Thursday, February 25, 2010


It's been so long since we had a kitten that I had kind of forgotten about some of the downsides. Things like kittens who get very excited about playing in the bed when it's 3 AM. Things like kittens who like to climb, all the way up to your shoulder, even when they're getting really big and heavy and they use your various parts as assists to get to where they're going, regardless of how squishy they are or how painful it is for you. Things like how freaking sharp kitten claws can be. I currently have a series of scratches in various states of healing on my hands, arms, shoulders, upper back, and chest (and by chest I mean BOOBS). My right nipple is still a little sore from when Robin used me as a way to get from the couch to the chair; my boob just happened to be in her way and it provided a stepping stone, I presume, though for me it felt like a very unwanted free piercing.

Robin is still freaked out by Loki. It's understandable, considering he'll go a week ignoring her or, when noticing her, jumping up just to sniff her or look menacing, but then (like last night) he'll get some sort of bad idea in his head and attack her. The squirt bottle is getting a workout for the first time in years, and sometimes he's so vicious I have to physically pull him off her. I don't understand why he does this. We think it's better and he's gotten over having a Strange New Kitty In His House. They'll even sleep within inches of one another, Robin on Dan's lap and Loki on mine. They'll play with the same toy at the same time. But whenever Robin's stationary and Loki comes near, she'll hiss and growl at him, ears back, and I'm sure he finds it terribly rude because he'll go from minding his own business to fight mode in 3 seconds. 90-95% of the time, all he does is bluster and show how big he is, but that 5-10% I can't blame her for the hissing and the growling.

Anyhow, because Loki is Big Scary Kitteh, Robin uses us as conveyances from one room to another, from chair to bathroom counter to bed. She still goes in her room every night with the baby gates up, and most nights she comes into our bed at some point. She stays at the head of the bed while Loki sleeps, as always, between Dan's knees. I'm sure part of Loki's problem is that he never ever had to share any high up spaces (backs of chairs, counters) or the bed before, because Petra couldn't jump and was scared of our room and especially our bed. So not only is there Strange Kitteh, there's Strange Kitteh who Hangs Out In His Spots. I'm sure she keeps to high places in order to keep an eye out for him, but he finds it pretty offensive I think. As Robin gets bigger (and oh, how bigger she is getting!) we have taken to putting her down on the dreaded floor from time to time and it takes her at least 2 or 3 seconds to get up on the nearest safe high surface.

Loki, meanwhile, has claimed my lap as his own. Any time I'm sitting on the couch he is on my lap, regardless of whether the laptop's there too, or whether I'm knitting, or whether I'm even in a configuration that promotes lap-sitting on his part. It doesn't matter how many times I get up and sit back down; he is ever vigilant and must be On Me. Of course, because it's winter and it's cold I'm usually wearing comfy yoga pants. And Loki, being a Very Large Heavy Strong Kitty, has sharp, strong claws, because we can't clip them. Normally it wouldn't be a problem, but when he decides to give me a kneading in the soft part of my upper inner thigh, it HURTS. And when he's sitting in my lap and I'm cross legged and the claws on his back feet poke into me, it HURTS. And sometimes his claws get stuck in the material of my pants and I have HOLES in them now.

So here I am, battered and covered in cat scratches, with my holey pants, and 2 cats who must be supervised together at all times, but it'll get better eventually, right?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

You can't go home again

When we were planning our trip to California for Christmas, Dan told me that he wanted to do something he had never done before. I'd been thinking about trying to go up to the place we lived until I was 10, something I hadn't done since 1991, but this settled it for me. Dan assured me that seeing the place where I lived as a child would certainly count toward the "something new" quota, and so it was settled.

On Christmas Eve day, we got in the car and drove through the town where I went to elementary school, across the bridge, turned left, and meandered through the barren vineyards, passing farms and homes and trees. The mustard had started coming up but wasn't blooming yet, and the century plant was where it had always been. "That's where Geno crashed his car," I thought, and may have pointed out to Dan. "That's the back way to go. We'll come back out that way." Instead of continuing up the road until it ended, as we would do to get to the place where we got married, we turned right just before that and hairpinned back and forth, Dan intent on his driving and me boggling in anticipation and memory. Same, different, same, different. Around another bend. The big tree was still there; the fancy house looking shabbier and smaller after all of these years. The first potential locked gate wasn't even in existence anymore. Down, past the house where there was a robbery while my mom was housesitting. Around the bend, over the creek, up and down another hill to the sign tree, with directional signs to ranches owned by new families and old neighbors still living in their houses, up yet another hill, pass the trees, pass the next gate (both unlocked and open). I have so many memories of stopping here on this hill, with the drop on one side and the hillside on the other, helping my mom to open the gate, fiddling with the metal combination lock, remembering the story my mom used to tell me in the car when we'd drive to ballet lessons or to go grocery shopping. I remember that when I was first learning to read I thought the sign here said "No trees passing" and thought that was funny because how could we not pass the trees and still get to where we needed to go?

Up through the open clearing, and then the next batch of trees, mostly manzanita and madrone until the next set of hairpins, and then everything opened up to be scrub and big pines. I wracked my brain trying to remember the names of everyone who lived there, whose driveway or side road that was, which one belonged to which person. The next hairpin took us through what I always thought of as the open field, with a big new fancy house on the opposite side. Another curve, another set of trees and driveways (that's where the Greenbergs were! wow, the people there still have horses!), the spot where my dad had to clear the tree off the road that one time of the Valentine's Day flood, and then the final ascent past the wild plum trees and the open grassy fields to the spot where the people who own the property now have built their fence. We parked the car there, under the oak trees that still have oak galls on them, next to the drainage/creek, and managed to squeeze through the fence and hike the last 1/4 mile or so, me pointing things out to Dan and seeing my past through a haze. "That's the hill that I used to climb," I showed him. "There's the funny gnarled bay tree where I used to sit."

I pulled out my camera to take a photo of a dead thistle head, but the batteries in my camera were dead. "You'll take pictures for me, right?" I asked Dan, and he said he would.And we came around the bend.

I knew, intellectually, that the house our neighbor (the one who used to mow his orchard nekkid) lived in was gone and replaced by an Italian villa. I knew it, but I didn't really KNOW it until I saw it with my own eyes. But so many of his trees, olive and orange and apple (and FIG OMG the FIG TREE) were still there, still obviously bearing fruit.

And then I turned to look, and I saw where the A-frame and the tool shed and the barn weren't. In the field where I learned to ride my bike and had an easter parade with my stuffed animals dressed to the nines and where the cows would hang out, at the far end, was a huge barn-like thing that I'm convinced, judging from the sounds and signs surrounding it, was actually being used as living space for someone (a caretaker?). The house that I'd lived in for ten years, where I'd had birthday parties and jumped off the roof and hadn't dreamed about since sometime in the 90s, was still there. They kept it.

Our house was still there.

Granted, it was barely recognizable as our house. They'd removed the living room and all of the internal walls and redone it completely from the inside out, but the basic structure was there. Our apricot tree, our walnut tree, the huge rose bush, the huge oak growing out of the deck my dad had built, all there. I showed Dan everything, where the rope swing had been, and where the fountain had been, where we'd had our sand box and the chicken coop, where there was once a jungle gym, where I'd spent hours once looking for a four-leaf clover, all the spots that were MINE. They were all still there, even if they didn't look the same, even though they didn't look the same. The huge old tree under which we'd buried all of our pets was there, though it was obviously a victim of some parasite or sudden oak death or something because it certainly wasn't healthy, but the place where Daisy Deer and all of our dogs and cats rested their bones still existed.

Dan pulled out his camera, and his battery died after the second photo he tried to take.

The wind went out of my sails. Now I could see everything that was different, all the changes they'd made in 20 years. The house was a guest house, with brand new fixtures and perfect white linens and a spread of tasteful magazines on the coffee table in front of the flat screen television. The area had been landscaped to match the Italian villa down the field. It was cute and kitchy and not my house. It really looked nothing like it did in my memory, and the apricot tree was so much smaller than I remembered, and the oak trees were dying.

A little while later, when I got tired of seeing everything that was no longer there, we wandered back over to the orchard and I saw that the fig tree had lived through the ordeal of the earthquake, or at least some of it had, because coming up from the split were many obviously newer branches. I desperately wanted to take pictures of it, kracken-like in its wild tangle. I picked an orange from one of Geno's orange trees, and we headed back down the road. I showed Dan where the water pump had been, and where I'd first seen cows having sex. We got to the car. I peeled the orange and tried to separate it, but it had very little structure, and mostly turned into a big juicy mess in my hands, so I shoved half the thing in my mouth at once, not realizing until I started to chew just how many seeds were in the thing.

We drove away with no photos, no drawings, nothing to show what was there now or what had been there once, and I felt curiously hollow inside. I only hoped that it had been worth it, that Dan had seen something of what it had meant to me to grow up in that place, even if it was a place my mom had hated, even if my sisters barely remembered it, even if my childhood friends' parents had needed 4-wheel drive to get up our road in the winter. It was a significant place in that it helped make me who I am. It was the last place I was truly free, and there's something to be said for visiting that place again, no matter how different it is from what it once was.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Musings on the Olympics

* Damn, the conditions have been bad for a lot of events. Ice for the speedskaters, snow for the downhill skiiers. Even the snowboard halfpipe looked pretty treacherous. I understand wanting American athletes to do well, but I hate seeing anyone spend years or decades of their lives training for one chance to compete and it's all lost on a fall that happened because the conditions were bad.

* Interesting sartorial choices, from Ireland's neon Opening Ceremonies pants to the Team USA snowboarding uniform of an ugly plaid shirt and faux jeans to the Norwegian Curling team's pants. Fancy!

* And speaking of the Opening Ceremonies, how awesome was that! I was totally blown away by most of it, not only the spectacle of it (which was amazing) but also little things. For example, the flag bearer for the Iran team was a WOMAN.

* I'm not at all pleased with the coverage on NBC and am very frustrated by the tape delay, frustrated by the cuts between events, and uber-frustrated that there is still Bob Costas. Seriously, who likes that guy? So much of the coverage is skating-based and American athlete-centric, even when the front-runners for other events are not Americans. I don't care about the American guy who placed 12th or his heartwarming story. Show me the good stuff!

* I am officially old. TWO of the olympics-themed/related commercials have made me teary over the past week, this one (discussed here by my pal Jive Turkey) and this one. WAH.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Something to celebrate

Despite my annoyance at Yet Another unpaid (furlough) day, the four-day weekend turned out to be, on balance, pretty good. The weekend included, but was not limited to:

* Both of us experiencing a comedy show (at a comedy club) for the first time. I liked one of the warm-up acts better than the main guy; Dan though the main guy was the best; but we both had a good time.

* a trip to the yarn store to acquire yarn for a new challenging project

* Not one, not two, but three awesome, celebratory meals (more on that in a bit)

* Homemade donut experiment

* A walk around a snowy, sunny park and a great conversation

* Lazy lounging

* Attending a fawncy dress party (and baking a cake!)

* no photos taken, sorry.

First, the cake. The birthday girl wanted a cake that incorporated dark chocolate, wine, and raspberries, and so after doing some brainstorming I modified a chocolate stout cake recipe, using wine instead of beer. Here's my version.

1 cup fruity red wine (I used Yellowtail Shiraz Cab)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup plain yogurt

6 ounces good semisweet chocolate chips
6 tablespoons light whipping cream

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9x13 pan; I use parchment paper in the bottom because my 9x13 pans are glass and this makes my life infinitely easier. Bring 1 cup wine and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add wine-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and fold batter until completely combined. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Transfer cake to rack; cool completely in the pan, then turn cake out onto serving thingy for drizzling ganache.

For the ganache, melt the chocolate and cream in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until smooth and warm, stirring occasionally. Drizzle over the top of cooled cake.

For my cake, I macerated a container of raspberries with a fork and mixed in a few more splashes of wine, then sliced the cake down the middle lengthwise (using a thread) and smushed the raspberry-wine goo all around, then put the top back on the cake and poured the ganache over. It was delicious.

I really enjoyed attending the party, which was fancy-dress optional (I opted yes), especially because I did my makeup and a special hairdo (wish I'd taken photos of this; it looked great!). The people who were dressed up fancy at the party were mostly people who had attended the awesome Halloween party we went to in October. The ones who didn't were just as fun to talk to.

And now the meals. On Saturday, before getting ready for the party, we trekked out to the big Asian market and stocked up on supplies for our Sunday dinner and also got some sushi-grade salmon and hamachi. Because we knew the party would be nibbles and wine only, we opted for a very very early dinner (or, perhaps, linner). While I did my hair and makeup and generally beautified myself, Dan made sushi rice and constructed some lovely nigiri. Yum!

Sunday, as you all know, was Chinese New Year*. We planned a delicious meal of Chinese greens and mushrooms, stir-fried with sesame seeds and ginger, served over udon; and an egg-tomato dish we had several times in China that we found a recipe for. It turned out to be just as good as we remembered. Plus, I got a can of red (adzuki) beans and turned it into red bean paste, then stuffed some wonton skins with the red bean paste and fried 'em up for a tasty treat.

And then yesterday was our 3-year engageaversary, and in honor of that Dan made an amazing saffron risotto with sauteed mushrooms and basil-chicken sausage. And a salad.

*Oh, was Sunday something else, too? We didn't notice and don't bother celebrating that. Not when our engageaversary is the 15th. :)

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Schroedinger day

On my way into the gym today, I passed by at least 3 people who didn't see me and who ran right into me. This all occurred within a less-than-five minute period. It made me feel invisible.

I'm not small. I'm wearing a bright red shirt. But that few minutes made me feel like I don't even exist, today.

* * * * * * *

Over the weekend, Dan and I watched two movies that had, on the surface, nothing in common, but when I thought more about them I realized that there was quite a bit of similarity in some of the themes. The two movies were Big Fan, starring Paton Oswalt, about a man whose entire life and identity and self revolves around his fandom for the New York Giants, and The Hurt Locker, about a bomb squad serving in the military in Iraq. I very, very, very much disliked Big Fan, and in fact it left me completely cold and kind of disgusted; I didn't like any of the characters or the story and mostly I just felt a vague mix of nausea and pity for the man who had no selfhood outside of being a Giants fan. In contrast, I very much enjoyed The Hurt Locker, the main character of which is kind of crazy and whose identity is completely wrapped up in being The Guy Who Does Crazy Shit Like Diffuse Bombs In Iraq While Taking Unnecessary Risks. Perhaps the difference, aside from Hurt Locker being a much better movie, was that the main character didn't garner pity. The main characters in both movies were portrayed as being at least somewhat lost when unable to participate in The Thing That Makes Them Them, and I found it interesting that in one case I really appreciated it while in the other I just wanted to throw up in my mouth a little. In any case, though I'm not generally a fan of war movies, I give The Hurt Locker two enthusiastic thumbs up.

* * * * * *

Sometimes I wonder about these things, what makes people who they are. Is the definition of a person what he likes? What she does for money? What he fears? What she wants? What makes me who I am? And why do some people seem to have no doubts whatsoever about their identity, while others change theirs up over and over again? Is a person truly who they think they are, regardless of anyone around them? Or must someone be observed by someone else in order to truly exist? Do people get married and/or have children, in some small part, to have people that MUST notice their existence? What about people who are older, have lost friends and family, shut-ins? What about people who go days or weeks without seeing or speaking to another human being?

I don't have the answers to any of these questions. But I will say that feeling like one does not exist when one seems to go unnoticed by those around one is a very lonely and bizarre feeling.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Fantasy, reality

I am a roller derby queen.

I am in graduate school.

I am someone's mother.

I am living in California.

I have an awesome job.

I have a renewed passport and a fabulous trip planned.

I am blonde and it looks good on me.

I'm a redhead and it looks good on me.

I have straight, white teeth and pretty skin.

I have a tattoo.

I am a size smaller.

I have a tarantula.

I have completed a marathon.

I own a house. It has an amazing yard/garden.

I have a kitty.

I have a moustache.

I have a husband who loves me very much.

I'll take it.

Monday, February 01, 2010

15 minutes

"Do you shave?" she asked, rubbing her hand up the other girl's leg.

"Yes," the girl announced, proudly. "But my mom doesn't know."

* * * * * * *

My introduction to the mysterious female world of hair depilation and removal came during a discussion of body hair before a ballet class one time. I was approximately ten years old, and while I knew, intellectually, that my mom shaved her legs (the razor in the shower we shared was enough to tell me that), I hadn't really thought about doing it myself before that moment. Most of the girls in that ballet class were a year or two older than I was, and all of them were more developed, physically. The few of us 10-year-olds in that class, all pre-pointe, were desperate to catch up with our older and curvier (though not too much, it was ballet after all, where stick figures are coveted) classmates.

Shortly after that, I stood in the shower and contemplated my mom's razor. I'm gonna cut myself, I thought. She'll know! I thought. But I tried it anyway. Not that I needed to; at 10 the hair on my legs was still little-kid peach fuzz. But it made me feel grown-up.

I didn't really NEED to start shaving until I was around 12 years old, and it took very little time - I didn't have much hair, and what I did have wasn't really dark. As I got older I noticed that when I'd shave, I'd end up with what I figured was razor burn - rashy, irritated skin that stung if I tried to put lotion on it. Then, it hurt to put lotion on the next day. Because I was a swimmer and in/at the pool every day in the summer all through high school, I did what every swimmer/girl in a bathing suit every day does: I shaved every day. And it hurt. Boy howdy, did it ever hurt. At some point, I think I mentioned how much it hurt to my mom, but she didn't understand, maybe, since it didn't bother her. I figured there wasn't anything else I could do but just deal with it. I tried different razors, different razor blades. I tried a variety of shaving creams, gels, unguents. Nothing seemed to make shaving any less of a pain in the leg skin, so finally I resigned myself to it. (And one time, I tried Nair at a friend's house, and that was even worse and didn't get rid of the hair, so I said "Screw it.")

I went a week without shaving one time in college, and was totally self-conscious about it. College Boyfriend thought it was kind of funny, though I think he preferred me less hairy, but I noticed that if I shaved less frequently, my skin was less irritated, so I started only doing it once or twice a week (more, if I was going to be wearing something that showed my legs or armpits). It never got any better. After we broke up, during my swinging single days, I only shaved when I felt like I absolutely needed to. Then, I started dating Dan, and my shaving schedule (a new, triple blade each time, fancy all-natural shave goo, and no lotion for at LEAST 2 days after shaving = VERY EXPENSIVE) revolved around our visits to one another.

One day, my roommate asked me if I would help her wax her legs. She'd let her hair grow out, and wanted to see what the difference of waxing versus shaving would be like. I was game, and we spent an hour melting tubs of wax in the microwave, while we took turns troweling on and ripping off the wax. It looked semi-painful, but not too bad, and because I'd learned on my friend's legs it didn't seem like it would be too difficult to do it for myself. And I figured that it couldn't hurt any worse than shaving already did. So I let the hair grow, and I bought some wax, and I spent an hour melting tubs of wax in the microwave, and I troweled it on and ripped it off, and you know what? It wasn't so bad.

The real test came the next day, when I put lotion on and didn't scream. In fact, my skin was far less irritated than it had ever been from shaving. The hair took several weeks to return, and when it did it was finer and thinner. I never looked back.

Over the years, I've experimented some, trying to find the best brand of wax, figure out what works well with my skin - some brands have chemicals that my skin doesn't agree with, and some smell funny when you melt them. I thought I'd found the holy grail of wax at one point (it had only 3 ingredients!), but they changed the formula a few years later and it no longer worked as well. I was getting ready to figure out my next steps (finding a new brand? buying a melter and going with some sort of pro stuff?) when a friend of mine, who hails from Brazil, mentioned to me at a party that she was finally, after years of tinkering, ready to start selling her wax - a formula that worked well for her and several of her Brazilian friends, all culturally accustomed to waxing. I wanted to hear more. "Next time you're hairy, give me a call," she said, "and you can come to my house and I'll wax you and you can tell me what you think of the wax and my technique."

The next time I was hairy, I gave her a call, and the rest is history. My friend makes the best wax ever. She's even improved the formula recently, and is making her living from selling her wax online and providing waxing services to people in her home. Her hope is to grow her business and sell primarily to salons and spas, and to facilitate that process she's working with her boyfriend to develop branding and a website. On Sunday, perhaps as hairy as I'd ever been, I went to her house and we set up lighting and shots and I modeled her wax (well, I sat there while she waxed my legs) and her boyfriend recorded it for the instructional video on her forthcoming website. Being famous for being hairy isn't necessarily how I would have chosen my 15 minutes of fame*, but in payment she gave me 2 pounds of awesome, awesome wax.

*No, mom, you can't see my face in the video.