Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Next Grand Adventure

Our friends Kent and Christine are finally getting around to making it legal, and they've invited us to their wedding in Connecticut on the 17th of July. There's no power in the 'verse that can stop me from being there, but I spent weeks trying to find a reasonably affordable flight that would allow us some time in NYC as well, but to no avail. I wracked my brain trying to think of ways to get around the seemingly insurmountable obstacle of spending nearly a thousand dollars on two plane tickets and hotel for a few nights, not to mention food, transportation, etc once we're there, and I just couldn't figure out how we could make it work.

Until one night, a couple of weeks ago, I hatched a perfect plan. It was so perfect that I stayed awake for hours past my bedtime because I just couldn't fall asleep after hatching such a perfect (and exciting) plan.

We're driving.

We've done long road trips before, but nothing quite this extensive. Dan's parents have graciously agreed to take the kitties for a couple of weeks, and we're going to spend the middle two weeks of July exploring the country, meeting up with old friends (and meeting with new!), having adventures and seeing some friends get hitched eleven years after their first date. I am super duper fantabulously excited about this plan, so let me tell you a bit more about it.

Our intention is to drive the northern route on the way out to the East Coast, leaving sometime during the weekend of July 10/11, and stopping in Chicago, Ann Arbor, Pittsburgh, and possibly NYC along the way before we make it out to the wedding on the 17th. Then, we plan to stop in NYC, Philadelphia, Boone (North Carolina), Louisville, and Kansas City on our way back. We'll do a mix of camping, cheap motels, and maybe even couch surfing, and between that and the price of gas we won't even come close to what the cost of the trip would have been had we opted to fly. Plus, this way each of us gets to add a few new states, we get to see people we like, and I'll have a heck of a lot of blog fodder. What's not to like?

So if you live in one of the above cities (or you've visited) and you have ideas, suggestions, or are willing to let a couple of crazy Strykers crash in your living room, I'd love to hear from you in the comments. :)

Monday, June 28, 2010


Last weekend, I flew down to San Antonio to help my mom handle some necessary in-person business that had to be conducted surrounding the care and condition of my great aunt. She's had some recent health issues that necessitated moving her (temporarily, we hope) into the nursing care facility associated with her assisted living place, and nobody in the family had been able to get the answers we wanted from the care givers (the rest of the close family being in China and Canada), so my mom flew from California and I flew from here and we spent four days visiting my aunt and speaking to her caregivers.

The visit wasn't easy. It was difficult for a number of reasons, both logistical and emotional. I did all of the driving between San Antonio and New Braunfels, where we stayed in my aunt's empty house, and navigating strange freeways while dealing with crazy drivers wasn't exactly relaxing (especially when we got lost or when I almost hit a dog that ran across the road). But really, it was the difficulty of seeing my aunt, always so active and healthy, depressed and so unhappy she only wanted to lay in a bed all day.

Over the course of the four days we were there, we brought her to her apartment a couple of times and even got her to take a shower, which perked her up quite a bit. The last day we were there, we sat with her while she ate her lunch in the dining area rather than her bed, and she went to physical therapy, someplace she'd insisted she'd "only been once" (in reality, 5 days a week for a couple of hours a day). (I think she prefers to remember things she enjoys; clearly she remembered we were coming to visit from one day to the next, but in discussing topics she didn't like, she'd forget in just a few minutes.) She gets into mental loops even worse than she did last fall, and it takes a lot more effort than it used to to get her to talk about something other than how she's had a great life, a great childhood, a great adulthood, and now she's ready for the next thing. I think that her caregivers have equated this "I am ready to die" talk she does with "I'm going to intentionally self-harm," which is not the case at all. While she's currently weak because of her recent health issues, I don't think she'd ever do anything to actually try to kill herself.

And that, right there, was the hardest part of the trip. To hear my joyful, full-of-life aunt talk about how she's ready to go anytime was, quite frankly, depressing as hell. But there are so many things she can't do that she always enjoyed (socializing, dancing, swimming, etc.) because she can't see very well. And a recent ear infection has left her completely deaf in one ear. Even reading and writing are difficult for her because of her vision. So I don't blame her for being depressed and miserable. And her short-term memory is completely shot, and I think she knows it, and we're wondering whether there's some dementia going on as well.

While we were at Edy's house, I got stung by a paper wasp on my left arm. I took this photo in the bathroom, and now, over a week later, I've still got the pink circle (though the actual bite site is less itchy). I got about 20 mosquito bites as well, trying to steal wireless from a neighbor in the backyard. It was surreal, staying in Edy's house with my mom, which is still full of her things and her dolls, both of our minds elsewhere, and a wasp bite to add insult to injury.

I woke up each morning to a herd of male deer in the backyard. (The first morning, one of them was uabashedly peeing right by the window). I thought about the years she spent in the house with her husband, and the years she spent in the house alone. I thought about the end of life, whether it happens due to an accident or due to an illness or due to just plain wearing out. Knowing that when people get to a certain point, generally either the mind goes before the body or the body goes before the mind isn't at all comforting, and I found myself wishing, like Edy did aloud, that there was just a button one could push when one was ready to go.

It's hard to know what the right thing is, for someone who is maybe no longer capable of making their own decisions or caring for themselves. My aunt may live a few more months, or a few more years, or a decade. My mom, who lost all of her parents before she was in her mid-20s, has to go through end-of-life care with a person who is, for all intents and purposes, a surrogate mother to her. It's hard to know how to put into words everything I feel about death and dying, about the end of a long and well-lived life, about how I want to live my life and how I'd like the end of it to go. I spent nearly a week working on this post, and it still doesn't say the right things. This sort of thing isn't easy for anyone.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Tale of the Laser Disc

So I believe I may have mentioned before that I grew up in two different small towns. The town where I went to high school had a population of approximately 5000 people while I was living there, and when we moved there in 1989 I was going into the sixth grade. Most of my classmates, approximately 100 of them, had been going to school together since kindergarten, or in some cases, preschool. Anybody moving into town was considered Fresh Meat as far as the kids were concerned, it being the sort of town where everybody knew everybody, and everybody's families were intermingled and such.

While my family wasn't related to anyone else in town, and while I occasionally had crushes on various boys in my class, I was never truly interested in dating anyone I went to school with. The idea of it felt a little incestuous, especially since in most cases I remembered them before they'd grown a foot, before they'd started having to shave, before their voices changed from soprano to baritone. Various people dated various other people, and then they broke up and started dating other various people, but because it was the same small pool, rumors got around about who was better at what sex acts, who had a kinky side, who might be mentally ill. I wanted no part of it, had no interest in being the subject of a "drunk at the river" Monday morning story. So I didn't date anybody I went to high school with.* The closest I did, in fact, was to date someone from two towns to the south, and that was only briefly (we worked better as friends). Once, for a few months, I dated a guy who lived in my town, but he attended school elsewhere and had just moved to town (we met at swim team over the summer). Although to be fair, I don't know if you could call what we did dating, per se, since he seemed to be horribly afraid of doing anything other than holding my hand and quoting nerdy movie lyrics at me.

I believe I've also mentioned before that I went to church camp every summer from 1991 to 1995. One of the major appeals of attending the week-long event was the opportunity to meet boys who did NOT live in my town, boys I hadn't spent our formative summers watching them attempt to hide proto-boners in the local pool. Camp was my chance to get to know boys from other places, who of course would be far more mature and more interesting than the ones in my hometown. And meet them I did, each summer, and each week-long camp experience (with a three-day weekend mid February mini camp) brought new crushes to my tender, naive heart. Anyhow, schmaltz aside, one summer I met a boy named Chris and developed a big crush on him, but I was already sort-of-dating the one back home in the 'dale with the lovely swimmer's shoulders. So I quashed my feelings until February, when I dropped the Rush freak like a hot potato and started dating Chris in earnest.

The trouble was that Chris lived in Fremont. And I lived in Cloverdale. This was a distance of approximately 120 miles, which is significant when you are an adult, but for a teenager who isn't yet old enough to drive, it might as well be a light year. The only reason we were even able to maintain a relationship for as long as we did (an entire year!) was due to public transportation.

I was already a seasoned user of public transportation by the time Chris and I got together. Not infrequently, I would take the bus from Cloverdale to Santa Rosa, where one could shop in a mall, or see a movie in a theater that played more than one movie at a time. After we decided to try a long distance relationship, I found out that there was a bus that would take me from Santa Rosa to San Francisco, and then I could take BART from San Francisco to Fremont. Usually, when I made the trip, Chris would meet me at the BART station in the city, and when he came north, I'd meet him in Santa Rosa and we'd ride the bus back to the 'dale together. (Or I'd sweet-talk my mom into driving me there to pick him up.) I think we saw one another around once a month, on average, with the 5+ hour trip each way meaning a weekend together was really more like one day. I saved my babysitting money for bus fare, and he had somehow acquired some youth BART tickets (for kids under 12, maybe, back when BART had a different fare structure), but nobody ever checked the color of the stripe on your ticket when going through the turnstile and so the BART portion of the trip was usually free.

(And I'm not entirely sure why I even dated him for a year, to be honest. Most of our relationship was conducted through letters and phone calls, and back in the dark ages before unlimited minutes and cell phones, phone calls were actually kind of expensive. Plus, it turned out I wasn't really all that attracted to him, physically, and then there was the added factor that he was not the sharpest tool in the shed. Hey, don't make me explain it. I was fifteen.)

One time, when I was sitting at the bus station in Santa Rosa waiting for the bus that would take me down to the city, I was reading my book when suddenly a strange man plopped down beside me on the bench. The first thing I noticed about the man was that he smelled like mange. Have you ever smelled a mangy dog? It...isn't a very pleasant smell. The second thing I noticed was that he was wearing a tattered black leather jacket. He appeared to be in his late 20s or early 30s (though to be fair, when I was 15 it was difficult for me to judge the age of anybody over about 21; past that they were just kinda old), with scraggly red hair and a scraggly red goatee. He had at least half of his teeth. He had black half moons at the tips of his fingers, and a few tattoos on his hands, and he was carrying a vacuum cleaner box and a laser disc.

"Hi!" he greeted me, enthusiastically.

"Hi," I responded as succinctly as I could, and pointedly went back to reading my book. Of course, I considered myself to be totally jaded and worldly by this point, because I'd successfully made the trip down to San Francisco a couple of times and was not unused to weird people trying to talk to me.

Sadly, my attempt at brevity and my nose in my book didn't stop him. He spent the entire time we were waiting for the bus telling me the long story about why he was carrying a vacuum cleaner in a box. Obviously, I couldn't care less about this, but I managed a few polite "uh huh"s and "mm hmm"s. When the bus arrived, I paid my fare and sat in a seat about halfway back, ready to enjoy some mange-free air for the first time in half an hour. Of course, as soon as I'd settled in, who should sit beside me but Mangy Toothless Vacuum Man. He proceeded to spend the next twenty minutes or so describing to me the mysterious inner workings of the laser disc machine. After a while, I couldn't ignore him anymore, so I managed to get in a question here or there. "It's the wave of the future!" he exclaimed, punctuating his sentence by waving the laser disc around. "A year from now, nobody will be using VHS. It'll be nothing but laser discs in the video stores!"

"Uh huh," I said.

The laser disc he was using to gesticulate was a copy of The Nightmare Before Christmas, a movie I hadn't seen. When I mentioned this to him, of course, he spent the remainder of the bus ride telling me the plot and everything else there was to know about the movie. (Fortunately, I forgot it completely, because many years later I managed to finally see it in a midnight showing and loved it.)

Finally, Mangy Toothless Vacuum Man got off the bus at one of the side-of-the-highway stops someplace in Marin county. A short Mexican man in restaurant scrubs got on the bus and sat in the vacated seat. I spent the rest of the ride into San Francisco in sweet, sweet silence, and resumed breathing through my nose for the first time in nearly two hours.

*The irony here, of course, is that I spent three years of college in a relationship with someone I'd gone to high school with, and we got together pretty much as soon as we got to Berkeley.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Symbolic ambiguity

This is a columbine.

A columbine is a wildflower. It is Colorado's state flower, and it grows wild all over the place. You can find columbine in a variety of colors, but it's usually a light or medium purple.

This is the current version of a typical Colorado license plate.

One of the interesting things about Colorado is that there are about eleventy billion different specialty plates. You can get plates that display your alma mater, your military service, your Native American heritage, even your rusty old beater's status as a collector car! You can get a plate with proceeds to go to greyhound rescue, or to help cure breast cancer. You can even get plates to commemorate MTV's The Real World (Denver) or the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Having grown up in California, where all the plates are the same, I still feel a bit of unbridled glee whenever I see a new specialty plate here in Colorado.

A plate we see not infrequently here looks like this:

In the middle, you see a columbine. On the bottom, it says Respect Life.

The thing about this plate is that there are a lot of ways it could be interpreted. The origin of the plate came from someone who wanted to raise funds for the victims of the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, and I bet many native Coloradoans, or at least the ones who lived here when that happened, think of the Columbine shooting when they see the plate. The funny thing, though, is that the plate kind of got co-opted by some of the pro-life fundies and to them, it's an anti-abortion sentiment.

And to me, someone who didn't live here when the Columbine shooting happened, someone who grew up with parents who were hippies, the Respect Life plate looks like an environmentalist message. In fact, when I first saw the plates it was all I really thought of until after someone, probably Dan, mentioned the Columbine incident and what a huge deal it is to Coloradoans.

I find it utterly fascinating that such a simple symbol, a specific flower and two words, can evoke 3 entirely different messages. To some, it's "Remember the tragedy of Columbine High School; don't kill people." To many, it's "Abortions are bad, mmmkay." To me, and I'm sure to some other non-natives who didn't live here when Columbine happened, it's a message of wildlife conservation. Although Colorado has a specialty plate for that, too, with an eagle on it.

One of the things that is most interesting to me about humanity in general and culture in particular is that our brains are always looking for symbols. We find patterns in clouds; we are all about face recognition; we want to find meaning in things that have none so badly that we invent conspiracy theories. Colors have always been powerful symbols, depending on the time period and place involved (the color blue in early religious art; the color blue as a symbol for a left-wing state.) Green means go on a traffic light; green means envy; green means environmentally conscious. A circle with a diagonal line through it means No; a swastika can mean a symbol of hatred or any number of other things, depending on context. Yet with enough exposure and publicity, symbols can be subverted to mean just about anything.

Here is a columbine. It is the state flower of Colorado. It is a symbol of great tragedy to some, a political message to others, and to me, it's just a pretty flower.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Friday Faff: Lights Out Edition

I believe I've mentioned before that we live in an 1895 Victorian house, with original windows and no air conditioning. We had a bit of a heat wave last week and over the weekend, and things were roasting in Chez Stryker by Monday evening. We listlessly discussed what we might have for dinner that would require no use of a heating element that could contribute to the temperature being even higher than the 82F it already was in our house.

And then the power went out. Luckily, it's June so even though it was around 6:30 PM, it was still plenty light outside. At first we figured it was because the power grid was overloaded from too many fans and air conditioners running at once, but then the plume of black smoke to the east and the plethora of sirens convinced us that something else might be going on, but because we had no electricity we had no television, internet, or plug-in radio to inform us of the deets. We sat outdoors with peanuts and cold drinks and read our books, waiting for the power to come back on. It was hot, and only the occasional warm breeze punctuated the stiflingly still air.

After a while, we realized the power wasn't going to come on anytime soon, and it was starting to get dark. We decided to have turkey sandwiches and leftover potato salad and cole slaw for dinner, since Dan was uncomfortable cooking in the dark, and since neither of us wanted to contribute any additional heat to the house, especially considering our fans weren't functioning. We ate our cold meal at our dinnertable in the last light of the evening, reminiscing about power outages we remembered from childhood. Most of the ones I remembered happened during winter thunder-and-rain storms, so a hot summer evening was a totally different experience.

When we finished eating, we retired to the living room. Dan found his head lamp, and lit several of the decorative candles we normally have in our non-functional fireplace. And we sat in the hot, stuffy room, full of food. There wasn't quite enough light to read, so we just sat. I thought about how much we depend on electricity for just about everything.

The kitties, expectedly, were more than a little freaked out by the situation. Humans at home! but no lights on! and no delicious, delicious fan! Why so hot, humans? Why no lights? Something was Just Not Right.

And then, for about 3 minutes, the lights suddenly came on.

A half hour after sitting in the dark, digesting dinner and watching the decorative candles flicker, they came back on for good. We found out that the cause of the blackout had been an explosion at a nearby power station, right near a hospital. Apparently some of the patients had to be medevac'd out when the hospital lost power. I thought some more about how much we depend on electricity for everything, for large, life-saving things, and for small things like an evening's entertainment. It was kind of nice to have no teevee and no internet for an evening, but to not even have enough light to read by was more than a little disturbing. It was a little like camping, except in our own hot, stuffy house in the middle of the city rather than under the stars. I'll take the lights when I'm home, thank you very much.

* * * * * *

Two bad things this week, offset by two good things today:

First, I'm going to have to find a new shampoo. Again. I'm still bitter about the last time, and after over a year of looking I finally found something that wasn't horrible. And effing Pantene had to go and change up all their products again, the bastages. I bought a cheapo clarifying shampoo and I'll know in a week or so whether or not I hate it. Why the hell do hair product companies have to change up their ENTIRE PRODUCT LINES when their customers already like what they have to offer?

Second, I was really looking forward to doing some swimming this summer. I've been trying to change up my workouts a bit, and thought the chance to spend some time in a pool would be lovely. The City of Denver's outdoor pools are only open in the summer, so when I went to the website for Congress Park's pool I was dismayed to learn that they're only open from noon to five. WHEN I AM WORKING. My only other nearby option is to pay $5 a pop to swim in an overpopulated indoor pool. No thanks. (Harrumph.)

Today, two good things happened. First, I found a key that had been missing for at least six months in the pocket of my jeans (a pair I hadn't worn since sometime this winter.) Yay! Also, I won another theoretical cooking contest. This one was more of a Chopped-style challenge than an Iron Chef one. It involved red bell pepper, walnuts, and artichoke bottoms in the appetizer round, pork loin, coconut, and lima beans for the main, and sour cream, candied lychee and pretzels in the dessert round. I think all three of my recipes would be top notch if I were to actually make them. (Especially dessert!)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Dear internet, I have nothing to say

So here are some photos I took, the first set on a hike we took before we went to California, and the second set on a hike this past Sunday.

May 22 or 23, near Evergreen

My first pussy willows

Dunno why I like this shot so much, but I do.

Spanish moss

This was a funky hike, because the first half was downhill and the second half was back uphill. Here's a photo of us at the highest point.

The creek was still iced over in some places.

June 6, just above Boulder

Sun on the pine needles


This photo demonstrates the inspiration for our wedding colors.

Friday, June 04, 2010

And then we did this

Sometimes when we go on one of these whirlwind trips to California, I return feeling torn between writing up everything we did (to help me remember, for posterity's sake) and writing up only the interesting parts (for the benefit of the six people who will read this). No one really wants to read about someone else's blow-by-blow vacation exploits. So instead of "And then we did this," I'll try to highlight the moments, the things that stick in my memory whether I have a photo or not. (In most cases, not.)

* Reading approximately eleventy billion books to Wombat, hastily snarfed burritos, and a long and sleepy drive north

*Driving out through Sebastopol to Bodega Bay, then driving north along the coast all the way to Point Arena, something I hadn't done in 15 years and something Dan had never done. We ate cherries as the car lurched around the windy, twisty roads, and I identified as many of the wildflowers as I could see from the moving car: wild radish, coastal lupine, monkey flowers.

* Lazy seals

* Eating lunch in the warm sunshine, watching the water, smelling the brine of the Northern California ocean

* Driving the car from Point Arena through Booneville and back to the 'dale, feeling like I was playing a video game, with only two other cars in the first 26 miles

* Two different incidents of restaurant bad luck (bacon on my dinner sandwich when I asked for none, runny-yolked fried eggs instead of scrambled in my huevos rancheros)

* Breakfast with Heather

* Snarfing a salad at Laurel's house before our first 3 hour traffic ordeal of the weekend

* The growing dread of being late to the wedding in Auburn, having to do my makeup in the car, and quick-changing in the parking lot while the golf cart kid watched.

* Someone liked it so they put a ring on it.

* The realization that I was going to be the sober driver, hoping I could stay awake and drive safely to the hotel when I could only remember which exit to take. (Luckily, we could see it from the freeway.)

* Seeing Dan have such a good time getting his drink and his dance on

* Going from one party to another (one: all Dan's family and various relations, the other a birthday party where my sisters were) and seeing my friend's parents, who I hadn't seen in about 20 years, and realizing I can only socialize with so many people in one day (we'd had breakfast with some other friends) before my brain stops functioning.

* Getting an entire house to ourselves, complete with friendly kitties, a spider web, and a forbidden kitchenaid stand mixer.

* My first crepe-a-go-go in at least 10 years, plus an hour to myself reading a delightful book on the UC Berkeley campus while Dan had breakfast with his brother, and dozing in my favorite spot of dappled sun/shade

* An entire afternoon and early evening of relaxing and enjoying the company of friends, discussing subjects both mundane and profound, and making fresh lemonade with purloined meyer lemons.

* Dan and his brother sharing one last "hope you find your bike, PeeWee" handshake for in all likelihood a year. Keep safe in Afghanistan, Matt.

All in all, it was a great trip, but thoroughly exhausting from the socializing, the hours of traffic, and travel in general. We got home Monday afternoon and were completely useless for the rest of the day. The saying "I need a vacation from my vacation," while trite, is often how I feel after a trip like this.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The ongoing love story of Pappy Waldorf and the wood nymph

Why is Pappy Waldorf grinning?

If you got to stare at her all day, wouldn't you?



My favorite part about Sather Gate is the bas-reliefs of nekkid men on one side, opposite which it says "Erected by Jane K Sather"

Last year, I lost my camera after we took a trip to California for Memorial Day weekend, and I bemoaned its loss not only because it was a good camera and a pain in the ass to have to replace a camera yet again, but because on the trip I'd taken some photos that I really liked, ones I was pretty sad to lose. Some were photos I'd taken of Wombat at 5 months old, others were from a wander around the UC Berkeley campus. I thought for an entire year about whether or not I could remember and recreate some of the shots I'd lost when that camera fell out of my backpack, so when Dan and I flew into Oakland last Wednesday, the first place we went (after a tasty Naan N Curry lunch on Telegraph) was campus.

Buckeye flower on my favorite tree

My favorite tree. It appears dead and completely hollow, yet it manages to flower and leaf every year!

Dedicated to my diplomat brother-in-law

Baberham Lincoln

Underneath the entrance to the clock tower. Maybe there was once a reflecting pool below it to explain why it's a mirror image?

This time, we went up the Campanile, the UC Berkeley clock tower. I'd not gone up since I was an undergraduate (when it was FREE, FREE!), and I didn't have an Alumni card, so we had to pay two bucks each for the view. It was worth it, though.

San Francicso and Golden Gate Bridge as seen from Campanile. Click to embiggen.

Go Bears!

I liked the brickwork pattern.

Ever wondered what the inside of a magnolia looked like? Here you go.

Dan took this one.

I remembered some of the photos I took a year ago, and found some other interesting spots to shoot. It was a good way to spend a couple of hours, decompressing after an early plane ride and gearing up for the several days of socializing ahead.