Friday, August 31, 2007

Sir Gareth

Bug and YaYaWords of Thunder are driving to Long Beach today so that Bug can move into the her dorm room at CSU Long Beach. I helped Bug figure out the silent E when she was learning to read and now she is a college freshman. The kids change, but we stay the same, so it doesn't seem possible that eleven years have passed.

The summer before I went to college (or, the summer after I graduated from high school) I spent as much time as possible with my friends. Doesn't everyone? I wasn't sure that choosing to leave town for college was a good idea, just as I hadn't been sure that staying in town for college would be a good idea. I was going out with a friend of a friend, a summer fling just for then, which I knew at the time, even if he didn't (though it must be said that he told me he wasn't surprised to receive my "Dear John" letter after I'd been in school for awhile).

My brother and I weren't very close as teenagers. First of all we were teenagers, and we weren't the same gender, and we didn't run in the same circles - we didn't even go to school together. In fact, he was gone a lot of that summer, as Paulo's parents had taken both boys with them when Paulo's father got a temporary reassignment to Anchorage. I think No came back maybe a week before Mom and I left to take me to college.

The night before we left, I was in my room packing my instant-access bag (that is, the stuff I would want to unpack first) when No came in. He gave me a small metal figure of Sir Gareth that I didn't recall ever seeing before. He said that Ria had given it to him when we were kids, and that it had been his good luck charm for years. I was moved by his gift because really we hadn't spent much time together and had had almost no conversation for a couple of years.

I've gone through periods thinking he was the much more familiar Saint George or Sir Gawain, and periods when I didn't even know where he was. I've considered giving him to someone else for good luck (most recently, Bug), but I've always hung onto Sir Gareth. My brother gave him to me at a time when No was almost a stranger to me, and this was my connection to him when I was moving away and everything was uncertain.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Casting The Movie Of My Life

You're welcome to suggest a different actor, should you so wish. The Killer Lady and I came up with a bunch on the drive through Colorado and Utah.

Those of you not currently cast, who would you like to play you in the movie of my life? Remember, the actor does not have to look like you, be your current age, or even be living.


Samatakah - Janeane Garofalo
Zirpu - Seth Green
Mom - Ruth Gordon or Judi Dench
No - Will Smith
KT - Jennifer Aniston is under consideration
TL - Linda Hamilton
The Killer Lady - Susan Sarandon
Shobi-wan - Katee Sackoff
Bink - Julia Stiles
Spudwhip - Jim Carrey
Denver D - Steve Buscemi

Yet to be cast:
Mrs. P
YaYa Words of Thunder

...among others...

Yesterday's Post

I did write yesterday, just not here.

Because I left at 815 and didn't return until almost midnight, I didn't have time or energy to write something else than what I'd already written in my journal.

Even if I didn't keep my resolution with the blog, I did with myself.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Road

Alton Brown is eating his way along the road again in Feasting On Asphalt. Last season they followed the blue highways from east to west and this season they're following the Mississippi River from south to north. I can't get enough of this show and it's not Alton and it's not the eating. It's the road, or the places and people along the road. I remember as a little kid lying in my bed not sleeping, imagining that I was actually in a motorcycle sidecar zooming over a ribbon of highway.

I've read all kinds of books about people traveling on the highways of the US, fiction and nonfiction (or roman a' clef, in the case of Kerouac), traveling by car, van, motorcycle, bicycle, bus, and on foot. I have done some road-tripping, up and down I-5 so often it has become a dance, and back and forth between the west coast and Colorado. None of it, however, has resulted in meeting people along the way (though I have dined in some fine and not-so-fine diners). I've always been on my way somewhere, trips where the journey was the means to the end, not the means and the end.

The national highway system exists because Eisenhower, a military man, saw that one was needed for national defense - he thought that in this big country of ours, soldiers and supplies needed a way to get to each other that was not reliant on railroads. I've only traveled across half of it by car and I'm always surprised at how far away everything is.

I don't know if I'm the kind of person who could jump out of a car in any small town and have a conversation with a local. I don't know if I'm too shy for that. But I hope that sometime I will be able to take a trip across at least part of the country and have the trip be the trip.

Monday, August 27, 2007

School Carpool

The start of a new academic year has me thinking about my school days.

In my neighborhood, there were over a dozen of us within five years of age of each other - and that was only because J Jump Joyful's brother was two years older than she was. When JJJ, Tam, DeeCoo, and Coop and I were in first grade, Dudley Stone Elementary was being earthquake-proofed so we had to take a bus to another school across town. I didn't realize this at the time but the school had all these kids on a split schedule and we were on the early shift... which explains why we waited for the school bus in the dark. One of the moms would walk with us the three blocks, carrying a flashlight so the driver would see us. Most of the time the bus didn't come, and we would pile into Tam's mom's green Pinto station wagon to get to school by 7am.

When I was in second and third grade at Dudley Stone (now named after the man who was principal when I was there), a group of us from the neighborhood walked there together. The school only went to third grade when I attended there so I think the group consisted of myself, J Jump Joyful, DeeCoo, Coop, Tam, DeeKay, No, and Ria (who were old enough to go to school by then). We were not allowed to walk the more direct route because of the speed of the traffic and the steepness of the hill. I remember walking along and talking about how to respond if someone pulled a car over and asked for directions or offered candy.

Of course, no one ever did. We never saw any other people on that route.

When I started going to school at CSH in fourth grade and somehow DeeKay's mom got DeeKay and me into a carpool with another girl who lived nearby who was in the same class DeeKay was. The carpool consisted of me, DeeKay, this other girl and two sisters she knew and their cousin, who attended the boys' school next door. When Shmeen came to CSH she joined our carpool too, and one of my strongest memories of Shmeen as a kid is her laughing and laughing at my jokes every afternoon in the car.

The parents of the girl who lived a couple blocks from DeeKay, our entree into carpooling, had two notable cars. Usually her mother drove us to school in her Mustang, which was a tight fit. Occasionally her dad would drive us in his VW Bug. The youngest of us, who was in kindergarten when I was in the same fourth grade class as her sister, rode in the back "cargo area." The two next smallest sat in the front and the rest of us sat on each other in backseat.

It was the 1970s, before seat belts - which that car probably didn't have anyway.

When I was in seventh grade the carpooling ended. It was decided that we were old enough to take Muni buses to school, so we stopped having to cram into cars that weren't designed to hold eight kids and a driver.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Visit

Yesterday when I went over to Jolly Woman's house to see Shmeen and Sa (and Jolly Woman herself), Shmeen took a break and we went to Laurel Hill park, a small park with a baseball field, a couple of basketball courts, and a bunch of climbing structures and swings.

Sa played on the structures and swings and Shmeen and I sat on the bench and talked. It was a very "mom" thing to do. It has literally been years since she and I have just hung out with each other. The last time we did was when I had gone to Long Beach for a Conference Committee meeting for the 2005 CASFAA Conference. I didn't notice this until late last night, but I suddenly realized why the visits when she's been up here with Shman and the kids feel kind of strange: We're always visiting at Jolly Woman's house, with our husbands and usually at least one of our moms. Not that it's bad that we're visiting with our spouses; we like each other's husbands and our husbands like each other. It just hasn't been just "she-and-I time."

After awhile Sara got bored playing with herself and insisted that we come and play on the structure with her. We slid on the slides and jumped up and down on the bridge, making it wiggle. Another family arrived, with a 16-month-old boy and a ukulele. The dad is learning how to play and plinked out "My Darling Clementine" and "Oh! Susannah." It was really charming.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Cleaning Out The Closets

Shmeen was in town this week to help Shmeen's mom, Jolly Woman, clear out some of the crap in the closets. Shmeen's specific task this week was to go through her stuff. It turns out that Shmeen is quite the saver. I kind of knew this, but I didn't realize the extent... I knew that she still had her old dolls and games, but I saw a binder today with Shmeen's 5th grade work in it, a small box of ribbon-wrapped barrettes, and keepsakes from Great America with photos of people Shmeen didn't remember.

Shmeen and I have known each other for a long time, so it wasn't just that the things she dug up looked familiar to me because we are about the same age, it was that I remembered those barrettes in her hair and played this really fun game with her during the Carter Administration.

One box held two things I was absolutely astounded to learn she had hung onto:

Her school uniforms from grammar school!

These are the dress uniforms we wore on Mass days, for class photos, and some assemblies. Our regular uniforms consisted of white button-up collared shirts and colored cardigans or vests. The lower form uniform (on the left) was a jumper worn through sixth grade, and the blue skirt was worn by seventh and eighth graders. You can't really tell by these photos but these uniforms are why Shmeen and I dislike the hounds' tooth pattern to this day.

I don't remember what happened to my uniform once I got to high school. I hope it's not sitting in a box in Mom's basement! If it is, I think I may mail it to Shmeen...

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Pink and Blue of It

I'm thinking about coloring my hair again. It's so short now that I'm not sure what color would be best. My hair is brown, darker now that I keep it so short, though yesterday I noticed that a lot more of it is grey than used to be. I guess I have to stop being smug about certain other people's hair being grey when mine isn't. Vanity, it's all vanity!

So, shall I go for blue, true purple, or back to hot pink?

I have dyed my hair pink twice. The first time was in 1988 when I used Manic Panic by just spreading it on over my hair. It barely showed and only lasted about a week. The second time, YaYaWOT did it and bleached streaks in my hair first. When Denver D picked me up at the airport and saw it for the first time, he said he would probably prefer my new hair color in the dark.

Yes, I am wearing a pink tiara in this photo, but the pink fluffy stuff is my hair.

I did the bleaching/hot pink job not long before attending my first CASFAA conference (that's where this picture is from - I'm looking through a zero in the number 2000). I had been in financial aid only about four months and a lot of the sessions were over my head - there was so much I didn't understand! But I kept asking questions during and after the sessions and asked them of the presenters as well the lender representatives I knew, who would sometimes direct me to someone else. No matter where someone is in the organization, or who they are at their home institution, at the conference everyone is always willing and able to share knowledge with the newest financial aid officer.

Shortly after the conference I was asked to sit on a committee, which I agreed to do because I knew it would help me get close to a lot of people who knew a lot of stuff, which I thought was important because I worked with only one other person (she thought it was important for me too). As the year went on, and I attended meetings and trainings, I was surprised at how many FA people seemed to know who I was.

At some point I realized that not only had I asked a lot of questions at the conference, but at the time I'd had pink hair.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Keeping Grounds

Rather than actually work to find a good job between my junior and senior years of college, I got a student job as a groundskeeper in the University's Plant Department. The pay was $4.50 an hour but as no one actually worked a full day, it probably worked out to be more. We had two breaks, one at 10:00am and one at 2:30pm. All of the regular groundskeepers I worked with took about 15 minutes before each break and before lunch to sweep up whatever we'd been clipping, pack up the tools, and drive back to the groundskeepers' break room (note that I attended a college on a small campus; we could have walked back in about the same amount of time as it took to drive there). Afterwards, it would take about 15 minutes to get started again... once we got back to the work site, that is.

The best part of the job, for me, was driving a Hoopy. I was told that they were originally used to tug airplanes during WWII up at Boeing Field. They were very small two-ton trucks, and each one had its special characteristic: One was a dump truck, "the fast one" had four gears and could get a top speed of 25 mph, and the third required a special twist of the wrist to start. They all ran on propane, and all of the truck beds had been built out of plywood.

My first job working for Plant was cleaning up vine clippings. Vines are bad for trees and even worse for brick, so my partner and I put a hard hat and a ladder in the Hoopy and went to clean up Jones Hall. He got the ladder and the shears and I got the hard hat and the rake. I remember this project because almost in the middle of my wondering why I needed a hard hat for this job he dropped the shears and they landed about a foot away from me.

I spent most of that summer mowing lawns. Sometimes while another groundskeeper mowed with a lawn tractor, I would follow in a machine called a grass sweeper, basically a big empty bucket on wheels with the opening at the bottom (like a street sweeper). It had one pedal, which I pressed down with my toes to move forward. I feel asleep on this machine one hot afternoon and it came to a stop as soon as I relaxed my foot. The cessation of the engine, which usually squealed in my right ear, awoke me immediately.

Most often, I was pushing a gas-powered mower across the lawns in front of all the University-owned houses, which were empty in the summer. Every now and then I'd jump in the Hoopy and drive it down the block so I could empty the grasscatcher into the truck bed. I did a lot of long division in my head to pass the time. I also helped take down a backyard tree and I deadheaded the rhododendrons near the Security A-frame. I weedwhacked a fence near the Fieldhouse, and I helped paint lines on the field for football camp. Mostly, I mowed.

I worked on some project with one of the regular grounds keepers which involved me sitting in the Hoopy reading while he was inside the president's residence "visiting a friend." I have no memory of what we were supposed to be doing while we were away from the Plant Department. This particular groundskeeper was quite natty, his uniform always clean and pressed, not to mention that it fit him well. In fact he was the only groundskeeper who didn't look like a slob (and I count myself among them, though I didn't have a uniform). He was the first person I knew who owned music CDs.

During the summer that I worked there full time, I always made sure to scan the first paragraph in each story on the front page of the sports section in the newspaper. I was the only woman in our section of Plant, and I was a student. Small talk was the only talk we could have, and knowing who won the Mariners game the night before was the only tool I had.

Except for the heat (and I always wore long pants, work boots, and a sweatshirt) I didn't mind the job. It wasn't very interesting, but I didn't do it for very long (when school started I went to ten hours a week, and gave notice after Thanksgiving), and I liked working outside. I think I felt like while I was in the midst of getting my education I was doing the kind of job I would have if I didn't have an education.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

My "Year On" Is Over

Yesterday I accepted the Program Coordinator position, which I have been filling "interim," as a regular full-time position.

I don't know where this will lead. I'm used to making three-year professional plans and I have pretty close to no plan right now. Still, I figure working at the food bank is a good way to see what happens next - as I say, it will keep me off the streets. Maybe I will make a plan or maybe this (professional) life will become the plan.

The Food Bank Director said that he had emailed the Management Committee that I had accepted the offer of the permanent position. Apparently he received at least one email asking if I understood that my employment is "at-will" (as is almost all employment in California; either party can choose to terminate the employment). I smiled and told him that I am clear that I can leave the food bank at any time.

So, it's official. I'm a regularly employed person again. My "year on" has resulted in a paid, regular, job, even before my year was up.

I knew when I left Berkeley that it would result in something good (funny, I almost typed ""something food").

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ask and ye shall receive

I stopped by the Lucky grocery store that until a couple weeks ago was an Albertson's. A week or so before that, a client had mentioned that since all of the Bay Area Albertson's were going to be renamed and rebranded, the stores might have a lot of leftover bags with the wrong name on them after the change. The Food Bank Director stopped by the neighborhood store right after that and the manager gave him a box of 2,000 plastic bags. I thought maybe I could get a box too.

On Sunday morning I located the manager on duty and said that I work for the Alameda Food Bank and asked if they had any leftover bags he could give me. I was thinking it might be a long shot, since my food bank's not in Hayward. The manager said yes, without even asking me about the food bank or anything. He then looked at the courtesy clerk standing nearby and said, "Give her the pallet."

I followed the courtesy clerk to the back, telling him that I was just in my sedan so I would take what I could take that day. The clerk didn't even know what a pallet was, so I showed him and he gave me about five boxes of plastic bags and about 600 paper bags. That was about what we could fit in a grocery cart.

Today on my way to work I stopped at the store again and located the same manager. I thought it was possible that perhaps they had gotten rid of all those bags or someone had busted him for giving me as many as he had. He said that not only did they still have the bags they'd had Sunday, they had received another partial pallet with the wrong bags. "They're taking up space in the back and making my receiving manager crazy!"

I said I still only had my sedan but I could send someone with a van later to pick up the bags. We figured out a couple of times that would work for all of us, and the FBD went back this afternoon and picked up all the bags that were left. In the end, the Mission Blvd. Lucky's gave us about 100,000 plastic bags. That's about 13 months' worth of plastic sacks, and we got about 2,000 paper bags as well.

The FBD told one of the volunteers that I had gotten the store to donate a year's worth of bags to us, and she said, "How'd you do that?" I replied that I had just asked. The FBD said I should come up with a better story than that - getting over 100,000 bags for free is a big coup in a budget as small as ours.

I smiled and said, "Well, I don't think I mentioned that I was wearing my tightest dress and my most elaborate jewelry and hairdo."

Monday, August 20, 2007

Trompe de L'oeil

This house is near my mom's house. It has always been painted like this.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Before They Were Our Parents

Springtime Magnolias in Back Bay, photo by R. Birkenshaw
Designed and printed by The Postcard Factory, distributed by Card Works, Inc.

Mom sent me this postcard from Boston (she sent one to No too). She wrote on the back, "This is where your father was living when we met. Easy to see why I was seduced!"

When we talked on the phone I told her I'd received the card. She said that all the brownstones in Back Bay have bay windows, and she sat in the window with my father, sipping Polish vodka. I imagine my father wearing the suit and tie and my mother in a short light-colored dress, each holding a small glass of vodka icy from the freezer. They are smiling in the spring sunlight coming through the windows, years before they were parents, maybe before they knew they would marry.

I asked what Dad had cooked for dinner. She said baked mushrooms and chicken livers, and it was delicious, though she "was so in love, it would have tasted good if it was shoe leather."

I could hear the smile in her voice when she added, "Your father was such a phony. He never cooked again after that!"

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Unforgettable Meals

While reading Death By Pad Thai I found myself thinking about meals I've had that I remember. In the book, all of the stories are about great meals and good times except for one, which was about an awful night first and a bad meal second.

It is easier for me to remember specific awful meals than the good ones.

The first time the timing belt on my Honda wagon broke, Shobi-wan and I were on our way back from Seattle. We rolled to a stop on the shoulder of I-5 outside Kelso-Longview, Washington. A man with a grey beard and a long-haired chihuahua ("The Aztecs ate the short-haired ones," he told us) gave us a ride to an auto shop from which I called Triple A.

The manager of the auto shop recommended a restaurant a couple blocks away where we could get a bite to eat. It had originally been called Ferguson's, but as it now served Italian food, the name had been changed to Fergustino's. I know that you are wondering why we took his advice, but Shobi-wan said that her father had been a mechanic and mechanics always knew the good and cheap places to eat, no matter how unlikely they seemed.

The restaurant had big windows and was nearly empty (though it wasn't really meal time, so that didn't tip us off), and even though it was July I remember that the skies were grey and so was the inside of the restaurant. We sat and I ordered a gin and tonic, to calm my nerves after the stress of getting the powerless car to the shoulder and dealing with all of that (though riding in a tow truck was pretty fun, that first time - I didn't know how tiresome I would eventually find it). I also ordered sausage cannelloni.

The G&T was strong, thank goodness. I sipped and Shobi-wan and I talked about what we were going to do. When the cannelloni came to the table, even to my untrained tongue it was obvious this noodle dish had come out of the freezer. I hadn't had a lot of Italian food at that point in my life, but I knew this wasn't a very good rendition of cannelloni. It had that sort of TV-dinner feel to it; the sauce was sweet, the noodle chewy, and the meat mushy and yet sawdust-like.

Oddly enough, Shobi-wan and I chose to spend the night in Kelso. Though not that far from Portland, we had no way to get back that day. The next morning we had breakfast at Denny's; you always get what you expect at Denny's. The car shop kept the Honda for a week. We went back via Greyhound and did not eat in Kelso that day.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Creepy But Friendly

This version of the Steal Your Face logo is at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company.

Tomorrow I will restart this blog.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


I haven't been doing what I intended with this blog recently. When we were on our Northwest Trek I actually came up with a plan, but I haven't pursued it for some time. By the time I turn to this, I realize it is 945 and I don't have the hour or two it would take me to write what I've been intending to write for several days. Tonight is a perfect example - I got involved in something right as I was sitting down to work on this, and did that instead. So I wind up I writing "what happened today" or something like that.

That has led me to wonder what's the point of having this blog be public? I keep "hearing" this question I was asked, which makes me blue.

You all can see the list of stuff I check often over here. --->>

Mick LaSalle writes almost daily, and I think he's doing a better job. Of course, he doesn't lug banana boxes around all day, and he's a professional writer (meaning, he has writing deadlines and a writing paycheck). Others don't write daily but they write better - "better" referring to both subject matter and quality.

Now it's 10:00pm and I'd really rather have my nose in my book.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

It's The New Year

Driving Zirpu to BART yesterday I noticed that the private high school along the way was starting. I seem to remember that frosh orientation was last week, so I think all grades started. The public schools here start a week from Monday. Starting before Labor Day seems pretty early to me, but I since I think kids should be on a year-round calendar, and because I don't have kids in school, I don't think it's a big deal.

August rolls around and I have to eye the school supplies. I loved the smell of new binder paper, I liked a new, clean binder (just as much as I liked writing on it during class), and I liked thinking of clever things to write in speech balloons I would attach to the athletes on my PeeChee folders. This was true even when I hated the school I was attending. Sharpening a pencil with a flat tip, measuring the length and breadth of my desk with a new ruler, markers that were still full of ink, writing my name in new textbooks: What joy!

During the years I was at CSH, getting a school uniform was part of shopping for school supplies. Getting a uniform isn't like regular school-clothes shopping, mainly because there was no choice or art in it (the only choice I had in five years was whether I would always wear a cardigan or a sweater vest, and socks in a matching color versus white socks. I chose the vest and the colored socks). It also wasn't like regular clothes shopping because there was no fighting involved and because we went to a uniform warehouse where the complete uniforms were hung on racks standing under schools' names.

I've spent most of my life on an academic calendar. Counting the period of time when my life was impacted by my clients' school calendar, I've been running on an academic calendar for about three-quarters of my time on earth. Something has usually been starting in early September, and besides, my birthday is shortly after school began when I was growing up. It makes more sense to me for "the new year" to start at a season change (from summer to Indian summer, in San Francisco) than during the depths of winter, so I have traditionally thought of the first Tuesday in September as New Year's Day.

I think I'm still adjusting to not having anything "start" in September. Last fall was pretty rough, for a number of reasons, but I think the main one was that it felt like the academic world was moving on without me, which of course it was.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

An Old Wives' Tale

Tea told me that she'd heard that burning a candle nearby when you're chopping onions is supposed to make you not cry. I've become very sensitive to onion fumes over the last ten years and have found that the only things that work for me are 1) wearing swim goggles, or 2) chopping an onion that has been previously refrigerated for a week. Shobi-wan worked in a diner and she had personally tested and rejected all other methods: Freezing the onions first; chopping them under cold running water; holding a match in her mouth; and breathing through her mouth only.

I don't refrigerate onions on a regular basis, and I no longer have swim goggles, so I wind up chopping as quickly as I can. I then must immediately wash my hands, the chopping board, and the knife, and get rid of the onion skin. Sometimes I have to also wash my face, if the onions are juicy, or I had to chop a lot of them. Zirpu has been known to finish the onion chopping from time to time.

Oddly, I do not have this reaction to onion fumes when they're cooking in a wok or a pan, unless I'm making something I call "'70's Dinner" that requires frying three onions' worth of onion strings in an inch of oil.

Tonight I had to chop two small onions and I remembered Tea's suggesting the candle would work. When she told me about it, she hadn't tried it and was frankly doubtful. "Maybe the flame burns up the onion fumes," I had remarked, but had never remembered to actually try it until I was already in tears.

I'm happy to say that it worked! I got through both onions (admittedly, they were very small) without becoming blind with tears. I don't know if it would work long enough for a lot more onion, but this was a good start.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Dancing at the Gym

Last weekend when I went to the gym, I was finishing up my stretches in the aerobics/spinning studio when a couple came in carrying familiarly shaped bags and wearing un-gym-like clothes. She was wearing a skirt and he carefully rolled up the legs of his camos after putting on dance shoes.

I slowed down my stretches so I could see what they were going to do. Being an aerobics studio, it has a big wood floor just like a dance floor. I've seen teenage girls practicing a jazz dance routine for a church performance in this space, and I think a friend of mine met another friend here for some tap lessons (or they just talked about it, I'm not sure).

This couple turned on their music and started dancing an Argentine tango. I don't know anything about Argentine tango so I think anyone who is dancing it at all must be pretty advanced, but I think this couple really was pretty good. It was obvious to me that they were practicing a routine, and I watched them for as long as I could get away with doing so. They had several stops and starts, but they looked like very good dancers.

Yesterday I went into the aerobics studio and a couple was in there dancing American tango. I talked to them a little bit and it turns out that they dance at the Starlite Ballroom in San Jose. He's taken tango there before, and they are planning to start a tango series next Friday. She wanted to get some of the basic steps down ahead of time; the classes at the Starlite are quite large, they said, and the studio is busier on Friday nights than on Saturdays, full of new dancers. They were practicing at the gym because access to the floor is free (with membership, obviously), and practice time at the Starlite is $10 an hour.

We talked dance for awhile, and they are learning rumba and salsa too. Both of them complained that she floats to the right (well, her right) when they are dancing. He thinks she steps sideways and backwards at the same time, rather than just backward. I smiled and said that is just a habit to break, but in salsa and rumba, what helps me is to look directly into my dance partner's eyes. I suggested that in tango she look two or three inches to the left of his ear, and toward the ceiling. I know from experience that "toes follow nose" and if your nose is pointed to the left your feet can't go to the right.

I left and they continued their dance practice. When I came out of the locker room, I saw that she was following, her nose tipped haughtily toward the ceiling, just past his ear.

I'm so excited about people ballroom dancing. I think it's so much fun at the same time that it's challenging my mind and my body. When more people dance, more people dance. There's only good in that!

Sunday, August 12, 2007


This is a word a consistently mispronounce inside my head when I'm reading: The "ch" sound always comes through (this happens with "chaos" also).

The charms of English.

However, I have a terrible one that landed on me this morning and never totally went away. Zirpu and I went to The Turf Club to attend a fundraising brunch for the Lighthouse Community Center. We wound up eating breakfast much later than we would have otherwise, and I had a small mimosa. The headache came on on the way home, and we went to see The Bourne Ultimatum as planned. The hand-held camera work throughout the film did not help my headache. Drinking a bunch of water and eating lunch around 3pm didn't relieve it, though I felt fine when I was working out at the gym this evening. I came home and the headache came back while I checking my email.

All this is to say that this is where this post is going to end, because reading is making the headache worse. I'm going to lie down in the dark (good thing it's close to bedtime).

Saturday, August 11, 2007

It doesn't feel like I cooked a lot today

All three recipes were really easy, and went in the oven to cook.

After I got home from work, I ate some lunch, planned the week's menu, and wrote a grocery list. I went up to Trader Joe's to get said groceries (a short list this week, as I'm recycling half of last week's list), where I was amused to see TJ's food in it's natural habitat. The TJ's in Alameda donates so much stuff to the food bank that I'm used to seeing everything in banana boxes. I shop at Trader Joe's because my mother's butcher said to go there for meat because he didn't know of any butcher shops in the east bay.

I bought this chicken last Sunday that I didn't cook yet. I had planned to cook it Thursday but we had a big lunch and opted for "skip" for dinner. I knew it couldn't wait any longer, so I pulled out a few cookbooks to see what they said to do. My 1964 Joy of Cooking, as I suspected, has instructions that were clearly out of date. Alton Brown's cooking science book doesn't have directions to roast a chicken, though it does have those for turkey, a standing rib roast, potatoes, meatloaf, broccoli, and tomatoes. So I turned to Williams-Sonoma's Essentials of Roasting, though I tend to avoid food-porn cookbooks because they are usually fussy. Not that I followed the recipe: After removing most of the skin from the chicken, I chopped up an apple and an onion to stuff inside and rubbed the outside with pepper, salt, and oregano. Then because I forgot to rub the olive oil on first, I sprayed it on.

Amazingly enough, the chicken came out perfectly, in the perfect time. I have learned to rely on my meat thermometer, but with only guessing the size of the chicken I didn't have to put it back in the oven several times - in fact, I didn't even have to do it once. Wouldn't you know it, it's the one time that I wasn't trying to get a bunch of things on the table at the same time and we didn't have any company.

I also made Grush's Banana Bread out of peaches that would have otherwise gone to the worms. I learned years ago from a coworker that if you have a decent banana bread recipe you can replace the bananas with any semi-solid fruit or vegetable, even condensed tomato soup(!). I have done it with applesauce, grated carrots, and now peaches. The peaches didn't have a strong enough flavor to really come through the bread, but it's still decent sweet bread.

Grush's Banana Bread (one loaf)
1/4 c butter
1/4 c shortening (I use trans fat-less Crisco)
1/2 c white sugar
1/2 c brown sugar (not packed too tightly)

Cream these together. Add:

2 eggs, one at a time
1+1/4 c flour
1/4 t salt
1/4 t baking soda
2 t baking powder
1 t vanilla (I usually use rum)
1 c mashed bananas

Grease and flour a loaf pan. Bake for ~50 minutes at 350*F.

The recipe for Lazy Blueberry Cobbler in Death By Pad Thai caught my eye, and Michelle Wildgen, the author of the story in which it appears, mentions that you can substitute other fruit such as cherries or "peaches especially." I had more peaches, so I made that too. I just took it out of the oven just before I started typing the recipe above.

If I were a real food blogger, I would have beautiful pictures of all of these, but a skinned, roasted chicken is hardly beautiful in the first place and the bread isn't that interesting, to look at or to eat. However, I did take a picture of the cobbler, which I'm about to try.

Update: It's very good. It's quite sweet. I've never made cobbler before so I don't know if I could reduce the sugar (which is an even amount with the flour). Do use fresh butter. Yum!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Looks Like We're Going To Las Vegas

I got an email from KT a few days ago asking if Zirpu and I have birthday plans. Her mother is planning a reception for her and No in the city where she lives, and KT wanted to get her commitments down. I said Zirpu and I had talked briefly about going to Las Vegas for our birthdays during our birthday weekend, and the day after that we received an invitation to go to Las Vegas with them, Paulo, Dre, Psycopat, and Macho the first week of September.

We're going with them. I like all these people, certainly I've known all the guys forever, but it seems funny to me that we're going on a vacation with them. I think it will be fun, mostly because Zirpu and I will do what we always do - play video poker at a bar and people-watch - and hook up with the others whenever we hook up. Dre has already made dinner reservations for the first night we're there. I suggested maybe this could be our birthday dinner and she responded yes, if we wear party hats and they get to sing.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Love Makes A Family

I read in the alumni magazine that the partner of one of my college friends passed away suddenly in February. I sent a message to her and her family including my email address, so that they would know that I am thinking of them, though Janice and I haven't been in touch since graduation. I think it's important to be a member of community and I think it is important to include people in my communities, in this case, as a former classmate, as a former student of the same college, and as a member of the LGBT community. My community is very large, and I have a lot of communities.

I received an email from her today with a link to her family's website. Janice and Lisa were one of those couples you hear about: The queer couple who foster and adopt special needs children; the queer couple who are separated when something terrible happens to them. They are both of these couples. This wasn't in the magazine but Janice gave me the link to the whole story, in which she relates how poorly she was treated by Miami hospital staff because she "wasn't kin" to Lisa.

When Zirpu had his heart adventure, I didn't even need a name, I was "the wife" for the whole six weeks, occasionally called by Zirpu's last name, which isn't my name. I didn't have to brandish papers or insist on anything; I said I was his wife, and they believed me. We wouldn't have been asked outside California, I'm sure. Meanwhile, Janice had to have Powers of Attorney faxed from her home in Washington state and was delayed in seeing her wife (and their children their mother) for over three hours.

As a bisexual person, I am really clear that this distinction is arbitrary. It's almost arbitrary that I'm married to a man rather than partnered with a woman. I'm not married to a man because of heterosexual privilege, I'm married to one because Zirpu is the person I wanted to marry. We have paperwork, but we don't need it to protect our rights to visit each other in the hospital or make decisions for each other.

I believe a family can include the best friend of one of the children, or a niece or nephew of the parents. I believe a family can include more than two adults and no children. I believe a family can include stepparents, step-siblings, half-siblings, random aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Former lovers, and former stepparents. I believe family can include friends who have been friends for so long they may as well be siblings, aunts, uncles. Married to Zirpu, and with my own sister-in-law with her own family, I believe that in-laws are a family. Adopted children, foster children, adults of the same gender, adults who used to be one gender and are now another. That's all family.

My family value: Families, however they are defined by those who are in them.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

On The Other Hand

Children's books my mother hates:

Good Night Moon - "Bo-o-o-o-ring!"

Richard Scarry books - "Too many words! Too many things going on on each page. They took forever to read!"

Charlotte's Web - "After all that, and the spider dies!"

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Early Reading

Anansi The Spider: A Tale From The Ashanti
Dr. Seuss' Happy Birthday To You!
Free To Be... You And Me (and the record)
Where Did I Come From?
Where The Wild Things Are
In The Night Kitchen
Richard Scarry books
The Wizard of Oz
Tick Tock of Oz
Alice In Wonderland
The Phantom Tollbooth
a biography of Sam Houston, title forgotten (which I won for my good marks in California history, which even at the time I thought was strange)
Julie of the Wolves
The Diary of Ann Frank
Harriet The Spy
The Call of the Wild
The Narnia Chronicles (my favorite was, and is, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)
The Hobbit

Monday, August 6, 2007


I just finished addressing an envelope to my friend who is also Marko's mom. I'm sending her some photos from Cabinstock that I had printed at Walgreen's. I didn't think it would be right to send some photos without a letter, so I wrote what turned out to be six pages, about Cabinstock and work and Zirpu and my family, all of which she would ask me about if we talked on the phone.

Can you tell that my friend doesn't have email?

I like email, and sending a link to photos to my friends, but I also like old-fashioned mail. I like stamps, and envelopes, and putting letters in mailboxes. I really like the postal service website. It's so interesting to receive a personal letter that to me it's interesting to send one. Not that I do it very often. Maybe especially because it's rare I enjoy it.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

It's Only Natural

We received an invitation from some friends to come dancing at The Starlite Ballroom last night. Zirpu didn't feel like it, but I went. I've been hearing about this place for years, so I was interested in checking it out. It's in a totally unassuming location, part of what looks like a business park, and has only a small sign. However, the place is quite large inside, with a big main dance floor and two smaller floors as well, one of which was being used as practice space last night.

Zirpu and I have been on a break for a couple months and so it's been a while since I've been on a dance floor. I found myself a corner and did some basics to get warmed up, as it usually takes me about three dances to get in the groove of things. As the Starlite is well air-conditioned and large, I was getting chilled, but I didn't want to ask anyone until I was ready. I didn't want to embarrass myself making mistakes I know how to avoid.

Dancing socially with people I don't know is always an adventure. The AM style is designed to meet adjudicated standards and is very formal in comparison to the dance that people who learned in less formal environments in group classes and from friends. I don't know how to describe this, other than maybe the difference between marching and walking. They both get you where you're going, but one is more purposeful than the other. I can tell within a few moments how much experience my partner has and can usually adjust for that. Styling is different, but if the lead is strong I can follow that no matter what (and I keep count in case I get lost). I figure that can adjust my formality "down" when I'm dancing with non-AM people, if I need to do so, because there are good dancers out there with whom I can have fun.

When the DJ started the last waltz, I asked a man nearby if he would like to dance. You can tell when they do: First of all, if someone is still wearing their dance shoes, he or she is not done yet. Also, the men tend to lean toward the floor, as if they're being pulled by their heads.

I like the last waltz. Not because it's the last dance of the evening, but because everyone who's left wants to dance that dance. People really put their all into the last dance.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Parting Out

When I'm dead, I won't need my body anymore. While I have greater appreciation for this machine now than I did before the car accident, I don't consider my body to be the total, or even the main part, of who I am. I plan to use my body for a long time, to use it up and wear it out. If any of it is still usable when I'm done with it, I want whatever organs to be used by someone else. As many as fifty people can be helped by one person's organ donation.

Today I caught the end of Heart and Soul on BBC World Service which was also about organ transplants. It's apparently a religious program (oh, I resist spelling it "programme") but I came in so late I missed any religious overtones. One of the speakers was the mother of a 19 year old British Jew who was killed by a suicide bomber on a bus. His heart went to a 7 year old Palestinian, and the mother says, "I was overwhelmed by the feeling of gratitude I got from [the recipient's family]... I realized my loss was her gain. Their miracle was my tragedy, and their greatest happiness was my greatest sadness. And there's nothing you can do about that... And when I saw that little girl, I just felt good that something good was able to come out of such a terrible waste, such a terrible tragedy."

It's known that the best way to make sure that your organs get donated is to tell everyone you know that you want your organs given away when you're done with them. I know Zirpu knows this, and I have a Do Not Resuscitate order with my will, should that ever come up. I know that my friends will remember me, and while I don't need this, anyone using my body parts will remember me too. I'll live on, in more ways than one.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go avert the evil eye.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Marching One By One

I came home yesterday planning to shower before taking Zirpu out to The A Street Cafe for dinner, and found some ants in the bathroom. There were a few more than usual so I followed their path and they were coming out of the molding (not mold) behind the toilet. Zirpu is trying to train me away from Raid and toward vinegar, so I went to the kitchen to get one or the other and saw ants all over the sink.

I hate ants! I lived in an apartment that had cockroaches for awhile, and while I had to scream bloody murder to kill them, they don't bother me nearly as much as a mass of ants. This is why: I fell ants crawling on my body for half an hour after dealing with them. Of course, they aren't - usually, but it's the usually that gets me, because now and then I'll feel a tickle on my arm, or my hand, or my ankle, and there's an ant!

I decided to give up on killing them in the moment, because there were too many of them to make short work of it. I started to open the door to the shower and there was a whole column of the creatures climbing up the wall and across the top bar of the shower. Well, screw that - I retreated to the other bathroom, to shower in the tub which we have rarely used since moving in.

Zirpu had taken off the shower head a few months ago hoping to solve the drip in the real shower, but I just showered under the narrow stream shooting out of the pipe sticking out of the wall. Not showering wasn't an option - I'd gotten overheated at work carrying boxes around, and then I went to the gym on the way home. I may have well have sponge-bathed.

My nefarious plan was to have Zirpu deal with the ants when we returned from dinner, which he did. A great number of the bathroom ants had retreated, though it seemed like there were more in the kitchen. Zirpu went to it with the spray bottle of vinegar. It's a good thing we both like the smell of pickles!

I don't live with someone who hates ants and who hates killing bugs; Zirpu does. My husband, my hero.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

A Silly Anniversary

On this date in 2001, Zirpu and I kissed for the first time (on our third date).

On this date in 2002, I asked him to marry me. This is how it went:

Me: I was talking to my mom and she asked how you felt about marriage. I said I didn't know, since we've never talked about it. How do you feel about marriage?

Zirpu: Well, if it was with someone like you, I wouldn't be nervous at all.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Something's Wrong

It's summer. People should be picking up seasonal work at fairs or in yards and houses, or traveling.

We served 46 households today. That is about twice what I would expect it to be for the first day of the month, and higher than the number we generally serve. If it were a Thursday or Friday in the last week of the month, sure, we would probably serve over forty families. But on the first day? A lot of the households who came through today were large ones; I would say at least a dozen households of five or more people. We also signed up about ten families or individuals.

One of my volunteers pointed out that on the first day of the month, often the mail is late because there's so much of it, and people can't wait.

In general it seems like our numbers are going up. We are now getting people from parts of town which we have not historically served. The FBD thinks that could be related to the whole mortgage mess that's happening all over the country: All those five year interest-only loans are starting to require principal payments and people are struggling. It seems to me also that people who would otherwise be working, aren't. I wonder what is going on.

I don't know who all these people are, but they are keeping us jumping!