Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Contemplating The Tinsels Of Old

We live in a world deprived of metal. Today, Christmas tree tinsel is made from toxic PVC vinyl. But originally, tinsel strips were cut from real silver. However, that was only affordable for a snooty few. So tinsel makers began making it from cheaper metal alloys, and by the 1920's, American Christmas trees were lousy with tinsel. Back then the tinsel even contained lead so it would hang better. Then in the 50's, manufacturers switched to making tinsel out of aluminized paper. A nice idea, except when it caught fire sitting next to the hot tree lights. Hence, the development of "fireproof" tinsel, as seen here. If you are trying to get across the idea that your tinsel won't burst into flame, is "Doubl-Glo" really the best branding choice?

The fireproof tinsel allowed further mass-marketing, and a continuation of questionable packaging concepts. Take the *Brite Star* product, for example. Why do we see Santa lingering outside the window? What's he doing out there? Why doesn't he get on with it? Perhaps this somewhat creepy Santa is just checking to make sure the family's tree has not burst into flame. After all, notice that *Brite Star* icicles do not bear the same Fireproof statement as the others.

Beyond the world of tinsel, some vintage ornaments are just weird. This tree ornament, made from spun cotton, looks like something wasps would fly out of.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Live-Blogging The Solstice Lunar Eclipse

12:50 am central time:

Put on coat over fleece robe. Put on big furry hat. Walk outside and crane neck. The sky is hazy but the moon is visible. A definite shadow creeping across its edge! Can't discern any coppery color yet.

Go back into the house and drink egg nog.

1:10 am central time:

This eclipse is moving fast! On our way to totality. Moon is almost halfway covered. Makes you realize how fast these celestial bodies are traveling. Peaceful night. Think I'll make a cup of tea.

1:20 am central time:

Geez louise, where's the fire? The eclipse is moving at a fast clip, and the moon already appears nearly three-quarters in shadow. It seems I could just stand out there, planted in the yard, and see it changing before my eyes. I can begin to discern more of a reddish glow, like they talked about, but it's subtle.

1:28 am central time:

Just a slim band of light now, on the moon's right side. The rest is all in shadow. There is more and more of a reddish glow visible. It's nearly 1:30 am and people still have their Christmas lights on. Do they leave them on all night?? I would love to be down at the Powell Observatory, in Louisberg, Kansas, which is open for nuts like me who want to "gather."

1:35 am central time:

Just a sliver left!--rapidly approaching totality. And the moon is indeed taking on a coppery hue as promised! Someone across the street just came out of their house. Did they come out to see the eclipse, or to grab a smoke?

1:45 am central time:

Totality! The moon was a faint smudge in the sky, but now has disappeared altogether, and I am not sure if this is the eclipse at work or increasing cloudiness. Lilah wasn't sure she would stay up at first, but then decided she would, and stands with me trying to find the moon behind all that grey milk. Okay, gradually, the moon is becoming faintly visible again. The person across the street is gone. No one else out in the street or in their yard, no one but us watching.

1:56 am central time:

Clouds! Dense clouds have moved in and I can't find the moon anywhere in the sky. If this keeps up I might have to go to bed. Though I'm not the least bit tired. Astronomical events are pretty stimulating, you know.

2:08 am central time:

Bleh. Still too many clouds to see anything. Well, here's some interesting lunar lore instead: According to the Wichita Eagle, some ancient peoples thought a lunar eclipse was a moon being gobbled by a dragon and bleeding into the sky. Others banged pots and pans until the moon reappeared. I think the pot and pan banging is a nice tradition and should be revived.

2:20 am central time:

I think a dragon has gobbled the moon. It's nowheresville. Clouds, clouds, clouds.

Next door, a large, puffy reindeer is deflating. The neighbors have finally pulled the plug on their *all-nite Christmas light display*. I probably shouldn't keep coming outside. I'm making dogs bark.

2:32 am central time:

I've been sitting here in a stupor since the last post. That tells me that I better hie me off to bed, before I end up sleeping in this chair. I've already started to dream -something about...round, coppery orbs...elusive....vanishing...

2:40 am central time:

Had to step out on the porch and take one last look before going to bed. Sky is overcast, and by now at least half of the earth's shadow will have receded. Soon I will be a lumpish shadow receding to my own bed.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Burl Ives Event Stirs Trouble Anew in Small Maryland Town

Dispute over folksy troubador creates rancor in Peaksville, Maryland

Peaksville, MD – A Christmastime controversy over folk singer Burl Ives that has bitterly divided the town of Peaksville, Maryland for three years, is the source of continued friction as a pro-Burl group plans to stage a "Burl Pride" parade down Main Street during the "Tree and Tunes" festivities, in defiance of the Burl Ives My Ass Coalition (BIMAC), which has sought to stamp out any Burl-related activities from the town square during the holiday season.

The pro-Burl group, Burl's Legacy Is Treasured, Honored and Enduring (BLITHE), announced the parade yesterday, saying it had an enthusiastic group of parade participants already signed up.

"We have Burl impersonaters that will knock your socks off," said Harry Hornfield, BLITHE spokesman. "It will be a crowd-pleasing event that will warm the cockles of every man, woman and child."

Hornfield dismissed BIMAC as "a bunch of grouchy old farts who are against joy and happiness in all its purest forms." Hornfield said, "Here are people who have nothing better to do than to ruin Christmas for everybody else. Even in our small town, we have a sizeable population of Burl fans. For them, a Christmas without "Holly Jolly Christmas" sung by the Burlmeister, just isn't, well, all that jolly.

BIMAC countered BLITHE's claims by saying no one wants to hear Burl Ives' "cheesy cornball tweedle-dee-deeing" except the "tone-deaf" members of BLITHE, who "obviously have no taste" and shouldn't be imposing their "fringe" interests on the good people of Peaksville.

"We are doing a public service for the rest of the town, and we do it proudly, " said Clive Hammerschmitt. "Who wants to listen to that crap? No one! But folks are afraid to say it. Well, we're not afraid. We come right out and call a spade a spade." Hammershcmitt said that BIMAC is determined to put a stop to the parade. "I hear they have some Burl impersonators and that. I don't know where they found those people, but if they think they're going to trot them right through the center of our town they have another think coming."

Hornfield said that the parade is perfectly legal and that has group has acquired all the necessary city and county permits.

"It's going to be a great parade. We have Burl jugglers, Burl tumblers, a couple of Burl-themed floats, and of course, a whole bunch of Burl singers. We even have some burlesque performers doing a special "Burl-esque" routine. But the big highlight will be the Burl Ives Santa at the end. I hope everyone comes out and brings the kids. It'll be big, Burly fun for all."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Don't You Want To Sing With Heino?

I have Germanic ancestry in my blood but I swear to god sometimes I don't understand the German people at all.

Monday, December 13, 2010

When It's This Cold....

......Curse words sound mild as a church chat. Consuming fat feels virtuous and wise. Alcohol is medicinal. You consider taking up smoking as a way to keep warm. You let the recycling go to hell.

When it's this cold....

You keep movements to a minimum, to conserve energy. You keep close to the stove, to your supply of tea. When you must go out, you wear ugly, sensible shoes and take baby steps out to your car. Your winter hat can't be too big or voluminous. It should extend high above your head like a cloud. It's okay to wear your robe under your coat when you go to the store. The normal rules of society don't apply.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Is Your Hair Ready For Christmas?

Does your "do" say "I do mistletoe"? Does your upsweep make hearts leap? A brand new hair style will make your holiday hotter than a roasted hog. Nothing beats these merry mops for fetching kisses under the green.

And say, isn't that Susan Dey, aka Laurie Partridge of the Partridge Family, up on the housetop, cooly filching candy mints from the gingerbread people? She knows that everyone is too busy staring at her hair to notice her petty theft. Proving once again that the best front is a bouffant.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Science Can Be Fun AND Easy!

I always found textbook explanations for autumn's changes too hard and sciencey. I want something more straightforward, that doesn't require me to entertain concepts that are outside the scope of my immediate experience and puny knowledge. Now here at last is an answer I can wrap my brain around!

Here where I live, the fall colors have hung around unusually long this year. We've had blazing reds and oranges right through the middle of November. The leaves are just now entering the fully baked stage. (Yum!)

Remember, science doesn't have to make your brain hurt. Visit the site below, chock-full of science lessons that a child could understand "for when the facts are too confusing."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Julia, Slow Down!

One minute she's slipping the skins off the pearl onions, the next she's quartered the mushrooms and is showing how the butter in the pan foams. The foam means the butter isn't hot enough yet. You have to wait for the foam to subside before you dump in the shrooms for sauteing.

And by the way, Julia says, you can't just saute mushrooms in butter, because the butter will burn, and make them taste nasty. So you have to add some oil, to "fortify the butter." This is just as important as her point about drying off the mushrooms with a towel, because if they're wet they'll just steam like the dickens, and won't turn brown. Same as with the meat. You have to dry off those big red chunks of chuck with lots of paper towels, to soak up the moisture, or the meat will just steam, steam, steam, and won't turn BROWN. Every time Julia says "brown," her voice catches in the same place, and then dives in for the kill, attacking the back end of the word, because she pronounces it with two syllables. I love the way she says it. Br-OWN. And since French cooking is all about browning, she says it often!

Then there are those little quaintities, the outdated asides Julia makes, like "Now that we have electric washing machines, you won't mind using cloth towels to dry off your mushrooms!" That's right, Julia. Go tell it. The wonders of 1960's technology!

Lilah and I were trying to keep up with Julia Child as she flitted about her stovetop making Beef Bourguignon on one of her old TV episodes of "The French Chef." We kept having to pause the DVD and back it up, because Julia was just rolling right along from one step to another. "There, that's done!" She would say crisply, taking a pot off a burner. "Wait up!" I yelled at her. "Geez, where's the fire?" She cut a sturdy figure of efficiency in the kitchen, and her instructions blurred together. "What kind of oil did she say she used?" "Was that a tablespoon of flour per cup of broth?" "Pour the whole bottle of wine in? Is that what she said?"

We didn't get the stew in the oven until 6:00 pm. No biggie. It only needed three hours to cook. We knew this, going in. But we'd talked about making this stew for weeks, never having enough time, so on Sunday we decided it was do or die, no matter how late we got started. We took it out at 9:00 pm, per Julia's instructions, and then made the sauce. Julia teaches you to thicken the sauce the "peasant" way, with a buerre manie paste made by mixing together butter and flour. (Because a broth made from fatty meat chunks and wine isn't nearly rich enough!) We finally sat down to eat at 9:30. Very European. The damn stew had demanded most of the wine, but there was a wee bit still in the bottle, and I drank what was left.

We had pieces of French baguette on the side to sop up the broth, and I felt like a true French peasant. A very well-fed one. This stew was everything it was cracked up to be. Rich, hearty, full of flavor ---comfort food on steroids. I think I can face those long, cold winter nights now, knowing we can sup on this stew.

Julia has helped me get past my aversion to handling animal flesh ---somewhat. Enough so that I can now wrestle a raw chicken body into a fine homemade soup. I have blogged before about my Kafka-esque childhood nightmare in which I was walking to school and found myself metamorphosized, like Gregor Samsa, into the body of a raw chicken fryer (see "Chick-o-stick"), and how for years afterwards I was unable to face a whole chicken. My breakthrough came with Julia's poultry episode, where she gaily introduces a family of chickens by age ---"Miss Broiler! Miss Fryer! Miss Roaster! Miss Caponette! Miss Stewer! And Old Mother Hen!"---and then forms a kickline with them right there on the soundstage. Julia, you old vaudevillian, you're a show girl at heart. How could I approach raw chicken with anything but a light heart, after seeing that?

One of the best Julia Child moments is her lesson on flipping a potato pancake. The trick, she says to the camera, is to have CONVICTION. Without conviction, your flip will fail. She then picks up the pan to demonstrate, and jerking the pan a little less resolutely than you had pictured she would do, she messes up. "See," she says pointedly. "I didn't have conviction...that was my problem." Who's gonna argue? Julia goes for take two, sets her sights on the pan, grips it firmly, and this time you can see the determination flaring her nostrils. UP! She bounces the potato pancake and it perfects an Olympian somersault, landing squarely in the pan. "THERE!" she exhales, satisfied. "I had conviction!"

I have only seen pictures of Julia Child when she was middle-aged and matronly. So I was surprised when I found the photo below, of Julia at the age of 23 in 1936. Wowee! Those aren't chicken legs.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dr. Who

I was reading in the latest issue of The Atlantic about the return of the British hit TV show "Dr. Who." It has gone through various incarnations over the years, and the current guy playing Dr. Who is the eleventh one. I have never seen the original series, which broadcast in 1963, but after reading about the theme song for the original, I was intrigued, and had to look it up on YouTube. This is how James Parker describes the theme in his article:

"Composed in 1963 by Ron Grainer, the score was handed over to the dreamers and techies of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, where a futurist named Delia Derbyshire did some serious time travel with it: oscillator banks, multitracking, filtered white noise, the works. ("Did I write that?" Grainer is said to have asked upon hearing the finished article. "Most of it," Derbyshire replied.) A galloping heavy-metal bass line preyed upon by E-minor zoomings of electronic melody, it sounds like a nervous breakdown in the middle of a flying saucer attack. It sounds like Hawkwind performing Gustav Holst's "Mars," the Bringer of War."

I think it sounds cool as hell.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Burn Barrel

Holy smoke. This is the way I remember it. How ours looked, in the back yard, behind the elm tree, next to the alley. A burn barrel. My brother Marc reminded me recently, that we used to burn our trash. It was his job for awhile. I think I remember the way it smelled. Did we have a burn barrel like this, or am I just blowing smoke out my bottom?

Friday, October 29, 2010


Allen Ginsberg in 1953, photographed in NYC by William S. Burroughs

Last Sunday, Roger and I went to see Howl. A movie about a poem? Sweet. A movie about a beatnik poem? Sweetness raised to the power of e. Allen Ginsberg wrote the poem Howl in 1955, and more importantly, he performed it for the first time on October 7th, my birthday, 8 years before I was born.

The movie opens with a black and white shot of that poetry reading, at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. Ginsberg is horn-rimmed and geeky, but energized by the enthusiastic crowd. The room is filled with smoke. But it's 1955, so the hipsters who are digging his poem are still dressed pretty conservatively, and it's only their zeal for his edgy verse that reveals their anti-establishment leanings.

Ginsberg is howling in the poem for Carl Solomon, his dadaist/surrealist friend who had admitted himself to a mental institution and had undergone shock treatments.

Ginsberg starts his poem,

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix;
Angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection
to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.

In other scenes, Ginsberg putters around his apartment smoking and making tea, as he talks about poetry, writing, his father and mother, the so-called Beat movement, his friendship with Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, his homosexuality, and his relationship with Peter Orvlosky. The conversation comes from transcripts of an actual interview Ginsberg gave in 1957. It was interesting to hear him say he spent a lot of time diddling around as a writer; that the moments when he broke through to some truth were infrequent. And that he had worried about what his dad would think if he read some of his stuff.

The most dramatic moments of the film occured during scenes of the court trial that decided Howl's fate. Shortly after the poem was printed in 1957, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, owner of the City Lights book store and publisher of Howl, was brought up on obscenity charges. The lawyers for both sides brought in "expert" witnesses, mostly college professors, who either argued that the poem had no literary value, or argued that it did. Ultimately, the judge ruled that literary merit was a subjective thing, and that living in a free society meant that people should be free to print and read poetry that contained a few naughty words. The naughty words: a few slang terms referring to female and male genitalia, and references to sexual acts, both straight and gay.

A footnote at the end of the movie said that the publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, is still a co-owner of the City Lights Book Store in San Francisco. Wowee. He's like 91 now.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts of Howl:

who wandered around and around at midnight in the railroad yard
wondering where to go, and went, leaving no broken hearts,
who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing through snow

toward lonesome farms in grandfather night,
who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy

and bop kabbalah because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas,
who loned it through the streets of Idaho

seeking visionary indian angels who were visionary indian angels,
who thought they were only mad when Baltimore gleamed in supernatural ecstasy,
who jumped in limousines with the Chinaman of Oklahoma

on the impulse of winter midnight streetlight smalltown rain,
who lounged hungry and lonesome through Houston

seeking jazz or sex or soup,
and followed the brilliant Spaniard to converse about America and Eternity,
a hopeless task, and so took ship to Africa,
who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico

leaving behind nothing but the shadow of dungarees
and the lava and ash of poetry scattered in fireplace Chicago,

ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe,
and now you’re really in the total animal soup of time—
and who therefore ran through the icy streets

obsessed with a sudden flash of the alchemy
of the use of the ellipsis catalogue a variable measure and the vibrating plane,
who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space through images juxtaposed,

and trapped the archangel of the soul between 2 visual images
and joined the elemental verbs and set the noun and dash of consciousness
together jumping with sensation of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus
to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose

and stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame,
rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head,
the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown,

yet putting down here what might be left to say in time come after death,
and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz

in the goldhorn shadow of the band
and blew the suffering of America’s naked mind for love
into an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophone cry
that shivered the cities down to the last radio

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Two Yards of Tiger-Striped Fleece

craft stores
swollen warts across the nation
festering with glues, glitter, fun foam
and bolts!
so many bolts of fabric and no way to buy it
it took me 45 minutes to buy two yards of tiger-striped material
I timed it
I knew exactly where the bolt was
I'd been in the store twice before --that same day
always, the line at the cutting table was too long for me to stay
only one lady at the cutting table ONE LADY!
lone cutting lady
hire some more people!
re-allocate your staff!!
mother of mercy!!!
should it be this hard to buy fabric?????????

they wore me down
probably only needed one yard
but I bought two
just to make sure i never ever had to come back

45 minutes from start to finish
I had bee-lined to the bolt of tiger-striped fleece
I'd already caressed twice before that day
Annabelle is going as a Tomahawk Tiger for Halloween
I took a number and joined the line
NUMBER 44!!!
a voice called out
my number was 57

Jo-Ann Fabrics is bursting at the seams
obese with inventory
it used to be a quiet store of manageable size
I could see the back of the store from the front door
then it moved
and merged with some craft retailer
and now it's big box hell
a behemoth with miles of aisles
workers running around re-stocking shelves
for the scrapbookers
and no one to cut fabric
you're a frickin' fabric store!!!
for the love!!!
cutting fabric should be your mission

plenty of room at the table
to arm three matrons with scissors
but no
keep old Agnes overworked and let the customers stack up like refugees at the railway
clutching our bolts as if they were all we could grab from our home at the last minute
scowling when Agnes seems too chatty and breezy with the customers ahead of us

the voice of Moloch calling out
NUMBER 48 is being served
you call this service?

I wandered the store, browsing fussy domesticities I didn't want
stencils, ribbons, raffia
walked the aisle of 1000 paints
what happened to the quaint corner
of sewing notions?
little packages of ric-rac
thimbles bobbins
so restful to the eye
ah, that was back at the old store

here, the shelves teem and shout
or is that my number they're shouting?
57! 57!
I'm here, I'm here!
I push aside a shopper in my way
The voice of Moloch.

I hurl myself to the cutting counter.
"I'm 57!" I rasp.

I am desperate.

Oh, Agnes, of hoary hands
Take mine cloth and cut.
She does, admiring the tiger fleece.
"This will keep them warm," she says.
No, it won't.
I can't sew. Am not sewing a whole tiger outfit here.
Despite the insane amount of yardage.
Only a tiger skirt and tail.
And maybe some fleece for the arms.
But I need margin for error.
And I need to never set eyes on this cutting table again!
So cut me two whole yards!
Besides, it's on sale.

Agnes hands me my tidy two yards and a cutting slip.
A cutting slip.
A cutting slip.
Take it to the register.
Where would that be? At the end of that roped-off maze over there,
the end of another line.
Go. Stand. Wait. Weep.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I Wanna Live In Robot Town

Oh, if only I could weld....the robots I might create. Random metals are a wonderful thing, when they are brought together into anthropomorphic shapes. The first robot I ever loved was probably the big boxy one that stood outside the Arlington Motor Inn in my home town. An incongruous bit of whimsy in a town that was determinedly un-whimsical.

I had a metal collection for while, when I lived in Miami. On walks I would pick up odd bits of metal and take them home. Soon my collection outgrew its silver spray-painted cigar box and I moved them to a shirt box, placing them on a strip of green felt with sparkles, scavenged from a Christmas decoration. Enough metal to make a table-top robot. But I didn't have the skills.

Homemade robots made from assorted metals have an endearing quality that is part human and part retro sci-fi industrial, and I have long held that clunky robots are the best form of outdoor art. Baker Medlock, a local artist, is doing his part. He makes robots from found metal objects and has brought to life five large robots who stare out at passers-by from his yard. But Medlock knows this is not enough. He dreams of a wide-scale robotization of the KC landscape, and I applaud his vision.

He says,

“I’d love to donate some to parks and boulevards. Put out robots all over. I’m just lacking the space and the equipment. I’d like to get Kansas City known for bad robots, man.”

Bad robots. That's what I want!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Kerouac Haikus

And now it's time for more Haikus by Jack Kerouac

The cow taking a big
dreamy crap, turning
to look at me

Quietly pouring coffee
in the afternoon,
How pleasant!

A quiet moment
low lamp, low logs---
Just cooking the stew

Looking up to see
the airplane
I only saw the TV aerial

The little worm
lowers itself from the roof
By a self shat thread

Ship paint
an old T-shirt

Think of this one when you get caught without an umbrella:

The bottoms of my shoes
are clean
From walking in the rain

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Day Of My Increasing Power

I went to Revocup today, since it's my birthday and ordered a LARGE soy chai latte. They have a fortune-telling 8 ball on the counter. I shook it, and it said, "Without a doubt." I forgot that I was supposed to ask it a question first. But this is better. Now I can craft my questions any way I want, so that the answer is "Without a doubt." Which is how it should be for the birthday girl.

Is today my birthday? Without a doubt. Do I look half my age? Without a doubt. Are people born in October more special than other people? Without a doubt. Am I exciting and stimulating to all who encounter me? Without a doubt. Am I becoming more physically attractive with each passing year? Without a doubt. Am I an undiscovered genius, unappreciated in her own time? Without a doubt. Am I too wonderful and rare and unique to be expected to play by society's rules? Without a doubt.

I do feel special today. Without a doubt, this day shines with significance. My sister Suzanne said in an e-mail that I'd made yet another trip around the sun. I like that. I've made 47 revolutions around the sun, on this earth ride. How many more to go? Once I leave this sun orbit, is it possible I'll move on to another star and begin a new orbit? No one really knows. The whole set-up--being born, watching our bodies change, wear out, then leaving again--is surreal. I think of babies as arriving with these huge souls that have to be squashed down into their squirmy, infant bodies. Or more likely, the human body can't possibly contain our souls. People talk about having an out-of-body experience, in which they are aware they have bodies but are separated from them. I think of our human existence as an out-of-soul experience. We spend our whole lives trying to get back to it. Once in awhile, something makes me feel like I'm back in my soul, before I pop out again.

Tucked away in some file, I have a certificate of recognition, given to me on this day. A certificate just for agreeing to come here! Everyone gets one when they come. Some people even get a gold foil stamped seal. Mine was issued in 1963 and looks like it was created using some crude microfilm technology. The paper is thin and fragile and the crucial facts are recorded in white text on a black background. Certificate of Live Birth, it says.

Wouldn't it be interesting if the certificate marked our entrance in astronomical terms? "This document certifies that the earth being named Simone commenced her first solar orbit within the Galaxy known as The Milky Way on the 280th day of the earth's rotation, October 7, 1963, which is henceforth to be known as the Day of Her Increasing Power.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Ruby Or Iridescent Cough Drop?

This weekend it really felt like fall outside. So I was in the mood for this song, which to me, goes along with autumn weather and changing leaves. Kristen Hersh has said the song was inspired by the time her kid found a cough drop in the back seat of the car and said, "Is this a ruby?!!"

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Times They Are October'n

Ah, October, my favorite month.

This morning I drove Annabelle to her Strings class. She is learning to play "America" on her viola. On Fridays the Strings students meet at 7:00 am at Corinth School, then they are bussed back to Tomahawk. On the way to Corinth, she asked me if it was October. "Yes, it's October 1st!" I said gaily. She said she liked October. "What do you like about it?" I asked. She replied, "Tornadoes are rare."

Upon my prompting, she added that she also liked the way October smelled--it smelled like fall--and there was Halloween to look forward to.

After dropping her off, I continued on to a coffee shop. I take advantage of the ungodly hour of Friday morning Strings to hole up somewhere and write. The barista this morning is friendly, and reveals himself to be a kindred soul. You just never know where these people are going to turn up. He's going to Chicago soon to study literature. I asked him what type of literature he liked. He mentioned several things, including Dostoevsky, which I've never read, but probably should. He recommended "The Idiot." But he also said he liked contemporary philosophers. Who they? I asked. Who counts as a contemporary philosopher? He said you had to look for them, because most renowned philosophers of the past weren't really recognized until after they were dead. THEN he said he liked a lot of the Beatnik stuff. Well, I about died. He said he's obsessed with that and Bob Dylan. Well, shut my mouth. He is very young, and it's good to know someone born after 1980 can dig such 20th century relics.

He was in control of the coffee shop's soundtrack this morning, and it was Bob Dylan all the way. All manner and types of Bob Dylan, from scruffy folk tunes like "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" to the electrified wailing of "Idiot Wind," to his more wizened stuff of late.

What a fantastic way to start off October! It reminds me, I must download more Bob Dylan on my little Nokia music phone.

Now that brings me to another subject. Last week Roger showed me that I could plug my music phone into his external Ipod speakers--a big step up from my phone's speakers, which are the size of a stub of pencil lead. I was like, "This is great! This is awesome!" He pointed out how strange it is that now we are excited if we can play our little digital music files on something besides an ear bud. Yet 20 years ago, we were listening to our music on big-ass speakers. And I thought, "That is messed up." With all the advances in technology, what have we really gained? Yes, we have incredible access to hundreds of songs at the touch of a button, and we can take our music anywhere. But---we're listening to it through these little tinny speakers. WTF. Someday, so help me, when we have more living space, I am going to go vinyl. I am going to listen to albums again on big-ass speakers. We have our old stereo and turntable, but it's tucked away in the bedroom, and there is no place to put my old lps, except in the hot upstairs area. All those Bob Dylan albums, warping. Sigh.

Blood on the Tracks was the 2nd record album I ever bought. The first was Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I had heard Sgt. Pepper's at Michele's, through headphones, and was mesmerized, especially by "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite". I bought Blood on the Tracks because I had heard so much about Bob Dylan, and was determined to discover what all the fuss was about. The first few listens didn't enlighten me. Then, with each rotation, I started hearing more and more things I liked--the unique character of Dylan's voice, the excellent guitar-harmonica-organ instrumentals. And finally, I got it.

I still remember those first two albums, Blood and Sgt. Pepper's, the pioneers in my collection, and how lonely they looked, leaning against the wall in my upstairs bedroom. I didn't even have a stereo on which to play them. Laura still occupied the downstairs bedroom, and wasn't keen on me going down there to use the record player. Ha! She wasn't keen --that's putting it mildly! She thrashed me senseless when she discovered I'd snuck down there while she was out partying with her friends. That record player was old and outdated anyway, so I knew I had to find the money somehow, to buy a stereo. But how? Where? There was only one place in town I knew of, and even though both Michele and Laura had warned me against it, I trotted down to the Dairy Bar one fall day and asked Frances G. for a job. And that was how I earned the $200 I needed to buy the cheap Sound Design stereo set that I took to college with me. Music has always been a great motivator for me.

By the time I left for KU, I had amassed a substantial collection of lps, both 60's/70's stuff, like the Beatles and Dylan, and new wave bands, like Split Enz and Squeeze. When mom protested about how many albums I wanted to transport to Lawrence, via the back seat of the car, I cried, "These are my life!" Maybe a little dramatic, but I felt they absolutely were the thing that sustained me.

So here I am now, a middle-aged woman, content, or maybe resigned, to listening to music through a speaker the size of a tin can. Too busy to download music onto my phone, too preoccupied to discover new bands. That's okay I guess --I probably don't need music filling my head constantly, like I did when I was a teenager. I'm listening to other things now --the voices of my kids, Garrison Keillor, and what is sometimes the most blissful of all --the sound of silence.

But hearing all that Bob Dylan this morning was a very happy thing --a sign that October has already started working its magic! That and the lack of tornadoes.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Little Plates

Sunny Madrid

The mother of one of Annabelle's friends just got back from a trip to Madrid, Spain. She said there is a completely different culture and mindset at work there. They are not as work-obsessed as we Americans. She said that everyone takes at least an hour for lunch during the work day. And everyone drinks wine at lunch. Everyone. And then they all take naps. Some lie down in the park for their nap, others snooze in their cars. And they eat dinner late. Like at 9:00 or 10:00, or much later. Before that, they snack on tapas.

Oh my gosh, what a culture shock this would be. I just don't know if I could HANDLE it. Ha ha ha.

Tapas with wine sounds good at 3:00 in the morning.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Overheard At The Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Artist's rendering of the Phoenix landing on Mars

Found in cyberspace: a live chat log from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), recorded on May 25, 2008, before the Phoenix spacecraft landed on Mars as part of the Mars Scout Program.

Here are questions that visitors to the chat room asked, with occasional answers from JPL people. Why the mention of peanuts? It's a long-standing tradition at the JPL to eat peanuts before a landing for good luck.

What is the expected lifespan of the lander?

Will the first solar array images show any part of the surface?

How precise did the MERs and Pathfinder land with respect to their precalculated landing ellipses?

Is JPL a circus yet?

Where are the peanuts?! :)

I hear there may be a rough landing

JPL: yer, if you land on a big rock, it's going to hurt

Is the trajectory now set in stone, or is a final correction possible?

JPL: Its all on its own now. Last chance for a trajectory change was this morning.

A friend has asked me if its true they used cork in the manufacturing of the heat shield? Any ideas?

JPL: there is cork

I think cork was really used

Cork was mentioned in one of the NASA videos

JPL: Loonyman, yes cork is used on the heatshield. Now this is really special cork, and this cork is what's going to protect us from the violent atmospheric entry that we're about...

Is it possible for SSI to capture some astronomical images of the Earth, Phobos, stars? Do they plan to do this?

Is there any corrective maneuver that can be done during the thruster powered descent to detect and avoid large boulders or steep slopes?

JPL: No, it just lands. Its luck where it ends up

Is the champagne chilling, just in case Phoenix discovers life?

Will any images be returned by Phoenix as it descends to the Martian surface?

JPL: Unmanned Spaceflight had some news about MRO attempting to capture Phoenix EDL images. No promises.

Will you be eating peanuts during EDL? (Estimated landing)

And if the answer is yes, what type?

Everyone with peanuts in the shell for luck, crack one. Crack.

What's the peanut reference?

Josh: Go buy peanuts RIGHT NOW and start eating. :)

I understand that detecting life is not part of the Phoenix mission, but is there the possibility that during the sample analysis that life could be detected?

Like cells?

JPL: Yes, it has a powerful microscope

Josh, you MUST have some peanuts !! It's a superstition! :-)

I wonder how hard the wind blows

Thanks for the liveblog, it's really interesting to listen to (first-year undergrad in UK)

Compared to the other mars landing sites we've seen, how bland do you think the phoenix site will be?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Dirty Water

This is one of my favorite songs from the 60's. We had the 45 when I was a kid. I listened to it in the basement again and again. It fascinated me. The lead singer was sassy. "Down by the river....down by the banks of the river Charles...." I pictured people hanging out near a gritty riverfront, not caring if the water was dirty or their clothes were dirty. Even as a young naif, the punk sensibility resonated with me. I sensed something was being expressed that was of value to me --the future me, that I would understand more when I got older.

These guys are doing a lousy job of lip-synching, but it doesn't seem like they care too much.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Gleesome Gladness

Ninety-seven years ago today was the first day of the first "official" Kansas State Fair, held on September 13 -20, 1913.

The Old Mill, or Ye Olde Mill, made its debut two years later, at the 1915 fair. It promised to take fair-goers through "gloomy caves of gleesome gladness". I can't figure out what that means.

The Old Mill has been spruced up. When I was a kid I remember it as looking more run-down and creaky.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


A muse painted by Jean-Marc Nattier in 1798

Last week, I was running over land and hillock with my muse. Once we get a good pace going, she just won't let up. She runs me ragged.

She came to me last weekend to help me with this writing contest I wanted to enter. I am grateful she showed up. But she jerked me around a lot. Had me taking off in one direction, then stop, and go another way.

The contest deadline was this past Friday. I submitted my entry in the wee hours Friday morning. I'd been working on it all week. Last Sunday, I was still struggling to get started, to gain a foothold. I went to the Broadway Cafe to brainstorm and bounce ideas off myself. There is something about the Broadway Cafe that makes me feel awake and connected. I have a favorite table in the window. I feel like I can think creatively there. Maybe it's because they play the best music. Stuff I've never heard before. A few times I've asked them what cd they were playing, then walked right down the hill to Streetside Records and bought it. That's how I discovered the Beck "Mutations" cd.

I was sitting in the window, jotting down ideas in a little book, scooping foam off my cappuccino... I started noticing that the music was really good. I sat back and soaked it in. Liquidy guitar, ambient electronics, a warm backdrop of strings--magical. The singer's voice was understated and floaty. I forgot about writing and just listened, drifting on a cloud of happiness. That's when I felt my muse sidle up next to me and tell me that she was going to be hanging around for awhile, so not to worry, it would all come together. I offered her a latte but she declined. My muse is not necessarily always a woman, but this time she was. Like a sharper, more with-it version of myself.

I eventually had to leave my cozy spot, but I know my muse was still with me. Little sparks were going off in my brain. There were ideas to get down. I had walked down the hill to my car, but then I turned around and went back to the Broadway Cafe. I asked one of the baristas the name of the cd they had been playing before. It was Radiohead's cd "In Rainbows." I went back down the hill, stopped in at Streetside Records, where they were selling it for $10.00, and I bought it.

Later on, at home, I began typing, trying to string some ideas together. A few false starts, but gradually the odd bits began to take a discernable shape.

It's always when things are starting to gel that my muse starts getting crazed--jealous of my time, wanting me to do nothing but write, write, write. All the routine obligations of an ordinary day become unbearable to her. No time to wash dishes! You have something much more important to do than cook! Forget about those bills. Bah! Your children will keep. Your man is a big boy. Let it all go to hell! Grab your laptop and tell the rest of the world to bug off!

So I neglect everything and everybody. No supper for the kids. They could make themselves ramen noodles. I'm typing and thinking. Typing, revising...I think I'm about finished, but my muse just laughs. "Don't kid yourself! You're getting warm, but you still haven't found it yet. That's still not IT! No, that just won't do. You have to completely throw a huge chunk of that out. Come on, no, not that way, this way.....hurry, hurry! It's over here!! And we're off and running, chasing down an idea, pouncing on it, until we choke the life out of it, which she blames me for...."ahh, you killed it!" Then it's off and running again. "Keep going, keep going!" she shrills.

People talk to me and can see by my eyes that I'm some place else. I'm off in some other world, exploring its scenery. My muse pushes me the whole time I'm in this world, and won't let me leave until she's satisfied, or is bored with me and wants to move on to something else. By the time she finally bails and disappears, I have something for the contest. And I also have a stash of new ideas I might be able to use for future projects. I'm glad my muse came to visit. But she's so all-consuming, it's good to have a break, and get back to washing the dishes.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dung Beetle

I am excited. Have you heard about the car that runs on turds? Actually, it runs on methane gas generated by turds. Soon we can shit all we want and have it put to good use. Hooray! Talk about sustainable, this is one energy source we Americans will never run short of.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What Ambrose Bierce Thinks Of Custard

"A detestable substance produced by the malevolent conspiracy of the hen, the cow and the cook."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

They Trust The Monkeys

Maybe the problem isn't that we have too many distractions in our lives, but that they aren't well-placed. Like, where are those lifesize holograms my dentist promised me were on the way? He said he'd have them up and working by this summer. Well, I go to get my teeth cleaned today, and still no holograms. I could have really used one. The hygenist was playing this delicate classical music. Now I love classical music, but when someone is digging at your gums you need some competing stimuli that is jabbier than the hygeniest's fork. The harp twinkling sweetly over the speaker did me no good. So I had to work extra hard to take the softness of that harp and turn it into a mental image of Harpo Marx. This is where a hologram of Harpo cradling his harp and grinning at me would have come in handy. But no, I had to hold this picture in my mind on my own.

My mental Harpo never tired, and I watched him mug and roll his eyes for quite some time. But then I started thinking that a better distraction would be monkeys. If I could have seen holographic monkeys perched on top of the arm of the x-ray machine, showing their teeth and performing antics, I would have forgotten about my own teeth completely.

This brings to mind a trip to the Omaha Zoo the Girl Scouts of Tomahawk Elementary will be taking in a few weeks. They're going to be spending time in the monkey pit. The monkeys, I am told, are running around out in the open. They come up and touch you. The zookeepers allow this. They trust the monkeys. But the monkeys like to jump you, and if you don't watch out, you end up with a monkey on your back! The trick is to shake them loose, but we all know how hard that can be. Good luck, Troop 1985. Perhaps there will be a badge in it for you.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Whirling Danish

I want to open a coffee shop called The Whirling Danish. I would serve mystic pastries and coffee. On hand would be a couple of plate spinners to perform the ritualistic whirling of the food and drink, rotating them in harmony with the universal rhythm that keeps all things balanced between the material and cosmic worlds.

Why danish? Because it's time for danish to make a come back, I think. They were big in the 60's. Then it was donuts. Then bagels. Then muffins. Lately cupcakes. But the time has come for the danish to re-emerge from the shadows. "How 'bout a nice danish to go with that coffee?" Such comforting words. I'm ready to live in a world where people are saying this to one another.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Curious Jar of Floating Mystery

I wrestled with the question only briefly, as I sat waiting for the vet. Should I ask him about that jar sitting on the counter? Yes, of course I should. I had been staring at its murky contents for the last fifteen minutes, while the vet was with my dog in another room. I had a right to know what was inside it!

The jar looked out of place next to two big glass canisters chock full of tongue depressors and cotton balls. The glass canisters were impeccably clean, inspiring confidence. But the curious jar looked like some dowdy stepsister next to those gleaming vessels. It was squat, and the lid was a giveaway that it was a pickle jar. A pickle jar full of dirty liquid, with something floating inside.

I had seen jars like it before. When I worked at New York Medical College, I would sometimes pass down a back hallway in the rear of the building, and along one wall was a dusty shelf upon which sat several jars full of brown and yellow water, containing pieces of tissue that resembled small curled-up pigs.

Now, face to face with another unidentified floating object, I was sure I was looking at some sort of nasty speciman. Though I felt weirdly afraid of getting "caught" I got up and walked over to the counter to peer more closely at the jar. The thing inside was the color of raw chicken, and it looked squashed against the glass. Its purpose was just as puzzling to me as the purpose of those creepy jars at New York Medical College. What the hell was it and why was the vet keeping it here?

That is the question I was going to ask. Oh yes indeedy. Was going to ask it. But then the vet brought Cheri in and started talking all doctory at me, and it slipped my mind. But believe you me, I am going to find out. Or get Roger to find out for me next time he goes.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

High Altitude Test Kitchen

What must it be like working in those high altitude test kitchens? When I see the High Altitude directions on the back of a cake box, I picture a woman in a tall tower on top of a mountain, wearing an apron and mixing up batter. She cooks her experimental cake on a small propane oven, and radios her findings down to a control station on the ground below.

"You're gonna need an extra 3 tablespoons of flour, an extra egg, and an additional one quarter cup of oil for that devil's food recipe," she says into her walkie talkie.

Then she wraps a scarf around her head, and climbs down the tower, her heels clacking on the metal stairs. All in a day's work.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

As Vichyssoise Season Winds Down

We nearly screamed for ice cream last Friday at the ice cream social held at Annabelle's school. Five hundred families trying to squeeze into the grade school cafeteria, all for a dollop of ice cream. Mind-numbing. I have a better idea for a fund-raiser: Parents pay $2.00 a head in exchange for not having to go to the ice cream social. Ha, ha. The parents could even buy insurance, to protect against ever having to attend another school ice cream social again.

Last Saturday, we took Cheri to Young's pool for something called the Pooch Plunge. The pool was opened to dogs from 9:00 to 11:00 am. We saw dogs paddling, splashing, swimming with tennis balls in their mouths. One dog jumped off the low diving board and went ker-splash right into the water! Not our Cheri. She huddled next to the fence, as far away from the water and the other dogs as she could get. She wasn't having any of it. The only time she goes into the water is if we go in first. But no humans are allowed in the Pooch Plunge. So doggie no budgee. We finally gave up and took her for a walk in the park nearby.

On Sunday, Lilah and I were looking for something to do, and we decided to go to the library to look for cookbooks, so we could try a new recipe together. While we were browsing I said, "Hey, why don't we make vichyssoise?" Lilah has been trying to get me to take her to Cafe Provence, saying that their vichyssoise, which she loves, is only served in the summertime. My low-budget idea was that we try to make our own. So we checked out a book called "Glorious French Food: A fresh approach to the classics." We drove straight from the library to the store to pick up the ingredients: leeks, potatoes, chicken broth, chives and heavy cream.

Preparing the leeks was the hard part. We couldn't figure out how to cut them from reading the instructions in the book, so we watched a demonstration on YouTube. The leeks made our eyes water and sting as bad or worse than onions. I chewed a piece of bread as I sliced them, which is supposed to help, and stuck tissues inside my glasses. Between the tissues and my teary eyes, I could barely see what I was doing.

We didn't have 6 hours to let the soup cool, so we had to use the speed-chill method, which meant putting the soup pot in a big bowl of ice water, and stirring it every few minutes , to keep it from forming a skin. You don't want skin on your vichyssoise!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bathroom Relics

You know how some people have ointment tubes and medicine jars in their bathroom cabinets that have been there for decades? You can tell by the package design that the item hails from a time when nurses still wore white dresses and cute, triangular hats. The metal lid has rust around the edge. The cream inside has solidified. Yet they don't throw it out. Resting in the shadows between Q-tips and corn pads, it has taken on the gravitas of a family motif, a fixed indicator of their collective identity and medical history. The children in the family have grown accustomed to bumping into that crusted old bottle of Doan's Pill's whenever they retrieve a Band-aid. Years later, the sight of Doans Pill's will trigger a wave of nostalgia for them.

I don't have any over-the-counter relics gathering dust and significance in my bathroom cabinet. The closest I can come is this little green tin of Doctor Burt's skin ointment. I have had it for probably 7 years --more than half the kids' lives. Annabelle asks for it from time to time, when she has bug bites. "Where is that green container with the man on it?"she says. Perhaps years from now the scruffy visage on this tin will be one that hurtles her back into the dimlit corridor of some childhood memory.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Doggie Gone It

This morning before work I had to drop our pooch off at Camp Bow Wow for boarding, because my plane for Vermont leaves tomorrow at 6:00 am, and there is not enough time to drive her down to Olathe after work tonight.

Cheri was excited about seeing the people there, but when the owner tried to lead her through the partition into the doggie area, she balked. She braced herself and refused to budge. When I tried to pick her up, she lay down. The owner coaxed her and sweet-talked her, but she just lay there inert. We finally had to slide her across the floor through the partition.

Poor thing! I felt bad having to send her off that way. I hope she'll be alright. Will make some doggie friends and not feel too abandoned. She has been to Camp Bow Wow before. She used to love going. I took her a few times last summer, just for the day, and she'd pull eagerly on her leash to get to the front door, and wag her tail like mad when we went inside. Though she is shy around other dogs, and would start out by hiding under the play equipment, the staff reported that after a few hours, she'd warm up and spend the rest of the day playing her little heart out with some puppy or other. But ever since the first time we actually boarded her for the night, she is no longer a fan of the place.

Maybe she'll be too busy to miss us too much. Camp Bow Wow has several indoor and outdoor play areas, where the dogs play and stay active all day. By evening they are pooped, and sleep a lot. Hang in there Cheri, we're coming back! I told her that repeatedly in the car this morning, as we zoomed through rush hour traffic on I-35. I sang her a little song, ","On the seventh day, we will come back for you ....on the seventh day, we will come back for you.....will come back to youuuuu....oooooooo....coming back for you..."

She just stared out the window. It was bad enough that the rest of the family bailed on Monday, leaving me as her only source of attention. But now I was deserting her too. She knew, when she first saw the kids dragging out the suitcases, it would come to this.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Espresso Martini

Last Saturday night the girls and I went out to hear Roger play with CoCo Trio at the Intercontinental, a fancy schamncy hotel on the Plaza. I made a point of going to hear CoCo Trio because Stephanie, the female singer of the group, was nice enough to invite us to a party back in January, in which they stuffed us silly with exquisite food. The gathering was quite small, just a few people affiliated with the band, but they had a truckload of food. It was well-prepared, gourmet food that Stephanie's husband Paul had prepared. He's a real foodie, and is especially adventurous with meat. That night he served ostrich. Little cubes of brown meat that looked like steak.

So the kids and I were sitting in this nice hotel lounge, listening to the band. I ordered Shirley Temples for them and an Espresso Martini for me. I'd had one there years ago, and never forgot it. It looks like muddy creek water, but it's good.

The girls got maraschino cherries with stems in their drinks. So naturally, Lilah and I had to try tying the stems in a knot, inside our mouth. It's something we do, when we get maraschino cherries with stems. My friend Rick, whom I knew back at KU, was the first person I met who could pull such a feat. He demonstrated his skill in Perkins --repeatedly. I chalked it up to him being freakishly talented and good at everything, like making well-crafted and creative projects for design class, putting clothes together, having good taste...of course he would be good at this.

I forgot all about the cherry stem trick, and then several years ago, I'd heard about someone who also possessed this ability. I was amazed. I really thought maybe Rick was the only one who could do it.

Well, one day I got a drink that had a cherry stem. I looked down at the stem, and then the most amazing thing happened to me. All of a sudden, I knew how to tie a cherry stem into a knot inside my mouth. I can't tell you how I knew, I just knew, as if the knowledge I had been downloaded into my brain. If you've ever seen the Matrix, it was like when Neo knew Jujitsu. I knew! And I knew I knew. I stuck the stem into my mouth, manipulated it with my tongue and teeth, and voila! --successfully produced a knot.

From that point on, it became my parlour trick, though usually performed in bars and restaurants. I always wanted people to see the knot, so they would believe me, which meant holding up a slimy, wilted stem that had been gummed a few too many times.

I have had some failures. I can't do it if people are making me laugh, or if the cherry stem is too short. When Lilah started trying to tie knots in cherry stems too, she agreed that a longer stem was preferred.

Well, there in the Oak Room at the Intercontinental, Lilah and I worked on our stems. But mine was one of those pesky short ones. I don't think it was even a full inch long. So imagine my pride when I spit the stem out into my mouth and saw that yes, I had tied it into a knot.

It was quite an achievement! I held out the stem in the palm of my hand to show the girls. I put it on the table next to my martini. Sipped my martini smugly. How many people sitting around me could do that? Certainly not that deeply tanned, platinum blonde woman wearing the tiara and pink banner that suggested she had won some sort of contest, probably at her country club.

I slipped the stem into my purse. I wanted to hang onto it. Maybe I'll look at it once in a while, when I need to be inspired.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Trampled Underfoot

We nearly were. Roger and I went out Tuesday night to hear a blues band that he's heard people raving about. They were playing at B B's Lawnside Barbecue. There ain't no lawn though. Just a red brick rectangle in a beaten-down part of town, next to a used car lot. They do have a little wood deck out front for fresh air fiends.

When we pulled up, the parking lot was overflowing. The guy at the door said it was standing room only. I hesitated, unsure I was ready to endure a sea of bodies and a frazzled waitstaff that would be e'er squeezing past me, but too swamped to fetch me a beer. Roger was willing to go to Jardines instead, to see the Beach Nuts, a really good surf and retro Americana band. We had been torn between the two choices anyway. But then I heard a female voice pouring out of B'B's, all gutsy and soulful. And I thought, "Am I gonna pass this up?" Hearing live blues in a dive with an enthusiastic crowd is part of what I signed up for, when I joined this earth ride. So we paid the cover and went inside.

There was barely any place to stand. We were wedged in front of someone's table, blocking their view. I wondered about the fire code. And I was right about not getting any beer.

The band was aptly named Trampled Underfoot, and they were not what you'd expect from a well-reputed blues band that had traveled around Europe and won international competitions. They were young, in their 20's, two brothers and their sister, with the last name of Schnebelen. Both the brothers looked clean cut in a way that seemed incongruous with the gritty groove they were putting down. The drummer could have been a computer store clerk. The guitarist wore a clean white cotton shirt and gel-touseled hair. But these guys played honest-to-goodness blues with no grandstanding. They played like they had studied the greats who had come before them.
Danielle, their sister, played bass and belted out a blues that seemed beyond her years. She seemed unconcerned about anything but the music. She let the long waves of her unkempt hair fall across her face, and either wasn't wearing make-up, or had sweated it all off.

Here's a fun fact about the band: both Danielle and her brother the guitarist play left-handed.

We finally got seats during the break, at one of the long tables covered with red-checked oilcloth. The seating makes the place feel like a noisy indoor picnic, or an uncomfortable family reunion where you don't know a soul. At last I was able to order a Boulevard Pale Ale.

The last song we heard was a metal number, "Rock and Roll" by Led Zeppelin. The band wailed with righteous rock energy, stirring the crowd. One shaggy-haired dude raised his tatooed arm, his hand fisted high in solidarity. After that we left. The moon was up and glowing yellow as we turned and headed west for the state line.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Excellent Junkyard Egyptian West-Bottomed Patty-Melted Weekend

Last Friday evening Roger and I went to the Nelson to see the new Egyptian exhibit. We saw an actual mummy, and an unbelievable sarcophagus, that has been very well preserved. It was decorated with colorful painted images (at left).

We drifted through the museum until it closed at 9:00. Then we went to see Micmacs à Tire-Larigot, (Non-stop shenanigans), a French movie that was very quirky and funny.

The movie isn't for everyone, as its looniness gets out of control and very far-fetched at times, but I loved the originality of it. And the junkyard, where the main characters lived. (See below).

Here we see Slammer and Bazil, at the door which leads down to a fabulous cavern underneath the junkyard, where the walls are entirely covered with odd scraps of metal.

Saturday morning I met Marc for coffee at Crossroads Coffee. It used to be Coffee Girls, but Coffee Girls relocated to Waldo. I think this was the first time either of us had been to the place since it changed ownership. We both noticed it lacked the coziness it had had before. The interior seemed like an empty shell, without the personal touches that had made Coffee Girls feel inviting. And on top of that, there was a long table with a lot of loud men yakking away. Just completely ruined the atmosphere. Felt more like we were in a cafeteria.

After we we finished our coffee, we went over to the West Bottoms, to go to a thrift/vintage clothing store named Reruns. The store is in an old, old red brick building from Kansas City's industrial yesteryear, that has the words "Columbia Burlap Bag Co." painted at the very top. To reach Reruns, you climb a lonnngg set of dusty stairs up to the top floor. The place is organized by decade. Upon entering Reruns you step into the 80's and 90's. Through a closed door, if you dare to venture, are the 70's, 60's, 50's and 40's, maybe even 30's. The rooms seem to go on forever. It feels like you could get lost in another decade and never find your way out.

I have to get back there this fall and shop for some vintage sweaters. As Marc drove me back to my car, we saw the Town Topic on Broadway up ahead. I asked Marc if he'd ever eaten there. He said no, and as a matter of fact, he was hungry. So we just had to stop. I told Marc that they made a mean patty melt, but he went and ordered a regular ol' burger. So I ordered a patty melt myself and let him have a taste. He liked it, so I gave him the entire half. It does a body good to introduce a newbie to the joys of the Town Topic patty melt.

Friday, July 23, 2010

High On Chai

I just found out about this place yesterday. They opened a few weeks ago. I can't wait to try it!

They serve authentic masala chai tea. How cool is that? Now I don't have to order a whole meal at an Indian restaurant to get some.

They also serve Pakistani and Indian street food, like samosas, mango lassi, skun-jabeen, which is a spiced lemonade, rooh afza, a summer beverage with fruit syrups and rosewater, kava, which is black tea leaves brewed with cardamom and spices, and pink chai, a traditional drink from the Kashmir region, in which green tea leaves are brewed with milk in a process that turns the tea pink. All this and wi-fi too.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

This morning when I walked into work, my phone was ringing. It was a publisher I'd tried to reach yesterday, whose customer service rep was based in the U.K. The customer service rep had the most lovely, lovely, British accent, a sweet and lilting voice in soft tones. It was all hollyhocks and blue bells. My own voice felt crude and bludgeon-like by comparison. Seriously, every time it was my turn to speak, my voice echoed hard and course in my ears. I found myself trying to sound softer and more lilting. But then I had to ask her a couple of questions about an invoice, and my voice got all hard and course again. Like a chunk of tar next to a sculpted piece of sparkling crystal.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


As part of my recent outing and abouting, I met Laura for coffee Sunday morning. I was glad she suggested a place downtown, near the City Market. I don't get down there often enough. In fact I get down there never. That whole pocket north of I-35 and east of Broadway is a big mystery to me. Calls for some exploring.

We went to K City Coffee House, and it was a pleasant balance of urban and cozy. We sat in the window and a little bird peeked in at us. It's funny, when I'm that far downtown I have this weird sensation that I'm WAY HIGH above the rest of the metro, as if we were up on a concrete mountainside overlooking a suburban valley.

It's so good for me to get away from Johnson County, where I now live and work, I can't even tell you. Little coffeeshops with character are scarce out there. It's all franchises with their slick, market-researched logos.

I finally found a cool little coffeeshop not far from my work, but it took a long time for me to stumble across it. For over a year after the college moved from its funky environs near Troost and Brookside, to the surburban blandness of Greater Caucasia and its gleaming office parks, I despaired of finding any independent, hole-in-the-wall coffeeshops. I took short, exploratory drives through the surrounding strip malls and found nothing.

Then one day, after another round of desperate Googling, I found a listing for Revocup, across from Johnson County Community College. I checked it out, and found a dark, cool oasis of coffeeshop nirvana. The place is dimly lit, which I like, with local artwork on the wall. No forced cheeriness here. The owners, who are often behind the counter, are from Ethiopia. They are polite and gracious, in a genuine way. Revo stands for revolution, and they want to be revolutionary in using single-origin coffee beans, and giving back to the coffee farmers in their homeland.

From their website:

"We give back 10 cents for every cup of coffee and $1.00 for every pound of coffee sold in our retail store. This is a very exciting time for us, and we are determined to serve customers a range of coffee that has never been offered by the industry and in the meantime help our native country by giving back a portion of the revenue to tackle poverty."

I went to Revocup recently on a very hot day. It was like stepping into a cave. Despite the heat outside, my appetite for a hot chai was instantly revived. Since they pride themselves on their coffee beans, I feel I should try their coffee once in a while. But their chai lattes are consistently spicy and somehow they have figured out how to steam soy milk so that it's creamy. Now that's revolutionary.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mony At Large

The sun is high and I've been getting out. That's what summer's all about. On July 8th I went to the Blue Room to see Roger's trio play. Roger was playing Thelonius Monk when I walked in. Thelo Mo is my favorite jazz pianist of all time. After Roger, of course. Roger's trio killed.

On Saturday July 10th the girls and I drove up to Excelsior Springs to hear Laura perform outdoors at the Fence Stile Winery. You can take your own snacks, so we packed up a big picnic basket. Lilah wanted to take a can of sardines. YES. I've introduced her to the briny joys of that fishy treat. We like the boneless, skinless kind, swimming in olive oil. Lilah convinced Tim to try the sardines. In return, she has agreed that someday she must taste the OCTOPUS SALAD that Tim buys at City Market. Octopus salad with visible TENTACLES and SUCKERS. I think Tim got the easy end of this deal.

It's always nice to hear Laura sing, but the setting at the winery was especially pleasant. You can get a glass of wine and bring it outside to the patio, and sit and chillax. The winery is only reachable by making a lot of confusing twists and turns way out in the Missouri countryside, to throw off your bearings so that by the time you find it, you have no clear idea of its locale. But this works, because it gives you a pleasing sense that you have left the world behind and can never be found.

On Sunday, July 11th, I went to the Record Bar to see Roger play with the People's Liberation Big Band, my favorite big band of all time. At the bar I ordered a mystery ale. It really was called that --the Magic Hat Mystery Ale #9. It was dark and rich and good.

The People's Liberation Big Band was in rare form, their music a bodacious blast of bohemian bounty. Lessee...they performed a crazified Who medley, performed against a screen showing a clip from the Who's Superbowl appearance...they did a tune in which all the band members strode off the stage and onto the floor of the bar, and as they milled about the audience, they each launched into a monologue about their formative experiences that led them to playing music...they presided over a mock wedding-by-proxy, in which audience members were invited to stand in and be "married" for couples that couldn't get married in their lifetime, namely Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky and Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklias. I stood in for Allen Ginsberg, since he was a close associate of Jack Kerouac. Roger hopped off the band stand and joined me. Jeff Harshbarger had us recite the vows he had constructed out of lyrics from Michael Jackson songs. "Repeat after me, all you pretty, young, things..." he began.

This past Saturday was Annabelle's last day of Girl Scout day camp. We had to drop her off at the bus at 8:00 am, so Roger and I decided to leave from there and go to the City Market. We met up with Laura and Tim, and followed them around the fruit and veggie stalls for a little while, until we got serious about buying produce and then parted ways. We bought tomatoes, corn, zuchinni, cilantro, watermelon, peaches and eggplant. We also bought a high-falutin' pasta that is supposed to taste like lime-cilantro.

There were four characters dressed up in elaborate period clothing prancing around. We weren't sure if they were there to promote the Renaissance Festival that happens in September, or there purely to prance around.

Saturday evening, the girls and I drove up to Weston, Missouri, where Roger was playing for a community theatre production of Winesburg, Ohio. Roger has played for this community theater group the last three summers, when they did Seussical, Guys and Dolls, and High School Musical. All of those are light and frothy, typical musical theater fare. Winesburg, Ohio is much heavier, darker material. Roger and I saw the KC Rep theater do it, and I loved the complex emotions and personalities the KC Rep actors portrayed. I applaud Weston Community Theater for taking on this challenging play and kudos to their players for tackling the material head-on. There were moments where they really shined. I also must say, however, that now more than ever, I truly appreciate professional theater.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Little Artists

Annabelle likes to freeze videos on YouTube and try to draw the cartoon characters. One of her favorite cartoons right now is Phineas and Ferb. She has a strong drawing arm and can draw bold, continuous lines.

Here is Ferb:

And Jeremy Johnson:

Here are some dragons she drew one night, during a thunderstorm. At the top of the page is a mommy dragon with its baby on top. She drew these out of her own head.

Lilah draws occasionally too. She reproduces scenes from Archie comic books.
She drew this freehand:

And this:

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Summer Saturday Morning

Wake up. Reach for Tony Hillerman book. No, should sit quietly for a moment first, just listening. Just resting the mind. Hear sounds of truck passing by. Flash goes off inside head. We need to move our cars. The guy moving the piano is coming.

Roger is still comatose, so I move the cars. We're getting rid of our piano because Roger's parents are sending their piano our way. It's much nicer.

I should wash last night's dishes. The girls and I had a movie night, and just let them sit. Cheri looks at me expectantly. No, I should take the dog for a walk. I'm just getting her leash as the piano guys pull up in the drive.

On the walk, I see a pretty pink thistle flower. Is it a milk thistle or a bull thistle? Cheri finds a disgusting flattened rodent and grabs it in her mouth. We walk for 5 or 6 blocks with it hanging out of her mouth. So gross! Drop it, Cheri! Drop it now, I command you! Whenever she swings her head around, I'm afraid she's going to fling it against me. She eats a large portion of it. Ugh. That's it. You're staying outside when we get home. Your mouth is nasty and you're probably going to vomit soon.

Get home. The piano is gone. In its place, a little square of dust and and small pieces of unidentifiable debris. A marker. A solar calculator that had fallen behind the piano at some point.

Still cool enough to leave the front door open, and make a cup of tea. I sip white tea. Feel peaceful and relaxed. Think about how to balance the day.

I think of these words from a Bjork song, "It's not up to you":

How do I master
the perfect day
six glasses of water
seven phonecalls

I would like to read my Tony Hillerman book, "The Blessing Way." (I am at a very crucial point in the story! It's insane to read the characters into this critical life or death situation and then close the book. But I was too sleepy last night to go on. So I abandoned them in the hands of a ruthless killer.) I would like to do my aerobic routine. I would like to drive up to the Fence Stile Winery in Excelsior Springs and sit in a beautiful setting and sip wine while Laura plays. I need to get supplies for Annabelle's Girl Scout day camp that runs all next week. Hit the grocery store and library. Make a dent in the pile of laundry. Take a shower.

Annabelle emerges, still heavy with sleep. She curls up on the couch and stares into space. Lilah goes out the front door, takes the bike off the porch, and rides up and down the hills on either side of our house, 6 times on each hill. I can hear the buzzing whirr of her bike tires as she passes the house. Then the squeak of the brake as she pedals back up to the house.

Now the AC is on and the front door closed. My tea is gone. I must begin to assemble some sort of structure on which to pin the day. Or....I could just continue to sit here on my ass.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Natives Were Restless

Sunday night before sundown, we took a drive west of town to look at some storm clouds that were hovering darkly over the horizon. When we got back into town, the streets were absolutely deserted. You would have thought the town was dead, but you would have been wrong. All of a sudden, as we drove past the Cozy, a burst of green and gold sparks exploded overhead. A little cluster of people were setting off fireworks on the lot where the old Phillips 66 used to be. We pulled over to watch, but soon saw that there were fireworks going off all over town. Getting home was like driving through a war zone. At every turn, we ran into rogue firework displays being set off in the middle of the street. The skies were filled with shrieking and popping.

We decided to go to the high school, to watch it all from the bleachers, but it was very windy and cold, so we didn't stay there long. We went back to the house to light our own fireworks. I had bought some from the Ness City Rotary Club, which had set up a stand inside the old Auto Parts building.

I got one of those whirly-deals that you nail to a telephone pole and light it and it spins around and shoots sparks. I always thought those were cool. I got a couple of helicopters. One was a dud. The other one spun around and lifted off and buzzed off into the air. Very cool. Dang, I wished I had more of them. The lady selling fireworks had thrown in a pack of 5 roman candles for free, but they were cheapy roman candles, and were kind of boring. I had sparklers and black snakes and glow worms for the girls. The whole time we were outside, the night sky was exploding with colors and noise from other fireworks in the neighborhood. Siss! Boom! Crack! Kablooey! Sizzle! Sparks shooting, flying, raining down.

Since I've been an adult, I've mostly lived in places where fireworks are outlawed. You go take your lawn chairs to some outdoor display, sit there and "ooo" and "ahh", and then you sit in a horrendous line of cars to get out of some clogged parking lot. I can't get too excited about that. But shooting off your own fireworks in a town gone wild is something else again.

Today the girls and I played tennis, and scattered across the courts and the school yard were little scraps of burnt cardboard, the crash-landed remnants of a high-flying 4th.