Wednesday, July 18, 2007

the once and future hiatus


I’ve been sadly neglecting my bitty plot in cyberspace, but I’ve been busy. Really, I have. Nothing to do with work (is anyone surprised?) but everything to do with a book I wrote years and years ago, which has been resurrected due to Kiki’s insistence and my own curiosity. I knew the pacing in the first couple of chapters was funereal, the plot was outrageously random, the narrative POV confusing and inconsistent. Maddening, to say the least.

As I skimmed it, I realized once again that it’s not a bad little piece of romance writing – the essential relationships are solid, but they’re surrounded by a lot of extraneous garbage. Now so much time has passed since the original writing that I can take a more objective look at the whole thing and find ways to cut it down to the basics.

It makes me wonder how JK Rowling works. Ideally, I’d like to have an office with a big corkboard, so I can cut out plot points and pin them up, rearranging them at will. But she worked under cover of strict secrecy. So the door to her study probably had a lock on it.

So, book seven. I’ve been torn between wanting to know what happens and being more than slightly anxious about finding out. The anxiety seems to be winning out. Frankly if Harry dies it won’t break my heart, but if Ron or Hermione or (God forbid) Ginny gets kedavred, I will likely have to host an official wake.

Which, given the certainty that at least two characters will die in book seven, and the series will be over, isn’t a bad idea. Closure, you know. Sheesh.

And now I hear that spoilers are being leaked all over the internet. Honestly I’m scared to open my web browser, but I suppose I really ought to post this before the entry itself becomes completely obsolete.

I just don’t understand the people who give out spoilers – even if they’re not authentic. Why would you do that? It’s like kicking puppies, or drowning kittens. Simply awful. Fines be damned, I think there ought to be some jail time at least. Or stoning.

I heard a story the other day about an asshole who drove by a line of folks waiting to get book six – he hollered out three words that spoiled the end completely. Buffy and I are going to Charlotte this weekend, staying with the uber-cool Coz, and queuing up for the midnight release. Yes, I’m a Potter geek. But you knew that, right? Right. I’m bringing earplugs, just in case.

**************

I’ve resumed yoga practice – not as often as I’d like, but four times a week is certainly better than nothing at all. Upper body strength is the biggest challenge, after being out of commission for so long. Shoulder is still sore sometimes, but mostly it’s due to weather – like my knees, I suppose. But it doesn’t stop me from practicing.

******************

Did I mention? I’m going to New Mexico to visit Kiki in August. The dreams about missed flights, poor ground transportation and lost tickets have already started. I can’t remember the last time I flew, but part of me is definitely looking forward to the adventure. The other part is cringing at knowing how much I’m going to miss my family.

Speaking of. I hesitate to say this lest I jinx it, but Duckie has been a joy to be around lately. We race each other into school in the morning (she wins every time; I don’t know how it happens), and when I pick her up, she runs to me happily, arms outstretched, yelling “Mommy!” I’ve begun an evening teatime ritual. When we have an extra few minutes, we share a cup of Sleepytime tea and read an extra book to wind down a bit. Yes, I am drugging my daughter with a few sips of chamomile and mint at night. But it’s the sharing that means so much more.

As always, there are rough moments and meltdowns, but repeating the mantra really seems to help, when I can remember to do it. She had a couple this weekend, one of which resulted in a fight to get her in the car seat. I said to her, “Yes, you are very strong. But I am very patient.” Somehow saying it – several times, to be honest – made it so.

Patience seems to be paying off in the garden as well. Some plants aren’t doing as well as others, but that’s to be expected given my lack of experience and knowledge. Others are thriving – I’m particularly pleased with the Genovese and purple basils in the front bed, as well as the anise hyssop. She’s the queen, and the basils are her knights-in-armour.

The four nasturtiums are quite happy despite the lack of direct sunlight, and the three New Guinea impatiens I used to replace the dying petunias are offering big, luscious hot pink blooms, totally shameless. To no-one’s surprise, the potted mint plants are very happy, and the lemon balm I planted in the ground has been a very useful and fragrant addition. The creeping thyme is doing very nicely in the little full-sun corner of its world; it has grown from an infant in a three-inch pot to an adult with am 18-inch circumference and smells divine. I’ve never been a fan of dried thyme, but the fresh stuff is intoxicating.

I had the happy experience of a homemade mint-and-lemon-balm facial wash the other day. My unhappily oily skin very much appreciated the herbal attention. Yesterday we had roasted red potatoes with – gosh, I can’t remember all the stuff I used – chives, rosemary, thyme, sage, and lemon balm. It was yummy, but not as herby as I thought it would be. There’s always next time, and honestly half the pleasure was harvesting and chopping the herbs.

Anytime I want a quick hit of herbal joy (no, not that kind), I can just run my fingers through the plants, breathe deeply, and go on my merry way. To me, at least, it’s worth every second of effort and every penny we’ve spent.

Brian has already prepared another bed in the front. It will get full sun in early spring, so I’m planning on crocus, daffodils and tulips. He’s thinking about setting me up a little greenhouse on a sunny spot of our acre, just so I have a place to keep all my stuff that’s out of his way. It would mean I could start seedlings earlier. We’re planning a few large full-sun beds – so he doesn’t have to listen to me bitch about the aggressive maple tree, and so we can try our hand at some vegetables. A little less acreage to mow will not be a bad thing, either.

Someday I sure would love to try growing berry bushes. Wild blackberries are all over the place around here, but you usually have to stomp through nasty patches of poison ivy, and you have to compete with the birds. Pain in the ass. I’d just as soon keep the patches clean and put up some netting. Maybe in a couple of years.

We were completely at the mercy of Japanese beetles until about a week ago, when I finally figured out what they were. I set up a trap and it’s working. The pink petunia is the most obvious indicator, and the blooms are still whole in the morning. Even the basil is starting to recover from the infestation.

And that’s all I’ve got, for today, at least. I’ve really got to get working on the rewrite, because until I send Kiki chapter two, I’ll never get the next installment of her book and I’m totally sucked in.

Apologies, as always, for the hiatus. Netiquette implies that perhaps one ought to warn readers – so I’ll just say that posts will be, as always, sporadic at best. Unless something really pisses me off, or until I finish reading Deathly Hallows.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

bad behavior + beach diary


Being bipolar is no excuse for bad behavior. I read that on someone’s bipolar blog, and it’s stuck with me. When I have rough days, and when they spill over into lashing out and biting at my husband, I try to remember that.

Speaking of biting – Duckie’s doing it, literally. It started last Friday. Apparently her best friend D hit her for some reason (I’m guessing over a toy), and she bit him back. I spoke to her teacher about it over the weekend. She tried to bite me on Saturday afternoon, when she was over-the-top exhausted from her trip to the beach, and refused any quiet time because she didn’t want to miss Poppy coming over. I can hardly blame her. And it’s hard not to laugh (albeit hysterically) when your itty bitty daughter smacks your ass with a flyswatter.

She feels so bad afterwards. Yesterday I spoke to her over the phone at school (she had tried it again that morning). She was wrecked – at herself, for doing it, and most especially because she was separated from D and because Miss A called me.

There are several potential causes – personnel changes at day care, initiated by summer campers, and one of her best friends has left the school. He was, of course, the buffer between her and D, so his departure is tough on both of them.

But I can’t put my finger on any other direct causes. Over the last few weeks her sense of independence has skyrocketed. That seems to be triggering some other incredibly annoying stuff, most especially willful ignoring, immediate apologies to try to get out of a time-out, and purposefully defying my instructions when she knows it’s going to piss me off – button-pushing at three-and-a-half. Brilliant. The mosey, of course, has become epic. If it gets any worse I’m going to have to start making up words.

My mantra over the last few weeks has been simple. Remain calm, I chant. Remain calm at all times. It seems to be working for me in terms of adapting to her new behaviors – but it drives her entirely batshit when she can’t get a rise out of me. (Hence the flyswatter incident.)

*******************

I finished Children of Men last night. I have yet to figure out how they got from the book to the movie. The process must have been close cousins to the adaptation of Howl’s Moving Castle. In both instances, the movies kept the frames, the environments of the novels, the basic premises. In Children of Men, though, the plot and the ensuing action was injected with some kind of massive super-growth steroid. For Howl’s Moving Castle, they had to simplify the plot just to get it on screen. I barely understood it just reading the book.

I’d highly recommend Children of Men, even if you have no interest in the movie. I enjoyed James’ prose immensely – by the second page I knew it would be the kind of book I would re-read just to be able to savor the language. She has a wonderfully lucid, precise style that allows her to really dig into place descriptions – although I will admit that I skimmed over some of it. Hence the scheduled re-read. I’ll have to buy it just to keep it around, I think.

I thought the movie did a wonderful job of capturing the essential sadness and heartbreak of Theo Faron, the main character. It was impossible to read the book without seeing Clive Owen and hearing his subdued voice in the first-person narratives, which didn’t detract from the experience at all, being that he’s one of my favorite actors. (I understand that this opinion is not shared by my publisher, but still I think he was perfect for this role.)

****************

Beach diary, Summer 2007

Day One

We drive. It’s hot. Opening the windows does nothing. Air outside is the same temperature as the air inside the car. (Previously logged report gives account of why a/c is not running.) Duckie wakes up late in the drive complaining, quite justly and accurately, that she’s stuck in her seat.

Bob Segar’s Night Moves comes on the radio. Brian serenades me relentlessly with a satirical cover of the song by the same name. It has to do with beans and cheese. No more need be said on the account, save that I was howling with laughter and almost drove off the road because I couldn’t see to drive.

We arrive around midnight. The Food Lion is blessedly open 24/7. Our friend W, whose family house this is, is still awake. I set up in a downstairs bedroom with ice-cold air conditioning. I do not question the greenness of said arrangement – at this point I don’t give a shit.

I make the beds up. My eye is drawn to a little toy under Duckie’s bed – one of those little jointed wooden snakes that look so realistic. Better move that, I think. She’ll be up all night playing with it.

It’s awfully smooth for a wooden toy. Oh – and a closer glance shows that it’s awfully still, too – dead still, to be exact. They call them “chicken snakes” in Brunswick County. This one bit off more than it could chew when it tried to eat a small bird. The beak… well, never mind. Suffice to say that both had been sent to their next lives.

“What’s that, mommy?”

“It’s… it’s a toy, honey,” I lie. “I’m going to go get daddy to put it away. Come along with me, darling.”

Day Two

Bright and sunny. Enter the sunblock. Duckie loves watching the boats pass by the dock. Her reunion with Poppy is tearfully sweet. Worth the drive just for that.

Duckie spends an inordinate amount of time ignoring everything I say, especially if it has to do with staying within our view.

A mother starling has set up housekeeping in the bookshelf of the downstairs bathroom. She’s built a cozy nest for her tiny babies inside a big conch shell. They’re so cute. We guess that the dad was the one who had the mutually unfortunate encounter with the chicken snake. W moves the nest to a less busy area of the downstairs, so we’re not assaulted by mama every time we visit the bathroom.

We go to the beach. Water is lovely and warm, beer is cold, sand is everywhere. Duckie is nervous around that much water but she gets bolder by the time we leave. We lose her flip-flops and sun hat.

Brian forgets to put sunblock on his chest. “It’s just a little pink.”

Duck is close to sleep when I pull into the driveway of the house. She’s exhausted and completely unmanageable. Eventually, after much crying and gnashing of teeth (specifically, on Mom’s ass) we rest for a couple of hours in air-conditioned comfort.

Later that evening, Brian grills rib-eyes and zucchini. We eat late, but no-one minds.

I go downstairs to wash my face, take my pills and change into pj’s.

In the bathroom, I glance, as always, at the collection of books on the shelf. Hey, that’s odd, I think. I don’t remember… and that’s an awfully realistic-looking… Then the artfully draped d├ęcor flicks its small forked red tongue in my general direction. Realistic, indeed.

I do not panic. I finish the project at hand slowly and carefully. Duckie is upstairs, so there is comfort in that.

I stick my head out the downstairs screen door. “Brian,” I call to him on the porch above. “There’s another toy in the bathroom. Would you please come get rid of it?”

He does so, and I’m able to get a closer look at the chicken snake that wraps itself around his arm. A light brown with an avant-garde pattern of black, dark brown and white on its back, he’s about three feet long. I’m glad I didn’t know how big he was exactly until Brian pulled him out of the bookshelf.

I’m also grateful that W had moved the nest. Those nestlings wouldn’t have had a chance where they were. They still might not – I can’t imagine that there aren’t more snakes around.

Day Three

We go back to the beach for a shorter visit, sans beer. Duckie find her flip-flops and beach hat, and we are all amazed – none of us noticed them, half-buried in the sand, but she did. Someone must have found them and left them by the beach access boardwalk.

We drive back. It’s worse this time. I’m driving a crock-pot set on high, stewing in my own sweat. Humidity is high but we only get one good storm. I’ve never been so glad to see our mountains in the distance.


Friday, June 22, 2007

alienation


Finally I understand exactly what that word means.

This odd feeling started a couple of days ago.

An expectant mother here at the plant – we’ll call her O – decided that it would be a good idea to visit me at my desk. We started talking kids of course and I gladly showed her a recent picture of Duckie. I got the impression that she would have liked a girl, but she knows she’s having a boy.

“When are you having your next one?” she asked.

“We’re not,” I said, definitively. (A brief daydream about this last week ended abruptly when I remembered how much fun we had with diapers and the accompanying smells, rashes, sleep deprivation due to night-time emissions, et al.)

She looked shocked. “Really?” she asked. “Why not?” As if she was disappointed for herself, not for me. As if it meant something to her.

“Well, we found out I was bipolar when I tried to kill myself a few years ago after Duck was born. My mental health is stable now, and I won’t risk our happiness by going off the meds during pregnancy and nursing.”

I didn’t really say that. But, as a way to shut her up and to make sure no one in this plant (and probably in this county) ever asked again, it was very tempting.

“We’re fine with just one.” This pisses me off, too, because it seems like I’m quantifying a human being. As if kids are things to be tallied up as objects. Gives me shivers just to think about it.

Moving right along. Yesterday, Duckie and I did a quick run to a dollar store to shop for a baby shower today at work (O’s, of course.) In the checkout line, the conversation turned to kids.

Then it shifted, quite naturally, to birthdays. The lady ringing up our purchases recited a nearly endless list of July birthdays in her family. I lost track immediately. What the fuck, am I supposed to be a part of this conversation?

“Wow. I guess you have a lot of Cancer in your family,” I said.

I didn’t actually say that. She wouldn’t have understood and I wouldn’t have bothered explaining it to her. It would have done nothing but offend.

All I wanted was some diapers and a hooded towel. I most certainly did not want to hear a geneology. I can barely keep track of the birthdays in my own family. Chit-chat is fine, but don’t burden me with details.

Then she confided that her father had died a week before her birthday, which was also in July. “I was about to turn 21,” she said, a little wistfully.

“Well, then, I guess you had a good excuse to drink yourself into oblivion,” I said.

I didn’t actually say that. But trying to dam the flood of these comments was becoming unmanageable.

Then the gentleman next in line spoke up. I use this word in its loosest possible sense. Duck had already expressed her dismay at his attention, and for once I did not encourage her to be polite. He was on the tall side, with a belly that preceeded him by several feet, greasy, curly hair, a florid, greasy face, and wore a sadly mistreated, greasy shirt that didn’t quite cover said belly.

“My daddy died five weeks ago,” he offered.

If it had been sunset, you would have heard crickets.

“Get me the fuck out of here,” I said. “You people are freaks.”

Of course, I didn’t actually say that.

This morning my co-workers are all a-twitter at the upcoming baby shower.

Whiny disclosure: This shower is something of a sore spot for me. I wasn’t told about it until quarter ‘til quitting time yesterday. It meant an extra unplanned stop at the freak show on the way home, when I really wanted to be home and packing for the beach trip this weekend. It also meant that I had been completely forgotten in the shower preparations, even though I sit a few steps away from the lunch room.

This is nothing but karma. When I planned RB’s farewell luncheon here, I completely forgot to include our IT guy, who usually holes up in his office like I do in mine. He’s not in a fishbowl, though.

But still, it rankles.

So I have the requisite gift. The ladies in the Lab wanted to share their little purchases – as if I somehow wasn’t familiar with sleep-and-play onesies, or the new bath toys that Carter has come out with, or the simple fact that a new mom (even the second or third time around) needs as much help and as much stuff as she can get her hands on.

“Don’t you people have lives?” I said.

I didn’t really say that.

When I leave my house, it’s beginning to feel like I’m leaving the planet. Not so much like I’m an alien, but that the people around me are. Are you for real? I want to ask. No, seriously, this isn’t some existential hell I enter when I step off my property? If it’s not, its indistinguishable today.

If I’m going to a different planet, I’d like it to at least look different. Give me some warning that I’ll be surrounded by aliens – truffula trees and two suns, or something along those lines. When strangeness attacks like this it seems dastardly and sneaky.

Yeah, there’s some PMS happening. The aliens are annoying the hell out of me.

But this afternoon I get in my familiar car with my familiar husband and my ever-evolving, strange and familiar daughter, and we head to the beach where we were married.

Somewhere a little outside the norm, but familiar at the same time. Balance. Sunshine and waves. A lot of sunscreen. A good book (Children of Men, P.D. James.) A little bit of bliss.

I hope your weekends offer (or offered, depending on when you get this missive from alien Appalachia) some of the same.

Namaste!


Thursday, June 14, 2007

four years ago today


I am rudely awakened by the clock radio in our condo. It’s the Bee Gees, singing “Staying Alive.”

“Oh God,” Brian moans, and not in a good way.

He has to leave first, to get to his Dad’s house in time to ride to the beach with them. I’m told later that several different drugs are offered to help alleviate his jangling nerves. He said, “All I wanted was a fucking beer, and no one would let me have one. Valium was OK, but I couldn’t drink a beer.”

I shower and try to do something with my hair. Useless. It turns out that the hair is the least of my problems. I don’t have a slip for the dress. I’ve only brought a seriously tiny piece of underwear, thinking that the dress itself would be less transparent than it is.

I am sadly mistaken. Given the pictures and the long memories of my friends, I will live with this for the rest of my life. Good lesson for my daughter, anyway. Always bring a slip.

Still, I manage to finish makeup. I finally decide what to do with my hair. I’m alone in the room, so no one is offering me anything. I begin to wish I’d asked for company getting dressed. It’s getting lonely.

I start to shake a little bit. Stage fright, or something close to it.

My stepmother meets me at the stairs. “You look beautiful!” she says. “Do you have a slip?”

Fuck. Whatever. It’s too late to go back now.

I insist on driving by myself, because I want to listen to Sting on the way out. I cross the drawbridge to Sunset Beach just before they open it to let the boats through.

The sky is mythic: cerulean North Carolina blue and boiling with white, silver-lined clouds. I pause halfway over a boardwalk to the beach. I don’t want to get there too early and have to stand around waiting for Brian to show up. That’s a nightmare.

I hope for a little movement in the belly, just to let me know I’m not quite alone. Apparently the adrenaline isn’t enough to wake up the Duck. But I can feel her there, a solid weight, lying on my bladder as she has for the last five months or so. I poke a little, trying to wake her up. Then, as now, she is not to be disturbed when sleeping.

I take a deep breath. Surely everyone’s there by now. Two of our friends have come down the boardwalk to take a couple pictures (and to scope out my location, no doubt.) Dad’s there, too, I think.

I come down the steps to see sixty or so of our closest friends and family, waiting for me more or less impatiently. There doesn’t seem to be anyone else on the beach that day – Saturday is changeover day, so we have a few golden hours where the beach is ours.

I stop trembling once I see that Brian’s there, but I still don’t know what to do with my hands. I suddenly realize why brides carry bouquets, and I wish to God that I hadn’t cancelled the order for a small bouquet of daisies. It would be nice to have something to draw attention away from the belly.

The ceremony is short. My dad reads a poem he’s written. The wind is up, but our friend who’s performing the ceremony speaks much louder than we do. I think he’s the only person the small crowd can hear.

We say our vows, kiss, and then, per my request, Sam and a few others pull out their kazoos and buzz the wedding recessional.

Buffy and I disappear to find a corner somewhere I can change out of the dress and into a bathing suit. We spend the rest of the morning lazing happily on the beach. Even though Brian is hiking a mile or so down the beach for beer, everywhere I look, I see someone I love. Buffy and her impossibly beautiful girls splash in the water. Tammy and her perfectly handsome son play in a warm tidal pool. Sam sculpts a mercouple in sand. The mermaid is pregnant.

We retire to our condo to nap, or at least to lay down. Afterwards there’s the party at a friend’s beach house. A shrimp boil, a canoe full of beer, a handmade blessing quilt from our friends that makes me cry (not that it’s hard to do these days, given the hormones) and the feeling of being well-loved, no matter how inappropriate my choice of underclothes.

Since then, the dresses (for both the wedding and the party) have been recycled into skirts. We still can’t find a place for the quilt, and I refuse to put it on a bed; it belongs on a wall. We plan to paint the bedroom sage green – it will go nicely there, I think.

Everything changes. Some things that you only take out for special occasions become staples of your wardrobe. Some choices that you only had to make once in a while, you make every single day. Some things are tucked away for later: plans for a honeymoon, hopes for school, dreams of traveling the world. Some things are thrown out entirely, eventually: fear, attachment to the past, to old identities and freedoms that don’t really apply any more, out-of-date behaviors that just don’t work.

Some things you have to transform, even in how you love someone, and especially how you treat them.

It amuses me these days to see how much effort and expense and stress is invested in that One Big Day. The real work is done the day after, and the day after that, and all the years that follow. In the mornings, you elbow your partner out of the way of the coffee pot and giggle because it annoys him, and he knows you know it. During the day, you call to find out how much the weekly deposit was (or how much you owe the mortgage company), and steel yourself to be unattached to the response. At night, you let your partner sleep instead of initiating intimacy. Over dinner, you make cracks that only your partner could really appreciate, and only at that particular second. On weekends, you give each other a bit of solitary time to recover from parenthood and partnerhood and all the responsibilities that accompany those roles.

You trust. You apologize, sincerely, and immediately if possible. You forgive. You stumble, and you catch each other, or if you both fall on your asses, at least you know you’re not there on your ass alone.

My husband annoys the crap out of me sometimes. He also adores me. And I love him more with every day, with every second that passes.

Happy anniversary, darling.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

three hundred words


That’s all. I just want to write three hundred words here today. If I manage more, that’s cool. My motivation for exercise (yoga and running both), writing (obviously), housework (ick), and just about everything else, is at a spectacularly low point. It brings to mind my daughter’s violent aversion to getting out of bed in the morning.

The only activity in which I seem to be interested is reading. Which I’m doing compulsively, to the detriment of sleep. Last week was a not-worth-naming fantasy and a twisted, brilliant murder myster by John Burdette called Bangkok 8. If you need linear plotlines, don’t bother. I started reading it because of a brief mention in a travel article on Slate. And it takes place in Thailand, which is predominantly Buddhist. The blurbs also mentioned that the protagonist has visions. Hmm. Murder, vice, prostitution, drug use, Buddhism and mysticism? Sounds right up my dark and scary alley.

Freaky book. Fun, but freaky. Some passages are snortably funny: “He will be reborn as the flea in the anus of a cockroach” or something like it, made me cackle in a quite inappropriate and satisfying manner. (I was at work on my lunch hour and was feeling very subversive.)

Our local library likes to set up displays of books in monthly featured subjects. This month is travel. The book that caught my eye was The Cruelest Journey by Kira Salak. “A real-life Lara Croft” said the blurb. A journey to Timbuktu by kayak on the Niger River. Insane. Irresistable. A pure coincidence that she’s a practicing Buddhist, right? Sure. Whatever.

In other bookish news, you may have seen mentioned recently a potentially popular series in the tradition of Harry Potterthe new Harry Potter?! scream the headlines. Boy archaeologist, journey to adulthood, blah blah blah. I know this has been said before, but it’s worth saying again: Where are the young female protagonists?

Speaking of, I’m pleased to see that the film version of The Golden Compass will be out in December. Lyra develops into one of my favorite characters.

I was wondering, has first person present suddenly become the voice of choice for modern-day writers? I don’t know when I first started to notice this, but it seems to be everywhere these days.

*****

Great. 347.

*****

Caffeine in the evenings has got to stop. It makes me mean as a snake, and I seem to have the least control around my always-testing, button-pushing daughter. It’s just not a feasible option for staying awake anymore. But when the sun starts to go down, I’m ready to crawl in bed and be done with the day. Obviously, that’s not a feasible option either.

If I can manage a couple of afternoon workouts, that might help.

*****

Always on the lookout for weekend family activities, we went to the Blue Ridge BBQ Festival in Tryon last weekend. It was a different world for me, and not altogether comfortable. Fewer hippies than LEAF, and – strangely – no men in skirts. Even Brian refrained from wearing his kilt.

The barbeque, however, was excellent. Ice cream, not so much. Fireworks? Meh. Duck was pleased, but I doubt I will ever be satisfied with country fireworks, unless they’re coordinated by Gandalf himself. To be fair, Brian pointed out that there’s only so much they can do, given the severe drought. Even with a restrained show, the fire trucks were on their way as soon as the show was over. Preventive measures? One can hope.

But I remember New York City fireworks, Philadelphia fireworks, huge productions choreographed to the music of live symphonic orchestras. The kind of fireworks best appreciated lying flat on your back, hands over your ears to block out the explosions that rock your body to the core. Fantastic. The local stuff, especially the fireworks that our neighbors like to shoot off, just tends to annoy me and gives my dog panic attacks. Not fun.

*****

Garden has been assaulted by slugs. Toads are slack bastards. Basil seedlings are now pre-teens, with deep green leaves, nice thick stems, just too tempting for words. I’ll keep them in pots for the summer to avoid the greedy slugs.

Growth of the plants in the bed has been somewhat disappointing, but then again they’ve only been in there a month. I fertilized yesterday (“that smells like poop, mama!”) so we’ll see if I did the plants any good or if I screwed up and burned the roots. I was in a hurry towards the end.

Last week I celebrated a good check-up and happy blood tests (cholesterol levels, etc.) with a big slab of salmon. Marinated in lemon juice, olive oil, lemon balm, chives, parsley, three kinds of basil and a bit of thyme. Yummy. Brian was impressed, and is suddenly eyeing the basil plants with avaricious intent. I had to stop him from early harvesting yesterday. I can’t blame him for being disappointed, but there’s a vendor at the local tailgate market who sells larger basil plants. I’m sick of waiting and it’s almost time for tomatoes. I’ll get a couple this weekend.

*****

885. Cool. Now if I can do that twice a week, I’ll be getting somewhere. I don’t know where, but… well, you get the idea

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

last days of may


We hosted a lovely outdoor party over the weekend. It was the first of its kind, in that we had just about everything ready to go a half an hour before the first guests were supposed to show up. Usually we put the early arrivals to work. Not so this Saturday.

It was relaxing, and fulfilling, and once the last of the younger guests left, Duckie asked me to read her a book, then she fell asleep on a blanket close by. She had played hard all day in one way or another, but it still surprised me that she was so willing to crash outside. It gave me a chance to wind down with the last few guests before lugging her back up the hill to her bed. (I thought for a moment the wheelbarrow might be the safest option – damn, but that girl’s heavy when she’s completely unconscious.)

We had three overnight guests and I didn’t have to drive anyone home. In the morning we all had “dirty hippie feet” as C put it, which necessitated a change in sheets and multiple showers. Seriously, my feet were so bad off I had to use a pumice stone. That was probably too much information, but you get the idea.

Since our house is so small (although I’m beginning to prefer the word “cozy”) I got to subject my guests to double episodes of Little Einsteins, which gave me a sick sort of pleasure, especially knowing that several of them were too hungover even to drink coffee. And the music choice of both episodes was annoyingly upbeat.

Yesterday was a day at home because of the holiday. Duck’s post-party meltdown started around 4, when it was time to leave the park and go pick up Brian. All things considered, it really wasn’t that bad.

Moved a lot of dirt yesterday. Put hostas in the ground in what I’m calling the Toad Bed. (It may need a separate address later on.) Transplanted some basil and daisy seedlings into larger pots on Sunday. Visited a local garden center and got three painfully bright pink New Guinea Impatiens because Duckie liked them. I don’t have a freaking clue what to do with them now. The shoulder has been sore but it’s so much worse here at work, when I’m not moving around.

I’m about to get back on the mat for the first time in weeks. It’s really hot today (ask my husband the land surveyor who’s down in South Carolina this afternoon) so running would not be fun in the slightest. And it’s time.

I’ll just breathe. If all I do is sit there on the mat and do a couple of downdogs…

Updated 5/30.

Yoga yesterday was restrained but effective. Maintained breathing, modified everything down to a beginner level, which helped me make it through the entire sequence. Navasana was a reality check. ‘Nuff said about that.

We planted a seedbed yesterday evening. Daisies, zinnias, lettuce leaf and purple basil (I mean what the hell, why not? can you really ever have too much basil?) and alyssum at the border. As always, we’ll see what happens. I am concerned about the high clay content in our soil – that it will cake up and prevent seedlings from breaking through. Anyway.

The transplants are doing quite well – they seem to be very pleased with the extra space. Several of the Genoveses have already sprouted new leaves since Sunday.

I think it’s time to fertilize.

More importantly, it’s time to focus on my girl. She’s been cranky and whiny lately, and while part of it may be growing pains (I think she’s grown a foot and gained three pounds over the last week), part of it also has to do with my attention being directed Elsewhere – party preparations, planting, etc. So tonight I’ll be happy to blow bubbles and throw Frisbees (her aim is weirdly accurate) and read books. Maybe we’ll get some fried chicken and have a picnic outside. We have a lot of cole slaw left over from the weekend.

Oh, wow. Muscles are starting to get sore from yesterday. I mean, I knew it was coming, and I definitely welcome it. But I have got to get up and moving.

*****

Cindy Sheehan officially stepped down as an anti-war rabble-rouser and terrorist sympathizer. It was really sad to see her so beaten down by her experiences with the American political environment. She’s broke, her marriage is over, and now she’s trying to sell the five acres in Crawford she bought to stay up close and personal with George W. An illusion, of course – even when he’s there, he’s not. Clearing brush, my ass.

So I’m sad for her and for all of us. She’s a real hero in my eyes – she did what many people (myself included) want to do – and that’s to step away from all our other responsibilities and focus all the energy on stopping the senseless, dishonorable insanity that our administration is still inflicting on our troops and on Iraqi civilians. Most of us can’t, for one reason or another. She did. And now, for multiple reasons, she’s giving up.

The only political blog I can access here at work is a high-profile liberal blog that shall remain nameless because I’m so pissed at them I can barely stand it. Sheehan’s decision, and excerpts from her posting at another group blog, was all over the MSM by ten o’clock yesterday morning. As of this morning, this particular blog hasn’t said one freaking word about it.

Shameful. Cowardly. Disrespectful.

Arianna Huffington, you and your staff can officially kiss my liberal ass. Cindy deserves better.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Herbal Happiness (no, not that kind)


Apparently, gardening is the most popular hobby in
America. For the last month or so, I’ve been chewing over why so many people, myself included, choose to do it. What’s the attraction? Whose idea was it to help plants grow, propagate them from seed, or move them around? In my case, it has to do with food – and I’m sure that’s the case for many people, especially vegetable and fruit lovers who can’t get enough of homegrown produce. Not to mention the folks worldwide who grow their own food because they have to, or they would starve.

I do have a few plants in the front bed now that are purely ornamental – the petunias and the “pink” (whatever that turns out to be.) The creeping thyme is only there because I had an empty spot in the layout and it looks pretty.

But my favorites now are the ones that are edible and beautiful at the same time. Now that it’s in the ground, the opal basil is growing up nicely, spreading its exotic dark purple leaves, tempting me to trim off just enough for an accent in a salad. At this stage, such a trimming would be disastrous, so I’ll wait for a week or so – and plant more, in the meantime.

The three mints cohabitating in the large pot are particularly fascinating. The chocolate mint has a slight blue tint to it and darkens up beautifully where the leaves meet the stem. (I know, there’s a name for that part of the plant, but I don’t know what it is.) The peppermint is more of a true dark forest green, and the spearmint, planted several weeks earlier, is the color of new spring grass.

I didn’t understand why they hadn’t grown up very much until I looked at the root structure. You know how you stretch your arms after a good night’s sleep or a satisfying afternoon nap? That’s what these little guys are doing. They’ve almost stretched their rhizomes to the edge of the pot, at which point they’ll have nowhere to go but up.

It’s funny, but this little pot of mint is a perfect example of why I appreciate diversity in people. The contributions to a society can be similar, certainly, but everyone looks slightly different, everyone flavors the pot a little differently, and the whole mess, properly tended, can be absolutely glorious.

There’s a definite, quantifiable return on the investment. But I never would have expected to be interested in making the investment at all, you know? In between mothering my daughter and partnering my husband and trying to manage my own physical and mental well-being, how could I have had time to plant a garden? Wouldn’t I be spending enough time and energy nurturing my human and animal family without adopting plants as well?

That’s the crux of it right there, the illusory concept of nurturing as an activity that someone does for someone else, as a purely selfless act.

However, according to Buddhist philosophy (which has always been part of my sense of things, whether I knew the name for it or not), everything is connected; nothing is separate – you and I are a part of the same web of existence. So are the Hidcote lavender plant, the anise hyssop, and the borage plant in my front yard. When I take care of those wee vegetative beings, I am, at the same time, taking care of myself, and of you.

The act, the gift of nurturing is a cyclical act of love. When properly offered and accepted, it seems to perpetuate itself. And it feels good, doesn’t it? My daughter likes to take care of her dolls, and us, not because she thinks she’ll get something out of it, but because it seems to be an innate, immediately gratifying impulse.* For a long time I shook my head at the baby doll thing. Where’s the tomboy I expected? Why wasn’t she out climbing trees, getting dirty, riding bikes? Isn’t it too girly to be playing with baby dolls? (This, of course, says entirely too much about my own priorities at the time.)

One day I listened to her playing with her dolls and was struck by how lovely it was that she was choosing to spend her time practicing taking care of someone else. There’s plenty of aggressive taking-charge energy in the world. It’s not a bad thing at all to have a little more softness, a little more pink bliss and gentleness to flavor the pot. And while her bicycle is indeed pink, her dresses are pink, and her cheeks are pink, she hauls ass on the bicycle, and runs rampant in those little dresses, and half the time the dirt covers up those pretty pink cheeks. Tomboys can wear pink after all, it seems.

It’s not surprising, then, to see her so intent on taking care of her little petunias. (Even the one she wrecked over the weekend because she was mad that I wasn’t paying attention to her seems to be recovering, although I still have my doubts.)

My own involvement in the garden still strikes me as odd. Totally new, totally different in my life. The only other thing I’ve tried to grow is – well, let’s not go there. It was a long time ago, anyway.

It really is so satisfying to watch the sage and chives pop up and recover – to notice that all my nasturtiums are blooming, the bee balm is taking a proud spot by the front steps, the Echinacea purpurea has grown six inches in the last week, and the German chamomile is offering lovely tiny white and yellow flowers already. It’s nice to putter around when I get home and deadhead the petunias, check the other edible flowers for potential picking, and run my fingers through the rosemary and lavender. (Really, I must plant more lavender. One plant is just not going to be enough.)

Oh, and Plants Don’t Talk Back.

Bliss.


* I’ve read several theories proposing that the nurturing impulse evolved over time simply because animals living in groups who took care of each other tended to survive better than those who didn’t.