Monthly Archives: January 2007

I asked for a white christmas, not white until February

First of all, it’s snowing AGAIN. And it’s under 20 degrees F outside. Brrrrr.

We don’t need more snow! We don’t need more cold! We still have snow piled up high from the first blizzard way back in mid-December!

Second of all, I am so not looking forward to getting on that plane this afternoon. To help dismantle someone’s life in front of that person is not going to be easy. I will be happy to spend time with my mom and aunt (and Yank in Texas, who was gracious enough to offer me a ride from the airport to my aunt’s house), but not so happy to be mailing off all the things my aunt has collected for the past 80+ years.

Third of all, thank you to QIR for sending me replacement fairies. I think I’m going to get some of those little plastic dealies to put on the backs of the wires so I don’t lose this set. And I will make the gold fairy and the lone silver fairy into other pretty jewelry.

Fourth of all, thanks to the Hulk for posting this awesome comic. He really does have a flip-top head.

And finally, thanks to Loki for giving me a nice leg rub and keeping my balls warm this morning while I play on the computer. I’m off to finish packing (have to bring extra luggage for with to bring back stuff), go to the gym, and head off to the aeroport. I’m bringing my camera so I can show everyone what cool stuff my aunt has.

The party which is given for a pregnant woman as an excuse to eat and give wee tiny presents

I find it very odd to be in a room full of estrogenic/post-menopausal women, all cooing and oohing and awwing over tiny socks and hats and things to hang the toys in above the bathtub.

There were salads and veggies with dip and coldcuts and cheese slices, with rolls and mustard to make sandwiches. I brought hummus and carrots, hoping the honoree would be able to partake because her current condition has brought on some health issues (luckily she thanked me and said she’d been craving it.) There was also a cake, of which maybe 3 people in the room of 25ish women took a piece.

Most of the women had already had their kids, if they were going to. Some of them want kids. Some are in their 30s and never married, so the possibility of having kids is slowly diminishing, and the palpability of their uterine gymnastics reacting to the onesies and bibs with cute logos was kind of over-the-top. The lady sitting next to me was in her 40s at least and married to another woman, and she seemed a little confused about all the hullabaloo. Because of course, every single brightly-colored plastic toy and little post-bath terrycloth robe thingy had to be passed around the table, like some sort of weird fertility ritual.

My friend received three hand-knitted or -crocheted blankets, not including the one I’m still working on (I whipped up some quick booties and a jester-style cap in jaunty shades of bright blue and green just to have something to give her; the shower was planned for two months before her due date because she’s measuring so big that the doctors think she’ll be early, even though it’s her first. She looks about to pop already.). Three women besides me spent hours working with yarn and needles to produce beautiful textiles that will, in all likelihood, be peed and pooped and barfed on regularly during their use (that’s why I make blankets out of machine washable yarn!).

Since it was a work shower, there weren’t any of those horrid games like guessing melted candy bars in diapers or anything involving toilet paper. Or is that wedding showers? Anyhow, I found myself wondering what the whole experience was like for her – she’s seven months pregnant, halfway across the world from her home (or the mothership, as Monkey likes to call it), days of travel to get to her parents or siblings. While she and her husband have lived in the states for a few years, I’m sure it must be a little weird and alienating to be experiencing your first pregnancy in the midst of a country, culture, and language that is not your own. She was very grateful for the shower and all the things that roomfull of hens had given her, but she looked a little shellshocked – sure, it was a lot of stuff, but it didn’t even touch the amount of stuff that they’ll probably end up with. Luckily for my friend, her mother plans a 3-month visit starting in early March, so if she’s not around for the birth she’ll be here shortly thereafter, and will be able to help her daughter deal with all the stuff that comes with being a brand-new first time mom.

Mostly, I wonder what the differences are between Indian baby showers and American baby showers (are there Indian baby showers? I don’t know!). Are there gifts she’d be getting if she were having this baby in India that she isn’t going to get here? When we were in China last year, seeing all those women wearing the same pregnancy outfit (black corduroy overalls with cartoon characters embroidered on the bib), I thought about how pregnancy and the birth of a child is universally celebrated, even in China where most women only get to do it once. The scary step of deciding to carry a baby to term, to bring a new life into the world, to rear children to the best of one’s ability, seems to me to be the ultimate act in optimism: the child will be born healthy, live to adulthood, and be a productive and positive addition to the human race. That room full of women, in various stages of their lives, some of whom have children and/or grandchildren, or who are still awaiting children, participating in the ritual of cooing over the tiny caps, booties, onesies, all seemed to benefit in a very primal way from the party to honor a new mother and the acoutrements that brought.

Even (though I may hate to admit it) me.

Coastal Giants

The third Star Wars movie (Return of the Jedi) came out when I was four years old. One of my earliest memories of going to the movies was coming out of the movie theater, walking through the lit outdoor area to our car, and worrying about the Darth Vader breathing sounds – of course, it gave me nightmares that night.

Anyhow, the part of the movie where Luke and Leia are dressed in camoflage and helmets and riding on speeder bikes through the enormous trees? Looked like the walk up the road to Brian Foster’s house. It never occurred to me at the time, or even until probably the 5th or 10th time I saw the movie, that most people never got to see redwoods, let alone saw them on a regular basis or lived amongst them. It’s only now that I’m an adult and have lived in other places that I have been able to appreciate the beauty and rarity of the area where I grew up.

In kindergarten or first grade, we took a field trip to Armstrong Woods, and learned about how old the trees were, and got to see the cross-section of the tree where they show the different dates according to the rings on the tree. I returned to Armstrong woods about three or four years ago when I took Hulk there for his first major redwood tree experience. It was pouring down rain the whole drive there, and continued to rain while we walked the detritus-strewn paths through the park. But redwoods are so big, and crowd each other out competing for the sunlight, that not much rain got through the over canopy. There aren’t good words to describe the experience of walking through the redwoods in the rain, hand in hand with someone you really care about, dodging banana slugs and puddles and soaking in the mist with your skin. But it’s still one of my favorite days Hulk and I have shared together.

The atmosphere beneath the redwoods, even without rain, is completely unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. Imagine being by the cold Northern California ocean, feeling the spray, without actually getting wet and without any wind. Or perhaps, imagine walking into the indoor, tropical part of a botanical garden or zoo or a butterfly pavilion, feeling the moisture in the air, but without the heat and heaviness. The air beneath the redwoods feels alive unlike anything else; there’s very little else living aside from the ancient giants around you – only a small amount of light fiters through the trees to hit the ground, so there often isn’t much ground cover or many small plants. The plants that fight for the little light that gets through are the best and the strongest, the most beautiful, never diseased or ugly. The air is still, and the trees seem to breathe and talk to one another as you walk, awed by their age and size, beneath them.

Some of the trees have survived multiple fires and are thousands of years old – the living layers of the trees are the very outer layer underneath the bark, so a fire can completely burn out the inside of the trunk and the tree will keep on living. (The wood is also pretty fire-resistant, which is why lots of people covet the wood for building stuff.) Redwoods are living testaments to perseverance, patience, and weathering storms – these trees have seen centuries, far more than most other creatures on earth might ever aspire to see. It’s a humbling experience to see a cross section of a tree felled a hundred years ago and see the Battle of Hastings (1066) marked halfway across the diameter, and the birth of Christ marked when the tree had already lived a few years. Amazing.

If you’re ever in Northern or Central California, or on the Pacific coast in some parts of Oregon, and you have the opportunity to walk beneath the redwoods, I highly recommend the experience. Sometimes when I look into the night sky when we’re at the cabin or when I stand at the edge of the roaring ocean, I feel tiny and insignificant. But when I stand beneath the redwoods, looking up and up and still unable to see the tops of the trees, I just feel awe. It’s the closest I ever come to a religious experience.

My oldest friend found me a car; Nicole Ritchie is a skeleton

Oldest Friend called me today at work to tell me she was buying my car.

“What?” I asked.

Apparently, she needs to buy a car right now because she needs one for work and her current car isn’t really functional. This friend is one of the best social networkers I have ever known – she is friends with hundreds if not thousands of people – and she put the word out that she needs a car ASAP. Well, someone she knows had a relative who wanted to sell, and the price was right, so she’s jumping on it.

When I visited her in September, we were talking about cars and I told her what I was looking for. So when she found out the car she was buying was a 2001 Subaru Impreza Outback Sport with 60K miles on it and selling for $8K (original owner selling), she realized that she was buying my car. It’s even green!

The cool part is that she’s going to drive this car for a few months while she looks for what she REALLY wants in a car (her new job pays her lots of money and she may end up needing an SUV for work anyhow) and then she’s going to sell it to me. So it appears as though I will finally have the car I want, like, exactly the car I want, in just a few months. Sweet! Hulk’s going to have to teach me how to drive a manual, but it’s something everybody should know how to do anyway, right?

Also, for her job she got to go to Sundance and she saw all kinds of famous people, who are apparently even skinnier (Nicole Ritchie) and sluttier (Tara Reid) and at least as creepy (the guy who plays the son on Nip/Tuck, a cross between Michael Jackson and Peter Gallagher) in real life as in pictures and on TV. (She also saw more well-respected stars, like Anthony Hopkins, but he doesn’t have a bad boob job or an obvious eating disorder.) She also saw Sean Whateverthehellhecallshimselfthesedays Combs in an exclusive club and says he’s a great performer.

Also, today it is 41 degrees and sunny, and I had to go outside and just stand in the sun for a few minutes. I hardly even needed the sweater I was wearing. Maybe a little of the gross old snow we’ve had for the last 5 weeks will melt a little.(Unfortunately, we’re supposed to get ANOTHER storm this weekend. Ugh.)

Aunt Edy

My great aunt Edy is one of the coolest ladies I have ever known.

She grew up in D.C., taught ballroom dance classes for Arthur Murray, and married a man who loved her for years before he had the courage to ask her out. When asked why she married Uncle Bill, she replies, “I admired his qualities.”

Edy married Bill during World War Two. He was an air force pilot and ended up career air force, moving the family around all over the world. My aunt collected all kinds of neat things from Japan and Germany and France and around the US, and has amazing stories to tell about her life’s adventures.

Uncle Bill died in 1990, and her daughter (my mom’s cousin) lives in rural Canada, does not drive and refuses to fly. Her son (my mom’s other cousin) is still working in China. He has two kids, both of whom live about a 3-hour drive away from Edy. Aunt Edy lives alone.

She’s always been a social, active lady, swimming daily in the spring-fed pool at the park, taking clogging and line dancing classes with people many years her junior (she’s 87!) She’s never been sick or in the hospital other than to have her children. Other than macular degeneration, she hasn’t ever had a thing wrong with her, physically. She’s in fantastic shape and has a terrific outlook on life and love, writing down her thoughts daily and sharing them with my mom and her kids.

I’ve been to Texas a bunch of times to visit Edy, the last time being the summer of 2005. It was obvious that Edy was starting to slow down a little – she was getting reluctant to drive, particularly to drive anywhere outside her few haunts in the town where she lives (grocery store, aerobics class, the park with the pool). Also, her mind wasn’t what it used to be – she would repeat herself throughout the day, and seemed the most lucid when talking about the past. We spent most of that visit cooped up in her house in the sweltering July heat, looking at old photos and letters and the cool old family Bible from 1840-something, and I took pictures of the house so Hulk could see all the cool antiques and paintings and stuff that made it Aunt Edy’s house (he’s still never met her).

Last summer, Edy got dizzy while trying to mow her lawn in 100+F heat and Texas humidity. She called her son in China, he called his son in College Station, and she got taken in to the doctor. They didn’t find anything wrong, and she seemed to perk up a bit. And she was told NOT to try to mow her own acre-large backyard again, especially not in the summer heat. A few months later, she had some more dizzy spells and her arm started to hurt. Her son came back from China to get her more medical help – again, nothing specific. At that point, they started talking about having her move into an assisted living place, either in Texas or in California to be closer to my mom. But no, she was stubborn and didn’t want to leave her house or her friends or everything she’d known for the last 30 years.

When we were in California for a visit a couple of weeks ago, my mom called me at the Irish German’s house to tell me that Edy might have had a heart attack or a stroke. The cousin of my generation drove over to stay with her, noticing that she hadn’t been to the grocery store in at least a month. He got her food, dealt with her medical care – again, nothing specific was actually wrong with her. Edy’s son flew back from China to insist on arranging for Edy’s placement into an assisted living facility – if nothing else, so she wouldn’t be alone and would have lots of other people around, she being such a social person. My mom called me again today to tell me she will be going to Texas for a few weeks to help Edy move, to organize, pack, and give away many of the things in her house (so as not to have to deal with it later, probate and all that). The house will be kept in the family, but all of Edy’s personal things and collections of cool paintings and furniture and knicknacks, everything that makes it her home, will either go with her to the new place or go to my family, since neither of my mom’s cousins or her cousin’s kids want anything.

I will be flying to Texas in a week or ten days to help my mom process all of the things that are physical reminders of Edy’s life. I don’t know how long Edy will live in the new place; apparently, she’s fading fast, going to bed at 4 PM and waking up at midnight, never leaving her comfy chair. She can’t read or write or watch TV easily because of the macular degeneration, so she just sits. My mom’s cousin has to return to China at the end of the month, so my mom will be out there to overlap his visit and get all the paperwork finalized. Then she will need help.

It seems to me like Aunt Edy is almost more like a mother to my mom than her own mother was (mom’s mother died when she was 21). I know this is going to be a very difficult thing for her – it’s hard for me, and I’ve only met Edy about 10 times. But she’s an amazing woman with an incredible wealth of stories and knowledge. I had hoped at one point that because she was so healthy, physically, she’d live to be 100 and my kids, were I to have any, would get to meet her and know her for the amazing person that she is. But she herself has been “ready to go anytime” as she puts it for quite a while, now. She wants to be with her husband and her sister and doesn’t understand why she keeps waking up in the morning. Her own mother, my great grandmother, died in her sleep at age 80, and I think Edy expected to do the same. “I’m past my expiration date!” she kept saying, a grin on her beautiful face, when I was there in July of 05.

Aunt Edy, there is no expiration date for such a wonderful, beautiful person. I hope against hope that Hulk will get to meet you before you dance off into the sunset with Uncle Bill, and I fully expect that when you do you’ll make good on your promise to “come back and knock some heads around once I get my wings!” I’m not a particularly religious person, but if anyone has what it takes to come back and be a guardian angel, it’s you.

Not as bad as it could have been for "the most depressing day of the year"

Yesterday, I had to wait over half an hour in the freezing cold (it was probably 15F) for a bus to take me to the place where we had our all-day staff meeting.

That’s right, another all day staff meeting.

My mild Renaud’s syndrome didn’t appreciate the cold plus inactivity, and my hands and feet ached and ached, despite two pairs of gloves and thick warm socks. There was a certain cameraderie, however, in the group of us waiting for the bus – including one girl who wore capri pants, a coat that wasn’t zipped up, and no gloves or mittens. I don’t know how she made it. I’m usally fine outside in the cold if I’m walking around, but there’s only so much moving around one can do while waiting for a bus.

Then I got to trudge 3 blocks through the unshoveled sidewalks to the place where the staff meeting was held. Because yes, it DID snow again this weekend! Just what we needed, more snow. I shoveled our walks on Sunday afternoon but the people in the neighborhood where the meeting was were not so courteous.

The staff meeting was a room full of 55 people having to discuss things like “trust” and “restructuring” – fun, I assure you. At least they fed us. Also, I got to see my Excessively Pregnant Co-Worker, who is supposedly due at the end of March but measuring so big that she and her doctors think he’ll emerge a few weeks early. Unfortunately, my head started to ache by about noon, and by 3 PM it was a rager. Finally, the thing was over and I decided to walk back downtown over the new pedestrian bridge that goes over the highway. It was actually pretty cool. I walked through snow and ice and mag chloride sprinkles, took the mall shuttle up to the top of the mall, and went into the gym. My headache threatened migraine menacingly, and I told myself I’d just get changed and go upstairs to see if there were any available cardio machines (by this time it was 5 PM. And a Monday. in January). To my surprise, my favorite be-armed elliptical was available, and as soon as I stepped on the machine my headache disappeared.

I still took it kind of easy, finished up and walked home. My headache returned as soon as I stepped outside again and got worse throughout the evening, until I finally had to take some painkillers. It totally made my day to get so many comments on my blog entry about Pan’s Labyrinth, though (and you all should go check out Hulk’s review; it’s better than mine.)

Then, I woke up this morning and checked out the Oscar nominations, and my dad’s cousin got nominated again for Sound mixing for Dreamgirls (he and his team won in 2005 for Ray). Maybe if he wins again they’ll let him speak – the guy is about 6’5 and the team of guys he works with are all wee, and they all talk and you can’t even see his head because the camera focuses on the person at the mic.

I was also happy to see that so many of the nominations were spread around, and that Pan’s Labyrinth got so many – I was expecting Foreign Language but it got several others as well. I still think it’s the best movie I’ve seen in ages.

Two of three

There’s been some talk on the Wide Wide World of Web (courtesy Joy on My Name is Earl) recently about the three Mexican directors and their triumphs with the three movies that have come out in the last few months: Babel, Children of Men, and Pan’s Labyrinth (or, directly translated, The Labyrinth of the Faun). Babel did well at the Golden Globes; Children of Men is the latest from Alfonso Cuaron (of A Little Princess, the 3rd Harry Potter movie, and Y Tu Mama Tambien), and Pan’s Labyrinth is being hailed by almost everyone as one of the best movies in years or even decades.

Last weekend, we saw Children of Men. At the time, I decided I needed to process a bit before I could write about it. It was well-acted, well-written, thought-provoking, all those things the critics like. Plus, it has Monkey’s secret boyfriend in it (Clive Owen). The movie takes place about 20 years from now and, at the time of the film, no children have been born in the world in 18 years. The film basically shows what’s going on in society as a result of people realizing they’re the last people there will ever be, as everyone has given up hope that any children will ever be born again. Apparently, the whole world except England has completely gone to shit, and England is a totalitarian state treating any non-citizen as a terrorist.

I think what I liked best about Children of Men is that despite its abjectly depressing setting, despite how dark and miserable it was, some people still seemed to hold a glimmer of hope for the future and humanity. Also, perhaps less good, it was the only movie I’ve ever seen that made me want to run right out and get knocked up, just to make sure I could. Can you imagine? A world where there aren’t any children, at all, for an entire generation?

Even more depressing, dark, and amazing was Pan’s Labyrinth, which we saw last night. I’ve always been a big fan of fairy tales, and this movie is a fairy tale in the most traditional sense – no Disneyfied happily ever after here. The film does an incredible job of switching back and forth between fantasy and reality, and in the end you’re not quite sure which was which – every adult character seems to be harboring fantasies of his or her own, quite opposite to the realities that they don’t want to see. There were some wonderfully subtle parallels between the story of the girl, her mother, the captain, the conflict between the facist royalists and the socialist fighters and the story of the little girl who finds out she’s the princess of the underworld and must undertake a series of tasks in order to reclaim her throne.

I have to be honest; there were some really graphic scenes involving injuries and incredible violence, and a couple of scenes had me covering my eyes or hiding on Hulk’s shoulder. The makeup and special effects were perfect, though, showing you how gross war and torture really is. The movie also features one of the most perfect villains I’ve ever seen on the big screen – most of the time when he was on camera I was on the edge of my seat, holding my breath, afraid of what he might do next.

Probably my favorite aspect of this film was the discussion of fantasy as the milleu of the child or innocent – several adult characters tell the little girl that they once believed in fairies, but then they grew up – and tell the girl that she’ll discover soon enough how horrible the real world can be. But there is nothing in the film to show that the girl doesn’t understand this already; the fantasy world isn’t an escape so much as a coping mechanism for what amounts to being a really screwed-up childhood. I loved the allusions to different fairy tale archetypes – the three tasks, the solutions having a “twist,” the clever protagonist outwitting the monster. Even the ostensibly “good” creatures are disturbing and kind of freaky – the bad guys are scary as hell. If I had seen this movie at age 5 I probably would have had nighmares about eyes-in-hands guy for years and years. It’s not a children’s movie by any stretch of the imagination, despite the fantasy elements.

Seeing Pan’s Labyrinth has inspired me to do more research into the academic discussion of fairy tales and their role in various societies. (I also want to see it again in the theater, possibly tomorrow. It’s that good.) Children of Men made me want to spawn. I’m almost afraid to find out what crazy things Babel will inspire (seing as how it has Gael Garcia Bernal, it might just inspire some naughty fantasies), but I really want to see it to complete the Mexican director trifecta of late 2006. I recommend Children of Men, but I might have to insist that every one of you who reads my blog run out and see Pan’s Labyrinth if at all possible. Just make sure to take someone along whose shoulder you can hide in for the really gruesome bits.