Friday, December 28, 2007

Holiday in Mississippi

When I arrived at Denver Airport, I was greeted by this adorable jazz band. Instead of rushing through security, I plopped down to eat my sandwich and enjoy their music. I gave a few compliments and ate it up. They're Shriners, like my Grandpa Wilbur, which made me love them all the more. Their swinging melodies ringing throughout the terminal really helped put me in the holiday mood.

Meanwhile, my transition from Death Bed to Holiday Madness has been taxing, to say the least. A nasty cough still remains and I'm still recovering from bronchitis. I hadn't even realized the blog had been neglected until I got a note from Fang, "Are you alright?" God knows, I love the Internet but it sure was peaceful being unplugged for a few days. I've returned to my 'informed state' and the world just got weirder, it seems.

Here in Mississippi, men and boys go hunting in every spare moment - duck, quail or deer mostly. EVERYTHING comes in camoflauge - even RMAC's new golf cart is camo. At left here is Brandon, a family friend, getting ready to go sit in a tree on the family property known as "The Farm." (Robert, my brother, is having a blast as he gradually builds up his dream property, bit by bit.)

As someone who aspires to be a vegetarian (all signs point to failure so far), you'd think I'd find this hunting business offensive. Instead, I see it as a very healthy return to mankind's roots. Before we could order pizza on our cell phones, we had to go out and kill our dinner with our own wits. (I was reminded of this in Africa - when we complained about having cabbage soup every night, we were told to go get a goat or pig and get the spit ready. We were hungry enough that we did just that. My fangs sharpened there, no doubt about it.)

Of course, we certainly don't need to hunt to get our meat any longer but that is only nutritionally speaking. I think that for some male humans, the hunt taps into a primitive need - it returns a sense of dignity that has been worn away by centuries of luxury.

Just watching these grown men get giddy and glow with accomplishment - it's really hard to ignore. Of course, as long as everything is eaten - and it is - I'm okay with it. Anyway, the best land conservationists are hunters - Teddy Roosevelt and National Geographic taught me that much.

So, while the men went off duck hunting on Xmas Day, the women gathered round, poured the wine and watched - what else? - "Steel Magnolias."

I will admit that the film choice was mostly my urging; I wanted the chance to view the classic Southern Woman film with a bunch of the real thing. The cast seemed to have every actress in 1989 Hollywood - Shirley MacLaine, Darryl Hannah, Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Olympia Dukakis - and is known as "the funniest movie to make you cry." All I know is, I want a place like Truvy's Salon nearby, where beauty and gossip flow freely behind a screen door. It would have to include a wisecracking Shirley MacLaine as well.

Also, here in Mississippi, the Fireworks Stands is a year-round business. People stop here the same way folks go to REI in Colorado or pick up bread and milk everywhere else. Here's Mama Iva and Robert just getting a few necessary items. I've seen them shoot them off on a Tuesday night before - because it's, y'know, Tuesday night.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Down & Out

I'm in a sickly haze these days. I'm enduring coughing spasms that eject green alien thingys and a grey fog surrounds my wobbly head. My body aches and my brain thumps in painful tantrums.

I just hope this clears up before I board a plane on Sunday or my head will explode ... and that would be unsightly.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Knotted Up & Grown-Up

I woke up yesterday, on my 42nd birthday, with my stomach in knots. I even puked for good measure. The night before, I'd had a painful Numbers Crunching Session with Gins to see if I could possibly manage the monthly cost of a horse.

She was gentle but the numbers, not so much. Gradually, it started to dawn on me that Copper would not be mine. I cried a bit and searched my budget for fat.

"You already live pretty minimally," she said. "Already, you've got yourself living on $100 per month for groceries - that's insane."

"I like Ramen," I said. "And maybe my vegetarianism will kick in. That might help."

Such was the desperation of this session. (Gins also noted that my paltry $5 a month for toiletries "mocked" her own spendy habits in this category.)

Everyone says, "Go for it!" I love the passion behind this - who doesn't love a girl-and-her-horse story? Especially one with a happy ending? Trouble is, I'd be the only paying for it and financially, I won't be ready until 2009 - my original plan. As Gins said, "This is the not the end of a dream, it is only a delay."

Last stop: I talked it over with Beanie and we decided that I absolutely should not buy this horse. "I don't want to see something that otherwise brings you joy, become a burden," she said.

I felt a mixture of sadness and relief. The burden of a decision was over but it was not the one I wanted. "There will be plenty of other horses in your life," Beanie said.

"Do you promise?"

"I promise. Tons more."

I really wanted this to happen but I'm sorta proud that I tried so hard and worked it out as thoroughly as I could. This might be one they call an 'adult decision' and I am fairly unfamiliar with them.

Sigh. I guess this is what 42 feels like.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Another Tree Ring for Me

I woke up 42 years old today. Mom and Dad were right, the further down the hill you get, the more of a non-event your birthday becomes.

Still, I'm happy to have one, considering the alternative. Also, I've never understood people who lie about their age or refuse to divulge it. (It is especially puzzling when men do it - it seems girlie.) So far, I'm pretty proud that I've managed to survive so long on this poor neglected marble.

So, I've got to hand in my final decision on the horse today. Went over the numbers last night with Ginsberg, my unofficial (but tremendously competent) accountant. Purchasing the horse, no problem. Monthly upkeep of the horse plus lessons (roughly $600) - that's the challenge.

I already live minimally. No cable. No fancy dinners. No shopping addictions. The new budget would strip me down even more. No Netflix. No vices. No guitar lessons. Minimal travel. And a seriously reduced grocery budget. Hmmmmm, well, I liked Ramen well enough in college ...

At least blogging is (still) free.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I Love Winter

Boy-o-boy, do I love this whole white winter thing! Whose idea was it? Give them a raise. Seriously. This is only my second winter with snow and I'm as dazzled as ever. (Yes, I realize that having no work commute keeps it all magical.)

Just looking out my window and watching this fluffy magical powder fall down on my city, my yard, my truck, I get this inner feeling of calm - like Mother Nature is singing a lullaby or something.

I can't get over the seasons. It always felt odd, growing up in SoCal, and having the same fucking day, every day. "Guess what? It's 75 degrees today! Again! That's right, the sun is out so you better be HAPPY, dammit!" San Francisco had a similar mantra from the opposite end of the thermometer, "It's foggy and moody and chilly-as-fuck so you better be intellectual and artistic, dammit!"

Now, I don't mind being bossed around by the elements, as long as there's variety. Right now, my environment is telling me to stay put and not leave the house. I LOVE this.

Happily, I have not left my humble abode since Sunday, when I went on a super fun scavenger hunt put on by pals, Deletta and John. (Please note my incredibly fine-looking teammates at left: John, Emily and Jimmy.) Technically, we didn't win but I left with a full belly, a bag full of sweets and a copy of "Caddyshack" so I couldn't tell the difference.

Later that night, I drafted my two favorite neighbors, Tim and Erin, to join me in my favorite Denver holiday outing. T&E are a couple of salt-of-the-earth Minnesotans who moved here to attend DU. Among other similarities, we've already discovered that we have the same ... er, party habits.

(Photo by some cute guy named Spenderg.)

Therefore, when I suggested we hit the peace pipe and head on down to the Botanic Gardens to take in the Blossoms of Light, they did not hesitate. Even better, when we bought our tickets, we snagged 3-D glasses that made each light a little snowflake and/or snowman! I mean, the place was tailor made for stoners.

We giggled, oohed and aaahed and grinned our way through the sparkly wonderland. Honestly, you'd have to have a heart of stone not to let that place put you in a holiday mood. I'd love to see the Grinch come out unscathed. Impossible.

Happy Birthday, Kath! If there was an In-n-Out in this frosty white state, I'd buy ya a DoubleDouble!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Holiday Spirit ... and then some

Behold: "The Lindsay Lights!" This extravagant yard in Thornhill, Ontario has been drawing crowds since 2002. Over 80,000 lights, most of them LEDs, blink to musical sequences that are broadcast on a local FM radio. The lights go on every night at 5PM through January 5th.

But the family isn't just about this eye-popping show, their displays are world famous and they have now raised over $42,000 for local charities. Check out their site.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hard Decision

I got an urgent call from my horse teacher, Beanie, last night. "Are ya sitting down?" she asked. Uh-oh.

She tells me that the horse I've been riding lately, Copper - the horse I have 'graduated' to - is up for sale because the owner is moving up to Fort Collins. It has taken quite awhile to find me a good 'school horse' that will challenge me in the right ways.

Copper is not a lazy hunk of horseflesh, he is an Arab and has his own ideas about things. Every lesson is a test and we still argue over who is boss. Though he has bucked off many and terrorized a few, I've managed to stay on his back, albeit, with a few close calls. I am still learning the language and he gets impatient sometimes.

I kind of like this about him. His feistiness is making me a better rider - more aware, more bossy. It actually takes awhile to move beyond the "But he's so cute!" phase before you realize that if the horse doesn't respect you, he won't listen to you. If he won't listen to you, you've lost control and then, you are in serious danger. This is why I call my teacher, "Beanie the Meanie."

She's not mean to the horses but she doesn't put up with shit and lets them (and me) know it. You should see these giant beasts stand at attention when she walks by. The woman can smell attitude and won't stand for it. I need to get to this place but I've got a long road ahead. "You need hours," she'll say, "hours and hours on the back of a horse."

What I need is a horse of my own. So, the understanding has been that I will buy Copper in a year or so, after I've saved up the money, paid off my truck and have more experience. Well, this sudden turn of events means I might have to make a quick decision. I should also mention that Copper is selling for $2500 which includes all the tack (saddle, halter, reins, brushes, etc.) This is a steal! If Copper leaves, I will have to go back to finding the right school horse on the ranch property - not as easy as it sounds.

Of course, my personal financial adviser, Ginsberg, is somewhere in China this week and cannot help me decide. It's a huge commitment - boarding, vet bills, hay, etc. - am I ready for it?

I'd said to Beanie, "I'm not ready."
She countered, "You're ready."

I've got less than a week to decide.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Physically, I'm a Grown-Up but ...

So, I took my Little Sister, Velrene, out for her birthday on Friday. We went to Chuck E. Cheese and V could NOT BELIEVE that I had never been to one before. It was there I discovered several things about myself.

I have a filthy mouth: Also, my swearing policy around children needs to be updated. I'd figured that as long as I avoided uttering "fuck,", I'd be okay.

I hadn't realized that 'piss' - as in, 'Don't piss me off!' said jokingly - also qualifies. V's eyes got big and, while pointing straight at me, yelled: "You used a swear word!!!" Nearby adults glared at me as we stood in line.

I look weird:
Years ago, I was laying on the floor of an airport, reading and completely minding my own business. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw two young boys playing Nerf football. One of them came near to retrieve the ball and stopped cold when he saw me:

"Can I help you?"
I asked him.

"You look like that witch lady on TV," he said matter-of-factly. "Yeah, you look just like her. It's in the eyes." He took off before I could ask which show but I'm hoping it was something like "Charmed" and he merely noted my inner Shannon Doherty. (Why hadn't someone said this to me during the Bewitched years?)

Fast forward to Chuck E. Cheese on Friday. So, this itty bitty Latino kid kept staring at me and following me around. He had nothing to say but was clearly fascinated - perhaps it was my red hair, or my white skin (I was the only cracker in the joint) or my funky glasses. I couldn't tell if he was smitten, amused or disgusted. .

I'm Big(ger): Chuck E. Cheese has one of those long climbing tubes that cover the entire ceiling space. I announced to V that I was going to climb in that Kid Tube and experience it for myself. She warned me, "Um, I think you're too big" but I brushed her off, pointing to a sign that invited 'Mommies and Daddies' to take off their shoes, and join in the fun. Darn it, I'm still a kid at heart!

Yeah well, as soon as I got my fat ass up in the tube, I realized V was right. Technically, I fit in the tube, no problem, but maneuvering it, well, it was mighty cumbersome, to say the least. Also, there was the distinct smell of excrement; I immediately wanted out of the Tube of Poo.

Trouble was, kid traffic was backed up behind me and turning around was not an option. So, I scrambled around on my hard, old kneecaps and watched pint-size individuals walk past me. God, what a big fumbling moron. Then, I turned a corner and came face-to-face with my little Latino admirer.

He just stared at me with those big silent brown eyes. Since he wasn't talking, I took the opportunity to vent. "I know, I know, I look ridiculous," I said to him. He blinked, said nothing and kept staring.

"I don't know what I was thinking! I mean, what was I trying to prove anyway? That I was still a kid? Jesus! I'm not a kid! I'm a middle aged woman with a filthy mouth, hard kneecaps and a flimsy fiscal policy, at best. Yes, I have learned much about myself in the Tube of Poo, things I could not have learned otherwise." He blinked some more and then, I caught a slight smile and the distinct look of pity.

"Hey, I appreciate your attention, listening to me and all but can you help me get out of here? The big, dumb white lady has had enough self-discovery for today." Then, he silently led me safely to the spiral slide which brought back to the ground and reality.

V greeted me, "Well, how was it?"

"You're right. I'm too big."

"I told you but you wouldn't listen."

Note to self: Listen more, curse less.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Photos from Slide Fire

McShmoinkles has requested more photos from my Destruction Tour at Green Valley Lake. I put them all up on Flickr last night so check 'em out.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Back Home at Last

After an adventurous shuttle ride with an interesting Moroccan driver (we managed to get pulled over by the cops, thanksverymuch) I finally made it to my own bed at 1:00 a.m. Today, I'm mega-exhausted and drowning in deadlines. MOTHERFUCKER. I need some breathing room to get my life in order.

Don't get me wrong. I love going Places and staying in hotels but I now have all the tiny shampoo, conditioner and lotion bottles that I could ever want. Just last week, my cat, Simone, opted to register her opinion by barfing on one of my suitcases. I'm not impressed by her passive-aggressive tactics but I can't argue with her position.

As the plane landed last night, I silently counted the days until I hand over another boarding pass: 18.

I better make 'em count.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Back in Cali

I returned home from Thanksgiving on Monday and managed to stay in Colorado an entire FIVE DAYS before I had to get on a plane and head back to California again. Not long ago, flying on planes was one of my favorite things to do but this passion is eroding.

First the shuttle comes waaaay too early. Then, when trying to obtain a boarding pass, I discover that my travel folks only reserved the ticket - never got around to purchasing it. THEN I find out that my plane departure has been delayed by two hours. Grrrrrrrr! Were it not for the sexy Cuban man I met in the bar, the day would have been a total wash.

Anyhoo, I'm now in San Francisco, deeply entrenched in an annual Corporate Event where 90% of the males wear the same outfit: khaki or black pants, blue buttoned-down shirt, Blackberries at the waist and no tie. It's the official Silicon Valley uniform.

Alarming tidbit:

Catching up with a co-worker who lives in Beijing, we made small talk about the weather. She asked about snow in Colorado and then revealed this horrible fact: "Yeah, we used to get snow in Beijing. It stopped snowing completely a few years ago. The pollution is so bad and with global warming .... " she shrugged, "it just stopped. No more snow."

Chilling stuff. Or not, as the case may be.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

And Then There Was Nothing

Over Thanksgiving, my family and I ventured out to Green Valley Lake to check on the family's wee ancient cabin. I'm happy to report it still stands but large sections of the little town are gutted by the Slide Fire that had so many folks on edge a few weeks back.

As expected, I took a shit load of pictures but the one above stands out to me the most. One high-placed cul-de-sac, Juniper Lane, every single house was destroyed. This wooden bridgeway once led to a home with a beautiful view of Lake Arrowhead; house is no more but the view remains.

Before we left Long Beach, my brother had made the wry comment, "It'll be another Mass Destruction Family Tour. Ah, just like old times." Indeed, it brought back memories of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath - where once there were buildings, now there is open sky and people's personal belongings are strewn about.

I tried to post more photos but f**king Blogger wouldn't let me and I just want to get this up for now. More to come.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Brother's Hair

I've got eight million blog posts screaming to be written but when I came across this photo from Thanksgiving last year, I knew I had to clear this off my desk.

My brother, Robert, is a George Clooney character. Women love him and men want to emulate him. Growing up, my friends would swoon and say, "How's Hot Rob?" and even my parents, to this day, strive to impress him. He's a genuine modern-day swashbuckler. Give him the right car and poof! He's 007.

In his SoCal youth, Rob was a surfer/skateboarder and later dabbled in modeling before giving it up. "I felt stupid," he'd said, "All that fake smiling, not for me." Later, he became a successful furniture designer/builder before he became what he is today, a Land Baron. (He will scoff modestly and roll his eyes at this, solidifying his coolness.)

Robert is funny, smart, caring and generous, not to mention wildly popular. At a recent reunion wedding, another heartthrob character, Mike, recalled how Rob would walk with a strange hot-young-girl-shaped tumors growing all over his body. "It was amazing. Literally, one would be stuck to his neck, another on his elbow, another grabbing his ankle ... it was unbelievable. We just watched in awe."

Somewhere along the way, as his peers faced dreaded hair loss, Rob's hair grew. And grew. And GREW.

After the move to Mississippi, he let go the slick, suited dealmaker and became the shaggy hunter and land conservationist. He grew a goatee and that went gray. And the hair on his head didn't necessarily grow longer, it simply became BIGGER. Cutting it seems to worsen the problem. Evidently, it takes a uniquely gifted and incredibly patient hairdresser with a special thinning tool. Not a ton of those in the Deep South, apparently.

These days, a cap must be worn on his head at all times and usually is. When dining out with the family, Rob and his wife were trying to teach their son good Southern manners. They told little Robbie that his cowboy hat had to come off as they were in an eating establishment.

"But why doesn't Daddy take his hat off?" he'd asked.
"Because Daddy will scare the waitress and then we won't get our food, that's why," said Rob.

Rob's had a bountiful life thus far and the latest evidence is coming out his scalp. Fun to watch. It's like having a real, live Chia Pet for a sibling.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Turkey Hangover - Please Hold

I returned last night, fat and exhausted, from a week's worth of solid family and food focus. Unfortunately, my frenzied life did NOT organize itself in my absence. Instead, I'm more over committed than ever. What is that about anyway? I've got a good guess and I think it's spelled D-I-S-T-R-A-C-T-I-O-N.

Anyhoo, while I try to play catch up, please enjoy this shot of Mama Iva's patio at nighttime. Purty, huh?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Front page!

My nephew and sister-in-law made the front page of the South Mississippi Sun Herald today!

It's one of those "folks hit the road for the holidays" photo opps that all local papers run. Still, the phone is ringing off the hook and we're buying up extra copies.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Legends in the Sky

Heading to California for the Thanksgiving holiday, I flew out of Denver yesterday and the airport was practically deserted. In anticipation of a crowded nightmare, I'd puffed on the peace pipe and left extra early, expecting throngs of travelers all with the same idea. Instead, the terminal was eerily quiet and there was not a single person in the security line, it felt like "The Langoliers."

I kept asking airport employees what the deal was. "Just wait until Tuesday," they'd say, "this place will be a zoo." (Note to self, repeat this flight schedule next year.)

I noted to a United Airlines employee the line-up of snowplows in the parking lot, ready for action. "Maybe they'll be ready this year since last year was such a mess," I said, hopefully.

She shook her head and laughed, "It doesn't matter. They'll never be ready."

Joy-of-Joys: I hugged a Comedy Legend!

Everything about my trip yesterday was charmed. Once I boarded the plane, the flight attendant noted my guitar and brightly offered, "Hey, you can store that in the First Class closet if you want. There should be room." I went up to do so and on my way back, smacked right into Bob Newhart! He's a wee man and even with those signature reading glasses on the nose, I almost overlooked him. My response was so ultra cool:

Bob: "Yes, yes, I am."
Me: "OMIGOSH, that's weird! I've been listening to your old comedy albums for the past two weeks!" (It's true I have. Specifically, an album from the early 60s that I borrowed/stole from my mom on my last visit.)
Bob: (Genuinely surprised.) "Wow, really? My albums? That's great!"
Me: "I feel compelled to hug you, is that okay?"
Bob: "(Laughing) By all means!"

I gave him a good squeeze and cheek kiss and he returned the hug! What a thrill! I then quickly stepped out of the way, found my seat and called Gins to report my Brush With Greatness. (This much I have learned when meeting celebrities - if you cannot control the gush then at least make it quick.)

This is always the fun part about going back to LA - Legends pop up in the weirdest places.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dear Eleni,

Congratulations on your Bat Mitzvah! In lieu of actually being there today, this post has been created in your honor.

First off, you know a lot more than I did at your age. Still, there are a few random scraps of wisdom that have stuck to my shoe during my (nearly) 42 years on this blue marble and I’d like to pass them along. My Jewish consultant, Ginsberg, says that if I want to “go Super Jew” I should offer them in derivatives of 18. Therefore, I present 36 bits of random advice:

1. When you’re in a new class, a new school, a new job, a new town – it’s easy to find the best friends you haven’t met yet. Whoever is funny, or better yet, thinks you’re funny - those are your people.

2. Listen – really listen - to music lyrics and think about the words. Visualize them. They are little books y’know; each song is a great story. Or it should be.

3. Work at least two years as a waitress (or in retail) – it’ll provide empathy later as well as a lifetime of valuable insight to the human condition. Tips too.

4. ‘I’ before ‘E’ except after ‘C.’

5. There will be many phases of your life. Accept that you can’t take everyone with you. I usually end up dragging 3-4 folks per era through the decades. Your mom comes from the Macromedia Era and I’m never letting her go.

6. Wear sun protection. Even when foggy – the rays refract and do something trippy.

7. Trees contain more knowledge than we can ever imagine. Animals too. Respect them always.

8. Read your betters; books should make you stretch.

9. Falling in love is grand experience. Savor every moment.

10. Hiding your purse or coat behind the amplifier at a show is a great idea but make sure you dance nearby to keep an eye on it. Also, see #11.

11. Stop after two drinks and don’t mix your alcohols.

12. Sorry, but your mother is right about pretty much everything. In the next 5-8 years this will seem impossible but trust me on this one.

13. If you think you can’t, you’re right.

14. Once you realize you’re wrong, have behaved badly and owe someone an apology, call them immediately and GROVEL. They will appreciate it and will most likely return the favor in the future. This keeps relationship at a healthy pink level and also means you’re not an asshole. Everybody takes turns being wrong.

15. If you’re on a date with a boy and he checks out another girl in your presence, make a polite excuse to leave and just keep walking.

16. Stay in touch with old friends. After a few decades, these people become family-like but without the obligations. They will save your ass time and time again and are worth their weight in gold.

17. When in doubt, do the kind thing.

18. Always be up for a new experience, especially when it comes to food. Don’t be afraid of spices or weird colors.

19. Dorky guys are best. They might be fumbly and awkward but they will appreciate you like nobody’s business.

20. Just because something has never been done before doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Less than 100 years ago, women could not vote in this country and now we are looking at the possibility of the first female President. Amazing.

21. Explore at least five countries outside the U.S. – more, if possible. See other worlds, other people, other cultures and let your senses take them in. Never will you get a more accurate perception of where you come from than when you leave it. (Tip: Learn the words to “Fifty Nifty United States” before you leave; it will help you win many bets and a few pints of beer.)

22. It’s never too late to learn something new. I just started playing guitar last year – it’s a hoot. This week I’m making an apple pie for the first time.

23. Boys are nice. Just make sure they see the real you.

24. Be flexible – the world will be much easier to maneuver, especially when traveling.

25. Be wary of salespeople and zealots of any kind.

26. Seek out hobbies that enhance your life and bring you joy. It may not always be the same thing; sometimes one passion leads to another.

27. Never be afraid to ask a ‘silly’ question. Chances are, everyone else wants to know too. Same goes for the follow up question.

28. Don’t rely on outside sources for your happiness.

29. If you are worried about scoring a parking spot, say aloud the exact address three times on the way over. Say it with confidence and purpose and you’ll be surprised at the success rate.

30. Pay off your credit card bill every month.

31. Don’t follow the masses but at the same time, don’t be afraid be like something that everyone else does. Think for yourself – don’t be one of the sheeple.

32. Recycle fervently.

33. Be grateful always, not just when there is a big dead bird on the table. This is the core of true happiness.

34. Learn to grow to stuff you can eat. Not only is it yummier and cheaper but it makes you feel all-powerful like … like Bono or Martha Stewart.

35. Honor your family in whatever way works. I give my mom foot rubs and pour her wine; I make dinner for my dad and kiss his bald head. Simple stuff but deeply appreciated.

36. Live in the moment - it is all you have. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow is just an idea. Believe me, fully grasping this concept takes practice and the secret is this: Listen with your whole body – the birds, the traffic, the person facing you – take it all in with great big greedy gulps.

Lord knows I could go on and on but eventually I’ll start making stuff up so perimeters are useful here. I hope your day was perfect in every way. You are such a smart, beautiful girl who carries herself so well. I rest a bit easier knowing you are part of the world’s future.

Your friend,


P.S. One last tidbit: Kangaroos got their name when the settlers showed up to Oz and asked the Aboriginals, “Hey, what are those crazy hopping animals called?” The Aboriginals said: “Kangaroo.” It was many years before the settlers realized that in the Aboriginal language, the word “kangaroo” means, “I don’t know.” This is my favorite factoid of all time.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Feminism Fallout?

In Maureen Dowd's column today, "Should Hillary Pretend to be a Flight Attendant?" she revisits the idea that a women's developed intelligence - and career/financial success - is her most damaging feature when it comes to scoring a date. Maureen is my sister-kin (single, smart, redhead) and she has visited this topic more than once.

On more than one occasion, I have played down, or rather, chose not to fully reveal my intelligence just to see how it affected my date and the theory is proved correct. Unfortunately, I can never keep this charade up for too long, which is why, relationships never formulate. At this point, I have given up on dating indefinitely until I find a man who's ego is self-contained and not tied to the size of my boobs or the power of my brain - and both are quite substantial.

I often wonder if I wouldn't mind being less smart if it meant I could connect with more members of the male species. I mean, fer chrissakes, it's not like I'm Ayn Rand or Madeline Albright or Carly Fiorina. I'm not a big player in the scheme of things and that's the way I like it - too many meetings. Blech.

My feelings vary on this, depending on the day, but I recall one interview that shed some disturbing light on this. For about five minutes, Chris Rock had a talk show on Comedy Central and I happened to catch it when his guest was Pamela Anderson. Chris cut to the chase:

Chris: "What does it feel like knowing that every person, every man, that you meet wants to have sex with you and has no interest in what you have to say?"

Pam: "Honestly, Chris, I don't mind."

Chris: "You don't care that people don't necessarily see you as a fixture of intelligence?"

Pam: "No, I'm perfectly happy being a person of normal, average intelligence and people seeing me that way. I know some incredibly smart people and, to be honest, they don't seem very happy. Believe me, I'm just fine being a 'bimbo' to the world. The people that know and love me in my personal life know differently and that's good enough for me."

DAMMIT! I HATED that she was right. Furthermore, when asked about the state of her career, Pam had the wherewithal to respond: "Hold on, I don't have a career. My boobs have a career. I'm just along for the ride."


I wish I had the answer here but I don't. Feel free to enlighten, argue or cheer me up on this.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ugly Bedroom Makeover

I've many, many photos from my recent trip to the California desert - looks like they are coming out in clumps, kinda like hairballs.

ANYHOO, out at the family's modest "Desert House" at Twentynine Palms, the Guest Room is legendary. The decor is blinding and has not changed since 1960. It invokes a time when Disney and Technicolor were still fairly new and people went nuts and tried anything. Menus included lots of Jell-O, Cream of Mushroom Soup and other bizarre ingredients.

Family lore has it that the godawful bright pinks and reds combined with classic green shag carpeting can cause time travel, or at least temporary blindness. It looks like something that might appear in a Charles Phoenix Slide Show.

Much like The Admiral, Mama Iva had had enough of the jokes and guests wearing sunglasses to bed. She decided it was time to bring the room into the current century or at least some vague century that wouldn't cause Martha Stewart to have a seizure.

Mind you, it wasn't just the loud hues, the drapes were faded in a perfect square thanks to the harsh desert sun searing through the cheap fabric. Also, they were torn at the top, mostly from decades of desperate and urgent tuggings to put them quickly aside.

Ahhhh, better, no? Of course it is. Fancy new mattress and everything. Then why does it look so weird to me? So sedate? I mean, one could actually get a soothing massage in this room as opposed to unwelcome acid flashback.

I'm all for decor improvement but less so when it comes to removing sources of traditional comic fodder. The Liver Bed, in the Master Bedroom, named for how easily it shook, was also removed in the makeover frenzy. Liver Bed was completely unstable the source of many midnight giggles between Mama Iva and myself. The springs were cattywampus, making it very easy to control the snoring of one's bed partner - just one little movement made the other person move and voila, silence.

Old stuff sometimes contains magic and laughter and the new stuff doesn't ... yet.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Going Backwards?

This photo just kills me. It was taken by Gleb Garanich from Reuters and it shows a beggar in Tbilisi, Georgia (the country, not the state). In the evolution of our species, looks like we might have made a bad turn somewhere back there.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Exploring in the Desert

Last weekend, I was in Twentynine Palms - as previously stated - one of my favorite places on Earth. One day, I went on walkabout and along the way, I faced temptation.

Left of the trail, I spotted two abandoned structures which I'd undoubtedly passed numerous times but never felt the urge to explore. This time, the world was covered in that perfectly luscious dusk light AND I was wearing my camera - my favorite accessory. So, off the trail I went.

There is nothing I love more than shooting empty forgotten stuff in that gorgeous state of "arrested decay". Now with digital, there is the urge to shoot compulsively but I try to mess with my own head a little bit and pretend I'm running out of film; I shoot less but end up with a higher image satisfaction.

The first building was a cabin of dark wood. The windows were all boarded up, no evidence of life at all. I circled the building several times but nothing caught my eye except for the edge against the background. Near the rotted back door, there was a dirty window to peek through - nothing but bits of junk, an old washing machine, dirty dish towels. I took the opportunity to pee in the sand.

Next to the cabin stood a tragic, empty mobile home, complete with badly worn astro-turf on the 'porch.' Where the cabin exuded sadness, this place invoked cruelty.

Same treatment - I circled the trailer few times but nothing really grabbed my one good eyeball. The long line of tires on the roof - I'm sure there's a hackneyed reason for this - is bizarre and fun so I shot that. Suddenly, a gust of wind came through and the front door creaked opens a bit. 'Twas a distinct invitation. Or a dare, not sure which.

I stared at that beckoning front door for awhile, just pondering the possibility of the unknown, which made me both excited and terrified to be standing there. Not a soul was around and I'm always drawn to this concept: No one to stop me and no one to help me. Freak, I know.

Finally, I made a move and the sagging wooden steps felt like they'd give way any second. First glance at the 'living room' I felt I'd obviously stumbled into the opening scenes of a slasher film. Still, I figured it was relatively safe to continue since I was a) not scantily-clad and b) was not recently having sex. I creaked open the door, did my best tough-girl voice, “Hello? Hey? Anybody home?”, and entered this ugly, forgotten place.

Darkness, dust and a badly stained green carpet greeted me. Broken bits of life were scattered everywhere – torn drapes, an oil-stained t-shirt, a broken suitcase – clues that lives were spent here but hardly lived. I slowly crept from room to room, looking for clever shots, until I picked up that tell-tale stench of death. I realized it was coming from the end of a long, darkened hallway. Again, I stared at the blackness and felt the temptation to see the dead thing for myself.

After years of journalism, my brain is permanently geared to headlines, so when “IDIOT SEX-LESS PHOTOGRAPHER SLASHED BY ZOMBIE METH HEAD IN ABANDONED DESERT TRAILER” ran across my brain like a CNN news ticker, I considered reconsidering. Did I mention it was in 36 pt. type? In bold Impact font?

Right about here I came to my senses, mumbled an excuse about ‘bad lighting anyway’ and got the fuck outta there.

Hoofing my way back home, I asked myself: "Self, would I have gone as far as I did without the camera? Would I have gone in if I didn’t have the means to document it? Am I that stupid and careless?" Sadly, Self sheepishly answered, "Yes."

I then came upon a woman walking her dog. She called out, "Are you a prospector?" Odd. Anyway, we got to chatting and I asked her about the buildings and hello! I got the juicy download:

“Boy, the owner has had a hard time keeping those places rented. First, there was a satanic cult – they were doing animal sacrifices and everything. Had pentagrams and swastikas up everywhere. Then, a lady moved in and was hauled off to jail the next day for prostitution. And then a grandmother moved in with her three pit bulls. I think she was cooking meth in there.”

My instincts were right – the past was action-packed in these parts. I’m sure glad I didn’t know any of that before I entered that trailer or I would have followed the dead smell for sure.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

NoDak in the News

Let’s Hear it for the Homeboys: Wayne Hauge and Dave Monson, two North Dakota farmers, are taking the DEA to federal court next Wednesday, November 14, to argue for their right to grow industrial hemp. They've already successfully petitioned the NoDak state Legislature -- of which Monson is a member -- to authorize hemp farming.

As for any stoner concerns, Wayne and Dave say comparing industrial hemp to marijuana is like “comparing pop guns to M-16s.” While marijuana THC levels can range between 3-20 percent, Canada regulates its industrial hemp crops to contain no more than 0.3 percent. A researcher said "There's probably more arsenic in your red wine, there's more mercury in your water and there's definitely more opiates in the poppy seed bagel you ate this morning." Hemp, a former standard crop of this fine nation, is super easy to grow and has a bazillion uses like paper, auto parts, food and ethanol.

So, hey, how's that War on Drugs, btw?

Meanwhile, here’s a headline I never thought I’d see:

“Ozzy Mad at North Dakota”

Comes from the local Fox affiliate in South Bend, Indiana. Ozzy got his feathers ruffled after a Fargo sheriff set up a sting before Osbourne's local show last week. The sheriff invited 500 people with outstanding warrants to a phony nightclub party before Osbourne's concert at a nearby arena. More than 30 goodfurnuthins (folks who ignore court summons, don’t pay child support, fail to pay fines, etc.) showed up and instead of partying down, they were arrested. Book ‘em, Dano! Ha!

The phony “Ozzy-Rob Zombie pre-party” was hosted by ‘PDL Productions’ which evidently stands for ‘Paul D. Laney,’ the crafty sheriff. The hulking staff wearing PDL T-shirts were actually deputy sheriffs, probation officers and local DEA members. Bam! The long, sneaky arm of Johnny Law knows how to use a keg. Or at least the promise of one.

Said Oz:

"Sheriff Laney went out of his way to tarnish my reputation by implying that I somehow attract a criminal element, which is certainly not true. My audiences are good, hard-working people who have been hugely supportive of my music for nearly four decades."

God knows, Ozzy’s people are god-fearin, church-goin’, bill-payin’, pie-bakin’ folks. But what I really wonder is why only six percent of the invitees showed up? Not a very ambitious bunch, if you ask me.

Next time, PDL Productions should host a Ted Nugent pre-party, he’ll score a bigger batch of nimrods, I’ll bet.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Farewell, Admiral

Lately, all my old things keep lasting and my new things keep breaking. (Here's where I sound like a member of AARP.) My iPod had a corrupted file, my one-year-old DVD player called it quits and my fancy stereo went on strike. Meanwhile, I get my music off a circa-1950s AM/FM/phonograph console and do my yoga tape on my ancient VCR. I once had a microwave but it became possessed by a demon and its been pots and flame ever since.

My point is, stuff used to last. Case in point: The Admiral, a modest little refrigerator that has pulled active duty for nearly a half-century at our desert cabin in 29 Palms. He has served our family well, kept our feasts protected - if not tightly compacted - within its tiny shell.

Its rounded corners and freezer that gets chubby with white ice has been a loyal member of the Clisby Appliance Family for quite a few Easters and numerous Thanksgivings. The Admiral has seen endless tupperware tubs of dip, mashed potatoes and creamed corn since my Grandfather built the house in 1960.

But the times they are a changin' and this past weekend, the half-century old appliance was given the heave-ho by Mama Iva. She'd ordered a spanking new icebox and The Admiral was given permanent leave. When the Sears delivery dudes showed up to deliver the new one, they inquired about its predecessor. We pointed out The Admiral and they laughed, "Oh, wow." Perhaps they'd only seen a live model of this design in dusty training manuals. 'Hmph,' I thought, 'they do not realize they are in the presence of greatness.

To make room for the younger model, they put The Admiral out on the sand. I was openly, verbally sad so, in turn, I was openly and verbally mocked.

I didn't care. The Admiral's forced retirement gave me pangs of Alice, my old Chevy truck. Alice was a hunk of metal as well, assumed soulless but, again, I felt differently. When she died, I sent out an email, "Alice RIP" and the outpouring of stories told me I was not alone. Ghost in the machine.

The Admiral may just have been a hunk of wire and freon tubes but he was a pretty consistent partner in my life - offering things like Mom's homemade guacamole, leftover gravy and game-playing wine. He still works fine but his era has passed; I am starting to understand this feeling. Perhaps this at the core of it.

I asked one of the delivery guys, Raoul, where The Admiral might be taken. "They'll throw it away," he said. Ack! No! "Wait. No, they recycle them. Yeah, they recycle them." Yay! Much better! For a moment there, it was a worse fate. This way, he can at least donate his vegetable tray to some retro-Suicide Grrrl.

Either way, I felt The Admiral deserved small recognition so I did the only thing I knew how to do. I rubbed his bald, white head and took his photo, thereby recognizing his/its existence and really, isn't that what we all want? Mind you, I'm bonkers but I coulda sworn I saw The Admiral puff out his freezer door chest a bit, posing for his final official portrait. If he'd had war metals, or at least some fancy magnets, they would have shone I'm sure.

Salute, Dear Admiral!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Rock and Roll

Cozy in my Santa Clara hotel room tonight, I ordered up some dinner and wine and got my thumb busy on the TV remote. Weird thing is, I never watch it at home; it just doesn't occur to me anymore. Between Netflix, Internet TV and my reading pile, the network schedule just can't compete.

But when I get in a hotel room, the TV is my friend. I gorge myself on channels, as I did tonight. I stumbled upon the movie, "World Trade Center", which tells the true story of two Port Authority police officers who became trapped under the fallen towers on 9/11.

I avoided the film when it hit theaters, because I thought it too soon and also, because it was directed by Oliver Stone, who can be a bit heavy-handed in his conspiracy messages. The only thing that kept me watching tonight was recalling Fang's glowing review and that my main man, Nicholas Cage (born in Long Beach - yeah!) had the starring role.

It didn't take long to get completely sucked in. Fang was right, the film is a gem - really well done. I got so choked up, I couldn't swallow my dinner. I just kept thinking about all the people who worked on this film, knowing what a delicate story they had to tell and the weight of that responsibility. It was a tough assignment and by god, they pulled it off with real grace.

When it finally ended, I was emotionally exhausted. I pulled my boots on and was fixin' to head down to the bar - needed something to slake my thirst and calm my nerves.

Then, the entire building began to shake. My 14th floor room was swaying and creaking, drawers slid out and doors flew open. It was like being in a motorhome with 20 fat guys on the bumpers rocking it hard. Damn. An earthquake!

I looked out the window as the quake continued. I didn't see Silicon Valley break in two but at some point I realized that standing in front of a plate glass window was definitely NOT what they taught us in school. I ran to the bathroom and stood in the doorway - the only safety tip I could recall.

It seemed to last forever - one of the longest I felt in a long time. I immediately tried to call friends and family in San Francisco, which I imagined to be much worse. I could not get through - all lines were busy. 'Crap,' I thought, 'I'm going to need two drinks now.'

I headed for the elevators but they had stopped working. A guy was standing there, equally shaken, and we made nervous small talk. Impatient, I headed to the stairs and he followed. I felt like it took forever to get down and hey, wasn't it moments ago I was watching a film with frightened people running scared down cement stairwells? How quickly life imitates art.

Turns out, it was a 5.6er, officially labeled "moderate" with no injuries, thank god, and no damage. We got off lucky this time.

Meanwhile, come tomorrow, I board a plane for Southern California, a region recently battered (and still battling) raging fires.

Ah yes, it's great to be back in California, land of constant excitement.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


Last night, I opted to take a break from my fire fears and take my Little Sister, Velrene out for some organized terror. We braved the "Hauntplex" in Centennial City, an oddly placed industrial extension of Denver that is plenty scary on its own. The Hauntplex generously offers three menu options in tangible fright: 13th Street Manor, Primitive Fear or Realm of Terror.

While trying to decide in front of the ticket booth, I turned to ask a gentleman standing near. He seemed very informed. "They are equal intensity just different settings," he said knowledgeably. "13th Street Manor is a haunted house. Primitive Fear is in a jungle setting and Realm of Terror is a Medieval dungeon."

"Wow, that's a pretty clear description,"
I said, "Do you work here?"

"I designed them all."

Alllllrighty then! We chose the haunted house for the familiarity and because it seemed less likely to add to my wild-animals-eating-me-alive nightmares which seem inevitable in that jungle scenario.

Since this was Velrene's brilliant idea, I make her lead. From the first zombie appearance, I grabbed the back of her coat and would not let go. When one half-dead motherfucker jumped out of a couch cushion, I nearly shat myself, screaming and half-laughing all the way through. Intellectually, I knew that these were actors and that I'd paid $15 to be in this situation but frankly, these realities mean nothing when zombies are popping out of closets and grabbing at your ankles from under a bed.

The 13th Street Manor taught me this: I may not make such a great mom. Whenever something green, oozing and moaning would appear, I would simply swing V forward in the classic, "Take her, not me!" maneuver. Nice behavior. Very maternal. By all means, eat the child, just stay the fuck away from me, for the love of Elvis.

Huddled in a dark corner, we were both too petrified to enter the bedroom which clearly had a decaying corpse in the bed, so we hatched a plan. Breathless, I helpfully suggested, "Let's wait here for some other people and then hang onto them!"

"Yeah, yeah," agreed V. "Okay, yeah."

Then, a young couple came down the hallway, clinging to one another - the girl hanging on the boy's belt. V simply hitched our wagon to girl's pants and that was that. They never shook us lose or even tried. V learned this tactic early when she'd yelled back at me, "Let go of me!" and I refused. See? I'm teaching her things. Survival tactics. That's important stuff, folks.

At one point, we had to squeeze through a slanted wall crack in total darkness. This is when I realize that leader role may have risks but the caboose position sucks equally. Those godforsaken creatures were right at my heels, breathing on my hair with their rotted teeth and asking me in giggling, evil tones if I was ready to die. While I should have casually responded, "Gosh no, I have yet to see Miami," instead, I screamed-babbled something like "No!!!Ohgod, nooooo!Pleasenoooo!AAAAAAAAAAA!Omigodomigodomigod!!!!!"

Finally, after one exhausting macabre scene after another, we find the exit. We finally let go of one another and gulp in the night air, all talking and laughing at once. We apologize to the couple and they confess, "Oh man, don't worry about it! We were happy to have more back-up!"

Just then, we turn a corner and a large man wearing a hockey mask jumps out of the bushes and makes quite the display of starting up his massive chain saw. HOLY FUCK. I can't remember the last time I ran that fast. Later, we went up to the Designer Dude, whose name is James, and complimented him on that last bit - a beautifully cruel touch. He was pleased.

Going back to my truck, my heart still racing like a bunny in heat, I chuckled at the irony. Here I was paying my hard-earned cash to experience fake ghosts while my good buddy, HDW, is currently trying to get rid of hers. Yup, that very evening, she had a ghostbusters crew visit her home to see what could be done. She's grown tired of the light switches moving on their own and her kitchen being rearranged. 'Tis her story to tell so I'll stop there but I have to admire the timing here - just in time for Halloween!

Friday, October 26, 2007

OK, For Now

This is not a recent photo of my beloved Green Valley Lake, it's just me being optimistic amidst all the fiery madness.

In my last post, I linked to a much-needed GVL-focused story in the Press-Enterprise. I sent the reporter and photographer a thank you note. (As a former and sometimes-present reporter, I remember how few and far between these can be.) The reporter, Mark Muckenfuss - who sounds like he should be a character in Harry Potter - kindly sent me a note back that gave life to my hopes:

"Thanks for your note Heather. I drove down Wild Cherry from the north end to Yukon and saw no damaged homes on that stretch. Hope you can keep enjoying your cabin."

That is precisely our street that he is talking about so it looks like we are intact ... today.

However, the Slide Fire has burned 13,700 acres was just 20 percent contained by late Friday afternoon, with 10,000 houses still threatened and many mandatory evacuations still in place. It's progress but it remains an agonizing battle.

Eric Spillman, a reporter at KTLA, is doing an admirable job with not only his on-site broadcast reporting but his blogging as well. He often ends up playing traffic cop to reader opinions and feelings which are raw and hyper-sensitive right now. That alone is a full time job. He opened his Wednesday post with this observation regarding GVL, population 600:

"This tiny town may have lost more homes per capita than any other in Southern California."

Also, I'm reading some unfortunate facts - that firefighters had to literally abandon GVL late Monday because the fire became too dangerous. Consequently, a number of residents, including the retired fire chief, stayed behind and battled with what few hoses they had.

The retired chief, Martin Neville, is now being lambasted for criticizing the fire department and I would agree that loss of a human life is not worth any structure; my family would not be comforted by the survival of our little cabin had it robbed someone of their loved one. No way.

Still, if the Green Valley Lake Inn, the local watering hole, isn't a pile of ash when I finally get there in late November, I'm buying a round of drinks for these stubborn fools.

Supposedly, they are going to post a list of homes that are no longer on the San Bernardino website but I can't find the list on the site and I'm too exhausted right now to dig further. I'll check tomorrow or call the hotline, 877-885-7654.

Cross your fingers!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Holding Our Breath

There are hundreds of wildfire headlines but this one from the Riverside Press-Enterprise might be my favorite:

"Green Valley Lake Narrowly Escapes Disaster"

Also, we uncovered some welcome news last night. Many thanks to 'GVLSean' on the SoCal Mountains website who wrote:

"Just got an official 'unofficial' report. My neighbor phoned me and said his friend that works for the GVL water company told him that the homes in the immediate area of Wild Cherry and Fern/Yukon are OK! Specifically, my home is on the corner there and his is on Fern to the west of us and they are OK. I hope this helps some folks."

Since our house is on Wild Cherry, this is huge relief. My brother is ready to celebrate but my mother and I are not convinced. The Slide Fire still surrounds the area and it is 0% contained. It has already destroyed 200 homes and three structures.

In the spirit of puns and bad taste, I'd have to say we are not out of the woods just yet.

Photo Credit of downtown GVL: William Wilson Lewis III, PE