Saturday, March 31, 2007

True Story? Riiiight....

I finished reading "Princess Sultana's Daughters" by Jean Sasson last night. It's the follow-up of "Princess," both of which are supposed to be exposes written by a Saudi princess, alias "Sultana," about how totally restricted the lives of Saudi women are. I read the first book more than a year ago, and for all I knew everything in it was true, though a few things seemed tacked on, to make men look even worse than they already had been portrayed. This book, however, is just too pat: For example, one daughter rejects God and has a mental breakdown while the other becomes very religious and complains that her family is too liberal. I had doubts when the first daughter's psychiatrist tells the parents that the daughter has told him that she has had a lesbian relationship, because no ethical psychiatrist would do this. Later, when "Sultana" describes the second daughter becoming an Islamic fundamentalist while she also loves lap dogs, I stopped believing in the book altogether.

A quick perusal of the reviews of this book doesn't show a lot of other people doubting that any of it is true, though the few that do actually explain why they think the books are false. I'm rather surprised, post-James Frey, that more people aren't questioning this, though it must be said that both books precede "A Million Little Pieces" by more than ten years.

In the end I felt really manipulated by Sasson. Women's rights are high on the list of concerns about Saudi Arabia (and other places in the Arab world). However, I wonder if she isn't just trotting out these stories for the sensational effect, stories which non-Muslims would totally "buy" because it fits so many of the stereotypes we already hold.

The last time I read a book that caught me like this was "The Kite Runner." That was my fault, though. I tend to read the same kinds of books for period of time, because of where I end up in the library. I'll read a bunch of authors whose last names begin with E because I was looking for a Louise Erdrich novel, and I'll read a bunch of memoirs in a row because one day I was in the Biographies section. I had been reading memoirs when someone loaned me "The Kite Runner" and was so totally sucked in that until the absolutely unbelievable coincidence I never read the back flap, which starts, " Hosseini's stunning debut novel..."

That time I felt silly, not cheated. I know in the future I will look closely at books that purport to be "as told to" the author.

Funny-Looking Englishmen

Jason Statham.

Daniel Craig.

They make me notice that American actors don't get to look like this and get cast in lead roles. Funny-looking American men get cast only in comedies, or as the sidekick or the bad guy in dramas and action films. Well, except for Johnny Depp, but I think I'm the only one who thinks he's only funny-looking and not handsome at all.

And if you were wondering... Yes, in a New York minute. (-;

Friday, March 30, 2007

Uno amigo de la pluma

I received an email from one of the bartenders at Playa Fiesta, Charly. I'd sent him and the owners Hayward postcards I purchased at Long's.

Charly suggests in his email that we can practice each other's languages by writing. He says, "You'll try to write all your email in Spanish and I'll try to reply in English, later I'll write you everything in Spanish and you'll reply in English and little by little we will see our spelling errors and grammatical mistakes, I think so that this way our advances will be great very soon I'm sure."

His English is much better than my Spanish, but I think he is right. Writing Spanish should be a little easier than speaking it, since I'll be able to consult my diccionario (dictionary) and my libro de la clase (textbook) for vocabulary and conjugations without actually stopping the conversation. Fortunately for me, spelling in Spanish is much less complex and irregular than it is in English. Have you ever noticed that "phonics," which is a reading system that teaches children to connect letters and sounds, is not spelled "fonics"?

I've never had a pen-pal before. I would have been a great pen-pal when I was a kid, because I liked to write and read, and I didn't have a close friend at school so pen-palling would have given me something to do at lunchtime. I also made up a lot of stuff. I think my fourth grade teacher tried to set my class up with the class of a friend of hers in Rome. I don't think the Roman class wrote back to us.

Having a pen-pal to whom I write in Spanish will probably alleviate the obligation I feel about being in a Spanish class this term. I was going to enroll in Spanish 1B at Chabot Community College this semester, but it began before I knew I wouldn't be going back to CSU East Bay. I'm hopeful that Charly and I do write to each other for a long time.

Besides, No found a house to rent in the same area as Playa Fiesta and it's always good to have a friend who's local.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The water's great!

I was at the bi meeting last night and we were - as we often do - talking about how we identify ourselves to the rest of the world. A very wise woman pointed out that identity is sovereign. What that means to me is I don't really need to explain myself to anyone else, or even respond to whatever they think it means. However, it's been in the category of Things That Are None Of Anyone's Business But I Feel I Must Respond When Asked, like why Zirpu and I don't have kids.

I think that one good thing came about because of the mean girls, and that is I'm always welcoming people to join me. I have taken it on as my charge to welcome new members to the group by name, and if there is a movement to go out afterwards (which there often is) that everyone knows she is welcome to join us. I never want someone to feel like she doesn't belong in "my group," whatever it may be.

One of the things I feel, and I've heard others say they feel, about being bi is that none of us are an "either-or." We inhabit that grey area, like interfaith families and multiracial folks. Being ourselves raises questions, especially because we break taboos around sexuality and its expression, not to mention that the stereotypes of bisexuals are exclusively negative because we live in a sex-negative culture and the stereotypes about us are all about sexual appetite. While I personally haven't had any experience with this, some people I know have felt excluded by lesbians when they came out as bi, and one person was actually excluded from a group because she isn't a lesbian. I did have a gay man tell me what he thought my "Kinsey score" was, so that he could justify his statement that I wasn't as queer as he but more so than someone else (can you find the ironical [to me] statement in this link?). As if that score were static!

I see my bisexuality as being like water, having properties of its own but taking the shape of whatever vessel it's in. The water itself doesn't change when I hold it in a different vessel. Likewise, the water can be holding the vessel in which I'm floating.

I was thinking last night that the way I feel about being bisexual is that everyone's welcome in my boat. I don't care how gay or straight you are or aren't, I don't care if you are sure, straight, gay/lesbian, bi, questioning, have a crush, kissed a girl, kissed a boy, I want you to come along with me, be a travelling companion, friend, acquaintance, or just be someone waving as I float by. Because I don't feel today about my sexuality exactly the same way I felt yesterday, I don't expect that you will. We're all only making it up as we go along, and as I've said before, the only thing I know for sure is that as soon as I think I know something, something changes everything.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Take me with you!

'Tis spring, and motorcycles fill the roads. Especially here around Hayward, it seems, perhaps because we are close to Oakland and its many motorcycle clubs but have prettier roads to ride on. It could be that they catch my eye so much because they still seem unusual to me after twelve years in the Northwest, where motorcycles are rare (but not as rare as convertibles).

I've noticed that most of the people riding these bikes are riding big cruising motorcycles, BMWs, Hondas, and especially Harley-Davidsons. Occasionally I see people on crotch-rocket motorcycles but even in commuter traffic the cruisers seem much more common. It also seems to me that the people on the crotch rockets seem to wear much less protective gear, riding in blue jeans and sneakers, and maybe a leather jacket. The cruisers wear smaller helmets, for the most part, but seem to wear more leather or Kevlar - all over their bodies.

While they are loud, I love seeing the motorcycle clubs cruising down Mission on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Between eight and fifteen people, just going along, waiting to get to the open part of Mission south of here and zoom away. I know it's a romantic vision.

Last Friday while driving in slow traffic on 880, I saw a woman on her cruiser bike. A very large woman, she was wearing either light-blue gear or just a denim jacket and pants. She was wearing regulation boots and a half helmet. Her long long black and red braids hung down her back (we were all driving too slowly for them to stream out, which I bet is quite the sight). As you can tell we were driving slowly enough for me to get a good look, but I wish we had been at a full stop long enough for me to take a picture.

I would have been happy to be her passenger!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Music With Meaning

This is going to sound incredibly geeky to (some of) you at first.

Those of us who have been watching Battlestar Galactica just got treated to the last episode of the season (season four starts in ten months). If you've been following the show and haven't yet seen the episode, this is your only Spoiler Warning.

Four of the characters hear this song throughout, a sitar-and-tabla tune that none of them knows and that hardly anyone else can hear. For most of the episode each one thinks he or she is the only one who hears it. Because the music was unfamiliar to me, I didn't figure it out until one of them says, "There's too much confusion," and then I immediately knew it was a song we all know: "All Along The Watchtower." Using this funky arrangement, written and played by the brother of the series' music composer, hides the music from us who would have recognized it instantaneously. Not to mention that really the actual tune is kind of minimal in the first place so it doesn't really "hum."

Given what's going on in the plot, the words make sense if you look at the lyrics last verse to first, which Dylan indicated was the "chronology" of the song. But what I've been thinking is, "This song is forty years old. Nobody wrote any songs of warning more recently than that?" Then I thought maybe it's a Boomer thing, and the producer chose a song from his youth. However, Ron Moore is only four years older than I, which technically makes him a Boomer but also means that he was listening to the same music everybody was listening to (or hearing) in the 1980s and 1990s.

It happens that I'm not very educated on the music that was on the radio at that time because I personally was mostly listening to '60s and '70s rock and folk music then, so this question isn't rhetorical. I keep seeing stories about the impact and influence the Boomers have had and are having on our popular culture (not to mention everything else) and I can't help but think that this is yet another example. For that reason itself, I wish that they had chosen an original composition.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Imagine The Longest Time

I went to the Friends and Family Concert by East Bay Harmony this evening after the food bank. I had volunteered to help sell raffle tickets; the F&F Concert is their big fundraiser. The concert was at the Lake Merritt Dance Center, in a beautiful ballroom with a big stage.

East Bay Harmonizers listen to Mark Bernfield, the director, introducing "Loch Lomond"

The songs they sang were:
Come Go With Me
Happy Together

Fyer Fyer (a 16th century madrigal - "I cry help me... and no help comes")
Weep O Mine Eyes
(another 16th century madrigal - "I love you and you don't love me")
The Lion Sleeps Tonight
That’ll Be the Day
Na Na Hey, Hey
Son of a Preacher Man
Ring of Fire
E Oru O
("The king comes to the marketplace")
In the Still of the Night
Ning Wendete ("I love you, you don't love me, why is that so?")
Loch Lomond

The Longest Time
Blue Moon
(this was introduced with "True love only happens once in... a baker's dozen?")
Ain't Misbehavin'

Because (arranged by a current member of the chorus)
Gonna Build a Mountain

The encore was "Imagine" with the audience singing the melody and the chorus singing the backup. It's an Oakland-Berkeley chorus and I suspect that since 2001 that song has a special place in its heart.

Most of the concert was the full chorus, with about forty members, but several songs were sung by small groups, four or five people. Only the women sang "Preacher Man" and only the men sang "Ring of Fire."

One of the five-member groups sang "The Longest Time," which has a special place in my heart. In the fall of 2001, I was learning this song with the chorus while I was falling in love with Zirpu.

"And the greatest miracle of all
Is how I need you
And how you needed me, too..."

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Writing about writing

Boy, a couple of last week's posts put me in a funk. Or they would have, if I had been in the head space to be really funked out and work through it. Instead, I concentrated on being busy, which I was, with three days at the Food Bank and one at the Pacific Center, and so did not, if I wasn't really unable (and I submit I was unable), take the time to think about stuff. So it was the kind of funk that feels like crossing the catwalk above the gurgling pool of icky stuff. You know the ick is there, but you're not in it.

A friend of mine was expressing concern about a blogger both of us read. She was saying that she worries that people have an idea of what the blogger is like in real life, and that their idea of the blogger could cause problems for the blogger when she gets recognized by strangers. I don't have that concern; I'm fairly certain that this blog doesn't have many (any?) readers who don't know me in real life. However, that is a problem too. After I posted the CSH and forgiveness posts, I thought maybe I don't want my real-life friends to know this or that about me. Should I reconsider what I write about? Which is why one day I wrote close to the heart and another day a little further away.

I've noticed a few things about how I write since starting this blog. One is that I love to use dashes instead of commas and I find myself writing parenthetical statements all over the place. I change most of the dashes to commas in the first edit, just on GP. The parentheses are good for my story-telling, because I've come to realize that if a sentence is not strong enough to stand on its own, it's not important enough to tell. As a former English major, I avoid the dangling participle and use the even-very-formal-to-my-ears constructions of "with which" and "for whom" rather than end a sentence with "with" or "for." I did it once, and you'll get a gold star if you find it (the previous sentence excepted).

I've noticed that my other writing has been reduced. My "regular" journal writing is more spaced out, though the entries are longer, and I've even cut back on my letter-length emails to friends. Keeping this blog seems to take the words out of me. Certainly time is an issue; I don't know how I had time for Life when I was commuting/working from 8am to 6pm, even though I know I could stop spending so much time keeping up with other people's blogs.

Some posts practically write themselves and some days I write light because I can't think of anything with meat to it. The ones that "write themselves" need my editor to go through and take out the dashes, parentheses, and incomplete or run-on sentences, and that takes time. I have been conscientious about writing every day... I thought about writing, for example, tomorrow's post today, because of my schedule tomorrow, knowing that no one would know the difference. I realized that to do that would run counter to the point of the resolution and therefore this blog.

See you tomorrow.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

This isn't what I was going to write about

I got hit with my food allergy today.

I'm allergic to peanuts, always have been, since the first time someone gave me a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup when I was three or four years old. I am, fortunately, not allergic to peanut oil, nor the scent of peanuts (some people are). Until about six or seven years ago, the most obvious manifestation of the allergy was respiratory distress - the feeling of my throat closing up. The more dangerous symptom, however, was that my blood pressure would drop. Now the allergy takes the form of my stomach swelling and nausea. My stomach hurts, too: The time I got hit with the allergy the worst after its manifestation changed, I felt like there was a mace inside my stomach, and I wound up looking four months pregnant.

It is anaphylaxis, a pretty common severe allergy reaction. I wish I could say I carry a bottle of Benadryl and an Epi-Pen all of the time, but I don't. I try to take it with me when I'm going out to dinner at an unknown place or in a hotel, on planes, and when I'm more than twenty minutes from a hospital. But mostly I don't eat stuff that gives me the willies, like cookies baked at home (unless I can talk to the baker) or those from a package of mixed cookies, or label-less candy that I can't cut in half. I read labels and I talk to servers in African, Chinese, and Thai restaurants.

Today, I got hit by a samosa. In fact I'm fairly certain it was the red sauce on the samosa; I bought it from a vendor at the Farmers' Market, and when he asked, I said yes to cilantro/mint sauce. I even asked what was in it, which I usually don't. When he smeared on the sweet red sauce as well, I didn't ask him what was in it, nor did I refuse the red- and green- smeared samosa. I would not be surprised to learn that he uses ground peanuts in the red sauce (of course, I hope he does, or uses them in the samosas themselves, because that's vastly preferable to not knowing what the reaction was for). Usually I can taste peanuts, but not over the spicy heat of this thing today, so the itchy mouth was my only warning. Instead of going back to the dance studio for the afternoon dance party, we came home and I swallowed four teaspoons of Benadryl and brushed my teeth. Then I sat in the blue chair, read, and felt sick and sleepy for four hours.

The strongest emotion I have about my food allergy is annoyance. It screws up the rest of my day, because I feel sick and because the Benadryl makes me groggy. I mostly feel annoyance at myself, because I'm the one who controls what I put in my mouth. I also get annoyed at the food preparer when I'm allergic to foods that shouldn't have peanuts in them, which happened once each with enchilada sauce and pesto (or samosas and associated sauces!). Before I left home, my mom tried to terrify me with the story of the girl who'd died eating chili at the college cafeteria, but I just didn't eat chili - that is, until I met Chili Fritos [see his 01/23/07 post]. I may have walked to the Food Services Office and asked if there was peanut butter in the chili, but I don't remember.

The only good things about my allergy are: 1) I have an early warning symptom, in that my mouth itches immediately after the first bite; and 2) I don't like peanuts or peanut butter, or candy that includes either. In fact, I can't bring myself to eat soy or other nut butters because they look so much like peanut butter. One time I made these almond butter cookies, even pressing them with a fork for the traditional pattern, and felt like I was getting away with something when I ate the first one.

I was going to write about this writing project (is blogging about blogging a meta-post?) but that will have to wait until I have the brains to go with the time.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Mom's Back Yard

I would have loved to have gotten married here.

I didn't even suggest it because with a wedding that had to be in February, there was no guarantee that outside would have been possible. More importantly, the yard could probably only hold about a dozen people. We knew we were going to have a big party - both of our families like a party!

I booked a room at the Milberry Union Conference Center just to have a place booked, but Mom found the Golden Gate Club in the Presidio. Because of the big windows in all the rooms, it was the next best thing to getting married outside.

Plus, it rained like a cow peeing on a flat rock the day before and the grass would have been wet.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

2 + 1 = >3

Mom told me the other day that the House Dad I mentioned last month and the kids were coming over to her house for dinner tonight. Working Mom is in New York on business. I asked if Zirpu and I could come over too, and she said yes.

So we all met at her house this evening and had steak and potatoes, the oldest kid's favorite dinner. House Dad and Working Mom's kids are nine, six, and three; the three year old is a girl, the other two boys. Rather than play with modeling clay and draw, the kids played with Zirpu. He is like a jungle gym who talks and chases and tickles. This allowed me, Mom, and House Dad to have a fair amount of good conversation.

House Dad and I discussed it andI'm looking forward to dragging them (well, maybe the two younger ones) to FairyLand, and going with all of them to the Jelly Belly Factory and the Nut Tree.

This is the first family I've been close to with three children close in age. Three is a lot of kids. It seems like more than two plus one.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Not forgiving and not forgetting

I've had reason to think about forgiveness recently. Among other reasons, my father's 103-year-old mother died last month, and I had to send a condolence card to my aunt.

The last time I sent a letter to this aunt was probably about two years ago. I'd sent her a letter to try to "make right" some stupid and hurtful stuff that happened when I went out there to visit Mama in 1996 and to AGAIN apologize for not saying anything about my uncle's passing when I sent my aunt a letter about getting engaged to Zirpu in 2002. Which was wrong and I totally needed to apologize for that, but I had just gotten engaged, something I never thought would happen, and not thinking about anything but my own excitement. The letter I sent was contrite and honest and tried to make sense of what happened when I went to visit (visiting my grandmother was great; the two days I had to spend with my aunt and uncle were really awful, as they made me feel as if my visit were a burden to them, by complaining about having to drive me to Mama's or to the suburban train station).

The letter I got back from my aunt was and still is the nastiest communication I have ever received from anyone ever in my life. She and my uncle felt like I didn't thank them enough for allowing me to sleep over and for the rides to the station, because they didn't get a thank you card (I had sent one, but had no idea they didn't receive it, because they never told me). So once again I was not speaking to my aunt (which I know is crazy, because it's not like we had been talking before that). It was hard work to write anything on that card, but I figured that I had to do something because this aunt stands between me and No and anything of sentimental value, like photos or letters, of our father's. Besides, my mother told me to, and the fact that she is still talking to these people 30 years after Daddy died makes her a saint in my book.

I know that I am living a personality trait from that side of the family. My grandmother was like this, my aunt is like this, and I'm like this (Mom says Dad wasn't like that at all). My aunt and my grandmother were furious with each other for things that had happened starting in the 1950s, never talked them out, and never forgave each other. I struggle against that lack of forgiveness every day; I repeat to myself, "People do the best they can with the tools they have at the time." I know that the anger is bad for me and certainly doesn't do anything good for the world, but I just can't let some crap go.

My grandmother was an angry person until she lost her memory a few years ago, and then she was very happy. I have really good role models for forgiving and for generosity: My mother, my brother, and my husband, to start with, but those traits don't come to me naturally. I have to practice generosity, and work at forgiving. The second one is much harder, and what I do more often is pretend to myself that this or that isn't still pissing me off. "Fake it 'til you make it" and all that.

If I have a deep relationship with someone, I forgive him or her of a lot. But I never forget, which has been pointed out to me is a form of not forgiving. I'm working on it, is all I can say.

Please forgive me.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Glamour of Home Ownership

I had just gotten out of the shower when Zirpu asked if the toilet in the "small" bathroom was overflowing or acting strange in any way. It wasn't. I heard him flush the toilet in the other bathroom and then say, "Oh, crap." That toilet overflowed. Plunge, plunge, plunge. Then the toilet bowl in the small bathroom filled; like a comedic movie, I was racing to get the water turned all the way off before the bowl overflowed (and succeeded, just as the water reached the rim).

We called a plumbing company recommended to us by our neighbor. Drain Patrol sent a young man who took off his boots before coming in each time he walked through the house (with which I was very impressed). We walked around the side of the house and inspected the pipes under the house. Mostly he was looking for a clean-out trap, which we don't have (surprisingly - some previous owners did all kinds of other things, like remodeling said bathrooms and attaching the house to the foundation).

While the plumber was snaking the toilet drain (the toilet itself sitting in the office), Zirpu and I sat in the living room and listened, with increasing alarm, to the loud clanking noises coming from the small bathroom. Finally he asked Zirpu to look under the house and see if the pipes (which are above ground, hanging from the floor) were rattling around, or what was going on. Zirpu went under the house and the plumber started snaking again, accompanied by more clanks. I went out the back door to find out was going on under the house and happened to look up.

The snake was on the roof, spinning around and knocking leaf debris out of the gutter. "Stop!" I cried, "Dude! The snake is on the roof!" I don't know why that vision was so frightening, but it was. The plumber laughed - I think he was amused by my calling out "Dude!" He did not seem concerned that the snake, which should have been going under the house, was on the roof. He said the snake must have gone up the vent (vent??). He pulled the snake out of the drain and re-set it, and the clanking stopped.

In the end he snaked the pipe clean. Pulled out a bunch of roots, which he suggested could be from the trees on the west side of the house or more likely from the bushes in front of the house. A stop-gap measure would be to dump some kind of root killer into the pipes every six months, but the real solution (of course) is to replace the pipes. He called his boss about digging up the yard and replacing the pipes and gave us what he said was a very inexpensive estimate because our front yard is so short. It doesn't sound all that inexpensive to us, and of course we have the problem of taking out the trees and the bushes whose roots are causing the problem, though the plumber suggested that when they bring in a tractor to dig up the yard they can deal with the bushes too.

When the plumber left less than two hours after he'd arrived, Zirpu said, "Now we know why that side of the yard is so much greener than the other side."

Monday, March 19, 2007

Carried Away

Um, hi.

I guess I got a little carried away in my post yesterday.

I really don't walk around thinking about CSH and my schoolmates all the time. Really! In fact, I rarely do, but now that there are little girls in my life I must admit I think about that experience more often, wondering if they will be bullied, bullies, or dodge the whole thing when they are in middle school.

Kind of embarrassed now. I wrote what was in my heart, though.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

This is what angry writes like

There was a story in the Chronicle yesterday about a girl who was bullied so much at her middle school that she changed schools - only to find out that her new schoolmates were friends with her former schoolmates and they started bullying her too. She is now being home-schooled because the stress was causing anxiety attacks.

It turns out that kids are using MySpace and Facebook to taunt other kids. I think I knew this, because walking past a kid at a library computer I saw that he was looking at a MySpace page on which the person's name had been changed to read, "This Girl Is A Waste Of Air's MySpace page!" The article really pushes the idea of "cyberbullying," which is people using email, IMs, and social networking sites to bully other people.

This article made me incredibly annoyed. The reason why? The advice given on "how to handle cyberbullying" is pretty much the same advice I was given for five years staring in 1978, and IT DOESN'T WORK. "Ignore it"?! "Ask them to stop"?! "Ask the parents to make them stop"?!

"Ignore it" - Yeah, easy to say. Not easy to do when they are in your face every day. I suppose you could avoid the social networking but avoid the kids at school? This particular girl is doing both, as her mother has blocked her MS page and pulled her out of school. But that's not an option for most families.

"Ask them to stop" - Why do parents, teachers, and other school staff repeat this advice? You can't "ignore them" and "ask them to stop" at the same time. And if you do ask them to stop, they have another tack to take when teasing you.

"Ask the parents to make them stop" - And face the consequences at school? Not to mention that usually there is no proof linking the bullies to the bullying, regardless of whether it is happening online or in person.

When I sent this article to a friend, she wrote back saying, "These 'adults' are idiots with this 'advice' that's about as good as Nancy Reagan's 'just say no to drugs' campaign!"

You can probably tell that I am intimately familiar with this experience. In fifth grade and in eighth grade I reported to the principal and a teacher of my school how really awful half of my classmates were to me, and no one did a anything about it. At home, I was struggling with making my mom believe that I wasn't just being melodramatic, and I felt that if someone like Sister Lyons or Mrs. Lujan corroborated my stories, I would get to change schools. Barring that, they could have spoken to the girls in my class (for all the good that would do), and let them know that they were at least being watched, but Sr. Lyons and Mrs. Lujan didn't do that either. If they discussed it with our other teachers, it didn't make them act any differently.

Unfortunately I do not think that there is any way to solve it, though teaching girls to express anger directly, as Rachel Simmons suggest in her book Odd Girl Out, might alleviate some (but only some) of it. People who have little power use the power they do have to put others down, and kids have very little power in the world outside of school. I feel now that I should have either refused to go to school at all, or actually got in physical fights in my class until I got expelled, even though I now know that there are mean girls everywhere. But I was a good girl who wanted to know everything and I was afraid of getting my ass kicked.

My friend is much more evolved than I and has forgiven the girls in her class, saying that she wouldn't be who she is today if she hadn't had the experiences she had, and she likes who she is today. I live in that space as much as I can (though, in general, forgiveness doesn't come to me easily), but when I read about it happening to someone else it touches that place in me all over again and I become furious on that person's behalf, as well as on behalf of my fourth-through-eighth-grade self.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Passing Twinkle

"We pass through moments in other people's lives."

This is one of my favorite lines in a book, from Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

About this time last year, I went to pay the mortgage at the bank that owns our house. It is conveniently located a block from the dance studio. I was all pumped up from my lesson that day, which happens sometimes, when we're working on a routine and it's gone well, or when we've nailed a new step and have been able to integrate into a little combination of steps. Or when we've just been able to open up and bust some moves, grinning all the way. This may have been a day when all of those things happened, as I'd just come from the Saturday dance party following a lesson.

People in Hayward are much friendlier than those with whom I stood in lines in Oakland. They chat with each other, and they don't look at me strangely when I say something to them like, "I've never had that cake, what's it like?" or "I really like your earrings." I said that to the lady who was standing in front of me in the long and slow teller line, and we started chatting. I don't remember exactly what she said, but it was along the lines her not having a very good week and she was feeling kind of low.

I said, because I love to dance, that when I feel that way, dancing always picks me right up. The inevitable questions followed: "What kind of dancing do you do?" and "Where do you dance?" So of course I told her all about the studio, and I guess my enthusiasm caught hold of her too because she said that she was going to go right over there and check it out.

I did actually see her a few times there but I never got to talk to her, because it was always when we were having a lesson and so was she. Then she disappeared. Then I saw her again at the grand opening when the studio moved to larger digs a couple doors south of the original studio. I knew that Daisey and Chris had sent announcement postcards to everyone who'd taken lessons there (we got one) and a lot of people I hadn't seen in awhile showed up (and then vanished again).

Well, today during the practice party I saw her again. This time she came up to me and asked, "Do you remember me?" I replied, "Yes, you're the lady from the bank!" She clasped my hands and thanked me for bringing her into the studio, and that maybe one day she would even compete.

Friday, March 16, 2007

A Kid?

Today at the food bank, I was working with some new (to me) people. This is only my second Friday, and I plan to make it a regular thing. Fridays are pretty different from Mondays, mostly because we don't have two days of produce deliveries to give away on Fridays - on Mondays, we have Sunday and Monday deliveries from Trader Joe's and one from the Alameda Farmer's Market filling our tables.

The volunteer coordinator and a few people were having a discussion about who would work "up front," that is, with the clients and the produce, and I offered to work the tables with this guy whose first day was today. I told him while I was sorting through the boxes that the way I was taught to do it was one person would handle the table with the salads and the "refrigerated boxes" (which are just big plastic boxes with blue ice in them, for cheese, yogurt, sandwiches, pizzas, and the like), and the other person would handle the other table (which today was filled with mushrooms, cabbage, sweet potatoes, melons, tomatoes, zucchini, mandarin oranges, and cauliflower). He agreed to this arrangement and said, "You're pretty smart for a kid."

I thought this was a very funny thing for him to say to me, but I didn't remark on it to him. I'm not vain about my age, and what I thought was, "He must think I'm in my twenties." In reality I doubt this man is much older than I actually am; I'd be surprised if he is 50.

Later, I introduced myself to the women who would be signing people in and one of them remarked that she really liked my name. I thanked her and said, "It has become much more common in the last 20 years. It was much less so when I was born, almost forty years ago."

Yep, I had to say it. Even as it was coming out of my mouth, I knew it was stupid. Oh well.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

I have come here to lose the smog

This summer is the twentieth anniversary of CabinStock, and everyone who hears is asked to spread the word to anyone else who's been there that this year is a big year and they should make the effort to attend. Children are welcome and there will be some kind of arrangement for them (maybe a Kid Corral, so they don't run off into the woods?).

The first three times I went to the cabin Phil took me in the winter and late spring, when there was snow all around. The cabin was built by Phil's father for summer use, and one January our toothbrushes froze to the counter top. There are only two right angles in this Alice-In-Wonderland building, the water coming directly from the creek, the heat from the fireplace and the wood stove. It's in an absolutely beautiful setting, facing Mount Elbert, and I've been there so many times, in each season, that I've seen the trees every color, and the creek high, low, and frozen; the first time I saw snow fall was at the cabin in 1987.

Also, Phil's ashes are buried there, where they belong.

We climbed cathedral mountains, we saw silver clouds below
We saw everything as far as you can see

And they say we got crazy once, and we tried to touch the sun
And we lost a friend but kept his memory

CabinStock is an annual three or four day music jam/party in the mountains, at a summer cabin at about 1,000 feet below Independence Pass in Colorado. I went in 1991, 1993, 1996, 1997, and 2002 (and maybe another time, I can't remember). It is looking likely I will go this summer as well. The music starts in the morning - when I was going, there was one guy who would start every day at 9am playing "Wake Up, Little Susie" (you can hear part of it here). Most people did not sleep in the cabin, since it is small, and would crawl out of their tents for refritos, tortillas, scrambled eggs, pancakes, and "coffee with." The music ends late, and one night some of us sang all night long.

I love singing, I love live music, and I love the spontaneity of people noodling around on their guitars and keyboards until they land on a song. Johnny Half-Song is famous for making up new second and third verses to songs to which everyone knows the chorus. So many songs get played in "G" that it's becomeknown as "the key of Gene" after one of the original band
members. I've led people into the
"Sesame Street" theme instead of the Rolling Stones. I learned how to harmonize at CabinStock. The set-up has been pretty sophisticated, with a soundboard as well as amplifiers and a drum set, and there have been an electrified violin, harmonicas, and a trumpet. Whoever's on the deck is playing or singing or just passing through, bringing a beer or a light to the rotating roster of the band.

There are people there I know and like and have a history with now. We can pick up and be buddies again even though we haven't talked in two or three years. I decided to marry Zirpu while I was there, talking about him with Johnny Half-Song and his wife. I have friendships in the mountains, deep and full of smiles, into which I dip once every few years.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

... And also with you...

I went to Catholic school for fourth through eighth grade. I didn't think it was very Catholic, but it was the '70s and early '80s, when the Church was more responsive to the needs and sensibilities of its members. Or maybe it really wasn't a very Catholic school - certainly my experience with the administration led me to feel that way. I wasn't Catholic, but my mom had been and she attended Catholic schools when she was growing up, so she sent me to one when I graduated from the neighborhood elementary school.

The only religious event in five years that made any real impression on me was an Ash Wednesday Mass. Though I remember the Masses we sat through annually, I remember an Ash Wednesday Mass only in my fifth-grade year. We had been told to write a wish on a small piece of paper; these were collected by Father Mike and burned in a coffee can. It was my impression that the smoke was taking our wishes to God. I even sort of remember Father Mike telling me this while he dropped matches into the can, though now I can't imagine that I was with him while he was doing it. During the Mass, he used the ashes for smudging the foreheads of the faithful (which was almost everyone) during the service.

Years later I started hanging out with Pagans and learned that some of them did much the same thing, burning the papers or threads used in spells, carrying wishes and prayers up to the sky.

The most religious experience I ever had was one night when I was in college. A group of us were listening to the Beatles. It was dark, there were lit candles, we were passing a bottle of wine around, and the small room was filled with incense and the sound of "Hey Jude." We all felt joined together in peace.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Dad's Day

Today is the 33rd anniversary of the day Dad died of cancer, having lived about twice as long as the original prognosis indicated. He was to turn 42 the following Tuesday. I was five and a half, No was almost four, and my parents had been married nine and a half years.

Dad's best friend told me that when Dad died, he had fallen halfway out of the rented hospital bed in the living room of our house. I imagine that this was caused by the fierceness of his battle with the Angel of Death.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Talking about our lives

I've mentioned before that I am one of the facilitators of the Bi Women's Group at the Pacific Center. I have sort of named myself Facilitator of the Facilitators, mostly because it's how I know that things will get done. What I mean is, it keeps me comfortable. I'm into structure, ya know, with four planets in Virgo. I haven't gotten the sense that anyone else wants to do it, or resents my coup.

The BWG has been in the doldrums since sometime last fall. The meetings were small and it didn't often feel like anything was really going on. We had moved to a larger room in the summer to accommodate the 15-18 women who were coming, and then for months there were five or six people coming (or fewer!), including the facilitator. With five people, even if there is only one person who is uncertain about speaking or how the group works, the dynamics of the whole meeting are affected: There would be low energy, scattered topics, silence, and discomfort with silence.

Two weeks ago there were eight people at the meeting, six of us "oldtimers," and last week there were thirteen, with four "oldtimers." Both weeks the topics were interesting and meaty, flirting and identity, respectively. I'm hoping and hopeful that we've moved out of the doldrums and will be picking up in people and in conversation. A friend suggested that with the start of Daylight Savings and the change in the weather perhaps people will start showing up: The two-hour meeting starts at 8pm and that feels a lot later when it's dark and chilly outside.

I really believe that our group provides an important service. Sometimes I've felt it more keenly than at other times, like when a woman says that she thinks maybe she should break up with her boyfriend because she is realizing she likes women also, or when someone asks how can she legitimately call herself bi before she's kissed a woman, or when someone's girlfriend tells her she has to make up her mind.

I started going to this group because at the time I had a lot of male energy in my life. I had been dating men, my friends at work were largely men, and I hung out at AsiaSF with the bartenders, who at the time were all men. I wasn't looking to date women, I was just looking for women. I've met some really great women and made wonderful friends through the group, talking over relationships, families, politics, sexism, heterosexism, identity, every subject you can imagine. Someone I really respect says that because we are bi, everything in our lives is bi-related. We talk about our lives.

Now I see my role as a sort of "elder stateswoman." I have been out as bi for a very long time, and I've been a member of the group for six years, and at Camp Odyssey I was the "Bi Speaker." I feel like I want to be a resource for others, the way I wish I had had a resource when I came out. A little story from those days: My girlfriend and I thought we may had met someone who would be a resource for us, and then she said she wasn't a feminist. Not that being queer means you have to be a feminist, but at the time we couldn't see any other way. I still remember the shock I felt when she said that.

I feel privileged to be one of the group's facilitators, all women whom I find it a pleasure to know and work with (or goof off with, or go out with, or march with). Our group serves women with all kinds of experiences, backgrounds, and lifestyles, ones who talk a lot and ones who come back week after week and say little or nothing. We don't know how we're serving them, but clearly we are. We facilitators are just like the women who attend the meetings. We are bi and we are anyone.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


When I was a kid, I didn't sleep much. Assuming I got up at 7:00 to go to school, I probably slept four hours a night, on good nights. By "kid," I mean I was keeping those hours as a young child, even when I was a student at Dudley Stone Elementary, which means before fourth grade. No and I shared a room when we were small, and I remember watching him sleep even then.

I spent hours and hours lying in bed in the dark, waiting for it to be tomorrow. It didn't matter what was going on tomorrow, but I hated lying in bed, doing nothing. I wasn't allowed to read all night, although I was always saying "Just to the end of this chapter... to the end of this page... to the end of this paragraph" to my mother. I never read under the covers, due to a lack of flashlights rather than a lack of desire.

After our neighbors moved to Lafayette at the end of my second grade year, I went out there to spend the night. At the time Lafayette was the country and as far away as I had ever been from home without my mother. Lisa and I determined to stay up until midnight, which seemed like something a teenager would do. We struggled to stay awake, watching the clock so we could stop talking and lie down in the dark.

Finally the clock turned to 12:00 and Lisa promptly fell asleep. I watched the clock, resentful that my previous exhaustion had fled, for at least two more hours. I wished I could sleep and was so frustrated that I never could. Every sleepover was the same way, I was always wide awake hours after my friends had fallen asleep. I was also the first one awake, and felt obligated to wait for my friends to awaken before I could go downstairs and get some cereal or watch TV. More boredom, but more uncomfortable than at home, lying in a sleeping bag on the floor. If I was lucky, there was a bookshelf nearby that I could pull from until the host woke up.

I continued to not sleep until sometime during 11th grade. I realized after the fact that I was sleeping better, but I was also keeping later hours - at 16, Mom wasn't checking to see if the light was off in my room. And teenagers need more sleep, albeit at later hours, than people at any other age. When I was in college, at least once a semester I would stay up all night, without intoxicants or stimulants, which I thought was my body just resetting its clock.

Unless I'm sick, I still need a pretty specific set of requirements to be met to sleep. No noise, like people talking, the radio, or TV, or even the tapping of the keyboard when Zirpu's pulling late night for work. I need to be lying down (I absolutely cannot sleep on airplanes). I can get myself into a physically restful state that looks like sleep to others (which I realize sounds really stupid, like "Thinking with my eyes closed"), but my mind is usually going on at its usual speed. Sometimes I'm thinking, "I wish I were sleeping now."

Saturday, March 10, 2007

West Coasting

I just finished watching the finals of "America's Ballroom Challenge." The format of the whole competition, which is also known as the Ohio Star Ball, was changed this year, I heard, to reflect the interest in elimination/winner-takes-all competitions like "Survivor." If you didn't know very much about dance, you'd be impressed; if you knew as much about dance as I do (and I am familiar with only American style dances and only the Arthur Murray syllabus), this show would have blown your mind.

I know it's not on TV anymore, but I just had to say that. Hooray for Digital Video Recording! I would watch it again anytime.

Because I have chosen to take a "year on" and not work for pay, Zirpu and I have cut back the number of lessons we're taking at the studio. However, we plan to still use Monday nights for dancing, and this past Monday we started working on West Coast Swing with a video tutorial from DanceVision. It's not as easy as having the teacher right in the room, but we, who are used to using DVDs, are more frustrated by the time it takes to rewind the tape. Ron Montez is a good teacher and the video technique is as plain as can be, making it easy to see the steps. It is a little strange that his partner, Liz Curtis, doesn't speak at all, but she wears a short skirt so it's easy to see her legs.

According to this (and to Wikipedia), West Coast Swing was standardized by Arthur Murray, who noticed regional variations of the Lindy Hop. What we now call West Coast Swing is the way people were dancing it in the LA area fifty-plus years ago, and it became the state dance of California in 1987 (Oregon and Washington named Square Dancing as their states' dance in 1977 and 1979, respectively).

I think that "good" WCS looks like the dancers have wheels in the soles of their shoes. Here is a choreographed routine, and here you can see a (not-great-quality) video of the winners of a Jack and Jill competition, in which routines are not choreographed (Tatiana Mollman, the follow, is in both videos). My idea about WCS is that it's a relaxed dance, for playing, so thinking about competitive WCS seems counter intuitive, but I've caught the end of a WCS comp at the Allegro Ballroom and have danced two WCS exhibition routines at AM events with one of our dance teachers. Still, it seems to me that I should be able to drink some beer and still be able to get my West Coast groove on...

Friday, March 9, 2007

Getting What You Ask For

Or, "How Zirpu and I Met." This is the story of how the Universe answers prayers even when you don't believe.

It was the Saturday of the Summer Solstice in 2001. That day had been declared a "voluntary blackout day" and I unplugged everything in my house (except the gas stove, because that made me nervous). I mostly sat outside and read a book. It was a beautiful day.

Shmeen had advised that while it's important to have a list of requirements for a lover, the list should be short, no more than five items. Otherwise, she said, the list is too specific and no one could ever meet it. I had my list: Smart, silly, sex-positive, willing to deal with emotions, and... now I always forget the fifth one. Probably something basic like "mature" or "friendly to my family." So even though I thought it was superstitious to do so, I set up a request - what some of my friends would call an altar - on the dining table. I wrote my list on a piece of paper, and next to it put a collage I'd made a few years before of my relationship to the Universe; pictures of two people I had really loved; a photo of Dad and one of Phil (for intercessionary powers); some jewelry that has strong sentimental value; a flower; and some candles. My deal with the Universe was that I would help it help me find someone.

At the beginning of July I started looking at the personals on Craigslist. I was looking at Men Seeking Women because the Women Seeking Women posts seemed to either be flame wars or very young women. I had dared myself to meet ten men, which worked because I didn't really want to be doing this at all. Ten meant I had an escape clause.

Zirpu was Bachelor #8. I had actually met about four people in real life by the time I met him. His ad said "Boring Southern Gentleman, 33, in Berkeley" and I thought, "I"ll give this a try, he's close to me in age and geography" because the previous two guys I'd dated hadn't been, one in San Jose, the other 22 years my senior. We exchanged a few emails - he sent a picture I couldn't really see because I only had 16 colors on my old machine (not to mention a 28.8 modem) - and then two phone calls to set up a meet. I'd learned from previous experience that you have to set up the meet quickly, before everyone loses interest in emailing.

We met at the Beanery in Berkeley, close to where we both lived, on July 29. I was 20 minutes late because I couldn't recognize him and because I didn't know the coffeehouse had a back room, and I still want that twenty minutes back. He was playing with Legos which he'd purchased at the toy store next door, to give his hands something to do and hide his nervousness. We talked and played with the Legos for three hours, up until the last possible moment before I had to get back home to meet the book club that was coming over.

When we walked out, he was a little ahead of me and skipped a few steps. So did my heart. As miraculous as it was that we met, the real miracle is that had we met any earlier than we did, neither of us would have been ready for the lightning bolt.

One and a half year later YaYaWOT and Boy made our wedding cake top out of Legos in honor of our first date.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

A Sweet Thing

Zirpu brings me coffee in bed in the morning. Definitely a morning person, he is up around 5am every weekday. Since we sold the Prius, I've been driving him to BART, and I was getting up right before getting in the car. I realized that even though I wake up quickly, I wasn't totally oriented by the time we were leaving for the station. I asked him to wake me about ten minutes before I needed to get up, and that it would be nice if he brought me a cup of coffee.

I'm usually awake-but-eyes-closed when he comes in, coffee in hand. He even puts milk in my coffee. Sometimes he brings his own cup in and gets back into bed with me to sip and chat. I know two other men who do this: One couple have been married over forty years, and No does it for KT.

I'm really glad I asked Zirpu to do this. I know that he wouldn't have thought of doing it on his own, and I don't mind that. I've learned in my life with Zirpu that it's much better to ask him to do something romantic than wish he would, because he's just not romantic. In general, I've learned in my life that you don't get things you don't ask for. Well, sometimes you do, but they are rarely things you want.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Bad words

I'm sure you've heard by now about Ann Coulter calling John Edwards a "faggot." I'm not really interested in Coulter and, until I got sucked into a couple videos of her on YouTube, have managed to avoid ever seeing her ignorant spewing (but then, I mostly watch SciFi and the Food Network, and sometimes Comedy Central. Hey, I wonder if she'll be on "The Daily Show"?).

The discussion in the press has gotten me thinking about words and the contexts that turn them into "bad words." Apparently Coulter has defended herself by saying that it was "a schoolyard taunt" and I am reminded of how many teachers I've known who have tried to put the kibosh on the use of "fag," "faggot," and "gay" (the adjective that means "stupid") in their schools, because those words hurt students. In the Battlestar Galactica universe, "toaster" is a common pejorative used for the Cylons, to further distance our heroes from the enemy (much like the word Coulter used last year at CPAC). To lend the show authenticity, the producer had to invent a word that would not be censored, so all the soldiers use "frak," a word that is slipping into regular American English, without the baggage of the Anglo-Saxon word from which it is descended. Oh, the joy of the kids who are using it in school!

On those old Anglo-Saxon words for a minute: I had a professor in college who held all those words near and dear to his heart. I had an entertaining conversation with him in the very echo-y stairwell of the library about how Anglo-Saxon was big on strong consonant sounds, like "F," "K," "SH," and "T." I seem to remember him saying that the Normans, who spoke Old French, further marginalized the defeated Anglo-Saxons by creating a culture in which their speech was "bad" - hence, the "bad words" that in Anglo-Saxon were just words.

I was discouraged to see the word "bitch" crawl onto our TV screens some years ago. I do not use it because in 1996 a 16 year old asked me not to, and I use "kvetch" instead of "complain." Probably because it is a gender-specific noun in a language that for the most part (except for pronouns, as S. Bear Bergman points out) has dumped gendered words. Is there even an equivalent to describe a male? Even worse, the phrase "bitch-slapped" is so accepted that the first time I heard it was on a sitcom (I was in so much shock I can't remember what the sitcom was - perhaps "Frasier"). To me, that's a double barrelled word - a word that not only disrespectfully describes a woman, but also violence against women.

There are other words I won't use, ones that are called by their first letter only, because people take real offense at them for the way they have been used in the past. There has been a lot of discussion about ownership of those words... discussions I have been part of when the word is "queer" or "dyke." "I can use it, but you can't" types of words, and I don't use them if I'm not in the group that is "taking back" the word.

I don't think any of the Seven Dirty Words are particularly bad words. I never use some of them, by chance, and don't use the rest when I think I'm around people who might be offended. I do not use, and ask people around me not to use, nouns that describe a group of people in a disrespectful way, because those words offend me.

Update: Sorry, I didn't get the whole quote from Coulter about "faggot" being a schoolyard taunt. What she actually said on "Hannity and Colmes" Monday night was, "'Faggot' isn't offensive to gays; it has nothing to do with gays... It is a schoolyard taunt."

Like so many other people, my response is: Uhhhh, yes it is, and yes it does.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

I see Paris, I see Dorset

I see someone's small black corset.

The photographer who shot No and KT's wedding has posted a slide show on her blog. They are great photos of No and KT before, during, and after the wedding, as well as the next day walking on the beach and in town (there's one in which you can see the photographer's reflection; extra credit if you spy it).

In about half of them in which I appear, and some of the video taken that night (which wasn't done by her) you can see the tip of my corset peeking out. Damn it! I should have taken it off and put it back on lower, but I thought pulling it down would work well enough.

The day KT and No got married I was dashing from room to room and in less than five minutes eight people told me "some black was showing." I hate to say I finally hollered, "I know! Give me just a minute! I haven't had time to fix it yet!" to get people to back the hell off. I was really really annoyed - this thing was definitely pressing some buttons, and I was pretty wound up by then. I went into a bedroom, pulled the corset down, and took a few minutes to calm down. If I had been thinking more clearly or had had someone to help out I might have taken it off and put it back on.

I hope no one mentions this to me, saying something like "Too bad you're underwear's showing in all these pictures." Because the only response I will have to any equivalent of "I told you so" will be "You're right."

Finally, the big shot of the wedding party? I was waiting for the photographer to tell me where to stand - she probably thought I was telepathic rather than hard of hearing. I didn't know she was shooting so I'm not only not smiling but I'm not holding my flowers like a normal bridesmaid. At least my corset's not showing.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Now we're cooking?

This past fall I was learning to bake on the backs of the dance teachers at our studio. I don't consider myself a very good baker, because of that whole chemistry thing: I tend to be lazy about amounts, timing, and pan sizes when cooking, and that doesn't work for most baked goods. However, the dance teachers dance all day and work from the early afternoon until late at night (occasionally I drive past the studio around midnight and see bodies moving on the dance floor), and are always hungry.

A request for butterscotch blondies on the Recipe Exchange tribe resulted in two recipes, one of which was a lot like the blondies we used to make as kids (I forget at whose house). These blondies are thicky and gooey; if they were chocolate you'd describe them as fudgy. I made them three times the week I first made them because they got inhaled so quickly. Cutting them into small squares didn't make them go any slower.

Last night at the Showcase one of the women at the studio asked me for a favor. She slipped me a black Arthur Murray apron, saying, "I'll trade you this for a batch of your butterscotch brownies." Of course I said yes, so I have to remember to make these for her before Saturday. And I won't even have to wash an apron to do it!

Tracy's Butterscotch Blondies

1 lb brown sugar
1.5 sticks butter
2 eggs, beaten
2 t baking powder
1 t salt
1 t vanilla

--> The recipe also calls for one cup of toasted walnuts or pecans, but I do not believe in nuts in baked goods or ice cream.

Melt sugar and butter together in a saucepan. Cool. Add eggs. Mix flour, baking powder, salt, and vanilla (and nuts) together. Add butter mixture and mix well. Bake in a greased 9"x13" pan at 350F for 30 minutes.

--> See, this is why I'm not a very good baker. I have never baked brownies in anything bigger than a 9" square pan so without thinking I baked Tracy's Blondies in the same pan I bake brownies in. Hence their gooeyness. If they're too raw on the inside for you, bake them longer, or add more flour, I suppose.

Later another woman came up and said, "I saw your recipe in the newspaper!" Zirpu and I haven't been receiving our paper since I cancelled the vacation hold (I think our carrier is easily confused, or she hates us) and I'd forgotten I'd submitted a recipe in response to someone's request in the "Second Helpings" feature, the column where people ask for help finding lost recipes. When I got home I looked it up and there was my Irish Stew recipe.

I don't think I'm much of a cook, maybe because of my food blog reading (see sidebar) and my friends who not only cook but can discuss El Bulli and Ferran Adria while I'm trying to figure out how to use leftover cilantro and parsley. Imagine my surprise to get two recipe hits in a week.

Tomorrow I'm going to the office of the Hayward Review (warning: the Inside Bay Area website, which covers the seven ANG papers, is really awful) to ask for a copy of Wednesday's paper and to either cancel my subscription or make them promise to get it delivered. It's not much of a paper, but if it mentions me it must be worth reading, right?

Sunday, March 4, 2007

The Villagers

In today's San Francisco Magazine (part of the Sunday Chronicle) is a story about people who are "embracing the decision not to procreate." It is actually one of the first stories I've seen like this that doesn't treat the subjects of the articles as selfish yuppies who put their careers before having children. However, it does make them - the women especially, who are the focus of the story - sound lonely.

Zirpu and I like to play with kids. Other people's kids, as "play" is the operative term (we teach them too, as we are both naturally pedantic). Each of us have been asked if we have kids, if we want to have kids, especially me, which I answer with humor, even though I always wind up explaining myself because people don't really accept "no." Honestly I've started to hear those questions as offensive even as I know these strangers aren't trying to offend, and I'm not as angry about it as some of the people in the "Childfree By Choice" tribe on tribe. net or on some of the childless/childfree networkers like those mentioned in the article. Still, I have several friends who have had trouble conceiving for as long as five years, and a question in which the asker wasn't even all that invested would cut right to the heart of the greatest issue of their marriages at those times. Suddenly a stranger is all up in our business? Who's to know that Zirpu and I each decided separately that we didn't want to have kids?

Recently I had a long conversation with a friend who is very pro-children. He has been pressing me to have a baby since just after Zirpu and I got married. I used to think it was because he loves being a parent and due to cultural expectations, where happiness is defined as "married with children." Now I think it is just because he really loves being a parent. He's quite proud of the fact that he's talked two couples into having children, though I must say that my experience with giving advice is that people only do what you suggest when they were already inclined to do it before they ever talked to you, but he's happy to take the credit, which is fine with me.

Finally I thought we were reaching a point where I was going to have to describe to him all of thought processes about having and not having children. I explained that I'm probably too old to conceive for the first time, that we like our life the way it is, and even joked that if we had a child, she or he would be hungry and naked because we spend our money on dance lessons. Finally I explained half of the things I've thought about over the years (only half, because it would have taken a whole day to outline them all). I said that after my experience at Harry's Mother and Letty Owings Center I truly believe that it takes a village to raise a child and that the adults ahould always outnumber the kids by at least three to one. He said that he heard me and wouldn't bug me about our having kids anymore.

The next day, he was right back to telling me that Zirpu and I would make great parents.

Don't we all want to share with others the thing that we love the most?

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Ahhh, back at the dance studio. We've been away for two weeks, and it seems much longer.

Our regular dance teacher is out of town today, at her grandmother's birthday party. We had our lesson with our other regular dance teacher (who, I suspect, will be more and more regular for us as KT's responsibilities at the studio grow) and worked on Silver 1 waltz and rumba. The magic of the Arthur Murray System is, of course, that all the dances are interrelated, so we learned essentially the same step in both dances. Except of course that they are completely different. (-:

It felt good to get back to waltz. It feels like a long time since we've danced any waltz, and it's been a long time since we learned a new step, because we so recently had our check-out for Bronze 4. We've been dancing a lot of salsa recently, and merengue (ma-ren-gay); at our last lesson that's all we did and then of course in Puerto Vallarta we danced even more. Zirpu and I even led a couple of merengue/conga lines, complete with tunnels, because we are, after all, Arthur Murray Hayward dancers and that's what we do at parties in Hayward.

Hayward is in the house!

I taught several men and a few couples some basic salsa. One couple was really motivated to learn and so in half an hour I got them doing basics, turns, and the cross-body lead. Another couple sounded motivated to learn, but the wife kept saying that she "couldn't dance." I believe that if you can count to eight, you can dance (and for salsa you don't even need to count to eight; six will do fine), and I felt like saying "Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they're yours." We had fun in the lesson anyway - lots of laughter, and dance is a means to pleasure.

Zirpu was out there dancing with the ladies who didn't have dance partners. He said his only regret for the week was that they didn't play more music he could dance to, because there were women who wanted a spin on the dance floor. This is how cool, in all senses of the word, my husband is:

Friday, March 2, 2007

An apology and a recommendation

I think yesterday's post is pretty terrible. It does forward my goal of telling people they should be prepared, but... ugh. I wrote it when I was tired and uninspired and really just wanted to go to bed, still recovering from the trip last week I think. But you deserve better.

Further ugh, I opened up this morning and saw that there was a tornado in Alabama, Georgia, and Missouri that killed 20 people yesterday, including a bunch of students when parts of their high school collapsed.

I will need to plan ahead and think about my best writing time of the day. I suspect it is in the morning or early afternoon (I am writing this just before noon). Having an idea to write about is another challenge: How to build something around a single idea that is long and interesting enough to read. Herb Caen got around this by using his "three dots" in his column, but I am not in his class to do it on a regular basis.

Tea has written a beautiful post about growing up and a person who showed her the way. I encourage you to read it. The part that most resonates with me is toward the end, where she describes Amanda's gingersnaps. If you read, or have already read, about Aunt Syl's enchilada sauce, you'll know why. Because I can replace the words "Amanda's gingersnaps" with "Aunt Syl's enchilada sauce" and "creaming butter" with "chopping peppers," I know she feels about those gingersnaps the way I feel about Phil's enchilada sauce.

As long as we are remembered, we live.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Shake it up, baby, now

How many times have I talked to someone from the Midwest who says, "You're from California? What about those earthquakes? Aren't you scared?"?

I want to say, "Well, aren't YOU scared of tornadoes?"

We just had a 4.2 earthquake centered in Berkeley this evening (2140 PST). It jerked the house and rattled the rickety bookshelf where Zirpu keeps his Rubik's cube collection. Zirpu and I looked at each other, waiting to see if it was going to last long enough to get in the doorway.

I didn't really think about earthquakes that much until Katrina hit Mississippi and Louisiana and those awful pictures came out of New Orleans (maybe because I wasn't here for the 1989 earthquake, the one that postponed the World Series). After that, I thought, "That that could be us: Without the flooding, but with a lot more rubble." It didn't help that at the time I was working in a building that was described as "the tallest building on campus before the earthquake, and the longest afterward."

I became an evangelist for emergency preparedness. Like a lot of evangelists (or the famous ones anyway) I'm not as prepared for the emergency as some people, but I certainly preach the gospel, keeping a readiness list in my PDA to share like Chick Tracts. During Halloween of 2005 I handed out Smart & Finals' Readiness list along with bite-size Milky Ways. This is the list around which my friend who is a Neighborhood Emergency Response Team member and her household built their "earthquake box" (actually they have a shed), so we built ours around it too.

It occurs to me as I write this that I started hanging out in Vernonia, OR, about six months after it was flooded by the Nehalem River in 1996. At that time, the high water marks on the buildings, particularly the high school, were quite obvious. The house of friends floated off its foundation but not away, held in place by pipes. Another friend had a tree fall through her living room. But by the time I met them, only the water marks remained and I didn't really understand what they had been through. Until the flooding caused by Katrina.

The earthquake will happen, someday, and since we don't plan to leave (and live where there are tornadoes? You've got to be kidding!), we have to hedge ourselves against what happens afterwards. The frame of our house is bolted to the foundation and our Quake Box and water are easy to reach. A pair of boots, jeans, and a sweater live in the trunk of the car. I have "ICE" (in case of emergency) next to two out-of-area names in my cell phone and we keep our documents in a fire safe.

My NERT friend pointed out that the best way to help in an emergency is to not need help. I'm doing my best to not need help. I'd much rather be in a position to give it.