Sunday Thoughts – 20170917

  • I like bean dishes. You can cook them in the crockpot. They taste even better over the next few days, so they make great leftovers for cook ahead lunches. This week’s bean dish was a spicy baked bean pot with chorizo, bacon, onions, green peppers, and two jalapenos from the garden. It will be yummy for lunches this week.
  • The garden has been slower to start this year than usual, but it’s set to go crazy within the next two weeks. We picked tomatoes, eggplant, jalapenos, and the first real green peppers I’ve ever gotten from the garden. The green peppers that are big enough to make stuffed green peppers. I’m planning to stuff them and put them in the freezer tomorrow or Tuesday (depending on my energy level and how long things take at the doctor.
  • I have another appointment on Monday for wound care follow up. I’m hoping that we can finally move to the next stage of care, which I think is saline solution and repacking once a day. The wound care nurse is supposed to be at this appointment, so I’ll learn more then.
  • My endurance is still very uneven from surgery. I’m trying to wean myself off my afternoon nap, but I’m still finding it necessary, which throws off my ability to go straight to sleep at night. I’m writing this on the Sunday side of midnight and I feel very awake. After I finish writing, I’m going to put on Thunderstorm white noise from my tablet, and see if that works to get me to sleep.
  • I miss the way work structures a week. I hope that my return to work appointment in just under two weeks goes well even with my open wound.

Three friends try a triathlon – I watch

Team Splash Flash Dash was briefly in the lead of their heat.

My big activity today was watching The Taming of the Slough, a triathlon event for Kayak, Mountain Bike, and Trail running. Doctor Roommate and two friends made up Team Splash Flash Dash. Splash was the kayaker. Flash was mountain biker (aka:Doctor Roommate). Dash ran the final leg.

They came in second in the three-person women’s teams, which is awesome. They’d never done this before. They came in second among the women’s three-person teams even though Doctor Roommate should have had the codename Crash instead of Flash. (Doctor Roommate has no serious injuries. Just some bruises, a bit of road rash, and she will be replacing her helmet since it took one for the team.)

Spectator this event was one of the most active things I’ve done since my surgery. There was plenty of walking around the park to find a place to settle and knit while waiting for the kayaks to come in and then lots of walking around to cheer people on as friends and new acquaintances came into the relay points.

Also, I made two new doggiefriends. Lincoln was a four-month old labradoodle who looked like my Sophie-doodle-ee-doo when she was that age. He was friendly and still all puppy mouth.

At the other end of the doggo spectrum was Craig the piddy boy, an extremely mellow, beautiful yellow and white piddy, who struck me as the second friendliest and calmest piddy I’ve ever met. The winner for breed (IMO) was a piddy girl named Swee’pea, owned by my friend Worm. Craig the piddy was a close second, though. Craig did the Sophie-dog patented nose nudge under the hand and I spent a good part of the award ceremony giving love to a piddypuddy because Sophie’s taught me that nose nudge means doggo needs love now because doggo is about to die.

While the race itself wasn’t exactly my thing to try for myself, it reminded me how much I miss being able to bike or kayak or take quick steps in succession without being yelled at. Currently I’m allowed to walk and lift nothing heavier than a milk jug. I’m also not allowed to get wet in any kind of submersive fashion.

Showering is okay. Bathing is not. Doing something where I have the potential to go swimming in current is RIGHT OUTTM.

All this before 10:30 AM. Satisfied napping happened all around once we got home. All in all, it was a pretty great way to spend a day.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Something’s gotta give

Something’s gotta give and that something is this blog. This blog will be moving to a once-a-week update. New posts will publish on Thursday mornings starting next week.

The discipline of writing regularly, if not every day, has been good for me. The problem becomes the limitations of time itself. I spend too much time trying to come up with a topic to blog about on the days that I don’t have a hot topic burning in my brain. Those days are usually “I talk about the knitting I don’t do enough of” days.

Those days are usually “I talk about the knitting I don’t do enough of” days and they’re as much of a drag to write as they are to read if you’re not a knitter. Sometimes they’re “pictures of the dogs” days and I Can Has Hotdog does that better. I’d rather put out one high-quality piece of writing than a week of mostly drivel with a chance of something more meaningful.

I’d rather put out one high-quality piece of writing than a week of mostly drivel with a chance of something more meaningful. Also, If I’m going to make real progress forward on my other writing, I need to take time out of writing that isn’t giving me progress toward my goal. I need to put it on the goal itself.

 

on my to-do list from December

I still have items on my to-do list from December:

  1. Listen to Christa’s Mix Tape
  2. Send Christmas cards

I know. It’s terrible. I just can’t let either of these items go.

Christa’s mix-tape is the more pressing of the two. She sends it out around Festivus and I usually listen to it somewhere between Christmas and New Years Eve, often when the roommate heads off to spend holiday time with her family. This year I just didn’t manage to find the private time to listen.

The mix-tape is a private listening event. I know she sends it out to The Usual Suspects, the people on the invite list to the Annual Escape from your Family Christmas Party, but it always feels like it’s meant to be a special event. It’s a mix-tape, after all, a carefully curated list of songs that the giver wants to the recipient to experience.

Obviously, I need quiet time with just me and my headphones to devote to experiencing the music. Maybe a glass of wine and the fireplace going and a fluffy blanket pulled up to my chin to complete the setting. I haven’t found the right time to devote to that just yet. I will, I keep telling myself, and the mix-tape will be there.

It’s not like it will spoil. Christa’s musical memory of 2016 will stay fresh until I decant it. Maybe this weekend, even.

The Christmas Cards are another story. It is well past time to send Winter Holiday cards, even ones as generically non-committal as the ones I buy. You know the type. They have evergreen trees, snowflakes, and cardinals and a non-religion specific greeting:

Wishing you and yours
Peace and comfort in this
Very best Winter Holiday Season
And the Happiest New Year.

At this point, if I were to get any sort of card in the mail, it should be green and St. Patrick’s day themed (because somehow turning a de-canonized Saint’s day into American National Drink Green Beer and Promote Irish Immigrant Stereotypes Day isn’t offensive?) or I have to go for the spring holiday and there’s no “Happy Spring Holiday” card despite the fact that several holidays happen in the spring. Holi and Passover come to immediately to mind.

Apparently, winter is a time for generalities and spring is the time for specificity. Maybe I should hold off and send Fourth of July cards instead.

Seems like a plan to me.

The cultural experience

The Paramount before the Marsalis In Iowa concert

I got us tickets to the Marsalis in Iowa concert because I wanted a cultural experience. I was hoping for some orchestral jazz. I thought maybe I’d be able to expand my ability to enjoy jazz in general and support the local orchestra.

What I discovered were the limits to my ability to appreciate sound for its own sake. I could not get past my thoughts about what music should be just because I heard it an artistic performance venue. In particular, the selection that did me in and made it impossible for me to sit through yet another listening of Copland’s Symphony #3 (which I don’t particularly care for because I think people overplay it) was this number: Saxophone Concerto No. 2, “Under the Wing of the Rock”.

It is a technically difficult piece for saxophone. Branford Marsalis played it brilliantly. I could not understand it as music, only as an intellectual exercise.

It struck me as the sort of thing composers write to prove that a particular instrument is capable of atypical sounds when in the hands of a true master. As the roommate put it, it’s the sort of thing that’s written on a dare.

It’s the sort of composition that true masters learn while cursing the name of the composer. When/If you learn to play it, it shows both the true range of the instrument and your skill as a musician.

Oh, the cursing!

I could hear the technical difficulty of the piece, but I realized I was supposed to believe that I heard music, too. I looked at the beautiful venue. I looked at the intensity of the performers. I tried to internalize what I heard as music.

I failed.

I could not make my brain recognize the music of the piece. All I heard were technically difficult sounds to make. All I saw were people performing their hearts out and making nothing but noise.

We left at intermission because I couldn’t make the mental leap required to make the experience anything more than a cultural experience that I didn’t have the combined experience and education to do more than appreciate on an intellectual level at best.

At least the piece allowed me to learn something. Recognizing my limits gives me greater insight into my own biases.