Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

I thought I had a picture for today, but I don't.

Well, end of the Everyday Posting for awhile. I didn't do that great of a job. But oh well.

I have two books to review but my house is messy and I'm cold and I have to figure out what exactly needs to get done today before I go watch a little kid for an hour and then hand out candy for awhile.

I'm really tired.

*sigh*

There is a big Halloween street festival a block away, maybe I will take my camera and go for a walk. Or maybe I will just continue half-watching Halloween on the AMC channel and, as Shea puts it, just phone it in for the remainder of the day.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Other Mother

My Coraline "Other Mother" costume is my favorite costume I've had in awhile.

"There's only one little thing we have to do."
It turned a little steampunk/Edward Scissorhands, but I still kinda love it.
I want to wear this skirt every day.

It doesn't hurt a bit.
Not bad for $20 and a little handsewing. Oh, this is the "before" of the skirt.

Just chopped off the top and turned it into a skirt.

Don't you want to join me?
(thanks to Mr. Gaiman for such a fantastic character!)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Transitioning to Deep Autumn

You know, with those chilly 70+ degree days and dreary sunny sunshine and drenching days of no rain at all. Who me? Ready for winter? Nah.

I shouldn't complain, it's been cold at night, and for some reason our house is a freezerbox. I swear it's 20 degrees colder in my house than outside. So, if I want to feel the chill of winter, I just stay inside! Sigh.

The feeling of being constantly behind continues to haunt me. I struggle between feeling okay about this and just letting it all go (until someone reminds me of something) and wanting to make a giant all-encompassing to-do list so I don't forget anything. I like it best when the people around me are imperfect, so I think I'll just continue to let things slide a little and just focus on the important things: Relationship, job, health, rest, fun. If the laundry remains unfolded for a few days, oh well.

I'm also completely running out of things to write about. So this will be a short one. See? Imperfectionism: it's the way to go.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween Meme

(picked up from Stefanie, who got it from Emily)
Which urban legend ghost scared the bejeesuz out of you when you were a kid?
Hmm. I was kind of susceptible to these. The hitchhiker one always got me. Also there were a few local ones that scared me to death, like the "white lady" who was supposed to step out in front of cars in this one stretch of backroad. I always white-knuckled it through that area, even as young adult.

Which horror movie has the best premise?
Hmm. Best premise. Probably Poltergeist, for me. Anything like that freaks me out (in a good way!) I like spooky movies but I don't love horror. Interestingly, I used to LOVE those Nightmare on Elm Street movies when I was a young teenager. We used to save up our money to rent them all and watch them all night.

What is the most disappointing “treat” to receive in your bag on Halloween night?
Those weird peanut-butter taffy things. Butterfingers were my favorite, but I was a relatively equal-opportunity candy-eater, with the exception of those weird stale peanut butter taffy thingies. I also was not thrilled about DumDums -- they were eaten last.

What’s the best non-candy item to receive?
I don't really remember getting non-candy items. Maybe a sticker every once in awhile? Or sometimes maybe I got those plastic spider rings? But I liked both of those, so...

Did a monster live in your closet when you were a child?
There were monsters in the attic, a ghost in the closet, and skeletons under my bed (with hands that would creep up the wall next to my bed and pull on my covers!!) True story (which may have something to do with my high startle response): When I was about 8 or 9, I was in my bed in my room, at the back of our house. My dad came home from fishing and was in the utility room, which was two rooms away from mine. He was cleaning out his creel and washing fish, etc. Suddenly, I heard scratching from under my bed -- exactly like a skeleton hand would make as it was scratching up the wall -- and I screamed, "Dad! Dad! THERE IS SOMETHING UNDER MY BED!!" He comes in, all sighing and not believing me. Then he stops. There IS something scratching under my bed. I'm freaking out as he bends over to look under the bed. Then he starts to laugh. There is a crawdad (crayfish) under my bed. It has crawled all through the rooms and has dead-ended under my bed at the wall, and was scratching the wall with its pinchers. Nice. Thank you for a lifetime of being freaked out about whatever is under the bed.

Which supernatural creature sent chills up your spine when you were ten and still does?
Ghosts. I love ghosts, and I'm terrified of them. I would love to see one, but I would probably scream my bloody head off if I did. I don't like zombies, and I don't like inanimate objects which have come to life (dolls, etc.).

Which supernatural creature makes you yawn?
Hmm. Most monsters. I don't care about werewolves, creatures from black lagoons, cat people, mummies, or vampires. I like vampires, but I'm not really scared of them. It's pretty much ghosts that push my terror button. Also I don't like animated severed limbs very much. Especially if they've been reanimated.

What’s your favorite Halloween decoration?
I like a good ghosty pumpkiny front-yard graveyard. I do like jack o'lanterns, and I like that spider-webby stuff. I like just about any non-gory Halloween decoration. I don't like zombies or gore. Yuck.

If you could be anywhere on Halloween night, where would you be?
Walking around watching people in costume. Kids or adults -- it doesn't matter. I like to be in costume as well. I used to go the Castro district in San Francisco and it was so fabulous -- hours of people-watching. It was incredibly fun.

What’s the scariest book you’ve read so far this year?
Probably Let The Right One In, which I just finished. Jade Green was pretty good, as was The Woman In Black.

Haunted houses or haunted hayrides?
I've never been on a haunted hayride, but that sounds fun. I love haunted houses and scream a lot while going through them. I'm very enthusiastic about them. I haven't been to one in years!

Which Stephen King novel/movie would you least like to find yourself trapped in?
Hmm. Either Pet Sematery or The Shining. I also did not like Christine. I was afraid of old cars for years after I read that, always expecting their lights to suddenly turn on when no one was in the car. I have always wanted to name a cat Church, however. But that would just be wrong.

Which is creepiest: evil dolls, evil pets, evil children?
Evil dolls, hands down. You can kill evil pets and children. You can't kill evil dolls. They're little and creepy and skittery and who knows what they want? What kind of evil agenda does a doll have? You can't imagine! Evil pets, sure -- they just want more food. Evil kids -- revenge on bad people. Dolls? They want to kill just for the fun of it. There's nothing you can do.

Book: Jade Green

I was worried that this might be silly, based on the cover, but it was actually a pretty good ghost story. If I had read then when I was 11 or so, I would have been FREAKED out! Even at 35 I was still a little freaked.

Set around the turn of the century (I'm guessing), Judith is an orphan (around 15 or so?) who is sent to go live with her uncle in the Carolinas. The household consists of herself, her stern uncle, and a jolly housekeeper. Her cousin, Charles, much older than herself, also semi-lives at home but also keeps some rooms in town.

The only condition of her coming to live with them is that she cannot bring anything green into the house. Nothing. The family does not even eat salads or green vegetables in the house -- no green allowed. This isn't a problem for Judith except for one thing: a green silk picture frame given to her by her mother. She hides the frame deep into her trunk and hopes that no one will find it.

(I would have had a problem with this as green is my favorite color and half my belongings would be green...)

Anyway, Judith settles in, and things seem to be going well. She gets a job at a hat shop in town, and begins to make some friends. But soon she starts to hear the gossip about the house she is living in. They say that a girl used to live there. Her name was Jade Green... and she killed herself. And the house is haunted.

Judith shivers these rumors off until she starts to notice strange things happening around the house. Little noises under her bed. Things slightly out of place. She suspects perhaps there is a supernatural hand at work... but does not realize how accurate she is until later!

In the meantime, her cousin Charles is becoming a lecherous problem. Always staring at her and provoking her, accusing her of stealing... he is clearly worried about his inheritance and wants Judith out of the picture. Also, apparently, wants her out of her clothes. Charles is icky. I have not run across a character quite so purely icky in awhile. He has no redeeming qualities.

Finally things start to swirl to a crisis point with both the supernatural presence and Charles. The way the ghost manifests is super-duper creepy, and Charles is pretty evil. He gets his just desserts in the end, which was satisfying.

I think this book falls into the YA camp, but clearly it's for young teenagers, just beginning to think about romance. There is a sweet budding romance in the book, but mostly it's a lean, mean, scary machine. I liked the old-fashioned setting and the characters were engaging and memorable (Judith, as narrator, is perhaps the least memorable, but that wasn't a problem for me). The ghost in the story was extremely effective and kind of shocking, which surprised me.

A perfect pre-Halloween read, easily read in an hour or so, and sure to send a couple shivers up your spine.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Book: Let The Right One In

Well, it wasn't The Terror, but this was a darn fine book. It wasn't until the very very end that I realized what a great scary book it was. It unfolded slowly and the gloom settled into the reader's experience without you even really realizing, it, sort of like the Scandinavian winter and darkness.

12-year-old Oskar is picked on at school. A lot. Every day. By the sort of boys that would have driven me to stay home with a "stomachache" every day until I was 18. He fantasizes about his revenge, stabbing trees near his dismal suburban apartment complex.

And then he meets Eli. Mysterious, dark, strange, beautiful Eli. Eli, who loves puzzles and delights in Oskar's gift of the Morse code. Eli, who lives next door with a strange older man. Eli, who is never out during the day, and who needs an invitation to come in.

Eli changes Oskar's life. For awhile, I really wasn't sure if it was going to be for the better or the worse. It wasn't until the very last few pages when I made up my mind. You'll have to see what you think.

First, this is a translation so I feel like maybe the writing could have been a bit richer. It felt a bit flat at time -- but this only emphasized the hopelessness and despair of this Swedish suburban experience. There was no beauty -- except Eli.

As you probably know, I lived in Finland for a year and I felt like this strange confluence of skinny forest trees and modern, lifeless apartment buildings was spot-on for a tale of growing horror. You don't have to have lived in Scandinavia to know about the drunks and the ice and the darkness, but the author (who is Swedish) got it just right.

So what happens? Well, Oskar falls in love with Eli. Eli (we think) loves Oskar. The old man loves Eli. Various drunks love each other. So, in one sense, it's a romance novel.

However, Oskar lives a life in early-adolescent hell. Eli is doomed to an eternity of loneliness. The old man becomes a pseudo-living nightmare. So it's not a very nice romance.

The horror, when it comes, close to the end, is truly horrifying. I was reading this late, late, late at night at a babysitting gig. Not the best book to be reading when I was in a strange house, alone late at night. However -- PEOPLE! -- I got scared! I was actually creeped out. I thought I was too jaded but apparently just needed the right book. I was so pleased.

It was quite long, with a slow build, but I enjoyed it. Oskar is one of those tough characters that you're not sure whether or not to sympathize with. Eli was an enigma, but ultimately I couldn't help but love the character a little myself. Certainly not sweet, but poignant and achingly lonely.

It was different than I had expected but I thought it was a really great story and very appropriate for this time of year. And RIP!

Scary? Yes. Vampire? Yes -- a different kind of vampire book. More along the lines of 'salem's Lot than Sookie Stackhouse. Interesting? Completely. Complex? Moreso than most horror novels. Worthy of your time? Absolutely, if you like a good scary book that's actually worth reading.

I can't wait to see the movie now. The trailer is chilling.



And now for a whole string of short children's ghost stories to finish off RIP.

Catching A Break

Woohoo!

Terri just got word that she's going to be part of an XMRV study through her doctor's office. Which means that she will get the $650 test for $25. Yes!! That is $625 we don't have to cough up for a blood test now. What a freaking relief. I am so thrilled.

We'll head up to Santa Rosa next Monday so she can get the test taken and pick up the paperwork, etc. I am so happy because she really needs this test and we really needed to NOT spend that money.

All the little breaks count. I am jubilantly celebrating this one! Yippee!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tagalong Blessings

We might not have a house and/or yard, but we do have this beautiful view of downtown Oakland, the church, and the moon.

Terri had to have semi-emergency toe surgery today, but she has a great doctor who was able to see her right away and he did a great job. Also that I was home and able to take her.

Cleo the cat has early kidney disease, but she is taking her sub-q fluids like a champ and likes the kidney-formula dry food. Wet food is still a question mark but we have four or five brands to try.

The car still needs to be smogged and needs various things fixed, but I was able to change the battery myself yesterday (saving money and time) and it still worked this morning! Woohoo!

We still do not have a bathroom sink, cable in the bedroom, nor virus-free laptops. However hopefully all of these things will be fixed tomorrow. Or nearly fixed. And we're not paying for the bathroom sink (landlord's responsibility) nor the cable installation (since this is the fourth time they will be out here attempting this), and we're able to be paying a friend to fix the computers (yay for putting our money to a good use!).

We were not able to go to church yesterday, but we sorely missed it, indicating that it struck a chord with us and maybe we've found a good community.

***
Things don't always go right. Seems like lately, however, things are trying to get to an equilibrium of bummer and blessing. I can live with that.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Grease Monkey

Our second attempt at going to church was foiled by a sore, infected toe and nearly two weeks of extremely poor sleep. We got in the car to go and I looked over at Terri, and saw that she was turning slightly gray. I thought, "Hmm. Maybe this isn't the best idea...." and she said, "I don't think it's a good idea for me to go." So, we went back in the house and will try again next week. She's also trying some new medications which are making her feel funky, so it just wasn't meant to be, although we really wanted to go.

Instead, I decided to tackle the car situation. Terri's car, a beloved 92 Honda Accord, has had it rough the last few years. She (the car) got stolen twice a few years ago and was treated rather roughly by her captors. We were lucky to get her back both times, but she hasn't been the same since.

Lately, she's been sittin' out back on blocks, weeds piling up around her, with a dead battery. Well, maybe not exactly. More like just sitting there quietly in her parking place, waiting for one of us to have enough time/energy/gumption to get a new battery. I don't know if it's just that she doesn't get driven very much or if it's something like an alternator going bad... anyway, the battery was totally dead so I headed down to the auto parts store to get a new battery. The guy who carried it out to my car told me not to set it down on concrete. I'm glad he told me -- who knew??

I was very proud of myself and very thankful for all the times I stood outside helping my dad fix cars, because I was totally able to take the old battery out and put the new one in, with no problem at all. Car started right up. I was so pleased! I know it's not a major fix by any means but anything I can do all by myself makes me happy.

I also discovered that if I put myself in the right frame of mind, I kind of like car stuff. I already knew that I like doing household fix-it stuff, but I've always hated any sort of car issue. It just seemed so big and complicated and troublesome. A giant puzzle. But then today I thought, well, it IS just a big puzzle! That's all it is. You take out the pieces one by one and set them down in order, and then you put them back in reverse order and you're done.

So now, if it IS the alternator or something like that, I'm wondering if I can fix it myself. I would feel like such a stud if I could do that.

I came back inside, all hot and sweaty and dirty, and said to Terri, "Car's fixed. Get me a beer, honey." (joking, of course, because we don't drink... diet tonic water will have to suffice).

As I get older I am so grateful for all the things I know how to do and don't have to pay someone else to do. It's just how I grew up, and obviously some of it sunk in. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Perhaps a bit optimistic...

(gratuitous cat shot which has nothing to do with this post. Cleo has been afraid of this chair ever since we got it a few months ago. It's so... big and soft and fluffy! Who wouldn't be afraid of it? Anyway, she obviously recently got over the chair fright and has now claimed it as hers)

Went to the library yesterday and picked up a bunch of books I'd forgotten that I'd requested. I think it's optimistic to think I'll have them all read in three weeks, but you never know. However, I will try to get through these five for the last week of RIP (they are, for the most part, YA or kids books so hopefully that's not asking too much)

* All The Lovely Bad Ones (a YA ghost story)
* Jade Green (ditto)
* Wait 'Till Helen Comes (ditto again)
* Skeleton Man (spooky Native American-style story {I think})
* The Sandman: Dream Country (also a quick read)

I have to finish Let The Right One In (it's very long!) and then quickly read my book club book, and then get through all these. Can I do it??

And then, once I'm done with those, I have:

*Moonlight & Vines (another Newford book by Charles de Lint)
* Angel of Darkness (another de Lint, which I started a few months ago but didn't finish)
* Howards End (because it looked great and I've always wanted to read it and Nymeth recently reviewed it so eloquently)

Uh, that's plenty of books for awhile. Oh yeah, and I was going to spend November reading Anna Karenina. Hmm. Well, it's next on the list. :)

And Now For Something Completely Different

A photo of me and my friend Nicki's adorable 4-month old son. They came by to see me at work on Friday. I got some much-needed baby-snuggling (and this baby is a champion snuggler, I tell you) and my fingers got chewed on and there was drool and happy grins and giggles. Oh, and he did some of that too. And, well, let's say that he's allllll boy when it comes to breasts. He was a happy little guy.

I followed up the baby snuggle-fest with a night of Moroccan lentils and pseudo-Nordic ice cream (yes, Haagen-Dazs, I'm looking at you). Everything felt a little more settled into place.

(I swear my hair does not look like it's two different shades in person. At least, I hope it doesn't or my hairdresser has been lying to me)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Weebles Wobble

... but they don't fall down, right?

I just realized today that I'm feeling a wee bit wobbly. There are a lot of things happening and many opportunities to worry, should I feel like taking advantage of the situation(s) and working myself up.

I'm not choosing to do so, but I feel them niggling away at me, trying very hard to cut through my composure and make my stomach hurt. I keep batting them away (like I bat away the fruit flies which seem to have popped up all around my desk for some reason lately) but they keep circling back around.

It's all fine. We're fine. Everyone is fine. It's all manageable. In bits and pieces.

However, I wish I were a:
* doctor
* car mechanic
* vet
* chef
* Wall Street banker getting paid millions in bonuses of taxpayer money

Actually if I were that last one, all the rest of the worries would greatly diminish. Oh well.

So, instead of succumbing to anxiety and worry, I'm reading my book, Let The Right One In, which is actually not helping matters much since it's pretty dark. I'm thinking about my current painting (in progress). I'm trying to do creative problem-solving.

I feel like things are getting a little out of control and I need to simplify some things. I have no idea what these things might be, but there are a few too many pieces on the board right now. I think I'll employ a tactic that works pretty well when I have too many little low-priority tasks to do at work: I let most of them go and figure that if it's really important, someone will nag me about it. Until then, I'll just put it out of my mind.

What I need is to get to the library and check out some more fluffy reading. And perhaps invest in a container of ice cream. And a blanket to put over my head.

(Terri also adds that perhaps there may be hormonal issues involved. This is true. Even more reason for ice cream and fluffy reading)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Costume!

(pardon the mind-numbingly boring posts lately. I don't know what is up with me)

I love to dress up. I used to do theater and my favorite part was the costumes and makeup. I was not a very good actress but I sure do love makeup (I don't even wear much, which is really sad for someone who loves makeup as much as I do. I just love the idea of it. And the pretty, pretty colors. And lipsticks. I have like 25 lipsticks. And counting. My name is Daphne and I'm a lipstick addict.)

You would think that I would go all-out every year for Halloween, yes? Sadly, no. I usually wait until the last minute and then scrape something together from my closet. When we moved, I got rid of a lot of my costume-y pieces, so my closet is not as good a source of costumes as it used to be. If I ever have a big closet all to myself, I will fill it with lots of costume-gear. Just because.

So anyway, my office celebrates Halloween fairly exuberantly, so this year I figured I'd put a *little* effort into it. I was going to be an Anne Rice-style vampire, all dripping with jewels and lace and tragedy (not very original, but fun!). However, then I realized with just a few tweaks, I could instead be the Other Mother from Coraline.

I found an 80s-style peplum dress at the thrift store for $6 (I'm going to channel Andie Walsh and turn it into a skirt), a lace turtleneck (which isn't at all like this extravagant collar the Other Mother sports here, but I don't think anyone will care -- it kind of works with the dress/skirt), and am working on the rest (claws, buttons, hair).
The button eyes will be the key part. I couldn't find any buttons large enough today, but I might actually have some on a coat that I could appropriate for the costume and then sew back later. I figure I will try both spirit gum (to stick them on) or clear elastic (to make button 'goggles') and see what works best. (if I find some with big holes, I think I will be able to see well enough)

I'm excited about the costume. I don't know if anyone will know what I am, but button eyes are scary no matter which way you look at it. Now let's just hope I can figure out how to make this dress into a skirt. The entire zipper is broken so I think I'm going to hook-and-eye it closed. It just has to hold for one day. I don't know why I'd rather fiddle with transforming a trashy dress than follow a pattern and actually make a skirt. Probably because the trashy dress is mostly done and making a skirt requires patience, which I do not generally have when it comes to sewing.

Yes, I will take before and after photos! This dress/skirt is truly amazing. I believe it's probably vintage 1986. All acetate, and all mine. Can you iron acetate?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Creativity Top 10

I've been noticing lately the the type of music that makes me feel most creative is not at all what I would have expected. When I'm sitting there painting, the last thing I want to hear is Enya or classical music.

Nope, the more intense, the darker, the louder, the better. Apparently. So, for lack of anything better to post about, here are my Top 10 favorite songs to do creative stuff to. Well, today's Top 10, anyway. In no particular order.

Enter Sandman, Metallica: I never used to like Metallica. And then I got old, and suddenly they sound great. I like this song and also For Whom The Bell Tolls.

Kick Start My Heart, Motley Crue: Who doesn't like a song about recovering from a heroin overdose? What's not to love?

A Daisy Chain 4 Satan, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult: I had a serious thing for MLWTTKK in high school, and recently rediscovered them. Trashy, dancey, addictive. I listened to this song over and over before my Physiology final last year and I truly believe it helped me get in the right frame of mind!

Driven Like The Snow, Sisters of Mercy: I like this whole album (Floodland) and at certain times in my life have become obsessed with it. This is my current favorite song. I love the long lead-in and the building tones as the song develops.

Bela Lugosi's Dead, Bauhaus: Again with the 80s Goth music, but I love this song. It's perfect for tuning out the world around me and just focusing on exactly how much pressure to put on the paintbrush to get that little tiny stroke just right.

Cables, Big Black: Loud, obnoxious, clangy and harsh, I have loved this band since I first heard them (a long time ago, let's not talk about how long that is). This song is so self-absorbed and serious that it almost makes me laugh, but I love it. The whole album is good, as well. Also good if you are angry.

Thickfreakness, The Black Keys: Dark dirty blues. Love this stuff anytime.

Garbageman, The Cramps: More dark and dirty, but with much silliness and humor, with a fantastic surf guitar by a very sexy lady (Poison Ivy). This song is good really loud. Also a good one for exercising, I've noticed.

Breaking The Law, Judas Priest: This might be the only Priest song I know, but I love it. I sometimes play it a few times in a row.

Drug Against War, KMFDM: I don't love industrial, but I like the 80s and early 90s versions of it. This song is great.

Whole Lotta Love, Led Zeppelin: Aw, who am I kidding. Led Zeppelin is great anytime.

Well, that's 11. In general, I also like any Pink Floyd, The Cure, The Smiths, or pretty much any hair metal band. Highbrow, I tell you.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lately...

Lately my house has been less than clean. We've been slacking on the chores. I give that a big fat "Oh Well"

Lately my painting has been sitting, half-done, on the table. Not sure why I haven't finished it. I guess I'm waiting to feel like I know what to do with this weird tall shape the canvas is.

Lately I have been in a weird reading mood. I feel like reading biographies. This is completely unlike me. I never read biographies, and I've just read three in as many weeks. Weird.

Lately I have been listening to NPR. This is so ABSOLUTELY completely unlike me (me, who hates talk radio of any sort -- I just can't stand the droning). I suspect body-snatching.

Lately I have been cooking more. This feels good. Summer drains me. Fall rejuvenates me.

Lately I have been feeling -- dare I say it -- optimistic? A few months ago I felt like I had forgotten what that emotion felt like. Now I feel this vague but pleasant sense of hope and faith that things are fine. It's nice. But perhaps another result of body-snatching.

Lately I have been really wanting a little scooter for commuting. Well, I've always wanted one, but lately I've been seriously lobbying for one. The Other One In Charge remains unconvinced, but we're still talking about it.

Lately I have been laughing at this video. My favorite part, "WAS!!" (for best viewing, start it then pause it while it loads)






Monday, October 19, 2009

Book: Garlic and Sapphires

Another one from the great Ms. Reichl. Such a fun book.

In this episode, our heroine becomes the main restaurant critic for the New York Times -- one of the most powerful positions in the world of food. She does so with her usual alplomb -- until she realizes that it's a different world in New York, and the restaurants all have her picture posted, ready to give her the perfect experience should she show up.

So... disguises are in order! What fun.

We are treated to the origins and development of some of her favorite 'characters,' and their adventures in the formidable world of New York dining. First she's got to win over her readers, and then she's got to introduce them to the world of ethnic food. Is the New York of the 1990s ready for Korean BBQ?

My favorite disguise was "Brenda." Brenda has red hair, is bohemian, wears large colored glasses and extravagant vintage Chinese silks. Everyone loves Brenda. Brenda treats everyone as if they were a treasure -- and people respond in turn to Brenda. Brenda is Ruth's 'best self.' I loved reading about Brenda because it reminded me that if I tune into my best self, everyone around me, including myself, has a good time. I also loved Brenda because in my other life, I wear tattered beautiful vintage clothes and parade around in gobs of costume jewelry. (I actually have a pretty good collection of vintage costume jewelry that I don't wear NEARLY often enough.)

At some point, Ruth realizes that perhaps she's ready for a change. Perhaps eating out nearly every night and serving judgment on the best (and worst) restaurants in the city is not what she wants to do anymore. What could be next? A fateful call from Gourmet magazine offers another chance for reinvention...

This was another great book. I loved all 3 of her books. Light, easy to read, entertaining, somewhat educational food-wise... truly enjoyable and just what I was in the mood for.

And now, distractions complete, I'm ready to dive back into RIP for the last two weeks of the challenge. Next up: Let The Right One In. I can't wait!


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Going To Church: Check!

At 10 a.m. this morning, I suddenly remembered that we were going to try and go to the 11:30 a.m. service at the Unitarian-Universalist (UU) Church of Oakland (pictured, left). I was still in bed, reading, surrounded by purring kitties, and Terri was fast asleep next to me. I knew she needed all the rest she can get (as always) but I also knew that she really wanted to try and go to church, so I reluctantly woke her up (I opened the blackout curtains). As predicted, she rolled over and said, "Why is it so bright in here??"

We've been talking about trying to find a church for years, but things just kept getting in the way. But in the past few weeks we made up our minds to really try to get ourselves out the door on time for a service (this is quite a feat when it takes Terri a full two hours to become awake in the morning!). I was so proud of us -- even though we were unshowered and bleary, and struggling against a complete change of Sunday routine, we made it out the door and headed downtown. We were only a few minutes late.

From the very first minute we stepped in the door, it was nothing but wonderful. People were so helpful and friendly, helping us find places to sit, being kind and not at all dismissive of the latecomers. I felt genuinely welcomed. As we took our places in the small, cozy and beautiful space, the rest of the congregation were singing. Everyone looked so happy and the feeling in the room was one of warmth and welcome. We looked up at the front of the church, and saw a choir filled with multi-racial and multi-generational faces, a woman reverend, two laypersons, and a very cute couple of women holding hands and guitars. My kind of place.

I'd been to the Unitarian Church of Berkeley before quite a few times, 6-7 years ago, and I liked it, but I liked this better. Terri did not really like the Berkeley church, so I wondered how she was liking this service. As the sermon went on -- the reverend (a woman) was talking about how to reconcile a God that creates, as well as destroys, and how we reconcile tragedies that occur in each of our lives -- I felt the tears rise up. I was so moved by her words and the story she was telling. I looked over, and saw that Terri was crying as well. So I figured things were going well. We both continued crying, on and off, for the remainder of the service.

The music was really great. They had a local singer-songwriter-activist duo (the two women, obviously a couple) singing -- I think they were called Emma's Revolution. We loved them! Sort of folksy Indigo Girls-ish, the style of which I only like occasionally, but live and in such a nice setting, they sounded great and were really joyful and inspiring. The church choir sang, too -- a few different things, some gospel, a few modern hymns (I assume they are modern hymns; maybe they are UU hymns -- I have no idea. I liked them). We loved all the music.

We both felt very at home and comfortable there. Unitarians believe in many paths to God (or no God -- atheists welcomed!), so it's extremely inclusive. I think the service started out with a reading from the Bagavad Gita (we missed that part, but it was in the program). I love that. I like that we can come there with all our questions and experiences and they are all accepted, and what's more -- encouraged. This works very well for me. It's also a very liberal church -- the faces around me were of all colors (very Oakland). All orientations and genders welcome and represented as well. The focus of the last quarter of the sermon was on social justice, which is also very important to me.

I think we both had to fight the urge to sign up for membership right then and there. We felt so welcomed, and the church and congregation seemed so homey and comfortable. I felt like we fit right in, and that is not a feeling that comes to either of us easily.

It felt like a community, a real community. People of all sorts, with all kinds of beliefs, coming together to work for their own spiritual development and a better world. I can totally get behind that. Plus -- awesome music!

So, it would be an understatement to say we are optimistic and excited. We are *so starved* for social interaction and community -- it gets awfully lonely sometimes, and difficult to make plans (or to follow through with plans). We loved everything about our experience and we will definitely be going back. No 'churchiness', no guilt trips, no confusing dogma making me feel like I'm on the outside, looking in (and not really sure I'm wanting in). No Bible (this week). I also really loved that there were several same-sex couples holding hands in church. That's really important to me. I will not be a part of anything which makes me feel uncomfortable being with the person I love. So, score one (plus a lot more points) for the UU Church of Oakland!

Will report back on further services -- right now, feeling pretty great about our experience. (more about Unitarian-Universalism here, and here)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Book: Sandman (The Dolls House)

This is volume 2 of the Sandman series. I was told that it was better than the first volume, and lo and behold, it definitely was.

I'm still relatively new to reading graphic novels (I loved, loved, loved Strangers In Paradise, but that's the only one I've ever read with any regularity) so the structure takes some figuring out.

Also, the entire arc of this volume was rather dreamlike, which I'm sure isn't an accident.

So, rather than 'reading', I just sort of wandered through this volume, enjoying the story, trying to figure out the pictures, attempting to keep all the various storylines straight.

The story unfolds slowly. I can't even attempt to summarize it. Dream (the Sandman) is attempting to regain hold over his realm after being imprisoned (as we saw in the first volume). There's a young girl. She is, unbeknownst to her, something called a vortex. I don't really understand what that was about, but the climax of the story was gripping and moving.

I feel like reading these graphic novels is a little like listening to a really good full album of music. If you really sit down to listen to the entire thing, you get a sense of a story being told over the hour or so it takes to listen to every song, in order. If you listen to the individual songs, you still get some great music, but they are fragments of the whole. It is like that with graphic novels (I think, so far, in my limited experience). I think there were six or eight actual comics in this collection, and each one told a miniature story, but you have to read it all over one big arc to get the full picture. And the full picture becomes very rich and nuanced, and you notice more things the more you linger over them.

Let's talk about the illustrations.
I love the illustration of Dream himself (shown at right). Very moody, shadowy, Gothic, very 90s. I love his drama, moodiness, grimness. I also love what I've seen of Death, and the other Endless.

However, the rest of the illustrations I'm not so much into. Maybe I'm a wimpy girly, but they are just kind of hard on my eyes. I can appreciate the illustrations, but they aren't pretty. I don't love them. However, I do like the grittiness of some of the illustrations and I certainly love the imaginative, dark, rather scary scenes. Except for the fact that I hate the colors and it's rather too sharp-edged for me, I think they suit the story very well. Maybe I'm still getting used to them. By the end of the volume I was liking them more, I guess.

So, I'd like to read the next volume. The story is terrific, of course. Love that Gaiman. I'm trying to keep an open mind so I can really see what they are trying to do with these comics. I mean 'open mind' in that I'm trying not to make too many assumptions along the way -- I have the feeling that there is much more to come and if I just try to keep a beginner's mind while reading, I'll enjoy it more and get more out of it.

Is this RIP? Sure. I'll count it as such.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Book: Comfort Me With Apples

I read Tender At The Bone a few years ago and loved it. What's not to love about Ruth Reichl? She's a great writer, she's had a great, interesting life, she loves food, she's funny and tender... it was a great book.

And so, with great anticipation, I read Comfort Me With Apples (another one of my sidetracks from RIP). And was not disappointed. What a life!

I can't remember where Tender At The Bone leaves off, but we pick up in Comfort Me With Apples in Berkeley, where Ruth lives in a communal house with her husband, Doug (an artist just beginning to become successful). She works at The Swallow restaurant (owned by collective) and has just started reviewing restaurants for the West Coast branch of New York Magazine, New West.

Since I live very near Berkeley (about a 15-minute drive away) and have been to many of the landmarks in the book (including Chez Panisse -- the cafe, anyway), it was especially fun to read about the beginnings of the California-style food movement. Food is a Big Deal here in California and especially in the Bay Area. Reading about Alice Waters starting up her now-infamous restaurant was particularly amusing.

So anyway. Ruth is starting to review restaurants, and she's really good at it. Her husband is starting to travel more for his work. She begins to travel to Los Angeles to review restaurants. Soon, almost before she knows it, she is involved in an affair with her editor (I think he's her editor, anyway). I must admit to being mildly shocked by this. I mean, she's so nice, right? And she loves her husband! And... what's she doing with this pompous foodie guy? But, it was the 70s, and it becomes clear over the course of the next few chapters that all was not right with her marriage anyway (successful, handsome artist husband travelling all over the country does not exactly bode well for his faithfulness either). And she's still a nice person. In fact, it was nearly impossible not to like her intensely as I read. I love her writing style and she approaches food and people with such curiosity and openness.

Eventually, her melodramatic affair with her editor comes to an end, and she attempts to rebuild her marriage. Still, their combined successes seem to be contriving to pull them apart, and eventually she has another affair (with the man who eventually became, and still is, her current husband).

As she navigates now-landmark restaurant openings and closures, encounters the giants of the food world (Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck), and learns how to stick with a good thing (her husband, Michael), she never gets pompous or heavy -- she talks about affairs and food with the same light touch, which was perfect for my mood.

Later on, she talks about the adoption of her daughter, which unfortunately did not have a happy ending. At one point, she says, "I had to learn that sometimes even your best is not good enough, and then you have to just get through it and move on." That was good to hear. Even this person, so successful and blessed and talented, had to face something terrible and there was nothing she could do about it. She had to accept it, absorb it, and move on. And of course life had more surprises in store for her. Of course life always has more surprises in store for each of us.

So, I loved this book. It was fun, fast, lighthearted. It was inspiring, but not in an in-your-face way. It was mostly inspiring because although she knows she's good at what she does, she never talks about having dreams and making goals and such. At 35, she did not have health insurance, had no savings, had no idea where her life was going to lead. But what she DID do, was enjoy herself, take opportunities as they came, made the most of them, and had a lot of fun along the way. I find that very inspiring.

I'm now reading Garlic and Sapphires, the last of the three, in which she talks about her time as the New York Times restaurant reviewer. This was such a notoriously powerful position that she had to resort to wearing disguises. I've only read the first chapter, but it was immediately addicting. I think I will be polishing off this book tomorrow.

I was sad to learn that Gourmet Magazine, of which she's been editor for the past 10 years, recently shut down. I never subscribed to Gourmet but would occasionally treat myself to an issue. I'm sad it won't be around, although I do wonder what Reichl will be doing next.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Excellent Video Re: The XMRV Virus and CFS

This is a great, level-headed and easy-to-understand video about what the discovery of the xmrv virus means in regards to CFS. I keep having trouble with it at around the 4.15 mark, but hopefully it will play. Originally posted at http://cfsknowledgecenter.ning.com/video/klimas-on-xmrv. Maybe it's just my computer -- it plays fine on Terri's... the end is especially moving. She says, "to all those who are close to giving up with this illness, this is the WRONG time to give up, this is absolutely the wrong time to give up. Have a party! Celebrate! Make it a fundraiser!"


Find more videos like this on ME-CFSCommunity.com
Anyway, good information and reminders not to get ahead of ourselves, but still a wonderful message of hope. Share this with others if you know anyone with CFS or Fibro!

Poor Terri has been doing so much studying and research on this that she's having a bit of a crash. She said tonight that part of what's so hard about this particular moment is that "so close, yet so far" feeling... however, I think there's lots of reasons to hang in there. We're hanging in there and thanking the small dedicated group of scientists who haven't given up! Very interested to see what comes next... we might have a holiday fundraiser party to help donate to research!

Sidetracked (RIP)

(yes, I missed yesterday. Oh well)

I have been looking forward to RIP all year, and now that it's the season of the scary, I find myself completely sidetracked by other things. I am currently just finishing up a Ruth Reichl book (although I am a few pages away from also finishing a Sandman collection). I can't seem to find many scary books that I want to read. Maybe it's the weather. It's actually muggy outside today. WTF? Honest-to-goodness mugginess. We don't get that around here real often.

However, once I'm done with these two books, I'm reading Let The Right One In, and I am hauling out the fabulous scary-movie list and settling in for a few weeks of spook before we're all done with October. We had a good rainstorm this week but it would help get me in the mood if the temperatures would drop below 70. Please?

I also find myself thinking about some other things in a completely different way. For the past 10 years I have been all Practical, Practical, Practical. When I had thought of going to grad school, it was only for practical reasons. I've been taking practical science pre-requisites for 8 years. I've been willing to shoulder The Big Burden and Do What I Need To Do (for why?). However, on Monday, we got news that Terri's doctor passed away suddenly last week. He sounds like he was a pretty amazing person. That news, combined with all the excitement over the XMRV research, has flipped a little switch in my head for some reason.

I was imagining catching up with an old friend (nobody in particular, just anyone I haven't seen in a long time) and playing out two scenarios. One in which I talked about going to school for something which is useful, but which I have no passion for. In which I talked about putting off doing art and putting off having fun, because I'm so focused on security and safety (which is, obviously, an illusion anyway). One in which I am dull, dull, dull.

Or, on the other hand, the scenario in which I talk about my awesome job which I love but have no idea where it will lead (oh well!), my cool studies (studying something I LOVE even though I don't know of any practical uses), my art efforts and failures. Which one sounds more fun? Which one would I like to be in the midst of, should I suddenly drop dead of pulmonary embolism?

So I'm thinking: do something fun, for Pete's sake. Life's short.

I've decided to take either a writing class or a literature class in January, just a community-college level one. Mostly just to get my toes wet and see how I like it, and to get some writing samples should I decide to apply to school. We'll see how that goes. If I like it, I'll apply to grad school. If I don't, I'll take an art history class and see how THAT feels.

Which brings me back to books. I was at the library, looking for RIP books (because I said I was only going to read RIP books for two months), and the Anne Rice book and the Ruth Reichl books all leapt out at me. I thought, "I really need to read these." Turns out, they are both about people finding their passion, even if it's not logical, not practical. I've really enjoyed them and I feel like maybe I should just quit worrying so much and just do what I want to do. I don't need to be Anne Rice or Ruth Reichl, but I could be a pretty fabulous Daphne. Even if it means reading biographies in the midst of RIP season.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I'm Only Happy When It Rains

Well, that's not exactly true. But it's pretty darn close. Today we had a huge rainstorm here in the Bay Area (and I'm guessing all along the West Coast). It made me SO happy. All day I've been in this extremely happy mood. I've just been in this little happy bubble. No little black clouds over me, no sir. I literally felt like smiling all day long.

Big gusts of near-hurricane-force winds, real honest-to-goodness rain pouring down, flooded streets, downed trees, the whole shebang. Oh, it did my soul good.

But we only get two days of it. I bet by tomorrow afternoon it will be freaking sunny again. I'm so tired of sun! Grr. Argh.

Anyway. I'm in a really great mood today. It's raining -- better yet it's storming. I feel very happy thinking about taking a literature course, just for me. The news about the XMRV virus seems like a good thing. My mom is coming to visit in a few weeks. Things are good.

Of course, we still don't have cable in the bedroom, and our bathroom sink is still backed up, and (and this really is bad news) we just found out that Terri's doctor died a few days ago (just like her last doctor did, almost a year ago -- truly tragic and unbelievable both times)... but we'll solve all those things. For now, I am just happy to be happy.

Also, last night I used some of my Valrhona chocolate to make chocolate mousse. It was surprisingly easy and SO FREAKING DELICIOUS. If I remember to take a photo tonight I will. But if you have not made chocolate mousse, you should. It's one of those things that sounds hard but isn't. I don't know why I had a craving for it, but I did, and I'm glad I caved. The best part is that Terri didn't want any so it's ALL FOR ME.

More reason to be happy.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Further Thoughts

So I looked some more into the Book Arts degree. It sounds very cool... but oh my lord, expensive. Each year (at part time) is $13,000. At four years part-time study, that equals about $52,000. I'm not sure I'm cut out for that sort of student loan. At least, not at this time in my life.

So I just looked around some more. Just for fun. San Francisco State offers a straight-up MA in English Lit. Part time for that program is about $3500 per year. That sounds a little more do-able.

I don't know if I'm going to pursue any of this, but I do know that it sounds a whole lot more fun than doing something extremely practical like social work. Don't get me wrong -- I think I'd like the MSW program, and it would be VERY practical. But I'm getting a little tired of being so practical all the time.

I'm just wondering if it might be worth the investment in myself to get a degree that I really have fun with. Like English Lit. Or Art History (SFSU has an art history degree, too). It's relatively affordable. I could do it part time. And who knows where it might lead? I like book editing. I like writing. If I look at it from the writing angle, it's possibly even applicable to my current job, where I do write, and will probably be doing a lot more writing in the future.

So there's my little dose of practicality.

All I know is that whenever I try to look at graduate programs that are "practical," I get a little tight-chest feeling. And when I look at programs that are (in my boring, practical mind) "not practical," I get this happy, confident feeling. So maybe that's what I ought to pay attention to.

I don't know. I like looking around at degrees. I know I said I wasn't going to look into school, but I LIKE school. Clearly I do want to get a graduate degree... I just don't, apparently, want to be practical about it.

Sigh.

Well, the plumber is here. He's been here since 10:30. It's now 12:50. Also, we were supposed to have the cable people out yesterday. They never showed. It was highly annoying. I'm not feeling too warm and fuzzy towards the service industry right now.

However, we ARE supposed to get a big wind and rainstorm tomorrow, which I'm very excited about. I hope it blows in tonight, when I can enjoy it. I can't wait to wake up tomorrow and put on a sweater. It's the little things, right?

Oh. The plumber just said that something broke deep in the pipe, so he can't fix the sink today. He'll have to come back later. Again. Sigh.

Book: The Dollhouse Murders

I saw this on a few "Best Scary Books For Kids" lists and thought a good quick spooky read might be just the thing.

And it was.

As soon as I opened this book, I realized that I'd read it long, long ago, back when I was actually a kid. But of course I didn't remember what happened, so it was still a good read.

I'm sure it was quite scary back in the day, but of course now it was only sort of scary in theory. However, I have a thing about inanimate objects coming to life (it's pretty high on my Scariest Things Ever list), so the scenes where the dolls are moving about were kind of freaky.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Amy, age 12, has a developmentally disabled sister (or, as the book jacket puts it, retarded. Oh, those pre-PC days of 1983...). After one friend too many ditches her because of her sister, she has had enough. She goes to stay with her Aunt Clare in a mysterious old house on the outskirts of town, owned by Amy's great-grandparents. Up in the attic, Amy discovers a dollhouse -- a perfect miniature of the big house she is staying in. It was Clare's when she was a girl. Amy loves miniatures and is entranced. Clare gives off weird vibes every time the dollhouse is mentioned. What's up, Clare?

Well, eventually we find out. The dolls try to tell Amy. They move around at night, with little scribble-scrabble mouse noises. Amy (and her sister, once her sister comes to spend the night) actually see the dolls moving, obviously trying to tell them something. Something about the murders... right here, in the big house.

So, the little scratching mouse noises (which are actually the dolls) is pretty creepy. The murders themselves -- eh, not so creepy. The story is a good one for a kid who wants a few chills this time of year. I actually liked Aunt Clare a lot. Her parents died, her grandparents died, and her fiancee died, all before age 18. That's a lot of bad stuff. She has some issues, clearly. But she's a pretty cool aunt.

Anyway -- this was a good super-quick before-bed read. Not exactly YA, but still fun.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sort Of Exciting

Just sort of bouncing around on the internet today, indulging in school fantasies (what would I do if I didn't have to be practical?), I found this: an MFA in Creative Writing and Book Art.

(sound of car screeching to a halt)

Really? Apparently this is the first program of its kind in the US. It's here in Oakland. It sounds pretty wonderful. My stomach flip-flopped when I read about it.

I've been thinking lately that I'd like to take a creative writing class, just something under-grad level, to see if I like it. I kind of like the idea of writing YA, and I've always like the idea of writing children's books.

It's probably very expensive.
But I can take it one class per semester.

It's kind of exciting to think about.

I might have to take that creative writing class sooner than later.

Home For Aged Kittycats (plus video!)

(warning: cat post!)

Since we are now a two-cat household, it's been really interesting to see how the two elderly girls we have are adjusting.

Cleo, age 14, is still mischievous and a little trouble-maker (a cute one). In the past few weeks, she's also turned into a total kitten. She follows us around, meowing, always having to be right next to one of us. She is even starting to be a little bit of a lap cat, which is amazing. I've had her since she was a kitten, and although I always wished she was a snuggler, she hasn't been. Until recently. So she's kind of taking up Tiger Lily's role as lap cat.

Katie, age 16, is also doing well. She is very arthritic and has some health issues, so she stays mostly on the bed and is bed-cat. Although it's always completely on her terms, she has been very affectionate and sweet lately as well. Especially, it seems, if we are missing Tiger Lily. Then Katie comes over and gives us kitty-kisses and pets our faces with her paws. It's very sweet.

Yesterday we deep-cleaned the bedroom and washed all the bedding. This meant Katie had to be out of the bedroom (she startles easily and we were going to be moving furniture, etc.). She spent a good part of the day out here in the living room. Although she kept going (limping, creaking) back to the bedroom to see if she could go back in, she did settle down eventually and snuggled up on a blanket on the floor. And of course Cleo had to be right next to Terri on the couch. Here they all are: Cleo (black), Terri (checking email) and Katie (on the floor).

Every night before bed, they each get a few treats. It's been really funny to watch them lately, sitting on either side of Terri, begging. This isn't the best video but Cleo is clearly quite vocal about what she needs.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Book: Called Out Of Darkness

This isn't an RIP book, but I saw it in the library and had to read it. This is a completely fascinating book if you are at all interested in questions of faith.

Anne Rice was raised in a very traditional 1940s/50s Catholic New Orleans. Growing up, she went to Mass nearly every day and for quite awhile wanted to be a nun. She found profound beauty in church and the rituals, even though it was all said in Latin and she was a very poor reader, and so absorbed everything she knew from her surroundings and her mother (not from books, not from studying her catechism, etc.).

She was a profoundly religious little girl. She was also a highly unusual little girl. She was named Howard Allen when she was born. She says that this was because her mother thought that this was a good idea. Of course, she hated the name and changed it to Anne on the first day of school. Her family went along with it and she was Anne from then on. Little Anne also felt estranged from her fellow classmates and from the child population as a whole. She hated being a child. She did not identify with children, and moreover, she didn't identify with being a little girl (or a little boy, for that matter). She describes herself as 'genderless' growing up.

Once she reaches college, her faith starts to crumble as she meets more people who were not raised Catholic, and sees that they are good people, as well. She becomes involved in secular humanism, and moves further and further from the church and from God. Finally, she breaks with God completely and becomes an atheist.

However, as seen in her books, she struggles with this break of faith for the next thirty-odd years. She continues to collect religious iconography, and becomes secretly obsessed with the life of Christ. She writes about creatures and people outside God, on the fringe -- always out the outside, looking in. And slowly, in the late 90s, she begins to return to her faith.

Finally she decides to 'go home' and resume her Catholic faith from childhood. She does so completely -- becoming extremely devout and orthodox. However, she talks about retaining a near-ignorance of modern Catholicism and the religious politics of the late 90s. She has to do research to find out about the pedophile scandals -- she knows nothing of this. She knows nothing of the Vatican II. She didn't even know that Mass was now said in English. Therefore, she didn't know that despite her extreme devoutness and orthodoxy, her views and hopes that someday women could be ordained, and that the church would embrace ALL people, gay people included -- she had no idea that these ideas would be considered revolutionary.

What's fascinating at the end is that even though she now completely devotes herself to Christ and to the church, she says (in a roundabout way) that the reason she can remain in the Catholic faith is because she 'ignores' the political problems of the modern church. She believes that God knows all the answers, and so she doesn't have to. I actually find this quite comforting, and can see how, for a socially liberal person who is extremely devout religiously, this could be a way to continue on the path. She remains devoted to God, without worrying about the politics. I wish I could do this more. I remain conflicted about this practice, but I also believe that religion should be deeply personal and it doesn't really matter how one person chooses to practice, as long as it works for them.

Anyway. I had many thoughts while reading this. I was totally thrown by Rice's description of having such a difficult time reading, all the way through adulthood. She says over and over how much she struggled with reading (I couldn't quite tell if she liked reading but had trouble with it, or if she didn't like reading either way), but then later goes on to say how much she longed to be a part of the literary world. There are many seeming contradictions, or at least puzzling coinciding statements, throughout the book. However, the fact that she could barely read all through elementary school, and continued to struggle with it in college (purposefully choosing lecture courses where she would not have to read much) -- while at the same time, pursuing a career as a writer, and becoming such a smashing success as a writer... I found this hard to wrap my brain around.

I learned to read so early (started to learn by 2, was reading the paper to find out TV listings, etc., by age 4 1/2, etc.) that I literally cannot remember not knowing how to read. It comes as naturally as breathing. I remember a quote I read somewhere, "For me, to see words is to read." That's how it is for me. I can't NOT read. So to try to imagine this world Anne Rice describes, of learning solely through acoustics -- where books were a prison, not a wide world of possibilities -- this is completely foreign to me. She says at one point that she can write about five times faster than she can read. I can sort of see how this would make sense, if she is writing the words she 'hears' in her head -- but it's still puzzling.

The way the book is written is slightly puzzling as well. It's a memoir, and clearly a very personal one, and perhaps difficult to write. Anne Rice is a very complex person, and her views on religion are both extremely simple but also fascinating in how she processes her belief in God through the Catholic faith. She operates within a bubble much of the time, and apparently has, most of her life. Again, I can't imagine this (although I am slightly envious of this).

In the end, I really enjoyed her descriptions of how she came back to her faith, and what it means for her. She takes it very, very seriously. I respect that very much. I was not raised with any particular faith at all, so I do not have the advantage (or disadvantage) of having a faith to 'come back to'. I've been searching my whole life for a Home. While I know that I could not become Catholic (in part because I CAN'T divorce the political from the religious), reading her descriptions of the deep comfort she found in the Gospel, in the stories from the Bible, and of her experiences in church -- I can see a little better how to just experience these things, without getting too hung up on the other stuff. I too am very interested in the life of Christ -- if nothing else, it's a damn good story. I am also very interested in the Madonna and in religious art. I actually really enjoy going to church and certain religious music can bring me to tears. So I appreciated her descriptions of her experience.

I'm curious to read her Christian books. I might have to try one. Not because I'm particularly Christian, but I like her writing and it sounds like she did a ton of research in order to bring Christ to life in her novel. It's an interesting subject, and having read this book, I can only imagine how much emotion and heart she would bring to it.

On a personal note, I took the BeliefNet "What Religion Are You" quiz and I came back with 100% Unitarian-Universalist. I also matched highly with Liberal Quaker, and New Age/Neo-Pagan. Yep. That pretty much describes me to a T. I have *just* enough of a Christian background to like the Quakers (and I'm a pacifist, which matches with Quakers too). I like the UU Church because you can be anything -- even atheist -- and be a Unitarian. You can study any religion you like, and question everything, and still have a single spiritual home. That really appeals to me. And I'm a nature girl, and am not unfamiliar with lots of New Age/Pagan beliefs.

So maybe I have a spiritual home after all. Stay tuned; we were going to go to the UU Church tomorrow but tomorrow actually is going to be *really* busy, so we'll try again next week.

Anyway -- this was a good book. Very thought-provoking. It almost reads like a personal essay -- it's rather unpolished in places. It's definitely a memoir. It was highly enjoyable.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Health Update: Good News?

Yesterday Terri emailed me to tell me about a new link just announced between chronic fatigue syndrome and the XMRV retrovirus.

The journal Science published this very interesting article detailing the recent discovery that 67% of people who have severe chronic fatigue syndrome have this virus, as compared to 4% of the general population.

That's not saying that this is for sure the cause, or what role it has to play, but the fact that Science, NPR, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, etc., are all reporting on this discovery, means it is pretty big news. I never see articles about CFS anywhere, so it's pretty cool to suddenly see all this information out there. The Wall Street Journal article is particularly interesting and informative.

Researchers are already investigating whether current anti-retrovirus medications could be used, and comparing this to the discovery of the HIV virus and subsequent HIV/AIDS-suppressing drugs. XMRV is a retrovirus like HIV, which means that it knits itself into the DNA of a person -- so you have this virus forever. However, the huge amount of research and progress done with AIDS could be a big help in figuring out how to develop similar virus-suppressing drugs, if this virus is proven to be a major part in chronic fatigue syndrome.

I am cautiously optimistic and hopeful -- I'll get really excited if they show that medications aimed at the retrovirus get good results. Terri is going to be contacting her doctors with this article to see what they think, and if we can try anything immediately. She has classic chronic fatigue syndrome, which appears to be viral-induced. So I would think that she's a good candidate for treatment. I am wondering if she can apply for clinical trials, etc.

So we are going to be closely watching this development. It's possibly very exciting. If you know anyone with chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia, direct them to the Science or Wall Street Journal articles. If you have trouble reading the WSJ article, the full text is available on this forum.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Music Post: The Cure

Today I happened to see a recipe for quiche Lorraine, which of course made me think about the B-52s and I promptly had to listen to them. (alert! music geek post)

I listened to the B-52s all the time in high school. So then I was thinking about my other favorite high school bands... Depeche Mode, The Smiths, Sisters of Mercy, U2, the Violent Femmes, the Sugarcubes... Bauhaus, Big Black, The Clash, The Pixies, the Sex Pistols... and of course, my favorite, The Cure.

I loved The Cure from the very first time I heard them. I was instantly in love with Robert Smith and their whole sound. I lived in a teeny tiny logger town so there was no opportunity to see their shows or anything like that, but I listened to everything I could (obsessively) and their music (and The Smiths) instantly brings my teen self right up to the surface.

So tonight I looked up a bunch of their albums and thought I would talk a bit about my favorites.

I was in high school from 1988 to 1992, right at their tip-top peak, the Disintegration period. However, I loved most of their albums. (I should say, cassette tapes, since that was of course what I bought, CDs not quite being accessible yet to your average music consumer)

I think I first got Disintegration right before my sophomore year, and I listened to it over and over and over on a road trip my family took that summer. I adored it from first listen. I liked, and still like, just about every song on the album, but my favorites by far are Pictures Of You, The Same Deep Water As You, Prayers For Rain and Disintegration. I just loved how moody and rainy the whole album is. I grew up in Oregon, so this sort of dark and misty atmosphere felt very appropriate. Also I was a lonely 15-year-old with artistic inclinations; of COURSE I loved it. The was the start of my Cure love.

From there, I got a compilation upon recommendation from the used-record-store clerk, Staring At The Sea. This introduced me to pretty much everything else. I listened to this tape obsessively as well. I can only imagine my poor parents. Our house was not sound-proof by any stretch of the imagination... I'm sure they were completely sick of this band pretty quickly. Thankfully they were tolerant and I was allowed to drown myself in moody music.

My third, Boys Don't Cry, is a classic. I loved Fire in Cairo and have distinct memories of singing it to myself as I worked at my fast-food-restaurant job. "...f-i-r-e-i-n-c-a-i-r-o..." over and over and over... I also really loved 10:15 On A Saturday Night and of course Boys Don't Cry.

Then I met the small handful of other arty kids at my very-tiny high school, and one or the other of them lent me the gloomy trio of Seventeen Seconds, Faith, and Pornography. I dearly wished to own them all, but the record store was in the next town over, and they didn't have these in stock, and it was all a bit of a problem. Thank goodness I had a stereo where I could copy the tapes. So for quite some time, all I had were copies of these albums. One of my friends worried that Pornography would be too dark for me (he was under the impression that I was of sunny disposition -- where he got this impression, I have no idea). Actually, I loved it. Favorites from these extremely gloomy albums include Play for Today, A Forest, Seventeen Seconds, One Hundred Years, Cold, and the entire Faith album. I recently bought Faith (digitally) and I remembered how much I loved it -- it's totally a rainy-day art album. Stuff like this makes me want to do art. It's almost like classical music, where you get pulled into the mood of the entire album and it's experienced as a whole, not just individual songs.

**I must stop for a moment here and clarify that instead of depressing me, all these albums produced a sort of dark joy. I was happy listening to them. I loved the music, the gloom, the mood, Robert Smith's voice and guitar playing. They brought out creativity and thoughtfulness. I never, ever connected with the sort of suicidal image that I later read about in newspapers from worried parents. The state of pop music at that time was extremely depressing (to me) -- I couldn't stand it (horrible Bobby Brown, for example) -- and this sort of music helped me feel okay about myself and who I was and who I was growing into. I always felt happy and alive when listening to The Cure or Siouxie or Bauhaus or Love and Rockets. If it depressed me, I didn't listen to it.

Anyway.

From there it was a short leap to The Top (which I didn't love, but liked to listen to every now and again) and The Head on the Door, which I found fun and interesting, but also not favorites. Clearly I needed gloom to feel truly happy.

I finally got Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me somewhere in my junior year (I tell you, it is difficult to get music if you are in a tiny town with no car and the internet doesn't exist). I loved about half of this album and felt the other half was too pop-y for me. I liked Why Can't I Be You and The Perfect Girl and Like Cockatoos, and this album has my all-time favorite song, Just Like Heaven. Oh, I love that song so much. When I first heard it, I stopped still to listen to it. You know how some songs do that? Stop you in your tracks? It's still in my Top 5 All-Time Favorite Songs. Sometimes it's still even #1.

After I graduated high school, I went on a cultural exchange to Finland. Before I left, I bought myself Wish, their newest album. I wasn't in love with this album from the very start. I hated Friday I'm In Love; I thought it was a stupid song. I still hate it and have to switch the radio every time it comes on. I only liked maybe three songs on the album and wasn't in love with them. I listened to it again tonight and it brought back memories of Finland, but I think it's a weak album. It felt like a wannabe Disintegration, but certainly not of the same caliber.

I haven't listened to any of their new stuff since then, because I think it kind of sucks. I hate that it makes me sound like a geeky music nerd, but frankly they got too commercial!

Anyway. That's my geeky music post for the day. Now go listen to The Cure. They're great.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Book: Skellig

(This will be a short review. If you're interested, you can also read wonderful reviews from Susan and Nymeth)

A short, quick, but touching read, Skellig is the story of a boy who moves to a new house, and finds a strange man in his falling-down garage. A strange man who is perhaps not a man at all. But what is he, then? Part owl? Part angel? Whatever he is, he's curmudgeonly and ill and stubborn at first, but as he gets to know Michael (the boy) and Mina (his friend, a quirky home-schooled girl), he eases into a dreamy sort of mysterious mystical being.

The story revolves are Michael's baby sister, dangerously ill with some unknown affliction. Michael tries to balance his worry over his sister, and his worry (and wonder) over Skellig, and his rather demanding new friend Mina, and his old school mates. He's got his hands full, and he handles it as well as any 12-year-old would -- sometimes gallantly, sometimes badly. Always with a full heart.

This book, deceptively simply written, is also full of heart, and love and mystery and the tender moments between people when they are in pain of all sorts.

I liked it. It's the sort of book that stays with you after you're done. I didn't understand much of it -- who was Skellig? What kind of a name is Skellig anyway? Why did he have arthritis? Why was he in the garage? Lots of unanswered questions. But sometimes life is like that -- you get what you get and that's all you get. Why is my baby sister so sick? Well, that's just how it is sometimes. Why is there a half-bird man in my garage? Who knows? That's just how it is.

It reminded me of my own rather ramshackle backyard, and how I always wanted to find some magical being tucked away (and would search for this unknown magical being). I found myself tearing up while reading, for no particular reason except that it was a sweet story, and I related to much of it in a heartfelt way, although I felt confused by Skellig himself and his presence in the story. However, it worked. I liked it. You go read it now.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Happy Birthday, Sweetie (and goodbye, vacation...)

Happy Birthday, dear Terri! Today is Terri's birthday. We celebrated by sleeping in as long as we could, until the kitties couldn't take it any more and relentlessly campaigned for breakfast. Actually just the one kitty, Cleo. She's a bit demanding.

Tea in bed, plus presents. I got Terri a bunch of warm clothes for winter, plus a few fun things thrown in for birthday cheer. Since she is doing miraculously well for this, Day 11 of vacation, we decided to go out for a bit to celebrate the fantastic fact that she is here on earth!

We did a little shopping, then over to Berkeley for an indulgence of our new obsession: Ici ice cream. We do live in one of the foodie meccas of the country, so of course we have fantastic fancy ice cream shops. We mean to try them all, but this is the one we're focused on right now. I can't get enough of their burnt caramel ice cream. Terri loves their chocolate. I also had a scoop of amazing candied Meyer lemon ice cream that was pretty awesome.

Then we headed over to Dark Carnival to browse for a bit. Didn't buy anything, although we were tempted. We have plenty of books and a big library. But oh, this bookstore is dangerous.

It's in a really pretty part of Berkeley. It was so lovely today, low 70s, sunny, perfect early-fall weather.

Then we headed to the movie store to get some videos, and some of Terri's favorite pasta sauce for dinner, and a berry pie for dessert. Nope, I didn't make anything for dessert. We were going to have s'mores roasted in our own fireplace, but after the ice cream, s'mores sounded WAY too sweet. So we're having pie. Much better, right? Right.

***
It's been a lovely vacation. Lots of little luxuries and indulgences, lots of sleeping and reading and doing nothing, lots of meandering drives around the East Bay. I've been so impressed with how Terri's held up, because we were out almost every day, with just a few exceptions. We're both kind of worn out from all this 'play' and although I will miss being home, I'm ready to get back into a normal routine. We didn't do most of our normal chores so the house needs cleaning, the laundry needs doing, the bed needs changing, etc. I'm sure by the end of next weekend we'll be all put back together, back in frugal mode (sort of took a vacation from that, as well), ready for to enjoy fall.

Oh, here are a couple of shots from the dog park, Point Isabel. Love those doggies. And the beautiful scenery we are blessed with here in the Bay Area.