December 31, 2006

Not an ordinary offer

The one request made by our visiting friend, Ms. P was to see the redwoods while she was here. Like a fool, the morning we were going to go, I sampled the early morning swim team practice.

Not only was I tired on the hike, but due to an excessive amount of pool water in my stomach (how DO you do backstroke without swallowing water?), I was also carsick most of the drive there. The problem is the lack of a direct, straight, smooth road into Big Basin Redwoods Park. When we took the In-laws down there, Mom K was praying and moaning the whole way down as she glimpsed her impending doom at each oncoming curve. This time, I was just whining and moaning. I kept asking Jrex to drive like an old man.

This grove of redwoods is 45 minutes south of where we live. When we were with the in-laws, we only saw the tourist loop. This time we did a nice four-mile loop to a waterfall and back.

Along the way there were times when the trail became hard to see. As we glanced around and speculated about getting lost, Ms. P made one of the kindest, most generous offers ever made by a friend,

“If we get lost, you can eat me first.”

December 27, 2006

You might be wondering why I asked him that...

Having a friend for a visit means we get to explain the eccentricities we take for granted.

The first time I visited my in-laws I was surprised to find out that the dishwasher was never used. Not even after a big dinner when it would have been filled to capacity. I found out since that hardly any Korean women use the dishwasher. The common belief is that it just doesn’t get the dishes clean enough.

Now, anyone who knows me knows I’m not a particularly clean person. Organized, sure, but as my Dad always said, “We don’t believe in the germ theory anyway.” Dishwasher clean is fine for me. However, when it's just the two of us, it's easier and faster to just hand wash and dry the dishes Asian style. On the other hand, when we make a big meal with lots of prep dishes, it's easier to fill up the dishwasher and run it.

A common question in our house is, “Honey, is the dishwasher white or Asian today?”

December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas to us!

One of my best friends is coming tonight to stay with us for a week, so we did our personal Christmas celebration yesterday. Three things made me cry while overall the day was wonderful.
  • I read this article over breakfast. It’s about a building in Chicago that’s impacting one of the worst neighborhoods in the city.
  • We watched this show on PBS about an intergenerational housing solution for seniors and foster kids.
  • For our movie selection we saw The Pursuit of Happyness. Powerful, thought provoking and very well done.
For dinner, let me just say that I like to learn a new skill by jumping off the deep end. I’ve never roasted a turkey, or even a chicken, but I decided to make Cornish hens coated with a balsamic glaze and stuffed with porcini & shitake mushrooms, veggies and wild rice. Jrex walked to the wine store around the corner and picked a smooth, slightly earthy Pinot Noir for our wine.

I almost forgot to take a picture of dessert. I managed to make a delicious crème brulee.

Thanks to this cook book, the hens were tender and juicy while the crème brulee was crusty and smooth!

Jrex wrote me a great poem about home and us. All in all, the perfect Christmas. We hope each of you enjoy as wonderful a day tomorrow and for the rest of the Christmas season.

December 21, 2006


Photo Credit.

The reason was simple. One year when my brother was little, he tore open all his Christmas gifts within two minutes, asked, “Is that it?!” and burst into tears. My Mom vowed to find a better way to celebrate Christmas. Like a magpie she borrowed shiny traditions from all over the world and assembled them into a cozy set of events for her family.

Here’s the Body Part Family Christmas Manifesto.

  • Christmas began the first Sunday of Advent.

  • St. Nicholas Day is December 6th.

  • OTRsis has a birthday on Dec. 10th. Birthday kid picks the restaurant for dinner.

  • Every day of Advent we pinned up a handmade felt decoration to the Advent calendar Mom made.

  • To decorate the Christmas tree, each kid selected from their box of St. Nicolas decorations. My favorite year was when each of us received a character from the Wizard of Oz; I loved my Dorothy decoration.

  • We set out two Nativity sets. One was a traditional Germanic one of ivory colored ceramic. Mom added various kitschy characters: Winnie the Pooh, Humpty Dumpty, a knight on his steed. The other Nativity set was made of little wooden people handpainted by OTRmama, my Mom’s friend. We had a black Mary and a white Joseph. Joseph held the baby, of course.

  • On Christmas Eve we opened one gift after the evening church service.

  • Christmas Day we unpacked our stockings and opened one other gift. Then we went to church and had nothing to say while the other kids boasted of their loot. “Um…I got an orange. Like Laura Ingalls on the prarie?”

  • For the next 12 days we opened a numbered white envelope to discover the day's family activity. The Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo. Go downtown and visit the model trains at CG&E. Tour other neighborhoods' Christmas Lights. Visit someone at the nursing home. Go to a movie. Open a gift.

  • January 6th was Epiphany, or King’s Day. The tradition is that the Wise Men didn’t get to Jesus the night he was born. Christmas Day is the day for the shepherds and angels, while the Wise Men and their gifts arrived later. So, technically, gift giving should come after Christmas, not on the same day. This was the day we opened our big gift/s (which also allowed Mom and Dad to buy at excellent post-Christmas sales). That evening Mom threw a big open house and invited everyone we knew. She made 3 kings’ cakes. In each one was embedded a quarter. Whichever kid (or adult) found the coin in their slice was king for the day (or year, depending on one’s interpretation). Most of the kids gathered around while she cut open the cake, “That one! I got dibs!!” they would cry if they spotted a tiny gleam of silver. We crowned them with paper and sent them forth to lord it over the other guests.

Sometimes the tradition broke down, especially as we left for college. But we always got a St. Nicolas Day package, and Mom always had the King’s Day open house.

All this is wonderful while the tradition lover is alive and well. Since she died, we haven’t done much as a family to maintain it. Poor Mom, she always said she was the only thoughtful one in the family. The only one who made things happen. She was right. Every year I think I’ll do an Epiphany party, but for 7 years after she died, I was too depressed to deal with it. Instead of one day of feeling depressed about missing my Mom, I had a whole month.

I think that’s why our skipping Christmas feels like a relief. I don’t have to feel guilty for not living up to the tradition. I know though, if we ever have kids, I’d want to do it the way my Mom did. I loved having a Christmas filled with meaning and memories and I would want to pass that along. What are you trying to pass along this year? Did you family do anything quirky, or memorable? Or something that just makes you smile when you remember it?

December 18, 2006

How's the weather?

The question that comes up most frequently about life here is ‘what’s the weather like?’ As one commenter asked in reference to the last entry, ‘is it weird celebrating Christmas where it’s warm?’

To answer the first question, here’s a picture I took last week from the sofa:

(I wrote a long time ago about our sofa-buying adventure, here’s the final product):

Part of why it's so easy to skip Christmas this year is the weather. In a cold, gray climate, I need the lights, the evergreen tree and cozy traditions to cheer me up. Out here, there are trees in bloom and green all around me. Decorating for Christmas seems like unnecessary work.

Basically, at some point during the day the temperature warms up to the 60’s while at night it dips into the 30's or 40's. I get hostile about turning the heat on. One: it will warm up at some point. Two: all the windows are single panes. The insufficient insulation drives me crazy. As a result, most of the time inside our apartment, my hands are numb. For some odd reason, Muttola seems to really like basking in the sun once it peeks over the edge of the balcony. Obviously, there’s no correlation.

December 15, 2006

Failing the Friday Five

For this mid-December Friday Five, let's explore some Yuletide favorites.

1) It's a Wonderful Life--Is it? Do you remember seeing it for the first time?

We grew up without a television, so the first time I saw it was in college? I mean, it’s not something anyone would ever volunteer to rent, right? I loved it when I saw it, but haven’t needed to watch it again. I can imagine getting sick of it with repetition. Poor Jimmy Stewart. I love him as an actor, but most kids only know him in that role.

2) Miracle on 34th Street--old version or new?
Hmmm….see above—except I’ve never seen this one. "I’m depraved on account I’m deprived" (I grew up going down the street to see live musicals performed at the School for Creative and Performing Arts—I can act out or sing almost any musical, but I can’t handle normal TV based culture.)

3) Do you have a favorite incarnation of Mr. Scrooge?
I must have seen this at a friends house when I was young—I love Scrooge McDuck.

4) Why should it be a problem for an elf to be a dentist? I've been watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for years now, and I still don't get it.
I think I’ve seen Rudolph in bits and pieces but I don’t know if I’ve ever watched it from start to finish. My theory: it was the 50’s, they had to come up with some kind of alternate lifestyle that wasn’t TOO far out.

5) Who's the scariest character in Christmas specials/movies?

* The Bumble
* The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Muppet Version
* That Mean Magician Who Tries to Melt Frosty
* Your Nomination

Wow. I’m bombing out. Never seen the Bumble—no idea who that is. Vague memories of the Mean Magician. So I’d have to go with the Ghost of Christmas.

We had wonderful Christmas traditions, but none of them included watching TV. My Mom made her own Advent calendar with felt and other materials. She made symbols from church history that all related to the character of Jesus or to the Christmas story. We had an Alpha and Omega symbol, a lamb with a cross, a chalice, for Christmas Eve—a manger, then for Christmas Day a baby to put in the manger. Each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, the Advent Sundays, we lit a candle in the advent wreath and took turns reading the prayer for the day. Most of our Christmas celebration actually happened after Christmas, but I'll write about that later.

December 13, 2006

Bah Humbug

I suspect this might be our most relaxing Christmas ever. We have no visitors scheduled and we are going no where. I looked at Jrex the other day and said, "Let's just skip Christmas this year. On Christmas Day you can give me a card and I'll make you a nice dinner." He nodded with a cute grin on his face.

Over the years we've had to work to figure out our 'love language'. I knew that mine was verbal affirmation, but Jrex resists all categorization with all that's in him. So it took us a while to figure out that his is acts of service. We both share a need for quality time, but for him, it's in the form of long, intense conversations. I like those, but also like a frequent dose of quality activities: 'Let's talk while we surf' kind of stuff.

In any case, we're both very happy to have a day where we give each other something that makes the other feel loved without much fuss or bother. Now if only we could figure out a way to not have to give anyone else a gift either. My Dad is coming to visit in January, and hopefully my sister and her family will come in February. I'd prefer fun things with them when they're here rather than books or clothes that none of us need on the 25th. Plus, now that we're squeezed into an apartment, we don't have room for any gifts!

Even if I can persuade my family of the merits of this idea (and I don't think it would be that hard), I still have to figure out what to get for the in-laws, which has always been much harder than things for my immediate family. Why can't we all just stop the insanity of the gift buying and just do kind things for each other. Wouldn't that be closer to the original meaning of the holiday anyway?

December 12, 2006

I'm calling to ask you to wire money to my son, my account number is...

Apparently the cool, easy to remember phone number we received used to be the local number for Wells Fargo. I've never confused this many old people in my life.

December 7, 2006

Midnight Spirals

I haven’t written about the James and Kati Kim ordeal even though it’s been on my mind every day. Honestly, I think I was holding my breath until it was over one way or another. In the past few days, I’ve received emails from at least 5 people with a subject line that was some variation of “scary”.

We took the same trip. San Francisco to Seattle and back. The same weekend. The same Korean man/Caucasian woman demographic. We avoided the snow storm that trapped them. The only difference for us was we drove further into Oregon on Sunday. Thus when the storm came through early Monday, we had different driving options. Honestly, it was only due to Jrex’s diligence and research that we figured out the clearest road to take into California. I often get impatient with what I perceive to be his paranoia—taking 45 minutes to lock up the house before we leave for vacation. Always double-checking that the automatic car lock worked. Adding 2,000 extra bungie chords when we attach the bikes to the bike rack on the car. It makes me start repeating, “It’ll be fine, don’t worry about it!” It’s what I was doing on Monday morning when he insisted we buy tire chains. “We won’t hit snow, don’t worry about it.” But late at night, I start running ‘what if’ scenarios.

What if it had been me suggesting we try a short-cut? What if it had been him insisting on one? What if I kept saying, "It's fine!" and then we got stuck? What if I’d read the map wrong? What would the conversation have been like in the car? How would we have left things? Would my family, or his, have thought of hiring our own helicopters? If he’d gone for help, would he have made it? What if he were dead now? I think I often move through life with a subconscious notion that I have an immunity clause. Life keeps punching at it, but I don’t know if I truly believe it’s not there. But this whole deal reminded me that it’s a narrow veil between what seems like ordinary life and unimaginable tragedy.

I’m so glad I still have the heavy warmth of our relationship to pull around me, and so sad for Kati and her girls that hers has been ripped away.

Reason 47 to love Anne Lamott

I’m a visual thinker and her writing is muscular and visionary. I find the imagery and concept in the following paragraph extremely powerful…

If marriage was a comforting garment you could wrap around you, a fight could rip it loose and leave you standing bare and alone in a high wind, the high wind of the messes of your marriage, all that was frayed and grubby. Too many harsh words spoken, and too much unsaid, too many compromises snatched at the garment, leaving it grubby and frayed. It was so hard, though, after a fight, because one hardly had the strength or desire even to bend down and pick up the garment at your feet. But then when you did, it would feel warm and heavy and have the smell of your beloved, which is so incredible and familiar and also a little rank, with the mammalian essence of life and the sweat of battle.

December 6, 2006

And so it begins!

Every year my Mom was alive, Christmas began Dec. 6th, St. Nicholas Day. Mom loved traditions and rituals about Christmas and collected them wherever she found them. I always remember the Santa Claus story being one of many stories, never believed in as a mythical present bringer, but rather a derivative legend from that of St. Nicholas. The story is that the good saint would go around the village during the winter and leave candy and treats for good girls and boys, and a coal and a switch for bad ones. On December the 5th we’d carefully select our biggest shoe and leave it ‘outside’ in the hallway. (We lived in a vertical duplex/rowhouse with a shared hallway running up the side of the house.) In the morning, the shoe would be stuffed with a little bag of homemade cookies, maybe some quarters, and a decoration for the tree.

Unfortunately, we always had to wait until Christmas Eve to put the decoration on the tree. We usually waited for last minute tree sales or giveaways (which also meant we only ever had the scratchy kind of tree). We’d all go pick it out together, with Dad-McScrooge muttering all the way about hassles and pine needles. When we got the tree home we’d set it up (more muttering), decorate it, and leave for the Christmas Eve service. When it was over, Dad ran home while we followed more slowly. He’d put on Christmas music and light a bunch of candles (maybe it was his way to make up for the Scrooge routine?). When we got home, Mom would serve us hot cider as we carefully selected one gift to open that night.

Since Mom died, each December 6th I’ve received a St. Nicholas greeting from her best friend. This morning she sent an e-card. I’d forgotten all about what day it was. What with sunshine all the time, doing swim-team in an outdoor pool, and walking the dog in just a fleece jacket at night, it just doesn’t feel like Christmas here.

Despite all that, OTRmama’s e-greeting gave me a warm, Christmasy feeling. So, Happy St. Nicholas Day to all of you!

December 4, 2006

Swimming on the White Side of Life

This past weekend was eventful and fun:
  • I had tea with an older Dutch woman and heard about her experience of WWII as a 10-15 year old.
  • We experienced (yet another round of redwoods) Big Basin with the in-laws.
  • We took them to visit the Monterey Aquarium. After seeing a documentary about the aquarium's kelp forest, I was excited to see it. As with much in life, the reality was a bit underwhelming. If you click on the link, they feature a great white shark. In real life, it's only 3 feet long. All four of us agreed that the Baltimore Aquarium was better organized and had more variety--and that was before they installed an Australian exhibit.
  • We left Muttola for the day with J and O, our friends who hosted us when we first arrived in CA. O has a dog fantasy and was grateful to have a dog for the day. That's the best kind of sitter to have, one who is thankful for the opportunity!
Mostly I wanted to post as a way to vent after coming from swim team. I think I mentioned I was considering joining the Menlo Masters at the neighborhood pool. Last week I swam two practices. I paid my membership fee yesterday and returned to swim today. In my usual contrary fashion, once it's paid for, it feels like an obligation I don't want to do. I feel great after swimming though so I'm trying to push through that. The thing that's weird is that the swim team members are a reflection of the neighborhood, and I'm feeling prejudiced.

I've mentioned growing up in an inner-city 'hood in Cincinnati. We also had a neighborhood pool down the street. In elementary school I was on that team. We had kids from 5-18. Colors from darkest sable to ghostly white. And lots of fun: Marco Polo and Sharks and Minnows during rest breaks; lots of kidding around and joking; snack breaks courtesy of your tax dollars.

Now I'm in the wealthiest neighborhood I've ever lived in. Sure I'm in the affordable rent district, but if that is surrounded by walled communities, the people at the pool are more likely to be from behind the walls. They sit around the locker room complaining about the cost of private school education for their kids. Here they are with probably amazing public schools, but God forbid! Also, I'm in far worse shape than I thought and keep having to demote myself to slower and slower lanes. Sure I'm pushing myself, but I'm competitive enough to want to move UP not down. Bottom line--I'm feeling grubby, poor, and insecure. Being around rich white folks makes me more uncomfortable than any other social situation.

One other small thing: the guy who checks us in looks like he has native blood, and the lifeguard is African-American. When I'm friendly and chatty with them, they react like I'm trying to go slumming. They see me in the rich white swim club and make an assumption. Ditto the four homeless guys in town. Obviously there's isn't a non-obnoxious way to wave a "I'm not like them" flag, so I just feel caught in a suit that doesn't fit.

I'm sure once I start to get to know people, I'll love them for who they are. That's why it's called a 'pre judge ice': it's the assumptions I make before I know the individuals in the pack. I guess it's hard to imagine the conversational bridges--though the threat of skin cancer seems like a universal topic for all us palefaces.

November 30, 2006

And Back Again

As I mentioned, I took no pics of The Cutest Niece, or my sister, or their house. In the end, it’s probably a good thing for the sake of anonymity and family harmony, but sigh.

After our cross-country drive, Muttola is a seasoned road dog. As long as she has her bed and us she seems content. In fact, when we start packing suitcases and loading the car, she begins to hover near our feet with a pleading look that says, “Don’t leave me, don’t leave me!” Many times we’ve put her dog bed in the car early and let her watch the proceedings from there. She seems much more content knowing it’s guaranteed we can’t abandon her.

The morning we were leaving Medford, OR it was snowing on I-5. Apparently it’s state law that you can’t venture into the snowy regions without tire chains for your car. The irony is that despite 15 years in upstate New York with frequent 8-12 inch snowstorms we’ve never had to chain the tires. Jrex even went (with other buddies—I don’t like to be cold!) camping in the Adirondacks without needing chains. Out east they believe in salt and plows. Out here it’s a bit more wild west: ‘If you can’t survive alone in the wilderness—you shouldn’t be here!’ We decided to drive around the storm via Grants Pass and Highway 101 down the coast of California. That choice transformed a 6.5-hour drive into a 13-hour one! Much of that delay was due to us stopping to walk around and driving the scenic route, but it was still a long day. We bought tire chains and even learned how to install them, but it's not a waste since we hope to use them on treks to Lake Tahoe.

When we got to the coast in Northern California we stopped to walk the dog along the beach. These signs are posted all along the beach. It’s like a line from a horror movie, “Don’t turn your back on the waves”!

Given the horrifying fact that since 2004, four people including children have been swept from dry sand by sneaker waves, we were very careful to obey instructions.

The northern Redwoods (vs. the fatter Giant Sequoias) grow to incredible heights. The tree I’m leaning on is over 350 feet tall. When I was little I used to love to lean on trees and look up. I thought I could tell the age and ‘gender’ of the tree. Matriarch vs. adolescent. Grandfather vs. punk kid. This tree was the calmest matriarch tree I’ve ever been near. I love getting opportunities to feel small, to think about the fact that I’m really on earth for a very short time, and this tree in her towering silence was a gorgeous reminder of both things.

The view from my angle.

I love this stump. Lest you think I crawled on the ground to get the shot, it’s at least 15 feet tall.

This tree has survived and thrived despite a horrific fire in the core.

I’d feared a quick drive home. Jrex had so much he had to do this week that it seemed we were going to pick the utilitarian vs. the scenic route home. I’m thankful for the snowstorm that allowed us to go the scenic way. Cause, frankly, I hope NOT to do that drive again, as pretty as it was. I’d much rather do a 2 hour plane flight.

Now that I've crossed the country via the southern route (2-week trip after college), the northern route with Jrex, and gone up and down both coasts, I think I've seen every state but Nebraska and North Dakota. We both agreed on the drive home that we aren't taking any road trips for a while!

November 29, 2006

We Interrupt

...the regularly scheduled blog post for this update. While in the middle of switching to blogger beta, with links and formatting incomplete, two things happened. One: I finally went to the neighborhood pool and sampled the Menlo Masters. At the moment I'm thinking I'll join and swim 3x a week. We'll see how long that ambition lasts!! Also I got a contract job for a drug company. It's certainly nothing I'd want to do full time, but 25-35 hours of work/wk from home sounds great right now! I can continue (ha! Start is more like it) doing Flash tutorials, walking the dog, and now swimming.

It was gratifying at the end of the practice when the coach said, "Well, OTRgirl, you survived your first practice, congratulations!" and the woman I'd shared the lane with turned and gasped, "That was your FIRST one?" I guess she's been doing this for a while. Granted, she's petite and in her 50's or 60's so it wasn't particularly impressive that I was (barely) able to keep up with her, but it still felt good.

November 28, 2006


[I switched to the beta blogger and it seems no better about uploading pictures. I had a few for this post, but no luck uploading them. Sigh.]

I have this lamentable tendency to want to live life and not document it so I don’t have many pictures of The Cutest Niece in Washington (vs. Jrex’s sister’s baby: The Cutest Niece in California). Actually, I don’t have any. Somehow taking pictures puts me into the mindset of an observer rather than a participant. (Also, I kept forgetting I’d left the camera in the car.)

On the way up we drove 12 hours to Portland and stayed with otr mama and her daughter. Otr mama was my Mom’s best friend. They met when her daughter, Jdawg and I were in nursery school together. We also lunched with my mother's aunt. Great Aunt P is one of the healthiest and sharpest 84 year olds I know. She fell and tore up her rotator cuff, but she ad-libbed her own physical therapy for the last three weeks and found out she wouldn't have to get surgery.

After spending the night at Jdawg's house, we drove to my sister’s Thanksgiving morning. Of course we hit a fair amount of traffic but got there eventually. She made a wonderful meal. As kids we had a family friend who always made us a sweet potato pie for Thanksgiving. OTRsis gave a nod to the sweet potato tradition with a spicy sweet potato soup. We all agreed it was delicious, but perhaps better suited to rice (which we had the next day).

Cutest niece was scared of the dog at first. She’s 18 months old and has a couple words though she’s quite fluent in sign language. Apparently the hot toddler trend is to teach sign so they aren’t limited by the sounds they can control. On the first day, Cutest Niece kept doing the sign for ‘up, up’ whenever the dog was in the same room. Muttola was fabulous though: she didn’t lick Cutest Niece or run after her. By the time we left, Cutest Niece would see me coming and ask, “Da? Da?” which meant, “Where’s the dog, woman, you’re nice and all, but the dog, she’s like cheerios soaked in milk and poured onto my tray!?”

On our last night there my brother treated OTRsis, Jrex, and me to an IMAX showing of Happy Feet. My fantastic brother-in-law stayed home to watch Cutest Niece. It should be noted that this did not upset him since it gave him a chance to watch football and grade students’ work in peace. The three of us Body Part kids are a bit overwhelming as a group. Both of my parents were confident and opinionated people who took up a fair amount of space in a group. They raised three kids who each have different facets of their gifts. The downside is, there are opinions for every issue and rapid-fire discussions of the day’s to-do list accompanied by much loud joking and teasing. My sister and I married men who are more the strong, silent types. The ones you want to rely on, but who don’t take up huge amounts of public space. Our brave husbands are the kind of men who have opinions, but who usually wait to be asked before voicing them.

We all enjoyed Happy Feet. Probably too much. We cracked up over all the cheesy/sappy factors which were strewn throughout the movie like popcorn on a theater floor. I’ve never been glared at by so many four year olds in my life! Mostly it felt like the penguin’s eye view prequel to March of the Penguins. The thing that annoyed me the most was that the stupid lead character never finished molting! I thought it was impossible for penguins to swim until all the grey fuzz disappeared? Whatever. That was one of many huge suspensions of belief. The Hispanic penguin posse was fabulous. I would love to see them meet the penguins of Madagascar. It would be the Sharks vs. the Jets all over again.

Tomorrow I’ll tell the story of the homeward journey (hopefully with pictures!). Overall though it was a great trip. I’m thankful to have so many wonderful people in my life, and it’s even better that I’m related to a few of them.

November 27, 2006

Welcome Home, San Fran style

I hope to do a nice long entry tomorrow with stories and pictures, however, it’s late; it took us 13 hours to get home. Let’s just say, we were required to buy snow chains before crossing the border from Oregon to California.

Some of you may remember my tips and tricks for home repair. Well, tonight I have a travel tip. It has nothing to do with redwoods, or the ocean, or elk sightings, I assume you can handle those fine all by yourself. Just keep a handy supply of ‘oohs’ and ‘wows’ and you’ll be fine.

However, here’s a tip for 101 just leaving San Francisco. If you see a man in an overpass ahead of you, especially if his back is to you with his hands in front, lean over to your sweetie and say, “Hey, babe, switch lanes. NOW.” Otherwise you might get to say, “Hey, hon, you might want to run the washer blades for a while to clean off that urine.”

November 22, 2006

Follow the rainy brick road

I wrote a funny, witty post about our upcoming 15 hour drive to Seattle with visits to Great Aunt P, otr mama and family. but it got trashed by the evil google-blogger and I'm tired. I've spent over an hour trying to publish.

We're taking the mutt and going to visit my brother and sister for Thanksgiving. We're dreading the drive but really excited to see family and friends.

For those in the know:

Should I switch to the beta blogger? Cause blogger is driving me CRAZY lately. Why does Google have to mess up a perfectly good thing. DO NO EVIL, GOOGLE!? This shouldn't be so hard.

November 20, 2006


I think I've found a church. They meet in the Palo Alto High School theater. During worship songs at the beginning, they turn the lights down. Anyone who has been in church with me knows I often cry during worship. I'm an emotional person. This became much worse about a year ago. Having grown up with Christian parents, I sort of take the whole "God came as a man and died for me" thing for granted. You know, 'yeah, yeah, but what have you done for me lately?' So I started praying that the death and resurrection would really matter to me. I prayed that way for three months and have been crying during worship songs ever since. Mention heaven? I think of my Mom up there boogie-ing the night away, and I cry. Jesus? I am overwhelmed by who he is and what he's done, I cry. "You give and take away"? I had a house and now I don't, I cry. Bottom line? A dark theater is a good thing!!

But that's not the mortification of which I speak. I met a cool couple after church a couple weeks ago. The guy turns out to be a wonderful networker. He sent an email to both me and a graphic design friend of his. From the casual way he talked about her, she sounded like a young, free-lance type designer. When I wrote to her, I took that tone: "Hey, just moved here, let's do lunch and chat". I got back an out of office reply which included her job title:

Art Director for a large SF firm.

How do I take it back and write a lovely, grammatically correct letter, "Dear Ms. _____, [insert professional qualifications and much flattery here] I would love an opportunity to meet with you and discuss design in the Bay area."?

November 17, 2006


Well, I must say I've been enjoying the gracious responses you all gave to my last post. I'm feeling quite Sally Fieldish.
The sofa is here. We rented a Uhaul cargo van last Saturday and drove up to collect it. Fortunately for us one of Jrex's labmates is looking for a better apartment and so had incentive to want to help us (in that he could help move the sofa in and check out our digs). Also, he's a nice guy. I'll post pictures soon. I'm still tweaking the living room layout.
Tuesday I registered with a creative placement agency in San Francisco. Not that it's yielded any work in the subsequent three days... but hopefully after Thanksgiving it will.
Yesterday I dropped off a stellar resume packet at a design firm here in Menlo Park. They didn't call me today, so I'm guessing they aren't interested. Sigh.
Before moving here I somehow expected all I had to do was show up and declare, "Ta Da!" and all the design agencies would roll over and beg me to come toil for them. Don't they know what they're missing?! In the meantime, I have to start mucking with Flash tutorials.
Jrex's advisor just bought a bunch of tickets for tonight's Stanford Women's Soccer game. I guess they've made it to the NCAA finals or quarterfinals or something. Heck, I'm just excited to get out of the house and hang out with people I don't see every day! Jrex assembled a crock-pot chili that I finally remembered to plug in today (yesterday's dinner was not what he'd expected...). We're planning to bring a thermos of chili to share at the game.
Once I hang all the pictures, the apartment will be officially done. And THEN what will I do to fill my days? Oh yeah, finish one of the Irish websites. The other one was finished two weeks ago. Finish a brochure I promised someone before I moved. I suppose I could also pretend to be an artist and paint or sculpt all day? Join the Master's swim team? Any recommendations for tricks to find jobs? Quirky methods that work? (cause then I could write a book...) Activities to try in the meantime?

November 13, 2006

In which I write alot about not having much to say

The wind has died in my blogging sails. I’m becalmed for many reasons:

1. One by one the friends I’ve met in the blogosphere are walking away from their blogs. All for valid reasons, but without a quick stroll through their lives, I’m uninspired to make much of my own.

2. I’m no longer in a job I want to escape. If I’d merely sat at my desk all last year I would have lost my mind. So I read about other people’s lives and escaped my own. At a time when I had few creative outlets, low-grade creativity kept me sane.

3. I’ve been reading Anne Lamott and Annie Dillard. Writing anything after delving into their worlds feels a bit like trying to compose a silly song after gloaming through some Shakespeare. (And, yes, K, I did just use a noun as a verb—K works as an editor for a dictionary.)

4. It’s too seductive to sit and read other blogs all day and pretend I’ve done something useful with my free time, so to combat that, I’ve been avoiding the computer.

5. I have a fear of becoming the lonely old woman in the dog park who goes on and on and you have to listen to her because you feel how lonely she is but you’re drowning in the vapid torrent of blah blah blah. I’ve mentioned this before, but I have a deep fear of being some narcissistic bore: the one you hope doesn’t corner you at the party. In order to feel safe talking, I wait for someone who asks me thought-provoking questions, leaves room for my answers, and then asks still more questions. If they look away while I’m answering, or give any indication of impatience or boredom, I shut down and start asking them questions. Thus far it’s proven true that most people would rather be listened to than listen. Sure, being the listener lets me control my fear, but at a cost. The problem with a blog is that I can’t tell when people are bored. The whole comments thing feeds the obsession: lots of comments—‘you like me, you really like me!’; few comments—‘see, I knew I was boring them!’

6. In a compromise between my comfort with public disclosure and my husband’s need for privacy, I choose not to write much about him/us. However, until I get a job and a network here, he’s all I’ve got except the dog and I KNOW too many dog stories would glaze your eyes and make you peek at your watch.

November 10, 2006

The Job Front

Here's an article about thirty-somethings that helps explain why I don't have a job yet. (Thanks for the forward, Aunt Gemstone!) The bottom line is that for most people my age, we want a job we feel passionate about. It's true. After a job interview I usually send a thank you card. Well, after last week's interview, I didn't want to. It would have been a neat job in some ways, but busy, cluttered, and disorganized. I just don't want to commute for 45 minutes to get somewhere I'm not excited about.

I did an interview back in September with an exhibit design firm in Oakland. Two weeks ago I tried the drive there from my apartment during the tail end of rush hour. It took 45 minutes. I was supposed to call him to touch base about whether I'm interested in an interview. I haven't yet because I don't want to drive an hour and a half for work every day, but at the same time, I don't want to shut the door. I would be excited about working there. But I haven't seen what's available closer to home. I have an interview on Tuesday with a creative placement firm in San Francisco. That should help me get shorter-term contract work, or possibly a full-time job. In the meantime, I'm going to mail a card today to my Oakland contact telling him I'd be interested if they have a position available. Because at the end of the day, no matter whether it's practical for my future career, I want to be passionate about my work.

November 8, 2006

Invisibility Cloak

One of the things I'm finding strange here is that I feel invisible. I have no connections here, heck, I hardly ever pass the same strangers on the street. Somehow I feel like I could do anything because who would care? Leave the dog's poop in 8 inch deep ivy on a road no one ever walks but me? Sure! Walk around with the same clothes and hat day after day, why not? White socks with sandals? It's a fashion statement! I'm becoming that eccentric woman you wonder about. The one you hope never stops to talk to you. It's sort of freeing, really. No connections equals no accountability.

When we went to vote the woman who checked us in exclaimed, "Oh, ____ Street, you're my neighbor!" With those five words, she stripped my invisibility cloak.

November 6, 2006

To Ahnold or not to Ahnold, that is the question...

Just think, OTRsis, if Ahnold is voted out of office, his parting line is already written. (Or did Clint say, "I'll be back"?)

I've just spent three hours researching issues and candidates here in California. I'm starting to agree with John Adams that government should not be entrusted to the mob. I know I'm just getting a tiny slice of the whole picture and depending how I read it, and what annoyed mood I'm in, I'm not voting based on facts, just gut reactions. After tomorrow, I'll have voted in four states (Massachusets, New York, Maryland and California) and I've never seen this many propositions. There's something to be said for professionals deciding some of these issues. Heck, I can't even find info on the judicial candidates! So should I vote based on whether I like their name?!!

When Jrex was visited by the biohazard guy at Stanford he was told, "Welcome to the most regulated spot on earth. Not only are you in the US, you're in California, and even for California, you're at Stanford." I swear this state must have a law about whether or not I can pick my nose in my own car! (Not that I WOULD just that I COULD...)

No, Dad, this blog is not going to turn into a bitch session about California but it may temporarily veer in that direction. Anyone else frustrated by their options (lack of or over-abundance)?

November 4, 2006

Signs posted near job prospect in San Francisco

Every 20 feet, looking like normal parking info signs:

"No vehicle habitation from 10 pm to 6 am."

1. It was common enough that an 8-block area needed signs?!
2. If they own the car, what do you care?
3. Is it legal to habitate your vehicle from 6 pm to 10 pm?

November 2, 2006

The reason I became a designer

My schedule since Sunday:

Sunday afternoon chatted with OTRsis about what design companies like to see in portfolios. Applied via to a fun-sounding job in San Francisco.

Monday drove to Oakland to check commute during rush hour. Doable. Went to two art stores to view portfolios. Realized I would have to pay $60 to $120 for a generic portfolio. Remembered I know how to make books. Said, "Screw that!" Returned to my side of the Bay. Shopped for materials. Went home and sketched and concepted for two hours. Went to sleep.

Tuesday woke up excited to start project. Checked Craig's list for printers since I'd need a 13x19 inch printer to produce portfolio pages. Made appointment for Wednesday evening to see a printer. Got off phone. Which promptly rang. Fun-sounding job, "Do you have time to meet with the owner today, he'll be down in Palo Alto this evening" Me, panicked but smooth, "I'd much rather see the office, does he have time tomorrow, or Thursday?" Time set for 2:30 pm. Cancelled appointment with printer guy, ran all over town to buy a printer. Found out that Staples has a 14-day return policy even if I use the printer. Perfect, since it's bigger than we need for a regular printer. Just need to do portfolio. Ran back to art store for a couple additional items. Came home and finished concept. Completed book cover and placed it under 15 pounds of books on kitchen table to dry it flat. Was glad for too many books. Worked on layout, dug up files to print. Stayed up til 4:30 am.

Wednesday woke up at 6:30. Started printing pages. Jrex worked from home in the morning so I wouldn't have to waste time driving to and fro. (Love him!!) Finished installing final page at 12:30. Washed hair and face, got dressed. Made Jrex drive to his office with me riding shotgun with the makeup drawer in my lap. (Faster to just take whole drawer). Completed makeup, dropped him off, tore up 280 and arrived to appointment five minutes early. The interview goes well. After chatting a while the owner passes me to one of the account managers. Who asks how I am with tight deadlines. He's holding my portfolio as he asks. I laugh, "Well, I went from concept to completion on that in less than 24 hours."

I respond well to deadlines. No deadline, no work. Deadline, I make it happen.

October 29, 2006

Let's go out to the lobby...and get ourselves a drink!

I grew up fairly poor. My highly educated parents (M.Theology, Valparaiso; JD, Harvard) chose to be downwardly mobile and raise their children in inner-city Cincinnati. We were always looking for cheap or free things to do. One of our favorites was walking ten blocks to the Emery Theater every weekend for a cheap double-feature. I was the same age my parents had been when I saw Snow White, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Meet Me in St. Louis, and My Fair Lady. I could contrast a Ziegfeld Folly with a Busby Berkeley Musical.

One of my exciting local finds here is The Stanford Theater. Just a brief drive and I access a cheap double-feature every weekend. Yesterday featured A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and People Will Talk. Sure, it was me sitting among all the old people that live in a 5-mile radius, but we all had fun. No really, in the finale of People Will Talk half of them sang along to some Latin (German?) song. (Now my Dad will leave a comment upbraiding me for my ignorance…it's probably the Stanford anthem)

Movies back then were made under strict censorship laws. No visible blood. No open mouth kissing. No cursing. Both of these movies featured pregnant women. As a result, I discovered the censors did not approve of obviously pregnant woman. No wonder I was shocked by my sister's post-baby stomach. In the movies women left the hospital as skinny as they went in!

Watching A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was both foreign and familiar all at the same time. One of my close friends in college let me interview her for a class on memoir and biography. She shared how her mom would take her and the two other kids onto the bus and daily pretend to have lost the bus fare. How they had a collection of grocery store carts in their back yard. Abuse. Drugs. She also told me her favorite book of all time was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. She added that none of her friends had ever read the whole book despite her begging. Well, that was as close to a dare as I ever needed so in I waded. Honestly, I don’t remember much of the plot because it’s a painful read, but I made it to the end!

I watched the movie and thought of my friend. I remembered my own childhood, hiding in the backseat of the car while Mom waited in the food stamp line. Getting day-old bread at the Freestore. Never having stylish clothes. Having a Dad who was a wonderful playmate, but not always reliable (absent-minded and always late). Having a mother who spent a lot of time tense and scared about money and quick to criticize my father’s tendencies.

Yet those feelings seemed so far away from my current life. My husband is very worried about our current finances; we’re eating into our savings and I need to get a job. Fair enough. But it’s been difficult for me to feel the fear in the same way he is. I know what poor feels like and we’re nowhere near that tension wire. I can drink milk with my French toast and order a drink in a restaurant. In my world, that’s rich.

October 28, 2006

My life is SO hard

I've been collecting pictures for a post on what our neighborhood is like. Trying to find words for how I feel living here, but it's not coming easily and so I haven't known what to say. It's easy to write when life is full of events, much harder when it feels small and quite ordinary.

Dooce, Finslippy and Waiterrant are able to write about small events in a way that makes one care, or at least laugh, but I'm finding it hard to figure out a way to make furniture assembly at all exciting.

I haven't become aggressive in the job hunt and am frankly feeling discouraged and tired when I think about climbing up that hill. I found this apartment because I was proactive and went on a driving expedition. I know that finding a job is similar, I need to be networking, lunching, getting to know people. I definitely need to get busy with that, not just for the sake of our finances, but because I'm getting bored. Honestly, how do the idle rich survive? Go and sit at a club? Go shopping? Take up needlepoint or still-life painting? It's a weird thing to complain about, but knowing that all I have to do in a day is send out emails, make a couple phone calls and read a book, is beginning to pall. (I can feel waves of sympathy coming toward me. The way you're all feeling my pain means so much, really.)

It's making me think about life. What gives it meaning? Where do I find my worth? As a designer, ultimately I just make garbage. No matter how award-winning a brochure, invitation, or annual report is, it gets tossed. Since Mom's death, I've known that relationships matter more than any job, but I've yet to form any new ones here. So I walk my dog. I tweak our living space. I email prospective jobs. Sure I'm spending some time with God and that's been good, but it's weird not to have momentum toward a specific purpose in those times. Has my meaning been based in how busy I am?

It's easy to think that if I had a kid there would be more meaning, but these long days in an empty house are making me think about that differently. What if this was all I had PLUS a baby? I couldn't go for long rambling walks, or window shopping excursions. Couldn't spend hours on the phone. Couldn't easily go out with the couple friends I have here. Couldn't go to San Francisco on 12 hours notice to meet my cousin. I know life would just be different and I would adjust, but yikes! (Again, my apologies to all you Moms and Dads out there--it's a weird thing to complain about)

In any case, this post feels weirdly whiny and 'poor me' and I hate being like that. Just letting you know why it's been hard to figure out something 'bloggable'.

October 24, 2006

Talk about a hangover!

I have a significant klutz factor. When I go rock climbing I always come home with bruised shins. I run into things, I get random bruises. There have been a few times in my marriage when I worried that people would think my husband beat me. "No, really, I DID run into a door."

On the first night in Ireland, I managed to bonk my eye into the corner of the bathroom sink in the middle of the night. (note: it's better to turn on the light in a strange bathroom rather than go on auto-pilot when you're half-asleep) I soaked a washcloth in the coldest water I could manage and pressed it against my face over and over. All I could think about was meeting new people with a black eye. I'm in a foreign country. Do I explain that I was an idiot and smacked myself with the bathroom sink? Or just let them think my husband beats me? Fortunately, other than some redness and swelling in my cheek, there was no mark.

A few nights ago I played tug-of-war with the dog. When we'd finished, I lay on the floor as she lay (I thought) behind me, near my head. All of a sudden, "Whop!!" I nearly blacked out. She'd hit me in the temple with the knot of her rope toy! Not just a gentle tap, she'd wailed it against the side of my head. I hadn't filled the ice tray in the new apartment yet, so had no recourse but sleep with that side of my head facing up and hope for the best.

As I drifted to sleep all I could picture was walking around a new town, or God forbid, being called for a job interview and having to explain that my dog beat me up. Yeah sure, lady!

Thankfully, the swelling and bruise are hidden by my hair. That was the night before the sofa excursion. When the salesman moaned about having drunk too much wine the night before, I was able to exclaim, "I'd be more sympathetic, but last night my DOG beat me up!"

October 22, 2006

Who is that masked man?

Yesterday we participated in the great American tradition of conspicuous consumption. We left our Victorian looking camelback sofa in Baltimore. It fit the living room there and frankly, wasn’t really my style. Within the context of that house it was perfect, but not otherwise. The original plan was to say yes to a free sofa that our friends had. In fact we did. They brought it last weekend and no matter what angle we tried, it was too long and wide to fit through the door. Since then we’ve haunted IKEA while sampling every available sofa. We picked one we thought would be great, but realized it might not fit through the door of the apartment.

[I need to point out an unusual word: ‘we’. Every other time we’ve set up an apartment or a house (ok, ok, twice so far), Jrex has been drowning in his PhD dissertation or dying oncology patients. All valid reasons for not being involved. Well he’s currently trying to set up a new lab and one of his least favorite activities is organizing space. Apparently couch shopping outranks organizing. The truly surprising element in all of this is that not only does he have opinions, he has STRONG opinions. I’m definitely not used to this. Don’t get me wrong, I love having him involved, it’s just an adjustment.]

Given our doubts about the IKEA couch, I searched the net and found a place in San Francisco that does custom couches for the price we were willing to pay there. We ventured north yesterday morning. First, we had to agree on a degree of cushion softness. After much up and downing the truth came out: I married Goldilocks. This one is too hard. This one is only a little better. Ah, this one is Just Right. We quickly agreed on the style we both liked. Then there was the debate about color. He likes gray and brown. Gray is depressing and brown makes me think of couches in the 1970’s buried in oak-paneled basements. We found three shades we both liked. Back and forth we went between fawn, camel or peat. The attentive and intuitive salesman finally came over and exclaimed, “Any one is perfectly safe. Look, it’s tan, tan, and tan!”

He was right. We picked the light tan and left quite happy. In three weeks I’ll show you a picture.

On the way home we stopped off at Costco. The ‘sad’ event last week was that my cheap TV bit the dust. Dead dead dead. I don’t think Jrex was upset at all as we toted our ‘real flat’ TV up the stairs. Nothing LCD or plasma, but its big. It picks up Chinese, Spanish AND Korean stations without cable access. He sat there all night flipping channels with a goofy grin across his face.

So, not only does he have strong opinions, the guy who could make do with a reed mat in a mud hut is joining me over here on Shoppers Island. This could be really bad. If only I could persuade him that shoes are a valuable commodity.

October 20, 2006

Friday Five

As suggested here.
Below you will find five words. Tell us the first thing you think of on reading each one. Your response might be simply another word, or it might be a sentence, a poem or a story.






[Please note, when I create art it is often an outlet for the 'darker' emotions in me. It usually sounds sadder/angrier/more despairing than I usually feel. This poem is no exception.]

All of life, today, a whirlwind
swirls of possibility
fears of no ability

Sitting on a cracked foundation
Waiting for lightening
to split this darkness
restore uncharged balance
highlight the high ground

Waiting quiet in this den
new rooms
new tastes
new sounds
same mate
same dog
same fate?

Are we the prey?

October 19, 2006

ON and off

During my college years I lost touch with all my friends from high school. Most of us did, right? I bet most of you at least called them during your Christmas break? Not me. I would throw myself into the social whirl during the college semester. (Yes, Dad, I also learned a few things in my classes) I visited friends. Listened. Discussed literature, the meaning of art, why there are so few GOOD Christian artists, etc.

I couldn't afford to go home for the short breaks. I spent them touring the east coast: October Break in a cottage on Cape Cod; Thanksgiving in DC with family friends; Spring Break I persuaded my Grandpa in Florida to fly me down to visit him. Each year was a variation on that theme. I thrived on activity and profound friendships. When I came home for Christmas? I collapsed. I hunkered in my room reading books. I called no one. I barely left the house. My version of extroversion is either ON or off. Usually on, but when it turns off, it's all the way. I know I've mentioned my need for 'days of nothingness' before. I think those are mini versions of my three-week Christmas-break shut-down.

One advantage of a husband who works long, unpredictable hours is that I end up having a lot of time alone in our house. Waiting. But in the waiting: reading, cleaning and/or playing with the dog. When he goes out of town, I pack the schedule and end up tired and drained by the end of it. I think some of his introversion has rubbed off on me over the years since I've gained a much greater capacity for silence than I ever had in college.

Why is this relevant? Its happened these last two weeks. Sure, in part I was busy constructing bookcases with the ridiculous tools IKEA thinks sufficient to assemble their behemoths, but I was also avoiding life. I poured myself into lots of relationships in Baltimore and needed time to shrink my world. To not have to focus on others. To breathe in the quiet. To organize, sort, and cleanse. Now that the apartment is 95 percent finished, I'm emerging from the cocoon. I'm ready to start to live here. Not just to have a new address, but to start to connect. To push in some roots.

I'm ready to rejoin the blogging world. I might even start to call people again. Sorry if any of you have felt neglected!

October 12, 2006

Shoulda, coulda, woulda recent comments, Weigook mentioned that she was always able to pick up a wireless signal in this area. Tonight was the night that we finally got internet access. Of course the only jack that seems to be working for the wireless router is in our bedroom. During my exile in the office/guestroom, I tried out the wireless connection. With no trouble at all, I automatically linked to 'GutNet'. Cool! Though the name seemed odd.

It's not our network.

Jrex is still fussing with the set-up in the other room. I could have been on-line this whole time! Granted, I've been working full time just unpacking, going to IKEA to buy shelving units, unpacking more, organizing, running back to IKEA, walking to the hardware store, opening yet more boxes. You get the idea.

The office is more or less put together. The bedroom is mostly done. The kitchen is great. I found a TV at Salvation Army for $50. Once I get a job we can get a Lord-of-the-Rings-worthy TV, but this will work in the meantime. The biggest problem is that I still have eighteen more boxes of books to cram in to very little space. Even though we left a lot of stuff behind, it's difficult to go from over 1400 square feet to 850 or so.

When we had to pick a user name for our new internet service, I suggested ''.

October 2, 2006

Tonight, there's only you tonight!

We pick up the apartment key tonight!! As wonderful as it's been to stay with friends we enjoy, I'm looking forward to having my own space to organize. It's been hard not to have a permanent home. Of course, after seeing Darfour photos recently, I feel like a spoiled American as I whine about not being settled...

After tonight, I'm not sure how much internet access I'll have for the rest of the week. I did discover on my last trip that people here in NoCal don't believe in free internet access. Starbucks has a subscription room for wireless, the library had 15 minutes free for 'guests', and the bookstores don't seem to have cafes. Seattle this is not. Therefore, until I hook up the apartment, I may not be able to tell you much about it.

A bit of randomness:

Muttola has finally recovered from a case of limber tail syndrome. We think that playing in Pyramid Lake and then sleeping in the car messed her up for the weekend. It was so sad, yet funny, to watch her try to play and then whip around to nudge her flaccid tail.

Our friends are both Taiwanese. While driving to dinner the other night, Mr. J commented he'd forgotten to switch to his contacts so he could see better. O offered to drive for him. In the back seat Jrex grinned, "Cool, we can have a Chinese fire-drill". I glared at him mockingly, "That's terrible!" He looked confused, then chagrined, "Why? Oh, because they ARE Chinese?"

Found out yesterday that there is a fantastic farmer's market at the Mountain View CalTrain station. I'll be two blocks from the Menlo Park CalTrain, so it will be easy to hop down two stops and get fresh produce. Mmmmm....sage honey! $3 Pancetta. Pluots.

The food here has been fantastic. So far we've had Vietnamese noodles, then Vietnamese Pho, Japanese 'tapas' and Mexican burritos (complete with South of the Border pacing as the waiters all watched futbol). Most exotic of all, we were introduced to InOut Burgers. A California institution, these burgers are available for the price of value menu items at most other restaurants. There is an unwritten set of shorthand for ordering them: "animal style" includes grilled onions and extra sauce; "neopolitan" gets you a shake with all three flavors swirled together; "a home run" gives you one single burger, one double burger, a triple, and a four-stack. None of those options are listed on the menu. Ah, mentoring at its best!

Do any of you have advice for other fun things I should be doing in this area? I've yet to get up to the city, so San Francisco suggestions are welcome!

September 30, 2006

A few stars with my beef tongue, please.

Well, we're here. We hit all the big name places: Murdo, SD; Lusk, WY; Jackson, WY (OK, I guess that one counts), and Pyramid Lake, NV.

Pyramid Lake is the largest desert lake in the US. It nestles in the brown hills of Nevada on an Indian reservation. We got there early and stopped by the local bar to get an overnight permit for $10. We found a campsite and then drove down to Reno for dinner.

One of the best things we did for the trip was order this book. The authors tracked down diners and restaurants around the country. We sampled Bob's in Sioux Falls (We loved it, especially the sweet corn), Yellowstone Drug in Wyoming (so-so) and Idle Isle in Brigham City, UT (nice pie, great 1920's style, ok food). Eating at local hangouts gave us a better sample of local people and local tastes. Sadly, in middle America, local tastes are frequently bland and fattening. We're enjoying the option of Asian noodles as 'fast food' here in California.

In contrast, the only restaurants listed in Nevada featured Basque food. We didn't understand until we went to Louie's Basque corner in Reno where we sat family style at a long table. It turned out the three women at the table were from Winnemuca, NV. Apparently large numbers of both Spanish and French Basque moved to Nevada in the 1800's as sheepherders. Every June at the Basque festival in Elko, NV they have a running of the bulls. We had a first course of beef tongue with an option of sweetbread for the entree. We opted for lamb and pork instead. We assumed the french fries were an Americanization of whatever Basques eat in Europe.

Back at the lake we had to revise our tent/dog experiment. As we drove into the campsite the noise of the car startled countless rabbits. Muttola pressed against the window whining and twisting her neck to watch them as they scurried away. We realized she would spend the whole night trying to chase them so we decided to spend the night in the car. Now, car sleeping is a great plan if you secretly want lots of opportunity to stare at the desert stars as you twist and turn in vain effort to get comfortable. I never knew that the Milky Way could get bright enough to dim the outlines of familiar constellations. As usual, as soon as one camps and has no easy access to a toilet, one develops an incessant need to go to the bathroom. In a tent, there's the sound of a quiet zipper. In a car... the light turns on, the door creaks, slams, and re-slams on re-entry. None of us slept much. But the stars were worth it.

September 26, 2006

"But really all of it is flat" along with comments from prejudiced East Coasters

Ohio: "See, I TOLD you Rochester wasn't flat!"

Minnesota: "At least a pancake has a curve."

South Dakota: "I think this counts as a hill."

Badlands: Turn one way, you see the plains, but...

...turn around to see this.

Eastern Wyoming: "More desolate, but less boring than Minnesota"

Wyoming: "What do you want from a state where there are more species of grass than people?"

Grand Tetons: "Out east we call a hill a mountain, but out here they call a stream a river."

Idaho: Road signs we saw, "Watch for rock", "Watch for stock".

Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah: "Flat as compelling as a Siren's call."

September 25, 2006

A time to speak and a time to refrain

Well, we've hiked Death Canyon into the Tetons. Let the mutt experience the Jackson Pet Garage. We've seen a bull elk chasing around a bunch of cows. We laughed as busloads of photographers with behemoth cameras spilled out to click the show.

Throughout this trip I've noticed again our different needs for silence. Jrex is happy to drive in total silence. He rarely wants music and every so often will listen to a book on tape. As a proactive measure, I bought myself an ipod before the trip. My theory was that with one ear I could have music and with the other, chat when Jrex feels like chatting. So far, so good.

Another time he prefers silence is while hiking. For me, this is mildly torturous. It means I spend hours trailing along forced to just THINK. Ugh. Usually I'm thinking about how tired I am, how far it is to the food break, nice view, cool rocks, are we done yet? I much prefer to go for a happy meandering wander with a good friend. I prefer to talk, laugh and have exercise that is incidental not monumental. But for us, this is my usual view while hiking.
Jrex has entirely valid reasons for loving silence. I understand them. I respect them. I just don't share them! Today I resorted to the ipod. I know its sacriligious to all 'real' hikers, but it made me very happy to hike along to Eden Burning and U2. The uphill was faster than its ever been.

As a total aside: we had our first and only snowball fight of the season near the top of the hike.

[I do have to acknowlege that after I re-injured my ankle on the way back down today, Jrex walked behind me chatting the whole way. He wanted to make sure I was ok as well as distract me from the pain.]

The irony for me is that as soon as we come into a hotel room, the TV goes on. I HATE it!! I grew up without a TV. In each home we've had as a couple, the TV is outside of the normal living area. To go from so much forced silence into a forced cacaphony feels somehow slimy? All the ads, the beer, the babes (hotels have ESPN--something else we've never had) and the annoying (how many times can we discuss the impact on the team of this injury? Oh wait, at least three more) commentators drive me nuts. I would be much happier if we both read books or magazines and were quiet together as we wind down for the night.

On the other hand, I am over here writing a blog entry as a way to end a beautiful day...

September 22, 2006

Murdo, SD

When Jrex and I lived in upstate NY, he often commented on how flat it was, especially along I-90. I contested the rolling hills didn’t fit my definition of flat. I’ve driven through northern Ohio. I know flat. The past three days have tutored him in the ways of the flatlands.

What’s amazing about South Dakota is how the awe inspiring landscape becomes airborne. As we pass field after field of green grass, golden corn lined with dark strands of trees what begins to catch the eye are the clouds. Towering columns of white, glowering hoods of gray and floating baby clouds stream overhead. Lightening shattered trees crumpled among stands of trees, fields are spotted with black steers; farmhouses hover behind windbreaks of trees. The constant red road carves ahead through flat, flat, flat fields. And above our heads are canyons, mountains, and rivers of clouds.
We passed a sign declaring the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I never knew the prairie in the Little House Books was South Dakota.
We brought along the book Roadfood. Through it we found Bob’s in Sioux Falls. I have to tell you, I now know that I’ve never truly had sweet corn before. We had no need for dessert after having an ear of fresh picked goodness.
Last night we stayed with my Mom’s sister. Mom was the oldest of ten kids. Aunt Gemstone is one of the middle five girls (I know I should know the exact birth order, but I’ve never been able to remember it without help). As we visited and she gave me travel tips we realized genetics make strange quirks even stranger.
  • She also hates to get cold in the winter and avoids showering when possible.
  • We both need to fidget in the car. She used to chew her nails, I still do. She suggested using a baby toothbrush instead of chewing my nails to stay awake.
  • We both drink chocolate milk on roadtrips because it sooths our stomachs.
  • Of all the aunts, her eyes are the most similar to mine. Mine shift from gray to green to blue depending what color shirt I wear, but around the rim is a dark, thick border.
Why would such things be genetic? I’ve never hung out with her enough to have learned any of those behaviors from her. It made me want to have more time with her to find out what else we have in common.
Tomorrow we get to play in the Badlands and the Black Hills. We’re going to skip Mt. Rushmore and go see Crazy Horse instead. I met a guy from West Virginia who was a blast consultant for Crazy Horse so I want to check it out.
We’ll get to the Grand Tetons Sunday night and have Monday for hiking. There’s a doggie day care (Riley’s Pet Garage) in Jackson so we can leave Muttola while we hike. Anyone have suggestions for hikes in the Grand Tetons?

September 20, 2006

So Long, Farewell

We're off to see the country, the wonderful country of US.

OK ok. It's worse than a mixed metaphor, mixed and abused soundtracks. Mea Culpa.

We've been wined and dined by friends and neighbors. Taken our five minute pause to sit in our backyard and get misty as we said goodbye to our house. We've run that nice check to the bank as soon as we walked out of closing. And now we're off for the eight day cross country drive. We're heading north to visit my best friend from high school, then my aunt in Milwaulkee. After that we have no set plan. We'll get as far as we can stand each day and call ahead for dog friendly hotels or campgrounds. The original plan was to visit Badlands/Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. However, we'll have to cut our trip short so Jrex can help receive at the other end. So we dropped Yellowstone from the itinerary since we'd rather fly out for a real vacation rather than wave as we drive by in a rush.

No time to edit sorry if this is a bit choppy!

But I do have time for a slight guilt trip. My wonderful, funny, amazing sister coulda been a guest writer while I was gone, but NO. She's too busy with a toddler, a mostly full-time job, marriage and helping with a homeless shelter. If someone is going to reject my benevolent (begging) invitation you'ld think they should have a better excuse than that, right?

In any case, I'll write if I can, but have no idea what connections are possible in South Dakota. (Jrex insists there are more people in Baltimore City than in that whole state. But I think that's a prejudiced New Yorker talking. Does anyone out there know for sure?)

September 15, 2006

Ms. Pitiful

Muttola and her cone were left alone all day as we drove to DC. In the National Museum of the American Indian we commented how Korean different tribes looked and how similar the Mayan calander numbers are to Korean. Then it took us two hours to drive home (normally a 45 minute affair). We forgot it was Friday... all three of us thought it was Saturday. Mom K talked the whole way including at least 20 minutes of baby nudging. I tore off all the plastic on the steering wheel liner in tiny, repetitive pieces.

After all that, I'm now hiding in our basement guest room pretending I'm checking to see if anyone responded to Craigs list and is requesting our clawfoot tub.

I can't talk to anyone anymore. I'm done. I need three or four days of total silence.

Did I mention that tomorrow is the ladies brunch in my honor? Tomorrow night is dinner with D & S, Sunday is church, Sunday night is dinner with A & J, Monday the closing on our house, as well as dinner with our other neighbor, Tuesday we go to our favorite neighborhood cafe, Wednesday we leave town.

I guess silence (and breathing) will wait.

In the meantime, my poor little conehead keeps me laughing.

September 14, 2006

Surviving the kindness of in-laws

I’m so tired I can barely hold my eyes open but I need to vent a little. I do love my in-laws. Really. Especially my Mom-in-Law. However. One might think that the three days in which one’s daughter-in-law’s house is being packed, then loaded, then cleaned might not be the best days to volunteer as a house guest. But that’s purely speculation on my part.

The point is, I feel totally guilty for not sitting around on the couch chatting with my MIL rather than supervising, sorting, organizing and cleaning. Granted, I’m using the busy-ness as a means to avoid her, but still, why should I have to feel guilty?

In the last 72 hours I’ve had a grand total of five hours of sleep, three the first night and two last night. Yet I feel guilty going up to bed instead of sitting around chatting. Granted, I’m heading upstairs to write this entry. Knowing that I won’t be able to post it tomorrow.

I do this push/pull thing with Mom K. Last weekend I called her with hourly updates on the great apartment hunt of 2006. This weekend, I’m totally avoiding her. I think I want the subtext to read, “Can’t you see how insanely busy I am? Why would you even THINK about coming to visit this weekend? Why would you bring a watermelon when the knives are being packed? Why bring food to cook when there are no utensils?” So I’m frustrated. And guilty. And mad that I feel guilty. And needing alone time to process the dramatic changes in my life. Yet still feeling guilty. They’re older than me. They won’t be around forever. They worked hard both in Korea and here. They would give anything, do anything for their family. And I can’t even give them enough time to sit on the couch and talk?

In the middle of all that, because life isn’t dramatic or expensive enough, Muttola has a growth on one of her paws. She had to get anesthetized on Monday so they could do a biopsy. Now she sports a clown collar and we have to wrap baggies over her bandage so she can go outside. What happened to my indestructible pound puppy?!

UPDATE: The packing and loading were finished today. It went quicker than expected so Mom, Dad, and I spent the whole afternoon cleaning the house. I repent of all my evil thoughts!! They are awesome in-laws. Now we can go play in DC all day tomorrow. My father-in-law wants to see the new American Indian museum (because they are really all Koreans—via the land bridge. Anyone see My Big Fat Greek Wedding? That’s my FIL. Everything really started in Korea and is secretly Korean.)

(Also, the growth on the dog’s paw was an inflammatory reaction and is NOT malignant. She doesn’t have to get her toe amputated and she should be fine by Monday. Phew!!)

That's all the news from Lake Woebegone. Where the women are strong. The men are good looking. And all the dogs have all their toes.

September 9, 2006

My cute old man rocks!

We got the apartment!! It's a two bedroom with one bath and a large kitchen (for an apartment). We have counters and cabinets on three sides, a window over the sink and a dishwasher. I couldn't take interior pics cause it was such a mess (single father with a young son). So here's a tour of the outside.

The sign I spotted in the dark on Wednesday night. The 'God thing' in all this is that I happened to wander up this street and happened to turn around in this driveway. I was the first and only person to ever see the apartment!

Our apartment is on the second floor in the back.

These stairs separate the two top apartments which means we don't have to share any walls with anyone else. Surrounded by trees, the whole apartment floats in green. (Bay Area, I officially forgive you the brown of San Jose.)

Our carport. The back wall is cabinets for locked storage (for camping/climbing/skiing and biking gear!! Sweet!!)

One dollar to wash and free to dry!

Our street. The theory is we won't mind the 5 am walk on such a pretty street. We'll see if it ends up being true.

As reported, the Caltrain station is at the end of the street. Keep walking and you'll find a pet store that carries Muttola's brand of dog food, a Crepe Cafe, and the main street of Menlo Park. We're going to try living with just one car. I have my Vespa fantasy in the back of my mind, but we'll see if it's necessary.

Bonus Number 1
Withing easy walking, biking, (or scooter) range of the house is a city park featuring two pools. For $5 a session or $40 a month I can access lap swims, adult swim team, deep water aerobic classes and women's water polo!

Bonus Number 2
Our friends are giving us this eight foot long sofa. O's father owns a minivan we can use to transport it to our new place.

Some of my old man's classic quotes today:

"Now, you should know that your neighbors downstairs are a mother and son. Her son is black, but he's very nice. We haven't had a bit of trouble from him. He's 11 years old and busy all the time with after school activities."

"I know you said your dog has a crate, but I'd really feel better if you just give her the free roam of the place. Maybe you could leave the sliding doors open so she can get some sun on the balcony."

"We recycle here. I'm in a deaf club and I turn in all the aluminum to pay for our snacks for club."

"Your neighbors across the hall weren't married when they moved in, but my plumber was there doing some work and saw a marriage certificate on the wall. We were so happy to hear that!"

How much do you want to bet that he eventually tells someone about the nice Chinese man who lives in apartment 4?

My quirky fetish

It's time I confessed. I have a thing for old men. It's true. Nothing oldophilic or anything, I just think they are SO cute!! The shaky handwriting, the genteel manners, the hesitations, the careful walking style, the loss of hearing they try to play off. My dad's dad, Grandpa T was the cutest of the cute old men. He came around to push my chair in when we dined together. He never criticised my teenaged driving style, he would just quietly brace his hands against the dash and the windowsill as we approached any corner.

What does that have to do with the house hunt? Why am I distracting you with anecdotes at such a crucial time? Because I have an appointment in an hour to meet 'my' cute old man here.

The first night I got here I looked at a place in Burlingame. I drove an hour from my friend's home in Santa Clara to get there. On the way back I drove down El Camino Real, an artery road chock full of strip malls, fast food, and random apartment buildings. As I drove I would take random turns to check out likely looking apartment buildings. I wrote down names, locations and phone numbers.

During one of those side tours, in Menlo Park (just north of Stanford), I used a driveway to turn around. As I turned in, the headlights illumined an "Apartment for Rent" sign. I jumped out of the car, to the consternation of a passing jogger, and got close enough to read the shaky, old-man handwriting. Slanted, trained in penmanship, but with the slight quiver of the old man. It said, "2 Bedroom, available October 2nd, please repeat number 2x when you call".

I called the next morning.

He had to ask his wife about the dog.

They've been recently burned by a yappy dog tenant.

I chattered on and on about how she's so friendly, she doesn't bark, she doesn't know she can push open doors so she doesn't claw at them, etc. He seemed hesitant but said he'd get back to me with a verdict.

That was Thursday morning. By Friday afternoon I was freaking out. We signed a lease on a 1 bedroom, cottage style apartment as a comfort blanket. Right after I did that, my old man called me back! He'd received permission to show the apartment. I was en route to Belmont to check out an in-law apartment (which was sorta workable, and sorta awful--but that's another story). He said he'd call me in the morning to set up a time to view the apartment.

I'm meeting him in an hour. I'm so excited! Will he be adorable? Will he let me and the cute pictures of my dog persuade him? Is the apartment any good? Will he let me sign a contract today?

It's a perfect location. Two blocks from the Menlo Caltrain station. I could be in San Fran in 45 minutes. I wouldn't need an extra car. It's near the library, a park with a pool, Stanford and my friends down in Santa Clara. We could meet for dinner in Mountain View and wander along Castro street.

OK. OK. I know I'm buzzing and I need to calm down. Deep cleansing breaths! I feel like I'm going on a first date. Am I clean enough? Do I look like a sweet young thing? The kind any old man would rent an apartment?

I'll let you know...