Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Put The Bowl Out

These are the words spoken at our house whenever it starts snowing. Usually it's one of the kids who sound the alarm and rush a bowl outside. There is good reason for the urgency. The more snow they collect, the more snow ice cream they'll be able to eat.

When it started snowing last night, Lilah put our big green plastic bowl in the front yard. This morning the bowl was nearly full, so we had snow ice cream for breakfast. A little pancake syrup, milk and vanilla turns snow into a yummy frozen treat.

It started snowing again around midday, so once more Lilah put the bowl out. But this time the snow was too wet to accumulate, and all that filled the bowl were melted snowflakes.

But all the snow was making our street a slippery challenge. The Deffenbaugh trash truck got stuck going up our hill. One of the men had to go buy rock salt to put around the tires. We passed by them trying to dig out while we were walking Cheri. I asked one of the men how it was going. He thought they just about had the truck free. We walked on, and kept looking back to see the trash truck still parked, all crooked and quiet on our hill. Halfway through our walk the liberated truck finally caught up with us and gave a honk as it went on its way to pick up more garbage.

It was still lightly snowing around 3:00, when we left to go sledding on Suicide Hill, between Brookside and the Plaza. Sledding crowds are the best --people feel good being outside, gulping fresh gobs of winter air, and zooming downhill. Folks take the hill on every type of sled, they're wiping out, eating snow... and loving it. We had a blast. We even stayed after dark. But my butt is really sore. And my noggin' feels like it's been through the tumble-dryer.

I had a bit of an accident. I went down a hill that had a punishing succession of bumps. The impact of each bump felt like a terrific sledgehammer on my skull, and I yelled out, "I shouldn't be doing this!" But I was on a saucer sled, spinning like mad, and the momentum from each bump made it impossible for me to stop. Suddenly, I hit the hardest bump of all. It felt like my head would pop off, and I heard something snap. As I finally slowed to a stop, I grabbed my head and held it, waiting to see if my neck was broken or I was paralyzed. After I determined that nothing was broken and I could see straight, I carefully got up.

Lilah walked with me and started talking about some teenager on the hill, and how foolish he had been. I said, "It's not his fault. Those hills were really tough. " As we both continued to review what had happened, it came to light that it wasn't a big hill I had hit at the bottom---it was that kid. Lilah was like, "You didn't know you had run into him?" I had had no idea. It was a case of literally not knowing what had hit me. All I had known was speed, more speed, and being slammed over and over again until the grand finale of slams produced stars and the obliteration of all my senses, except my sense of pain.

I went to the kid to apologize. Fortunately he was young and tough. He was still sledding. He was tall and lanky. Lilah thought he was six feet tall. Now the fact is I had waited and waited for him to get out of my way before going down. He was having a hard time climbing up the slippery hill with his sled. Finally, I figured he could see me and would step out of my way, so I pushed off and proceeded on my torturous trip down. But Lilah said that as I descended he turned around and stood with his back to me, so he didn't see me coming. Which is why Lilah thought he was foolish. Both Lilah and Annabelle screamed at him to get out of the way, but he didn't hear, and so I plowed right into him from behind. Apparently his feet were knocked out from under him and he fell on his back.

As I was climbing back up the hill, he was at the bottom again, having sledded down, and he asked if I would help him carry up his sled. I said it was the least I could do, and he acted like getting plowed into was no big deal.

Before the hill from hell, we had been sledding another bumpy slope, that had also sent me flying, but where the pounding had been less severe. But after my head-knocking and butt-breaking ride, I was ready for the bunny slopes. So we went over to the far southern corner of Suicide Hill, where the descent was more gradual and the grade was smooth.

It grew dark and the crowd thinned considerably, but not having exhausted the possibilities of our new slope, we stayed. The sky was grey and misty, but in the distance the lights from downtown Kansas City gave off a pretty glow.

I saw a couple of tiny tots on a sled with their dad, getting ready to take off. The little girl was worried. "What if we run into a tree, " she asked. Her father said glibly, "Just jump off before." We saw them go down. Their sled followed the slant of the hill, which naturally aims the unsuspecting sledder right for the aforementioned tree. We watched as the father put his arms out to gain control, to steer away from the tree, which he barely avoided.

I stared down that same tree when I went down, putting my legs out to keep from piling into it. Those saucer sleds are notorious for spinning you around backwards, at the most crucial moments. What I learned today is that the best way to ride one of those saucers is head-first and on your belly.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Black Lab In The Snow

When we got back to KC yesterday afternoon, we had to shovel our way in. We couldn't even park our car, the driveway and curbs were buried. Luckily our neighbor wasn't home, so we swiped the bare spot in front of his house, and parked our car there long enough to shovel our driveway.

The snow was so high on our back deck, our dog could barely get out to go to the bathroom. She gamely climbed over the high snow, though, and then we shoveled a path for her. Roger also shoveled a patch for her on the ground so she wouldn't have to squat on the snow when she relieves herself, but she ignores the bare patch and chooses to squat on the snow anyway.

While we were out of town, Cheri had to stay at Tails R' Waggin. We picked her up yesterday just as other holiday travelers were arriving to pick up their dogs. It was quite a sight to see, these reunions. One little dog kept whining hysterically as its owners held it and tried to calm it. Another dog, very big and gangly, with black fur, gave a funny, mournful growl as he was released to his owners. Our dog didn't say a word. She's the quiet type. The boarding staff described her as "shy", saying she "tried to socialize" with the other dogs. She's a good 50 pounds, but they put her in with the small dogs, because bigger dogs freak her out.

When Cheri was handed over to us, she just lay on her back and let us scratch her belly, the same ritual by which she starts her day, and by which we put her to bed every night. When we got her home, she lay around on the rug a lot. Maybe she was worn out from the rigors of Tails R' Waggin, or maybe it was post-traumatic syndrome stress. But today she's back in puppy mode. She keeps asking to go outside, where she runs and jumps in the snow, even though it is six inches deep.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Day After Christmas

Enjoyed tea in the morning with Aunt V. Finished off the turkey, dressing and mashed potato leftovers. Cracked some mixed nuts. Snow on the ground, but the sun is finally out. Still too cold to do anything but stay inside and eat. Will we finish the puzzle before we head back home? What I really wanted, but didn't get for Christmas, were Rock Em Sock Em Robots. You can still get them in the original packaging.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Nutcracker Cast Party - A Collage

Funky little Wurl

A pre-war, three-story house in Westport. Owned by a traveling tango guru. House-sat by a musician. Members of the People's Liberation Big Band trickle in. Dump their coats behind the out-of-tune piano. An open bottle of Cabernet bathed in candlelight, waits just for me. A funky little vintage Wurlitzer sits in the corner. Someone gleefully plays 7o's tunes that were known for lots of Wurlitzer: "Mama told me not to come" by The Three Dog Night. "Getting Stronger Every day" by Chicago. Lilah and Annabelle give the Wurl a whirl. The creators of the show arrive, bearing lentils and tofu. In the kitchen: A sugar plum fairy without her pink wig and crown, traces of stage makeup on her face. A six-pack of Nutcracker Ale. A ginormous bottle of fish sauce. The chopping of garlic and promises of "thai tofu." An insanely cute 7 month old baby, held by a woman who is not the mother, who says whenever you see a mom with a baby you should offer to take it off her hands. I realize that I NEVER do this. Party guests wander around the house eating lentils from deep bowls. The guy who danced as the nutcracker stands in the livingroom, still wearing his coat, sipping a glass of red wine. Looking bookish in his plastic-frame glasses. My mouth is full of cheese and crackers as I am introduced to him.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Nutcracker Sweet

Today is the final performance of the Nutcracker and the Mouse King, by the Owen/Cox Dance Group and company.

The Friday and Saturday shows were sell-outs. Fortunately, I had my tickets ahead of time, and we got there way early so Annabelle and I had seats on the front row both nights. We were just a few yards from the stage. The dancers seemed close enough to touch at times.

Because the show was sold out, the start of the show was delayed as theater staff searched for empty seats and brought in extra chairs, trying to squeeze people in.

We knew the show was finally about to start when the band filed in behind the stage and took their places. The People's Liberation Big Band features not only the expected brass and woodwinds, piano, bass and drums, but a toy piano, bongos, and a set of chimes from Bali known as a jublag. Brad Cox plays keyboard on some numbers, while Roger plays piano.

It is such a thrill when the theater goes dark and you know the show is about to begin. In that darkness stepped a figure--Brad Cox---lit by a spotlight, wearing an enormous, white, crazy-haired wig and a bizarre cape constructed of yellow and black balls. He banged on a cowbell and then stepped up to the band where he began directing them madly, as they exploded into a free jazz frenzy.

After a few minutes of this, they settled down and as they began playing something closer to Tchaikovsky, the first set of dancers came out.

The last number in the first act is Waltz of the Snowflakes. As the band launches into the music, I see the Narrator lowering his microphone, and I know he is putting it down to Lilah's height, which means she is about to come onstage.

During the Waltz of the Snowflakes, an abundance of dancers fill the stage, wearing shiny, tinsely metal sleeves, and moving so rapidly that they are as blinding and dizzying as a flurry of snow. There is a moment when they are as thick as a blizzard, and then they separate and leave more space between them, and it is then that Lilah suddenly appears from backstage in her shiny metal dress, and steps up the microphone. If that isn't a goose-bumpy, veclempting moment for a mother I don't know what is.

She sounded wonderful. She might have held back a little on the previous night, but last night her first night jitters were behind her and she sang confidently and beautifully, her delicate voice a charming backdrop to the dancer's graceful movements. I beamed with pride.

One of my favorite parts of the show, aside from Lilah's bit of course, is the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the second act, danced by Jennifer Owen, who is also the dance director and choreographer. She evokes kind of a dancehall/saloon/vaudeville trampiness and the music is weird and off-kilter, sounding both boozy and dusty, as if the strains of some old player piano are being channelled. Roger said that Brad got that effect by playing the keyboard through an effects processor, which distorts the notes, while someone else played the toy piano.

After the show, we got to go backstage. I caught a glimpse of one of the male dancers, in only his black tights. The green room is really green. On the first night, I was amused to see three portable sewing machines sitting on the floor. The two costume designers were there, saying you never know when you have to make sudden repairs, and that Peggy had indeed been sewing during the show.

Peggy Noland and Peregrine Honig---the two designers ---I am in love with these women. The costumes they created were brilliant and original. Peregrine is an artist who has exhibited her artwork around the country. Peggy is a self-taught designer, who sells her own line of avante-garde clothing in a boutique in the Crossroads art district. Both women were both dressed in the most unique and creative ways. Peggy, who had designed most of the costumes, was wearing an outfit covered with polka dots.

It turns out that the silver dress Lilah wears for the show actually belongs to Peregrine. Peggy made it for her, along with the bunny ears hat, and Peregrine wears it, hat and all. Peregrine was laughing that when she wears the dress, it is quite a bit shorter on her, and looks a bit more improper than it does on Lilah. But it fits Lilah perfectly, though she opted not to wear the bunny/space alien hat. It was a struggle just getting her to let me photograph her in it.

Peregrine was in the green room the night of the first show as I was trying to coax Lilah into a picture. She agreed with me that Lilah would regret not having a record of it. For alas, we must give the silver dress and bunny hat back after the show. But Peregrine, who is a very nice person and was lovely to Lilah, said that Lilah could borrow it sometime if she wanted.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tips For Winter

It's bitterly cold, and the ground is white and frozen. Time for some helpful Winter Tips.

Seinfeldian Tip : Heat a towel in your dryer and wear that around your neck instead of a scarf. Someone was actually doing this yesterday, and he pointed it out to me, rather proudly.

Tip for Robbers: When there is snow on the ground, dispense with the malevolent black you usually wear (as seen on TV shows) and wear all-white coats instead, like Lilah's long puffer coat. That way you'll blend in with your surroundings more easily. Lilah contributed this handy winter tip.

Tips for Consuming Chocolate: When the temperature drops below 32 degrees, chocolate calories begin to diminish, at the rate of five calories per degree. Below 20 degrees, this rate of decline accelerates, at a whopping 10 calories per degree. So a 150 calorie chocolate bar consumed at 30 degrees would be only 140 calories. Eat it at 19 degrees, and you save 70 calories!! If you hold out until the mercury drops to 11 degrees, you consume NO calories. The colder it gets, the sweeter the deal. When the temperature drops below ten, you can eat as much chocolate as you want. And if the temperature plunges to zero, it is imperative that you eat chocolate to safeguard your health and stave off illness.

Winterizing Tip For Petites: Buy an outdoorsy jacket at the big and tall men's shop. You can wear two or three coats underneath it, no fooling. You can wear your favorite couch throw, and no one will know. They'll shiver and chatter, as you say, "What's the matter?"

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Last night I walked into the rehearsal for the Owen/Cox Nutcracker show and saw dancers in bright costumes, bending and leaping about the stage. It was an unexpected explosion of physical and creative energy amid the hushed mood of a cold, winter's night.

Annabelle and I had just driven across town through the snow to get to Union Station, where the rehearsal was. The streets were slippery and traffic moved slowly. We had entered the mammoth building from the back end, which seemed ghostly and deserted. The glass door to the City Stage theater was propped open with a door-stop. We let ourselves in and wound our way through the foyer. I could hear the music to Dance of the Snowflakes, which was the part Lilah sang. It had taken so long for us to get there that I was sure Lilah would be waiting impatiently for us to pick her up. But instead she was still at the mike, singing as we entered the auditorium.

And then I saw the dancers.

Jennifer Owen was yelling out corrections. They were too close together, they needed to create more space. One dancer was letting his arms hang down while he was running. He was urged to maintain proper form. Dancers fascinate me, and usually appear so weightless, that to catch them in the act of cleaning up their moves was more interesting than any performance.

I’m hoping to watch them again tonight. There are two more rehearsals, and I'll be picking Lilah up early both times, since she is only in the first act and doesn’t need to stay for the whole thing.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Winter Wine Advisory

They've been saying it could storm today. So last night I went out and bought a bottle of wine. The only sensible thing to do.

Here is today’s forecast, exactly as it appeared in the Kansas City Star:

"Snow, rain, sleet, then snow and blowing snow tonight."

I think I better get more supplies, like ingredients for chili and dumpling soup. Am I running low on tea? Will our half-gallon of milk be enough to get us through? The threat of bad weather gets the mind racing.

What if we're stranded? Will we be stranded without chocolate? We have a box of brownie mix in the cupboard, and a container of Nestle's hot chocolate, so I guess we'll be okay.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Beautiful Mind

This is cosmic. Give yourself a break from all the holiday madness and take a quiet ride through outer space. The music transports you, and the images provide the scenery.

I am awestruck by the images at the Hubble telescope website. Don't miss out on them. The nebulae are my favorite. It is incredible what is out there, unseen by human eyes. Meanwhile, we wage war and destroy each other, as if we were central to the universe.

The song "Beautiful Mind" was recorded by the Verve in 1993, on their CD "A Storm in Heaven". The shimmering layers of guitar create a hypnotic soundscape.

Friday, December 4, 2009

All I Want For Christmas

Is time to read.

I want to read this book, Sanderson's Lunch. It's about this diner in Kansas City, that no longer exists. I found out about the book from a friend, who wrote about the diner on her blog.

It would be a good companion to On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, which I still HAVE NOT FINISHED! I started On the Road and Dharma Bums, also by Kerouac, in August, when my family was in Vermont. I had every expectation I'd finish both books in a matter of weeks. And then school started. And my classes started. And my reading time was shot to hell. All I've been able to manage is a few New Yorker articles here and there while grabbing a bite to eat. I still hung on to my copy of On the Road and renewed it as many times as the library would let me. And then I let it get overdue. I finally gave up and returned it shortly before Thanksgiving. Too many articles to read for class, too many papers to write.

But finally, this semester is lifting its chokehold on me and winding down. I turned in my last big assignment, a 14 page (double-spaced) research paper last night, a few minutes after midnight. I wrote about designing online tutorials to teach users how to use library resources. Did you know that "users" is oft-used in the library science lingo to refer to patrons? I guess the term user is big in computer lingo too---end-user, user-friendly... but it cracks me up how we're always talking about how to reach the "users."

I'm still not off the hook, school-wise. I have a take-home final with essays the week of the 14th, dang it, which really drags things out, and some pesky discussions I have to contribute to for participation points. But the worst is behind me, and I'm hoping that soon I'll be able to check out On the Road and Dharma bums and get both of them read over the Christmas break.

Next semester is my last semester. And then I will be done. I can't say that enough times.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Christmas Shocker

I nearly crapped my pants when I heard that Bob Dylan has put out a Christmas album. Bob Dylan. Christmas album. Traditional holiday favorites, sung by Bob Dylan.

And then there is the packaging. I can't tell whether that's an album cover or a Currier & Ives collector's plate. But Dylan leaves no doubt that this is a straight up Christmas outing. I haven't been this astonished since I saw David Bowie singing duets with Bing. And man, that was a jaw-dropper.

It's weird to see Dylan venturing into Perry Como territory. Will he now join the holiday line-up played endlessly on Star 102 and 98.1, two local radio stations that broadcast Christmas music through the entire month of November and December? My kids entreat me to switch back and forth between the two stations when we're riding in the car. They get filled with the Christmas spirit EARLY, God bless 'em, and want to be surrounded by jingling bells and trumpets, on the way to the store, on the way to school. When both stations are playing nothing but commercials, I merrily and triumphantly switch over to the alternative rock station for a breath of fresh air that isn't frosty or chestnutty.

But I would gladly sit through Mannheim Steamroller and George Michael if it meant I could eventually hear Dylan croaking out, "Do you hear what I hear?" over the air. And how fun it would be to point out to my kids, who are mystified by my love of Bob Dylan, that they have yet another opportunity to hear him, in their beloved genre no less.

When I learned that Dylan is donating 100% of the proceeds from this CD to charities that help the homeless and the hungry, the album made sense to me. Sales of the CD in the United States will go to Feeding America. So I will buy this album! And I will revel in hearing "Here comes Santa Claus" and "O Come All Ye Faithful" sung in Dylan's inimitable style.

I am picturing a candlelit scene on Christmas Eve. "Let's hear some Christmas music!" I say, waving the Currier and Ives cover. I pop in the CD , and soon the dulcet tones of Dylan are ringing through the house. Memories my girls will cherish for years to come.

Update: I just checked out Bob Dylan's web site. All the web pages show the young Dylan. Maybe like me, he can't believe he's getting old. Anyway, you can view his music video of "Must be Santa" on the site. The reason to watch: Dylan in a long-hair wig and a Santa hat. Halfway through, the wig is like, blonde. I'm serious. The disappointment: The background singers are drowning out Dylan's voice. I hope the whole CD isn't that way!

Oh, and if this don't beat all: You can now follow Bob Dylan on Twitter. "If you are so inclined."

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

One December Night In The Puppet Studio


There I was, in this fabulous puppet studio last night. The puppet-handlers in these photos weren't there. Just puppets like these. When I entered the studio, it was like stepping into a trippy dream. Puppets hung from the walls, from the ceiling, and the loopy, romping music of the People's Liberation Big Band was blasting freely. The Paul Mesner puppet studio is their rehearsal space. I had arrived to pick up Lilah, who was there to practice the small singing part she has in the PLBB's unconventional, whacked out version of the Nutcracker.

I got to see Brad Cox leading the band, and putting it all together. His musical directions are always pushing for more imagination and color : "That sounded too together. We need someone to play in the wrong place"....... "Here the sound should be full --not ugly, but full, big"...... "The snow needs to sound more sinister." He uses a toy piano in one section, which perfectly nails that tinkly feeling of being a kid at Christmas. Roger will be playing the real piano.

The upcoming performance, which will be Lilah's third time out doing the Nutcracker with the PLBB, is a bigger production than ever, bringing together the big band with the Owen/Cox Dance Group, led by Brad Cox's wife, and students from the Paseo Academy of the Performing Arts.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I like how this tin is kind of confused, melding Halloween and Thanksgiving together.

I would have so dug this spice can as a kid. It's the kind of thing that would have lived in the kitchen cupboard for most of the year, and would have come out only on a few special days, and when you'd see it sitting on the counter, you'd know ---"good times, good times."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Upward Spiral

Extremism is such a mind trap. Put God in the mix, and people can be convinced to do anything. But a God of infinite creativity has no use for the manipulation and control of others, nor for acts of violence. A God of divine intelligence would have us use our brains to think freely. To challenge ideas, and especially, to question corrupted theologies.

I found this article about ex-jihadis interesting, because these men who had allowed their minds to be taken over by extremism, describe the moments when a small sliver of light got in. Just enough to get them doubting, questioning, what they had seen as truth. A simple act of humanity--a gift from an old man---helped one man see fellow humans where before he had seen enemies. Another man realized that democractic principles were not a joke after seeing Amnesty International in action. These men started harboring doubts about the perfect society their leaders had promised, and questioned the morality of what they were doing.

One man has gone so far as to allow himself to listen to music for the first time in his life, something that was forbidden before. But he is not free to speak openly about it. He confesses to the journalist that he listens to music on his car radio and giggles about it, saying, "you'll get me killed." He likes "everything in the charts," and gives the journalist the names of some of the bands, but later calls and asks that the names not be printed, saying, "That would be a step too far."

"Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear." ---Thomas Jefferson

Good Catholic Fun

Here's a joke I heard Saturday night:

"What do you call a sleepwalking nun?

A roamin' Catholic." Yuk yuk.

This is the sort of humor you can expect at the Viviano Variety show. The Vivianos are this Italian-American Catholic family and every year they put on this * show. *
Jerry Viviano is the main one running the thing. But his brothers Tony, Frank and Joe help out. Each of the brothers do their own schtick. Tony comes out and sings like Tony Bennett. Frank imitates schlockmeisters like Tony Orlando. Joe is always "the chairman of the board" - Frank Sinatra. And Jerry, the host, does Dean Martin. Every year he opens the show by coming out with a gigantic wine glass and he staggers across the stage and slurs into the microphone. Even my kids know the routine. It has become a pre-Thanksgiving tradition for us. Why, it wouldn't feel like the holidays if we didn't see Jerry Viviano pretending to be snockered and singing like Dino.

We go to this show every year because Roger plays in the band and gets us tickets. Besides the Viviano yuk-yuks, there is usually a ballroom dancing duo, a baton twirler (world class though, winner of international awards and really good), a juggler and fire-eater, a comedian, a troupe of swing-style dancers, a wise-cracking female barbershop quartet, an African-American guy doing Motown numbers and painfully lame comedy bits in-between numbers. Like two guys wheeling a dolly out onstage and then commencing to sing, "Hello Dolly."

Thank goodness it's all for charity and the show manages to raise a lot of money every year. They alternate where the proceeds go. To the Don Bosco Center one year, to Catholic Charities the next, and back and forth. This was a Catholic Charities year.

My favorite bit this year was a young guy who dressed, sang and danced like Michael Jackson in his "Billie Jean" days. He did the most amazing moonwalk across the stage.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Roving Librarians

Did you know there is such a thing as a "roving librarian"? They roam freely in search of patrons with pressing information needs. They are not tied to a reference desk, or even a library. They are librarians without borders. Be on the lookout. They are out there roving, right now. You never know when one might come up and ask you how your retrieval is going and if you need a need search strategy. Emboldened by wireless, handheld devices and remote access to online databases, these librarians have taken to the streets, and they may be headed your way.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Random Artifacts Of Autumn

Here is a yummy autumn snack to enjoy anytime. I made this up myself: Gut a pumpkin. Roast the pumpkin seeds, and toss with a generous amount of candy corn. It's a sweet and salty combo. A party for your mouth. A great source of quick energy for all those impromptu moonlit walks. After all, the moon has been so big and bright and bulging lately, who can resist its nightly call? I know I can't. I also can't resist our dog's nightly call of nature, which is the real reason I'm taking moonlit walks.

Autumn is thrift store season. When the leaves start falling, it’s time to hit those musty racks. Summer is not a good time to go, because when it’s hot and humid, it’s hard to face a bunch of ugly old clothes, hanging all limp and smelly. But when the weather cools off, that peculiar thrift store scent isn’t so noticeable and the sweaters seem worth digging through. When I was a freshman at KU my friend Rick and I hit the thrift stores and vintage clothing stores looking for Halloween costumes. Since then I've come to associate the crunching of dried leaves underfoot and chilly wind with the act of combing through used clothes in search of THE FIND. I learned that second-hand stores held all kinds of possibilities that went far beyond Halloween. Like vintage cardigans that were either cashmere or 100% lambswool. They always had quaint little tags sewn inside that dated them to the 50’s or 60’s.

When Roger and I cruised area thrift stores a few weeks ago for our pepperpot attire, I happened upon two delightful little cardigans that qualified as FINDS. One looks vintage, even though it’s not. It is light pink and soft to the touch, with pearly white buttons, and embellishments bordering the buttons and buttonholes that give it a retro look. I’m wearing it right now. It was $2.00. The other cardigan is not my color at all, a goldish greenish greenish gold, but I don’t care, because it has a nice nubby texture and thousands of little golden threads woven throughout the cloth. It is cozy as hell. Price tag: $2.00.

Well, lately my black boots have developed a gimpy heel, and so today I went back to the thrift store. I am squeamish about used shoes, but sometimes you get lucky. Today I got lucky. Found a pair of brown M. Patrick boots in really great shape, and they weren’t all gross inside, where your foot goes. I also found a pair of brown loafers that were in commendable form. The thrift store was having a 30% off sale (do thrift stores even NEED to have sales???) and so I picked up both pairs for $5.60! Left there feeling like high society, let me tell you.

I have done an amazing thing this fall. I've converted from coffee to drinking tea. Sure enough, giving up the bean has done the trick, and the effects of the acid are gone. And in the meantime, I have been learning how to become a tea drinker. There are things I didn't know. Like, you can't steep a tea bag in a huge coffee mug full of hot water. Unless you want your tea to taste like hot water. You have to watch the water level. I have sampled a wide variety of teas, and have learned that I like Earl Gray tea when I'm feeling delicate, and Lady Gray Tea when I'm feeling downright ethereal. Prince Wales tea is a good solid tea that is nice and grounded and yet very smooth, and not at all bitter. I haven't been able to get into Chinese Oolong tea, and though you're supposed to drink it with milk and sweetener, I prefer my tea "black." That way it stays piping hot. Once you start adding milk or cream, you have about 10 seconds to drink it before it's a watery, tepid mess. The key would be to heat the milk first, but who has time for that? The one time I do heat milk is when I attempt to make an economical version of the chai latte they serve in coffee shops, which I love so much. You heat up soy milk in the microwave, and wait until you see it bubbling up to the rim like it's about to spill over, and you stop it just in the nick of time. That way you get the milk good and frothy. Then you add not one, but two chai tea bags and let them steep. I use Celestial Seasonings' India Spice. Throw in some brown sugar for good measure, and you have a poor fascimile but at least you tried and you get some pleasure out of that. One really bizarre tea I've tried is called Lapsang Souchong. This is one weird tea. The tea leaves are smoked, and so the tea has a smoked flavor that is puzzling, and not really pleasant. I keep wondering if this tea will grow on me, but as of yet it's just strange and maybe even a little disturbing. I have found I really like African Rooibos Red tea. I didn't think I would --I thought it would have some earthy aftertaste, but instead it just has this nice depth that sort of reminds me of coffee! Snif. So when I'm missing coffee, I drink that. I like Darjeeling tea, but I have to be in the right mood. It's got a unique kind of grapey flavor and is good when eating something with a fruity filling.

Friday, October 30, 2009


This year for Halloween I wanted to be Endora from Bewitched. I love those loud 60's gowns she wore in the show, her flaming red hair and her garish eye make-up.

But then I thought maybe I would be a Bohemian gypsy instead:

Or this woman....

But then I found out that Roger wouldn't be working the night of the costume party, and we could go as something together. So I started thinking in terms of twosomes.

It would be cool to go as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan.

Or John and Yoko.

Or Porter and Dolly

Or these guys:

It would be fun to go as Wayne and Garth, because it's something we have done before. When we lived in Miami, we played Wayne and Garth in a skit that we (I) wrote for a friend who was moving to Denver.

Roger played Garth and I was Wayne. The clown wig was all we had on hand for Garth hair.

Wayne's World! Wayne's World! Party Time! Excellent!

We did Wayne's top ten reasons why Denver would be excellent.
One of them was No Hurricanes.

Yeah, it was cute, but why go down the road already traveled? Maybe it's time for something completely different.


Yes, Roger and I are going as Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion from Monty Python. Except we're going to be a bit more dressy, with little flowered hats and handbags.

Pepperpots is a term Graham Chapman coined when referring to the frumpy, middle-aged housewives he and the other Pythons played.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Fox Upon Thee

Annabelle needed her fox costume ready in time for school today, so this is the blueprint I took with me to the craft store yesterday to pick up the supplies we still needed. Craft stores are hell on earth. They are bigger than a football field. It takes forever to find the smallest bottle of dye. The aisles are lonely and isolated and unstaffed. The lines at the cash registers are backed up. Everybody is buying a ton of crap that takes forever to ring up. Every time I go into one of these stores, I kick myself for forgetting how awful it was the last time. But when you need fake fur to make a fox costume come alive, you have little choice. Annabelle already had a fox mask that was bad-ass, though I didn't use that term to agree with her on how cool it was. Now we needed to dye her gray sweats red, make a fox tail and give her some chest fur.

I stayed up late last night using RIT to dye the sweats. Dyeing clothing in the washing machine is a bitch. There are like a dozen steps to the process. I used scarlet on the gray sweats which made them turn out a rust color, which was actually perfect.

Fortunately, I already had a tail constructed of stiff material that I had made when Lilah needed a lion costume several years ago. I doubled up the tail and covered it in an old sock, and then stuffed more old socks inside to make it bushy, then I covered it with the brown fake fur. Annabelle cut out the white fur for the tip of the tail, in just the right shape so it could be pinned together to give the tail a tapered point. By the time we finished, the tail was looking pretty sweet. Annabelle called it "hacking awesome." Annabelle also measured and cut out the white chest fur herself, and I safety-pinned it.

UPDATE: We didn't have time to test out the costume's kinks, so today when Annabelle wore it to the school Halloween assembly and party, she had to hold up her sweat pants to keep from showing her underwear. The weight of the tail was pulling her pants down.

All of the classes in Annabelle's school take turns standing on stage and showing off their costumes. I realized that next year Annabelle will be in 6th grade and it will be the last time we'll be going to the school to see one of our kids show off their costume. And that thought makes me kind of sad.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sucked Into A Swirling Vortex

On Sunday I got caught in a swirling vortex.

Saturday was cool, though.

On Saturday the autumn colors were mind-blowing. The weather was so good it made you ache. Roger and I went to Dottie Mae's Costumes and a thrift store to find items for the costumes we're going to wear to a Halloween party on Friday. I'm not telling (yet) what we're gonna be. After that, I met a friend named Laura for coffee. I hadn't seen her for TWENTY-ONE YEARS! I knew her in college. We have both wandered far mentally, emotionally and spiritually from the people we were then. Now there we were at the Broadway Cafe on Saturday, drinking our lattes and confiding our thoughts, as if it had been 21 days, not years. It's so nice when that happens. I've been lucky enough to re-connect with a couple of old friends from my KU days. The ones that really mattered seemed to get me then, and they still seem to get me now.

On Sunday, there was a sudden shift, and I got sucked into a swirling vortex. I had a Reference midterm due that took hours and hours to complete. Before I could work on it, I had to take Annabelle way the hell out to the edge of the earth where her soccer game was. It was raining and we could see lightning on the way there. I drove up just to show the coach that we had made an effort. He said they still hadn't called the game. He expected us to wait there. We sat in the car, but I kept it running. This was a no-brainer, and we should all be leaving. I finally told Annabelle we were leaving. Then the coach said he still hadn't heard, and the girls should go on the field and warm up. I told Annabelle no way, we were going. She ran onto the field to tell him. Just as we were getting ready to pull out of the parking lot, a big flash of lightning sent the rest of the girls running off the field. Hah. I don't need the soccer league to tell me whether to go or stay. So we drove back with our black puppy in tow, who needed a walk and kept digging her toenails into Annabelle's flesh. Roger was gone all day working first in Topeka and then at the Record Bar, so I had no back-up. Working on my mid-term in the evening, my computer froze. Lilah announced she needed help with her homework. The dog was going nuts inside her crate. But it was pouring rain so I couldn't let her out, and we had already run through all of her chew toys, and special toys stuffed with treats. Lilah also announced she was out of pants and needed her jeans washed. Annabelle had a stomach ache. I finally finished the midterm and submitted it at 10:14, an hour and 45 minutes before it was due. I sent the dog out to go potty, and got her to sleep and the kids went to bed. I threw a load of laundry in the washer. I grabbed a New Yorker and some cheese to snack on. At last I could relax, I thought. And then Annabelle ran off to the toilet, thinking she had to throw up.

She didn't. But I gave up my silly notions about relaxing. When you're in a vortex, you're in a vortex, and there is no getting out of it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cover Me With Leaves Music

The leaves have turned and so it's time for the Smiths. The Smiths sound like autumn. Each song is a cascade of jangly guitars, sounding like falling leaves or orange colors getting oranger. Forget about George Winston's "Autumn." If you want music that evokes the splendor of fall, it's the Smiths all the way. The leaves dizzying their way to the ground, the crunch of leaves underfoot, the odd leaf that lands in your hair, the mad leap into a leaf pile, the smoke in the air from a wood's all there in Morrisey's crooning and the guitar work. I have two CDs: Hatful of Hollow and The World Won't Listen. They are getting heavy rotation right now.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Stroud Belly

Not a proud belly. But a loud belly. Not a cowed belly. But a well-endowed belly. Not a veiled-in-shroud belly. But a protuding through the crowd belly. Not a retiring belly. But a perspiring belly. Not a shy belly. But a Rocky Mountain high belly. Not an elusive belly. But an obtrusive belly. Nothing nuanced or subtle. Just a rebuttal. With a naval attached.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tis Folly To Dance This Dance!

I have been dancing with the devil of late. I have been drinking liberal amounts of coffee at work. Black coffee. Cup after dark-roasted cup. I knew I was asking for trouble, but I didn't notice any immediate side effects, so I just kept on drinking. Maybe something in my physiology has changed, I rationalized. Maybe I can do this now. Have a companionable mug at my side at all times, just like in the good old days. when coffee was an absolute good. Before the cumulative effect of the acid took its toll.

Aw, but it was sheer folly to think I could return to those free-wheelin' days. Now I am back on tea, which lacks the oomph of coffee, but doesn't seem to aggravate me. I must cultivate a deep passion for tea, I see.

Monday, October 12, 2009

It's soup weather. Very cool and damp. I wore six layers while out walking the dog this weekend. Walking the dog is good though, because it forces me off my lazy rear and gets me outside when nothing else will. I'm walking past trees and breathing in fresh air, instead of hugging the heat vent. Maybe I'll become more outdoorsy. Maybe having this dog will transform me into a true Nature Woman. Instead of a pasty, sedentary, type hurrying from the car to the cocoon of her house, where soup and hot beverages await.

I was all set to brave the chilly air yesterday and hang some Halloween decorations from the porch. I got out the plastic, bendable skeleton, and a weird pumpkin-head man the kids got from their grandparents. But I tossed them on the couch--until I could get to them later--and that's as far as they got. They lay crumpled together on the couch all afternoon, the glaring, green-eyed skeleton and the woeful pumpkin-head creature, waiting for me disentangle them and set them to fluttering in the wind. But that spare moment I was looking for never came, and by the end of the evening they had been dumped back into the garage with the boxes of Christmas decorations.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Day Of All Days

Today is my birthday, the day of all days.

I started the day off by killing a brown recluse spider. I'm almost sure that's what it was. His back looked like a fiddle, and he had spindly legs. I squashed his bad brown self good.

I took the dog for a walk around 7:00 am, and what a great morning it was to be alive. The fall air was fresh and delicious, and the sky had been decorated for me. The moon was hanging right overhead, shining like a jewel. I took the bright white moon and my conquering the spider to be good birthday omens.

As for celebrating, I've already received what I wanted most of all for my birthday, which was to spend some time driving around western Kansas. This past Sunday, we did just that.

We went west on highway 96, and drove 10 or 15 miles to Beeler. I stopped and showed the kids the George Washington Carver historical marker, near where he had built his homestead.

Then we went north on a dirt road that went past Indian Hill. I used to climb up to the top and sit on the "rock of contemplation", and gaze out at the scenery below. Now someone has put a metal statue of an Indian on horseback on top of the hill. I kind of wanted to go up there again, but I was afraid there would be snakes, so I just drove on.

We kept going north, through surprisingly pretty country, full of craggy hills and chalky outcroppings. When we got to Utica, we started looking for the county road that would take us near Castle Rock. But we came upon another unpaved road that intrigued me. On the horizon I could see it rambling over hills that looked even chalkier than the ones we'd just driven through. So I followed that narrow road, as it cut up and down sharp rises and around rocky bluffs. The hardy grasses waved at us from both sides of the road, appearing soft, in colors of rust and purple, but really tougher than nails.

Eventually, the wild road wound around and met up with the county road we had been seeking in the first place, and so we got on it. After a little zig-zagging, we saw a wrought iron sign for Castle Rock, with a yellow arrow pointing straight ahead.

Here the terrain rose to meet the sky. We were driving towards a mound, from which one could look down and see Castle Rock sitting on the prairie floor below. But as we approached the mound, we saw that the road heading down towards Castle Rock was completely washed out. Impassible.

So we decided to try a second road that veered off to the left and circled around the mound and back towards Castle Rock. The road started off in better shape, but it became more and more rutted. I drove slower and slower, until we reached a point where this road too was completely washed out. Missing whole chunks of earth. There was no way to turn around on the narrow road, with high banks on both sides, so I stuck my head out the window and backed the car up, all the way back to the main road. It felt like I was backing up for a mile.

I was disappointed that we couldn't drive up to Castle Rock. Lilah and I got out of the car and climbed up the mound, and took a good look at it. And that was the best we could do.

We got back on the road that had led us unwittingly to the hazardous, washed out road, with absolutely no warning. How ironic when sometime later, as we continued north on the county road, we passed another unpaved road going west that was marked with the sign: "Minimum Maintainence. Travel At Your Own Risk."

Eventually we met up with I-70 and drove another 30 miles west to Oakley, where we had a late lunch at Pizza Hut. I'd found Prairie Home Companion on the radio, located at 90.5 on the dial, and as we drove around Oakley, I was listening to Garrison Keillor tell of the time he was spotted down in a ravine, sticking an old cigarette butt between his lips, and was ratted on by a classmate and then sent to the principal's office. I was amused by some of the local businesses in Oakley--the Annie Oakley motel, sporting a cowgirl as big as a giant on its sign---and a liquor store called "Classy Liquor", and a little burger stand called the Dairy King.

From Oakley we went south on Highway 83 through Gove county, which is a very pretty drive. The country is wonderfully rolling and bumpy, not yet surrendering to the flatness of Scott and Lane counties further south. We were just a few miles west of Monument Rocks, and the earth was riddled with the same chalky substance that formed the Rocks.

We didn't have time to go to Scott Lake, though that is quite scenic too. We were ready to get home by then. Driving through Scott City, I saw an interesting juxtaposition. An ancient looking sign, all faded and weather-beaten, for the Lazy R Motel. But along the bottom of the sign, a new strip of signage had been added that read "Free WiFi Internet Access."

I'm always looking at signs and wishing I could stop and take pictures. I did a double take in Dighton when we passed by a sign that said the Frigid Creme. !! I thought the Frigid Creme in Ness City was the one and only. Well, I'm sure the Ness one was the first, and Dighton copied the name. Goodness knows the Ness City Frigid Creme has been there for decades. Mom told me that the day I was born, my siblings talked Dad into taking them there for ice cream.

We traveled full circle and returned to Ness City on highway 96, driving once again past the George Washington Carver Monument.

It was a heck of a drive. I had gorged myself on earth and sky, and got my fix of wide open spaces. Hopefully that will keep me for awhile. The memory of the drive is still fresh, as I now return to the prissy, boxed-in suburbs of Johnson County.

Happy birthday to me.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


It's Saturday night at my mom's, and you know what that means. Time for the Big Joe Polka Show.

These polka dudes put down some righteous accordian, but their lead vocalists are uber-shaky. Even so, this has been what I call a perfect October day. The drive out to western Kansas was gorgeous. The weather was gorgeous.And the moon was gorgeous as it rose, almost perfectly round. It will be full tomorrow night.

We left Kansas City early, before sunrise. The Kansas City skyline was stark and black against the eastern sky, which was just starting to lighten. The western sky was heavy with dark clouds. We drove towards them, passed underneath them, and then broke free of them. As we continued west, we left the clouds behind. The light in central Kansas was brilliant.

Passed by a new-looking billboard in Junction City that said: JC Naz. It was advertising a Nazarene church. Maybe marketing the church to the hip-hop crowd?

We passed by the massive wind farm west of Salina. It seems to go on for miles and miles. Every windmill I saw was spinning.

Leaving before the crack of dawn is the only way to road trip. In the early morning, I-70 was deserted and felt like a ribbon of air. The car seemed weightless. By noon we were in Hays. The drive felt like nothing.

When we stopped briefly in Wakeeney, Annabelle got confused and called it Wahawka.

This afternoon, I spent more than two hours raking up pine straw that had blown crazy all over mom's yard during yesterday's wind. But I can honestly say I enjoyed every minute of it, because the sky was blue and cloudless, and the air was October-licious. For supper we had dumpling soup, and now it's dark and cold, so we get to sit around and watch mom's cable TV. Which at the moment is transmitting the Big Joe Polka Show.

Who names some of these polkas? They just had the "cheese and cracker polka", and now they're doing a cherry pie polka. Guess it's no secret that polka dancers like to eat. Inexplicably, Big Joe is still around and still hosts this show. And he's bigger than ever! How does he do it? I think this show goes back to the 80's, when I was coming home from college. I thought he was doughy and unbaked then. Now he's even pastier, and his girth settles around him like a vast mountain range. He's a bear with the mike, but he doesn't move around very much.

They still play the same theme song from back then: "Yo ho ho...they call him Jolly Joe...Yo ho ho...everywhere he goes...."

They had their Oktoberfest in Ransom today, and tonight they're having a street dance! I maybe should go check it out, but I probably should stay here and sit around some more. The band playing at the street dance is called Trip Wire. I don't think that's a polka band.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Adventures of the Good Lil' Consumer

Once in a while someone in our house eats an ice cream cone, and down comes the ice cream cone box from the cupboard. The box is brightly colored and looks like a carnival, and it bears the name of the cone company in big happy letters---"JOY".

What has intrigued me about the Joy Cone Company is their claims on the box that they have been in the business of baking cones since 1918. So I had to check this out. Somehow, the idea of an independent food company surviving for generations by making ice cream cones just seemed too storybook and romantic. Could this really be true? I went to their web site and read their history. Apparently their company was started in 1918 by a Lebanese immigrant shortly after the World's Fair gave everyone the idea of putting ice cream in a waffle cone. They have two plants in Hermitage, Pennsylvania, and Flagstaff, Arizona, and their company is still family-owned today.

What would it be like to work for the *Joy* Cone Company? Well, their website states: "We offer flexible work hours which enable our employees to reconcile their personal schedules with our production schedules. The results have been greater efficiency and happier employees." I have to say, it sure makes those ice cream cones go down easier, knowing they were produced by happy laborers. Not that getting them down was much of a problem.

The web site also says that they have developed their own cone ovens, which are built in their plant, and they use a "time-tested family recipe" that has been passed down from one generation to the next. Sheesh. Can this company possibly get any more adorable? Do such companies really still exist in America today? They are making me hungry for their ice cream cones!

But the most interesting thing on their web site was the history of how the ice cream cone became a nationwide craze. I'd read before that the ice cream cone was "invented" at the World's Fair, but here is the story in a little more detail---from the Joy Cone Company web site:

While it is generally acknowledged that ice cream street vendors (hokey-pokey vendors) in New York City were selling different types of ice cream cones as early as the 1890’s, the ice cream cone’s official invention and immediate rise to popularity happened at the St Louis 1904 World’s Fair. As such, 1904 is the “official” birth year of the ice cream cone.

At the Fair, the stories surrounding the invention of the cone are many and involve several different vendors at the fair, including immigrants from Lebanon/Syria and Turkey. However, the IAICM (International Association of Ice Cream Manufacturers) proclaims the story of Ernest A Hamwi, a Syrian immigrant, to be the strongest candidate for the title of official inventor of the ice cream cone.

Mr Hamwi was a pastry vendor at the Fair, selling “zalabia”, a crisp, sugary, warm waffle made over an open fire in a waffle iron. His stand was next to one of the 50 ice cream vendors at the Fair. Mr Hamwi took his waffles, while still warm and pliable, and, wrapping them into the shape of a cone, gave them to the next-door ice cream vendor who filled them with ice cream. The success of this wonderful treat was immediate. People called them World’s Fair Cornucopias.
By the close of the Fair, the pastry vendors and ice cream vendors were collaborating on this delicious treat, and the thrilled Fair-goers took the idea home with them to all parts of the country and the world.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October Cometh!

I welcome and embrace the month of October. It is my month of increasing power. It is the golden time.

Here is a poem from Daily Zen, to celebrate the arrival of the BEST MONTH and the day of all days.

Here, beside a clear deep lake
You live accompanied by clouds
Soft through the pines the moon arrives
To be your own pure-hearted friend
You rest under thatch in the shadow of your flowers
Your dewy herbs flourish in their bed of moss
Let me leave the world
Let me alight, like you
On your western mountain
with Phoenixes and cranes.

- Ch'an Chien

Sunday, September 27, 2009

My Saturday Companion

Here was a good thing that happened yesterday: Garrison Keillor kicked off a new season of the Prairie Home Companion last night in St. Paul. Even though he had a stroke earlier this month, and spent some time in the Mayo clinic, he's back in action. For this I am grateful. I turned on the show while driving back from the grocery store, and continued to listen as I started supper. I don't know of anyone else who is doing what he does----live bands playing roots music, comedy sketches, story-telling...broadcast live on the radio. I was lucky enough to see his show a couple of years ago, when he broadcast from the Starlight Theater here in Kansas City--thanks to my dear friend Harriet, who provided the tickets. He did the whole thing from memory, out of his head. All those little skits his crew performs and the stories he tells--he uses no script for any of it. Just paces up and down the stage, holding the microphone. He has a guy who does all his sound effects - wears shoes around his neck for things like horses hooves.

I was making dumpling soup while I listened to the show yesterday. It was sunny, but there was just enough fall feeling in the air to make soup appealing. I have finally been getting my dumpling soup closer to tasting like Mom's. I use Campbell's Chicken and Rice soup, and canned chicken broth for my base, since I usually don't have fresh chicken broth sitting around, and I recently learned from her that you boil the dumplings separately in their own water. That might seem like a no-brainer, but it hadn't been obvious to me. No wonder my broth used to have kind of a mangy flavor. I add both milk and cream to finish the broth off. And so last night, for the second time in a row, I pulled off a reasonably good dumpling soup.

One more note about Garrison Keillor: Today I read that he says he might retire in a couple of years and have someone else host the show. It's hard to imagine anyone replacing him.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Simone's First Sign of Fall

The other morning I got up extra early to grab a moment of peace for myself. I sat and read my fresh new issue of the New Yorker and drank a hot cup of tea. It was relaxing to read print, instead of a computer screen. The writing in the New Yorker was good and rich, like eating Eggs Benedict for breakfast. I thought, I should start every day this way.

I tried to do the same thing this morning. I got up at 7:00, when everyone and the dog were still sawing planks, but I made the mistake of going upstairs to "wake up", which ended with me falling asleep on the mattress. Should have made the tea first.

Actually I'd much rather be drinking coffee. If I drink too much coffee, the acid messes with me, and there is hell to pay. But I love drinking coffee sooo much. I also love watching people on TV drink coffee. Actually, I like watching people drink most anything on TV---I like shows where the actors carry around a tinkling glass of soda or scotch, but best of all I like to see them drink coffee. The way they hold it in their hands, the way they sip it. The actors are working hard to convey pathos, but it's their coffee cups I'm watching. I get a little thrill when one character asks another: "Would you like some coffee?" If I myself can't partake of the ritual that moment, the next best thing is watching someone else do it.

I especially like to watch people on old TV shows from the 60's pour coffee, because they use such interesting percolators and carafes. Happily, people on those shows are constantly offering up coffee, so they do a lot of pouring. It sounds so good I can taste it.

First sign of fall: My coffee obsession is back in full swing.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Late Night Radio Waves

Last night I listened to some community radio while I was washing dishes. It was after 10:00, which is the best time to listen to community or college radio stations, because somehow after nightfall, local radio broadcasts sound kind of alien. The DJ sounds like he's transmitting from some lonely outpost, and you are the only one receiving the signal. You are the only connection to civilization this poor, stranded DJ has---or so it seems.

The show I was listening to, on 90.1 KKFI, was Moby's Trip. The show is described on KKFI's website this way:

"Moby's Trip is a show chock full of buttery psychedelic music goodness with existential sprinkles. Its a rock-n-roll show and a breath mint recommended by four out of five doctors. Anything could turn up here. There's a little saying we have 'round here ,'s just not your audio wallpaper anymore." C'mon on by for a listen. It only bites if you let it. And you'll want to let it. I promise. "

Local singer songwriter Forrest Whitlow was in the station, and he performed a couple of folk songs live while I wiped ketchup off the plates and scrubbed fried-on hamburger grease off the skillet. Then it was some scratchy record going round and round on a turntable and some old man from out of the past wailing in a thin voice. Reminds me of one of the most delightful nighttime drives I've ever known--I was driving through a deep void on some pitch black highway late one night, somewhere hundreds of miles from home, and I was listening to an old Hank Williams cassette tape I had. There was nothing in the inky dark but a tiny piece of road in front of my headlight and the thin, nasal twang of Williams, crying out like a ghost. It truly sounded as if I had driven off some slope of time and had got myself lost in a leftover remnant of old radio waves still floating in space.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Oh The Smells I Left Behind

The air is cool. It feels like fall. I smelled the interior of an elementary school today--it smells just the same as the school I went to as a kid. How is that possible? What is it that grade schools contain that creates that smell---that they contained 30 or 40 years ago? You can smell it in the stairwells, the hallways....I don't it school supplies or some special floor cleaner used only in public schools? Maybe it's all those sweaty schoolkids confined in one space. Will schools still smell this way 30 years from now? I hope so. It hit me today as I was walking past the fish aquarium...I take for granted the school and that familiar funky scent, that conjures up memories both good and horrible----The time I barfed all over my desk in the third grade---having to endure long recesses in the biting cold---being picked last at kickball--pretending I was on the Starship Enterprise as a way to make it through the day--I took for granted that I was smelling that same smell again, when really, it's a unique smell not found anywhere else, and I could just as easily not be smelling it, if I didn't have kids. Why, I might never have smelled this smell again for the rest of my life, if it weren't for them! Think about that. And how disappointing it would have been if I had encountered some shiny new freshness in the air, generated by modern-day schools. No, the chalkboards might have lost out to dry erase boards, but grubby kids still line up in the halls, and those halls still emit the same smells as ever.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


I read an article in the KC Star on Sunday that much of the art being shown in museums these days is corporate owned art, and most of that art is pretty tame. Corporations don't like risky, peculiar works. They prefer flowers, fruit, Andrew Wyeth, and lots of western scenes. I do love me a good cowboy painting, but there is far more to art than images of the West. Too many things are going corporate and the net effect is a watered down culture that lacks diversity and originality. When I heard that Marvel comics had been bought by Disney I nearly crapped my pants. The Disneyfication of America goes on unabated, sigh.

For months that have turned into years, I've had this idea that if I could just get up early enough, I could be writing that novel. Well, I just read that Dan Brown, the author of the Da Vinci Code and a new book, The Lost Symbol, gets up at 4:00 am every day and writes until noon! I read that Barbara Kingsolver says that she wrote even when she had babies crawling all over her. Makes me feel like such a weinie. I couldn't write when I had babies crawling all over me. I can't even think if a baby is in the same room. I can't even think if a middle schooler is in the same room.

Speaking of which, the other day I accidentally shrunk my middle-schooler's skinny jeans. I knew not to put them in the dryer - the tag says to lay them flat to dry. But I had a lapse or something, as mothers tend to do as the evening waxes and the moon rises, and I forgot they were in the wad of wet clothing I was pulling out of the dryer. And so in the dryer they went. I was alone late at night when I finally rescued them from the dryer. I gasped. They looked freakishly small, like a person who had wasted away. I hid them. I would have to prepare Lilah for the bad news. There would be much wailing.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Wilde Ruling

Here Comes the judge, here comes the judge....

The best news I heard all day was that a judge in lower Manhatten rejected the $33 million settlement between the SEC and Bank of America, over the bank's failure to fully disclose the bonuses paid at Merrill Lynch. The judge wrote that the settlement “does not comport with the most elementary notions of justice and morality”.

The judge would have no truck with the fact that that hefty fine would be paid by the bank’s shareholders, when they were the ones who were supposed to have been injured by the lack of disclosure.

“It is quite something else for the very management that is accused of having lied to its shareholders to determine how much of those victims’ money should be used to make the case against the management go away,” the judge wrote.

The judge was also none too happy with the SEC for agreeing to the settlement. Last month he had ordered the SEC to explain why it hadn't pursued charges against specific executives at Bank of America over the accusations. Apparently he wasn't satisfied. Rakoff, you rock!
Maybe the sweetest part of Judge Jed Rakoff's ruling was when he quoted Oscar Wilde’s “Lady Windermere’s Fan” at the end of his ruling: "A cynic is someone “who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Nine Nine Oh Nine

Today's date is 9/9/09. Andi, we got the note you left, you clever rascal! Yes, 9.9.9 is positively cosmic! Show of hands ---who thought of John Lennon singing "Number nine, number nine, number nine" today??

I was excited about this day. I was going to do everything in groups of nine. Go to nine coffee shops. Eat nine chocolates. Drink nine glasses of wine. Take nine hot baths. Then my co-worker and friend got in a car accident and busted the wrist on her left hand. Kind of distracted me from those goals. I tried to imagine having a lame wrist, and doing everything with only one hand. Let me tell you, we librarians do a lot of hefting. Can't have weak wrists for this job, no sireee. Heal fast, Julie. And if you don't use up all your pain pills, could you slip a few my way?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Circle Drive

One day after dropping my daughter off at school I found myself in a ritzy neighborhood. I needed to turn around, and was sorely tempted to take advantage of the circular driveway in front of one of the attractive homes. The following song was thus inspired, which explains why I am not making money as a country music songwriter:

Circle Drive

Oh please can I turn around
in your circle drive
it's got that curb appeal
I know my car is dirty
but your drive is sparkling and purty
and your neighbors won't even know I'm here

Oh please can I turn around
in your circle drive
if you would be so kind?
for a moment I'll pretend
my home's the living end
and I'm living as high as a hog

Oh please can I turn around
in your circle drive
I'd be much obliged
I promise I won't stay
for more than a day
unless my car breaks down

Monday, August 31, 2009

Wake Up Call At The Hotel Rastafarian

Music playing from speakers in room:
"Get up, Stand up! Stand up for your rights!
Get up, Stand up! Don't give up the fight"

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Adventures of The Good Lil' Consumer

It's time for another installment of The Good Lil' Consumer! Let's tune in and see what I bought this week as I try to do my part to stimulate the economy:

A bottle of wine called "Bohemian Highway". It's a $5.99 cabernet I found at a dinky liquor store located next to a Radio Shack. The label promises that the wine "embodies a casual and free-flowing spirit" and is "dark and concentrated" with layers of black cherry, chocolate and plum." Sounds great, but it had me at bohemian. Slap the name bohemian on anything and I'll take the bait --I'm such a sucker.

A skinny white Schwinn bicycle I picked up at a garage sale for $5.00. It's kind of rusty, but the tires have air and it's what I call retro-riffic.

A spiral notebook in psychedelic colors with peace signs and the words "Peace" "Love" "Groovy." I found it in the clearance bin at a grocery store for $1.00. I've wanted a hippie notebook since I was in high school. But back then, hippies were out and everything had gone disco. Does this mean I can start using the word "groovy" now and people won't roll their eyeballs?

A pair of red sneakers marked down at Target. They only had three left. They are a half size too small, but for $3.74 emo shoes, I am okay with walking funny.

Two jars of Pakak's Butter Chicken sauce I bought at an Indian grocery. So easy to use. Just saute diced chicken breasts until brown on both sides and pour on sauce and simmer. Done!

A new cloth Hartz chew toy for puppy with a face that can't decide whether it's a cow or a pig. Torn to shreds within minutes.

Daisy brand cottage cheese. There was this nice lady giving out samples of cottage cheese in the store, and I was going to buy cottage cheese anyway. And she gave me a dollar off coupon. And I liked the the cheerful packaging. And I hate buying store brand cottage cheese. And this cottage cheese only had three ingredients: skim milk, cream and salt. But the best part are these special instructions that come with it: Prior to placing it back in the refrigerator, smooth remaining cottage cheese flat with a spoon to maintain a creamy consistency. Oh crap, I forgot to do that! Like a slob, I just dug out what I wanted and replaced the lid. This cottage cheese is going to challenge me to become a better person. You gotta love that in a dairy product.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Fab Vocab

Have you ever used any of these terms in conversation?

highball minx fracus beanbag rumpus room

teeter totter perpetual motion machine

fisticuffs haberdashy egg cream

gargoyle tongue-lashing welts washstand

isthmus jerry-rig wiseacre addlepated

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tubes And Transistors

Vacuum tubes and transistors. On my mind tonight. They were made by the thousands, back when computers were babies. Where are they all now? I miss them. Why did the crude technologies have such fun shapes? Why does modern technology have to be so dull and sexless? Who wants to take a second look at a chip? I want to take a second look at vacuum tubes and transistors! I want them for a motif. How about placemats? A tablecloth? Covered with little vacuum tubes and transistors. Why not bedsheets? Curtains for the nursery? Better yet --wallpaper! I want this wallpaper. Where can I get it? I would never get tired of looking at vacuum tubes and transistors. What a fine thing it would be if I could wake up in the morning, cast my sleepy gaze upon the wall, and the first thing I would see would be vacuum tubes and transistors.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Random Acts Of Canineness

Galloping horses couldn't have surprised us more. In one wooosh the canine had bounded across the room and ONTO THE KITCHEN TABLE. I screamed at this unprecedented strike against sane living. Lilah's jaw hung open. Even the pooch seemed a bit startled by her boldness, and she jumped back down, knocking over a glass on the way. I grabbed her round her upper chest and hauled her into her crate. It wasn't punishment, but a flailing for control. If not to subdue her, then to calm myself. Cheri's enthusiasm evidently knows no bounds. The trigger was her squeaky chick, a latex fascimile of a chick popping from an egg that cries for mercy as it is chewed. Examining it has led me to wonder who gets to design doggie chew toys. Now there's a job. The chick was $2.00 at Petco. But it squeaks louder than the expensive chew toys, and its squeak even changes pitch. Cheri has gnawed it, slobbered it and chased it around the house, but never before has it unleashed in her such a spirit of wild abandon as on that night. I should have checked for a full moon.

I know that if I look down right now, I'm likely to see a large slug sliming its way across our hardwood floor. They come in through the sliding glass door. I have never figured out how they do it without getting squashed, because staking out a slug portal to learn their ways is not something I'm keen on doing. We tried stuffing foil into the cracks of the sliding glass door, and that seemed to "foil" the slugs ---yuk yuk --- and keep em out. But Cheri just comes along and rips out the foil like she's doing us some big favor. One of the goals I set for myself each summer is to make sure that no matter how many times I run out to the driveway after dark in bare feet, to retrieve something from the car or put a bike away before it rains, I will never ever set foot on a slug. Well now my new goal is to make sure that no matter what, I will never have to watch Cheri eat a slug.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Cheeses Of My Life

I have tasted the cheese, er cheeses, of my life –a P’tit Basque and Prince De Claverolle. Both cheeses are French, made from sheep’s milk. Both were a dream with a glass of white wine. My eyes were bugging out, they were so good. Now the filmy wrappers contain just a bit of residue, and they have been discarded. But they are still the cheeses of my life. After tasting French sheep’s milk cheese, how can I e’er go back to cheddar?

I can’t explain it -- I’m giving Frampton Comes Alive! heavy rotation on the cd player. I wanna go to the sun. I don’t know what he means, yet I know exactly what he means. Put me down for one sun trip, dude. The dog knows the cd inside and out. She rides around with me. We steam down the highway while the thunderheads gather and the piano tries to gain dominance over the guitar. Oh the comfort of 70’s rock concerts. Last night it was time for my listening enhancement exercises. For lighting I chose the dark of night. I had no idea that Beck’s Sea Change cd is full of colors and vibrating patterns. I saw them with my own mind’s eyes. It was like a firehose of wonder. I wept. The summer bugs were deafening. It’s like that song, “You’ll never walk alone.” You really won’t, not with that racket all around you. I went inside and licked the last bits of cheese off the plate. I put imaginary flowers in a blue vase. The house was modest, but well-scrubbed. I always liked reading that in books—that something was a bit shabby, but well-scrubbed. Or that the cup was chipped, but was full of gleaming tea. Or the fabric was worn, but had been pressed to look neat. Simple humble things that sound good because someone has tried to get the most out of them. Always milk objects for all their charm if you can. Put them to work for you. It’s easier to do this with old, worn things, as there is no charm in plastic. I really had scrubbed the kitchen floor. Like a crazy woman I scrubbed it. Found out those specks were not part of the original design. So now I could say it. Our place was modest, but well-scrubbed. A good place for thinking. And for indoor picnics with wine and cheese.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Hobo In The Sun

It's feast or famine. Going from no Kerouac, to total Kerouac immersion. I am reading both On the Road and Dharma Bums simultaneously. Holding one in each hand and splitting my eyeballs between them. No, not really. I read one chapter of the Road book, then switch over to the Dharmic. It gives me a nice, unsettled feeling. A feeling that is hard to conjure up when you've been living in one place for too long, but that might magically arrive when you slip unexpectedly into a neighborhood that has been tucked away, that you didn't know was there. Jumping from one Kerouac to another seems fitting, something he would understand, like jumping on a train, as he does in Dharma Bums. Or jumping off the flatbed he was riding in On the Road. I wanted him to stay on that flatbed and ride it all the way to California with the other hitchhikers. That would be the more settled thing to do. The two brothers driving the flatbed were going to pick up farm machinery in California, and they didn't care who was riding in the back before they got there. Here was a free ride and a sure thing, with fellers who were amiable enough and were reliable about sharing a bottle, and I felt relief when he was on that flatbed with the highway rolling beneath him, but he had to unsettle me and jump off in Cheyenne. Just to take part in some wild west days festival, and because he was bent on going to Denver. So that's where I left him, and where he left me, and now I don't know where his next ride is coming from.

So I slipped over to the Dharma Bums, and read about a man who chose the hobo lifestyle. Partly influenced by the time he was a little boy, when a hobo stopped by the house and his mom gave the hobo a piece of pie. And the little boy asked his mom, "What is he?" and the mom said, "Why, he's a hobo." And the boy said, "I want to be a hobo someday."

That reminds me of a line in a Partridge family song that always cracks me and the kids up. The song is about someone who was a wanderer, until they found love, of course:

There were times when I was happy
being free was fun
Like a hobo in the sun
echo of background voices: like a hobo in the sun

The background singers make it sound so nice. What a peaceful thing to be. So a hobo in the sun is the image I'll put on a sign out front of my new coffeeshop, the Kerouac Cafe.