Saturday, December 31, 2005


The last time I celebrated my mom's birthday with her, it didn't feel like much of a celebration. Five years ago, my dad, brother, sister, husband, and I crowded into her hospital room with a little cake we'd picked up at a bakery. We sang to her, and she managed a few bites of cake. She seemed better than she had over the past week when I'd spent hours sitting in her hospital room watching her sleep, talking to her, encouraging her to take a lap around the hall, but she was still obviously quite sick from the leukemia and the chemotherapy. Nevertheless, I was feeling less scared for her when Brian and I drove back up to our little house in Santa Cruz the next day.

She died three weeks later.

The next year would have been her 50th birthday. I spent time that day talking with my aunt about her. Every year since then, I have been aware of her birthday, but I haven't done anything to acknowledge it. Instead, when I've been in Southern California for Christmas, I have driven out to the hospital where we celebrated that last birthday, and walked through the Japanese garden where she liked to feed the koi when she was feeling well enough to go outside. I didn't make it out to the hospital this year, but in Northern California, my sister invited me to join her at Fort Point.

Every year on December 29, my sister has gone to the Golden Gate Bridge to wish our mother a happy birthday. This year I stood beside her at the base of the bridge, looking out at the water, the boats, the fog, remembering. The last birthday. The last visit in the hospital. The day we scattered her ashes from a boat, just inside the bridge. It was chilly and grey out, and those were the first memories to surface, matching the weather and my mood. I suppose it is part of my own ritual of remembering her each year to accept those memories, and then to remind myself of older memories, ones in which she is happy and healthy. Seeing her nurse my little brother. Getting into her bed at night when I was little and had a bad dream. Learning how to dip tortillas into enchilada sauce before filling them, and then rolling them just so.

I rested my forehead against my sister's back, and she dropped her head back to rest it on top of mine.

Golden Gate Bridge

Friday, December 30, 2005

Home, sweet home

After a week and a half at "home" in California for the holidays, I am now back in my own home. It's colder here, and we're far from our families, but I felt nothing but relief as the cab sped away from National Airport, and I saw the series of monuments across the river, glowing white against the sky: the Capitol dome, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Kennedy. It's a relief to see the familiar sights, to be back in my own apartment, to see my cat (and have her poke me until I scoot forward in the desk chair, so she can curl up behind me while I type this), even to sort through my mail at my own table and do laundry in my own washer.

Of course, I also felt relief when my plane touched down in Los Angeles nine days ago, and then again on Christmas day, when we decended through the rain clouds at Oakland. We had a wonderful trip and fabulous visits with family and friends. I have things to write about and photos to post, but that will have to wait a day or two.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Christmastime in Washington

A couple of weeks ago, I decided it would fun to take a weekend trip to New York, to see the Christmas decorations. The Husband thought I was perhaps a little bit insane to want to immerse myself the crowds and to want to take such a trip just a couple of days before we’re leaving to spend Christmas in California, but was willing to go along. But his work schedule (and common sense) interfered with the plans. Instead we decided to have our own Washington Day O’ Christmasy Fun.

After a big breakfast at home of blueberry pancakes, we started the WDOCF with a visit to Washington National Cathedral. We were at the Cathedral just a few weeks ago, for a performance of Handel’s Messiah, which had been lovely. Listening to the music, the enormous space had felt cozy, and I was able to hold onto the feeling when we returned yesterday. It was the first time I’d been there on a sunny day, so the stained glass windows were much more spectacular than on my previous visits. The Husband was quite impressed as I pointed out scenes from Bible stories in the windows, until he figured out that I was reading from a handout I’d picked up at the entrance.

Washington National Cathedral

The main point of our trip to the Cathedral was to see the display of crèches from around the world. It was fantastic to see how different cultures use local materials to create a nativity scene that fits with the culture’s own experience: scenes from Africa included elephants and giraffes, while scenes from Alaska featured bears and moose. I loved a miniature scene from New Mexico, hand cast from sterling silver, every piece tiny and perfect, and a scene from Peru with characters carved from gourds.

As I was describing my plans for the WDOCF, someone asked me, “What does pizza have to do with Christmas?” Answer: “I like it, and we’ll be in the neighborhood, so I’m not passing up the chance to go to 2 Amys.” Obviously. 2 Amys is our favorite pizza place in Washington. The pizzas are fantastic, very much the style of what we had in Italy last spring. Unfortunately, it’s also the favorite pizza place of many other people in the area, and the wait for a table in the evenings is well over an hour. At two on a Saturday afternoon, though, we only waited for about ten minutes, before we were seated and not much longer after that, we were provided with delicious pizza-y goodness.

Filled with more pizza than was probably healthy, we began to wander down Wisconsin Avenue, with the eventual goal of ending up in the Sculpture Garden for some ice skating—not exactly the same as skating under the tree at Rockefeller Center, but we figured it would do. But as we meandered slowly along, wandering into a couple of stores in search of a present for the final person on our list (didn’t find it, but did come up with an Idea), the afternoon began to slip away. We decided to skip the skating and head directly for the final two items on the list for the WDOCF: the White House and Capitol Christmas trees.

A couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post ran an article about the competition among public Christmas trees. The one at Rockefeller Center was lit a day before the White House tree. In the past, there has been competition between the White House and the Capitol for which tree would have its ceremonial first lighting of the year, but that’s apparently been less of a problem in current years with the same party controlling both the White House and the Congress. I thought the article was a little bit ridiculous (especially because it was run on the front page, rather than in the Metro or Style sections), but I must say that if there is to be a competition between Washington’s two trees, the one at the Capitol wins it quite handily.

The National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse was mobbed with people. We joined the shuffle around the outside of the tree, admiring the big tree in the center, the electric trains set up around it, and the smaller trees for each state and territory that ringed the outside of the walkway. The main tree was decorated with white lights running up and down the tree, and big blue and white lights instead of ornaments. The smaller trees had been decorated by people from their states—mostly senior centers and elementary schools—and it was hard to see the ornaments as they were protected from the elements inside little plastic globes. We did like the California tree, which each little globe labeled with something from a different part of the state—“Pacific Grove Butterflies,” “Sea World,” “Napa Valley.” We warmed our hands by the bonfire—excuse me, yule log—listened to the children’s bell choir for a few songs, and then headed on our way.

National Christmas Tree

California's tree

It had been a nice day (you know the Californians have been in Washington too long when they consider a December day with a high in the mid-40s “nice”), but once it got dark it got cold rather quickly. We began to look for a Starbucks, so we could rest our feet and get warm. The first one we found, though, only had a few tables, and we really needed to sit down. The second one we found closed. We ended up in the Gordon Biersch brewery, having beer and garlic fries. (Note: the garlic fries at Pac Bell or SBC or whatever the ballpark is going to be called now are MUCH better and more garlicky.)

We headed for the Capitol, feeling refreshed. Once we headed out of Penn Quarter, the streets were nearly empty, and it was amusing to see the totally empty lawns before the Capitol: the last time I was there was among a group of thousands who had come to pay respects to Rosa Parks.

That's me!

I love the Capitol dome and it was lovely to see it with the Christmas tree in front from across the reflecting pool. The pool itself was mostly frozen, but the ducks were still spending time there. They waddled around on the ice, and when I went to take their picture they came up to beg for food. We got to see a couple of them land on the ice, and it was amusing to see them try to do their water landing and be thwarted by the solid surface of the pool.

Ducks on ice

The Christmas tree itself was approximately eleventy jillion times better than the National tree, and the crowd was significantly smaller. It had been sent from New Mexico, and stood 60 feet tall with a trunk 26 inches in diameter. It was decorated in colored lights and ornaments made by New Mexicans. The Husband and I delighted in the number of schoolchild hours that must have gone into preparing the dream catchers, God’s Eyes, and aliens that decked the tree—all hours that were not devoted to preparing for standardized tests. The ornaments weren’t secured in little plastic globes, and the tree seemed much more personal that the tree at the White House.

The Capitol Christmas tree

Decorations from New Mexico

We admired the tree, and then dragged our cold bodies and tired feet back home.

Friday, December 02, 2005

I am a cranky commuter

When I was in London last week, I admired the signs on tube station escalators instructing riders to "stand right, walk left," wishing that Metro would put up similar signs. Looks like my wish has been granted: according to this morning's Washington Post, Metro will soon have signs instructing riders to "stand to the right," and is making other attempts to make people flow more smoothly on and off of trains and into and out of stations. I hope the tourists read the signs on the escalators. I have my doubts about whether the signs on the floors with arrows will really get people to stand out of the way, but that's not one of my major pet peeves anyhow. If only Metro could help post signs to help with the things that do bother me:


  • People who stop at the top of the escalator to look around (or to tie their child's shoelaces). Please move away from the escalator so the rest of us can get off. Given the nature of escalators, we can't just stop and wait for you to get the hell out of the way.
  • People who lean against the poles near train doors. I need to hold onto those poles, people. I have begun to just go ahead and grab the pole, even if that means "accidentally" poking the person who is doing the leaning. But when they decided to lean on the pole when I am already holding on and smoosh my fingers? That's even ruder.*
  • People who stand in train doors as others are trying to board.** If you want to keep that place, step out of the train and let people on. Otherwise, move further in. People get left off of trains with plenty of room because they have board single file because there are people in the door way. You are the reason my backpack got caught in the door on Tuesday morning. Punks.
  • People who brag that they never move out of the way when they are standing in the train doors when I'm complaining about it. Y'all are even bigger punks.
  • People who talk loudly on their cell phones, or even just with one another. Keep your voice down. I'm trying to concentrate on my Sudoku.
  • Tourists who complain about crowded trains and rudeness of commuters. If you don't like it, don't travel on the trains at rush hour. I was (mostly) kidding this morning when I said to The Husband that in addition to a farecard, people should have to show a local driver's license in order to board trains at rush hour. I generally try to be nice to tourists on Metro, no matter what time of day. I will help you figure out which platform you need to be on, or where you need to transfer. But no complaining if you get jostled around because the trains are crowded.
  • People who complain about tourists not following basic Metro etiquette on the weekends at the Smithsonian station. Yes, I am standing up for the tourists. They are tourists at Tourist Central. If they bother you that much, go to L'Enfant Plaza or Foggy Bottom and walk.
< /kvetch >

*Also: If you are tall and you can reach the overhead bar? And if by doing so, you make it easier for a short person to reach pole, so that she doesn't have to swing from the overhead bar and topple into people when the train starts and stops? Just hold onto the overhead bar, okay? Thanks. You're awesome.

**Metro does have an advertising campaign that addresses this issue. It is not working. (Although I haven't tried shrieking "You doorkers!" at offenders. Maybe next week.)

Monday, November 28, 2005

Thanksgiving in London

I just had a wonderful Thanksgiving. You should read Jon Carroll’s column about Thanksgiving, as he describes pretty much perfectly why Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Well, I suppose that as a vegetarian, I don’t exactly support roasted turkey as wholeheartedly as Mr. Carroll does, but other than that, he and I are on the same page. It's a holiday about being happy for what you have and about eating ridiculous quantities of good food. What's not to support about that? I also support leaving the country for Thanksgiving, as I have done for two years now. Our lovely American friend, Becca, and her charming English husband, Alex, can’t get canned pumpkin to make pies there, and I get two free days off of work, so it seems like the ideal time to pack my suitcase with canned pumpkin and other American delicacies (marshmallows and Tollhouse chocolate chips, among other things), as well as lots of warm clothes, and go for a visit. This year we had the added bonus of Christie escaping from work in India for a few days to join us for the holiday.


Wednesday morning I woke up on the plane as the flight attendants were bringing out breakfast. I was grateful for my comfy neck pillow and the nice headrests on British Airways flights that had allowed me to get a good five hours sleep on the plane. We landed smoothly at Heathrow, and I told The Husband that if I saw the captain on my way out, I would compliment him on the landing and thank him for not making me want to toss my cookies even once. Then the captain came over the speaker to say that he couldn't take credit for the smooth landing, as it had been done automatically by the plane. I don't know whether I like the idea of the plane landing itself, or whether it scares me a little bit. Maybe both.

We shuttled from the airport to the tube and then spent an hour on the train. Becca met us at the tube and we managed to get all our luggage on the bus back to her house. We had sort of intended to do some sightseeing that afternoon, but we were tired and it was good to just sit around the house, eat lunch, and catch up. We did make it out that evening to a favorite Indian restaurant, Rasa, for some delicious vegetarian curries. (I think I would like have a conversation in which I get to say, “Rasa is my favorite restaurant in London.” I haven’t been to all that many restaurants in London, but it sounds very cosmopolitan, don’t you think?) I don't think curry would have been Christie's first choice, as she was quite obviously homesick for some Western dishes, but whenever anyone had asked me what I was planning to do in London during the week leading up to the trip, my answer was, "Eat curry," and Christie humored us. We ordered what seemed like way too much food, and then ate every bit of it, using paratha and poori to mop up the delicious sauces from the serving dishes.


On Thanksgiving, I felt only slightly guilty taking off to go sightseeing with The Husband and Christie while Becca and Alex spent the day in the kitchen preparing the feast. But they assured us that they could go to St. Paul’s and the Tate Modern any time they wanted, and I rationalized that we’d all just be tripping over each other in the kitchen anyhow.

Last year’s Thanksgiving break was my first time in London, and I had resisted going into museums, as I wanted to get out and see the city itself. We had gone into the Tate Modern as we walked along the river from the Eye to St. Paul’s last year only to use the restrooms. This year Christie suggested actually viewing the exhibits, and given the cold, wet day, it seemed like a very good idea. The museum divides works by themes, rather than by time periods, so we visited the Nude/Action/Body and History/Memory/Society suites. I’m glad we went into both, as I would have selected the former if we were only to have picked one, and I actually preferred the art in the latter.

Before we entered either suite, we looked at the Rachel Whiteread installation in the Turbine Hall. “It looks like sugar cubes,” either Christie or The Husband said immediately, as we looked down at the piles of white cubes with people walking among them. It was the kind of art in which I liked what the artist was trying to say when I read about it, and the work appealed to me visually, but I couldn't instinctively make the connection, even when I knew what it was supposed to be. I think what I enjoyed the most about it was the feeling of smallness I got walking around among the thousands of white boxes. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to take pictures, but I saw someone else do it right in front of a security guard without any consequences so I took a few myself.



My favorite piece of art was one of the first ones that we saw in History/Memory/Society, two carved trees by Giuseppe Penone. You can read about the piece and see pictures here. Penone carved two trees out of timber beams, leaving the beams intact at the base of each tree. It’s interesting to me to read about what Penone was trying to accomplish with his work, because I took away something very different. I was left struggling to put into words the idea of forming this beam out of a tree, only to try to carve it back with chainsaws and chisels to form an image of a tree. I looked at the carved tree rising from the squared off block of timber beam and it struck me that we often take from nature, try to force it into a shape that serves our purposes, and then try to force the more natural aspects back into the appearance.

It seems to me that I read something in a newspaper not too long ago about what sort of text museums provide for each piece of art. Some museums only tell the name of the piece, the artist, the date, and how the museum came into possession of the work. I prefer the Tate Modern’s approach, which also includes a few sentences describing the art, perhaps giving some context from the artist’s life or the time period. I can appreciate most visual art more if I am given some context, and reading even just a little bit about a piece makes me want to consider the art more carefully than I would otherwise.

Another room was filled with a piece on the Iraq war by Thomas Hirschorn. I walked around the work several times, looking at the faces of the US soldiers who surrounded a city built from every day objects, with political books and giant mushrooms rising from the streets. The text that was provided about the piece included a quotation from Hirschhorn that I copied down: “It is only when the eyes and the brain get exhausted that there are no lies and you can get to the truth.”

I contemplated Hirschorn’s words as I stood in the next room, a room that had no art, just chairs looking out over the river. It was raining and windy—the some of the narrow trees outside the museum looked as though they could break as they all leaned with the force of the wind. People were flowing back and forth across the Millennium Bridge between the museum and the Cathedral. I was pleased by the way the brightly lit art in the room I had just left contrasted with the dark day, the lines of the bridge, and Christopher Wren’s dome. I felt that I understood Hirschhorn, but I wasn’t sure I agreed with him.

Three other works really stood out to me. The first was one that Christie pointed out to me, Gerhard Richter’s Townscape Paris (sorry, no image there, and I couldn't find one using Google Images, either, leading me to the conclusion that it's just not on the internet at all), which to me captured the idea of a city perfectly, although I have never been to Paris, so I couldn't tell you how well it captures Paris. I didn’t write down the artist or title of the second one, and I have completely forgotten, although I can call up the image in my head: it was a photograph of a dark, empty room that appeared to be flooded, although according to the description, it was a trick of resin that gave the photo that appearance. I couldn’t say what it was about the photograph that struck such a deeply emotional chord for me, but I stood and stared at it for a long time, feeling very sad. The Husband suggested that the sadness came not simply from the photograph itself, but from the fact that I was connecting this particular image to the images in the news of this fall’s hurricanes. He could be right, but I do think that there was just a lot of sadness conveyed from the photo itself, even without that context. The last work was Rodin's The Kiss, which he apparently didn't like, but which amazes me as most sculpture does. The idea that a person can bring figures out of a piece of marble is awesome.

We walked back across the bridge to St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was my favorite part of last year’s trip. I still loved the Cathedral, but this year’s visit wasn’t as spectacular. Last year as we climbed to the Whispering Gallery, on the inside of the dome, organ music was playing and we reached the top in time to see a brightly-robed procession come through. Afterwards, we climbed up to the two outer galleries, and I was left with knees like jelly for an hour after we came down, as my terror of the heights was magnified by the narrow walkway and fragile-looking barrier on the uppermost level. In spite of that fear, I had wanted to climb up again this year, thinking I had built my tolerance for heights somewhat with all the towers we climbed in Italy in May, but they had closed the outer galleries due to the wind and rain just before we arrived. I was disappointed to miss out on the wonderful views of the city, but somewhat relieved to only have to deal with a little bit of nervousness peering down into the Cathedral from the first gallery.

St. Paul's and the Millenium Bridge

St. Paul's Cathedral

We went back to the house to find that Becca and Alex had a Thanksgiving feast ready to go on the table. With two vegetarians and two people who border on vegetarianism and don't like meat, we decided to forgo the turkey this year and filled up with side dishes: artichoke dip, tomato soup, green salad, spinach-cheese casserole, sweet potatoes (one of Becca's friends gave her what I think is the best sweet potato recipe ever), cranberry sauce, stuffed mushrooms, stuffing, and pumpkin pie (with a superb crust). Christie brought an excellent bottle of wine, and I think the next two bottles we drank were good too, although I can't really remember them at this point. Mostly I'm just proud that I managed to avoid getting drunk and passing out on the couch this year, breaking with what had become something of a Thanksgiving tradition.


On Friday we bundled up against the cold and took a train out to Oxford. We started our day there with lunch at the Eagle & Child pub, where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien once spent time. Mostly it was full of American tourists and American students studying at Oxford. After lunch (which was okay, even though English pubs aren’t the ideal place for vegetarians to find food), we explored Blackwell’s, a wonderful bookstore, so big you can easily get lost, with six miles of bookshelves. I was in book-nerd heaven.

Blackwell's bookstore

Next stop was Christ Church college, which I wanted to visit mostly because parts of some of the Harry Potter movies have been filmed there, and certain sets have been modeled after parts of the school. I loved seeing the Great Hall, although I was sad to see that candles don't actually float above the tables.

Christ Church College Great Hall

A couple of other pictures from Oxford:



When we returned from Oxford, we went to Covent Garden to look at the shops and drink mulled wine, but we were too late: the shops were closing and there was no mulled wine to be had. We went back to the house to eat our Thanksgiving leftovers and watch Shaolin Soccer (Note to Rachel: I kept thinking that you would get a kick out of it), which in Alex's words, was either the best or worst film I'd ever seen.


We intended to get an early start on Saturday, but somehow that didn't happen. Becca and I actually got up plenty early, but instead of getting ready, we sat in the kitchen and gabbed for over an hour until the boys started to wake up. Still, we managed to have a full day. We walked to the neighborhood Saturday market, and spent some time looking at the booths--organic coffees, some vegetables, pastries, jewelry, and prepared foods. The Husband had a spinach crepe from one booth, while the rest of us ate Ghanaian food. I haven't eaten much African food, but I can support anything that is spicy and comes with fried plantains.

Next we took the tube to Kensington to take a walking tour from a company that several friends recommended as we planned our trip last year, London Walks. Last year we hadn't made it on any of the walks, and with Alex as a tour guide I didn't feel that I'd missed much, but I'm glad we did it this year. We saw things we never would have found on our own, or even with Alex's help, including a one-and-a-half-acre roof garden, complete with real pink flamingoes. The guide, David, told us interesting stories about the people who had lived in various houses, and took us into the parish church. It was a long walk, and after two and a half hours, we clearly needed to spend some time at a pub. David recommended one that wasn't too far away from the walk's end point. It was cozy and nice, and I enjoyed watching some rugby on the television there--much more exciting than American football. Dinner was at a curry restaurant on Brick Lane--not as good as the food at Rasa, but still tasty.


St. Mary Abbots, the Kensington parish church


Sunday was another day when we intended to get an early start, with the hope of getting in a little more sightseeing before we had to leave, but we slept a bit late and moved rather slowly, and before too long we had to pack our bags and head for the airport.

The flight home was lousy. I suppose the flight to one's vacation is always better because despite the discomfort one has something to look forward to besides an empty refrigerator and spending the next day feeling jetlagged at work. I suppose none of the problems I had on the flight would have been an issue if I had just taken a nap, but I forced myself to stay awake on the way home in order to minimize jetlag. First, the man in front of me leaned his seat back further than I knew it was possible to lean any airline seat back. When the flight attendants brought lunches around, they asked him to raise his seat slightly, as I couldn't open my tray table at all, but as soon as they picked up the "rubbish," his seat was back again. I had to lean my seat back slightly, and then lean it back even more whenever I or either of the other women in my row wanted to get up. The headphone jack at my seat didn't work, so I couldn't watch movies (and I had wanted to see the newest Batman), but I had picked up the newest Patricia Cornwell novel in the airport (because on a plane, that's really the most serious book I'm prepare to handle, and even though I don't read many mysteries anymore, I am strangely addicted to the Kay Scarpetta series--The Husband suggests that the pages are coated in crack), but when the cabin lights were dimmed after the meal I discovered that my reading light was out, as were several others nearby. The flight attendants attempted to resolve the problem by resetting the lights, but only managed to turn out all the lights in the last 11 rows of the plane. One of the flight attendants found me a flashlight, so at least I got to finish my book (which, in case you're interested, is a big improvement on the last few Cornwell books, but still not up to the quality of the first ones in the series).

In spite of my whining and general crankiness, we made it home all in one piece, even having time to pick up some "take away" Thai on our way from the airport. (Normally a flight returning to Dulles is our excuse to eat at delicious curries at Amma Vegetarian Kitchen in Vienna, but I was not emotionally prepared to deal with the slow service.) I'm almost back to normal in terms of sleep. I did wake up at 3 am on Monday feeling wide awake, and I was so tired after work and my yoga class that night that I don't actually remember going to bed, but I have managed to have two somewhat productive days back at work, in spite of the time I spend thinking about next year's Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The big two-seven

My birthday was absolutely fantastic. After all, what can be bad about a day that starts with presents and brioche French toast, and ends with tamales and sangria? Thanks to everyone who called and emailed. Just one question: who was it that sent the yummy saltwater taffy?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Public service announcement: Cats and lilies

NOTE: Did your cat just eat a lily? Are you here because you are Googling around wondering what to do? If so, don't read this post; just take your cat to the vet and tell them what happened.

I took my cat to the vet this morning for her check-up and a couple of vaccinations, and I realized that it has been almost exactly a year since she spent a weekend in the ICU there, having water pumped through her kidneys.

I was given some flowers for my birthday, including some pretty white lilies. I brought them home and The Husband trimmed the stems and put them in a vase for me. Before bed that night, we put the flowers up on a high shelf that Cecilia never seemed particularly interested, so that she wouldn’t chew on the flowers and give herself an upset stomach.

I woke up early the next morning and found out that the kitty had indeed had an upset stomach during the night. She had left the flowers alone, but the trash hadn’t been put under the sink, and it looked as though the cat had gone through it. I cleaned up more cat puke than I had ever seen in my life, while Cecilia followed me around the house, and then went to get ready for work.

In the shower, it suddenly occurred to me that I had read something at some point about Easter lilies and cats. My flowers weren’t Easter lilies, but maybe the flowers were related. As soon as I was dressed, I sat down and Googled for information on cats and lilies.

And then I commenced with the freaking out.

Lilies can be toxic to cats, causing kidney failure within 36 to 72 hours if a cat doesn’t receive prompt treatment, I read on the Animal Poison Control Center website. It said a cat might vomit within a few hours of ingesting any part of the plant, and might become lethargic and lose its appetite.

I studied Cecilia. She seemed to be acting normally and she had eaten some of the kibble I gave her when I first got up. I settled back down at the computer, read a little more, to work myself up into a good and proper state of panic. Then I woke up The Husband and called the vet.

“Bring her in right now,” the woman on the phone told me, when I explained that my cat may have eaten some amount of a lily stem. “It doesn’t matter what part of the lily or how much, you need to bring her in.”

They took her carrier from us in the waiting room, rather than bringing us into an exam room to look at her. Soon a vet we’d never met before (it’s a decent-sized practice with a 24-hour animal hospital), called us into an exam room. She told us things I already knew from reading online, and laid out for us how they could treat her. They would keep her at the hospital for the weekend, pumping water through her kidneys and monitoring her for signs of kidney damage. She handed us a form, explaining that we need to pick what level of resuscitation we wanted in case something happened, and left us alone. We cried a little bit, signed the forms, and handed over a credit card. It wasn’t until later that I wondered if such forms for humans ever included the approximate costs of each type of treatment. At the time I only had one thought going through my brain: MY BIRTHDAY FLOWERS MIGHT BE KILLING MY KITTY OH MY HOLY FUCK PLEASE FIX HER NOW.

They promised to call us as soon as they had results from her blood work. Those initial results were good—it looked as though we’d gotten her treated before too much kidney damage had been done—but they needed to keep her for at least 72 hours, to make sure everything was really okay.

Over the course of the weekend, her BUN and creatinine levels fluctuated. At first they would be fine, but when they did another test 12 hours later, they would be elevated, indicating possible kidney damage. The animal hospital allowed us to visit her, so we went over twice a day that weekend. They would bring her to us in an exam room, so we could pet her and hold her. They were worried that she wasn’t eating much, so we would try to coax her to eat some of the canned cat food and jarred baby food they were trying to feed her. Then we would let them take her away again, to hook her kidneys back up to the machine, and we would go home and wait anxiously for them to call us back with results from the next blood draw.

We cheered when the vet who was on call on Sunday afternoon told us we could take her home that night. Relieved, we went out to dinner and a movie, and picked her up on our way home, along with instructions to feed her senior cat food (which has less protein and so requires less work by the kidneys), even though she wasn’t even four years old, and give her antibiotics twice a day. She was shaved in a couple of places where she’d had IVs and blood draws, so she looked kind of funny, and she hid inside our box spring whenever we looked at her like we might be considering shoving one of those antibiotic pills down her throat, but other than that she was her normal self. We took her back to the vet a couple of times in the next month for blood work to check her kidney function. The results were fine, but we kept her on the senior food, just in case.

Today, in addition to her regular exam and a couple of vaccines, the vet did another blood draw to make sure that Cecilia is still okay. If the results are fine (we’ll find out tomorrow), we can switch her back to normal food.

So basically, this has just been a long, roundabout way of saying: IF YOU HAVE A CAT, KEEP ALL LILIES OUT OF YOUR HOUSE AT ALL TIMES. Your kitty (and your credit card statement) will thank you.


Thursday, November 17, 2005

November miscellany

I love November.

The weather here has been erratic this fall. Yesterday we had a high around 70 degrees, but by the time I left my office it was pouring rain, and I shivered as I waited for the bus in my zip-up fleece. Today we are set for a high of 45, which to me sounded like a great excuse to stop for a caramel apple cider on the way to the office. To The Husband, it sounds like a great excuse to work from home. The Husband spent the majority of his life in Los Angeles County. The Husband doesn’t cope so well with the coming of winter.

But I am just relieved that it’s not hot and sticky anymore. We probably have until about mid-January before I start complaining about the weather again. I’m also distracted from the cold by all the other lovely parts of late fall. There are, of course, apple cider and pumpkin treats. The ground is covered in leaves. They are mostly brown, but there are still a few shiny spot of bright red and yellow. They make a lovely noise as I shuffle through them on my way to and from the bus. However, I have also been looking forward to November for some time now, ticking off on my fingers the many good things about this particular month, to pretty much anyone willing to listen:

  1. Two great concerts that I got to go to
  2. A new Harry Potter movie
  3. My birthday
  4. Thanksgiving
  5. A trip to London
  6. Getting to see friends that I haven’t seen in months

We shall address each item in order.

1. The concerts have already happened. We saw Joan Baez at the Birchmere the first week of November. She was absolutely wonderful, telling funny stories and singing pretty much all the songs I wanted to hear. “Forty years ago, I bought you some cufflinks,” she sang on “Diamonds and Rust” during her encore, interrupting herself to say that she’d better not be singing that at fifty years. She did, however, hum the last few lines of the last verse of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” after missing the words. We sat at one of the front tables, and Julian Bond was at the next table. Actually, after the show, Brian went to find the restroom, and came back quickly.

“Long line?” I asked

“Not too bad. But I would have been right behind Julian Bond and that made me nervous.”

I laughed at him. And told him I would tell the internet.

1b. On Monday night, we went to see Dar Williams, also at the Birchmere. This time, we were not among the youngest in the audience (Nobody was buying that I just looked really good for a 52-year-old at the Joan Baez show), which was kind of nice. Our seats weren’t quite as good, but it was still a fabulous show. I love seeing musicians enjoying themselves on stage, and Dar and her band seemed to be having a lot of fun. Girlyman opened. I’d never heard of them before, but you should definitely check them out if you’re into new folk music. We ended up buying two albums after their set. Of course, I may have been biased by the fact that they started their set with “Born at the Right Time.” I am a big sucker for Paul Simon songs.

2. Not much to say about Harry Potter. The Chron gave it a good review yesterday, and I’m excited. I need to Fandango some tickets for tomorrow night.

3. I am oddly excited about my birthday this year. The Father-in-law asked last weekend what was such a big deal about turning 27. I couldn’t come up with an answer. The Husband point out that I am like this every year. I think it amuses him, and he certainly does his best to go along with my celebratory attitude, letting me celebrate all week long. My actual birthday is on Saturday, but The Husband had flowers delivered to my office yesterday, which got me plenty of attention at work, especially as they were at first delivered to the wrong Elizabeth. In some ways I would love to be surprised by something wildly romantic for my birthday, but I am a bit of a control freak, so I take care to plan my birthday myself. Saturday I have a full day planned: we’re going out to brunch in the morning, so I can have some birthday French toast, then I am going to get a facial and pedicure, and we will go out for Mexican tapas and perhaps a pomegranate margarita or four that night with friends.

4-6. The last three are all going to happen simultaneously, so I will write about them all together, but each one is a good thing in and of itself, so I’m counting them all separately. First of all, I think Thanksgiving is a fabulous holiday. What’s not to like about a special day set aside to eat a lot and think about all the good things that are going on? Last year we spent Thanksgiving in London. My very good friend Becca from grad school married a wonderful Englishman and moved to London after we graduated. I would have objected, except she was engaged and had these plans before we got to know each other, so I didn’t really have any say in the matter. Besides, now I have a free place to stay in London. Thanksgiving seemed like a great time to go visit: she would have Americans to celebrate with, and we could use the vacation days from work. We had such a grand time that we decided we ought to go back this year. This year will be even better. Becca has been doing her best to avoid getting strep throat (she apologized for the fact that it slowed her down last year. All I could think was “That was slow? Thank god for that fever, then.), and I am going to try not to get drunk in front of her in-laws (I spent a good part of our Thanksgiving dinner giggling and saying “That was so British!” every time any of them said anything. Then I passed out on the couch and didn’t help with dishes.). As an added bonus for this year, Christie will be joining us from India. It will be a busy few days, trying to fit in plenty of sightseeing and prepare our Thanksgiving dinner, but it will be fun. We have a trip to Oxford planned, which I am very excited about.

I am looking forward to my birthday this weekend and the upcoming trip, but for now I must go try to understand price index theory. I took three semesters of economics in graduate school, so you’d think I would have some glimmer of understanding, but I got a B+ in each and every one of those classes (and was pretty proud). These things just don’t come naturally to me. I am, however, concerned that all these articles I am reading use ‘indexes’ as the plural instead of ‘indices.’ Why doesn’t that feel right to me?

Monday, October 31, 2005

Rosa Parks

Some mornings when I sit down with the paper, there is news that makes me cry a little bit. That’s what happened last week when I read that Rosa Parks had died. I read the articles, thinking about all I had learned about her as a child, and then as a teaching assistant in an undergraduate course on the civil rights movement. I thought about writing something about her and what she means to me—something about the power of individuals to make a difference, about the importance of standing up (or sitting down) for one’s beliefs, about what finally drives people to act against injustice.

But the main memory that kept coming back to me was sparked by the mention of E.D. Nixon, a leader of the NAACP in Alabama, who Rosa Parks had called after her arrest, and who helped organize the bus boycotts in Montgomery. His name had been on the list of people and events that students in the class I was a TA for had to identify on the final exam. While I didn’t do any statistical analysis, I think that was the one that my students got wrong the most. But they didn’t decide to leave that one blank, but took a guess. Most wrote that he was the president who resigned after the Watergate scandal. Did they not know what President Nixon’s first name was? Did they not know how to spell Richard? I suppose they were just taking a guess, hoping for the best. There was one answer that really stood out to me, though, something to the effect of:

“E.D. Nixon was the governor of California when the Black Panthers stormed the state Capitol with automatic weapons. He later became President of the United States, but was forced to resign because of Watergate.”

Fabulous: mix up a couple of people irrelevant to the question, bring in and exaggerate an event that had nothing to do with the man you are identifying, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. I called up the other TA and read her the answer. (That’s right, when you said silly things in your papers and exams in college, your TAs were sharing and laughing at you.)

Because that was all I could think to write, I didn’t write anything.

As soon as we read that Rosa Parks would lie in state in the Capitol rotunda, The Husband and I decided that we had to go.

We arrived at the Capitol South Metro station a little after 5, and followed groups of people out toward the Capitol building. I had read that the funeral procession would arrive at 5:30, and that the viewing would begin at 6:30. We approached a guard and were directed down to 3rd Street. We cut in at 1st Street, along with everyone else, thinking we had found the end of the line. Then we followed that line all past the reflecting pool, down onto 3rd, and then saw it wrap back around the other side of the pool. We felt triumphant as we settled in at the end of the line to wait. The line was moving, but we realized quickly that we were moving because they were setting up lines to snake people back and forth, and we were filling in that space.

Soon we were back on 3rd Street, and were only shuffling along in the line. It was chilly, but not too cold. The blue of the sky behind the Capitol was deepening, while in the opposite direction the sky behind the Washington Monument was lit with pale gold, although the sun had already sunk below the horizon. I studied the Capitol dome, glowing bright white against the darkening sky. I remembered the first time I’d visited Washington, three and a half years ago. We took a shuttle from BWI to the home of some friends who live in Alexandria. The driver was chatty, and tried to engage all his passengers in conversation—I remember him asking a van full of strangers who they believed was at fault for the problems in Israel. After dropping off a few passengers in the District, the shuttle turned a corner, and I saw the Capitol dome lit up against the sky. My excitement made the driver realize I had never been in Washington before, and he was excited to show me more. To what I’m sure was the dismay of an older couple who just wanted to get to their hotel, the driver took a route that would give us a view of the White House, before getting lost on our way to our friends’ house. But more than the White House, I remember that first glimpse of the Capitol. I remember my awe at seeing the dome all lit up at night for the first time, and it still impresses me. I like to say that when I get tired of seeing the dome at night, it will be time for me to leave Washington. I spent a lot of time looking at it last night, and I don’t think I’m tired of it yet.

People became friendly in the line, striking up conversations with strangers. A group of people somewhere behind us spent some time singing—“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” “Jesus Loves Me,” “The Star Spangled Banner.” A little boy behind us, probably about three years old, was a bundle of energy running up ahead to give high fives to a man a few yards ahead of us whom I’m sure he didn’t know, then back to his mom, over and over again. I had brought a book, but even with the lights along the lawns, it was difficult to focus enough to read.

We wondered what was going on, and The Husband suggested I call our friend Jeff, and ask him to check on the Web or on television to see if there was any news of what was happening. It was nearing seven and the line was no longer moving very much. My feet and calves were starting to ache. Eventually, I decided to call Jeff, but didn’t get an answer. I thought about trying to call someone else, but finally, a little after seven, we saw the flashing lights of the motorcade approaching along 3rd Street. Cheers went up throughout the crowd as buses rolled by—first the empty 1957 bus, then several full Metro buses full of Mrs. Parks’ family and friends. I stood on tiptoe, trying to peer over the top of the crowd, and saw people waving in the buses.

After they had passed, I turned to The Husband. “You know, given my experiences taking Metro bus on my commute, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that they’re late getting here.”

Still, the line didn’t move. A woman in front of us called her father in New Hampshire and asked him to turn on the television. From him, we found out that the casket was being carried in to the Capitol by an honor guard, and that Bush and some congressmen were there for a ceremony. We were told that the cameras were turned off in the rotunda for a prayer. The woman’s father said he would call back if there was any more information.

Our line crossed over onto another lawn. We felt that we were making progress. The singing groups started up again, this time with “Joy to the World.” At last we could see people moving up onto the steps of the Capitol.

At 9:45 we were out of the line that snaked back and forth. Someone asked the guard who was letting us out how much longer she thought we would have, and she speculated it was an hour. I wanted to believe her, but I thought she was probably just making up an answer. As we followed the edge of the reflecting pool closer to the security point, we realized how chilly it was. We were exposed to the breeze now, and didn’t have a crowd around us to help keep us warm. In exchange for losing our warmth, though, there were occasional benches and curbs to sit down to rest our feet. After five hours of standing, it was nice to give my legs even a quick break.

Moving up hill towards the security checkpoint, I heard the little boy behind us, now in his stroller, say, “Mommy, are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m okay. Are you okay?”

“I’m okay. Mommy? What are you doing?”

“Freezing!” People around us laughed. It was an hour since we’d been told that we had an hour left to go. Another guard told us it would be another forty minutes, and assured us that Metro was staying open until one.

Twenty minutes later, just past 11:00, after going through the metal detectors, we climbed up the steps and walked around to the west of the Capitol, looking down towards the lines that we had been in all evening. We couldn’t see the end of the line, but we could tell it was even further away than when we’d first started. We walked slowly looking out over the Mall. The Washington Monument towered beyond the lines of people, and just beyond that, I could see the arches of the World War II Memorial. At the end of Mall, the Lincoln Memorial was also lit up, and I thought of Martin Luther King giving his speech there more than 40 years ago. I thought about him suddenly being asked to take a leading role in the boycotts after Rosa Parks’ arrest only a few years before that. I wondered if he would ever have imagined her receiving this honor.

We were no longer behind the people we had been waiting in line with. Instead we followed a couple and their son up the steps. The boy was a miniature version of his father, formally dressed in a suit, a long overcoat, and a hat. The men were asked to remove their hats has we entered the building, and everyone lowered their voices.

As we entered the rotunda there were ropes guiding people in a circle, and as we passed a guard, I at last saw the deep shine of the small casket. We paused as we reached the far side of the casket. I watched more people file in. In whispers, people thanked Rosa Parks as they made their way around; some were crying; a woman crossed herself. I remembered to look up into the dome just as we left. As we moved back down the marble steps, I realized that I hadn’t noticed any of the paintings or statues. The small casket had been the only focus.

We emerged from the Capitol and made our way slowly down the steps, looking out over the crowds of people and the view of the Mall once more. When we reached the bottom of the stairs, we quickened our pace and headed home, wondering at the number of people that remained. The line stretched far beyond where we had joined it six hours before, looping around corners, and we couldn’t tell where it ended.

I am glad I went. I am pleased that Rosa Parks was honored in such a formal way. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to pay my respects to an important woman. I am moved by the murmurs of thanks from people of all different backgrounds. But I think the most important part of the evening was the wait in line. My feet hurt and my legs ached after six hours of shuffling through a line. But it was important to see the crowds that turned out, to feel that I was a part of something, to understand how much one woman symbolized to so many people.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Washington moment

I was walking down M Street after work yesterday when my dad called. A few minutes into the conversation I had to ask him to hold on for a moment: I couldn’t hear him for the sirens that were approaching. Two police cars moved through the dregs of rush hour traffic slowly, sirens screaming, followed by a limousine, a black SUV with men in sunglasses watching out the windows, and then another police car. When they had passed and moved far enough along the block, I brought my phone back to my ear.

“Sorry,” I said. “Just a little motorcade. How was your trip?”

Saturday, October 15, 2005


Yesterday on my commute home, I thought of something I wanted to write down, and reached into my bag for the little notebook I make a habit of carrying with me. When I flipped it open, I saw that it was the notebook I’d used in Italy in May and realized that I’d never written anything after the trip. I read through it, remembering where I’d been sitting as I wrote on each day. The Husband and I were in Italy for about ten days, but the notebook really only covers five in any detail. We’d spent the first few days in Rome, and when we arrived in Florence to meet up with friends, I think I lost interest in using my down time for journal writing and spent it talking with Becca and Alex instead. After the first five days, my notes are very quick, and there are lists of things to do and restaurants to try that aren’t necessarily in my handwriting, as I would sometimes hand the notebook to my friend Becca to jot something down.

What surprised me when I was reading through the notebook was how much I’d already forgotten. I remember the piazzas we sat in and the churches and museums we saw. I remember how much I loved the old, winding roads of Rome, and that I felt desperately aware and happy that I was finally in the city I had wanted to see for so long. I remember walking along the Arno on cool, quiet mornings, and feeling hot and tired at the end of our trip as we climbed up a hill toward Piazzale Michelangelo for a view of Florence. I remember that I ate pizza and gelato every day, and that we laughed a lot with our friends, sitting on benches in piazzas around Florence. But there are lots of little things I had forgotten:

As we descended into Florence, I was struck by how much the landscape reminded me of California, and my wonder at the similarity continued as we watched out the window of the bus that would take us to the train station. The hills looked more like the ones in California than those that I see on the east coast, and the houses had the red tiled roofs that I miss on the Spanish-style houses at home.

We decided to save some money by taking the slower train to Rome, which according to our guidebook would take less than three hours. Unfortunately, we bought tickets for an even slower train that the book indicated, and by the end of the ride, our jet lag was beginning to hit. I was fighting sleep, knowing I needed to force myself onto a regular schedule, but since I couldn’t be active or get a lot of fresh air, it was hard.

At Arezzo, as we pulled into the station, there was a lot of yelling and drumming and chanting. People pounded on the train as it slowed to a halt. Then our car was full of rowdy soccer fans, many of them wearing t-shirts that said “Perugia Ti Odio.” The group was wild—shouting and singing and chanting, while they drank beer out of plastic water bottles and smoked cigarettes into which they’d mixed a little bit of pot. The car was hot and began to smell with all the smoke and bodies. Some of the men took of their shirts: one was extremely hairy; another had a back covered in pimples. The couple that sat across from us were a little less enthusiastic. Neither spoke English, but the young woman spoke Spanish, so we managed conversation, and she explained that there was a big rivalry between Arezzo and Perugia. The whole thing was amusing to watch, but it was a relief when the fans reached their destination. It was even more of a relief when one of the conductors passed through the car and moved us into one with air conditioning and without the smells that the fans had left behind. We were able to get comfortable and relax, and we watched an almost full moon rise above the hills to the east.

I can’t really comprehend the age of things here. How can I get my mind around the idea of something being 2,000 years old? But I love that there are new flowers growing in the crevices of such ancient stones.

We sat along a bench in Rome’s Piazza Farnese, to get out of the sun and rest our feet, along with other people, mostly Italians eating lunch. There was a little boy who purposely knocked over his soda. After his mother scolde him and cleaned it up, he yelled “Bambina!” to a little girl who is chasing pigeons, followed by something in Italian that I couldn't understand. She ignored him.

When you climb into the dome of St. Peter’s, you are right against the mosaics. You can actually touch them. I was glad, but I felt as though I were getting away with something I shouldn’t.

I love Michelangelo’s Pieta. I felt very separate from it. At first I thought that was because of all the people and the glass. But the separateness was deeper than that. I think it is something about Mary’s face.

We went into the foyer at the Santa Maria church in Trastavere. There was something happening inside, maybe a service, maybe a concert, so we just stood in where we were and listened to the organ and the choir. There was a small window in the door, but I wasn't tall enough to see through it. Outside the church there was a skinny, bent old woman begging. With her shawl and her cane she seemed like something out of a movie. I gave her a few coins.

We wandered through Trastavere reading restaurant menus, trying to decide where to have dinner. Our mind was made up for us when there was a sudden downpour. We went into the nearest restaurant, one I'd be skeptical of only a few minutes before. Things were hectic for a few minutes, as everyone who had been sitting at the tables outside had to be reseated indoors. When the waitress sat down beside us at the table when she came to take our order, exaggerating her exhaustion.

As we were checking in at the hotel in Florence, Becca and Alex walked in. We made lots of noise, greeting and hugging and laughing. I think the two men working at the desk were amused by us.

We woke up to bells ringing in one church after another. It may have been the nicest way I’ve ever woken up. We opened the windows and the air was cool and light.

The Husband said that he didn’t appreciate Michelangelo until he saw David. I didn’t understand what the big deal was about one statue until I saw it.

The Prisoners give me even more appreciation for sculpture. I can’t imagine looking at a piece of stone and knowing that I could make something take shape from it.

At the Medici Chapels, I found the New Sacristy more striking than I would have if I hadn’t just been overwhelmed by the ornate beauty of the Chapel of Princes.

Before we had climbed very far in Giotto's Tower, I asked, "Are we there yet?" Becca, who was directly in front of me, began to laugh because Alex had asked the same thing just a few moments before.

When we stopped back at the hotel this afternoon, the owner called us “the happy people.”

We ate dinner at a restaurant across the river, which was ridiculously cheap, just as the guidebook promised. A young Italian couple was seated at the opposite end of our table. We think they were laughing at us.

Who knew I liked Botticelli? I love Spring’s face and the way she holds her body.

When I wrote about our trip to West Virginia, I didn’t look at the quick notes I’d jotted down, so I forgot to describe the blueberry bogs as “vermillion.” And I’ve already forgotten what I was going to write down when I got out my notebook on the bus yesterday. I’m so glad I wrote things down in Italy to help me remember.

Pictures from our trip are available here.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


One of my favorite things about fall is the availability of certain goodies--specifically, sweets involving apples, pumpkin, and cinnamon. So once a week, I've been going to the Starbucks across from my office and treating myself to an apple cider and a pumpkin cream cheese muffin. Today, after I had eaten the muffin and was seated at my desk, I looked up the nutritional information for my snack on the Starbucks website. That tasty muffin? Has 470 calories. And 24 grams of fat.

I wish I hadn't looked that up.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Wild, wonderful West Virginia

A couple of years ago, The Husband and I decided we needed to get away. I did a little research online and picked Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia. Just after Labor Day, we spent a few days hiking around the park, and other parks in the area. The falls were impressive and the hiking trails along the river were peaceful.

Since the spring I had been planning a trip to Boston for Columbus Day weekend. I’ve never been to Boston and fall seemed like a fine time to head north. But a month ago I realized that The Husband and I both just needed a chance to get out of the city for awhile, so we decided to return to Blackwater, for some peace, quiet, and fall color. Because of a dry summer, the fall color isn’t what it can be, and the falls themselves were not as impressive as they were two years ago. But it doesn’t take much color to impress a couple of California kid like us, and we hardly spent any time at the falls anyhow. The important thing was that the mountain air was cool, it didn’t rain on us as we had expected it to, and it was truly quiet, in a way that we just aren’t used to.

We stayed at the Bright Morning Inn in Davis, which was free of the doilies that covered the B&B I’d chosen on our previous visit. The rooms were simple and the breakfasts were excellent. We spent our evenings at the Purple Fiddle in Thomas, just as we did two years ago, for good food and drink, and excellent live music.

Susan, the owner of the inn, recommended that we spend a day in the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area, which we hadn’t visited on our earlier trip. We took her advice and spent the morning scrambling around on the rocks at Bear Rocks. The red plants you see in the pictures are blueberry bushes. Apparently in July the area is covered with people gathering berries. We missed the berries, but Susan told us that we were lucky to seem them during the few days when the plants are this gorgeous color.

There I am on the rocks at Bear Rocks

blueberry bog

View from Bear Rocks

Later in the day, we hiked the South Prong trail. It was a rocky trail, and quiet—we saw only one other couple. We got to seem some beautiful colors on the trees, and there was another rocky outlook area with beautiful vistas.

South Prong trail

View from South Prong trail

Fall color

Fall color

Before we headed for home this morning, we went to see Blackwater Falls. They were only a trickle compared to two years ago, but they were still beautiful. We also took Susan's advice again and walked out to Lindy Point for lovely views of river canyon.

Blackwater Falls

Blackwater Falls

Blackwater canyon

Blackwater canyon

I'm feeling relaxed now. I've always been able to find peace in looking at the ocean. I'm finding that other landscapes can give me the same kind of perspective. It's hard to feel anything but peace when you're surrounded by scenes like these.

Friday, September 30, 2005

The moon keeps on rising

I reread Prodigal Summer over the summer. It’s my favorite of Barbara Kingsolver’s novels by far. The characters have much more depth than those in her other books. I marvel at her skill for describing landscapes, for making me see a place—she reminds me of Wallace Stegner in that regard, although the styles are very different—and in this book the people are all like landscapes too. I love the way the three stories in the book come together, and I wish I could read the book again for the first time, so I could watch them woven together instead of beginning the book knowing.

But even though it has become a book I know well, different things sometimes catch my attention. I was on the train on my way home from work when, at the bottom of the page, in one of my favorite chapters, I read:

The moon was high now, and smaller, and she felt her grief shrinking with it. Or not shrinking, never really changing, but ceding some of its dominance over the landscape, exactly like the moon.
Those sentences, which I’ve probably read ten times before, seemed to stand out on the page, although I’d never really noticed them before. I read them through several times. The truth in the simile made me catch my breath. Kingsolver describes the moon as having “disentangled itself from the tree branches,” and I think her comparison accurately describe how grief or trauma disentangles itself from one’s life so that a person can go on as they were, yet completely changed. At first the pain of the experience is the defining feature of the landscape—one cannot imagine herself without that pain, and the pain is an important part of who she is. It takes time for the pain to move further away, seeming to shrink, although it is still there, still a part of the landscape of emotions.

I thought of the quote again this morning, as I walked along a quiet street in Georgetown and realized I was happy. I’ve been depressed for the past month, lost in the privacy of grieving. At first my pain was intense—dominating my life, directing all my moods and actions. I don’t know whether the grief disentangled itself from my life, or whether I was the agent and disentangled myself from the grief and depression. Maybe it was simply that I’d given the time to my sorrow that I needed to give in order to heal. Maybe being busy at work with tasks I enjoy had encouraged me to focus on other matters. Maybe it’s the change in the weather. What matters is that sometime in the last few weeks, my depression became that moon that rose higher and higher, becoming only a small part of my personal landscape. It is still there: I don’t believe the things that cause us such deep, personal grief every really leave us, nor do I think they should. But I know that I cannot let that grief dominate my definition of myself for long.

As my grief ceded its dominance over my life, I wasn’t always conscious of the transition. Still, it happened. A few weeks ago I was crying all the time. I had isolated myself from the world around me. I moved slowly, doing only the tasks that were absolutely required of me. Now I have the energy to walk to work instead of taking a bus. Fall is really here, and today I stopped on my way to the office for apple cider and a pumpkin muffin, conscious of the bright blueness of the sky and the way the cool air felt on my hands. And I felt good.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The coolest website ever

...or at least the coolest one I have seen this week. Miss Zoot linked to this, and I think everything I put in is hilarious. I am waiting for The Husband to come upstairs to investigate why I am sitting in the office giggling to myself.

Elizabeth is a newly-discovered breed of fish that's two inches tall! It is twenty feet tall and is bigger on the inside than the outside.

The definition of The Husband's name makes me giggle even more, because I have the sense of humor of a twelve year old. And the definition of my cat's name is perfect (purr-fect?): we've always assumed she would swear a lot if she could speak English.

Hmmmm....I've been wanting a subtitle for this blog. I think I may have found one.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

I heart the internet

I have a counter on this site. I check my stats occasionally, to see how many people are coming in and from where. Usually neither piece of information is very interesting, but yesterday someone came by way of a search on Blogwise. I now know that if you search there for "blow me," my blog is the seventh hit. I am absurdly pleased.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Resurrecting irony

This weekend, on September 11, the Department of Defense will be holding the America Supports You Freedom Walk. According to the walk website, “The America Supports You FREEDOM WALK is an event that allows citizens the opportunity to remember the victims of September 11, honor our American servicemen and women, past and present, and commemorate our freedom.”

I just looked up the definition of commemorate:

1. To honor the memory of with a ceremony.
2. To serve as a memorial to.
Well, this confirms my suspicion that DoD is finally admitting what we liberals have believed for a while now.

Apparently, freedom is dead.

Friday, August 26, 2005

I heart Seattle

Have you ever been to Seattle? Let me tell you something: You need to go to Seattle. Now. I’ll wait. (Okay, I keep seeing that on other blogs. I suppose it works better when you’re sending someone off to another website, rather than an entire city.)

I went to Seattle for work last week. Why did no one tell me how wonderful Seattle is in the summer? Nobody ever mentioned to me this business of warm, sunny, non-humid days in the Pacific Northwest. No wonder Washington and Oregon are being invaded by Californians. Where else are Californians supposed to go? Washington, DC? Let me tell you something: Californians don’t necessarily cope with DC summers. (I promise to stop whining about DC summer in October.) Seattle seems like a much better option.

On Wednesday my boss and I finished work around 3 and headed down to Pike Place Market. As we approached, I admired the view of Puget Sound beyond the buildings. But then I was caught up in the market itself—the rows and rows of flowers, the brightly colored produce, the stink of the fish counters. My boss tried to show me the fish stand where the guys throw the fish, but no one was buying, so there was no need to throw any fish. My favorite thing to look at was a large fish lying on the ice with a sign that said, “Hello! I’m a sturgeon.” My favorite thing to do was taste the free samples—peach-chipotle jam, cherry butter, blueberry syrup, a sweet blackberry. We wandered through the market, looking at the arts and crafts, until it was time to go back and get ready for dinner.

Approaching Pike's Place Market
Boat in Puget Sound behind Pike's Place
Fish market
I'm a sturgeon

I went back to the market the next morning. I was meeting my coworkers for breakfast at 7:30. I woke up at 5:30 easily, thanks to the time change. After I got ready, I headed down to the market. There was still no one throwing any fish. I stood for awhile and watched the men shovel ice and lay crabs and fish out on it. They smiled and said hello to me, and went about their work. I wandered through the nearly deserted market, watching people open their produce stands and unload flowers from trucks. When I reached the end of the market, I walked into the original Starbucks and ordered a cup of the thick hot chocolate that reminds me of the month The Husband and I spent traveling in Spain. I took it out to the same place I had been the day before, looking out over the water, and called The Husband at home to tell him what I was up to. A few years before, I called him from San Diego to brag that I was at the beach having fish tacos and margaritas for lunch while he was working. This wasn’t too different.

I went back to the market every day. On Friday we finished work early again. I found a sandwich place at the market for lunch, bought some treats to take home, and went back to my hotel to drop off my purchases and ask how far to Pioneer Square. The concierge gave me a map and assured me that I ought to take a cab. “It’s much too far to walk—at least half an hour.” So, I set out on foot, looking into cute restaurants and shops on my way, and was at Pioneer Square in about 20 minutes. I wandered through Elliott Bay Book Company, enjoying being around books and out of the sun for a few minutes. I bought a lemonade and sat at a shady table on the square reading my book (one I had with me—I was good and didn’t purchase anything new) for awhile before heading back to meet everyone for dinner.

On Saturday my friend Rachel arrived, and we continued to do tourist things. I think she was startled by how early I woke up. I should have prepared her for my East Coast time schedule. We ate lunch at a bagel shop down near the market, then walked to Seattle Center to go to the Experience Music Project. I enjoyed the EMP, although I’m not sure it was worth the $20 cost of admission (I am apparently used to all the free museums in Washington). The Bob Dylan exhibit was excellent—lots of music to listen to, with some context. It was sort of amusing to see letters from Joan Baez and Dylan’s high school yearbook. An old guitar and harmonica belonging to Dylan were displayed, and I thought briefly that it was sad for an instrument to be locked up and not played—probably one of my sillier thoughts for the day. A lot of the exhibit was made up of brief videos, which were fun to watch—I learned a thing or two, heard some good music, and got to see other folk singers that I like. The other exhibits—hip-hop and songwriting—didn’t draw me in in the same way, although some of the interactive stuff in the Sound Lab was fun. I should had here that I was almost disappointed in the ugliness of the building itself. My friend Sara, a native of Washingtonstate, had declared it the ugliest building ever. While it’s certainly not the most attractive building ever, I didn’t find it astoundingly ugly. It was shiny and weirdly shaped and brightly colored. It was not an attractive building, but it was just bizarre. I think there are lots uglier sky scrapers. Here is a view of the EMP from above, taken from the Space Needle, and a close up of one side of the building.

Experience Music Project from above

Close up of one side of the EMP

After the museum, Rachel and I rode the monorail back to the hotel, and learned that the concierge at the hotel is not particularly good at knowing useful information about buses. She was interesting to look at though, with her wrinkly face, dyed blonde hair, animal print glasses frames, and lots of hot pink clothing, lipstick, and nail polish. We figured out the buses ourselves and headed off to see the troll under the bridge and the statue of Lenin. We bought gelato and sorbet and ate on a bench to Lenin’s left.

Troll under a bridge

The largest stature of Lenin in the US
For our last activity of the afternoon, we took advantage of the beautiful, clear day to see the view from the top of the Space Needle. We had beautiful views of Puget Sound and Mt. Rainier. You sort of have to squint at the second photo below to see Mt. Rainier. It was much clearer in real life. I wish I had been able to go up on Thursday, which was even clearer—as we drove along the freeway from interview to interview, I had drooled over the sparkling, sapphire blue of the water. Still, I think we were pretty lucky with the views we got.

View of the Space Needle from Below

View of Puget Sound and Seattle from the Space Needle

View from the Space Needle

I am so totally going back.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Name that panda!

You can vote on the name for the National Zoo's baby panda here.

But I prefer this poll. I hope it works and that we get to name it Butterstick. Does anyone know the Chinese word for butter?

Bookworms like me can ramble about books forever

I like books. Not only do I like books, I like to buy books. Part of me feels guilty, thinks that I should save my money, go to the library more often. But I like to own books, to read them, keep them, put them on my own bookshelf so I can reread them later—I do read most novels at least twice. My love of book shopping can be something of a problem. When The Husband and I moved across the country we boxed up our books and mailed them to our new address, so they wouldn’t take up room in the trailer we had hitched to the back of the car. Eight Kinko’s boxes (my sister worked there at the time) arrived at the new apartment a couple of days after we did. Since then, we have bought two more six-foot book cases. I bought a lot of books during grad school, most of which I didn’t sell back at the end of each semester, and once I graduated I began spending money on novels. Mostly I would spend time browsing around used bookstores, where I always seem to spend $20, no matter how many books I buy. But I also purchase from Amazon. Spend $9.48 more and get free shipping? Sure, why not. So during our most recent move, we packed up even more boxes of books, and moved them down the street to our new apartment.

On Sunday, I bought a new book. I was in the Seattle airport, browsing around Borders even though I had two unread books in my bag, because I had a lot of time to kill before my flight, because I knew I would be sitting long enough during the course of the day, and because I can’t resist even an airport bookstore. As I had wandered through Elliott Bay Book Company on Friday afternoon, I had resisted the impulse to buy several interesting books, telling myself that I didn’t need the extra weight in my backpack, that I could easily get the books when I returned to Washington. But now, with the prospect of 8 hours of travel ahead of me, my defenses were down. I tried to recall the books I’d been interested in. The last name of one of the authors had started Ch, I thought, and wandered down to the Cs.

I didn’t find the book, but one name jumped out at me on the third shelf from the floor: Justin Cronin. I knew his name. I had read something by him before. I picked up the book, The Summer Guest. The cover declared him the author of Mary and O’Neill. I looked back down at the shelf, but that book wasn’t there. But that was the book I’d read. I had seen it recommended somewhere, probably the Booksense newsletter, back when I lived in California. I had checked in out of the UCSC library, read it, loved it, and forgotten the name. But I hadn’t forgotten the book. It is a novel told in stories that could stand alone. I remember some of the stories clearly, and I remember a description of snow that seemed perfect to me. I’ve thought about the book several times in the four years or so since I read it, but I always got stuck trying to remember the title or the author.

And so I bought the book and headed back to my gate. I stood in line to board the plane, reading the first few pages, totally hooked. I read the book all the way from Seattle to Phoenix. I read as my second flight took off from Phoenix and as the pilot turned the plane around half an hour later due to mechanical difficulties that were sending us back to the airport to board a different plane. I finished the book sometime just after we passed over Kansas City. I teared up a little, as I often due at the end of books, sad or not, and hoped the man beside me wouldn’t notice.

It was the perfect way to read a book. Well almost—I could have done without the mechanical difficulties, the turbulence that left my tummy upset, the leg cramps, and the lousy customer service of the airline I had chosen. The perfect way would have been to spend an entire day snuggled up with my cat, with good orange juice or ice cream available when I needed a snack, reading the book straight through (which is actually how I read the most recent Harry Potter book). Still, to sit down and read a book all at once, even on a plane, is one of my favorite things. Most of my reading is done on public transit as I travel to and from work. I am happy for the time to read, but the reading isn’t as pleasurable that way—too much stopping and starting, too many distractions. Sometimes I want to stretch a book out, put off finishing it so that I can enjoy it longer, but patience is not one of my virtues, and I find it much more satisfying to read a book from cover to cover. To finish it in a public place isn’t ideal, but it was an airplane at least. I hate reaching the last pages of a book on the bus or train on my way home from work is so much less fun, and I try to race through the pages so I can finish before I read my stop, or interrupt myself every paragraph to glance up to see where I am, which takes away from the pleasure of reading.

I started Isabel Allende’s Portrait in Sepia on Monday, and I haven’t gotten very far at all, because I’ve been reading on public transit, and since it’s cooled off a bit here in DC, I’ve been walking from the metro to the office, rather than taking the bus. I gain exercise, but lose some valuable reading time.