Saturday, December 20, 2008

I'll Be Dyeing At Christmas, Reprise

I could probably retrofit these to Japanese motifs, but that's not how I found them.

Instead, I got bored and just started folding and tying.

The towel above was folded in half and then tied in a complex flower petal kind of fold. The top motif was on the outside when the towel was dyed, and displays the intended flower pattern. The bottom motif, surprisingly, delightfully, has lost both the upright and cross pieces almost completely and is a grand and glorious purple flaming X.

This is why untying shibori is like Christmas. Every piece turns out differently from how you imagined it. Wonderfully, gloriously different. (And sometimes, particularly when you're just starting out, disastrously "Wow, I just wasted my money on clothes I wouldn't be caught dead in" different.)

But then, I've seen normal and I don't like it, and my kids' mom dresses them funny.

A fairly decent chevron-y fold with pretty good pleat action.

I have no idea what I was thinking when I tied the above one. No clue. It was almost 2 years ago and I was at a party. The fold looked kind of like it wanted to be itajime, but it's definitely struck off on its own.

Not only that, but it uses two colors that I have decided I don't like but have therefore not quite managed to use up. The maroon bleeds well but is ugly with everything. The mustard is so ugly that even mixing it 3:1 with delicious golden brown could not dim its ugliness.

A candidate for overdyeing with something like turquoise.

Chocolate-covered cherries anyone?

Seriously, I like that fold. A lot. If I can figure out how I did it, I'll do it again.

And yes, I did go a little overboard on the hot pink. I like its bleed action.

I have managed to painstakingly imitate itajime without using a folding technique anything like it.

I could make a wicked Scottish flag with that fold. Or the crossbones for a skull-and-.

On the Origins of Paisley

The spiral fold is NOT a traditional Japanese shibori motif. I've never seen an example of it in Japanese resist dyeing, although it is in some ways similar to yanagi (weeping willow). Both types pleat around a point at the center of the fabric, although yanagi pleats come straight out from the center while spiral pleats swirl around it.

Be that as it may, the spiral pattern is easy to tie (once you know what you're doing), easy to dye, reliable, and very popular.

It also screams TIE-DYE! to people, so I never ever dye them in rainbow primaries or psychedelic colors.

I especially love the spiral pattern on beach towels -- great for surfers. Wave action right there on your towel.

And four of them on a tea towel make beautiful mandalas.

Love the ways the colors came together in that one -- crisp instead of muddy and with interesting bleeding from one color to the other.

While I was photographing these tea towels, I thought "Whoa, paisley."

Soft and blurry or sharply defined.

When you tie a spiral, you get a paisley.

Maybe my very favorite of the whole batch. Really crisp pleat-and-bleed action with a feathery/watery feel to it.

This is giving me flashbacks to the 60s even though they ended when I was 8.

Like wow, man.
Two renditions of yamamichi (mountain trail) shibori:

This is one of the most fun and most forgiving of shibori patterns. Just meander over the cloth, pleating in zig-zags, bind and then dye each section a different color. Always turns out beautiful, especially on women's shirts.

Now a selection of omasu (large square) motifs:

Omasu often reminds me of stained-glass windows.

The pleating and color bleeding in these three tea towels reminds me of rays of light scattered by the colored glass in a cathedral.

Concentric ne-maki (thread-bound ring) motifs doing another imitation of a cathedral window:

Dyeing for Christmas

Three samples of itajime (board-clamped) shibori:

With itajime, I prepare the cloth as meticulously as I can, dye very carefully, and hold my breath when it comes time to unwrap.

These three all came out very nicely, without missing motifs or excessive bleed-through.

Like many traditional Japanese dyeing techniques, itajime leaves a lot of white space. In this case, however, I'm happy to let it be instead of resorting to additional dye baths.

Next, the ultra-simple te-sup (thread-bound stripe) motifs:

Dyeing All Day

For the past 10 years, I've been dabbling in the Japanese art of shibori, a traditional shaped resist dyeing.

Traditional shibori artists tied bolts of cotton or silk into complex patterns and then vat-dyed them to produce beautiful fabrics for kimonos. Each bolt of cloth might be tied into one pattern, dyed, untied, and then tied into a different pattern and dyed in a different color. This process might be repeated as many as 30 times, after which time the cloth was ready to be sewn into a kimono and embroidered. The production of a special kimono often took decades of work.

I use traditional shibori techniques (and a few modern tie-dye techniques that do not appear to have been derived from shibori dyeing) with modern materials and dyes. I use rubber bands instead of silk thread (usually) and squirt the dyes on instead of immersing the fabric in vats. I dye finished items instead of raw bolts of cloth.

This year, tea towels for Christmas presents.

I've been tying this batch of towels for about the past 2 years. Yesterday was dye day.

The first one here is as close to traditional as I get: kumo (spiderweb) and ne-maki (thread-resisted ring) motifs on simple cloth dyed in a color rather close to indigo:

The second is a large kumo (spiderweb) motif dyed in a single color. The turquoise is the bleeding from the aquamarine dye.

The next three all all arashi (wind-driven rain) designs. The cloth is wrapped around a pole, forced into pleats and then dyed. In traditional shibori, each cloth would be vat-dyed in one color. I used three for each cloth.

The large white areas in this first piece cry for a second dye bath, don't they? Traditional shibori techniques often left much of the cloth undyed, the better to dye the cloth again with different motifs later on.

This piece also has white areas that might welcome embellishment over over-dyeing with a pale color.

Whereas this last one is good to go.


Merlin, cutting the dough for lussekaat

One of the truly lovely things about having older children is the way they run with family traditions.

Garry took the boys up to the farm up the road to cut our Christmas tree while I was at a conference. They did save the job of stringing the lights on the tree for me, but the boys did all the decorating.

We got together with homeschooling friends to make tree ornaments (another family tradition).  Malcolm also made snickerdoodles, a holiday tradition in this family. One of the children used to love to chant "snickerdoodle dough" and so it always makes us laugh when someone says "snickerdoodle dough."

On December 11, Malcolm and I mixed the dough for lussekaat (Santa Lucia day saffron buns). During the process, we had a long talk about yeast biochemistry, the importance of gluten, and how kneading and rising develop the stretchy gluten structure that makes wheat bread so wonderful.

As we were pouring the yeast into the warm oat milk, honey, and saffron mixture (heaven, in other words), I talked about how you can tell whether your yeast is still alive by seeing how much it bubbles up when you activate it. I asked Malcolm what gas he thought was in the bubbles.

"I don't know," he said at first.

"Well, yeast breaks apart carbohydrates to get energy."

"Oh. So the gas must be carbon dioxide then."

This led to a discussion about how the little air pockets in bread are from the carbon dioxide given off by the yeast, and how quick breads use a chemical process (which he knows well) to do the same thing that we're using a biological process to accomplish in yeast breads.

As we kneaded, I showed him how to gently pull the dough into paper-thin sheets to test to see whether the gluten was fully developed.

Malcolm has the science background now to visualize what's happening in the kitchen. This is fun and exciting for both of us; it gives us another way to connect over the creation of food.

He, Matisse, and Merlin rolled the bits of dough into kuse and lussekaat shapes.

I have really been enjoying the children and feeling blessed to be their mother.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Reusable Trumps Recyclable

About 25 years ago, I got hip to the idea that single-use items are extravagantly wasteful. We switched to cloth grocery bags, cloth napkins, cloth handkerchiefs, and washable clean-up rags around that time. We also bought our milk in returnable bottles and tried to limit purchases of items with excessive packaging.

When the babies came, we used cloth diapers, even on international trips. We went through not quite one box of single-use diapers in the course of raising four children.

Recently, I've been looking to see if we can do just a little more. I've brought my own commuter mugs for purchased drinks for years, but decided that I can go the extra mile and bring my own to-go containers, too. I've carried my own cloth handkerchiefs and have just decided that each child can carry a cloth napkin in her backpack.

I've been replacing our old tupperware with glass and metal storage containers at home, and decided to move several old tupperware containers to the car to act as to-go containers.

The new to-go containers debuted at the local natural foods supermarket, where one was used to hold a deli sandwich. Several of the employees were enthusiastic about this, and I expected my family to be similarly happy.

I showed my husband the container I used for the sandwich, and explained the strategy to him. 

“No more wasteful paper sandwich wrappers,” I exulted.

“The paper is recyclable,” he noted.

About an hour later, I thought, “But reusable trumps recyclable!”

Sticker Shock

or How Much Is that Bimbo in the Mirror?

Something has happened to me over the past few months, just as I've been closing in on 70 pounds down, normal weight, and looking and feeling really good.

A couple of months ago, I had to go shopping for new pants. None of my pants fit any more, not even my 15-year-old “skinny” pants. So I went shopping, thinking that I would be delighted to get back into a nice pair of 14s.

The 14s were clearly too big, so I picked up a pair of 12s. The 12s were just a bit loose. Somehow, however, I couldn't bring myself to try a size 10. My daughters wear size 10, and it would be too much of a shock for my brain to go there.

I bought some size 12s, and they'll certainly do me over the winter, even if they are pretty darned loose around the waist.

I came home and saw my daughter's blue corduroys in the wash. I picked them up and put them on, and they actually fit. A bit tight just out of the wash, perhaps, but overall a good fit.

Then I put on some rocking tunes, my new jeans, and danced around the dining room. I reveled in my reflection in the sliding glass door, dancing. Could that really be me, there, that leggy curvaceous person with the impish grin on her face?

Another double-take. I catch glimpses of my own body — my figure striding by a shop window, my leg draped over my husband's chest, my naked shoulder out of the corner of my eye — and I think “Who is that? It can't be me!”

A while ago, someone casually mentioned that it's hard to know what your rear end looks like. That got me curious about the view of my current backside. After my next shower, I twisted around so I could see my butt in the mirror.

“Aughh! It looks like a come-on for a porn site!”

I made a face at the bimbo in the mirror and stalked off to get dressed.

Meanwhile, I've been essentially plateauing for the past few months. The moving averages show me losing about a pound, a pound and a half a month, way below the 3-pound-per-month pace that has been my average during the past 2 years.

162 gets me to 70 pounds down, and I think there's something about that number that just makes my brain go "Whoa! I can't deal with that! Hold up and let me catch my breath, will you?"

So I've been doing that, trying to stay with my program and not stressing too much about the current plateau. In this long journey, my mind and my body probably deserve the occasional rest period, time to re-group, catch up on any nutrition I've missed doing the slow starvation of getting weight off, and getting used to my new size.

I kept touching down at 163.8 and then bouncing back up again. I decided maybe I needed to visualize some numbers below 162, to re-set my brain so it doesn't wig out so much. I imagined 158, 154, 151, 148, 145, 142, 138. (Anything below 142 is probably too light for my frame. I've been 138 as an adult, but wasn't healthy at that weight.)

This week, I broke through the barrier and have stayed there.  Still, I need to reckon with the bimbo in the mirror, to adjust my image of myself to what registers on my eyeballs.

That bimbo in the mirror used to make trouble for me, back when I was a young woman engineer trying to be taken seriously. I can delight in her power and her lush sexuality, but she can also get in the way when I want to be seen for myself, and not my container.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Just follow the recipe...

We make a spice cake with a caramel fudge frosting. The frosting is called
Buttermilk Icing and is from an old old cookbook that forms the basic of many
of our recipes.

Matisse knows how to adapt most baked goods so I can eat them (replace
milk with oat milk, buttermilk with oat milk plus cider vinegar, butter
with Spectrum shortening or lard, eggs with 1/4 cup applesauce, etc.)
as well as substituting raw sugar for white sugar, whole wheat flour for
white flour, etc.

So she wanted to make this cake and asked what she needed to do to
adapt the frosting recipe.

"Oh, no big deal," I assured her, "Just follow the recipe."

"Okay," she said, "the recipe calls for buttermilk, white sugar, butter,
corn syrup, and baking soda. How exactly do you want me to follow it?"

"Replace the buttermilk with oat milk and vinegar, the white sugar with
raw sugar, and the butter with coconut oil."

"What about the corn syrup?"

"You can omit that."

"So basically, the only thing I keep from the original recipe is the baking soda?"

"Yeah, and you cook it to soft ball stage and then beat just like the recipe says."

I guess I'd gotten so used to making substitutions on the fly that I didn't notice
I was replacing almost every single ingredient.

I found a recipe for a (no-bake) egg-free, dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free
pumpkin pie (thickened with gelatin and with coconut milk to stand in
for the dairy) and I'm trying to write my own recipe for an egg-free,
dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free chocolate cream pie.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

All hail Discordia

I was stretching out my back when my younger daughter started chatting with me.

"I'm trying not to get on Puzzle Pirates," she said.

We chatted then about pirating, and I suggested we might go look up a trivia point on the wiki called the yppedia.

"I know you, Kat," she said archly.

"Hmm?" I said, curving my back in a cat stretch.

"You're the sort of person who responds to her screen name in real life. I don't think I would respond if someone called me Ace."

"I knew someone named Ace in real life once," I asserted, "Her best friend was Suzy. Ace and Suzy. I always thought that sounded a little strange."

I waggled my rear a bit to loosen up the back.

"Not as strange as Authority and Tamar, however."

"Once your father and I saw a movie called My Dinner with Andre. It was a movie about a long philosophical discussion in a restaurant. After the movie, we went to coffee house and got into a long philosophical discussion."

I have sometimes wondered how many people had a recursive My Dinner with Andre experience like that -- recapitulating the movie in a restaurant. My Dinner with Andre was my second most recursive movie experience. The first was getting lost in the warehouse section of Honolulu right after seeing The Terminator.

"As we were sitting there deep in discussion, a man walked into the coffee house, said 'Have you seen my friend Conflict?' and walked out again."

My daughter laughed, and I was caught in that moment again. All conversation stopped, and the coffeehouse sat frozen in time for a moment as we considered the meaning of that question.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

This Life a Celebration

This life a celebration
Of the joy that we've come to know
My love for you, dear ones,
Is overflowing.

On Saturday, we threw a party to celebrate my daughters' 16th and 20th birthdays. For the first time, my only responsibility was to help get the house and food ready for the party. The girls handled the guest list and the scheduling, leaving me free to do other things.

We cleaned house in a leisurely fashion over a few days before the party, and I did the food preparation in a similar relaxed way. By the time the first guests arrived, we were ready for them and able to focus on enjoying our guests instead of madly getting things together.

Contrasting the preparations for this party to the preparations for a young child's birthday party gave me a new appreciation for having adult daughters. It's lovely to see children grow into themselves, and even lovelier to work alongside your children as partners in an endeavor. It's lovely to be able to hand responsibility to them and have them run with it and do a wonderful job with it.

Old friends were celebrating with us. They've watched the girls grow from young children to adulthood. We shared lots of joy and laughter over the course of the party. I laughed so hard that tears streamed down my face and I gasped for air.

This has been a week of celebrations. Morganne and I went to vote together on Tuesday. As we were leaving the polling place, we heard that Obama had won Ohio. We went to a Meeting for Worship at the Meetinghouse after we voted, and the worship tasted like champagne. On the way home, I realized that I had an odd sensation in my chest.

For the first time in 8 years and more, I was proud to be an American.

This evening, I rolled out the biscuit dough and called Merlin to come cut the biscuits. After he'd cut them, I came in to roll out the dough again. He shooed me away.

"Thank you very much, but I think I can do this without your help."

Ah. I have two more children who are on their way to becoming competent, interesting adults.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Blogging the Cunnilingus Deficit

Really, what more is there to say?

Okay, perhaps an explanation is in order.

My daughters and I were chatting about rock music lyrics, and how rare references to oral sex are, and how the vast majority of those are about oral sex on men.

This led me to observe that there's clearly a cunnilingus deficit in rock music, and that this probably reflects a cunnilingus deficit in our society at large.

One thing leads to another when you're up late on a Saturday night, and so Cunnilingus Deficit is clearly the right name for an up-and-coming new band.

We're looking forward to making up the Cunnilingus Deficit, and having Cunnilingus Deficit open for our other rock band, Tropical Afterglow.

This is probably the time to talk about three memes of my young adulthood, the LUST movement, the I Have Genitals marketing program, and Vegetarians for Oral Sex.

LUST members wore a button with the LUST logo on them. LUST stood for Lover Under Strenuous Training, and LUST members took their charge seriously.

The I Have Genitals movement was based on the realization that everyone does, indeed, have genitals and that no one talks about it. For this reason, we designed I Have Genitals t-shirts and red crotch patches to advertise our possession of genitals.

Vegetarians for Oral Sex, naturally, promoted the consumption of The Only Meat that's Fit to Eat. If VOS had been successful in its ends, there would not now be a cunnilingus deficit in our society.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Annie Annie Annie Reevah Reevah

Morganne's old friend Sam is heading back to Reed College this week, and he wanted to get together with her before he left.

We went for a walk in Henry Cowell Redwoods state park and ended up down by the San Lorenzo River for the afternoon.

Morganne and Sam have been friends since they were 6 years old. They grew up together, tag-teaming each other on height until Sam finally pulled ahead for good.

They had a good visit, talking about everything and nothing, and strategizing about crossing the river and building rock bridges.

Sam's mom Tane' and Malcolm and Merlin joined us. Matisse had a date with her writing tutor, and Sam's brother Arthur opted to sleep  in instead.

Watching Sam and Morganne together, I had freeze-frame moments of all the good times they've had together: playing, discussing books, building with lego, acting in and directing plays.

The boys meanwhile added their Homeschooling: the Half-Generation touches. They looked for giant flying waffle-footed tigers, dragons, and gryphons. They performed Spot and Listen checks, and hunted for treasure in the river. Malcolm failed a lot of Move Silently checks in the river.

Indian summer is here. I think we'll visit the river in a different spot today.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Unvarnished Truths

In June, I was packing to help my mom out while my dad was in the hospital. The situation was grave, and we were warned that we might not see him lucid again if we didn't move really, really fast.

How do you pack for a parent's death bed? Can you fold the tears in with your underwear, tuck some hope in your favorite socks? Can one small suitcase fit all the love and sorrow you need to bring along? What sort of toiletries can make you look normal at a time like this?

In the spring, the children and I watched the BBC's Blue Planet. In one segment, orcas were hunting baby seals. When the orcas had caught one, they'd take it out in deeper water and toss it back and forth. The still-living baby seal would be tossed high in the air, and then batted back to the first orca by another whale. The orcas would continue their play for half an hour or so, until the baby seal was good and dead.

Cancer reminds me a lot of those orcas. It plays with its prey, tossing them up and down, letting them think they might escape, battering them more and more until the end.

My dad is still alive.

One thing I've learned from cancer is that you have to keep living every second you've got. We've had wonderful family moments long after we expected my dad to be gone. Times where he's seemed to have lost his lucidity for good are followed by days of clear sunny weather.

So we go on. One step in front of another. One moment of being tossed in the air, one moment of being deep underwater. Laughter made more precious because of the contrast with the suffering.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cybersex in the Cretaceous

In my early days online, the online world was a very different place. People called it simply "the Net," and it was peopled by techies, academics, and military geeks. The core technologies of the Internet (DNS, html, ftp, even tcp) had not yet been invented. Network connections were too slow and disks too small to store much in the way of graphics, so the Net was a sea of text. Email had to be hand-routed and was liable to be lost if any machine or connection in the specified route was offline.

We early inhabitants of cyberspace found it wondrous. We could communicate mind to mind, without bodies getting in the way, with people who shared our interests around the world. We could argue about ideas with people we'd never meet, encountering view points that simply didn't exist in our own meat space. 

The level of discourse was high, although we didn't always recognize it at the time. Even the wackiest posters expressed themselves in clear, logical, grammatical, and correctly spelled prose. Commerce had not yet arrived online, and there was a sense of a freewheeling crunchhead frontier, free of many of the influences of mainstream society.

We prized freedom, particularly the free exchange of ideas, highly. We would arrive at the truth, and it would make us free. The Net could transform society by giving us the kind of public forum that had never existed on Earth.

The Net wasn't a perfect world. The military and academic uses of the Net conflicted from the start. In addition, every September, a new crop of freshmen would arrive on the Net. Discourse would fall for a few months with this influx of newbies, but the newbies could be trained, and the Net remained a playground for crunchheads.

Until, that is, the year September never ended. When AOL started bringing newbies online in droves, the quality of discourse fell and the face of the Net changed. AOL created its own playpen, with users isolated behind an interface that controlled their access to the net.  These users met with one another in AOL chat rooms, and developed their own, distinctly non-crunchhead culture.

The Net was never free of class distinctions, with the Military, Academia, and Techies forming clear castes. With the influx of the Great Unwashed Masses of AOL, however, the Net acquired an underclass. Suddenly, there were people online who had not gone through the university, technical, or military gate-keeping process. Anyone could come online, and some of them couldn't spell or punctuate their way out of a paper bag.

It was precisely these Great Unwashed Masses who invented cybersex.

Very quickly, the old Net guard pulled away from these AOL upstarts. We rejected their cute acronyms (to this day, I do not use "lol," which smacks of the chat rooms of AOL). We continued to focus on the transmission of ideas, and to cling to the view of ourselves as disembodied electronic minds.

So, naturally, my sort of people didn't do cybersex. We might, for sure, have online romances and share sexual fantasies, but we did it in our Old Guard style: abstract, cogent, lengthy, considered, academic.

This has left with an odd sort of innocence as the Net moved forward to become the Internet. Cybersex can have nothing to do with me. It can, in fact, go on right under my nose without arousing my notice. Since my sort of people don't do it, whatever it is that my sort of people are doing can't be cybersex. It must be something else.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Between the Sexes: the Middle Years

I've now had at least half a dozen people tell me that I don't look old enough to be the mother of a 12-year-old. It took a while to get over the shock of people of people denying that I am old enough to be the mother of my third child, who was born when I was in my mid-thirties. After it's happened a few times, however, it starts to look like a pattern.

A few days ago, it occurred to me: most of the people who say this to me are men. They didn't say it to me when I was carrying all that extra poundage, either, but they certainly do now. Perhaps they have an ulterior motive. Perhaps "you don't look old enough to have an X-year-old" is the middle-aged equivalent of a pick-up line.


When I last drove home from San Francisco, I had to stop for gas because I was running on fumes. I was wearing a dark green skirt and a tie-dyed t-shirt in shades of blue and green. When I walked around my car after finishing the job, I noticed a man staring at my chest. I gave him a sharp look, and he met my eyes easily.

"I was admiring your t-shirt," he said, "Tie-dyed, isn't it?"

Oh, nice recovery, I didn't say. I just smiled and said "Thank you. Yes, tie-dyed."

All the way home, I wondered whether men are really developing manners as they age. I've always admired the courtly manners of older gentlemen, and thought that their manners were the results of their mamas raising them right. Perhaps, however, men learn courtly manners all their own, simply by their interactions with women.

This could bode well for the future.

There's a particularly fun number at Jazzercise (Shut Up and Drive by Rihanna). The other day, the instructor remarked that the song was not about driving. The woman next to me rolled her eyes and said, "People think every song is about something else."

"Yes," I replied, "you'd think that all that women think about is sex."

In my case, that thought might not be far off the mark.

While bagging groceries, the checkout clerk and I were chatting about learning to care for thick, curly hair. A man with one item (men usually have much shorter shopping lists than women) breezed through to buy his item and said, "I'll leave you ladies to moan about the woes of hair care."

I felt slightly steamed walking out to the parking lot, where I got a good look at this guy. Bad haircut, bad beard trim, beer belly, big butt. 

"You could use some beauty advice yourself, hon," I didn't say.

Then I noticed his truck, a big black number with double rear tires that was altogether too clean to be a working truck.

"That truck's too big for you," I also didn't say.

As I followed him out of the parking lot, I didn't say, "And it needs a tune-up!"

I drove home with the satisfaction of a well-undelivered series of snarks.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Short Time to Be There

Last Saturday, June 14th, I dropped Morganne at the airport for her trip to Argentina. I continued on to San Francisco to support my mom during my dad's hospitalization.

My dad was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme (the most aggressive kind of brain cancer) 20 months ago. Since then, he and my mom have done an amazing job of continuing to live their lives amidst medical treatments and a dour prognosis.

The prognosis is still dour, but my dad has lived (so far) 8 months longer than expected, even with treatment.

When I got to the hospital, things looked pretty bad. He was in the ICU, struggling to become conscious, and pretty much completely out of it. The right side of his body was paralyzed, and the doctors told me to call my sister and brothers and tell them to hurry if they wanted to see him alive, and conscious, again.

I was doubtful of the "conscious" part of that, myself, but my dad has rallied so many times that my mother and his doctors thought it was possible he might rally again.

Supporting my mother is always a challenge. Just about the time I'm saying, "Don't you want to sit down and rest for a while and read a book or something?" she's thinking that a dinner party would be just the thing. Right after visiting the hospital the first night, I drove her to a dinner party where most everyone spoke French.

The hosts have known me since I was a teenager, and it was pleasant to chat in French with the foreign guests, but the whole thing was a little surreal. My dad is sitting in the hospital, barely there. My daughter is on a plane bound for Buenos Aires. My mom and I are at a Thanksgiving celebration (really!) in June practicing our French.

I did get the (now familiar) thrill of watching someone faint when he learned I have a 19-year-old daughter.

The surreality continued. We spend about half our days at the hospital, watching my dad struggle. We spend the other half of the day socializing. My mom's giving me fashion advice, loaning me jewelry, and encouraging me to take special care with my appearance. I've never loved my family role as show daughter, but I submitted to it more willingly than usual.

I was also my mom's designated driver. As I wove my way uncertainly through the city, my mom encouraged me to drive more aggressively. "Go go go!" she'd exhort, "you've got to speed up or we'll be stuck at that light for 10 minutes. Hit your horn to tell that guy to get out of your way." Her language was a lot more colorful , though, and her road rage a lot more emphatic.

Okay, I thought, she's incredibly stressed right now, and she always drives like a bat out of hell anyway. And despite driving like a bat out of hell, she has an excellent driving record.

So we're very different, my mom and me. I like silence, solitude, serenity, and a slow pace. She's an extreme extravert and an adrenaline junkie.

I had my brief for this week: to support her the way she needs to be supported. Not the way I would need to be supported, but the way she needs to be supported. This required constant adjustment on my part, because my first impulse was almost always dead wrong.

So I went to brunches and dinner parties and ran errands that (in my opinion) didn't need to be run. I cooked and drove and tried to maintain my serenity. I met with an endless bevy of family friends, cousins, aunts, uncles, and, of course, my grandmother.

One night when we were driving home from a dinner party at a Thai restaurant, I told my mom, "I like all these people. I just find them overwhelming in such large, loud bunches."

The large, loud bunches energize her. I don't understand how this works. I don't need to understand how this works. I just need to accept that it does.

Meanwhile, the hospital visits continued to be agonizing. My dad was in a constant struggle for consciousness, almost getting there and then slipping below the waves again. He was in restraints, because he kept pulling his tubes out. He had frequent seizures and involuntary muscle movement on his right side because of misfiring neurons.

Also meanwhile, Morganne got to Argentina and started posting frequent updates to her trip blog. If I hadn't been so absorbed by my parents, I would have been a basket case with her going so far away. As it was, my basket-case-ness came from quite a different source.

And also also meanwhile, Garry celebrated his birthday with the three younger children. Morganne was in Buenos Aires and I was in San Francisco.

When my mother wasn't busy in other ways, she was on her cell phone. On Tuesday morning, I decided to confiscate it for the afternoon. I told her she could have it if she really wanted it, but that I'd make all her phone calls for her and answer it so she could have a break. By that time, even she was totally frazzled, so she agreed.

My sister arrived late Tuesday night, which was a relief.

On Wednesday, my dad was a little more aware. His seizures were under control, and he could focus his eyes for periods of
up to a minute or so. My sister and I spent the afternoon together at the hospital while my mom went to work (she's a therapist, and she still works Wednesdays and Fridays). We each gave the other one an hour or so alone with our dad.

During my hour, I just sat with him like you'd sit with a baby. I'd been wanting to do that, but my mother and other visitors
kept up a steady stream of chat. I sat, made eye contact when he'd let me, cried some, prayed lots, and spoke when he spoke.

He didn't speak much, and only in fragments. "Unnatural," he said, and I had to agree that the whole hospital thing was
unnatural. "Facts don't matter," he told me emphatically, probably because his doctor and my mom are constantly asking
him about irrelevant details like what year it is. (The year, in case you were wondering, is January.)

Science, he said at one point, isn't important. This was quite a shift from the person I've always known.

Finally, after an extended period of eye contact, he said "I don't like to be rushed."

So he's not going to be. He's taking his time about dying, and he's welcome to it.

My dad's always been pragmatic and a problem-solver. He was a programmer. When I was 13 or 14 and struggling with some word problems, he told me that he solved word problems for a living. He then sat me down and showed me exactly how you go about solving any word problem you run across. He was methodical and precise.

He never wasted energy wishing things are different than they are. When some crisis appeared, my mom would get all het up, go into what-ifs and it's-not-fairs and rail against the situation they found themselves in. He had no time for any of that.

"Here's the situation," he'd say, laying out the bare facts, "and here's what we need to do about it."

He's still doing that, I realized, watching him struggle with the smoking wreckage of his brain. He's still figuring out what he has to work with, what his givens are, laying aside the hypotheticals, and trying to solve the problem he's been given.

Maybe that's why he's lived so long, and how he's managed to regain function that the doctors believed he'd lost. All along, he's problem-solved around his limitations, and I could still see him doing it. He might lack memory and motor control and even the ability to stay conscious, but he'll continue to use what he has as long as he can.

No matter how out of it he was, he'd struggle to kiss us good-bye and tell us he loved us. Even if all he could do was move his lip a little and grunt, he did it.

I left San Francisco on Thursday.

Saturday was Merlin's (Remus John's) 9th birthday. We have a new rat in the family, the Rat of Khan. We celebrated at the pool with lots of friends, watermelon, and ice cream. It was lovely and hot, and the day in the sun was refreshing.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Basking in the Tropical Afterglow

My reputation as a selector of movies has been ruined forever.

Last night, we watched (and loved) Stardust, to the point where we consider it a serious contender to replace the Princess Bride in our affections. We especially liked Michelle Pfeiffer's evilness
and Robert DeNiro's buffoonery. It seems to fall down a bit in quotability, but we love love loved it.

Tonight, however, we watched the worst film we have ever seen. It's called Over California, and I expected it to be a natural history filmed from above. Instead, it was a collection of not-half bad aerial shots of (mostly) coastal cities accompanied by some nice music and the worst, most syrupy, adjective-laden narration it has ever been our misfortune to hear. We had hoped for interesting facts and amazing footage a la Planet Earth, but this film was amazingly short on facts for a documentary.

We seriously considered turning it off, but then there would be a bit of narration so bad that we were gasping with laughter. So, despite the fact that we hate hate hated it, we kept watching in the hopes that it would top itself.

Finally, the narration soared to meet our dearest dread. As the sun was setting over LA (the film had a penchant for sunset shots over cities, during which the narrator would bid them a fond farewell generously larded with complimentary adjectives), the narrator waxed lyrical about how LA was bathing in its tropical afterglow.

Tropical afterglow? Tropical afterglow? TROPICAL AFTERGLOW?

We have decided that we must immediately market something as Tropical Afterglow. But what should it be? A bath oil or cocktail seemed most appropriate, or perhaps a sunburn lotion or sexual aid.

Given the number of musicians in the family, however, we have settled on a rock band. Right now, Tropical Afterglow seems to consist mostly of drums and kazoos.

We have not laughed so hard in many moons as we did this evening. Don't get this film, don't watch it, and, whatever you do, don't steal the Tropical Afterglow brand idea from us.

A collaborative haiku on the subject:

haiku has no place
for tropical afterglow --
poison oak on fire

Monday, April 21, 2008

My Flip Side

On retreat this weekend, there was a Dark Side/Light Side art activity. Despite (because of?) the fact that I don't pretend to be an artist, I've found spiritually-connected art activities to be strangely powerful.

I was delighted when I found oil pastels on the table. I've played with oil pastels a few times before. I immediately decided to leave the safe harbor of magazine image collages and draw my light and dark sides.

Without letting the fact that I can't draw inhibit me.

I played it safe at first, drawing a sailboat to symbolize joy and freedom. I then added a few pirate stick figures to represent friendship.

Any Puzzle Pirate friends looking on might recognize me and Scaggles in the drawing.

I reached into Puzzle Pirates for the dark side, too. First, I'll give you the image, and then I'll tell you what it was supposed to be.

When I showed this to my Friends at the retreat, they all burst out laughing. If I looked at it for a few seconds, it would reduce me to hopeless giggles. It is so obviously not what it was supposed to be, and yet, at the same time, perfect.

It's supposed to be a fierce and angry Kat, with claws out ready for the melee.

Friday, April 18, 2008

My Body, My Self

After Meeting last week, I was eating lunch with a group of women Friends. One of the older gentlemen came towards me slowly, and carefully squatted next to my chair. This took some time and some doing, because he walks with a cane.

"Friend Heather," he began slowly in his unhurried, deliberate voice, "you are living proof of the proposition that less is more."

He met my eyes, smiling at me as I worked out what he was saying. When I smiled back, he said, "You look great."

We shared a smile for a moment, and then I thanked him. He slowly rose to his feet and walked away, leaving me to appreciate the joy of spending time with Quakers.

It was a few hours before I started wondering whether his wife had put him up to it.

It was a few days before I realized that I find old and young men more attractive these days than men my own age. A man at the next checkout counter at the grocery store smiled at me, and I was repelled. He had a pot belly and a bad hair cut, but what really got to me was the tired look in his eyes. Weighed down by his responsibilities, maybe. Whatever it was, it wasn't the least bit sexy.

I'm feeling young and sexy myself these days, having reclaimed my body from the years of childbearing and breastfeeding and painful disability. My hips move freely and there's a spring in my step, and I'm very much enjoying the way I look and feel.

I'm finding my path through middle-aged sexuality to be a place of exotic surprises, a far richer and lusher paradise than I thought it would be. I flirt with very old and very young men and don't take it too seriously. I feel freer than I did when I was younger, more sure of myself. I enjoy myself more. It's not at all what I expected to find when I got here, and I'm savoring it.

Fortunately, my husband is not one of the middle-aged men who has let himself go. He's still got his boyish figure and his hair. When he recently got back from a trip, I took one look at him and thought, "Damn, he's a good-looking man."

There's a lot to be said for old married sex, too.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Poetry in Motion

Today's schoolwork by Remus John, age 8:

I am neither friend nor foe.
I use neither sword nor bow.
I will neither catch nor throw.
I will neither lead nor row.
I am neither fast nor slow.
I will neither come nor go.
I make neither joy nor woe.
I will neither see nor show.
I sing neither high nor low.
I say neither yes nor no.

Various members of the family were challenged to memorize this poem. It proved to be surprisingly difficult to do so. After about the third try, three members of the family launched into a recitation of Hamlet's soliloquy in protest. When they finished, Remus John announced that they had lost the memorization contest.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Undiscovered Country

Oh humility is endless and my preconceptions often blind me, but I never thought I'd end up here.

When Jazzercise first started, I thought it was strange, artificial, and peopled by former cheerleaders. I didn't like the music, the workouts seemed poorly designed, and the moves were funky. The regulars wore funny clothes. They used bunny weights. They hung out in multi-purpose rooms and public halls and church basements. They left their children in the care of strangers for an hour so they could get buff.

I took my exercise outdoors, often with a pack on my back. I took my exercise in a real gym, with weights and machines and macho muscular guys bragging about how much they could bench press.

I started water aerobics several years ago at the prompting of my next-door neighbor. She said it had been wonderfully rehabilitating for her hip. At the time, I was in near-constant pain from my own hip and back, and willing to try anything that might help.

Water aerobics did help the hip and back (although not as much as discovering my food allergies and changing my diet), so I kept it up. I also continued my weight-lifting. Due to my disability, hiking had become a rare treat, one that I paid for with several days of immobility.

Once I cleared my diet of allergens, my body began to heal. Within a few months, I could walk without pain, and even run for short distances. I bought myself a set of exercise videos, and started adding land-based aerobic workouts to my exercise mix. I also lost a lot of weight, and now feel better than I have in many years.

A friend from water aerobics has been encouraging me to try Jazzercise for a while now. She's a regular, and she says it's the best part of her day. One day, I agreed to try it.

I walked in the door, and it was everything I had imagined. The instructors were friendly, peppy, and definitely cheerleadery. The music, frequently country, insulted my intelligence and my esthetic sense. The funky routines made me feel silly and uncoordinated and switched fast enough to make me cautious about injury. The weight and abdominal parts of the routine did not meet my exacting standards.

I loved it. My waist and hips flowed free with the routines, and I left the class feeling sexy, even predatory.

Nor was I the only one. Jazzercise attracts 50-70 women every morning of the week (and two week nights), a pretty good feat in a one-horse town that rolls up its sidewalks at 10pm on summer weekends. The class attracts women of all shapes, sizes, and ages. In the light of the silly country music and funky moves, all of these women are beautiful, sexy, desirable.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Winter Sunshine

A single moment that has brightened what has otherwise been a pretty bleak winter:

Getting ready to go to the hospital one morning, I happened to notice my parents' valentines to one another on their entry hall table. I picked up the pink confectionary cards and read the short, loving notes on them. Placing them back carefully, I am reminded of how my parents' love and devotion for one another is a warm fire at the heart of my father's struggle with cancer. The naked heart of love is everywhere apparent in their lives.

Living in the Santa Cruz mountains, I often receive gifts of sudden beauty:

  • Rounding the bend in the road to see the mountain in the evening light.

  • Seeing the sun flash out behind a cloud to illuminate the white crown of a sycamore.

  • The trees opening to reveal a sky full of crystalline winter stars.

  • The scent of first violets in the bouquet presented to me by my son.

  • The redwoods' branches tossing merrily in the breeze.