Would you ever get an e-book reader?

I’ve been thinking about that, actually, and I’m really interested. The Kindle is particularly tempting. It seems like they’ve got the form factor (mostly) worked out, and it ought to work for me most of the time.

Here’s the thing, though: 99% of the books I read now come from the library. I almost certainly wouldn’t buy as many books as I want to read. Most of the time, these days, I read a book just once and don’t see any particular need to have it around to read again. Of the (80+?) books I’ve read in the last year, I can see owning less than 10 of them, including cookbooks & how-to books. The library meets my needs perfectly that way.

Yes, my library has e-books. Unfortunately, they use @%&#*ing Overdrive, which has a meager selection and doesn’t support Kindle. (Or at least it didn’t the last time I checked, which was probably a month ago.)

So until I can check out library books (or there’s a good cheap rental solution), I just can’t justify it. Alas.

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A gracious gesture

In March 1997, my job at the Children’s Museum was going to end; for whatever reason, there just wasn’t the money there to fund it. I’d been doing some job-hunting, but nothing had turned up yet. I was about to go on vacation*, and before I left, I decided to apply to the temp agency up the hill.

It was raining. I didn’t own an umbrella or a rainhat; if I remember it right, all I had was a long London Fog raincoat that had once belonged to my father, and that looked a bit Colombo-esque. Back then, I just didn’t care that much about getting wet. I often showed up at work looking a bit drowned-rat, but I always dried off pretty quickly, so it didn’t matter.

But I was going for an interview, so I was a little nervous, hoping for a break in the rain for those few blocks uphill.

Instead, a guy who had just started working there, doing something with the point of sale system, came over and offered his umbrella. It was a plain little black folding umbrella, and it kept me dry going up the hill to my interview and testing. (I typed hella fast. I still type pretty fast.) Back down again, too, where I gave it back to him, and thought, “how sweet.” It was the first time I really noticed him.

When I came back from my vacation, it was to the very good news that my job had been extended a few more months. I would end up working until the end of June, which meant I got to spend more time around that sweet guy. We started dating in late March, with an outing to see Hamlet, and that was basically that.

So yeah, the first time I noticed C, he loaned me an umbrella, and I always smile when I think of that little gesture.

* The vacation itself turned out to be a pivotal moment. I’d originally planned on a week in Austin and a week in SF, and cancelled the Austin leg at the very last minute for complicated emotional reasons. (It was almost a decade before I finally went there, under radically different circumstances, but still visiting the same person!) Ended up spending a few days at a cabin near Mt Rainier, which had its own strangeness. SF, on the other hand, was glorious. Also, for some reason I’d gotten the impression that my boss had finagled a way to get me a paid vacation…and that wasn’t so…and that was the beginning of some really hairy experiences with that job….

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Don’t go changing

When I was a teenager, I thought about this often. My father died when I was eight, and so in the chaos of my home life after that, I would daydream about what things would have been like. I’ve mused about that one often, turning it over in my head, especially as I’ve gotten older and learned more about my father and more about the world in general.

And then later, I was full of regrets about dumb things I had done, ways I had behaved poorly to others, and so forth.

I’m trying to remember what specific event triggered it, but at some point in college I decided that it was worthless to regret past choices. I want to say that it was related to the long-term drama of my friendship with K. Something about realizing that even really shitty times contributed to things that turned out pretty good, considering. (Oh, that’s not vague AT ALL.) And in fact, that long-term drama is probably my personal touchstone for “that thing that you thought you understood? nope, it’s going to be different than that.” (Which reminds me that I need to figure out a present for a great kid’s 13th (!!!!) birthday.)

With that went a decision that trying to work out alternate personal histories was an exercise in futility. Not that it’s not entertaining sometimes: I’m firmly convinced that there’s an alternate reality in which I am an adjunct English prof in Arizona or something. But it can also be wrenchingly painful, and quite possibly wrong.

Curiously enough, I tend to tie myself up in knots thinking about my personal politics of all things, when musing about “if Dad hadn’t died.” I’m pretty lefty, and not just with my handwriting. Dad, on the other hand, was not just 20 years Air Force, but according to other family members, fairly conservative. (He converted TO Catholicism, although I’m not entirely sure of the circumstances. And an uncle told me several years ago that he was passionate about utility deregulation. I’ve occasionally wondered what he would have thought of Enron.) On top of that, he and Mom always disagreed about politics, to the point that they had an agreement not to talk about politics at all.

Whereas when I was a teen and preteen, Mom watched the Sunday morning politics shows, and argued loudly with the TV, and we watched a lot of news, read the paper, etc. I registered voters for the Dukakis campaign when I was only 13. I was passionate about nuclear disarmament at about the same age, and a little earlier. Would I have had those opinions then — or my current ones now — if he’d been around as an influence? If so, would we have fought about it? Because my memories of Dad don’t include the struggles for independence that I fought with Mom later — and there were some doozies — so they’ve got a bit of rose-tinting to them. That’s the dark side of the alternate personal history: not just good things that might never have been, but bad things that might have happened.

I swear I’ve written about this before, because it’s something I’ve definitely (obviously!) thought about, but I have no idea when or what keywords to go searching with.

Other alternative history turning points that I’ve mused on: going to UPS. not going to library school. dating Raul (or yes, C). not going to Austin in ’97 to visit HA, and a few other things in relation to her. learning to bike later in life. All of which reinforces the idea that it’s all interconnected in really complicated ways. (Cue It’s a Wonderful Life.)

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Scars of childhood, the non-figurative kind

I have two scars of note, both of which involve being somewhat more adventurous than I think my parents appreciated.

The first I don’t remember getting. The way I understand it, I was a toddler, and rather curious in the way that toddlers are. And somehow I managed to get into the garage, which in that house my father used as a shop, and it had a great many sharp or powered tools. I can visualize the little ranch house, that we lived in until I was seven, and the pressboard door between the main house and the garage. I don’t know if I’m making this up, but I swear I remember it being kept closed with a hook high up on the door. I imagine that the hook was a new innovation after I got into the garage.

According to mom, I went directly from dragging myself around on my belly like a seal to walking, without a crawling phase in the middle. So I would have been walking by then, and I was always a tall kid. Perhaps even tall enough to open the door by myself. But I don’t remember any of this, so I couldn’t have been much older than three, maybe three and a half? (My very first memory is of being at preschool with my “boyfriend.”)

In any case, somehow I got into the shop, and wandered about, and somehow (oh, somehow!) turned on a saw? I think mom said once that it was a band saw. How the hell I got high up enough to turn on a band saw boggles the mind. The toddler mind sees “ooh, moving stuff!” and reaches out to touch….

Did I scream? Considering the second story, I’m really wondering if I did. I definitely sliced my finger, maybe two fingers. The doctor told mom and dad that I was lucky: if I’d cut my finger slightly differently, I’d have completely lost the tip. How’s that for scary? Mom says she can never remember exactly which finger, but when I look at my right hand, two of the fingers have odd divots/lines on them, nearly perpendicular to the rest of the lines, one more than the other. So when I look at those fingers, I can almost visualize the angle at which I grabbed the blade.

It seems strange to me that I should have very nearly lost a fingertip, and yet I can’t remember it. (This is also true for another toddler-era accident, one that didn’t leave a scar: allegedly I jumped off of the sofa right into the coffeetable, and broke one of my front teeth. I had a silver tooth until I was seven years old.)

I do remember getting the other scar: we were still living in that house, and I was seven years old, so it must have been sometime between September 1981 and February 1982. My bedroom in that house was tiny, just barely big enough for my bed and my toy chest. “Chest” is a misnomer: it was a shelving unit which I think must have previously been some sort of store display: dark wood, just a bit taller than the bed. I wish I could remember what the painting on the back of the top shelf said, as that would probably explain what it was before it was my toy chest. All my dolls sat leaning up against each other, both the handmade dolls and my beloved plastic-headed Mandy, whose clothes were folded (or piled) in the shelves below. (I imagine, although I’m not sure, along with stacks of books.)

The fun thing about the shelf was that bit about being just a bit taller than the bed, and its position right at the foot of the bed, with just enough space between the two for a tall skinny 7-year-old to slip between to get out toys or books. That also being enough space, or rather distance, for jumping off of onto the bouncy bed.

Of course I was not supposed to jump from the shelf onto the bed. I had been warned about that, more than once. But I loved the springy bouncy flying feeling of that jump, so I kept doing it when I didn’t think anyone would see me.

Here’s the other half of the equation: a white wooden headboard, with a few stickers on it. That was where my forehead ended up, finally, when I jumped just a bit too vigorously. What I remember now is not the actual strike, but putting my hand to my head and feeling it wet. Then I snuck out of my room to the bathroom: for the better part of thirty years, I’ve described the image in the mirror as “like V8 dripping down the side of my face” — I’d put a gash in my forehead, just above my right eyebrow. I don’t remember any pain, just anxiety about getting in trouble, both because I’d been up past my bedtime and because I’d been doing something I wasn’t supposed to do.

There was an emergency room visit, and stitches, and both are just vague blurs of memory now. I still have a tiny scar, more like a dent; some of the glasses I’ve worn over the years hide it entirely, like the prescription sunglasses I have now. I sometimes rub at it when I’m thinking.

(While writing all this, I realized I have a third scar, on my left hand between the thumb and first finger, where I gashed it with a pruning saw a few years ago, getting a bit too vigorous trying to prune an apple tree that comes out over the fence into our yard. Wear your gloves.)

The thing that strikes me about both of these childhood accidents is an adventuresomeness (?!) that feels surprising and unfamiliar. Somewhere I became physically cautious, nervy about climbing or jumping, anxious about falling. It wasn’t very long after the bed incident: I was terrified learning how to rollerskate, for example, and remember Dad coming home from work one day, after we’d moved to the new house, and taking the stick I was using to balance with, so I’d do it on my own. Similarly with early attempts to learn to ride a bike, which I think I’ve written about before. I was often terrified of diving boards and of roller coasters.

What is it, exactly? A little bit the fear of hurting myself. A little bit the fear of UR DOIN IT RONG. Or that I’m doing something I oughtn’t. (Jumping off a log over the swimming hole at the river this last summer hit all those points something fearsome, and I never did manage it, though C said it was a lot of fun. Then the flow of the river changed, and it definitely wasn’t deep enough to be safe.) The getting in trouble bothered me more than the pain, when I hit my head.

There’s a separate thing about awkwardness and teasing, I think, but that may be something for another time.

And yet: every time I finally got up the nerve to do those things: to go on Space Mountain in junior high, to jump off the rocks in the Apostle Islands on vacation with C, and yes, to finally learn how to ride a bike, I’ve loved it, same as I always loved going on the swings. It’s getting up the nerve that’s the hard part. Maybe when I look at the scars on my fingers, or worry at the one on my forehead, I’ll try to think of the adventuresomeness, and how very small those scars are, really.

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Sailoresque, alas

“Some people love to swear. For others it makes them cringe. Where do you stand, and why?”

Oh, goodness. I don’t know at what point I started swearing; high school, maybe? But once I started swearing, I never really stopped.

I am sort of curious how that happened: all my life I’ve picked up on other people’s slang and absorbed it into my own. When I was close to a couple of Texans in college, “y’all” weaseled into my vocabulary, and that one stuck. I happen to like it as a concise second-person plural, which doesn’t have a distinct word in formal English. When I was friends with an English guy with an odd vocabulary, and we worked together, a lot of it slipped into my regular speech. And life with C: well, his group of friends has their own complex slang evolved over 25 years or so, and after more than a decade, it’s just part of how I talk now.

So who was it that I hung out with in my mid-teens who swore so much? My first thought is to blame my high school and college boyfriend, the guy who introduced me to a lot of interesting and shady experiences, whose weirdness shaped my persona in my late teens and early 20s. But I don’t remember him being much for swearing, so who knows.

Because I certainly didn’t pick it up at home. I don’t think I’ve ever heard my mother utter a curse word, and both of my sisters are much the same way. Me, on the other hand? I’ve been described as “swearing like a sailor.”

It amused me when Dylan said in the comments on the CSS Squirrel post that he’d never heard me swear. I guess he knows me better from my writing — in which I rarely swear, and when I do it’s a big deal — than in person. When I’m relaxed and in friendly company — or conversely when I’m upset — I swear a LOT. Like Dennis Leary quality a LOT.

Hm. We started watching Comedy Central when I was a teenager, and Edith and I loved his early stand-up. That would be weird (ironic?) if I picked up swearing from TV.

And it’s just casual and natural for me; I have to consciously think about it to NOT swear. The words just slip in between other words. When I exclaim, when I stub my toe or forget a semi-colon in my code, I exclaim with honest-to-god swear words, most of the time, rather than the fraks and darns that a more careful person might use.

I don’t know how I feel about it, really; or rather, I’m a bit conflicted. It’s not particularly classy, but on the other hand, it’s a tiny bit of unexpectedness in my personal presentation, and I cherish that. (Contrariness?) And my thoughts flip back and forth along that axis, with the occasional stop at what’s the big fucking deal? So I try to be a professional when that’s appropriate, and to not mortify C in public, and other than that: whatever is, is.

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My Favorite Comfort Food

A light and pointless (?) blog post from a prompt, while I muse on posting some other stuff….

It’s odd, the first thing I think of is something I haven’t eaten in many months, but it is THE comfort food for me: macaroni & cheese.

Not any old macaroni & cheese*, but precisely the one that we ate every single Friday (go Catholics!) of my childhood, my mother’s version of a Good Housekeeping recipe from 1963. That recipe book fell open to that page; that or the hamburger stroganoff recipe. It took me at least a year after I was living on my own before I figured out mom’s exact modifications, which involve making it even MORE mid-century American than it was to start with. Velveeta FTW!

As a food, it’s simple: fat and starch, creamy and hot, which makes it an ideal wintertime comfort food. It’s easy to make and is done reasonably fast, but has enough steps to feel like you’re actually cooking something. It doesn’t microwave especially well, and that gives it a certain immediacy that’s oddly comforting.

But beyond that, because of “every Friday” and “mom’s modifications,” it has all this resonance emotionally as well, of the good parts of childhood, eating together. The ritual of making mac & cheese has all these particular touchstones: the double-boiler in particular, since that was the only thing it was ever used for when I was growing up. (True story: when I moved out in college and relatives gave me dishes for Christmas, my sister gave me a double-boiler specifically so I could make myself mac & cheese.)

So there it is, the platonic ideal of a comfort food, at least for me.


* I did not eat the stuff in a box until I was in college, when (alas) I ate quite a bit of it: box mac & cheese was in the imagery of a poem I had published when I was younger.

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Two quotes from my morning tea

One of the teas I really like has this incredibly pretentious flourish in their design: pithy quotes on the bag tags. Some of them are obvious or dull, but I do have one on my desk at work:

“Fortune favors the brave.” (Virgil, the Aeneid, 70BC – 19BC)

It’s one of those semi-cheesy quotes that just strikes a chord with me. Because I need to remember — often! — to be “brave” or bold or whatever. Also, that fortune is what we make of it, and that sometimes action, any action, can bend fate in the right direction.

There’s another one that I had on the fridge at home for a while, until it fell off and got lost, so I can only paraphrase: “it’s easier to stand up for your beliefs than it is to live them.” (or live up to them, can’t remember which.) It’s a fancy way of saying “talk is cheap” — I’m not entirely sure why it appealed to me so much, I suppose that it’s something of a hard-nosed alternative to most “inspirational” quotes.

Interesting: both quotes favor action over talking or planning. I think they’re both ways of reminding myself not to fall into my personal bad habit of dithering and over-planning.

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These three things, every day.

Take a shower
I really don’t feel awake or human until I’ve had my shower. I also like my shower for thinking time, something about being alone with nothing to distract? In college, I sometimes took showers in the middle of the afternoon, in between classes, just to get the thinking time.

My adolescence coincided with the then-worst-ever drought in southern California. (I gather it’s been surpassed since then.) So water stinginess was the order of the day. One of the things that blew me away when I got to Washington was the water: the rain, the rivers, everything. I used to joke that I moved here to be able to take a really long shower.

Which was one of the reasons we got a tankless water heater, by the way. Our old water heater was awful. Couldn’t even muster enough hot water to fill the bathtub. The tankless just keeps going and going and going. Delightful.

Weigh myself
It’s a big part of how I lost 60 pounds: weighing myself every morning and tracking it on a graph. I don’t do the graphing anymore, but the daily weigh-in keeps me honest. (I’ve gained some back, honestly, but at least I’m 100% aware of it, and can track upticks and downticks based on hormones, biking, and eating habits.) The morning routine in generally is really important to me. If I follow my usual pattern, I feel like I’ve got enough of my bearings to get the day rolling properly.

Write in a journal
I’ve kept a journal since I was nine years old, but this specific daily habit came from an assignment from a therapist. She had me write every day “what worked” that day right before bed. That way my last thought was always of a success or a pleasurable experience, rather than whatever horrid thing I’d been thinking about before that. It worked wonders; still does.

Now I have a lovely moleskine datebook: in the morning I record my weight (see above), and at night I record my bike miles/time if any, as well as “what worked.” Occasionally I add some details about the weather, since there’s a cute spot to do that at the bottom of each page.

(I’m such a cheapskate that I didn’t buy 2010’s book until March. :\ Until then I was writing in another micro notebook!)

I enthusiastically recommend the journaling habit, by the way, especially if one is prone to see the glass as half-empty!

Old School knows pizza pie

It’s the perfect Olympia place: delicious food in a funky/surly atmosphere. I can’t imagine any Olympians who have NOT been there, so for the out-of-towners:

A brick storefront between a vintage store & a beat-up parking lot; on the parking lot side, a mural of superheros (mostly). Inside, the walls are covered with posters & other random flat things from the late 70s and 80s, many with specific northwest significance; but it doesn’t have that “crazy crap on the walls” feel of a TGIFriday’s, because it’s genuinely shabby & time-worn, as are the vinyl booths & stools, the vintage video games, etc. Curiously, there’s an enormous aquarium in the front window. The queuing space is cramped and awkward, and sometimes splits off towards both of the two doors. Staff tends towards the usual Oly-style punks, so some tattoos, some oddball hair, a little short/surly but not excessively so.

The pizza itself is mostly of the thin enormous slice variety. (They added a “Sicilian style” pizza a while ago, but I don’t ever get it.) Great crust, a bit of a crunch but not too crispy. The basic varieties are rock solid, but I have a fondness for some of the oddball versions, particularly anything without sauce: the Greek (iirc), which includes spinach & feta — we usually add sausage if getting a whole pie, and the Al Green, just cheeses and broccoli. No, seriously, the broccoli is really good. Eating there, a single slice is enough to fill me up most of the time. When we get a pizza to go, I have to be careful not to scarf down WAY too much.

I just wish they delivered. (I did once bring home a pizza on the Xtracycle. In the rain. It was AWESOME.)

The bike trail is lovely in the spring

Everything wakes up after the long dark of winter.

I think this is my third spring commuting on the bike trail, and I’m getting to know the rhythm of the seasons. Right now the Indian Plums are blooming & leafing out and the flowering cherries (?) are in bloom. There’s one with astonishing white flowers that will start covering the trail in petals like snowfall or a ticker-tape parade.

Later this month and next month, nearly every other plant starts bursting into leaf, turning the trail into a glorious green tunnel — with breaks to vistas of open fields and the expanse of Chambers Lake. The lake, too, comes alive with water lilies.

Already the frogs and the birds are starting up their chatter, the birds shouting down at me from the tops of the trees now that I’m out in daylight instead of darkness. In this little sliver of time right before the switch to DST, I’m catching sunrises and sunsets both; next week morning will be back in mostly darkness, but the evening will be entirely light, and gradually the sunrise will come back.

I have yet to see any bunnies, but they’ll be back soon as well, along with the aforementioned frogs, lizards, little snakes, house cats and the occasional raccoon.

After the long dark, I find the arrival of spring an immense relief, even if it comes in fits and starts. (There’s a very slim chance of snow overnight!)