December 12th...

...and I have yet to post? Yikers, the month is half-gone! Honestly, I don't know where all that times ends up. If I blink, I will be 50.

Let's see, deep reflections on the fly... Very difficult to do. I might have to settle for shallow waters, with dreams of deeper posts wafting on the twilight of my consciousness.

Bleh, what a horrible phrase. I suppose it's best that I try not to write anything heady right now, after all. I'll end up drooling out thoughts that will sound much wittier now than in the morning.

Here's my one and only rumination: Forced perception. Especially now during the holiday season, when the whole commercial world is trying to shove "traditional Christmas" down our throats, so long as there's a buck to be made. I just saw an ad on TV for a stage show that involves tap dancing Santas (who are really women in costume) spinning around a Christmas tree and high-kicking, sort of like a "Night Before Christmas" on methamphetamine. Combine that with all the big box stores and their holiday ads - "Buy this! Give that! Christmas isn't complete without all this stuff!" - and I feel a bit nauseous. I have a mental picture of myself staggering around a deserted town square in the snow, searching for the real meaning of Christmas. (If I found it, they could make it into "Kt's Holiday Special" and sell lots of matching merchandise, and so the cycle continues.)

The thought on forced perception is that our traditions have become so rushed and hollow that things only take on a sense of meaning because we have always done them, and done them increasingly every year (ie lights, gifts, etc.) or because our society is shouting them in our ear, and to ignore the shoutings would make us feel like we're missing out on something. Shouting, I say - it really is true. Every facet, from radio to TV to the newspaper ads to the signs next to the road all push in the same direction. Stuff, money, self-satisfaction - these are the things that equal happiness. It's an empty chase.

Laugh tracks, there's an interesting case. Modern laugh tracks make me want to gouge my eyes out... although, I guess that wouldn't really help the situation. Recently I watched (against my will) a few current sitcoms, and closing my eyes heard nothing but a steady stream of HA-HA-HA repeating in the background, a chant so hyper that it made me wonder what they'd done to really get the audience to laugh that hard. I suspect it involved alcohol. What made it especially disturbing was how unfunny the dialogue was, the jokes that were supposedly sending a crowd into hysterical fits. Who were these people, with lives so grey and downtrodden that they would laugh at the sort of phrases you might read on a credit card offer? And were we, the bored viewer, expected to baa along like mindless sheep? ("Other people are laughing! It must really be funny!")

Maybe I'm jaded because my favorite funny shows are actually funny and have no laugh track at all - Scrubs, Arrested Development, everything from the BBC. No one is telling me how to laugh, and I get to enjoy subtle little flashes without a big pause for audience response. While I was musing over all of this, I suddenly observed that one of my favorite shows, MASH, has a (*gasp!*) laugh track, and that I hadn't noticed it all along. The curious thing is how mellow the laughing sounds, circa 1970's, compared to today's background roar, as though in the past several decades someone has been gently leaning on the "Volume Up" button. Not many shows have worthy writing, and so the track becomes the adult version of key jangling, providing just enough of a distraction that viewers hang around. What would the dialogue sound like without it?

Hmm. It makes me want to slap, well... everyone. Knock some sense back into the world, with all its fluff and fakery. Isn't that a jolly wish? I, the Ghost of Christmas Slapping, with a wreath of cut-up gift cards around my head and train of carollers behind me.

I'll incorporate it into my holiday special somehow. It will look lovely on a lunchbox.

A Story: In Which I am Challenged by the Land of my Fathers and Emerge Victoriously

Where I grew up, it is very wet. It is so wet that a typical week in November looks like this:

It is so wet that the fairway on the golf course moves like the surface of a water bed. It is so wet that people sit in bathtubs filled with air just for the variety. But this November, it has not been wet. The weather this month has looked mostly like this:

Until this past week. Finally, finally, it started to rain good and proper, a genuine Northwestern soaker.

Now, I've already established that my years away from home has degraded my immunity to the rain... as in, when I go stand in it nowadays, I clutch myself tightly, look like a bedraggled cat, and whine, "This is weh-he-he-het!" When I make fun of eave-hugging, umbrella-loving, dry boned non-Northwestern pansies, I can now point at myself and say "Ha!" And then I say, "Huh?" and then I go run in the corner and weep.

But not this week. No. The rain, knowing me well, kicked back and began working as lazily as rain can work. The day outside could be blue-skied and sunny, each dew drop a prism of rainbows beckoning me out to frolic - or, in this case, hang my Christmas lights - and as I leashed up the dog and pulled my galoshes on, it would invariably happen. There I would sit, one foot shoed and the other socked, and suddenly the rain would start hamming down on the roof. Sometimes I would try to wait it out, but finally I would pull off my one galosh, curl back into a blanket, and then, of course, then the rain would stop and the sun would shine and the birds would burst out of the bushes like a feathery fireworks display. The rain was doing as little work as possible to keep me inside.

Finally one day I took a stand. I was sitting with my one shoe on, and the rain had just began hammering the roof, but did I let it stop me? Ho-ho! Not this time, you rain, you cloud! You damp enslaver! I pulled on sweatshirt, raincoat, leather hat, work gloves, sunglasses, safety glasses, and all other manner of apparel and leapt into the front yard with my Christmas lights in one hand and my slingshot in the other, ready to do battle.

I should explain, hanging the lights in my yard, with its tangle of tall alder and maple trees, is really more a matter of trying to figure out how to get them up so high. The traditional method was throwing a tennis ball attached to a string, but this year I thought I would get serious with a slingshot and a 2lbs lead weight.

So there I stood against the elements, facing straight into the sky and the pouring rain, shooting my slingshot, and what should happen? Naturally, the drizzle turned into a torrent of apocalyptic proportions, while simultaneously the sun burst through the one hole in the clouds, exactly where I was trying to gaze into the tree branches.

The hat came off. The glasses came off. Off went the gloves, the rain jacket, as each wet layer hampered me more and more and I untangled string for the 500th time, my adrenaline surging. I might have also been laughing maniacally, I'm not sure. "Bring it on! Bring it on!" I cried to the forces of nature. "I'm an Oregonian! Bwa-ha!"

At last, defeated, the rain let up and slid away over the horizon in a dark gloom, thinking perhaps to dampen some inlanders. I had won the day. I was wet and cold and tangled in a spool of cotton string, but I had won.

And so I went inside and had some hot chocolate.


A Thanksgiving Buffet of Posts

I have been having many random thoughts, visits by late-night vignettes, which in the spirit of the holiday I thought I would collect into one multitudinous feast. And so...

Adventures in Cooking!! After all this time, I finally learned how to cook tempeh, which mostly involved simply finding a place nearby that sells it. Actually cooking it is easier than boiling ramen, if that's possible. However, in my fridge my hazelnut syrup (for coffee) is stored right next to my soy sauce. The two bottles look remarkably similar. Having already established that dumping soy sauce on tempeh was a good and honorable thing to do, one day as I was cooking I grabbed the bottle, turned it over the tempeh, and lo - the liquid came out clear. Brown sugar works with chicken, and honey works on potatoes, but hazelnut syrup does not, does not, work on tempeh.

I am currently reading the Bible through from cover to cover, my first concrete linear reading (having a good bookmark helps), although I'm reasonably sure that I've already read all of it in bits and pieces throughout my life. I'm in Psalms, and yes - I'm proud to say that I made it through every word of Leviticus and the long, mind numbing genealogies. Strangely, my biggest struggle was with Job, but only because I've read it so frequently that my mind was spacing out as I went over it again. It doesn't help that I read right before I go to sleep which, while it puts the holy words into my subconscious, also typically turns the last few verses of the night into a hazy slush. But my nightstand lamp went out a few days ago, and I have repeatedly forgotten to replace the bulb. The other night I reached for my Bible, then realized I had no way to read it. Another distraction attempt by the Devil, I mused to myself, lying there in the dark. "The Devil Blew Out My Bulb" would be a great title for a book, though definitely not an autobiography.

The other day I was thinking about manatees and African politics. It occurred to me that most nations form around the ethnic groups they contain - the Vietnamese are a distinct people, the Koreans are a distinct people, etc. The only place this doesn't hold up is the Americas, where the original ethnic groups have been smeared out of prominence, and Africa, which has distinct peoples and country borders that have absolutely nothing to do with each other, the continent having been carved up post-WWII by, I picture, a bunch of mustachioed Europeans in smoking jackets drawing random lines on a big map between glasses of sherry. Now the countries cruise along on autopilot, the status quo too strong to buck. Imagine if everyone just shrugged off convention and redrew the borders to make some sort of sense, or even bolder, if the continent rejected the idea of nations and existed in a tribal state, as in the days of old. It could never happen; someone would start grandstanding for power or money, and there'd be fights and micro-dictators and blood feuds all over the place, the strongest take all. People are so ostentatious. This wouldn't happen if we were manatees. Manatees are always relaxed, never flustered, never irate. They will not even raise a flipper to defend their own young. Manatees would never try to make a power grab. Their motto is eternally "Whatever." We should try to be just a tiny little bit more like manatees, with care.

Today I walked past a log on the beach, a chunk of wood bleached and broken by the jetty waves. On a whim, I counted the rings - 327. I placed my finger on the spot where the tree had been a sapling circa 1680, thinking about what it must have been like. I touched where the first white men came to the coast, the early 1800's. I covered the last part with my hand, the twentieth century, and the part that included me was hardly as wide as my fingernail. It was a clean cut, a tree that had probably been logged. Most of our Oregon forests are in a ~50 year rotation, no more 300 yr trees for the foreseeable future. It felt like such a special piece of wood, but I had to leave it behind to decay.

Maybe this will be the year that I seek out the legendary "Tofurky." Like chai and hazelnuts, it's an Oregon speciality!

Happy Thanksgiving! God bless all you happy readers!

Raccoons on the Roof

I have been sitting very quietly
Listening to the noises outside

The wind is blowing
But it's not the tap of tree branches
There are raccoons running across my roof.

I look up and follow the sound
Tracing their path on the ceiling
They run with purpose
They are charging down the shingles

The footsteps stop above the window
And I half expect them to come swinging through the glass
SWAT team style
I'm not sure what they would want
Maybe dried apples, or pickles, or chocolate?

They come every night
When the clock has three digits
The pond fish live in constant fear
Of snatching claws in the water

There are raccoons on the roof
And the dog cocks his head
He is not sure how best to defend the house

I have been sitting very quietly
But my imagination is running across the roof

Here's My Soul, Cheap as Free!

Ugh. I just filled out another job application to, you know, stay in the game. Even if it's half-hearted, it helps me rub off the rust. And I feel like such a resume whore now, like I'm standing on a street corner saying, "Hey big boy, come check this out!"

Blah blah blah, look at me and all my skillz, I am so teh bomb. This whole cover letter/resume system we've set up is utter crap. Am I right? (I hear the voice of Turk from Scrubs saying, "Hells yeah!" Uh-hmm.)

Truly, I am an artist at heart. We artists don't report to anyone and we don't keep hours. And we also don't get paid. Being of the artistic ilk is a poor endeavour, sadly.

Surprising Alice

All right, you guys, I have a challenge for you. My good friend Alice over at Backstory has written a wonderfully humorous and insightful story of her childhood Barbie doll that I love every time I read.

If you get the chance, go check it out and drop her a comment. She will be amazed if many random people start to comment on her blog. It is my goal to amaze her.

Cheers!

The Shout it Out! Project

I can't decide if this idea is brilliant or terrible, but it'd make a great basis for a thesis paper...

I was over at deviantART surfing for artistic inspiration (and finding it, and wondering why I don't draw every minute of my waking life) when I came across this, a project called Shout it Out!

It's all about writing down on paper the things you don't usually say about yourself - the good, the bad, the quirky - the things that you keep hidden for fear that people will judge you poorly, look at you differently, or ignore what you have to say. It's the chance to shout out who you are as a person, proudly and without fear. Because it's a deviantART project, and because deviantART is geared towards artists, the Shouts are all heavily influenced with each person's own artistic style.

The artist who started it says this:

"Someone told me once, that she believed we make life hard for ourselves by keeping things bottled up inside. Whether it be due to shame, embarrassment, fear, pride or some other emotion we don't share the things that are on our hearts like we should. We wallow in them and never realize that everyone else feels the same way. Our conflicts, our dreams, and the things that make us who we are should be free to be spoken out loud."

When I first found out about this, I loved it. It seems like much of the conflict we have as people stems from a lack of understanding, the not wanting/not trying to get to know each other for who we really are. The more you know a person, I am convinced, the more you will be sympathetic to their point of view, even if you don't agree with it. You will be more likely to compromise, or at least stand your ground with kindness, less likely to hate. I believe that communication without competitiveness is a powerful tool. Knowledge to understanding, understanding to love. It was one of my reasons for beginning to blog, and I wrote about it in my first post.

But as I read through some individual Shouts, I began to have doubts. Many of the artists on this site are teens and college age, lots of angst and emo, and no shortage of frustrated sexuality. People seem drawn to revealing their brokenness, their struggles with depression, self-injury, and suicidal thoughts. There were too many of these in the few samples I read, and I wondered, is it more common to find these dark thoughts in artists? Is it because of their age? Is the next generation struggling more than my own?

Other Shouts were bursting with angry thoughts. The freedom opened floodgates for the type of hate and stereotyping normally held back by our PC culture. One person admitted to being fascinated with Nazism. Another mentioned that they partly enjoyed causing people pain. Reading through these made me increasingly gloomy. True glimpses into the thoughts of others, and yet so much darkness to be seen, so much anger.

And so I wonder... is the Shout it Out! project a good thing? Does revealing yourself free you, or does it make you turn your focus inward too much? If your hidden thoughts include hate, is there anything to be gained by revealing them to people who do not know you, who never will? At that point, the thought becomes stronger than the invisible internet person, and my idea of knowledge leading to love requires a living, breathing person. A person can change, can be reasoned with, but an isolated thought is immutable. It can be ignored or rejected but never killed, and in repetition without argument only gains strength.

Which leads me to think that Shouting it Out best serves a purpose only among people who know you, a tool to help people better understand you. But if you knew who was to see it, would you be honest? Would you expose your deepest self? Wouldn't you still hold back, defeating the whole point?

I'm torn. I can't decide. If you guys have any thoughts, please weigh in.

A Pumpkin Carvin' Fool am I

Pumpkins a'plenty, here they are, proof that my last few days before Halloween were full of carving craziness.

A dove and cornucopia.


A bull rider and a knight on horseback. Aren't carving kits fun? I used patterns for everything this year except for my face pumpkins and the big "Welcome 2 Trunk 'n' Treat" carving, a pumpkin that made the front page of the local paper!

Here's my personal favorite - George Washington praying at Valley Forge.

It was fun looking for ideas appropriate to put in front of the church. I ruled out all the blood sucking scary ghost zombie murderer patterns, plus all of the celebrities. Toyed with the idea of something patriotic, but finally decided that Halloween + political symbols + church had potential to be misconstrued on oh-so many levels.


Here's one of the Disco Pumpkins, white pumpkins filled with changing multi-colored lights. I Never did get a very good picture...hmm...maybe I should try again?


Here are the two Disco Pumpkins in daylight, looking mighty fine.

One nice thing about so many gutted pumpkins - endless supply of roasted seeds. Well, not endless, but the entire family's been devouring them since All Hallow's and we're still not making much of a mark. And right now I have a loaf of pumpkin bread in the oven, and pumpkin soup in the fridge, and we had pumpkin in the stir fry at lunch... You can never have too much pumpkin in life, says I.


Today's pumpkin bread nearly stopped at the eggs/sugar/butter stage. Such a delicious concoction, why bother going on?


Aaa...! I am the Ghost of Rotting Pumpkins, here to tell you to not to wait until the last minute to carve next year....aaaaaaaaaaaah!

Bootstraps

Having an active imagination does not help during a job hunt. I'm not actually job hunting, I'm vocation/career/purpose hunting, but the first step of both boils down to the same thing. The problem with an active imagination is that as soon as I see a promising opportunity, I imagine myself working it, imagine myself living in that community, commuting (if necessary), imagine what my living space would look like... in short, I imagine everything so far in advance that I feel like I've actually been there, done that, so what's the point? There's a fine line, I guess, between realistic expectations and a fore-lived experience.

One thing frustrates me, as I find myself increasingly mired: It seems the world has so much support to offer young high school and college students when it comes to career advice, but once you graduate - bam! You're on your own. If you don't get it figured out in a hurry, your options are slim. Ah, it kind of makes me miss those days of college coddling - (how I hated them then!)

Pity they never taught Pulling Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps in college.

Aunt Me

Big news!!


Here's my new little (>5 lbs) niece - Penelope!

I guess I'm still stunned. She was born a week ago and it's taken me this long to post anything. She was a month early, that's my excuse. I hadn't wired my brain to think "baby" yet.

Now, how does one go about being an official aunt?

Halloween Hangover

Parties are murder on a perfectionist. The last few days have kept me so busy preparing for my church's "Trunk 'n' Treat" party that I nearly imploded, having lain starkly awake in bed each night thinking about what I had left to do, hunching over pumpkins for hours on end, and mostly forgetting about food yesterday except for the occasional piece of candy I bumped into. I woke up this morning aching all over on an adrenaline withdrawal, the taste of Butterfingers still lingering in my mouth.

Weeah.

Last Saturday me and the fam visited a corn maze and pumpkin patch over in the valley for some Genuine Family Fun. After determining that the dog could not, in fact, guide us through the maze, (he kept attempting to lead us into the thick of the stalks), we loaded up the back of the car with many, many pumpkins, some of which later turned out to be mischievously rotting beneath their lovely skin. My plan for the pumpkins was to carve them all and line the walkway to the church, just like swp and I did a few years back at the ol' Gould Farm. Wasn't that fun? I still remember turkey parts floating in jars in the haunted house, and roaming madly through the dark woods. But I digress.

It turns out that carving 14 pumpkins in one's mind is much easier than carving 14 pumpkins with one's hands. By the end of the World Series (why must you suck, Rockies...why?!?) I had hollowed them all out, and then began the obsessive actual carving, in which I somehow gravitated to all of the most complicated patterns I could find - can we say "George Washington Praying at Valley Forge?" Oh yes. It's a lucky thing that the carving kit included two saws, because the first one bit it halfway through my flurry, while working on a rodeo rider at 4:30 in the morning, I think. Cheap Chinese piece o' crap.

Ah, but it was great fun. The idea of the Trunk 'n' Treat is for the people of the church to park their cars in a row and hand out candy from their trunks. Inside, parents can sit down for a while and get cookies and a hot cup of something (not the "something" that some might have been longing for, though, it being a church event and all). It's a safe place for the kids to come to, easy for moms with strollers, and lets folks in the community take a look at our church - building and people - in a non-imposing way.

And man, did they come! Our town only has 5000 people, and over the course of an hour we saw nearly 400 kids. (It felt like they were all their simultaneously, but then, I was a bit frazzled.) I decorated one of our cars with a gigantic spiderweb and child-eating spider (so I said) that kids had to reach underneath to get their goodies. Our other car was a bit more harvest themed, with a gigantic Cinderella pumpkin and two "Spooky" pumpkins, all-white pumpkins that I carved with spots and stripes and lit from the inside with changing multi-colored lights. They were my disco pumpkins. (W, hooray for our trip to the island!) That car was playing some nice Gregorian chant in the background, and one of the kids leaned in and shouted, "Halo 3!" I feel old.

Last night I learned a valuable lesson - If you volunteer to take over a fishing pond, you will never, never be able to escape. Every time I thought I could make a run for it, another clothespin tied to string would come launching over the sheet. (I ended up putting on my unicorn mask just for eye protection.) I quickly abandoned my instructions, "Give two tugs and throw the fish over," to adopt a more realistic fishing situation where I tugged and fought and made the fish leap a few times before finally chucking it over the edge. I was preparing kids for reality. (They needed it. One kid said, "Mommy! The fish won't let go!" Evil laughter.) Finally I ran out of fish and rose up out of the "pond" saying, "Go away you dumb kids! You bother me!" ( More or less.) Luckily, there was another fishing pond outside, so I was able to redirect the rabid candy-buzzed crowd safely away.

The whole thing could best be described as well-mannered absolute chaos, and by the end of the night I was saying, "AaaaaAAAA....Freak OUT!" But it was a satisfying feeling, sort of like finishing a marathon, and I survived with 14 pumpkins to take home and relight on the front porch, plus a very cute giant fake spider.

Most common costume of the night - the white mask thing from "Scream."
Best costume - a little cowgirl with a big inflatable horse in front of her. Her legs made up the back legs of the horse, so it looked like she was riding it.
Scariest costume - a teenage boy in a dress. I'm assuming it was a costume.
Best adult costume - goes to my mom, who made a very convincing baby.

Today may be All Saint's Day, but it's felt a bit more like Day of the Living Dead. My mind says wee! but my body is going eeeh? One of these years I'm going to start thinking about Halloween preparations before October 26...

Fall Flies

It is amazing how fast time fills up when you're not doing anything in particularly. Me? My days have mysteriously been eaten by chores I never expected to have.

I am frantically working away at my apples before they all go bad (having discovered a new use - dried apple chips.) My church has sucked me into several musical numbers, and so I have been wearing out my voice and my wee little guitar with practice, and now have proper callouses on my fingering hand. Halloween fast approaches, and I somehow find myself with twelve pumpkins to carve for the church's "Trunk 'N' Treat." (Though, granted, I opted to do this to myself.) And today I drifted, leaf-like, into my backyard to rake up Massive Pile O Leaves and put down the last fertilizer of the year before the rains came. Many unplanned chores. The Chore Fairy must whisper into my ear at night.

Last week, just as I was preparing to do a guitar number for my church, I sliced a finger while cutting strawberries in my hand. "Oh," I said, and ran upstairs to doctor it. A few minutes later I wandered back into the kitchen, saw the strawberries sitting on the counter, thought "I won't press the knife down so hard," and promptly cut the next finger.

Aren't I clever? It turns out that fingering a guitar with two band-aids doesn't work as well as one might hope.

So I have nothing much deep to say. As you can tell, my brain isn't there so much.

Thoughts of the day:
-Rotten pumpkin smells terrible, yet oddly alluring.
-Cutting decorative paper chains is fun no matter how old you are.
-Dark chocolate 100% is not meant for human consumption.
-If a store puts up a sign that says "Punch Me in the Face," you really should take advantage of it.

That's all.

And then there was randomness...

I went to Homestarrunner.com and made this. I am so proud.

(Click to enlarge)

Here's the start of the path that led to my blossoming career as a cartoonist: http://www.homestarrunner.com/sbemail181.html

Ice Creamy!

Whenever I'm feeling a bit blah in my drawing skills, I bip over to deviantART, an online art gallery. Anyone with half a brain cell and a computer can upload stuff, often random, sometimes impressive. Browsing through it is good for times when most of my attention has to be diverted elsewhere (like listening to NPR.) There's nothing quite as effective for improving my own artistic attempts as looking through the work of better artist...which...is practically everyone.

(Oh, snap!)

I found this one the other day, and it gave me the chuckles.
It can be found at http://nocturnal-devil(dot)deviantart(dot)com




Oh! My Friends and Enemies!

she is read as often as she comments.
she is read as often as she reads.

I am a bad, bad friend because I've fallen so far behind in keeping up with everyone else's blog. Please, I blame the MLB post-season! Have pity and compassion!

I will, I vow, catch up with everyone before the month is through. I will be the bestest of friends, oh yoes. (<-- that was supposed to be "yes," but doesn't "yoes" look better somehow?)

Chaos Kitchen Theory

Oh, hay! I just discovered a bag of forgotten cookies in the freezer! These were from my sad Insufficient Flour Batch of chocolate chip cookies, proof that I cannot read a recipe and have a conversation at the same time. (Disaster was nearly averted when, on the phone to Tizzy, I stopped myself from adding baking powder rather than baking soda to the pancakes. Or was it the other way round? I always get those two mixed up. Isn't white powder, white powder? Eh.)

This time I was chagrined to find that forgetting 1/3 a cup of flour makes chocolate chip cookies abandon all inhibitions about prescribed "cookie shape," spilling out of their little teaspoon-sized lumps (1-2 inches apart) in a liquid dough interpretation of Free Love, intermingling with every neighboring cookie they could reach within the 8 minute bake time. "That ain't right," I said to myself when I opened the oven door, but with a confidence mined from a hundred previous successful attempts at this recipe, I put them on the stove top to cool, perhaps hoping that they would somehow reform back into a tidy, recognizable shape. Alas, after a few minutes I had produced a new dessert, "Brittle Chocolate Doily," which quickly turned into "Brittle Chocolate Dust" as I attempted to pry them off the pan with all the ease of pulling melted wax from a shag carpet, chipping a spatula, scaring the dog, and showering stray bits of failed cookie into the fake flowers on the other side of the kitchen.

Which is not to say that a little chaos while cooking is a bad thing. Quite the contrary; I strive for it. Chaos is the invisible ingredient on all of my recipe cards, the secret element that makes cooking, in my opinion, worthwhile. When family and friends request a favorite recipe - one that I have already made the same way over and over and over again - I get the same sinking feeling as though I have just arrived at a party to hear, "Oh, why don't you sit down and sing that song for us? You know, the one you sang last time?" where all enjoyment is suffocated by sheer expected repetition. Blaaah. The boredom is enough to incite one to...I don't know...substitute roasted mealworms for walnuts in the brownies.

I best delight in my own private cooking experiments, when only I have to suffer whatever becomes of it. Recent discoveries - Coffee does not work well in a salmon marinade. Any type of non-sugary breakfast cereal can turn into an excellent breading. Oysters thrive in stews. Burnt collared green stems smell like cigarettes. Grinding cloves in the Cuisinart results in a permanent frosted look on the plastic. Orange juice does not substitute for milk.

The ingredient ad nauseam of late has been apples, as my premier backyard apple tree has been showered my larder with a constant supply of them. Buckets and buckets of them. I have a tag team effort with the local crows, begrudged though I am with the arrangement, that lets them peck at the apples on the high branches until they come down, and then I pick them up and salvage the undamaged bit. It's very Rabbit Hill, Saint Francis, "There is enough for all," I suppose, if only the crows weren't so blastedly cocky about it. For a while I tried to stave them off entirely, but after my father and I spent an afternoon with a ladder, a pole, a hard hat, and a catcher's mitt, whacking around at bunches of apples with increasing frustration, bringing down showers of several head-bashers at a time (and ducking for cover) while yelling at the dog not to put bite marks in all of them, and at one point climbing barefooted (me) into the upper reaches of the tree with no luck, I resolved to let the crows take their share in exchange for my sanity and the luxury of picking fractional apples off the ground, lazy sod that I am.

Which is a long way of saying, kiddies, prune your fruit trees while they're still young.

The "magic rice bowl" flood of apples has been kept in check by my barrage of apple-related recipes, transforming them into applesauce, apple cookies, apple juice, smoked apples, baked apples, apple ball (where I roll an apple and the dog chases and devours it), and the traditional apple pie, a traditional recipe that I pilfered off of Allrecipes.com. (Grandma Ople's, so it says, and it's marvelous.) But, chaos theory forever presiding, even my apple pie always has an indeterminate of spices thrown in from the spice rack.

Which reminds me, another very important discovery: Many different flavors taste great in a cup of coffee. Sage is not one of them. The jury is still awaiting a second opinion.

Rockin' in the World Series!

NLCS Champions!


Woot!

I'm not a late comer; I just spaced out on them. They're the Rockies, fer crying out loud. Who would've thought? I just finished reading a blog post dated May 2007 that said, "Colorado? They ain't making the playoffs this year. There's no way this team is winning anything close to putting them near relevance in the next few years. It's a joke to still have them around in this competition."

The spirit of Sweet Irony is alive and well, the Rockies are on fire, and purple looks mighty good on a blue background...

Blog Updates

A few small changes to Fifteen Feet...

My blog links have been divided into two categories. Everything listed in "Dive Buddy Blogs" are written by friends. "Blogs That Swam Past" are interesting or useful blogs listed here for my own future reference, currently including:
Business Writing - basic and advanced rules for professional writing
Brooklyn Arden - from a book editor
Editorial Anonymous - from a children's book editor
Gurney Journey - the illustrator of "Dinotopia," discussing art issues

More are sure to come.

I've added a few useful sites to "Links from Deeper Waters," but time will tell if they pass muster. If I find that I'm not using them much, or if they aren't thorough or accurate sources of information, I'll give them the boot.

I can tell that this new method of organization hasn't sunk into my head yet, because the other day I spent quite a long time searching for "Luciferous Logolepsy" before finally remembering that I have a link to it.

I've also started tagging my posts, humoring my own crushing need for even virtual order, but I'm afraid the categories only make sense to me, and then only late at night.

Blogger is about to kick me off with a scheduled outage...

My profile photo


Gotta love them honeybees!

Writing Drains and Baseball Games

I'm alive.

I've been busy lately dunking my head into the hot caramel coating that is the publishing world, and after reading the blogs of many fine folks who work as cogs in that massive industry, have come to the conclusion that
1) Reading about other people wading through submission slush piles is probably much more fun than doing it myself, and
2) Learning about publishing houses is fascinating on general terms, but encourages the prospective writer in much the same manner as holding a hamburger up to a milk cow. In other words, every agent, editor, editor's assistant, and editor's assistant's intern says, more or less, "Over 99.999% of all writers fail and most of what we see is utter crap, and even if it's not utter crap it will probably never make it through our labyrinthine processes, so abandon all hope, stop writing, and shrivel up into a little ball of shattered dreams while you go back to your pencil pushing day job, you loser."

I suppose the rare (and lucky!) writer might stay blissfully unaware of the publishing process, pop out a masterpiece, and get swept lovingly into the arms of a instant book contract, and that would be grand. The wiser writer might try to see the world through an editor's eyes, learning what the common follies are and how to avoid them, but might also become so discouraged by the odds that said writer scoops up their entire work in progress and throws it into the fire, watching it burn with a maddened eye and cackling something about "freedom." (The computer "Digital Age" equivalent of this would be going to the end of a working file and hitting the backspace key for every single letter. Slow and painful.)

But the editor's perspective is honest, I'll give it that. It's harsh and mean, but at least it's a realistic portrayal of what to expect should you ever be foolish enough to attempt publication. I would much rather read through editors' blogs than the floofy, flouncy blogs of would-be writers, which all go along the lines of "blah blah high art form blah future literature scholars will know what I really mean blah blah and, oh yes. I haven't actually published anything yet." Probably meaning that they are writing a story about the antics of their cat, complete with a sample book cover that somehow includes their name Photoshopped into large glittering letters across the top half of the page. In my own musings on the art of writing, I must be careful not to fall into this category, the hoity class of writers who stuck their pens too far up their noses.

So this I now publicly vow: I will never ever submit a manuscript written on stationary that has the inkwell and plume motif at the top. I will not include glitter in the envelope. Or cookies. Or action figures based on my characters. Or a market analysis. Maybe whiskey. I might include whiskey. I also hereby vow to disassociate my specific writing from anything to do with intent-to-publish, restricting it entirely for the purpose of "fun," and if the thought of publishing occurs to me while in the act of writing, to go soak my head.

There. I feel so cleansed.

But back to the more important matter at hand...

Go Rockies! Woo, we gonna sweep the Championships, hooya! I feel a speck bad for the Phillies, and more than a speck bad for the poor Cubs, but at least the next round pits Colorado against the Diamondbacks. We go, Western Division! They're calling it the Continental Divide Championship. (Does Arizona have mountains? Hmm.) Watch as the Rockies blaze past the D-backs for an unbroken post-season streak! It'll happen.

Still, poor Cubs...

I'm hoping that the Red Sox take it tomorrow, but Yankees/Indians? Whatever. I have absolutely no opinion on that one. A Red Sox/Rockies or a Yankees/Rockies showdown would be pretty fun, though. If the Rockies could blast their way through either of those teams, maybe they would gain some much-needed national cred. The western teams don't get a lot of hoopla, other than the ones in California (which we consider not only its own division, but possibly its own sport.) That's the nice thing about the West. Outside of CA, we only have the Mariners, D-backs, and Rockies to root for. We're all like one gigantic family out here. (Tho I'm for the Red Sox, if the Rockies bail out. Wee!)

So much fun watching the crowd at Coors Field tonight, and wishing I could be in it. The last time I was there, it was raining and mostly empty. CO friends, are you getting tickets to these things? Have a spare one? I'll bring my own broom!

And a random question - Sure, the Rockies have Dinger the Dinosaur as their mascot, which I'll grant you is rather weird. Dinosaur fossils...rocks...it sort of makes sense. But why in the name of the great gravy train is the mascot for the Arizona Diamondbacks "Bobby the Bobcat?" Is there something wrong with selling rattlesnake plushies for the kids to cuddle with?

I am so in love with this site

Once again, I'm not really sure how I stumbled onto the site Editorial Anonymous, but I can't stop reading the thing. It's written by a children's book editor, and she completely won me over with such posts as "Creative Thinking is a Disease and Must Be Stamped Out," and "My Manuscript Has Had Puppies. Want Them?" Here's a recent post:
---
5 Things Not to Write Any More Rhymed Picture Books About:

1. Insurance
2. Calculus
3. IRS audits
4. Shakespeare
5. STDs

It's been a bad week in the slush.
--

What fun the life of an editor!

I'm a Stranger Here Myself

I have not been in a writing mood lately, or at least not one that produces blog posts. Actually, I seem to have fallen into an irritating frame of mind, perhaps one that plagues all new bloggers a few months into the game. It compels me to take every random thought, every witty self-aside, and say, "I should blog about that!" I suppose it's good to have a net catching some of these things, but thank goodness for self control. Otherwise, the world would be subjected to my innumerably strange "shower thoughts." (i.e. Thoughts whilst in the shower, which seem much wittier there than when they appear in actual text.)

So while my brain is occupied with other things, I thought I would share a few pictures from TSO's visit, which you can also read about here and here. (His version.) Mine will be shorter because, as I said, I have no current blogging abilities.

Cape Disappointment, a grand place to start a trip, waking up to a morning stroll on the beach. I love low perspective, so I put my camera near the sand and captured the North Head lighthouse. Alas, my poor camera was to suffer many near-sand experiences in the next few days.

The wind off the Pacific is relentless in these parts, so it's not uncommon to see little driftwood structures built to block it. (Hard to start a fire otherwise, y'see.) This one was surprisingly elaborate. I suspect whoever built it had a lot of hands or a lot of time. And look! They left a wee little man hiding inside!

The Astoria Column, a tower depicting the history of the mouth to the Columbia, is difficult to photograph. It's difficult to see, period. The art and text scrolls around from the bottom up. TSO and I walked around a few times to read the bottom half, but it was a dizzying way to try to get a bit of history. Much better was the view from the top and the myriad of tourist shirt colors that we watched from above - hot pink, blazing blue, all the colors of the acid rainbow. I was not excused. I chose to wear one of my eye-hurting "Aloha" shirts, cattle brand of the tourist. But since I was technically touring, I couldn't care less. (Plus, it would make me more locatable in a storm, so there was that safety aspect.) Here is part of the Column in detail, with "Before the White Man Came" on the bottom and the entrance of Robert Gray's ship "Columbia" into the river's mouth.

Indian Beach, Ecola State Park (I keep wanting to call it "Ebola State Park") where we walked up a cliffside trail to gaze out on the lighthouse "Terrible Tilly," so named, I have since learned, because of the challenge it posed to keepers. The waves eventually battered the original Fresnel lens to pieces and now the lighthouse sits dead, quite literally. It is privately owned, converted into a resting place for the ashes of the deceased. The photo is stock. (We saw it without the waves.)

And here is good ol' Cannon Beach, cooperating by finally giving us some sun (the fog had been trailing us all day,) not much wind, and balmy, BALMY 53 degree water. Balmy, I say. It was brisk and delightful, one of those sorts of wades that makes you feel good all over, like you're really alive. It was in no way cold or unpleasant. We could have spent all day wading out to sea, deeper and deeper, the cormorant bones swirling at our toes, until the steep green sides of Japan rose up to meet us. (We would have come dripping out of the water like Godzilla.) Wading the Pacific is much like biting into a lemon at a dinner party, only prettier.


Hey, here's a fun side note. A university team has recently been running scale models on what would happen if a tsunami were to hit this particular area. The fault line sits very close to the shore, so there wouldn't be much warning when the big one started to come. In their scale model, all of the little scale buildings are pretty much blasted to smithereens. It's left them scratching their heads, going "Think, think, think," since, of course, sooner or later such a tsunami will actually happen. The current idea is to try to built vertical towers that people could run to, towers which would supposedly survive the initial blow and still stand above water line. Aren't disaster scenarios fun to think about?

Anyway, I got tired of taking "pretty" pictures.
And then we were back to my home turf, Land of Many Large Sand Dunes. We flung ourselves off the highest dunes just like I did back in my school days (TSO has a video on his blog). Unlike my school days, I felt the effect of the diving for many days afterwards. What happened to my youthful springiness? I would post the video of my own dune dive, but I was purposefully flailing around like a rag doll, which I realize, in retrospect, is a bit embarrassing to watch, unlike TSO's mighty heroics. Hmm. I, too, ended up with sand in my ears/hair/nose which continued to shake out over the next week. Someday I'm going to try diving in a plastic bag, just to see if I can sand-proof myself.

The wind was extremely vicious at the top of the dunes, so much so that I in my bare legs could hardly stand the pain of being sandblasted. We were diving on the leeward side where the sand was the softest, which meant that on each climb back up there came a point just near the crest of the dune where the wind would blast sand directly into your face, and as you were already disoriented from the tumble down, you would have to clamp your eyes shut and grope around for the top of the dune, trying not to overshoot and go falling down the opposite side. (I'm speaking of my own experience here. I don't know why I'm talking in second person.) We had been dodging ATVs while we hiked - they tend to come tearing out from nowhere if you don't pay attention - but after my last dive a group of them came to the top of the dune. One fellow pulled right up to us, took off his helmet, and said, "Wow! Did you do that on purpose? I can't believe you guys are doing that! That rocks!" Or something like that. It's hard to impress hotdogging ATVers, so I took it as a nice feather in my cap. (Since the real feather in my cap had been blown all the way down to California at this point.)

A picture of dune trekking. Sepia tone is oh so a'pretty.

After this day of much blowing sand, my camera suffered greatly, to the extent that even now I am still shaking sand out of it. For a short while the lens ominously refused to open, but I think it worked that out with itself. In case any of you camera-loving folks are wagging your fingers at me, I have to say that my beloved camera was never anywhere close to the actual sand, and that all the sand it accumulated was entirely airborne. If you want to photograph the dunes without such repercussions, you may want to look into getting a bio-hazard suit.

(And again with the second person! I must not be getting enough iron in my diet.)


The next day it was back up to PDX, City of Roses, where we wandered around the rose test garden just to make sure. (The garden is literally a place where they test new variety of roses, destroying forever the ones that don't pass muster.) I have now decided that my mythical future dream garden must include a few roses. Maybe even a black one. That would be all cool and Gothic, wouldn't it?

Thanks to TSO's eyes we were able to find our way downtown. (My reading abilities are still hampered by my recent bought with infection.) We wandered around downtown borderline "lost," enjoying all the wonderful sights and sounds and posters for scandalous things. (Portland is no city of vicars.) Total elapsed time to hear an inappropriate remark from a creepy stranger - 3 minutes. Yeah... I'm not such a big fan of cities, but they have their place, I s'pose. We strolled down the waterfront park until we found ourselves in the neighborhood of Voodoo Doughnuts, and this time I discovered the delights of A) vanilla doughnut topped with marshmallow and Tang powder, and B)devil's food doughnut topped with Coco Puffs. Maddeningly delicious. Afterwards we were sucked into the inescapable pull of Powell's City of Books, one of the largest independent bookstores in the world, a Twilight Zone realm where three hours feels like ten minutes. We entered through the main doors, glanced at each other, and said, "See ya!" The rooms at Powell's are all sorted by color, each color denoting a different subject, and I gleefully trotted between the Green Room and the Rose Room and the Orange Room (and the all-important Purple Room, where the bathrooms are) trying desperately not to fill my arms and empty my bank account. It would be fun to work there, except I think I would end up tipping over one of the bookshelves and just rolling around in the resulting pile of books like a buffalo in a dust wallow. Still, a girl can dream.

The river park gave me the chance to catch this nifty pic of the "Made in Oregon" sign, a PDX landmark. The words "Old Town" hang underneath. I played around with the graphics (chrome!!) to give myself a few jollies. I still remember that sign from times waaay back when I was a little kid riding in the car through Portland, and how they used to (and still do) put a red nose on the deer for Christmas. The deer is the symbol of White Stag Sportswear, what used to be one of Oregon's prominent companies before the time of Nike and Columbia. Guess who owns it now?

(Answer: Wal-Maaaaart... and it's now made in Chinaaaa... Cruel irony.)

The longer I type, the more my urge to blog is resurrected. Interesting. But it's late and I must away, and so suffice to say it was a grand trip and good fun to play the tourist game. Anyone else care to come visit?

I just have to add...

Dear...heaven...and...earth.... Could Blogger possibly make it any harder to work with pictures if it tried???!? I feel like I deserve an award every time I finish smashing a photo in the HTML. Criminelly, that's all I have to say about that.

*groan*

As a civic-minded citizen, I appreciate what the town is trying to do.

But testing the tsunami alarm at 6am? Really? Really?!?

One does not ignore such things, and so I got out of bed and staggered around until all of the clocks downstairs started to chime, at which point I realized that real tsunamis don't happen on the hour.

And so I went back to sleep and had a realistic dream that my neighborhood was flooding, and I was trying to evacuate my family, and everyone was freaking out.

(There was kite-flying somewhere in that dream too. I think we might have taken a break from evacuating to fly kites...the switch got thrown from panic to fun to panic again.)

Wah.

When the Bridge Opened

A tall ship came
The green metal middle of the bridge swung open
And all the traffic stopped.
Some sat idling
and some turned off their engines.

But we,
We got out and picked blackberries.
Fat shiny berries tasting of summer
Leaning on tiptoe with our hands inside the thorns
We went beneath the bridge
...where the shipyards are...
And stained our fingers purple.

And when the bridge swung closed
When the metal creaked and complained

and clicked into its place
The traffic moved on.

But we,

We did not return.
We stayed below
and picked blackberries.

Literary War Games

A while ago I got to wondering what happened to an old computer game I used to play in college, "Worms." It was a little game where you command an army of worm soldiers and try to defeat another player with bazookas, shotguns, dynamite, and the like. Lots of explosions, good fun. I never had the actual game on my computer, but played it on my roommate's.

After a bit of searching, I finally found and downloaded the game exactly as I remembered it. (There's something a little frightening about downloading a file called "Worms" to your computer.) I played it for a while as both teams, since there is no computer opponent option, and then remembered that you can change the name of each individual soldier. So, to make things interesting, I decided I would make a team of famous British authors face off against famous American authors.

At the end of the tournament, the screen displays a summary of achievements. The soldier of the match, of course, was Mark Twain. The most useless soldier was Ernest Hemingway. (I'm not surprised. I picture him mostly drunk.) The most violent soldier was James Joyce (who seemed to get in a lot of fights with John Steinbeck, I noticed.) I thought the results were amusing, considering that I wasn't trying for them.

The best coincidence? For each of the three matches, whether because of a poorly thrown grenade or a missile blown back by the wind, Virginia Woolf couldn't stop killing herself.

Ah, I'm such a nerd.

Making the Most of a Day

I sat down with a cup of cinnamon hazelnut fudge mocha to read a book I recently purchased, but realized after the first sentence that I did not want to read, but write. And so I picked up my little cup of sugar-coma and moved into the office.

Yesterday I assuaged another trip to the eye doctor - the typical "Your eye is looking better" relief combined with the "but it may never heal completely" panic - by following the appointment with a Grand N Glorious Adventure in Coos Bay, biggest city on the Oregon Coast. Using only the phone book map, I plotted a novel route through the city, basing it mostly on street names that I liked and roads that looked, by their location, as though they might be less travelled.

First I stopped for supplies, since the hearty traveller should always be prepared for the inevitable getting-lost-for-many-hours part of the adventure. My watering hole was a sushi bar that I had never tried. I ordered up one of their "featured" rolls - crab/salmon/spinach - and a hand roll of eel, which turned out to be essentially an ice cream cone of seaweed jammed with a fistfull of eel, chunks of eel sticking out all over the place. Good eel, or "Wonderf-eel" as I call it, is the most delicious substance known to man. Bad eel, or "Dreadf-eel", I suppose, is the equivalent of a mash of cat food and substitute egg product. (You know. That liquid "egg" in boxes. Where does that stuff even come from?) This ice cream cone a'bustin' with eel was in a strange middle-ground. I'll call it "Acceptab-eel."

En route to my plotted destination I found myself in the dreaded territory of the DMV, where horrors of age circa 16 came rushing back to me. I have not driven this part of town since that time, and felt a little vindicated that now, as a well-travelled adult, those roads still don't make any sense. They include such beauties as no stop intersections, one stop four-way intersections (that don't indicate who has the right of way), and ghostly all-way stop intersections where apparently everyone knows to stop but there are only two actual signs (meaning that I sat for a long time trying to figure out why the "right of way" traffic was stopping.) Yes, the Coos Bay DMV region is a vortex of traffic nightmares, a sort of "Twilight Zone" where the stop signs come and go like shapes in the fog. It is the equivalent of placing a pilot's school in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle.

But nevermind that. My ultimate goal was Shore Acres, a botanical garden farther south that was once the private estate of some rich fellow, I forget his name. He picked the most beautiful coastal cliffs he could find to build his house, and then donated the land to the state upon his death. The original grand house burned or fell off the cliff into the sea, I forget which. Now the park consists of a beautiful garden, the caretaker's house, and a series of cliff-top trails. In all the time I have lived here, I have never visited the park other than for the holiday light show, when the gardens are decorated with fantastic light displays.

The first thing that struck me on seeing it in daylight for the first time was how precariously the entire park sits atop the cliffs. It is supposed to be one of the best places in the state for watching giant waves break, and this is much due to the fact that below the observation area, the cliff cuts in, scooped out by the violent wave action, so that you are staring straight down at the jagged rocks below. I took a walk along the cliff top trail and chuckled at a sign which read "Stay in Front of Sign," which was quite clever, since about an inch behind where the sign post met the ground was nothing but air and a two hundred foot drop. In parts of the trail, the fence leaned outward towards the sea, the waves below pounding and pounding and calling "Fall in! Fall in!" like the voice of a temptress. Ah shoot, I should have taken some good precarious pictures, but my camera's batteries were dying.


The sea lions were out of sight on the rocks, but their voices were loud, carrying above the waves, the crows, and the seagulls. I leaned back on a rock wall and ate a donut, listening to the deep hoarse voice of the bulls punctuate the constant "Oor! Oor!" of the cows. That sound, ringing and melodic, continued to follow me throughout my visit, whether I was in forest or garden, a background noise much like the wind in the treetops, only more belchy.

I took a stroll in the woods, stopping to watch a Douglas tree squirrel who sat brazenly a few feet from my head, munching a pine cone with one eye turned towards me. The light in the forest was dim, and the whole of it was bathed in a mist, whether from the fog or a light rain, or perhaps even the spray of the waves being carried up by the wind. The weather is nothing like when you were here, TSO. It's gone all cold and gray like autumn, long pants weather. Melancholy weather. Hot chocolate and fires weather. I do love it.


The botanical garden itself was still covered in blooms, although their bright colors were muted by the gray light. Everything was dripping, the grass, the statues, the fountain in the middle, and fat drops of water made the roses bend down. I hopped the wet hedges to smell roses with names like "Sheila's Perfume" and "Just Joey." The only other people in the garden were elderly couples, husbands and wives holding hands and stopping to gaze together at a flower, shuffling around at an easy pace, the most pleasant little scenes to watch.


"This is good for the soul," I thought. Dripping flowers and old people bundled up against the chill and the sound of sea lions barking over the top of everything. Chicken soup for the soul, I would say, but that line's already been taken.

Joy

An accidental viewing of "The Sound of Music" has put me in a jolly good mood, and now I've stumbled across another little pleaser. I was checking out the animation entries for FlashForward 2007, since I am an incorrigible animation buff, and one of them led me to this site. If you are feeling bouncy, and if you have a computer with a good 'n' fast internet connection try this:

Go to http://www.tangoland.com/. After watching the intro - and really, how can you not? - go to the left hand margin and click on "Imagination." Make sure you've got the sound on for both of these.

It's a nice little slap of happiness.

By the by, I'm not doing the paid post thing, whatever that is, so any hyperlinks I put on my blog are merely for your enjoyment. (Or to help me find sites later, since I'm not the most organized person.)

Shift of the Season

Today I heard my first elk bugle of this year's rut, sounding far off in the valley of the river. I was roaming around the front yard hunting blackberry vines to snip, although their attempts to take over are weakening. The vines that have kept in hiding this long are putting out a peace offering, clumps of ripening berries, so I leave them alone. When the berries are gone I suspect I'll forget they were ever there and snip the vines anyway.

The summer is rolling over. This is the season of the flying termites. It is the season of falling crow feathers. The damp cold bites at the edges of a clean sky, the slugs boldly creep up the edges of the pavement even while the sun still shines. It is a time when the air feels right for the sound of both the sprinkler and the rain, and when the smell of rotting fruit hangs heavy in the fading leaves.

The sunlight is no longer crossing the places I've grown accustomed to. Because of the shortened days I have had to forgo sipping my morning coffee outside, shifting every few minutes to keep my head in the shade, and now cling to the warmth of the mug to help shake off the early chill. Ominous, the summer losing its grip. When I walk the grass in the morning it squishes between my toes, rather than sending up flurries of summertime insects. The water table is rising, grabbing at us to suck us down into the long winter months when sky and ground alike will drown in rain.

The nights have turned quiet here, so different from the earlier months of summer. I was reminded of this when I came across an old blog entry that I never put up, a post titled "Night Music." I wrote it in the beginning of July, when the nights were full of noises. One night as I lay on the verge of sleep, I thought to assign each noise an equivalent orchestral instrument, and so I wrote this:

bullfrogs = cellos
fog horn = french horn
rooster crowing = trumpet
barking dogs = trombones
lowing cows = bassoons
peacock calling = oboe
tree frogs = piccolos
the cuckoo clock downstairs = clarinet
the grandmother clock downstairs = tubular bell
ocean waves = the rustling of the audience

I couldn't make much of it after I assigned a part for everyone, and so I tucked that post away. But now I realize that while in July I could hear every one of those noises every night, these nights are eerily still. Even the fog horn and the ocean seem to keep quiet, perhaps muffled by the blanket of clouds that the cold air tosses over us when the daylight disappears.

The nights won't be still for long. A few more bugles of elk, the odd coyote yip or two, and soon October will be upon us, the sounds of the wind stripping the leaves and howling in the rafters, and the house groaning as it shifts, and the rain beating down in sheets and torrents.

But the days hear still speak summer, and the huckleberry bushes are bending under the weight of their fruit. I still see honeybees on the lavender, and so I won't think about fall just yet. Not yet.

Stupidity Strikes Again

I picked up the morning paper and in a matter of a few pages stumbled across two articles brimming with rampant stupidity. I learned in kindergarten that I'm supposed to share, so here ya' go.

The first fell under the headline, "Canadian leader to claim rights for Arctic," about how the Prime Minister says the Northwest Passage should fall under Canadian ownership. Here's the paragraph that made me put down my coffee:

"Canada claimed the passage in 1973, but competition to control the Arctic has intensified with global warming. Shrinking polar ice has raised the possibility of new shipping lanes and development of what one U.S. study suggested could be as much as 25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas."

Absolutely brilliant. Some great cyclical thinking going on there.

The next article was in the same vein of stupidity, but reduced down to one man's reach. Said man sold his inland home and bought a nice beachfront house in the Oregon Dunes. The trouble was, the dunes blocked his view of the ocean, and he wanted an ocean view. So he hired a bulldozer to flatten the dune in front of his house, moving about 200 dump trucks worth of sand, thereby giving himself a nice ocean view. Needless to say, the neighbors were not happy to see an entire dune gone from the Oregon Dunes, nor was the state, which technically owned that dune. As of yet there is no clear way how to punish the man because it's up to the county to dole out the fine, but the law is set up so that only the landowner (the state) can be fined, and of course the state did absolutely nothing wrong, so the issue is stuck in a perpetual loophole.

I don't know. I'm going to go out on a limb and say if you don't want a view of sand dunes, you probably shouldn't buy a house in the sand dunes.

I was sent a link to this last one by e-mail, and it baffled me so much I thought I should pass it on. It isn't necessarily stupid, per say, but it probably grants the appearance of stupidity to anyone who tries to navigate it. It is a Magic Roundabout in Swindon, England.



Sort of makes the killer roundabout in Pittsfield look like a game of hopscotch, don't it? The site also provides a handy chart of navigation, plus a video of what it looks like to drive through its clutches.


Me? I'm definitely sticking to the red dotty line. A-yup.

Thoughtful Consumerism

My personal odyssey of becoming a thoughtful consumer has been carried along by timely boosts and nudges. It started the very first time I need to stock my own pantry, when my only guiding principle was the price and the goal of matching those familiar brand-name labels in my parents' house. But the more I have learned about the story behind each item in my shopping cart, the less automatic the choices have become.

My first great change was deciding that cheaper generic labels were often just as good as familiar brand-names, a convenient discovery for a college kid. My second was in choosing foods and products that were the healthiest for me, which was spurred by a five-month semester in the rainforest, where my diet was simple (rice and beans) and every lotion and detergent had to be biodegradable for the sake of the local river. But my latest change is much bigger and far more encompassing than anything I've tried to do before - to pick products based on what it costs to bring them to my shopping bag.

It's not the financial cost that I am trying to focus on. It is the cost in principles, in waste and suffering and greed. It is the sort of cost weighed in when, for example, after my recent trip to Ecuador I discovered that the cheap roses you see for sale in the florist section of the local Safeway or Wal-mart or King Sooper's almost all came from plantations in South America. In order to inexpensively mass produce them, these fields of roses have to be drenched in a variety of toxic chemicals, many banned in the US, which leach into the surrounding soil and water. The producers keep costs even lower by failing to supply their mostly female work-force with the necessary protective clothing, and so many suffer the effects of being poisoned. You can read more on this here. These chemical-laden roses have also been blamed for poisoning their US consumers. And yet who, when strolling down the aisle of a Piggly Wiggly's, looks at an affordable bouquet of flowers and thinks of where they were grown, or at what cost? Where is the tag that says, "Front counter price- $5.99. Real price - $dying fish, $miscarriages, $cancer?"

That is the element I am now trying to incorporate into my shopping, trying to find the real cost of each product, deciding from there whether or not it's a cost I want to pay. I've been nudged in this direction increasingly by the consumer alerts about Chinese goods, and now long gone are the days when I cheerfully snatch something of the shelf simply because it looks yummy or pretty or cheap. I remember still the first shopping trips when I started comparing unit prices (feeling quite savvy) and when I began to read the nutritional labels seriously (discovering that, wait a minute... everything has corn syrup in it!) Now my goal is to find the "Made in" label, which is written in teeny tiny writing upside-down on the inside lip of the back packaging, or some other hidden place. (Unless it's made in the USA, in which case it is emblazoned on the front.)

Far more aggravating are food products, which usually say "Distributed by." Those two words are a magical door to a realm where anything is possible, where your Smiling Sun Happy Nut Muffins may have been churned out by a radioactive slave-powered factory in the bowels of an Indonesian brothel and you just don't know, they don't have to tell you, and you have no way of finding out. I am constantly stymied by those two devious words, and so I have come up with two counteractive words of my own, "Farmer's Market."

Future posts will talk about some of the bigger changes I've made and why, but this introduction on the thinking behind thoughtful consumerism is longer than I intended, and it reads as dry as dirt (so if you've made it here, I commend you.) I'm just sitting here going blah blah blah, unedited, the curse of a blogged essay. Anyway, I am attempting to document the changes in my own personal consumerism without whacking people over the head with them, but if I was allowed an "I'd like to teach the world to sing" moment, it would be this - "I'd like to teach the world to pause for a second in the super market and look at that thing they're holding in their hand."

Just Because I Can

And because I like random old-style etchings, and because it makes me smile. (It's Andrew Jackson, if you were wondering.)

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The Author's Corniche - 3

My corniche has a roadblock. A corniche, if you did not know - heck, I didn't - is a road that hugs a precipice, a route of great beauty and danger and constant vigilance. I find it cheery, minus the imminent-death part, because it reminds me of the coastal roads of my hometown. More importantly, it seems like an appropriate analogy for anyone who dares enter the realm of writing.

The realm of writing... When I say it like that, I suddenly picture the JAWS shark rising up out of my page while I'm trying to write. Okay, so perhaps writing is nothing like driving alongside a sheer drop-off, but the psychological impact of failing to write well can certainly feel like falling off a cliff.

Which makes a roadblock a bit of a relief. I have not been speeding along those dangerous curves lately, but rather leaning against a rockslide picking my teeth with a toothpick and saying, "A-yup...gonna have to wait for this to clear." I am being a lazy, lazy writer, solving my literary problems by ignoring the fact that they exist, or at least giving up trying to address them through the tips of my fingers.

I suppose I should be panicking, kicking myself towards the computer (and ignoring the siren lure of "Minesweeper" once I get there,) but honestly, the wax and wane of writing seems like a natural thing. Writer's block is a bit like waiting for the tide to come back in, not furthered by me jumping up and down on the beach flailing my arms and shouting at it. Relax, says I. No deadlines to meet.

Which randomly reminds me - they say that authors who publish one book are oftentimes signed on to deliver follow-up books within a certain time period, which is why second and third books want for quality. There are many interesting discussions in writing circles about how publishing, as a business, is suffocating the life out of good writers. Once you cram a deadline down an author's throat, the thoughts that should be allowed to simmer in the pot get suddenly dumped out al dente, underdeveloped, or scorched to the point of hackneyed cliche. ("Hackneyed cliche" is a hackneyed cliche, I have just realized.) The publishing world also does a disservice by publishing so many peanuts, making it harder to find the few almonds and cashews, but I suppose they figure if they flood the market with books they'll have a better chance at snagging a reader, and the peanut author is then vindicated in their life-long dream to become a writer, so everyone wins. I would rally for publishers to be much more selective, but I have a vague suspicion that my own stuff may be a bit peanutty, and so I'll keep my mouth shut. (At least I'm a passionate peanut! Even peanuts can have standards!)

Am I digressing?

Anyway, I did something absolutely fantastic this morning, something which I almost never do - I freewrote. It was an attempt to get my writing pilot light going again. Though I agree on principle with all the little tricks of the trade - the freewriting, the "artist's date," the morning thought journals - I almost never indulge in them, because I, logical person that I am, say, "Every moment writing something irrelevant is a moment I could use to work on current projects!" (And I jump up while I say it, and there is a crowd of cheering people in my head.)

But freewriting is such a lovely forbidden thing for a stodgy red-pen-loving grammar freak such as myself, especially since I was wearing my piratey eye patch on one eye. My other weaker eye inexplicably likes to rearrange letters on the page, great for anagrams but not so much for reading, and so I wrote with my eyes closed and it was wonderful. Oh, I get to indulge myself here on Fifteen Feet every now and then, but to write without the chance that anyone will read it gave me free license to do all those things that are so wrong, so deliciously wrong.

I used nouns as verbs. I twisted verbs into adverbs and then into convoluted unpronounceable adjectives. I strung pearls of adjectives into long necklaces, where the poor little noun was hidden at the end like a clasp. And the run-ons, oh delight! My paragraph sentences would have made Faulkner blush.

Ah, the naughty little pleasures of the freewriter. I suppose the real trick is to slap yourself out of it after you've had your fill, get your grammar back in order, imprison punctuation, and return to the real work at hand. Pesky....pesky plotlines.

I do love the writer's art.

This is Me Complaining

I'm here today to talk about iritis. Iritis is a very painful, sucky, sucky thing. Never heard of it? Neither had I, and neither have most people, but left untreated it is one of the leading causes of blindness in the world. This is what it looks like.

LOOK AT THE EYE...

Mmm, pretty. What does it feel like, you ask? It feels like there is a little hand inside your head clenching the back of your eyeball and squeeeezing until you want to claw yourself blind, and when the sun shines the light makes you hiss and shrink deep into the shadows, that's what if feels like. (I suspect Dracula suffered from it.) Boys and girls, isn't it fun?!?

My doctor made me laugh when I first went to see her. "My right eye hurts," I said.
"You have iritis," she said.
"Eye-rightus?" I repeated.
"Yes."
"Eye-rightus," I said again. dumbfounded. "As opposed to eye-leftus?"

Alas, it was not a made-up diagnosis by a lazy ophthalmologist, but a real and very dreary disease. What an incredibly random thing to have happen! I have to admit, I've gotten rather annoyed after I realized that it wasn't going to be getting better anytime soon. (Weeks instead of days.) Frustration with little things like reading and driving mounted into full blown panic last night, when I discovered online what a serious and potentially recurring problem it can turn into. (Which is probably why my doctor said, when handing me the information brochure, "You really shouldn't believe all of this.") Don't shop online for a bunny rabbit unless you want to take home a grizzly bear, that's what that lesson is. I guess. I really don't know what that's supposed to mean, but my eye hurts. And so I don't care. Because I'm grumpy.

So today's public service announcement, folks, is this - If your eye turns pink, go get it looked as ASAP, unlike idiotic yours truly.

7-5-7's at the Dinner Table

Poor little Dungeness crab
Small sweet thing, you don’t
belong in a burrito

Surrounded by refried beans
and smothered in cheese
Oh, what an insult to you!

Rather, you should be intact
Red shell, spotted claws
Sitting next to hot butter

Cut Off

At six in the morning I woke up in agony. The sky was getting brighter, not direct sunlight - it takes time for the fog to burn off - but an overall increasing brightness, and all that growing light was shooting pain into my right eye. I should have gotten it looked at sooner. It's been red for nearly a week, but I thought it was merely allergies. It's amazing how delicate our bodies are, how fine a balance we walk between health and sickness, and how a minor irritation can so quickly turn into pending blindness.

I have often considered my vision a borrowed gift. My eyes are not as bad as some stories I've heard, but they walk the line. Astigmatism, myopia, macular degeneration, blind spots, lazy eye... I am an ophthalmologist's candy shop. One strong blow and I could lose it all - the art, the music, the sunsets. How do blind people survive?

I should not have been driving, but the eye doctor was 45 minutes away. Driving seems like such a luxury when it is nearly taken away from you, an inexpressible freedom to care for yourself. Another day more and I would be forced to call around town for someone to drive for me. Without my car, I am cut off from the world, stranded.

This morning as I, bleary-eyed, fought my way to the doctor's, a major fiber optic cable was accidentally cut, severing all communication out of my home town. For most of the day the internet was down, long distance phones were down, 911 was a busy signal. The stores were reduced to cash-only transactions. Cut off, completely cut off. Since the pharmacy could not call out, I wasn't able to get all the eye drops I needed, nor pay for the rest with credit. Luckily the pharmacist knows me and let me walk out with them on an IOU, and such is the blessing of a small town. How thin is the thread on which civilization hangs!

Back home, I sat around utterly stumped. I could do nothing that involved eyesight, nor call any distant friends or family for consolation. Cut off, a game of waiting. The solitary life is at its loneliest when you need physical help.

But I am, even now, listening to reports from the mines in Utah. Last night as I was falling asleep, before a woeful day of my own, I tried to imagine what those six men are going through, trapped in the darkness alone for so long, so cut off. How hungry must they be? Are they cold? Are they talking to each other, or have they focused on silent survival? Are they praying?

I prayed last night for them, and I prayed this morning for myself. It is the one connection I know will never be cut off.

The Reunion

Ten years have passed, as years often will, and I got an invitation to my high school reunion. It was a message in a bottle, sent to the wrong address, crushed in the mail, appropriate. It took a corkscrew to open the bottle, and inside was sand and shells and the invitation.

Ten years have passed, and I have just experienced a most bizarre weekend. Old memories dredged back to the surface, names and faces I can just barely recall. Ten years ago I was a different person, as were many of my classmates with whom, this weekend, I have had Relationship Take-2.

The guys had mostly become wider and balder, the girls more or less the same. I surely offended more than one person by completely forgetting their name, further evidence, I suppose, of a life left far behind. Two comments followed me throughout the evening - one, "This is more than I've ever heard you talk before! You were really shy in high school." Can you believe there are still people in the world who think I'm a quiet person? And two, "Dang, Kt's a hottie. If you had looked like that in high school, I would have totally hit on you. Is there an award for most improved?" What does one say to such a compliment? Yes, a dorky appearance is the natural defense God gives His beloved to protect them from inadvisable high school relationships (with jerks), thank you very much. People grow up. Oh, the things I would have changed ten years ago!

The corkscrew for the invitation was a good indicator for the weekend, because both main events involved unchecked drinking. Very strange to see former high schoolers get drunk, especially with ex-cops and ex-teachers mixing into the crowd. By the end of the first night, the drunkest of nights, the crowd was conveniently thinned into people who have changed impressively - who were still sober enough for conversation - and the people spilling drinks on the carpet. I caught up with the latter the next day, when they were much more subdued.

Saturday night was our grand luau, not bad for a party of haoles. (Drinks in coconuts. Mine a virgin and extra large, since "No one else wants a virgin," quoth the bartender. DD's forever!) I couldn't make much ground on our class questionnaire - Do you have kids? How many kids? Are you pregnant? Are you married? Are you engaged? ("How about a prize for Least Attached?" I shouted.) But I did take home the prize for Travelled Farthest From Home, which was good and well deserved, since no one in our class is an astronaut yet.

I shall always remember our reunion as shouting at each other over the top of music, random hugging and high-fiving and dancing. My voice was raw from the shouting and the smoke, and I slept poorly in the aftermath, mulling over familiar faces saying such unfamiliar things. The camaraderie, the stunned frozen moments, like our class had been thrown in the middle of the highway all at once with a blinding semi-truck of Change bearing down on us.

I love the changes. I love being able to look through my yearbook now and add on those final memories. The jerks have disappeared. My high school persona is laid to rest. Words that have been left unspoken for ten years, confessions and new revelations, and above all, that elusive sense of finality to a turbulent time. I close the book and move on, smiling.

Love Song to the Sea

Go to the seaside. I have heard it in a song, and now it is my call, a cry for the voiceless gull. Go to the sea, and see the white midden slopes of oyster shells and the black vultures above. The harbor is swirling in the wake of the seals, the smell of fish and seaweed, and the whale-topped weather vane is turning to the north, the grinning wooden whale gazing to the north.

You should be here, with a thousand footprints in the sand behind you. You should see the sand fleas jump in the lines of green algae and fossil shells. For today the sky has turned upside down, and today the clouds touch the water, the blue sky hidden far above. There is sunshine there, and warmth, but here on the bay only clouds. The fog is pressing, and the waves are pressing, and the limestone cliffs tilt a little further, showering their fossils into sand crossed by footprints.

The children of the bridge are laughing, they are looking over, they are driven to the sides by the traffic, the people of the bridge. They walk on the edges. The egrets below are probing deep mud, are standing silent, the gulls flying around them, and the dust rises from the road. Gulls are there too, lying dead on the side of the road, and the traffic drives on. We are all pressing on, we are pushing on, we cars and gulls and clouds of dust, past the marshlands and the flatlands, the saltflats and the saltwater sedges, with the sand dunes rising alongside them, the fossil sand dunes, rising to the ocean. We are pressing northward, we travellers, we pilgrims of the coastline, north from the grinning whale. To our left are the ports and the oysterbeds and the shell shops. To the right the inland rivers that reach out to touch salt, the fingers of cities and civilization. We do not go to the right. Straight ahead are the forests and the ghosts of the forests. To the left are the driftwood graveyards and all ahead the road, the road, dark and grey and stone.

The waves are breaking against the jetty. The northern bar kills, drives the ships down. The southern bar is mild and tame, milkwater. The tide pulls out, leaving the oyster beds speckled in the bay. And the seagulls are calling. They are crying and calling. The sun dips low. It is catching the first light of the water. The trail, the red, shoots out towards me and me alone. On all of the west coast there is no other eye that aligns with the sun. In all the west coast there is no other body that sits directly east of the setting sun, its edge slipping down into the water.

And now the day is closing in on itself, and in the bar a trawler, its broken arms hanging over the water, fighting up to port. The smoke rises from the trees of the campground below, and the fog has lifted. I wish you could be here. I wish you could see it. The sea, the lighthouse, the Fresnel lens turning around and the crystal light beginning to shine. The land loses its color, turns grey and gold, and the foghorn, slow and steady, howling "Home, home." Home, even if this isn't your home. Home, even if you are leaving.

How I would like you to see the carousel of lights, the red and the white against the trees, how they rake the skin of the dead trees. Soon it will all be gone, the trees and the houses and the whitewashed keeper's house, and the night will be nothing but the light and the carousel, the foghorn and roaring waves. How I would like you to see it, the beam of the lighthouse trolling out to sea, scooping up the horizon, calling to the mariners white and red and white. That beacon, that light, that safety.

Now I have written it out of myself, the sound of the sea. The fog hides sirens, the tug of the outgoing tide, a horizon with no ending. It is haunting if you listen. Nothing is settled in the western sea, nothing but the clouds against the water, and how I wish you could see it.