Countdown

At the time of this writing (and I write the night before I post things), I have 36 hours left until my surgery. I’m feeling a little nervous about this. Okay, more than a little nervous. Unsettled enough that I’m finding it hard to write.

I still have so many things I want to complete before the actual surgery and so little time left. Tomorrow I’ll be working from home to complete the last of the things I need to finish up at the day job before I’m out of the office for six to eight weeks.

To Haley and Nathan

Today is your wedding day.

I’ve only gotten to know Nathan a little bit. He seems like a good hearted young man, hard working, and kind to animals, all qualities that are good in a person. I’ve seen the way he looks at you when you’re not looking at him. You are his world, Haley, and that seems the way a marriage should be.

Haley, I still remember when I first met you and your sister. You guys were young. I’m so bad with kids. I wasn’t sure where the lines between friendship and family fell back then, but I loved you both immediately. You weren’t “AJ’s little cousins.” I always felt like you two were the gift of two more nieces to go with my own Adriana and Sam.

I looked forward to your visits. I enjoyed AJ telling me about how things were going in your lives when you called or wrote her. It may not have always seemed like it, but I loved every crazy minute of your life and your sister’s life.

As you’ve gotten older, I’ve watched you blossom into an amazing young woman. You’re fearless, passionate, and astonishingly sensible (which I have to admit, I wasn’t sure you were going to achieve when you were a teenager.) As you move into the next part of your life with Nathan, remember the courage and the fire that drives you now and continue to temper it with your wit and reason.

Something will go wrong today. Maybe several somethings. None of that matters. What is important is that you’re with family and friends to celebrate coming together with your person, Nathan, to build a new branch of both your families and to cement the bonds of the life you’re building together.

Today something incredible and new begins. I wanted so very much to be able to be there to share it with you. With my surgery next week it just wasn’t meant to be. Please know that I am there with you in spirit even though I cannot be there with you in person.

All my love to you and to Nathan.

The yearly attack of the killer tomatoes

It started slowly this year, with a smattering of grape tomatoes a few at a time. I’d hoped for a few more than we got. At least we weren’t overwhelmed by them again this year. Last year this time I was drowning in grape tomatoes and had no full sized fruit.

It seemed like it was taking forever for the full sized tomatoes to come in.

It started yesterday.

The onslaught continued tonight.

I ate four whole tomatoes myself. Two of them I sliced and broiled with mozzarella on top, like mini all tomato and cheese pizzas. The other two I just sliced in half and ate in hand with a sprinkle of salt. I need to figure out something to do with them. Maybe a tomato and onion quiche since I still have eggs I get from the friend whose wife breeds chickens as a hobby.

There’s an insane number of jalapeños on the plant in the garden. Three just fell off into my hand while I was checking them. I need to figure out what to do with them, too. Salsa seems so ordinary, but I like that it’s simple to make and very tasty.

There was a handful of blackberries, but I ate them, too. I think there will be enough for one more cobbler’s worth for the freezer before the blackberry canes stop producing for the year.

Iron frog station

The first time I went out to the random word generator at creativity games looking for a writing prompt, it gave me Iron Frog Station. Such evocative words. I thought it was a great prompt!

What to do with it, though?

What sort of place would Iron Frog Station be? If so, why is it called that? Does anyone live there? Are iron frogs a creature or are they an object?

Is this even a story prompt at all, or is it something else entirely?

There is a little cast iron frog in my garden, a replica of an antique door stop that my father cast, which sits in my garden.  Does it dream of traveling to far off lands?

I wrote the idea down in my notes and then tucked it away it away. I like the sound of the words together. I just wish I knew what to do with it. I’ve taken it out a few times since then hoping to find it’s marinated enough to be ready. Not yet, though.

Zombie society

I’ve been thinking a lot about zombies lately. I mean more than usual for me. I’d been dwelling on the idea of zombie society before George Romero passed away.

Right after he passed away, I thought I wanted to write something about how enjoyable I find his films. He’s influenced my writing with his stories outside the horror genre as well as with Night of the Living Dead. I started digging for a little Romero on Romero, trying to understand better how he thought about his work as a creator and the father of the zombie film. I found some interesting articles where he talks about his own influences, including I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson, which I recall reading some time ago.

I also found this quote of Romero’s.

I don't want a zombie society. I don't want to go that far. -- George A. Romero

It’s been worse ever since I found that quote. The zombie society thoughts, I mean.

I know he intended it to mean that he doesn’t want to deal with the idea that zombies might have a society. Having just re-read I Am Legend, I can understand the desire to stay away from the topic. If the monsters are too human, they cease to be monsters. It leaves the hard question: If they’re not the monster, who is.

Robert Neville, Richard Matheson’s protagonist, had one answer to that question.

Robert Neville looked out over the new people of the earth. He knew that he did not belong to them: he knew that, like the vampires,  he was anathema and black terror to be destroyed.

Whether Romero thought that was the ultimate answer or not is uncertain. Either way, he didn’t want to ask the question or attempt to explain it. It is the question I keep coming back to, though. When we recognize the ‘other’ has become human, and we understand that, but keep treating them as if they were monsters, who is the real monster then?

When we accept the ‘other’ as no different than ourselves but keep treating them as something else, worthy of destruction only, have we become the monster? Or were we always the monster, but have awoken with the self-awareness of what our actions make us? Or is it just as Walt Kelly said,”We have met the enemy, and he is us?”

The question seems significant. If we accept the idea that zombies represent consumerism in its most indifferent form, then everything that flows from consumerism is as much our fault as a collective of mass consumers as it is the fault of the people who encourage consumerism.  From the destruction of natural resources and exploitation of workers to pollution and the erosion of the middle class, we helped shape the world we live in for the worse. 

Having awoken to the problems that arise from mass consumption, the siren call of minimalism beckons, and that brings a new set of problems. Firstly, there’s the issue of shaming everyone for the problems caused of mindless consumerism, which tends to assume all consumption is mindless and that shame is a good technique for affecting social change. The second is straight out classist politics surrounding minimalism. As I’ve commented before, it’s easy to say it’s a point of pride to have fewer things when you can afford just go out and buy what you need when you need it. The working poor can’t do that. I couldn’t do that until a few years ago.

Besides, we all still need to eat. There’s no getting around it.

The minimalist might well be the general standing against a zombie horde. What if that horde is mindful consumers who buy what they need on sale? What if they find joy in the security of knowing, for example, the tools required to fix their car when it breaks down are right in their trunk? What if they only have time to go to the laundromat once every two weeks and require enough clothing to go that long between trips?

If zombies are consumers, how do you tell the story of the mindless consumer that’s respectful of the mindful consumer? Where is the intersection of zombie and human society that isn’t Romeo and Juliet with the dead? I mean, I loved Warm Bodies, (though I preferred the book,) and that story has been told. It was about warmth and human connection, not consumption.

I still have thinking to do on this, but I’m getting closer.

We the People Walk

In order to form a more perfect body joined yes.fit back in June. Yes.fit does virtual races as a motivator for exercise goals. You work at your own pace. They’re against yourself. Depending on the race you can record walking, running, biking workouts, or even kayaking/canoeing workouts toward completion of the goal. As you make your distance, you get pictures of what you would see along your route as well as inspirational updates to help keep you motivated.

I finished my first race, the Race to Oz, in mid-July. I’m not going to lie. I did it for the medal because it sure as hell wasn’t for the pictures of the terrain between nowheresville and Liberal, KS. Look, another flat as hell shot of Route 54.

I’m now working on the We The People Race. Sophie and I put miles on that Sunday night. We’re 34% of the way through. I get an interesting picture of Philadelphia sent to me (and eventually a t-shirt.) Sophie gets a walk which suits her just fine.

Sophie-dog likes walks! Yes, she does. Oh, yes, she does.

I have 21 miles of 32 total left. Sophie-dog and I walk three miles on our walks. In theory, we can finish this race up right before my surgery.

Then I can start the Alice’s Adventure: Cheshire Cat race to track the mileage I log during the first weeks of recovery. That’s a 24-mile jaunt, which I expect will take longer than my current adventure in rambling since surgery is going to put me down for a bit.

Don’t worry. I’ve already talked to my doctor about this, and I’m allowed to do gentle walking as part of my post surgical recovery. I have no plans to overdo it.

I just want to have some way of seeing progress during the first weeks when I’m not allowed to do anything more than gentle walking.

Artichokes

Sundays are always kind of a strange day for me. Half rest and reflection and the other half chaos of trying to get ready for the coming work week. I’m very fortunate. I love my day job (even though it’s not my passion) and I have great coworkers, but it also means that five days a week, the demands of the day job dominate my schedule.

Surfing for inspiration for the week’s writing, I came across a photo of an artichoke in bloom. All too often, I forget the strange, scaled, vegetable is actually a flower, a beautiful thistle we devour as a delicacy.

Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_hroephoto'>hroephoto / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Not often seen: bloomed artichokes 
Copyright: hroephoto / 123RF Stock Photo

The first time I ate artichokes was in 1999, not long after the roommate and I moved into the old house. Though I’d seen them in the grocery store and in movies where elegant ladies talked of them being divine, I’d never faced one on the dinner plate. They were scaled and strange looking and far too expensive for our budget when I was growing up.

I don’t know if my parents had ever eaten them, either. Possibly dad, but I’m not sure.

Dad ate chocolate covered grasshoppers and said they were delicious. I assume he tried anything and everything that was offered to him when he was in the Army. I imagine it all happened on a dare, mind you. I’m sure it was on a dare, and I’m confident he made cigarette money from people betting he wouldn’t or couldn’t do it.

Artichokes came home in the grocery basket when the roommate and I were still living on admin wages before she went back to school and became an engineer. Before I finished my degree. They were a budgetary splurge, a momentary lapse of reason in an otherwise entirely sensible grocery list because I had never had artichokes and she said I needed to have them. I remember thinking they were insanely expensive.

She made a call to her grandmother on a Sunday afternoon not much different than any other to confirm how to make them.

There were bits to be snipped off and bits to be trimmed. It seemed a very particular sort of preparation. Then, in the French way, both artichokes went into a pan of boiling water with a bit of lemon juice. About 40 minutes later, I was presented with a large thistle blossom on my plate and a bowl of melted butter.

The eating of them was a ritual all to its own. Pull off an outer leaf. Dip the base into the butter. Strip the tiny, delicious, edible bit from the fibrous leaf. This was not eating for nourishment or to fuel the body. This was eating for the pure, decadent delight of nibbling down bits of heaven.

We sipped tea in the daintiest cups we owned, and the stack of stripped leaves grew on the plate between us. Then suddenly, the roommate told me to stop.

We had come to the choke, so named I assume, for the spines that would lodge painfully in your throat if you tried to eat them. She showed me how to carefully clean the choke out of the heart of the artichoke with a spoon, removing all the spiny bits until only the artichoke heart remained.

This artichoke heart bore no resemblance to the canned artichoke heart quarters readily available in the grocery store, which I’ve become familiar with in the intervening years. Canned artichokes sometimes contain too many of the tough outer leaves. By the time we ate our way down to them, only the subtle, sublime, center remained. We dunked them generously in butter and savored every last bite slowly, because who knew when we would be able to afford such a thing again.

We’ve had them several times over the years, though not with anything resembling regularity. When we’ve indulged, it’s been just as they came into season when the price dips the lowest. Each time, it’s like nibbling a tender little piece of heaven, nipped from the edges of fibrous leaves, like a Sunday Afternoon both turbulant and tranquil, a space set aside to prepare for the coming week.

Crafting a Wardrobe: Washday Lace Scarf

When I saw the New Edition Scarf I knew I had to make one. The multi-color yarn and zig-zag pattern scream Missoni inspired style, which I love (and which is out of both my price range and my size range for the most part.) The modeled shot couldn’t have been tailored to encourage me to buy the pattern unless they had put it on a plus-sized model.

Missoni inspired style? Check. A curly-haired woman on a bike? Check. An accessory that’s actually one size fits all? Triple check! Sold to the curly-haired, bike riding, fat girl.

My strong temptation was to make this scarf exactly as it was modeled, in colorway Englischer Garten (English Garden). I’d like to say that cooler heads prevailed, which is why I picked Waschtag (Washday) instead. I’d be lying. Englischer Garten was out of stock everywhere I looked to order the yarn.

The universe was looking after me. Waschtag is a much better colorway for my wardrobe, though I wasn’t certain of it when I opened the package. It seemed too emerald green in the ball. Never one to let a little thing like doubt keep me from trying something to see if it works, I set out to swatch.

That is also a lie. I started hooking the pattern straight away.

Once I had a good four inches of pattern done, I decided I should do a color test. Completly untrue. I decided that I needed to post to Instagram to show off how lovely this pattern looks even before blocking. The idea of color testing against my wardrobe snuck in as a secondary point since I was going to Instagram this anyway – and bonus, it gave me pictures to post to my Ravelry project for this.

Double bonus: First Ravelry project for the pattern!

The combination of yarn weight (heavy laceweight/light fingering) and crochet hook size (3.5 mm) give this fabric fabulous drape. It’s super fun to crochet and easy to remember. I think it would make a reasonably good travel project. I love the way the long slow color changes flow and the feel of the 100% merino in my hands is delightful. I’d give this project two thumbs up so far, but I’d have to stop crocheting long enough to do that.

Charcoal gray t-shirt

Olive green t-shirt

Turquoise t-shirt

After I tested it against my three favorite t-shirts to wear to work, my fears were laid to rest. Against the Charcoal shirt, the swatch (read: the first part of the scarf) appeared very blue. The dark teal took on an almost denim tone when paired with the charcoal. The effect was very sophisticated and classic, much like some of the more subdued Missoni prints. I would wear the combination together without hesitation, but it was my least favorite of the shirt color tests.

The greens looked much more yellow against the Olive shirt, to the point where the olive row actually almost looked yellow and the purple really popped. This shirt color test is probably the way I’ll wear the scarf most often, simply because I have more Olive green in my wardrobe and it may affect what I wear to the Tweed Ride because I like this color combination so much.

Interestingly, the colorway looked the truest to the color in the ball against the light Turquoise shirt. This was also my favorite color test. Like the Olive color test, the purple in the colorway really popped. I’ll have to figure out how to get a little more turquoise in the wardrobe if I want to play around more with pairing the scarf with turquoise shirts.

Of course, this is all a tiny bit premature given that I haven’t actually finished the scarf yet, but I’m not ready to be bothered with such trifels yet.

The Suit

Once, when I was a sophomore, I wore clothing to school that had come from one of the charity shops.

Okay, I think friends of my parents may have stolen a box of donations from a Salvation Army drop box and given them to us. I don’t really know the story of all of it, but Dad had been off and on work for some time and there was no money for everyone to have new clothes for school.

I hadn’t really changed in size since the year before. My sisters needed new clothing more than I did. There just weren’t enough hand-me-downs to cover them because there had been too many years between me and my closest in age sister.

I volunteered to make do because of the box and because my sisters needed things and we all had to make sacrifices.

There were all kinds of adult sized things in that box and I was an adult sized person. I picked out things that fit that I could have fun wearing, pretending that I was like the Sex Pistols I secretly listened to on the radio. Fuck the man! Fuck the strictures of fashion! Fuck the popularity police that roamed the halls of JFK High!

None of it was the Preppy style that was popular then, the style I really desperately wanted to fit in with the popular kids at school. What it was, however, was the right price and my size. Some of it was kind of hippie chic. Most of it was pretty generic. Oxford shirts, t-shirts, and some old jeans I was lucky enough to fit into.

One of the things was this brown pantsuit and vest. It had a very Mary Tyler Moore vibe with flared bottom pants. It was amazing. I wanted to be Mary Tyler Moore. Mary Tyler Moore was always so confident and smart and beautiful. No one called her a freak because she knew the capital of Syria is Damascus. More importantly, I needed a suit for debate, so I asked to keep it.

I loved debate. In debate, people who argued logically and presented more evidence from better sources actually won. Mostly, though, debate tended to happen during the school week and I didn’t have to beg for rides to participate. At least no one expected your mom and dad to show up to debate tournaments so I didn’t have to make excuses why they weren’t there.

Dad, when he had work in the on again off again iron industry of the 80s, worked during the day. Mom worked nights so the family didn’t have to pay for child care. They couldn’t go to my orchestra concerts. At the time, I thought it was because they secretly didn’t love me. Now I know they were doing the best they could with what they had to give. Also, neither one really liked orchestral music, so it worked out for them.

Dress nicely, the coach said. Wear a suit if you have one. I wore the amazing brown pantsuit because it was the only suit I had. For about half the day I felt powerful and beautiful.

Then someone recognized their mom’s old suit and called me out for it in the middle of the hallway during passing time. It was important at the time, but I don’t remember who now.

There was laughing and pointing and name calling. Salvation Army Shopper wearing hand-me-down clothes that weren’t good enough for her mother anymore. Someone called me a dumpster diver. Someone else said that Oscar the Grouch lived in my closet full of garbage clothing. I was the Garbage Girl and I dressed in other people’s garbage.

If embarrassment could kill, I would have died right then. At the very least I wanted to crawl into my closet and shut the door. This wasn’t the most embarrassing part of this story, though. Not by half.

The thing is, I really admired the punk music movement as much as I admired the hippies. I loved the idea that there were these iconoclasts out there who weren’t going to bow to a craven system. They were going to break it and make it better, or at the very least just live like they wanted to live. I wanted to pretend I was like Allison from the Breakfast Club and that I didn’t care what anyone thought of me.

But I wasn’t. I was like Claire. I didn’t fit in with my family. I didn’t fit in with my friends. All I wanted was to fit in. I cared very deeply about the opinions of people who ultimately meant nothing to me.

I came home crying, but I tried not to talk about what happened. It was always something. If I wasn’t being torn down because I was one of “the brains” and who wants to know all the answers anyway, I was teased by boys and girls alike for being busty (or later for being fat and busty). Or someone was telling me how ugly I am. It really never ended.

All of those things bothered me, but being called Garbage Girl got to me more than any of it. When Mama finally got out of me what had happened at school, I think she cried, too. Not in front of me. She tried never to cry in front of me. She told me not to worry about it, that teenagers were ugly and mean. I think it resonated very much with her and getting teased because she literally had only one dress to wear to school. Then we folded the amazing brown suit up and donated it.

Somehow Mama came up with money to buy me my own brand new navy blue suit.

We were getting food from the food bank. I think we might have been getting additional food assistance as well. I’m sure that Dad’s unemployment checks weren’t covering the bills. I know that in part she gave eating lunch to save the money she spent on it. I know that everyone lost out to some degree so I could have the suit. I knew it then, too. I pretended not to know what it really cost, but I did.

My pride caused my family to struggle even more that year. Everyone in my family sacrificed something that year so I could have a brand new navy blue suit.

That was the most embarrassing thing to me: My weakness. My inability to suck it up.