Thursday, October 06, 2011

squiddy transformed

Any question why we nicknamed it Squiddy?
Last Saturday marked one year since Barbara concluded her radiation therapy, so October 1st has become her cancer-free anniversary. I took her "Mammosite" (radiation device we affectionately named "Squiddy") and turned it into a bouquet to mark the occasion.

Some of you may find this gross, I know. Therein lies one difference between us. The technology and materials of medical procedures are endlessly fascinating to me and the fact that it was once inside her body (doing important work, I might add) only makes it more fascinating.

Some people beat weapons into plough shares,
I choose to transform medical devices into nosegays.
Besides, she loved the transformation. Before she even knew that it was Squiddy in disguise, seeing the small vase of her favorite color (purple) flowers brought tears to her eyes.

The fear of losing her remains an undercurrent so powerful that it (uncharacteristically) moves me to suppression. No desire to delve into the murky depth of my soul, no need to analyze and dissect. I don't live my life in constant angst but whenever I think of that time it's as if I'm teetering at the opening of Jonah's whale. I am sure I don't adequately express to her the depth of my relief at her presence. Every day.

Squiddy served us well, and deserves to be decorated.

spilled milk

Spilled Milk

by Willa Schneberg
I can still hear the clink
of the milk bottles he brought home
10:00 in the morning after he made
his deliveries for Bordens.
Thirty-five years, they never
gave him off a Jewish holiday.
The goy he asked to do his shift
on Yom Kippur refused and
the next day he dropped dead.
They called it a Jewish curse.
Then they stepped all over each other
to work for him.

What could I do after his stroke?
I put him in a nursing home.
He knows me, but can't talk anymore.
Fifty years we lived together
he would never weep in front of me.
Now all the time his eyes are tearing,
but there is no more Morris to cry.

Lovemaking wasn't so easy between us
in the early years. We both felt guilty.
We thought we weren't supposed to enjoy
it and I was always worried
about becoming pregnant.
Later on we worried the children would hear.
But after they grew up and moved out
and I couldn't bear anymore
we began to have fun.
It wasn't always before going to sleep either.
Sometimes during breakfast
he would say, Let's go
and roll his eyes up to the bedroom.
Luba, he would say, I'll help you
take out the hairpins
Listen to Garrison Keillor read this lovely poem here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

back from the lands

We're back from our trip to the Lands (Eng-, Fin-, Ire-) and like all great holidays away, we're so happy to be back home. Enjoyed a tour of Cambridge, had tea and scones at Grantchester (communing with the spirit of Virginia Woolf) and saw the cathedral and stained glass museum in Ely (pronounced EEL-ee). I have long loved academia. The whole dedication to learning and subsequent freedom from poverty (in my family's history) has been a strong influence in my life.

Beautiful Cambridge University...but you are not allowed to walk on the grass, grasshopper, unless you wear the robe of a professor.
But lately I've begun to rethink the manner in which we revere academics. The system of measurement is effective in many ways but in many ways it devalues much of what makes wisdom so profound. I was surprised to find the atmosphere and history of Cambridge off-putting.

Stained glass panel in the Ely Cathedral
All that glorified hierarchy is reminiscent of every type of class stratification. Only the Fellows (professors) can walk on the lawn, plum dorm assignments are based on academic performance and many wear their robes to class. Perhaps I am just freeing myself from...or widening my view of the value I placed on being a scholar nerd. I still love learning and history and words. I'm just less impressed by the way we measure such things.

All told, the close of such an adventure is bittersweet. Every place had its own smell and taste and beauty and contradiction. The 360 degree sounds of foreign languages is disorienting and delightful. The sound of English spoken with so many accents was wonderful too. The ability to do all this in my current unemployed state and bring Barbara's mother along as well makes me grateful for the material comforts I have in my life. Traveling with your mother-in-law can be trying (for her more than me, I suspect) but her joy and satisfaction with seeing these faraway lands will put a smile on my face for many years.

...Not to mention the way traveling makes you feel about home. I have many issues with our nation and its politics but love for country (and Houston, Texas in general) is strengthened, not weakened, by seeing other places. Mostly, I am grateful to Barbara. This was our 25th anniversary celebration (our anniversary is technically next month but I don't fancy Northern European temperatures in late October/early November!) and our 5th trip to Europe in 15 years...and we had such a great time. Being able to talk through the stress and share the joy of whatever we're doing is such a boon. I never tire of adventuring with her!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

póg mo thóin said the sheep

We've spent 4 days and 3 nights in Ireland. We stayed in Dublin, Killarney and Galway. It's absolutely beautiful. And though generalizations about cultures are full of logical fallacies, the Irish have been markedly friendly and funny. You can find tons of gorgeous photos online about Ireland but Barbara snapped this rather unusual one:

The sheep seemed put out.
The Ring of Kerry tour in Killarney included a demonstration of shepherding by a heavily brogued shepherd, two incredibly well-trained border collies (Bess and Sam, as I recall) and a bunch of long-suffering sheep. It was very impressive.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

trade winds and trade offs

Quickly now, before travel exhaustion takes over and I start to slur my blog words. I haven't seen enough museums or artisans but our days have been filled with beautiful weather and great views. We leave for Dublin in the early hours tomorrow so I'm off to bed now.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

vacation reminder

from today's Writer's Almanac

The Word

by Tony Hoagland

Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,

between "green thread"
and "broccoli," you find
that you have penciled "sunlight."

Resting on the page, the word
is beautiful. It touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent from someplace distant
as this morning—to cheer you up,

and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing

that also needs accomplishing.
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds

of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder

or a safe spare tire?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue,

but today you get a telegram
from the heart in exile,
proclaiming that the kingdom

still exists,
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,

—to any one among them
who can find the time
to sit out in the sun and listen.

land of the vowels

Happy 9.10.11! It is Saturday and we're in Helsinki. Days get folded into one another when you're on vacation. It feels like Friday or Sunday or Thursday...

Billy Elliot marquee in front of the Victoria Palace Theatre.
We left the U.S. on Tuesday evening and spent the night/next day traveling, an evening in Cambridge with our dear friends Rich and Christy and their son Matthew, then a full day and night in London. We road in the top of a double-decker bus and toured London for a couple of hours (descriptive), saw Billy Elliot (delightful) and sat in a pub drinking beer and eating fish & chips (delicious).

Yesterday we flew to Finland. Helsinki is a great city. Beautifully designed, fairly easy to get around on bike or tram or on foot. The only challenge is deciphering street names that are so chock-full of vowels you barely figure out the word before the tram is at the next stop.

All in all, the weather has been amazing. In the 60's during the day, 50's at night. In London there was a bit of drizzle but mostly it was dry. Helsinki is sunny and unusually warm for this time of year.

Iida with her fashion-forward hat and sweet face.
Since I am (voluntarily) Julie, Cruise Director, it has been hard not to be "on" at all times. That and short nights of sleep have left me little time to write or pause.

So, off for a short walk and perhaps a little reading for me tonight. I am happy for an activity-free evening.

Tomorrow we join our dear Maria, her husband Janne (/YON-uh/) and their beautiful daughter Iida (/EE-duh/) for a walk around the market and some dinner at their house.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

a-gaelically we go

We are about to embark on our 25th anniversary holiday (I'd say vacation but we're going to the UK, so holiday it is) to Cambridge, London, Bath, Dublin, Killarney, Galway and, for one lovely long weekend, Helsinki to visit our host daughter Maria, Janne and their daughter Iida (whose name I will be able to pronounce better at the end of our visit). My dear mother-in-law will be traveling with us. Her excitement (she's never left this country...or even the South, for that matter) is infectious--places we've been will be new because we'll be sharing them with her. So the undercurrent of excitement and fretfulness this Labor Day weekend is underway. Preparations and anticipation. One of my goals is to see as many local artisan, fiber, wood, pottery, etc. places as possible. I've been searching, mapping and plotting all morning.

I am bringing my trusty laptop. If I am not too wiped out, I plan on chronicling a few days of our adventure, particularly in Ireland where we've never been before. Stay tuned...

Oh, and by the way, last weekend I participated in a Landmark Forum. It's a long story and not sure I'm willing to tell it all right here. My daughter invited me and it was an intense, irritating and profoundly transforming experience. I am dealing with my rejection of all things organized while I must admit much good came from it.

P.S. My favorite Gaelic phrase so far: Póg mo thóin! (pronunciation here, impossible to figure out from spelling) which means Kiss my ass! So easy to imitate, I'm sure I'll be tempted to use it. Inappropriately.

Monday, August 15, 2011

walking adventures; evolution


I reject the one-dimensional view of a beneficent Mother Nature. I prefer the balanced acceptance of Nature that leaves dew drops on roses AND drops houses on orphanages. Evolution is also one of my favorite amoral concepts. Natural selection has led us to opposable thumbs and walking upright. And continues to produce virulent strains of disease that morph and dart so rapidly we can't dodge them or develop protections fast enough.

(By the way, my body-focus-bored friends, this is the last of this subject for awhile. Stay with me.)

The exercise-sweat theme has recurred because all this steady exposure to the record-breaking heat outdoors has produced stunning results. Everybody should sweat. Our bodies have pores for this purpose. Else we would overheat and explode or just expire. But my cooling powers were getting downright awesome.

I used to be embarrassed. And that was back when I sweat pretty evenly over my body. It wasn't until I began, some years ago, to sweat from my head in such profusion (I wondered if something was awry) that I began to marvel rather than hide. I had an epiphenita that my body was going through it's own evolution because at my age, the most important item to cool down was mission control: mi cabeza, my thinking cap, me noggin'. Most everything else was wearing down but my head, well that was still running things and by god, it wasn't going to spontaneously combust while I still had salt water reserves.

People, it's amaze-ing. Like white water rapids and Iguazu falls for mosquitoes and gnats. Like water sluicing down a rainforest mountain. My daughter saw me with soaked bandanas around my neck and forehead and joked about what a good look it was on me. I told her that the only thing that would stem this tide would be a terrycloth ski mask.

And I am grateful. Furthermore, anyone who doesn't hesitate to hug me while I'm sweating is getting put into the will. Word.

Friday, August 05, 2011

rage ale

I'm driving down the freeway and I see a pickup in front of me with a spray painted plywood sign advertising Rage Ale. It's pretty DIY and the truck looks battered and it made me happy to know some low-budget brewery had been born and was making their dream come true.

Until I realized that they had just cut up a piece of plywood that had been used for a GaRage sAle.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

walking adventures; advice


When I was pregnant, I was amazed at how pregnancy (especially in New York, where I was living at the time) broke down social resistance to interacting with strangers. People would come up and talk to me as if they knew me. Most of the time it was sweet and well-intentioned. The flip side of dissolving this social barrier was the number of people who assumed an unearned intimacy and proffered unwanted advice or worse, wanted to put their hand on my fecund belly.

Friends have confirmed this phenomena when out with newborns or pets. Under certain circumstances, people will assume it's okay to communicate whatever pops into their heads.

When I used to walk the tunnels under downtown Houston, I mapped out a 3-mile circuit that I could cover in the hour break I took instead of lunch. It looked boring for sure, but I was mostly in my head or in my music and might as well have been on a treadmill (but for the fools walking slowly, three-abreast blocking my way periodically). I did this every day. I looked hot and sweaty for, at least, the second half of the walk. I tried not to make much eye contact or listen to my fellow walkers. Of whom, the vast majority were middle-aged women who talked for all the world like they should be wearing hair shirts and flagellating themselves. Doing penance for the sin of not being thin.

There was one woman who worked at the counter of one of the gazillion sandwich shops who would not be ignored. She had a seemingly sincere but intrusive friendliness. But the thing that used to amaze me is that every time she saw me walk by she would give me a thumbs up, as if she headed up the cheering squad for Fat Woman Walking. I say this and you demure, how do you know this had anything to do with your size? Perhaps we're being a bit oversensitive? Guess again, Pollyanna. I watched her every day and she did not do her enthusiastic gesture for naught a slender walker. Trust me, she was saying, Way to Go, Chubby! Good Job, Gordita!

While I thought she was basically decent, she felt that my size gave her the right to break that social barrier. I assume that she (or those like her) didn't give the thumbs up to the anorexia-bound teenage girls eating ice cream (one scoop in a cup, please, those cones are SO fattening). I assume that most people don't clap the Cerebral Palsied on the back for making it across the street. I would guess conversely, and maybe I'm wrong, that you wouldn't go up to a fast-food patron with acne and lecture them on the importance of keeping their face clean and their diet healthy. It's just a bit invasive, right?

So I'm walking my neighborhood. It was June. One of the hottest Junes on record. And even though I start my walk at 7am, it's clear that I'm going to be be red-faced and drenched in no time. Down the street opposite me comes an old black man wearing a brimmed hat and pushing a cart. He is, lordlovehim, sporting a friendly demeanor and just a few teeth. Fuck Me. As I get closer, he asked the ubiquitous question, "Going for your walk?" To which I reply affirmatively in my best yes-indeedee voice. Then he says, "You know, that'll help you lose weight!" Now, the urge to retort with "No shit, REALLY?" is strong. But he's old and almost surely addlepated. Yet, more than anything I want to say, "And you know, wearing that hat will keep you from getting any darker!" Because our culture's love of the thin is only matched by our culture's love of the fair. And since he thinks it's okay to join in on the bigotry chorus against the overweight, why should I let genteel mores stop me from pointing out where he falls short on the racist social scale of ideal beauty?

Because, deep down, I'm not an asshole. Even more, because I don't accept or have patience for either of those deeply flawed ideals. I just don't know why anyone feels it is their business to impose this skewed and empty viewpoint on those of us who tip the scales on this side of normal. Whatever that is.

walking adventures; nature

Almost a year has passed since I had a little tantrum over my daily walk. It was not my proudest moment. I have occasionally whined here about the Sisyphean Task I face trundling my largess up the Dead Metabolism Mountain. Okay, I know, this bullshit is unworthy of me: of all the natural gifts I've been given, focusing on this one, um, broken trait is well, stupid.

I stopped walking for a year. That'll show my unbudging Metabolism. Fucker. And of course, I've since had my ass-kicked from here to the pharmacy. What I accomplished over 3 years of daily walking, I undid and more in one year of foot-stamping childishness.

Being laid-off, with all its unexpected bliss, afforded me time to get my health back on course. A patient, slow course (of course) and about six weeks ago, I started walking my neighborhood. The Heights is chock-full of historic bungalows and Victorians so the view is pleasant. I plot out my route (to avoid boredom) on the buggy, but adequate Google Maps. Since walking for walking sake seems like a modern plague of foolishness, I use the time to gather data about landscaping, fences and porches. As if walking to window shop were any less foolish.


I've said it before and I'll say it again: Nature is no flower-bedecked nymphet sprinkling dewdrops and sparkles.

Barbara and I were walking together on July 4th when we encountered a fledgling heron, standing dazed on the sidewalk with a cat in stalking position nearby. This little earthbound critter stood a foot high and was not long for this world. It had obviously fallen or been nudged out of the nest prematurely.

I am all about evolution (as you'll see in posts to follow) and natural selection. But jesuschrist, it was such a beautiful, gawky, helpless and unusual bird to find at 7:30am on a Houston street in July. Barbara shooed the cat away.

We called our friends, Lori and Mary. They used to do a lot of wildlife rescue. They are founts of knowledge about this shit and I think we woke them up on a holiday morning. They arrived shortly thereafter, much to our relief.

Mary, of the quieter and shyer ilk, walked right up to the sharp-beaked orphan and picked him right up. What a fucking NINJA she is. It pecked. Ouch. Freaked out. Yikes. But she tucked its wings down and let it clamp its beak on her fingers and talked to it calmly. I was amazed. And envious. I'm quite sure...I'm 100% sure that a frantic bird with sharp pecking beak, squawking at me would have met freedom and a loud yell for its troubles.

The next day, hoping for an uneventful walk, I stumbled onto the filming of "Possum Abattoir; The Road Trip."

Of course, there are beautiful things to see, yes. But somehow the images of gorgeous plumeria and majestic oaks don't get seared into my consciousness as indelibly as Bloody Mama Possum and her Dead Babies.


I recently christened Barbara's breasts "Lefty" and "Righty." Lefty was, as you know, where cancer was found not quite a year ago. Righty gave us a scare a couple of months ago. Both are fine now. (Well, they've always been fine but that's another post altogether.) Subconsciously, I came up with softball-related nicknames and in Lefty's case, a little western-flavored moniker as well. I love that these nicknames seem to fit her.

I'm not fond of public nicknames for people, as a rule. I prefer my, Barbara's and both of my children's names in their original form. But parts and inanimate objects? I love slinging appellations at those. Anthropomorphizing an object by naming it has great appeal.

I've heard women's breasts personified with foolishness and cleverness. In The Lover's Tongue, Mark Morton gives these examples of character nicknames:

  • Mickey and Minnie
  • Laverne and Shirley
  • Lucy and Ethel
  • Thelma and Louise
  • Wilma and Betty
...which are all pretty delightful.

Hello boys. Have a good night's rest? I missed you.

I tease one of my friends about her enhanced set by asking about the "twins," though to be accurate, I should be asking about the "quads." A lot of women call their breasts "the girls."

For a long time I referred to my annual check-up as "Getting my 'Mamms' Grammed." Which led to me just calling them my "Mamms." Since adopting this crazy state as my own, I realize that I ignore or mock certain certain militaristic-sounding forms of gentility. Which is why the girls have been newly christened, "Yes, Ma'am" and "No, Ma'am." Left and right, respectively.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

good news and bad news, postscript one

It's true, it's true! When you've interviewed with the worst, the rest is a breeze. Had a great interview with another company. Have no idea whether I'll get the job but it was a pleasure to talk to people about what they needed, answer questions that made sense and ask questions that made sense to me.

Without any of that monogrammed starch.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

good news and bad news

Whenever anyone asks me the question, I've got good news and bad news, which do you want first? My answer is always the same: give me the bad news first. That way I don't have bad news ahead muting my enjoyment of the good and I finish up with...well, good news!

Today I had my first interview since being laid off. Now, it's been 3 months and that doesn't mean I haven't been working. It just means that I didn't start actively applying for jobs until this week. I'd hoped that my placement agencies would have come up with something by now but since it's slow, I figured I might as well get in there and hunt myself.

The interview. Well, let me just put it this way: this interview would be a potent catalyst to someone considering entrepreneurship. Among the lower points were when the interviewer asked where I lived and announced that their employees were expected to be on call 24/7. He was, to put it politely, a man in starched underwear.

I got home and called the agent who had sent me over there and said (more diplomatically than this), no fucking way will I work for a man with that big a rod up his ass. 24/7? How did I get here? I am sure I unsubscribed from Serf Staffing.

In all honesty, I am delighted. It's as if Life said, let's give her the bad news first. It can only get better from here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

missed the point

An acquaintance just posted this on FB:

"having a surprise 85th birthday celebration for my mom on Sat. She is on her way to the cardiologist tomorrow morning. She having problems with her heart rate. Please pray. I really don't want to have the party in the hospital!!!!!"
I didn't have the heart to write:
"A surprise party for an 85-year old woman with heart problems? Perhaps we should pray that baby Jesus heals you with the gift of irony."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

the wait

I'm intrigued by how people wile away their time when they're anxious...forced to wait for news and unable to speed that process along.

Some people pace. Some can't focus. Some externalize their anxiety onto people around them. Some work in their gardens. Other people clean out their closets. Some just drink.

Me? I bury myself in minutiae. Not big effort chores like closet cleaning–that would be way too productive. No, I clean my jewelry and other micro-tasks that employ toothpicks as tools. I organize bits of things. Then, I archive my email inbox. I paint my toenails.

Over the past month or so, we've been in the déjà vu land of waiting for medical test results. Barbara's first mammogram since surgery was not clear sailing. They saw two small masses on her right breast (Lefty is, to our great relief, still cancer-free) that they were almost sure were nothing but fibroids but an ultrasound was recommended which results led to two needle biopsies last Friday. Still they remained almost sure it wasn't cancer.

Eight months after a partial mastectomy, the space between almost and absolutely is cavernous. The word biopsy weighs a ton.

I waited to write until we knew and now we know, she is fine. Both growths are benign. The relief is almost hard to grasp. The first time on the cancer flywheel you're terrified because you don't know how scary it will be. The second time you're terrified because you do.

But she's fine. Wonderful. Whole. Life feels lighter and hopeful once again.

In the meantime, my watch is sparkling clean and damn near 2700 emails were deleted or archived. My toenails, however, look like they were painted by an angry four year-old. I'll have to channel that anxiety into another activity next time.

P.S. Thanks to my dear friends who remind me that they are also waiting. Waiting for me to sit my ass down and write an entry or two. Peter, it was so good to hear from you.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

hook and loop

One of my favorite things was patented the year I was born: Velcro. Here's the story from Writer's Almanac:
It was on this day [May 13th] in 1958 that Velcro was patented. Velcro was invented by Georges de Mestral, an electrical engineer from Switzerland. Mestral was a born inventor — he applied for his first patent when he was 12 years old, for a model airplane.

Besides being an engineer, Mestral enjoyed mountain climbing, and in 1941 he went on a hunting trip with his dog in the Alps. He hiked through patches of burdock. Burdock is a thistly plant whose roots are used in cooking, especially in Asia; but the plant spreads its spiny seeds by latching them onto anything or anyone passing by. When Mestral got home, he was picking the burs off his dog’s coat and his own clothes, and he wondered how burdock was so effective. He put the seeds under his microscope, and saw that each bristle was a tiny hook that was able to catch in the loops of clothing. He realized that by copying burdock he could create a way to simply bind materials together.

Most people Mestral told about his "hook and loop" cloth thought that his idea was stupid, but he kept on with it. It took him 10 years to get it right. With the help of a talented weaver, he was able to make a workable product, but the cotton didn’t hold up to wear. Then he discovered that nylon sewn under infrared light made the perfect set of loops — but that meant sewing hundreds of loops per inch, a slow and inefficient task. Eventually, he was able to mechanize the whole process, and 10 years after his walk with his dog, he applied for a patent for his invention: "Velcro," which combined the French words velour (which means velvet) and crochet (which means hook).
Velour and Crochet. It even has great etymology. But mostly, it's about the burdock. How the most commonplace, even irritating, item can spark creativity.

Monday, May 02, 2011

week four of the mystery

Tomorrow marks 4 weeks since I was laid off. It's sobering and exhilarating to look back: I spent the first 4 hours in shock/sorrow and 95% of the time since has been in a state of delight I could not have imagined. I have been, traditionally, a worrier. A financial fretter. A busy bee guilt machine. But...I don't know, the fear is gone.*

After this past month, I dream of retirement. Not now actually–but in 7 or 8 years. Now, I am working on freelance jobs, revising my resume and feeling...godhelpme, powerful. It's so hard to describe but I feel full of life and possibility. When I felt this way after 5 days, I warned myself that a big crash could be ahead. And then, a week, two weeks, a month passed. No crash. Just a blissful sense of hope. Excitement. (Note to the skeptical: I have not changed, increased or lost my medication. There is no chemical rationale for my behavior.)

I honestly can't explain it except to say, I'm going to go get a job. Work hard. Pay off our mortgages and retire early enough to live this way for the rest of my days. Days filled with creative projects/writing/reading/visiting/walking/cooking/volunteering. Time to spend with my daughter and her beau,** scheming to get my son to move within a 200 mile radius, time to travel and long days with my beloved Barbara.

*To be sure, my life is in a different place financially than many others. We have lived very carefully and have no debt other than the mortgages. I have a partner who is gainfully employed and enthusiastically supports my taking some time. I have no children at home and no crises at hand. I feel extremely fortunate.

**Did I mention my daughter has a beau? Honestly, it's been all I could do to tamp down my enthusiasm and not be the most obnoxious mother in the history of parenthood. She's wonderful and so is he. I'm exuding so much pollyanna-like cheer, I would have made my pre-layoff self retch.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Remember how I finished that last post with jonesing for retirement?
Well, well, well. A week ago today, I got laid off.

My first foray into the land of layoffs.

I'd say I tempted Fate but I liked my job turns out, I love being laid off! (Well, for now.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


This one is going to get me in trouble. When someone comes up to me and says, let me tell you about this dream I had last night, I wish my sense of civility would be hit by REM sleep and I could bolt. Or say NO. Please, please do not tell me about your sleep saga.

  • First of all, the Eraserhead quality of dreams is most interesting to the one dreaming them. Not so much to the innocent bystanders. There have been exceptions to this but not many.
  • Second, stop saying how bizarre or weird it was. Dreams are bizarre or weird by definition. They're an amalgam of reality and fantasy and fear. Of course they come across all crazy-quilted.
  • Third, you don't need to start at the beginning and trundle all the way to the bitter end. Hopefully, one part of the dream is more interesting than the rest. If you have to tell, tell that scene.
  • Context? Context is often irrelevant. If not, a quick summation will suffice. It's tortuous for your listener to hear you launch into Act I after 20 minutes of the acid-trippy preface. Watch your audience. Are they drifting? Wincing? Grimacing? Praying for death?
After all that, I am going to tell you about the dream I had last night. I will make it as painless as possible. It has a point.

My dreamlife is clearly affected by watching CSI just before bedtime. Last week I was stuck in a cult. Last night I witnessed a van come careening around the corner (all TV-car-chase angles) which begin to hit parked vehicles and people indiscriminately. Car sides were sheered off. Kids' legs were amputated. It was a very disturbing conglomeration of crime scenes.

The significant part was me desperately trying to get through to the 911 operator. The hold portion of emergency services had been bought by advertisers. That's right. Advertisers were pitching their goods and services with commerce-perky voices while I watched dogs and children bleed out. The most maddening thing was that when I tried to dial "0" to get back to the operator, it thought I was "clicking" on the product (like getting my gutters cleaned was suddenly more pressing than triage) and transferred me to the advertiser.

I woke up jonesing for retirement.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

oh word nerdery!

Didn't win the AWAD haiku contest (honoring 17-letter words) but out of 6,000 entries mine was one of the honorable mentions! My haiku about the word predestinarianism is 13th from the top. Good thing I don't have triskaidekaphobia.

predestinarianism (pri-des-tuh-NAIR-ee-uh-niz-uhm)
noun: Belief in the doctrine of predestination, that the divine will has predetermined the course of events, people's fate, etc.

puppets we would be
the mythical creator
...a ventriloquist.
I love A.Word.A.Day. Period.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

to market, to market

I was sorting through the Roma tomatoes today at the farmer's market. Not a big fan of Romas (prefer the globe variety) but they're cheap and great for drying. The place was moderately busy for a Saturday morning but not maddeningly so.

Our farmer's market is not of the hyper-local, chi-chi organic ilk. No. It's in an economically lower-end area of town, run by members of the local Hispanic population. Some of the fruits and vegetables are grown nearby and some are trucked in from parts unknown. I suspect little of it is organic. You're not going to find any fussy heirloom tomatoes, hydroponically grown radicchio, or cunning containers of edamame (delicious foods for which I am constitutionally unable to hand over that much of my income). But you can get stuff that is in season and reasonably priced. They've also got bulk rice and beans on the side and a flotilla of above average taco carts out back. Across the street is a panaderia full of pan dulces that are tasty, artificially colored and probably have never been compromised by ingredients as expensive as butter.

It is, as close to the traditional, enduring marketplace as you can find in a large urban area. A large urban area rife with brightly lit, flagship supermarkets, big as a football fields.

The place has rows and rows of low-walled wooden tables, each piled high with fruits or vegetables. As I picked through the ripe Romas, I looked up and saw an older Hispanic woman doing the same, focused on her task with sure, slightly arthritic hands. While a middle-aged Asian woman at another table sorted through beans next to a young woman eying the peppers, I experienced a rare moment of connectedness to women who have visited marketplaces for millennia. Going through the ordinary, mundane act of sifting and sorting through foodstuffs to find the best items at the best price, in order to make meals for their families.

And I felt honored to be counted among them.

metrics schmetrics

My daughter posted (or reblogged in tumblr-ese) this on her blog:

Saturday, March 05, 2011


What percentage of airline ticket holders have never ridden in a car? How about not ridden in one in the past 30 years?

My guess is less than one-percent edging towards zero.

So why lecture us on the complexity of operating a seat belt? Who out there over the age of three is still stymied by the buckle mechanism? One wonders why they're not demonstrating how to flush the toilet.

"Place index and middle finger onto the lever. Push down. Then, release. Check bowl for success."
If they are going to approach us as if we're imbeciles, how about reviewing the following during the pre-flight presentation:

Use your fucking inside voice. There are people's ears uncomfortably close to your blathering pie-hole and the only way they'd be less interested in your "story" would be if they were dead.

Harsh you say? I don't think so. I've sat in front of blowhards trumpeting their entrepreneurial virility, drunken escapades and vast, tedious knowledge of oil pipeline geography for hours. With voices that bludgeoned right through space-age earplugs crammed so deep into my auditory canal they rubbed shoulders with my eardrum. Just shut it or lower it.

When they say items may have shifted in flight, they should also threaten to drop a roller bag on anyone who blithely yanks open the overhead bin in the rush to stand sardine-like while waiting for the door to open.

Our personal space is critically violated for the length of the flight. In our regular life, we'd move or shove anyone encroaching on us this way. SO, follow this simple rule: if you seat mate is wearing earplugs and reading a book, that mysterious signal is code for I'm not interested in having a conversation. Not about your grandbaby. Not about your sports team. Not about your latest acquisition and dear Lordy, not about your relationship.

Since the airlines have gone all cheap-ass on us with their wee bags of pretzels and nuts, folks often bring along a little something to tide them over on a long flight. Roger that. But since you're within copulating distance to the person next to you, how about avoiding the sardines? The egg salad? Perhaps the haggis can be enjoyed in the insulated comfort of your own home? In a practical sense, you want to reduce the likelihood of your noxious-smelling foodstuff triggering the gag reflex of your reluctant bedfellow.

Finally, if at all possible, stall the baby's nap and mealtime until the flight takes off. That way, a little boob* or bottle will send the darling off to dreamland. If the baby is a toddler, BE PREPARED. Sorry, but this is more critical than the space shuttle checklist. New toys to play with. Snacks. Drinks. A change of clothing when they puke. PLASTIC BAGS to seal the vomit- or excrement-covered clothing so your entire section does not feel like they just shifted from coach to open-sewage class.

Children will not be as polite about sitting still in cramped spaces as adults. They are simply acting out what we've all been conditioned to keep under wraps. Totally understandable. Much as I like the idea, I don't think we should drug the little fuckers. What to do: use all the resources available in your parental survival kit. Entertain them with plush toys, juice boxes, electronic gadgets, chex mix, music, etc. When possible, walk them around. Aside: Do NOT allow them to roam unattended down the 15" wide aisle. The drink cart will win and, by god, the audience will cheer.

I have been far more irritated by grownups (a group including but not limited to idiotic breeders) while traveling than by children. If I witness a parent doing all of the above to keep their child happy and well-behaved to no avail, I have nothing but compassion for them.

Airline attendants, it's all yours. Look, I don't envy your job. It doesn't look like fun. But neither is cattle class...try not to take it out on us. Oh, and by the way, unless you are really funny, stop trying to entertain us. The microphone is not your karaoke machine.

*Anyone who has issues with breast-feeding a screamer into silence at 30,000 feet should be thrown out of the aircraft.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

sometimes I just have to talk to myself

[13:36] Me: Homepage story link: Texas Baptists reduce number of missionaries on border
[13:36] Me: Guess we're not 100% sure the big guy is going to back us up, eh?

[13:38] Me: And for today's prostitution low: a banner for Exxon Mobile with the heading, "A history of commitment to the environment"
[13:38] Me: I should burst into flames.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

retracting my breakup

Not quite a year ago I wrote a post about my disillusionment with America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated online. I won't go over that material, it only serves to make me look even more spineless.

In the name of partial truth reporting, I must admit that I caved. I folded. I took the jewelry and got back with my sugar daddy. Reunited with residual bitterness. It's all so tawdry but I am a slut for food science.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

i heart isabella rossellini

Most happy couples should have sexual fidelity exceptions: the person(s) with whom a partner could fuck, without breaking the relationship. On my list would be Tom Waits (of course), Helen Mirren and without exception: Isabella Rossellini. I just saw another of Rossellini's Seduce Me videos (following the Green Porno series) and I swoon. Here is Noah's Ark:

Intelligent, sexy, funny and beautiful. That, my friends, is a woman to lust after.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

in over your well-coiffed head?

If you owe anywhere near $729,000, you don't get to be a part of any government program with the word “Affordable” in it.

Suck it up. You have a three-quarters of a million dollar home. Rent rooms. Sell your furniture for kindling. Buy a mobile home. Turn it into a whorehouse. A Meth lab. Pimp your kids. Be enterprising, motherfucker, you qualified for that loan at one point.

And by the way, you forever lose the right to pule about welfare taxes sucking up your hard-earned money.

Monday, January 31, 2011

choreography saturday

My Saturday entertainment line up for this past weekend was as follows:

  • IWE Wrestling at the Armadillo Flea Market on I-45 and Airtex from 3-6pm.
  • Tango Buenos Aires at Jones Hall in downtown Houston from 8-10pm.
If high and low culture were weather systems, there should have been thundersnow in my life between 6pm and 8pm.

To recap the local wrestling:
There were masked luchadores. There was much spandex (the TMI of fabrics) stretched over lumpy frames. There were tag teams (chanted for Wrecking Crew and against Nemesis & Sin, if you need to know where I stand). The wrestling spilled off the mat into the crowd on numerous occasions.

The event was sponsored by H-Town Bail Bonds. Butofcourse. There were toddlers cheering. There was a mock weapons search of some of the wrestlers. I brought pen and paper to take notes...and found myself stuffing them into my bra whenever I needed my hands for clapping. Something I never do normally. Subconscious adaptation is what that is.

Our dear friend Josh (who calls me his SHEro for agreeing to attend and actually showing up), initiated us into the taunting chant ritual. Explained the beauty of the "unnecessary USA chant" and how intoxicating it is to the crowd. We jeered. We whooped.

In the interest of full disclosure I must add that I was 2/3 drunk. Which means I'd had 2 beers in quick succession prior to the festivities. I was hoping to maintain that state of inebriation; I was sure there would be beer there but no. Just carny food that wouldn't have made the cut at an elementary school festival. Nonetheless, that simple buzz went a long way to easing me into the world of fake sleeper holds and dramatic ref counts.

To recap the Tango Buenos Aires performance:
There were women in slitted dresses with brightly colored linings* that flashed repeatedly as they swirled and slid and did all the tango-flavored gyrations. There were sparkly high-heeled dance shoes that mesmerized.

And there were men in fluid suits moving with their partners in stupefying synchronicity. Apart and together, sliding and twirling. How they were not covered in shin contusions is a mystery to me. High heels and that much leg-slinging whilst spinning gonad-to-gonad ought to produce serious bruising. I can't vouch for the panted men but either the women were that good or they have awesome cover stick makeup.

Finally, there was a mock fight scene which recalled the event earlier in the day. Only this fight didn't involve any head-to-sweaty-crotch holds.

*Which reminds me of one of my favorite insects, the underwing moth. (source)

It's all about the mystery people.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

the need to feed

My daughter is a vegetarian, with vegan tendencies. She has never asked me to cook vegetarian to accommodate her nor asked us not to eat meat when she's around. And I mean never.

But I do anyway. I don't mind cooking meatless (or even milk-less and butter-less) so that she can join us for meals. The satisfaction I get from preparing food for my children is ri-goddamn-diculous. It's traditional in a way I find intellectually annoying; it triggers all sorts of food-as-gift/comfort/love warning flags. Emotionally, however...few things resonate with my very core in the same way.

That said, when she went away for a long weekend retreat, I almost fell over myself getting to the grocery store. I made a beeline for the meat section, prostrated myself before the steak altar and bought two beautiful rib eyes. I also cooked all sorts of other dairy-laden food. An orgy of animal products.

When she got home I immediately began to itemize all the leftovers in the house that she couldn't eat. A thinly-veiled, knee-jerk confession/apology.

She just starts laughing at me. She tells me that I don't have to do this and if I don't stop she's going to keep paring down her diet until she's gluten-free (and god knows what else) and I. just. snap.

Goddammit I love that kid.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

malaprop o' the day

I used balslamic vinegar.
Balslamic /ball-SLAH-mick/
For your Ramadan salad.

P.S. Here's your Little Big quote for the day as well:
The screen door was old and large...the screen potbellied below from years of children's thoughtless egress...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

little big follows my ántonia

Just finished reading Willa Cather's My Ántonia. A wonderful story. Here is a subject that held little intrinsic interest for me: Nebraska pioneers. But there I was, enchanted by the characters and the landscape. I love her strong female characters. I love that she wrote this in a male voice. Some particularly lovely quotes:

Grandfather's prayers were often very interesting...Because he talked so little, his words had a peculiar force; they were not worn dull from constant use.

Winter lies too long in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen.

It was no wonder that her sons stood tall and straight. She was a rich mine of life, like the founders of early races.

Prayers said by good people are always good prayers.
A bottomless pile of good books is my definition of security and optimism. I started the next book in the stack, Little Big.

I'm not 50 pages in and I have such a crush on this book. In addition to the gorgeous prose, the text layout (see left) has me beguiled.* The small illustrated pull quotes (for lack of a better description) are utterly delightful. Form and function beautifully meshed. I gush shamelessly.

The main character at the beginning of the story is named Smoky. Which speaks to his invisibility, his anonymity. The woman he loves is called Daily Alice. She is six-feet tall and lives in place not seen on maps: Edgewood. This is her morning prayer:
O great wide beautiful wonderful World
With the wonderful waters around you curled
And the beautiful grass upon your breast
O World you are beautifully dressed.
Lastly, for today, a final quote from John Crowley's Little Big:
The gargoyle faucet coughed phthisically, and deep within the house the plumbing held conference before allowing her some hot water.
The simplest definition of the mystery word phthisic is asthmatic. It is pronounced TIZ-ik, or 'tis ick, if that helps mnemonically. It seems like every page holds gems like this. I've fallen in love with a book on the first date.

* I happened upon a pdf text-only version of the book online. The whole thing. I'm not going to argue the merits of open source or whatnot, though I sympathize in both directions. But it's just the text and what a loss. The perfume and grit of the book is sanitized and the magic stripped away in Courier 10pt type.

malaprops and minimalists

A response in my inbox this morning held today's happy accident:

I'll get with them for clearfication.
There are few things that delight me more than a word usage mistake that make sense in its own wacky way.

To be fair, I'm not just a scathing commentator on others mistakes. I recently fell flat on my face in the pop culture tournament when I mixed up Ice-T and Ice Cube. This was like the gimme/$200 Jeopardy choice, I am told.

Today I also discovered, literally on the last day after 13 years, The Minimalist column for the NY Times, written by Mark Bittman. So, I'm watching his top 20 videos and sending myself emails with these subject lines:
  • omg make this
  • holy shit make this too
  • jesus christ this one too
  • more
  • even more
I'm not often greatly moved by food blogs or columns. There's lots of good stuff out there, to be sure, but a recipe and demonstration that makes me want to leave work and buy the ingredients? That's cause for celebration.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

a story, a video and a poem

Three random items. Fired at me in less than an hour from three different directions this morning. More or less demanded synthesis.


Woman survives 23-story fall in Argentina
Associated Press Jan. 24, 2011, 1:00PM

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Witnesses say they saw a woman throw herself from the 23rd story of a Buenos Aires hotel Monday and survive.

In this photograph taken with a mobile phone, a woman lies injured atop a taxi where she fell from the 23rd floor of the Hotel Panamericano in Buenos Aires.The woman landed in a sitting position on the roof of a taxi whose driver got out just before the impact deeply dented his roof and shattered the windshield.

The woman, a 30-year-old Argentine, was rushed to the nearby Hospital Argerich, where she was being operated on for injuries including internal bleeding and broken hips and ribs, Alberto Crescenti, director of Argentina's Emergency Medical System, told the government news agency Telam. He estimated that she fell nearly 100 meters (330 feet). The taxi driver, who gave his name as Miguel, reportedly said he saw a policeman looking up and that prompted him to get out just before the driver's side of the car was smashed by the woman's body.

Another taxi driver, Juan Carlos Candame, told Associated Press Television News that he saw the woman climb over a barrier and jump into the void.

The woman plunged from the top of the Hotel Crown Plaza Panamericano, where a restaurant overlooks the landmark Obelisk in downtown Buenos Aires.

A video:

A poem: (even better when it's read to you)

Tuesday 9:00AM

by Denver Butson

A man standing at the bus stop
reading the newspaper is on fire
Flames are peeking out
from beneath his collar and cuffs
His shoes have begun to melt

The woman next to him
wants to mention it to him
that he is burning
but she is drowning
Water is everywhere
in her mouth and ears
in her eyes
A stream of water runs
steadily from her blouse

Another woman stands at the bus stop
freezing to death
She tries to stand near the man
who is on fire
to try to melt the icicles
that have formed on her eyelashes
and on her nostrils
to stop her teeth long enough
from chattering to say something
to the woman who is drowning
but the woman who is freezing to death
has trouble moving
with blocks of ice on her feet

It takes the three some time
to board the bus
what with the flames
and water and ice
But when they finally climb the stairs
and take their seats
the driver doesn't even notice
that none of them has paid
because he is tortured
by visions and is wondering
if the man who got off at the last stop
was really being mauled to death
by wild dogs.

(source: The Writer's Almanac)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

queen for the day

There are lots of serviceable words in our language that have been overused and misused into verbal mush. Dysfunctional is one of them. Anyone who talks about their dysfunctional family as if they're unique should be smacked hard out of their egocentric little world.

That said, most people find their own family's brand of dysfunction understandably fascinating. Recognizing that mine is neither the worst nor the most entertaining in the world does not prevent me from declaring that in my little corner of the universe, I am Queen for the Day in the my-family-is-more-fucked-up-than-yours contest.

I just finished reading In the Time of Butterflies by Maria Julia Alvarez. A compelling historical novel, set in the Dominican Republic, about four sisters who lived under the regime of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. The real life dictator. His 30 years in power, to Dominicans known as the Trujillo Era, is considered one of the bloodiest ever in the Americas...(source)

After I finished the book, I called my father, who is also named Rafael Leonidas.

Me: Dad, did your mother name you after the brutal Dominican fascist, Trujillo?
Dad: Yeah.
Me: What the hell? Seriously, what could she have been thinking?
Dad: Well, it could have been worse.
Me: Really?
Dad: Yeah, she could have named me after Hitler like your Uncle Adolf.
Oh, yeah. My abuela named one of her sons after a Dominican tyrant and the other after one of the most evil men who ever lived.

Queen for the Day in the Dysfunctional Family Relay.

Sunday, January 09, 2011


Here I am 9 days into the New Year. I sailed right past Epiphany Day and a crazy quilt of events both foreign and domestic with nary a peep (though the cerebral commentary never stops).

As I lay in bed last night, listening to the laughter and murmurings of my grown children and their friends, I had a muted epiphany. That everything I'd planned and fretted about and worked so hard to achieve was mine. Barbara slept peacefully next to me. My house was warm (where it wasn't drafty) and smelled of good food. My job gave me satisfaction and enough income to have a future. My extended family is basically healthy and secure. My friends are true and they make my life richer. My children were laughing. Real belly-laughter laughing.

Now, don't think I'm losing my edge. There are always things. But for the moment, I just want this. Simple uncrafted, fucking Norman-Rockwellian bliss.