Monday, December 06, 2010


Grocery shopping has become an exercise in vanity-stripping for me. I've bribed myself to leave the house for this chore by tossing, one-by-one, my morning rituals. First, it was jewelry (I mean, who the hell needs earrings to decide between generic vs name-brand?), then, the morning shower got ditched (I can do that later), after that, hair and makeup left the room. I'm lucky if I wet down the sleep cowlicks before trudging out of the house. This is not to say I ever glammed-up before going to the grocery store, it's just that "presentable" has taken on a new, scaled-down meaning for me. It's liberating. Though I do draw the line at oral hygiene. Until they're in a cup by the bed, my teeth will get brushed before I head out.

Sunday found us leaving the house later than usual. I am not interested in becoming a raving, bitter lunatic in my dotage, so shopping before the I'm elbow-to-elbow with the dawdling, cell-phone-shackled, oblivious masses parked in the middle of the aisles is the gift I give to humanity. Shop early, save a life. But we had been quite productive that morning, annual online Christmas shopping just about completed in one weekend, so I was good with the delay.

We got fresh fruits and vegetable (post-Thanksgiving-leftover-sludge remedy) at the Farmer's Market. I still need to figure out what one does with kohlrabi. We were finishing up at the regular grocery store (we split up to get out the door faster) and I came around the corner and almost bumped into an old friend. I'll call her Jill (which is, coincidentally, her name). I hadn't seen Jill in maybe 10 years. It's not that we don't live in the same city, it's just that the "hub" friend who connected Barbara and I to Jill and several other couples had sort of walked away from me (or so it seemed, though not for lack of trying on my part) and we just didn't socialize outside this group.

I was strangely okay with looking like shit. (During the course of shopping I must have lifted something that left what looked like pumpkin bread smeared all over the front of my hoodie…which I discovered afterwards and was not so okay with. Jesuschrist.) Jill looked the same, grayer but still youthful and…I don't know, professional. We chatted for a minute and she said, so you haven't heard about Marsha? I hate when an old friend/acquaintance says stuff like this...though there are no cheerful ways of bringing up a tragedy you've missed. Marsha was dead. Since 9 months ago. Complications from ovarian cancer. She was 5 years younger than me and she and her partner seemed like two of the happiest lesbian couples I've ever met. A flicker of survivor's guilt passed and I asked about her partner. She was, no surprise, suffering. Holidays intensifying what was a colossal loss.

Jill and I exchanged give-your-partner-a-hug-from-me niceties and I went to find Barbara who had finished the rest of the shopping list while I was chatting. I felt stunned. Marsha was sweet. A bit overly competitive in softball and kind of a top-button-buttoned kind of gal but smart and good and dear. Her bereaved partner even sweeter.

That's it. Another friend dies and I learn about it long after the fact...though I guess it doesn't matter when you find out, we're all alone when we grieve.

Good-bye, Marsha.

Monday, September 20, 2010

barbara update

Here is the email I just sent out:

Dear Platinum Members of the Barbara Fan Club,

It's hard to believe that after everything that Barbara's been through this past 3 weeks, we're so ecstatic we could do the happy dance right now: Barbara's genetic test for BRCA (the breast cancer gene mutation) came back negative. NEGATIVE!!!

This is such wonderful news. No oophorectomy (really, that's a word–it means surgery to remove the ovaries–I would've called it an ovarectomy but nobody asked) and no bilateral mastectomy (removal of both breasts).

Thursday she gets the tube/balloon inserted (an in-office procedure) for the radiation therapy. Then, Monday through Friday of next week she has radiation treatments 2x/day.


She'll go every three months for a mammogram until the doctors feel she's safe to go every six months, then annually.

Is that the best news, ever? YES. Yes, it is.

Love and a tidal wave of relief,

Sunday, September 19, 2010


One of the comforts of atheism is that you never shake your fist at God when things go wrong. Likewise you can't be patting your righteous self on the back when Fate throws you a bone. It is comforting. The randomness is easier to believe. There is no guilt or pride. Just Fuck, I wish this hadn’t happened or Hooray! at finding a $20 bill.

My kind-hearted, funny, wonderful Barbara of the Lovely Mammaries has breast cancer. It’s been just over 2 weeks since the call came. 2 weeks since a routine mammogram turned into presence of calcification turned into a needle biopsy turned into a positive diagnosis for cancer turned into a partial mastectomy turned into genetic testing and radiation.

The intial news, as I once imagined and now know, is chock full of shock and pain and numbness. And what ifs and the deafening lyrics of songs:

“Beloved Wife”

by Natalie Merchant

You were the love
For certain of my life
You were simply my beloved wife
I don't know for certain
How I’ll live my life
Now alone without my beloved wife
My beloved wife

I can’t believe
I’ve lost the very best of me

You were the love
For certain of my life
For fifty years simply my beloved wife
With another love I'll never lie again
It’s you I can’t deny
It's you I can’t defy
A depth so deep into my grief
Without my beloved soul
I renounce my life
As my right
Now alone without my beloved wife
My beloved wife
My beloved wife

My love is gone she suffered long
In hours of pain

My love is gone
Now my suffering begins

My love is gone
Would it be wrong if I should
Surrender all the joy in my life
Go with her tonight?

My love is gone she suffered long
In hours of pain

My love is gone
Would it be wrong if I should
Just turn my face away from the light
Go with her tonight?

(I have never liked the word “wife” as it represented something I felt I’d left behind. But for all intents and purposes, I have no stronger word for who she is to me after these short 24 years.)

When my meltdown and crying jags subsided that evening, all that was left was her buoyant optimism and the need to look this nightmare in the face and devise a plan. Most of the good news in the bad news was very good. Small, caught early* and contained.

*annual mammograms...just get them.

I can’t go into all the specifics now. It’s an education in oncology borne of controlled-panic-necessity and not my usual fact-absorbing-delight. She’s doing very well. Hopes are high and the partial mastectomy (remember the first “t”) was successful. No cancer cells detected in the “margins.”

In the chaos of remodeling and anxiety of fiscal bedlam and anticipation of my dear parents’ arrival and uproar at work, the lens focuses sharply on her sweet face and the rest is a blur. My gentle, strong, amazing guapa. She is the love, for certain, of my life...she is simply my beloved wife.

Fuck, I wish this hadn’t happened.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


The Guardian

by Joseph Mills

I don't think my brother realized all
the responsibilities involved in being
her guardian, not just the paperwork
but the trips to the dentist and Wal-Mart,
the making sure she has underwear,
money to buy Pepsis, the crying calls
because she has no shampoo even though
he has bought her several bottles recently.
We talk about how he might bring this up
with the staff, how best to delicately ask
if they're using her shampoo on others
or maybe just allowing her too much.
"You only need a little, Mom," he said,
"Not a handful." "I don't have any!"
she shouted before hanging up. Later
he finds a bottle stashed in her closet
and two more hidden in the bathroom
along with crackers, spoons, and socks.
Afraid someone might steal her things,
she hides them, but then not only forgets
where, but that she ever had them at all.

I tease my brother, "You always wanted
another kid." He doesn't laugh. She hated
her father, and, in this second childhood,
she resents the one who takes care of her.
When I call, she complains about how
my brother treats her and how she hasn't
seen him in years. If I explain everything
he's doing, she admires the way I stick up
for him. Doing nothing means I do nothing
wrong. This is love's blindness and love's
injustice. It's why I expect to hear anger
or bitterness in my brother's voice, and why
each time we talk, no matter how closely
I listen, I'm astonished to hear only love.

From the Writer's Almanac, Monday, September 6, 2010

Monday, August 23, 2010

t-minus less than 6 weeks

This past weekend was reportedly the hottest of the year, thus far. We were out on the lovely, rebuilt front porch just after sunrise on Saturday and Sunday. Sawhorses and scrapers and sanders. Glue and clamps and wood putty. Taking the trim we'd removed from the front room and removing decades of paint globs and caulking and whatnot.

We made damn good progress and in spite of the heat, got into a fairly productive rhythm of preparing the trim for painting. There is something soothing and contemplative about scraping off old paint and caulk, filling in the holes and sanding the whole thing smooth.

My daughter returned to Houston one week ago. I will admit to some apprehension about her arrival, no matter how happy I was that she was coming home. So I am pleased to report that the week has been delightful. It is so wonderful to see her, talk with her and laugh with her. She spent hours helping us on the porch. The three of us just working hard together in the steamy Houston heat.

Monday, August 16, 2010


From yesterday's Writer's Almanac:

It was on this day in 1969 that Woodstock began. This music festival on a 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, in upstate New York, was originally advertised as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music.”

The Bethel town board of supervisors refused to grant the permit to legally hold the event, arguing that the proposed porta-potties didn't meet the town health and safety codes. But the organizers went ahead with the concert anyway.

The lineup included Jimi Hendrix, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, The Grateful Dead, The Who, Janis Joplin, Santana, Ravi Shanker, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Melanie, and others — a total of 32 acts, all outdoors, sometimes in the rain.

They predicted that 50,000 people would show up. Instead half a million people came. [emphasis mine]
I suspect they were a few hundred unacceptable porta-potties short as well.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

t-minus 2 months

Two months ago my dad was talking to me about what he and mom were thinking about doing for their 55th wedding anniversary. That, in itself, is a little odd for the non-celebrating, unsentimental couple they usually are. They considered Puerto Rico (where he was born and has relatives), Portugal (a great idea but I doubted they'd spend the money/travel that far) and something else I can't remember. And then, he said, but we've decided to spend our anniversary with you. In October. (4 months from the phone call, 2 months from today.)
  • I am tickled.
  • I am horrified.
  • I am honored.
  • I am terrified.
My parents haven't been here in ten years. You know all this DIY I've been referring to lately? That's the connection. So, to recap. I am thrilled that my parents are coming to visit but I'm bouncing between high anxiety and...less anxiety...
  • My parents (mom-driven, family-wide) are 100% house-perfect crazy. Their house always looks like a model home. I am not shitting you.
  • I love that we'll be celebrating their 55th anniversary here.
  • My mother's standard is insane. But I am an adult! I choose how I live! BUT this is hard-wired. I can't escape how my fairly normal looking house will look to my folks.
  • My house is in dire need of fixing up and this is probably just the impetus I needed.
  • I can in no way get it up to the acceptable standard I was raised to expect but I'm going to die trying.
Stay tuned.

Friday, July 23, 2010


Great stories. Well told. Just discovered.

Ed Gavagan
Drowning on Sullivan Street

Jeffery Rudell
Under the Influence

Jon Levin
Elevator ER

Cindy Chupack
'Til Death or Homosexuality Do Us Part

Alan Rabinowitz
Man and Beast

Rudy Rush
Harlem Cowboy
We don't hear enough well-told stories. These are fantastic.

P.S. My friend Aaron often talks about how people want to tell their stories. Or is it that they need to tell their stories? I don't know. I am self-conscious about how much I enjoy telling my stories because I don't always enjoy listening to other people's stories. It is comforting to know that I enjoy listening to other people's stories when, godhelpme, they know how to tell them well.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

heavy things and happy things

Our vacation recuperation day started out promising. I spent most of the morning getting my proverbial ducks in a row. Wrapped a present for my nephew, made calls to verify items I needed to purchase and store hours. I put away travel stuff and took something out of the freezer for dinner. I puttered.

Then, the skies started to darken and that lit the fire under my puttering ass. There was drywall to be bought and unlike wood or fabric, drywall does not reconstitute well once it's been soaked. It turns into, what we call in economics, a sunk cost.

We hopped into that butch and beautiful Tundra and headed over to the place...where in fairly short order, 14 sheets of 4'x10' 1/2" drywall was fork-lifted into the truck bed. When we finally got home (25mph at a time—I know, I know, St. Barbara's caution is all wisdom and common sense) we unloaded the sheets onto the porch just as the rain began to fall. Can I get a hallelujah?

Drywall sheets are often paper "bundled" in sets of two. This keeps the good sides facing each other for protection. So, we maneuvered them into the house two at a time. Just like Noah. We are strong women (St. B is, admittedly, taller and stronger than me...but I like to think I carry my own weight (...that's funny, I rarely stumble upon self-referencing fat jokes)) but this extra-long sheet rock is dense. Of course, I had to look it up: each 4'x10' sheet weighs 64lbs. So we moved 128lbs every time we carried a pair into the house. Seven times.

I figured that was all the hard labor I could expect to deal with in one day. Unfortunately Barbara pulled something in her ribs/back and began to experience pleurisy-type pain, so she was off-duty for the duration. Thank Buddha we were done.

My shirt was covered with sweat (Oh, say ewww, if you must. Sweat is the natural antidote to spontaneous combustion, thank you very much) so I cleaned up and put on a fresh one. We headed back out to finish our errands. And there on the front passenger side was a very flat truck tire. When we picked up the drywall, we got a large nail in our tire for free. Sheeyit.

Now Barbara was out of commission, and much as she protested, this job was for me. I've changed plenty of car tires but truck tires are...well, they're fucking big. And unwieldy. I'll spare you the details. Well, most of them anyway. You have to lower the spare down from under the truck with this ridiculous rigged crank the manufacturer provides. Once it's on the ground, you have to get under there (did I mention it was raining intermittently?) and drag that bad boy out.

To get the flat tire off, you have to put the wrench on one lug nut and stand on the other end of the wrench and bounce carefully, until the tightened nut breaks free, without you losing your balance. Repeat 5 times. Finally, you set up the piece-of-shit jack and try like hell to figure out from the mystery diagram where to set it up so you don't break your truck by setting up under a weak joint. All this while wiping the humidity, grease and dirt off your glasses so you can see enough to kill the mosquitoes draining your blood. Did I mention I just changed my shirt?

ANYHOO...the first round with the jack provided us with a heart-stopping slip. As in, a few thousand pounds of truck starting to slip off a jack the diameter of a cheap flashlight. Cranked the thing all the way back down, repositioned, slipped some wood under it for stability and started over. The best news? The spare was not flat!

I put on the spare, hauled the dead tire and it's hole-making spike into the truck bed. Then, I went inside and scoured the incredible amount of filth I'd accumulated off of we could head to the tire store. Could they patch it? My emotional brain said sure, my frontal lobe said, are you fucking kidding? You've had these tires for 9 years! I threw a tarp over my frontal lobe...

...which was mercilessly yanked off at the tire place as the cute little butch girl measured (in microns, I believe) what little was left on my tread. On all the tires. I know. I know. It was time. Jesus. Four new tires the day after coming back from vacation. Like a vacation stinger.

There you have it. My post vacation blues got pushed out of the way for the crisis-at-hand. This is not unlike the second hammer thwack on your thumb erasing the pain from that first misguided hit.

In spite of all of this, I am happy to be home and grateful for a wonderful vacation. What's more, I've got the happiest event to anticipate and erase these little bumps in the road: my sweet, wonderful daughter is moving back to Houston! She'll be here in the next 2 weeks and I can't wait to kiss her face and give her one of those pick-up hugs.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

writing, woodworking, wishing

Ernest Hemingway about his writing:

I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, 'Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.'

—Ernest Hemingway, quoted on today's Writer's Almanac

This for me and for my dear Eric.

I've also been reading, in between the house-fixing. And traveling. And breaking bread with my beloved family and friends. I can't write about that now because as I left my son yesterday at the Portland airport, I realized that the only thing I could concentrate on to prevent the tears I'd like to keep so neatly contained was ripping wood on my table saw. Thinking about that methodical and dangerous process edges out the grief. Funny that.

But real grief is losing those you love...this to keep perspective.

I miss him. Dearly. But seeing him again is as dependable as my reality. I will wake tomorrow, in all likelihood, and I will embrace my son and laugh with him again some day, as well.

Monday, July 19, 2010

all good things

I wrote to a friend:

The last full day of vacation tempts some people to begin mourning the inevitable end. But vacation time is too short to waste a single minute whining about going back to one's "regular" life. Besides, one should love great swaths of one's "regular" life and not hate to return to it.
But still. I have waited to see my firstborn again these 18 months and am hard-pressed to keep every seam of my resolve sealed against sorrow. It leaks in a bit.

In my inner dictionary, his face illustrates the definition of joy.

Friday, July 16, 2010

if it's friday this must be eugene

There are few things more wonderful than being transported from a hot, muggy Houston summer into a lovely, temperate Eugene summer.

But one of those things is getting to spend time with my boy. I am delighted to be here.

Monday, July 05, 2010

not quite a collage of vocabulary mishaps

A client once asked me to take a bunch of photos and make a camouflage out of them. I tried to explain that I was so good at what I did that she wouldn't be able to see anything when I was done.

Not three months later another client asked me to make a decoupage of several pictures.

I am intrigued by a collage of décolletage, however.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

i would trade perfection for flavor


byErica Jong

Italians know
how to call a fig
a fig: fica.
Mandolin-shaped fruit,
feminine as seeds,
amber or green
and bearing large leaves
to clothe our nakedness.

I believe it was
not an apple but a fig
Lucifer gave Eve,
knowing she would find
a fellow feeling
in this female fruit

and knowing also
that Adam would
lose himself
in the fig's fertile heart
whatever the price—

God's wrath, expulsion
angry angels
pointing with swords
to a world of woe.

One bite into
a ripe fig
is worth worlds
and worlds and worlds
beyond the green
of Eden.

from today's Writer's Almanac

Wednesday, June 02, 2010


I stumbled upon this interesting series of interviews with narcoleptics in the New York Times. I don't think about being a narcoleptic much. Since finding medication to alleviate most of the sleepiness my life is so much more manageable.

It's a weird disorder and kind of funny. Not as funny untreated, though. Untreated it's a ball and chain.

Thursday, May 06, 2010


Walked past one of our security guards a few minutes ago and said hello. She responded, "It's National Prayer Day. Don't forget to pray!"

If I were really as mean as I'd like people to think, I'd have told her, "And May is National Masturbation Month. Don't forget to masturbate!"

Saturday, April 03, 2010

in which i break up with atk

This is personal and filled with drama...I broke up with America's Test Kitchen! In an email, no less (they won't take my calls):

For years, I've been damn-near evangelical in my love for Cooks Illustrated and America's Test Kitchen. I receive your publication and I own your cookbooks. While perusing recipes with a friend (who pays for web membership) we hit a recipe that was blurred out and reserved for "Editor's Choice" memberships only.

...I've had it with premium memberships, elite memberships and all the other marketing crap that striates and monetizes every level of information and makes everything into a goddamn tollroad. I am heartbroken to say this, but I'm done. I'll go elsewhere for recipes from now on.
Seriously, I'm bummed. But a girl has to set some boundaries.

*see shameful update

happy easter to my peeps

To all you believers out there, enjoy your chocolate-covered resurrection celebration tomorrow.

Today, however, take comfort in the words of the great philosopher, Miracle Max:
See, there's a big difference between mostly dead, and all dead.
—Miracle Max

magic mouse?

They call it the magic mouse. I didn't know this when it came with packaged with my new iMac at work. See the smooth top surface? No buttons, just touch control. Not unlike the surface of an iPhone, I assume, but I don't know if it's the same technology. Something about the magic makes me less inclined to research.

Of course it's wireless, so when IT dude asked me if I wanted to keep it or get a "regular" mouse, I said I'd try this one. More because I dislike cabled mice so much I bought a wireless one for work on my own dime. Or my own $10, which was how ridiculously cheap wireless mice are these days.
Excluding this magic one, which is not so cheap.

Okay. So why a post about the humble and innocuous mouse? Because it triggered a phenomena that I hadn't expected nor experienced before.

20 years of mouse technology has seen dozens of changes that seemed significant to me. The addition of scroll bars. The transition from little wheels and balls (chock full of desktop bellybutton lint) for motion to laser sensors. And of course, wirelessness.

Some failures (for me) were Apple's first round mouse that looked cute but required visual "righting" because you couldn't tell quickly, by feel, which curve was the top. And the trackball: a large ball inserted into a stationary mouse–which some folks loved but not me. I draw with my hand and wrist in a movement that I couldn't quite transfer to just my fingertips. There's also the Wacom-style pads and styluses, which my coworker swears by. The tablet seems quite intuitive but I never have felt quite as comfortable with it.

All these things were nice little adjustments that happened over time and made computer life a little more pleasant. I played with the pristine little lozenge and thought its low profile might be a problem. It wasn't.

Here's the amazing thing: the touch movement, scrolling and clicking were so...intuitive I was unaware how quickly I'd adjusted. Within days, I was at home with my now Flintstone-like block-o-plastic mouse and realized I was dragging my finger over the completely non-responsive surface* of a mouse I'd used for years.

In less than one week, my decades-long training on clicking and scroll bar use was seamlessly supplanted. That is creepy and amazing. I hadn't personally experienced technological evolution at this speed before. If mice were a species [yes, I'm chuckling] this one would be the genetic super mouse that adapts as its ancestors die off. That is, if it wasn't priced $50-$60 in a market where you can get a decent wireless mouse for $10-$15.

The only drawback is that it's so sensitive that sometimes I'll be working in a palette window of one of my programs, adjusting an image size or line width. Then, I'll move the mouse to my main window when suddenly the 25% adjustment that I chose is racing up to 90% because the cursor was still active in the little field. It interpreted my innocent move as a command to scroll the numbers up.

The other surreal behavior is that when my fingers are just hovering over the top, Magic Mouse thinks I'm just asking for something very quietly and complies. Like a Ouija board planchette, it sometimes moves things around without my participation.

See? It really is a magic mouse.

*Like whispering at a rock concert, nothing is communicated.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

in response

When you delete an email in Gmail, the following phrase appears in highlighter yellow:

This conversation has been moved to the Trash.
Just thought this might be helpful when walking away from rabid teabaggers.

a little something while you wait

It's an age-old quandary, well, since the age of written communication anyway: writing takes time and energy. It is the living part of my (godhelpme) facebook status: The minutiae of sustenance is the getting in the way of living. Conversely, depression drives many of us to write, which is often therapeutic but not often conducive to good writing. There are exceptions, of course, but I am not one of them.

So while I toil with the turmoil and wrangle with the tangle, enjoy this.

This poem from today's Writer's Almanac picked my spirits up:

Naming My Daughter

by Patricia Fargnoli

In the Uruba tribe of Africa, children are named not only at birth but throughout their lives by their characteristics and the events that befall them.

The one who took hold in the cold night
The one who kicked loudly
The one who slid down quickly in the ice storm
She who came while the doctor was eating dessert
New one held up by heels in the glare
The river between two brothers
Second pot on the stove
Princess of a hundred dolls
Hair like water falling beneath moonlight
Strides into the day
She who runs away with motorcycle club president
Daughter kicked with a boot
Daughter blizzard in the sky
Daughter night-pocket
She who sells sports club memberships
One who loves over and over
She who wants child but lost one.
She who wants marriage but has none
She who never gives up
Diana (Goddess of the Chase)
Doris (for the carrot-top grandmother
she never knew)
Fargnoli (for the father
who drank and left and died)
Peter Pan, Iron Pumper
Tumbleweed who goes months without calling
Daughter who is a pillar of light
Daughter mirror, Daughter stands alone
Daughter boomerang who always comes back
Daughter who flies forward into the day
where I will be nameless.

Monday, March 01, 2010

chatty cathy

It is difficult to tease out whether this is just the upper half of my normal loquacious cycle or the result of the quarterly switch-over of sleep-disorder meds. I'm leaning towards the latter. Why? Because then it's not some cracked-out aspect of my's just the speed.

However charming or witty or urbane I may have been today, I wish I could just shut-the-hell-up because I'm a exhausted with sound of my brain churning out thoughts and my mouth trying to keep up with the deluge.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

playing with my food

Nudging other projects aside (momentarily), I made a cake for my coworker last week. It was his 30th birthday and he shares the date with my son who is exactly 1 year older. So he benefited from transference as I poured some missing-my-boy energy into the celebration.

Mike is nuts about cars and drifting, so I made a three-layer cake to match his a smaller way*:

Still, it's a large cake pan (14" diam) and I ended up tripling the yellow cake recipe (the equivalent of 6-8" layer cakes) because we have a lot of people in our department...and the proportions worked better.

I made the rim template in Illustrator from his photos. I iced the whole cake in the chocolate frosting, laid the template on top and used a toothpick to make the outline. Then, I took some regular butter cream frosting and using my little cake decorating set, drew the outline and then filled it.

The chocolate frosting and yellow cake recipes are from Cook's Illustrated. The frosting uses dutch-processed cocoa (couldn't find Callebaut so I used Droste) and melted chocolate (I used Lindt milk chocolate) and copious amounts of butter as well as confectioners sugar and corn syrup. Seriously, I'll never use another chocolate frosting recipe if I can help it. The taste and texture are decadent.

We also filled his cube with balloons and shrink-wrapped that fucker. I thoroughly enjoy these significant birthdays. Maybe it's the lack of religion with all its ritual that I've supplanted with secular celebrations. Whatever it is, it's fun.

*A word about photographs. I really don't like stopping and taking pictures of my work...all consumed with process as I am and (in this case) sticky hands. Whenever I'm working on something, my dear Barbara will come around like project paparazzi to document. I usually grumble because it means I have to stop, clean off some surfaces and generally fuss about it's not-quite-doneness. Then, when everything is done (in this case--eaten) I am so grateful she took some photos. We've repeated this cycle for over 23 years so you'd think I'd stop grumbling. Let me make this completely clear: she's completely right on this one and I'm so wrong. Thank you, dear woman!

painless steak?

An Op-Ed piece from the New York Times this past week by Adam Shriver (a doctoral student at my daughter's alma mater, Washington University)...that unsettles me.

The problem:

Veal calves and gestating sows are so confined as to suffer painful bone and joint problems. The unnatural high-grain diets provided in feedlots cause severe gastric distress in many animals. And faulty or improperly used stun guns cause the painful deaths of thousands of cows and pigs a year.

The premise:

We are most likely stuck with factory farms, given that they produce most of the beef and pork Americans consume. But it is still possible to reduce the animals’ discomfort — through neuroscience. Recent advances suggest it may soon be possible to genetically engineer livestock so that they suffer much less.
A solution:

This prospect stems from a new understanding of how mammals sense pain. The brain, it turns out, has two separate pathways for perceiving pain: a sensory pathway that registers its location, quality (sharp, dull or burning, for example) and intensity, and a so-called affective pathway that senses the pain’s unpleasantness. This second pathway appears to be associated with activation of the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex, because people who have suffered damage to this part of the brain still feel pain but no longer find it unpleasant. (The same is true of people who are given morphine, because there are more receptors for opiates in the affective pain pathway than in the sensory pain pathway.)

Neuroscientists have found that by damaging a laboratory rat’s anterior cingulate cortex, or by injecting the rat with morphine, they can likewise block its affective perception of pain.
The article concludes:
If we cannot avoid factory farms altogether, the least we can do is eliminate the unpleasantness of pain in the animals that must live and die on them. It would be far better than doing nothing at all.
I understand that blocking pain in terminal patients is a humane thing to do. After all, what is the point of denying relief for that kind of suffering in hospice? And Mr. Shriver's conclusion makes some sense, if we can't change the format, at least reduce the suffering...justified by it's better than doing nothing, right?

What needles me about this approach to animal suffering is the message it sends to sloppy humans: You can kill your food without "humanity" once the animal is anesthetized from pain. So, don't worry about the abysmal conditions, digestive and dietary damage inflicted. And don't worry about half-assed stun gun performance--the creature has its pain center "interpreters" turned off--you're guilt free. It is fundamentally and philosophically so full of holes that it makes me queasy.

Wouldn't it be better to put some of that energy into finding solutions for the cruel conditions, rather than research ways to pull a pleasant curtain in front the cruelty? Aside: what happens when animals don't react to pain? Will their keepers have no clue to serious illness or injury because the animals don't low or squeal?

I'm going to talk my steak-loving self right into vegetarianism at this rate. Fuck.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


Definition of insanity:
Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

This is the suicide note my nephew left on the white board in his room before he killed himself yesterday. (The saying is attributed to Albert Einstein...for whatever sad irony that is worth.)

He'd been plagued by a number of physical illnesses, the worst of which was Crohn's disease. The terrible pain overlapping the depression overlapping the prospect of more pain proved too overwhelming for him to bear.

I grieve for him. I grieve for his parents, burying their 30-year old son. I grieve for his grandmother, with whom he lived for the past few years and mourn the end of their gentle symbiotic relationship. He helped her do the things around the house and yard that even the hardiest (and she is) 84-year old can no longer do alone. She made sure his ravaged digestive system got the healthiest food possible and provided him a place to rest and heal. In her hard life, she buried an infant son, a 21-year old daughter and her 46-year old eldest son, my children's father. Her own husband died suddenly at 50. And now this dear grandson killed himself in the basement room where he lived in her house.* She is stoic and staunch in her religion but this must shake her world.

And my heart breaks for my children. Lars was born less than six weeks after my son. He was his closest cousin; when I spoke to my son last week, he was worried about his cousin's health. The friendship between Lars and my daughter has been a wonderful thing to watch blossom as they've become adults.

And now he's gone and so is his pain. And that's the only cliché that gives me any comfort right now.

*As it turns out, he did not die in her home but in his car.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


In many ways I consider myself a skeptical liberal. 15 years in the clutches of religious fanaticism left me with a bad taste in my mouth for extreme following. Whenever I feel like I'm asked to muffle logic and intuition in order to be part of a group, I start backing towards the door.

Because of that, I've never felt like a single-issue voter. We are all multifaceted. I am not just a feminist voter, queer voter, urban voter, racial minority voter, etc. Weighing the economy with social progress sometimes means delaying one or the other. These are difficult decisions. (I choose not to be a politician because these issues are messy and exhausting...and I've lost some enthusiasm for/optimism in the political process. Mostly, I'm just fucking tired.)

In a microcosm, we make these decisions all the time. Can I pay down my debt this month or fix the transmission or get that root canal? Do I save money for my child's college tuition or do I pay for braces? And these are, in terms of survival (think: Haiti) very luxurious options. But they illustrate the age-old struggle of deciding which desired goods can be obtained with limited resources. More significantly, which cannot be obtained. So Taxes, the Economy, Jobs, Government Programs, Helping the Poor and Social Policy are not party-line black and white in my mind.

Recently a few things have set my non-single-issue stance on its moderate ear.

Exhibit 1
A couple of weeks ago a transgendered woman, Myra Ical, was murdered in Houston and her body dumped. The Houston Police Department sent the story to the media in a way that makes me want to wring my hands and somebody's neck. The Chronicle's initial story: (subsequent stories were more respectful after the community outrage that prompted a vigil/protest)

Police are trying to determine why a man was killed and left half-naked in a field known to police as a hangout for prostitutes and drug users near the Montrose area.

Ruben Dario Ical, 51, of Houston, who also went by the name of Myra Chanel Ical, was found dead in the 4300 block of Garrott about 2 p.m. Jan. 10, police said.

He had numerous bruises and defensive wounds, as if he had struggled against his attacker. He was partially clothed.

Police said that the area where Ical's body was discovered is a well-known spot where homeless people camp and is frequented by prostitutes and drug users.

First of all, jesusfuckingchrist, it's an established practice to refer to a transgendered person by the gender with which they identify themselves. You can say, if necessary, that she was also known by her birth name but show minimal respect, assholes.

To compound that crime, they associated her death with the place where she was dumped, a "well-known spot where homeless people camp and is frequented by prostitutes and drug users." Well, shit. It's hard enough to get people to care about another death in a big city. Not to mention a transgendered person's death. Then, compound the insensitivity by insinuating that she was a prostitute/drug user and you know what happens? Nothing. NOTHING. Because people can tuck the tragedy away as just the loss of another one of society's undesirables. Not a lovely, caring woman who fought like hell not to die.

Exhibit 2
Like many of you, I am both fascinated and annoyed by Facebook. Often at the same time. But the one way in which I must give the phenomena its due is the reconnection with far flung family members. Cousins, to be specific. I'm now aware of their children going to college, their homes being renovated and holidays shared...all with cousins that I haven't seen or talked to in years. And that my fellow-jaded readers is fanfuckingtastic.

Here is a partial exchange between my wonderful cousin, one of his commenters and me:
Posted by my cousin:
"A man and a woman together create a family where individuals of the same gender cannot create a family," said NH state rep. Jordan's Ulery. (AP) Seriously?

Friend of the cousin;
Why is it that a man cannot have an opinion? Just because we may not agree with it doesn't mean our opinion isn't as valid as his...Opinions do not threaten anything if you don't get offended. If Mr. Ulery said fat people cannot create a family, I wouldn't be offended. It's his opinion, my human rights would be affected? Seriously?

Opinions cannot threaten anything unless they get enacted into law or are used to prevent one group from having equal rights...Ah, there's the rub. Ulery's completely in his rights to have an opinion. And so is anyone else protesting that their human rights ARE affected if, as a lawmaker, he works to codify that opinion.
Now, I'm not trying to pick on my cousin's friend. She is probably a lovely person and perhaps just playing devil's advocate. Besides her simile is weak and an easy target. But since she gives voice to the opinions of so many people, I felt the need to jump in.

You'd better believe that if anyone (in politics or not) advocated that "fat people" could not create families, it would produce a ground-shaking response from our overly-sated population taking to the streets. And as absurd as it sounds, if that notion moved towards law there would, and should, be an uproar. This particular discrimination, however, is not a real threat to the full-figured. (They deal with plenty of other irritating types of discrimination, though. And I'm not just Speaker for the Extra-Larges, I'm also a client.)

The point is, of course, that when a lawmaker says, this group...this group of "others" is not to be given credibility, respect or protection, his "opinion" can morph into legislation that discriminates. And that, my queer and non-queer friends, pisses me off.

Exhibit 3
In his State of the Union, Obama looked into the surly faces of the military brass and said, Don't Ask, Don't Tell is going away. High fucking time. Is there anyone out there that doesn't understand the logical and constitutional cluster-fuck that is DADT? That's rhetorical, obviously there are hordes of ignorami.

If I said, You can stand in front of me, protect me and even take a bullet for me but you can't tell anyone you're a Christian, most people would sprain their middle finger tendon shooting me the bird. And rightly so.

But we, as a nation, have no problem saying to thousands of soldiers, Look, you can sacrifice your life for your country but you'll need to offer that priceless gift in silence. If you want to Die for Us, you gotta Lie to Us.

End of the Exhibits
No, it actually wasn't these three experiences that pushed me here. They were the proverbial straws.

So here it is: if you vote against same-sex rights, you vote against me.

I may love you as family or friend but now (and always) it's personal. And I'm not proposing that friendship with me is the brass ring. I don't expect want of my friendship to topple organizations or cause wholesale apostasy (though, that would be sweet, wouldn't it?) I'm just saying that I view friendship as powerful and rare, each person's gift to give or not to give. I'm no longer giving on this one. This, by the way, is how I feel about racial bigotry and all the other ignorant attitudes used to discriminate against anyone swimming outside the mainstream.

You can no longer count me as your friend if you are an active part of a
  • church,
  • party,
  • civic association or
  • club, etc.
that works to deny me
  • the right to marry my partner of 23 years,
  • the right to teach outside the closet,
  • the right to serve my country openly,
  • the opportunity to foster or adopt children,
  • Social Security benefits if I lose my spouse,
  • spousal rights in hospitals and emergency rooms,
  • the right to raise my children without fear of losing custody of them,
  • general legal equity as an openly queer citizen,
  • etc., ad nauseum
and you quietly acquiesce.

The government demands and receives my taxes. Civic organizations appreciate my patronage. My community expects me to fulfill neighborhood obligations. Charitable and political groups ask for donations of time and money. And then I'm told: but you don't get to have the same rights. Enough. It is political and it is personal. This is my life and if you love me, you will not silently condone this bigotry in your church or party or organization or community or family and get to call me friend.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

wtf scotus?

“The rule announced today — that Congress must treat corporations exactly like human speakers in the political realm — represents a radical change in the law,” he said from the bench. “The court’s decision is at war with the views of generations of Americans.”

“While American democracy is imperfect,” he wrote, “few outside the majority of this court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”
Justice John Paul Stevens
via The New York Times

Sunday, January 24, 2010

sports and the athletically unsupported

As the non-sportly half of a relationship with a woman who loves sports (and was herself an incredible athlete) I find myself musing about sports more than I'd expected. Ever.

To be sure, my interests are tangential. I am interested in team logos and colors (Rockets and Texans: nice; Astros: meh). I am fascinated by expressions and chants (Good eye! Good eye!). I am curious about superstition and it's manifestations (You don't wash your socks during a streak? You velcro and unvelcro your glove three times before every swing? You draw a smiley face on your away game cup?). I like to mock the interviews (see Bull Durham: "We gotta play it one day at a time."). Being a wordaholic, I mostly like to see if where the team lives has anything to do with it's name.

The Minnesota team is called The Vikings. All those Scandinavian-descended mid-westerners rightly picked a name from Nordic history. (Although "Vikings" is rather showy and aggressive for such a unfussy people, eh?) Then there's the Miami Dolphins, San Francisco Forty-Niners, New England Patriots...all clearly symbolic and geographically-rooted. I particularly like the Baltimore Ravens (shout out to my man and opium-hound, E.A. Poe) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Argh). H-Town, of course, has it's NASA/space-flavored team names: Astros, Rockets and the sadly defunct WNBA Comets.

When a team is usurped, bought or flees to another town, I think they ought to create a new name. Like the witness-protection program: start a new life, new branding, new location, new name.

When the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to L.A. (and broke my sweet mother's heart, you bastards) they kept the Dodgers part. This from Wikipedia:

"By 1890 New Yorkers (Brooklyn was a separate city until it became a borough in 1898) routinely called anyone from Brooklyn a 'trolley dodger'..."
Which is a lovely bit of local history that produced a name. However, since Dodge(r) is a word that has multiple meanings and connotations (Artful Dodger, Draft Dodger, Dodge baller, Dodge vehicles are craptastic, etc.,) I suppose it was more adaptable to the California move than some other names.

When the Houston Oilers (lousy logo, pukey colors but understandable nomenclature) moved to Appalachia, it seemed right that they became the Tennessee Titans...well, the alliteration works anyway. (I'm not sure being named after the Giants who spawned the Greek Gods isn't setting yourself up for some disappointing comparisons. But it's SO much better than the Tennessee Oilers, which just conjures up the image of Jed 'n Jethro gnawing on greasy possum fritters.)

When the basketball team from New Orleans named themselves The Jazz, I thought, right on. Jazz is an American concoction with a bluesy heart and lyrical playfulness. New Orleans Jazz is unique from St. Louis Jazz is unique from Chicago Jazz, etc., so great name! Then, they were jettisoned out of Louisiana to Utah. Utah. Where innovative, experimental and cutting edge land with a dull thud.
  • Utah is Scenic not Shimmying.
  • Utah is LDS not LSD. (A stretch but do you have any idea how long I've waited to say this?)
  • Utah is Hiking not Hip-Hop.
  • Utah is Mormon not Mardi Gras.
  • Utah is Casserole not Creole.
  • Utah is The Tabernacle Choir not The Jazz.
I could go on but I'll rein myself in here.
When the team became the Utah Jazz, a little part of me died.

And I can't stand basketball.

I just hate it more that two words standing next to each other in line are forced to hold hands when it's obvious they are not meant to be together.

As I overheard Barbara cheering the New Orleans Saints, it dawned on me–Hey, if the Saints moved to Utah, they wouldn't have to change their name at all.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Movie slacker that I am, I'm always tickled that I've seen any of the movie(s) being referenced.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

holiday handiwork

I went on a Linzer tarts kick over the holidays. They're one of my favorite cookies (and my inner adolescent giggles every time I say, "Ooo, I love eating tarts"). Here are a few of the piles of tarts we made over Christmas and New Years:

I found this great Linzer tart recipe on The cookies are basically shortbread (read: butter, egg, brown sugar and just enough flour to hold it all together) but this recipe replaced some of the flour with ground roasted hazelnuts. And there's no way that won't make everything in your life better. Sandwiched between the not-too-sweet cookies I spooned some Trappist jam:

Trappist Preserves are god-damned awesome. The are really made by monks at St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. Trappist Monks also make incredible beer, I understand. (If the Catholic church wants some PR spin away from the pedophiles, just shine a big ol' spotlight on the Jam & Ale Brothers.) I bought mine at mega-wonderful Specs in downtown Houston. I tried raspberry, apricot and blackberry preserves. The raspberry, to my tastes, was the best. Blackberry a close second. The apricot jam was phenomenal but a little too mild for the cookies. The finishing touch is a fine sprinkling of powdered sugar on top.

While I was trawling for cookie recipes, I stumbled upon these handtool-shaped cookie cutters:

Sold by The Cookie Cutter Shop, I ordered them so fast my mouse got dizzy.

Which led to additional batches and these cunning "tool tarts" which I took to my dear design guys and friends at work:
The pliers (see cookie cutter image above) shape turned out to be too breakable-none of them made it to this stage intact (maybe better with a less shortbread-type recipe) and as you see, the screwdriver needed to be handled carefully. All that aside, these were mighty tasty and fun to present.

Out of the kitchen and into, living room. Many years ago friends (real lesbians with horses) gave me a bunch of leftover washable wool they'd used to make horse blankets (see?). In addition to fashioning a Wuthering-Heights-worthy hooded cape from it for my daughter years ago, I created this tree skirt:

For those of you who don't know my love of all things associated with tools, I made the pattern to match a circular saw blade (Is this a fucking big blade, or what?):

It took me forever to get around to making this simple skirt. Now that it's done, I've decided that every year I want to add some small embellishment. Two years ago, I blanket-stitched the edges for contrast and to help keep the skirt from getting distorted over time.

I used black felt that I had for backing and that was not a great choice as it tends to shed. I figure if I continue to embroider the skirt, it will help contain the backing as well as decorate the top.

This year, I added metal eyelets to each point and satin-stitch-covered them in different colors:

I have always been terrible about documenting my projects–I'm just not comfortable with photography. However, I've been inspired by my friend Kim, who is crazy-creative and a damn good photographer and her husband (my coworker) Gary, who explained that the little flower symbol on my digital camera was as close to a macro lens as I was going to get (thank you, hombre!). So, here. Proof Examples of what I did on my Christmas vacation, with very little Photoshop cleanup needed.

Monday, January 11, 2010

happy palindrome day! !yad emordnilap yppah

Today's date is 01.11.10, for all you binary & palindrome lovers. I know this one doesn't have the cachet of 01022010 but this is the one I caught.

Enitatine (Like Ovaltine, only saltier)

Friday, January 08, 2010

drinking from the firehose

There's this: The Ragbag (thank you, Risa)
And this: Sarah Belfort
And deargods, this: Song and Stamp
And then, this:

(thank you Dave)

If I live a thousand years, I could never get enough of it all. Words and making stuff and food and design and music and art and hula-hooping Jesi.

There's a tsunami of wonder out there on the interwebs.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

her hrc, really?

I've been bitching for years that the HRC (Human Rights Campaign, an national organization fighting for queer rights) has been dominated by wealthy, tux-owning gay men who liked to go to and throw black-tie fundraisers.

Sure, they've raised good money and I figured that even their male-centric efforts helped all queer people to some degree. Every time I received an invite to a $200/plate dinner, I just tossed it. Like we'd drop $400 for a meal, however good the cause.

Well, times are hard. And even the HRC has to broaden its donor base and reach out to the lesbians down here on the ground. I just received this invitation to "Her HRC; A National Night of Celebration for Women." Okay. That's not bad AND they managed to price it for almost everybody: $10.

Now Joe Solomonese (president of HRC) pissed off a lot of people recently with his Democrat bootlicking and lack of criticism of the Obama administration's disappointing inaction on GLBT issues. Yet even in that light, Her HRC seems like a decent gesture.

So, I'm looking at the invite and see that it's sponsored by Tylenol. Tylenol? Oh. It's a woman's event. With women and their womanly parts. And pains. So Tylenol. Sure. The predominant message here is that we need pain relief. That's refreshing.

Then, at the bottom is a plug for a Buying for Equality iPhone starts out with

"Shopping before the event?"


I am well aware that not all lesbians/bisexual women consider khakis their dress-up clothes. Not all lesbians wear ball caps and big ol' plaid shirts. Hell, many of us are not even allergic to nail polish and pumps. But if you are addressing a large group of (large-ish) women who largely do not partake of the girlie-defined world o' shopping, perhaps leading with the next line would be a little less ridiculous "Now you can find companies and products that support equality..."

Shopping before the event

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

my blog's saint's day

Here we are again. Celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany or, as I like to call it, Epiphenita Day.

Here is your feast from my new favorite food photo site,

Black bean chili with butter-roasted pumpkin
jessieschmeckts via

I think I need a macro lens. I want to photograph everything this close and clear. God (or something) is in the details, my friends.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

matter is neither created nor destroyed. i know this.

Spent the day cooking. Not because it's the New Year. No, it's just because I want to work on some projects and I find that cooking every other day sucks up more energy than I wish it did. That said, I'm pretty committed to eating healthy so don't want to start throwing fast meals together because that usually means the nutrition part gets haphazard.

Okay, so I cooked like a demon. All told, I think I've got almost three weeks of meals frozen. Chili, Senate bean soup (that's really what the recipe is called--it's just a ham bone, white northern beans, carrots, onions, garlic, etc.), arroz con pollo y frijoles negros, and corned beef, cabbage and potatoes. The corned beef I didn't freeze because the potatoes get all gross mealy.

Now the reason I'm telling you all this is not just to brag like a self-righteous pioneer. No, I want to talk about weird physics. Stay with me, this shouldn't take long. Okay, sometimes I drive to work in the morning and at the end of the day I get in my car and find I need to adjust the seat. I'm relatively sure I haven't shrunk over the day but I can't figure out how my legs felt comfortable reaching the pedals at 7am but suddenly need to be closer at 5pm.

The corned beef recipe called for 2 teaspoons of peppercorns. This went into a large dutch oven. Two teaspoons is not really that much when it's swimming in a gallon of broth. When I took the corned beef out and dumped the cabbage and potatoes into the hot broth to cook, I didn't add any more seasonings. When everything was cooked and cooled I moved the cabbage and potatoes into two casserole dishes and combined them with the corned beef.

I like the flavor of pepper and cloves and bay leaves. I'm just not interested in biting into any of them. So I started removing them from the dish. Bay leaves and cloves accounted for and plucked out. Here's the weird physics: I am pulling out peppercorns and they just keep coming. Like clowns out of a VW. Like rabbits out of cages. I am looking at a pile of peppercorns that is way greater than the amount I measured into the pot. Where did they all come from? Fucking peppercorns.