Monday, August 31, 2009

the road to a cause

There are many life experiences that make us take up "the cause." Politics? JFK. Civil rights? MLK. Drunk driving deaths? Candy Lightner, who founded MADD in 1980 in honor of her daughter, Cari, who was killed by a drunk driver. Killer diseases? Michael J. Fox became a spokesman for Parkinson's disease. Spinal cord injuries? Think Superman!

Organ donation? That would be me. I am asking you, reminding you to fill out the form on your driver's license that indicates that you are willing to be an organ donor. My beloved sister was on a kidney transplant list for nine years, NINE YEARS. A transplant might have saved her life. It might have given her a quality of life she had not enjoyed since 2000. Your used organs ~ heart, kidney, liver, corneas ~ might be of life-saving importance to another man or woman. Really, you will be dead. What use can you possibly have for those body parts? But others who receive them may live on. If you have hesitated to check the "Be an organ donor" box on your license, hesitate no longer. You can give someone life. Think about it.

This has been a terrible day. A terrible, terrible day. Weeping, memories, smiles, weeping, photos, letters, weeping, phone calls, emails, and still more weeping. Even though I know she had decided this was her time, and I have no argument with her decision, I will mourn her. We had a wonderful life together as sisters. Here's what I will really miss, though. When she would telephone me or I called her, we would say, in a high, falsetto voice mimicking Walter Matthau's in "Hopscotch" greeting his spy partner, Glenda Jackson, "Helloooo? This is Eleanor Roooosevelt!" No one will ever say that to me again. Now that's what I'll miss.

the saddest news

My beloved sister and only sib, Vicky, died this morning. She was in a convalescent hospital in Chula Vista, apparently doing quite well. I don't know what happened, what the cause of death might have been, but her body was so thoroughly compromised from years of crushing struggle with severe diabetes that it probably just gave out. The fact that she had lived even this long was a miracle for her and a gift for the rest of us.

Let angels speed her flight. May she at last rest in peace.

I will miss you, my funny, clever, smart, impish, loving sister.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

the week in review

It's been a slow week, here in the valley. Weather has been very mild until this weekend, when it has climbed to the high 90's and is predicted to stay there or go higher. It's about time. Mr. C. was away for the week, visiting his family in Ohio. As a result, I watched several movies, stayed up later than usual, but mainly puttered around in the garden, and enjoyed my solitude. He returned on Thursday, happy for the visit and happy to be home.

Wednesday I went for my annual check-up with my eye surgeon. She is the one who did the phenomenal vitrectomy on my left eye four years ago and, basically, restored my sight. I had so many years of laser treatments to stem the retinopathy, particularly in my right eye, that the left one really serves as my "seeing" eye. With it out of commission I was sunk, so her handiwork was particularly gratifying.

Movies included: The Namesake, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and the BBC series Blue Murder, a sort of working-class Prime Suspect. Caroline Quentin as hard-driving DCI Janine Lewis is terrific. Only objection: too much cell-phone use here! I had some problems with the Manchester accent, but by the third or fourth episode I got the hang of it. I've seen six episodes so far. More will be coming later.

I finally finished reading (listening to, actually, on CD) "Cutting for Stone". Well worth the effort. Next reading project: "Devil in the White City" while I wait for my name to percolate up to the top of the "Elegance of the Hedgehog" list. I started at 27; I've move up to 17 but now the library is closed until the third week in September so I have to fill in the meanwhile with some of my bedside stack.

I have spent several teary hours watching and listening as the nation bid farewell to the last of the Kennedy brothers. High praise, high criticism. Much focus on works well done. Expected focus on Chappaquiddick. But here's the thing about those three chaps, plus all of their various offspring; have you ever seen so much dazzling dental enamel?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

the star-crossed brother

The last of the Kennedy brothers, the only one to reach old age, has gone. His tumultuous life ~ both political and personal ~ has drawn to a close. He was the last male in an amazing line of a family devoted to the social and political life of this nation. I had hoped that the health care debate would have ended in triumph before he moved on to other political climes. It was the cause that moved him over the last thirty years. The President was said to have been ready to pay a visit to the ailing senator. Alas, it was not to be. Teddy would not ever have achieved the Oval Office, due to, among other flaws, hubris. Nonetheless, his devotion to this nation cannot be minimized.

I remember being in a hotel in Santa Barbara when the Senator's plane crashed in 1964. I could not believe that this family could possibly be assaulted by yet another tragedy. But it would not be the last. The Kennedy family, whether you agree with their politics or not, has given of its best to this nation, its sons have died for it, its daughters have worked to make it a better place. Imagine. Three died violently; one in war, two by assassination. One daughter died in a plane crash. Another daughter, after ghastly medical intervention, lived out her life in the shadows. Eunice Shriver Kennedy, only a month ago, died in her time, but had established the Special Olympics, mostly in honor of her sister, Rosemary. It is up to the surviving sister, Jean, to now bury her last sibling.

This Lion of the Senate will be missed. God speed, Teddy.

Monday, August 24, 2009

run, don't walk

This is a brilliant film and I encourage you to see it. Alan Arkin delivers yet again a sharp performances. John Turturro is as creepy as ever. Amy Irving as his wife is so taut that it's almost uncomfortable. The cinematographer and film editor deserve great praise.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The remarkable "Cats"

Tonight's trip to the theater brought to life the astounding gymnastics of "Cats" from the Sacramento Music Circus. Music by Andrew Lloyd Weber, lyrics by T.S. Eliot. This energetic musical is almost 30 years old. Even so, I had never see it or heard the entire libretto. Nor, I confess, have I read "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats." As soon as our library reopens in mid-September I will get it.

The momentous occasion for this outing was a group birthday celebration; mine plus three friends whose milestones occur while I am away. First we went to dinner; I had a divine seafood risotto, with enough left over for tomorrow's supper. Then it was off to be transported to the Jellicle junkyard by an astonishing group of singers and dancers who made all the sundry "Cats" real for a night.

I marveled at the skill and endurance of the dancers. I can remember back in my dancing days ~ I quit completely when I was about 30 ~ coming home after class, hoping I would be hit by a bus so I wouldn't have to go again, although I loved it with a real fire when I was doing it. I can only imagine the exhaustion and aches this wonderful troupe must experience after 2 or 3 weeks of perpetual motion.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

when friends gather

Dinner with Babz and Ali tonight at my house. Quiche, salad (from A's garden), watermelon (from A's garden), 2 bottles of wine. But the best part was that we solved all the world's problems. Isn't it wonderful when that can happen, all in one evening? Believe me we didn't always agree but we parted, late, with deeper affection, understanding and respect than we had started with. A splendid evening.

Friday, August 21, 2009

staff of life

I bought two new books about bread baking. The first is "Artisan Baking" by Maggie Gleezer. The second is "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart. I have tried recipes from both and they are all good, as far as I've gone. Each book gives lots of ink space to the theories of bread baking; what's the best kind of flour, the most potent yeast, how to buy and store ingredients, etc. It all makes for interesting reading. Sort of like reading a chemistry textbook.

Today I decided to make Hi-Rise's Corn Bread from the Artisan book. It's a yeast bread that uses cornmeal and fresh corn. I made it once before and wasn't too happy with the result. This time is was 100% better.

It's a very sticky dough and is hard to work with but the end result is worth the mess. Two lovely loaves that will sustain my breakfast toast and lunch sandwiches. The texture is soft and rich, dotted with corn kernels.

Next I will make the Anadama bread from the BBA book. Or maybe the Greek Celebration Bread that is fragrant with spices. Bread baking is good for the soul. And the aroma that fills the house is perfect payback for all the trouble it takes.

Another reason for this effort is to provide some change from bollio bread at the beach. We don't get any variety to the strictly white bread unless we load up on Canadian whole wheat bread from the bakery in San Miguel. I want to expand my repertoire to include some interesting bread for the stay. Of course I will have to take most of the ingredients with me since we can't get things like cornmeal, molasses or bread flour.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

BLT for breakfast

What that really means is that I am on my own for the next couple of weeks. Mr. C is visiting with his family in Ohio and Pennsylvania so I get to eat what, where, if and when I want. This morning I rooted through the fridge and came up with these yummy ingredients.

There was the corn meal bread I made a couple of weeks ago, some chipotle mayo we brought home from Mexico, a big, juicy Beefsteak tomato and some bibb lettuce.

Then bacon, fried up, drained, each piece folded in half and piled on the rest.

Voilá! A big, delicious BLT. The perfect breakfast meal.

The other thing I've been doing is watching movies. I've seen three. First was "Coffee and Cigarettes." Too boring for words. Next I watched "In Bruges" with Colin Farrel, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Feinnes. Excellent; part thriller, part comedy, part morality tale. And this afternoon it was "Pieces of April" with, among other, the sublime Patricia Clarkson. This was the best of the three; a 2-tissue saga of a totally dysfunctional family. Funny, weird, bittersweet. I recommend the last two; forget the coffee and cigarettes.

Monday, August 17, 2009

back to school

I remember Back to School, both as a boarding school student and as a mom. When it was time to go shopping for school clothes, it was real easy. I wore uniforms; white blouse, navy jumper, saddle oxfords, white sox. And we could only get those things at Bullock's Wilshire in Los Angeles. Toward the end of our stay at our summer house in Newport Beach my mother and I would drive up to L.A. for a day of shopping. First out of the way would be any new uniforms. Then would begin the great dress hunt. I was usually allowed one new dress (mandatory get-up for nightly dinners). I refused to settle for just any old thing. It took hours of serious shopping until I found just the right thing. In between shuttling from store to store, we would have lunch in some low-noise tea room. By the third year we had this down to a science. By the summer before my junior year I had shot up by about 4 or 5 inches and needed all new uniforms; Mother was not happy. So instead of buying several, she let the hems out of the old ones. They had a distinctive lighter-colored ring around the bottom and the waist was so high it resembled an Empire-style costume. The blouse sleeves hit at my forearms. We were allowed to wear short-sleeved blouses, but only in the spring. So she cut the sleeves off and prayed for hot weather.

As a mother, I did a lot of sewing for my girls. Always a new dress or two at the beginning of the year. Girls were just starting to wear pants to school; it was still primarily dresses or skirts. We would go shopping for fabrics and patterns. Plus shoes, always the most expensive items on the list. We went to San Francisco for a day of the same sort of activities I had with my mother, including lunch at some smart spot. I remember it all with true delight.

Where is all this leading, you might well ask. I have just had my first Back to School experience as a grandmother. Emily will be going off to boarding school next month (no uniforms!) so she and I had two days of retail therapy and rash consumerism. We arrived home on Friday about 2 PM and started right in via the internet. She has to provide everything for her room; sheets, towels, any decorations including, we think, a wastepaper basket. So we got right on it, ordered what she needed, and crossed several things off the list. Saturday morning, after the Farmers' Market, it was off to buy duds for riding. There is a really good "cowboy/cowgirl" store in Woodland and we had great success. Next, to the fabric store to buy materials for a cover for one of her pillows. Then to Target for various things like hangers, shoe rack, toiletries basket, clothes hamper ~ found one that completely collapses and then pops open to hold, they say, two big loads of clothes. We also found a very smart braided area rug in colors that match her other furnishings. Then it was back home to unload, eat (no tea room for this duo) and head up to Sacramento. More success in the shape of a backpack, denim shorts, two blouses. She looked at shoes but no luck there. We surveyed our loot and decided we would make yet another foray on Sunday morning. Back up to Sacramento to Nordstrom's Rack ~ no luck for her there. We hit Urban Outfitters, a store I had never heard of but she was ecstatic at the sight of the place and scored two nice T-shirts and a very cute little (and I do mean little) skirt. By that time we were both shopped out and headed home. Fortunately she came with a fairly empty suitcase so she can take almost all of her purchases home. The rest I will box up and mail to her. I must say she is a very good shopper; careful and, for a 15-year old, remarkably modest in her choice of clothes. One of the most fun parts of doing this with her was watching other girls pawing through racks of teeny weeny dresses and skirts and squealing with delight at having come up with something "sooooo cute".

As if all this activity were not enough to keep us amused, we decided to go see "Julie and Julia" yesterday afternoon. What an absolutely delicious movie! Meryl and Stanley Tucci are definitely the engines of this film and their story is the most fun to watch; when they aren't on the screen you get antsy to have them back. The "Julie" part is sort of boring. The contrast between the genteel Childs ~ well born, well spoken, well mannered ~ and the yuppie Powells is painfully stark. The movie crowd that was "of an age" truly appreciated what Julia was all about. The 30-somethings didn't know anything about Julia but loved Julie. Em liked it all. I will see it again with Mr. C, who is currently busy getting ready to leave for Ohio tomorrow morning.

Time to get Em off to the airport for her flight home. It has been a wonderful two days. Can't wait to do it again next year. Dorothy loved it too, all that racing up and down the freeways!

Friday, August 14, 2009

she's back!

It was a bumpy visit. For most of the time my precious baby sister was in drug-induced psychosis, restless and paranoid and basically "not herself." Each day she got a bit better, a tiny bit more lucid, but still waaaay out there. I talked to her doc about this and he confirmed that she had been given so many drugs over the past five months that the tipping point had been reached and she just slipped over the edge. He said it would be at least another 24 hours until she "woke up" normal, or what passes for normal. I saw her Wednesday and it was quite an experience. I've never known anyone who is psychotic; it was instant education. She knew who I was but thought I was there for nefarious purposes. Thursday she was quite a bit better, still sure the doctors and staff were out to get her, were torturing her by hooking her up to machines (that would be dialysis), and that she was going to die right then and there at their hands. I bid her a tearful farewell, went home and prayed like the dickens. We left after lunch, spent the night with Alex and Pete in Long Beach. Out to dinner last night at a Greek restaurant; much too loud (I'm getting old) and not very good, but it was lovely to have dinner together even if we had to yell to be heard. We hit the road at 6:15 AM this morning, Em snoozing in the back. Arrived about 2, tired but happy to be here.

First thing I did when we got home was listen to my phone messages. Lo and behold! Two completely lucid, coherent messages from Vic asking me to call. I did, and she is easily 100% better. The doc was right; it took a day to get her mind working again. She does remember how loony she was, knows it was the meds, is embarrassed at her various outbursts, but mostly is happy to "be back" with all of us. I am happy to have her, too. Now it's a matter of being certain that all the drugs are out of her system and then they'll let her go home. Perhaps on Sunday. They have figured out the cause of the terrible pain ~ a pinched nerve in her back, under her right "wing" caused by the shrinking of two vertebrae. At least now they know what they're trying to treat.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

better news today

When I arrived here on Sunday I went right to the hospital to see my sister. She was completely unresponsive. Almost comatose. The ICU nurse explained that she had been so heavily medicated for pain that she was, basically, out cold. Since her kidneys don't work to filter out waste she has to depend on dialysis to do that for her and therefore it takes a lot longer for the body to get rid of that stuff. I talked to her but there was no indication that she heard me. Yesterday she was still "asleep" and unresponsive so I didn't even go to see her. Instead I had a wonderful lunch with a very old friend. That lifted my spirits greatly. When I got home the word from the hospital was that they were going to dialyze her yet again and do another MRI just to be sure there was no obstruction in either the heart or the brain. I went to bed feeling mighty scared.

But this morning the medical report is much better. Vic is awake but very groggy. I will go in to see her this afternoon. After a 36 hour nap she ought to be perky as all get out.

Monday, August 10, 2009

an unscientific survey

What can one do as a passenger in a car traveling 515 miles down the spine of California? Well, you can play the 1-2-3 game with license plates or the A-B-C game. You can count the number of billboards or wrecked cars or the pieces of shredded tires strewn along the highway. Since none of these numbing time-killers appealed to me on yesterday's drive, I decided to do a survey of the makes, models and colors of cars and trucks. Very informative. Here are the results. Let me add that the number of cars in the survey was huge; many thousands. The unscientific part comes from the fact that the survey taker was sitting in a moving car.

Most popular brand overall: Toyota
Second most popular: Honda
Most popular color overall: Silver. There are several shades of silver. There's light silver, medium silver, dark silver, and silver silver.
Most popular color for a panel truck: white
Most popular colors for an SUV: Silver or black
Most popular color for a mini-van: silver
Most popular color for a sedan ~ that being any 2- or 4-door car: silver
Most popular colors for a pick-up: black or white

I saw no SmartForTwo on the road, 5 Mini Coopers, 7 Mercedes, a couple of Volvos. Many of the pick-ups were GM and Ford. A sprinkling of Hunday, Chevy, Saturn, Subaru, Kia, BMW. As for other colors, a few red, magenta, tan, beige. I saw one green panel truck, one yellow Hummer.

It helped pass the time.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

i got it at the library

This weekend is our library's semi-annual book sale so I stopped in to see what I might find to read now and then donate to the Cuyutlán library. Tomorrow is the "all you can read" sale; fill up a paper shopping bag with anything that's left and it will cost $5. Good deal. I browsed through 5 or 6 tables of books and came away with these nuggets.

  • 1. "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junto Diaz. This novel won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Award in 2007, and more. I've had it on my list for a couple of years.
  • 2. "Depths" by Henning Mankell. He brought us Kurt Wallender, although this is not in that series.
  • 3. "Elizabeth Costello" by J. M. Coetzee. He's always good for a depressing read. A previous novel, "The Life and Times of Michael K", is one of my favorite books.
  • 4. " Nice Work" by David Lodge. His academic send-up novels are the best!
  • 5. "Prague" by Arthur Phillips. I bought this one because I really enjoyed another of his books, "The Egyptologist." I still think it is one of the most cleverly conceived and delivered stories ever.

I also finished "The Girl Who Played With Fire" by Steig Larsson, the second in his "The Girl . . ." series. Next and final book will be out in a year or so. This one is every bit as good, intricate, contrived but ultimately satisfying as was "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."

Along with all these literary efforts, we are packing up to head out tomorrow to San Diego for a few days to visit with my sister ~ who is back in the hospital but this time in California ~ and then to Long Beach to see daughter Alex. I am taking the LapMac with me; if I can connect I will file. If not, I'll do it when I get home. We'll bring granddaughter Emily back with us for a few days' visit before she heads off to Thacher in late August. Meanwhile, grandson Andrew has left Shanghai to begin school in Singapore. He'll be there for the fall semester, then return to Claremont McKenna for the spring.

Overheard in the market parking lot, small boy (4 yr. old?) to his mother, as he eyed Dorothy: "Mom, it that a real car?"

You bet'cha!

Last but not least of the day's events, congratulations to Sonia Sotomayor, the newest Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. I hope you give those "gold standard boys" a lesson they won't forget.

Friday, August 7, 2009

three twins

I see these three little girls, Addison, Lyndon and Hayden (l to r) every morning while on my walk. They are now seven months old. Their mom is an amazingly calm, relaxed woman!

Many years ago, when she was 8 or 9 years old, daughter Cait saw a set of triplets. Her reaction is now family lore.

"Look Mom! Three twins!"

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

who is Edna Trevor?

Frankly, I have no idea who she is. But last night I had a dream that I went back to work and the person who interviewed me was Edna Trevor. My grandmother's name was Edna, and Jane Trevor was a classmate in boarding school, but Edna Trevor? That was her name as told to me by someone in the dream and, although you are supposedly not able to read in a dream, that was the name on her door. I should state first that the scariest part of this dream was that I was going back to work. Forget Edna. So here's what happened. I was supposed to be in Edna's office for an interview at a certain time. I got there but she was out. I left, came back and she was still out. I came back a third time and found her just stepping into the elevator. She agreed to return to the office for an interview. We walked down countless windowless corridors, past dozens of cubbies into her office. The phone rang, she picked it up and started a long conversation. Meanwhile, I sat waiting. Then I woke up.

Again, the worst part was the idea of reviving a career that I bid a fond farewell to nine years ago. I need to change my diet. Or my drinking habits.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Ruby at 4 years old

My niece sent me the latest photos of Ruby. I like this one the best.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

a grown-up movie

We saw this film, L'Heure d'Été, this afternoon. No guns, no screams, no bad language, no drugs (well, almost no drugs). Intelligent conversation, real-life issues that either have already or soon will confront us all. The matriarch of a French family gathers her three adult children in her country estate to talk about the eventual disposition of the valuable treasures in the house, and the house itself, after her death. It is a bittersweet tale of an haut-bourgeois family laden with history and memory, of the ties to the past and the wish for the future. This is not a movie that will be appreciated by anyone under 30 and that's a great part of its appeal.