensitive spots which keep you hopping during dentist visits. And, to add insult to injury, your enamel thins, resulting in a warm yellow smile. You can remedy that problem with those at-home whitening strips, but you'll pay with even more sensitive spots than Mother Nature (that cruel bitch) has already allotted you.

There's quite a lot I haven't covered - your thighs slide down to puddle over your knees and your boobs start getting in the way of your belt; your satiny skin turns to crepe paper; things you used to love to eat make you fart now; and sitting in the sun will turn your skin blotchy brown - forever. Your nails form ridges. Your blood pressure goes up; your libido goes down. First you need glasses to read books; then you need glasses to read street signs. (Yeah, that spells bifocals.) You start to say, "What?" all the time. You have to label all your photos so you can remember your friends' kids' names. Receptionists ask if you need help getting out of your chair.

Now, if doing the cat pose once a day, or three times, or - heck, I'm willing to go as high as twenty! - will reverse these changes, then I'm thrilled to hear it. But I think the real issue is completely different. There's nothing - no pill, no surgery, no cream or makeup, no diet or exercise - which will restore our bodies to youthful perfection. So, in an article entitled "How to Age Gracefully," I think what we need is advice on enduring, on watching ourselves go to pieces with grace and good humor. I'd offer my advice, but as you can see, I haven't got any. I'm stuck at griping about the whole damn process.

Update: I edited this to add some stuff I forgot about.

Monday, May 11, 2009

So now what do we do?

As if this year weren't exciting enough already, Recalcitrant Teen has been diagnosed with mono. Yeesh. All those homework assignments, all those milestones, all that angst - for this? To end the year curled on the sofa, white as paste, unable to swallow around the dragon which has taken up residence in her throat, unable to pour a glass of ice water without sitting down to rest? At this moment, she's still hoping to turn up Wednesday morning and take the AP English Language test. After all, she was sick on Friday when she took the AP US History test, and she says getting through it wasn't all that bad.

I'm waiting to hear from her counselor and teachers. Her doctor says she's had it long enough (we thought it was a cold dragging on) that she's no longer contagious. She can go to school if she can GO to school. Now we need to know if the school objects, and how much flexibility we can expect from those in charge. And of course, we have to see a bit of improvement. It won't do any good to send her to school if she's going to spend the day curled in a corner, asleep.

What a comedy of errors this child's junior year has been. Maybe our next stop will be a brief stint of home-schooling - yet another brand-new parenting experience, thirty-nine years into the gig. Who knew?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Success (breeds success)

Youngest Daughter is preparing for her Advanced Placement tests in US History and English Language. It's been a difficult year, for many reasons, but the upcoming tests have been more of a drag than we expected. YD's having trouble concentrating on her studies - and without being able to turn up the focus, it's very hard to retain the solid factual stuff which makes up the first part of each test. She's also having trouble finishing the essay questions in the allotted time, and those comprise the second part of the test. Things don't look good.

Focus is a problem for her at the best of times and not one I expect her teachers to be able to solve; she's got a powerful case of ADD and we work on it in our own ways at home. But she's had no advice from either of her AP teachers as to what strategies to employ in order to improve her timing on the essays, and that surprises me. Wouldn't you think they'd have an idea or two on the subject? One of her teachers was alarmed enough to contact me; the other simply offered her failing grade after failing grade.

Both of these teachers, I should mention, obviously care about her. They enjoy having her in their classrooms: the first is urging YD to take a follow-up class with her next year; the second failed to flag YD's failing grades for the office because he didn't want her moved to another, less rigorous, classroom. Without her, he said, there'd be no insightful class discussion. He couldn't let her go.

Middle Kid - the one who intends to pursue a career in teaching - offered her the first piece of helpful advice she got: if you can't finish in the time allotted, he said, then write less. He was right on the money - YD is a perfectionist and wanted to be able to write the same sort of essay in forty minutes that she would have written if the essay were assigned as homework. It was hard for her to attack these questions at that different, shallower, level; but once she got the hang of it, the grades began to come up.

The second bit of helpful advice came from me, but it was entirely accidental. Over spring break, she wrote several practice essays taken from the College Board's website. For some reason, on the very first one, I set a kitchen timer next to her. She finished the essay with a minute-and-a-half to spare - and it was a damned good essay, too! It turns out that YD really has no internal clock at all, no sense of time passing, no ability to gauge how much time is left. Having a timer at her elbow made all the difference.

We still had to battle a bit with the College Board. She'll take a timer to the test, we thought, and that will be that. Not so fast, said the CB. You can't bring anything that beeps. Okay. How about the stopwatch function on a watch? All you do is push start, stop, and reset. It won't beep at any point because it isn't timing down - it's counting up. No, no, said the CB. The start, stop, and reset buttons beep when you push them. Fine. She'll set the watch next to her, make a note of the time she should finish, and proceed from there. Fine, said the CB.

But let's go back to those teachers for a moment. I'm a huge fan of public education in general, and of our local school system in particular. But in this case, I felt that YD didn't get the sort of attention she deserved. It's true that students in AP classes are expected to keep up, but when a student who clearly should be able to work at that level fails, is some teacherly action too much to ask? Maybe YD's profound disconnect with time is unusual enough that her teachers were stumped; but surely runaway perfectionism is something they confront regularly.

The excuse I hear most often is that this is a college-level class, and in college she wouldn't receive any special treatment. Ah, I say, but she's not in college yet. She may be able to comprehend more intellectually challenging material, but she's still a high school student. Obviously she needs strategies for dealing with work of this caliber, and if you aren't going to offer them while she's still in high school, when exactly will you? Is an AP class really a place where students can't expect help?

Apparently so. If YD manages to pass her AP tests, it will be in spite of this odd blind spot on the part of her otherwise talented and dynamic teachers. Succeeding at writing the essays has been key to improving her focus. She doesn't feel quite so hopeless, or helpless, anymore. She can come at the material without all that angst, so she's better at retaining it. I think she's got a shot at passing, and that's a good thing. But I have to ask - how many kids with extraordinary intellectual capabilities fail because no one will help them when they're struggling?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I'm getting a different (and better) computer!

All it took was saying, "Okay, I think it's time. We should buy another computer." Forty-eight hours later, a new Apple G5 Power PC is winging its way here as I type. We're going to put the new computer in my husband's office and move the Mac mini I'm using right now into my office to replace my ten-year-old iMac. See, I moved my manuscripts to the mini a couple of years ago to make the querying process more convenient. Sadly, I discovered I couldn't go back because the version of Word I use on the mini won't run on my poor little iMac. And that put a big crimp in my writing time.

This should make my weekends more productive, since I won't be competing for time with all the Toms, Dicks, and Harrys who wander through here. Well, actually, there's just the one Tom, but he's been a tough competitor. Nice to discover he's also a talented shopper.

So. It's all good, and getting better.

Update: My husband points out that the computer I'm getting is obviously not new, as it's his current one. He's getting the new one, and for good reason. Whichever computer is mine gets the least rigorous use - I want to write on it, and now I'll be able to get online with it, and that's about it. So, I've updated the title to reflect reality.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


When I'm upset, I take baths - long, hot baths with lavender-scented bath salts. I read a good book or a magazine. I lie down and run the water until my arms and legs float. I stay there until I feel as if I can face the world again, which can be a surprisingly long time.

Sometimes I eat candied ginger to make myself feel better. It's chewy and sweet and peppery, with a crunchy-sugary crust on the outside. It soothes my stomach, which tends to knot up when things are going badly.

I've been known to take long walks, especially when I'm angry about something. It's a two-fer: I walk off the adrenaline while improving my health. When I get back I'm not only calmer, I'm armored with the self-righteousness of the exercise nut.

Milk chocolate truffles are nice, but the comfort only lasts as long as the candy; a vodka martini on ice with a twist is nice, too, but it lulls me to sleep.

Sometimes I just have to lose myself in a good book. Not 'literature.' A good, pulpy adventure of some sort: scifi or mystery or a thriller.

There are certain movies that always make me feel better: The Shawshank Redemption, Babe, Billy Elliott, The Whale Rider. Or I'll turn on a marathon of some sort: The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars. Project Runway or America's Next Top Model.

Well, that's my list. I've been all over it this week after listening to one too many pundits miss the point entirely on the whole subject of torture and its efficacy and its morality and which administration should be damaged by it. (Hint: the administration which used it to generate fake evidence so it could run amok in the world should be the administration covered in shame. And the media, which can't seem to find an ethical code with both hands and a flashlight, oughta share in that particular limelight.)

The only thing I haven't tried yet is the martini - I'm saving it for dinner. Tomorrow, I suppose, I'll have to start cycling through again.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Last word on the writing contest

I didn't make the semi-finals, so I'm out.

And that's that.

If you scan the discussion boards at Amazon, and all the various writing venues online where writers gather, you'll see all kinds of happy-talk about not giving up, taking the advice the reviewers offered and making the manuscript even better, sending out queries right away - like getting back in the saddle after the horse throws you.

Honestly? I'd get more satisfaction out of putting a gigantic sign in my front yard that reads: AMAZON ABNA: BITE ME!

It's been a long road, and I'm still on it. But I'm going to step off right here, get out my little hip flask, and apply some liquid comfort. Then I'm going to eat a quarter-pound of milk chocolate (yeah, take that, universe! I'm not going for the healthy dark stuff today!) and maybe I'll follow up with a bag of Cheetos. After that, I'll arrange a bunch of rejection letters on the big bulletin board in the office and throw darts at them. Probably, I'll end my pity-party with a nice slasher film...

And after a couple of days, I'll succumb to temptation and work on one of my books. (Yes, all right, Clara. I'll work on Pearl.) I just hope I can hold off long enough to get my tomato plants in.