Saturday, December 12, 2009

Final Journeys

In late October, while my father was dying, the maple leaves were falling.

A small yellow leaf fell on my windshield one night and got lodged in the wiper. It fluttered cheerily on the way to dance that morning and was still in my wiper when I got home.

I thought that was kind of amazing, and resolved to let it stay there until it was ready to leave.

The little leaf rode with me to San Francisco the next time I went to visit my father. As I drove away from the nursing home where he was, I was thinking of what to say to my mother, who was in New York, about how my dad was doing. His health was deteriorating rapidly, and I was wondering what I could say to her to prepare her for the difference in his condition over a period of a few weeks.

The leaf caught my eye as I drove, and I thought “Some things never are made right. He's not going to get better. He's just withering up and getting ready to drop off, like my faithful leaf there.”

We always think things are going to get better. It's difficult to face down the situations where they're not, where all you have to look forward to is a release from the pain and prison of the body.

The leaf fluttered determinedly in the wind, reminding me of my father's tenacity of spirit. All through his struggle with brain cancer, he never wasted time or energy on resisting was was. He accepted the situation and put all of his energy into making the most of it, like the methodical engineer he was.

The leaf stayed with me for about 6 weeks, getting thinner and browner and smaller as the days went on. My dad died, but the leaf hung in there, reminding me of him every time I drove my car.

This morning, I drove to dance in the rain, my leaf bearing me company. I stopped with the windshield wiper in the up position and decided to photograph the leaf from that angle.

I snapped the shot after dance, put the camera away, fastened my seat belt, and started the car.
The windshield wiper started where it had left off, and... leaf

...fluttered away.

“My leaf!” I cried, feeling bereft and abandoned and betrayed.

How could it leave me? After all we'd been through together?

Then I noticed that it had plastered itself to the far corner of the windshield.

I turned off the car, unbuckled my seatbelt, got the camera out again, and got out of the car.

I photographed the leaf in its new position:

I very carefully peeled the leaf away from the windshield. I gently opened it up flat, uncurling the edges that had folded over one another. I held it there in my hand for a moment, in the rain, then I got back in the car.

I spread it out over my pack and took another picture:

It's so delicate and translucent, so fragile.

I brought it home like a rare treasure, somehow completely different from any of the other many maple leaves from the same tree that litter our driveway. I folded it up carefully in a dish towel and set it to press under the bird encyclopedia.

My leaf.

I'm going to immortalize it, either between sheets of waxed paper or laminating plastic, and place it on the life altar at my dad's memorial gathering.

To others, it will just be a nondescript brown leaf, completely unremarkable.

To me, though, it speaks volumes about my father's final days, about his spirit, and the way he faced his death. It even speaks of the way he hung on for us, caught in our windshield wipers, ready to die but willing to be there a little longer for the ones he loved most. Knowing, maybe, that we'd need the windshield wipers to clear the rain from our eyes this El Nino winter.

Il pleure dans mon coeur comme il pleut sur la ville.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Traditions with Meaning

About 10 years ago, I was feeling very Grinch-like about Thanksgiving. I was very aware that year of the issues of hunger and overeating. I didn't relish the idea of spending a holiday knocking myself out in the kitchen and then eating myself into oblivion. What's more, my family didn't enjoy roast turkey or most of the other traditional Thanksgiving foods.

I told Garry I wanted to do something different: fast from dawn until dusk and then sit down to a simple meal that we'd be truly grateful for. My memory is a bit hazy on the details, but I think that Garry and I fasted together the first year. One by one, the children have joined the Thanksgiving fast (usually without telling me they were doing so until they were already well into it).

We gather about an hour before dusk to sit together and give thanks for all the wonderful things in our life. At first, we gathered for silent worship for that hour before dusk, but Malcolm wanted to change it to sharing gratitude. It was so sweet the first year that we've continued to do it that way.

So we find ourselves with a Thanksgiving tradition that is meaningful to us and in alignment with our values. I don't think that I could have designed one that fits us so well or feels so right.

Each member of the family chooses the amount of fasting that feels right. People have done 24-hour fasts or dawn-to-dusk fasts or midnight-to-dusk fasts. I danced this morning, so I'm only fasting from noon until dusk. It's all okay.

I'm grateful for this family tradition. I love the way my husband and children have made it their own. I love that we have our own cherished tradition to celebrate this holiday. I love the transformation of Thanksgiving from a collection of Shoulds into a time for contemplation, prayer, and thanksgiving.

That first step was a doozy. I wanted to fast? On Thanksgiving? Do I always have to be such a contrarian?

It felt right, though, and Garry was with me, so we stepped off the curb.

That is, I think, the price of being truly alive. We can Should ourselves in the Ought house or we can live, authentically, from our center.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Unseen University

I grew up in Berkeley, where the university was omnipresent. It wove in and out of the city, an integral part of the landscape, the social environment, and our lives. I rode around its edges on my daily bus trips to town, and walked through campus on my way to other places. It was part of our daily lives, our conversations, our awareness. It was always there, like the campanile, a constant presence.

When I entered the university as a student, it felt like going to the school across the street. My life didn't change in any appreciable way; my landscape didn't alter; I didn't enter a world that had been barred from me. I simply went to class in the bigger buildings on campus.

When I transferred to UCSC, however, the town/gown split was noticeable. I lived in Ben Lomond and then Santa Cruz. Any trip to UCSC was deliberate, a steep climb to our local City on a Hill. The town did not take the proprietary interest in campus that Berkeley did; the university was not casually called by the same name as the town; UCSC was called out separately, not “Santa Cruz” or “campus,” but always “UCSC,” that place up there, that-a-way, the redwood tower up the hill surrounded by the old Cowell cow pasture.

Going back to Berkeley, I go back to both town and gown, to the city of Berkeley and the university that calls itself both “Berkeley” and “California,” a place steeped in history and geography, a place where the boundaries all blur together, a place at once personal and commercial and intellectual.

My brother took a quiz on Berkeley slang and came out with the result “You live in Berkeley, don't you?” I took the same quiz and got the same results, even though it has been 30 years since I lived in Berkeley. It has, however, remained my hometown, and a strong sense of my identity. I am a Berkeley girl, and the local dialect has apparently not changed that much in those 30 years. I have asked other people, people who are Californians but not from Berkeley or Oakland, whether they know, for example, the meaning of the slang term “shorty,” but no one does.

The Santa Cruz mountains have been my home for most of the 30 years since I left Berkeley, and I have a strong connection with the San Lorenzo Valley, and with Santa Cruz, and also with its university. My degree is from UCSC, and my marriage was made there, and it also calls to my heart.

I don't get up to UCSC that often, though. Not every year, and then only for cultural events. The university seems closed to me in a way that Berkeley (my twin Berkeley!) never has. It has never been mine, nor I its, in the same way that Berkeley has been. My children have been to Berkeley's campus more often than they have been to UCSC even though they spend far more time in Santa Cruz than they do in Berkeley; every time we go to Berkeley, our path runs through the campus. In our daily lives, our paths almost never run to UCSC; it takes an effort and a purpose to get us to our local campus.

UCSC is hidden, tucked away, keeping its secrets shrouded in its redwood heart.

Malcolm and I went up there yesterday for the opening of an art exhibit. I had thrills of memory, winding up the long road to the art gallery. We viewed the exhibit, and chatted with various people we knew, and walked back slowly to our car.

I knew the university was all there, places that I knew, places I might visit with Malcolm, along the various paths that wind through the campus. All I could see were the redwoods and a few buildings, and the occasional banana slug.

Friday, October 9, 2009

I Am Not a Thermodynamic Black Box, part 76

Over the past 3 years, I lost 75 pounds by using the time-tested strategy of Counting Calories.

It's worked. Mostly. There are a number of other factors that seem to play into weight regulation, though, and it's been interesting learning about them. I seem to be sensitive to carbohydrates, for example, and I can only lose weight and feel good when my calorie intake is in a very narrow range.

Over the summer, my weight loss reversed. To be more accurate, my weight jumped up 3 pounds four times after a weekend where I ate a bit more than normal (but far less than the surplus 10,500 calories that would supposedly be necessary to accomplish this weight gain). To compensate for this gain, I cut my daily calorie intake down to 1400. I was able to re-lose some ground that way, but not much.

By the end of the summer, I was gaining weight if I consumed 1800 calories in a day. Theoretically, a person of my weight and activity level needs 2100-2200 calories a day to maintain her weight. I should not be gaining weight on 1800 calories a day, and I should not be holding steady at 1400.

But I was.

I mentioned this to a friend who is a nutritionist, and she told me I was in starvation mode, that I should up my calories to 2000 a day for a week to break this cycle. I immediately raised my calories to about 1600 for a couple of days, then decided to listen to my body and let it decide how much to eat for the next few weeks.

I dropped a pound over the next week.

Those sudden 3-pound gains still puzzled me. In each case, they happened after I ate one or more restaurant meals over a period of 1-3 days. They happened even though I was conscious of my calorie consumption in each case. In the last case, I had a 3-pound gain from a single slice of chocolate cake consumed at a local restaurant, even though I compensated for the calories in the cake by cutting other meal portions.

In general, I eat a very regular diet. A piece of toast with tahini and apple butter for breakfast, then dance, then a helping of fresh fruit followed by a meal of chicken, turkey, or fish, vegetables, and a small helping of grains. My next meal is another helping of lean protein and vegetables with either a little fruit or a little grain. Afternoon snack might be fruit and nuts or another light mini-meal with protein and a vegetable. Supper is again a lean protein, vegetables, and perhaps another small helping of grains. I eat very little processed food, and very little sugar. I don't add much fat (mostly olive oil and coconut milk), but I don't worry about avoiding nuts or the skin on chicken or other natural sources of fat in my diet.

Last night, I watched this Sugar: The Bitter Truth video put out by Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology.

Okay, I get it. I'm still not a thermodynamic black box, but a finely balanced biochemical instrument where what and how I eat matters as much as how much. And maybe it's not how much simple carbohydrate I eat that matters so much as which carbohydrates.

Maybe, maybe more than maybe, I have a body with a very low tolerance for fructose. Maybe when I eat sugar, my body converts all of it to fat, no matter how high a calorie deficit I'm running.

So, another couple weeks of calorie freewheeling (but no processed sugar) to convince my metabolism that there's food available, and then a return to the sensible 1600 calorie per day allowance that has worked so well for me in the past. And a look at my family's diet to see if we can reduce their consumption of processed sugar as well as mine.

And, today, I'm making chicken soup stock for two soups and pot pie, an apple pie with pippin apples, and london broil and potatoes and broccoli and delicious dry farm tomatoes with pesto for supper tonight.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Fingernail File -- Day 1

Welcome to the first edition of the Fingernail File.

Many years ago, I was chatting with the wife of a cow-orker. She noticed that my fingernails were uneven lengths and commented on it. (Nice, eh?)

I told her that I like long natural fingernails, and that I was trying to grow them.

She told me that she did, too, but, as soon as she broke a nail, she tore all of the other nails off so they'd all match.

Shortly thereafter, I started doing the same thing. When a nail broke, I'd trim all the others on that hand to the same length.

I noticed a couple of weeks ago that my fingernails are getting close to their maximum length on both hands.

I wondered how long it takes to grow them this long.

I decided to photograph them near nail-maximum, and note when I break a nail and have to cut the rest.

So, today, near nail-maximum:

Ready for hand modeling!

The nail on the left index finger is one of the longer ones, but it has curved like a claw, so it looks shorter than it is. It's actually longer than the one on the right index finger.

The pinkies and ring fingers always get longer than the others, though.

Weekly-ish shots until the first breakage....

Friday, September 18, 2009

coining words

I hereby claim the word schnoof as mine. I'm not sure I actually coined it myself, but I've been using it for years.

I originally used it to mean a surprise fit of laughter that made tea come out my nose. Later, when I started using nasal sprays to combat sinus headaches, I used the word schnoof for the act of squirting liquid up the nose.

So, schnoof: liquid going through the nose, either accidentally or intentionally.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The True Purpose of Facebook

I sat up until late last night (okay, early this morning) with a good book (Jeffrey Lent's In the Fall), blissfully unaware that I had to get up at 6am this morning to take my eldest in to her differential equations class. After 4.5 hours of sleep, I was looking and feeling my best, naturally, with about 90% of my brain committed to operating a motorized vehicle without mishap.

My daughter, naturally, thought this would be a good time to go over what she needs to study for her first differential equations exam. My bleary brain was about three leaps behind her.

She described several concepts. I nodded in a way that I hoped looked less sleep-deprived than I felt. She then described another concept, and said, “I forget what that one is called; it means something like negligible and it starts with an S.”

“I'm no help!” I laughed, “The only two words I can remember that start with S are synecdoche and syncretism, neither of which will be much use in differential equations.”

We sang along to the music for another ten minutes while my brain climbed to a higher level of consciousness.

“Oh!” I said suddenly, “I've discovered the one true purpose of Facebook, the one thing that justifies its existence forever.”

“The ability to make your relationship status public?”

“No,” I laughed.

“The ability to humiliate people by unfriending them?”

“No, no.”

“The fact that adults don't know how to use email these days?”

“No..., well, YES, actually. People don't know how to use email, it's true, and think that it's too much trouble, but that's not enough to justify the existence of Facebook.”

I thought then how my daughter is often able to latch onto great truths that escape me because they're under my nose. I mused about how email and blogs are too much trouble, because they require people to actually write something that requires some time and thought, while Facebook and Twitter and IM are better suited to quick quips.

“The one thing?” she prompted.

“Oh yes, the one thing. The one thing that justifies the existence of Facebook forever is...”

She looked at me with amused eyebrows while I finished the drumroll.

“...haiku,” I finished triumphantly.

She looked thoroughly confused.

It's true, however. No sooner had I set a pixelated foot in Facebook than my old haiku friends, some of the few people who are serious about English-language haiku that tries to do in 10-14 English syllables what Japanese haiku do in 17 onji.

These people used to hang out on email lists, creating long beautiful chains of haiku and eyeing one another's word choices and use of season words critically. A few years back, they all vanished. They have all been lurking on Facebook, apparently, waiting for me to get with it.

I have missed them.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

last of the big spenders

Every time I hear the words “the wages of sin,” I think, “Darn! If I hadn't squandered my wages of sin, I'd be set!”

This morning I wondered what exactly it is that I squandered them on. So here goes:

I, Heather Madrone, have squandered my hard-earned wages of sin on:
  • fast computers.
  • fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • scruffy intellectuals.
  • books.
  • blond kids in glasses.
  • yarn.
  • the right tool for the job.

how I spent my summer vacation

Songs that have been singing my heart this summer:

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Dweam Within a Dweam

Number one son Alex got married to Priscilla on Saturday.

The bride

The family: Back row, left to right: Malcolm, Alex, Garry. Middle row: Matisse, Garry's sister Suzanne, Heather, my mother Dolores. Front row: Garry's mother Charlotte and Merlin.

Garry and Alex in last-minute consultation.



The radiant bride and groom.

left to right: Charlotte, Suzanne, Dolores, Heather, Garry

Trying to light the family candles the hard way.

Charlotte and Suzanne.


The family: Back row, left to right: Malcolm, Garry. Middle row: Matisse, Garry's sister Suzanne, Heather, my mother Dolores. Front row: Garry's mother Charlotte and Merlin.

The bride's brothers, Nate and Nick.


Monday, July 6, 2009

My Little Baby is a Firecracker

I danced with Jazzercise in Boulder Creek's 4th of July parade this year. This is something I wouldn't have been caught dead doing in my younger years, but my sense of humor has grown over time.

We started rehearsing a couple of weeks before the big day, putting together a medley of firecracker songs for the judges and a couple of hula-hoop routines for the approach to the judges.

The morning of the 4th, we gathered early to rehearse, put the final touches on our costumes, and enjoy a tailgate party outside the Rec Hall.

I'm the one with the red sash.

The 4th of July parade is one of Boulder Creek's three big civic events, put on by the Boulder Creek Business Association. Parade entries are entirely local civic groups, businesses, and random individuals who feel like decorating cars or bikes or walking down the main street in old timey costumes. You never know whether you'll end up behind toddlers on tricycles or chicks with chainsaws.

Middle of the front row, here.

Our theme was hayseed (to go with the line in one of the songs about being so hot that our breaks in the hayloft will set the barn on fire). complete with gold and silver cowboy hats and denim capris. The bunting "wings" were an especially hokey touch, and they fluttered delightfully when we danced.

And 16th in the chorus line, red sash again.

We took 2nd place this year, after taking 1st place two years running. Friends of the Library won first place for an entry with a really cool bookworm (worn Chinese dragon style by a group of kids) and the grim reality of severe library budget cuts.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Kernels of Haiku

from a few stained sheets of notebook paper, torn out messily, undated but written sometime early in 2007. Kernels of haiku from which the haiku never emerged.

The swish of her blue jeans and the creak of her shoes as she walks through the cubicles.

Malcolm's coughing early in the morning.

Logs ready to crumble in the wood stove.

Thoughts that flit like dragonflies and are gone.

Jerry's chemo hats — misshapen, warm, soft, and not often used because he didn't lose his hair from the radiation for his brain cancer.

Matisse's rage-driven writing.

The ache in my belly.

Leaves shining in the sun.

The compliments my gloves get everywhere.

Counting calories: cookies, salad, carrots, a clementine.

Unable to visit my folks because the boys have whooping cough.

The clarity of knitting stitch after stitch, trying it on as you go, getting the fit right. Winding yarn, a slow rhythm ever alert for tangles.

The leaves shining in the brilliance of the morning sun.

The calico cat Nell trotting across the yard to meet me.

Remus John's fierceness over his math.

Garry's unexpected tendernesses.

The scent of orange/tangerine being peeled.

Degeneration of handwriting long unused.

Poetry in motion.

The sounds of a copier: kerchunk kerchunk beep beep beep kerchunk kerchunk thump beep beep, shuffling paper.

Shapeless green corduroy knapsack/purse, appealing somehow.

Zipping my life into packages/compartments: laptop, papers, laptop power supply, water bottle, commuter tea mug, lunch stuff, keys, wallet, change, badge, knife, fork, napkin, tupperwares, chapstick, handkerchief, pens.

All the stuff to keep track of.

Years of carrying a diaper bag in one arm and the baby in the other.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Was that an earthquake?

The rains are back.

After a dry January, the rains started about 2 weeks ago. We got about 10 inches over Valentine's Day weekend, and it's been raining on and off ever since. The ground is like chocolate pudding, and everything is green and alive.

When we started getting ready for bed Sunday evening, our driveway looked more or less like this:

As we were winding down for the night, we heard a low rumble and the front of the house started shaking.

“Earthquake!” I thought as I scrambled for the nearest doorway.

“That tree's down!” reported the children from the sliding glass door.

It didn't look like a big tree when it was in the ground, maybe 70 feet tall and between 2 and 3 feet thick at the base. Some of the douglas firs across the street are 8 feet thick and substantially taller, and, of course, the redwoods get bigger than that.

Spread out across the driveway, however, it was big enough:

It took out two fences (but not the posts) and a couple of retaining walls, but managed to avoid doing any serious damage. Once Garry had cleared away a few of the branches, we were even able to get our cars out.

Sombrito thought the newly upturned soil smelled very interesting.

And Malcolm ventured off for a walk in the woods.

Bricks from the walk were sprayed all around, and one of the boards from the retaining wall was flung 15 feet from its original location.

Tree cutters stopped by to offer their services, and the neighbors came over to survey the damage and lend a hand.

We have a start on next winter's fuel supply anyway.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Venus and Mars in Opposition

15 February 2005

Yesterday was one of those lovely Hallmark holidays. On Sunday, the boys and I made fancy valentine cookies. Malcolm was the child most into making valentines this year, and we have lacy hearts scattered around the house. Remus John pretended to be Cupid John, shooting everyone with his little plastic coat hanger bow. He delivered valentines for people, and we made a great show of falling in love with one another whenever we were shot.

I decided to forgo the romantic candlelit dinner in favor of water aerobics. When it comes to atmosphere, water aerobics has it all -- soft lighting, intimate apparel, mood music, good company. Plus, you get a good workout.

I stopped by the grocery store to pick up a few odds and ends. I shop at this store twice a week, but I've never seen it like this before. The place was swarming with men, especially the card and flower displays. I was practically the only woman in the store.

I got my prosaic groceries (snap peas, string cheese, cereal, mushrooms, pepperoncinis, french bread, and laundry soap) surrounded by men carrying roses, chocolates, and bottles of wine.

Over the cheese display, I commented that I had never seen so many men at the grocery store.

"I didn't forget!" the bearded guy snapped, rolling his cart away.


I mentioned the gender balance to the checker.

"Hey," he said, "these guys are all regulars. It's safe to turn them loose with a grocery list."

He conceded, however, that it was extremely unusual to see so many men in the grocery store. He then treated me to a diatribe against Valentine's Day, how it was all about men doing things for women. Being long opposed to the guilt aspect of Hallmark holidays myself, I appreciated this, but I could not resist needling him.

"What's wrong? Did your honey forget Valentine's Day?"

"She dumped me a week ago."

I commiserated in a maternal sort of way, and he told me that he'd be all right. It was just making him a tad bitter.

A young woman took my groceries out to the car. On the way out, I commented on what a shame it was that the checker's girlfriend dumped him.

"He probably deserved it," she said darkly.

No wonder roses have thorns and Cupid shoots arrows. Valentine's Day is a major engagement in the war between the sexes.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Scenes from a Marriage

(23.5 years in, on a warm July night, cuddling in bed)

I had been thinking about broken hearts. I looked back over my life and realized that my heart had broken exactly once, in the summer of 1982, when Garry and I renounced one another for reasons that seemed good at the time. Pondering this, I wondered if it really counted, because we ended up getting married 2.5 years later. Could it really be a broken heart if it ended up in a happy marriage?

Me: Have you ever had a broken heart?

Garry: Only once.

Me: Tell me about it.

Garry: It was that summer when we gave each other up. I'd been hurt before, but I never knew what it was like to have my heart break until then. I never believed in true love until then, either.

Me: Wait. You believe in true love?

A rare and precious thing to discover after 23 years of marriage and 4 kids. I appreciated learning it so much more now than I would have then.

(after 24 years of marriage, on a cold winter night, cuddling close for warmth)

We were talking about my weight loss and its effect on the male half of the population.

Me: Well, I did get issued a pretty nice body.

Garry: Oh yes, I noticed you the minute I set eyes on you, on the first day of class.

Me: You noticed me the first day of class? What did you think?

Garry: I thought you were gorgeous. And then I thought, 30 years from now, we'll be married and have four kids and we'll be lying in bed together naked talking about this moment. I'd describe what you were wearing....

Me (in utter disbelief, because he has no interest in my clothes): You remember what I was wearing?

He went on to describe my outfit, and I remembered the shirt he was describing. Amazing.

It is strange and wonderful to discover these tidbits about our early days after so many years. Almost like being on an archeological expedition and discovering signs of an earlier society.

(later that same night)

Me: Marry me.

Garry: I'd love to, but I'm already married.

Me: Well dump her and marry me instead.

Garry: But I like being married to her.

Me: What do you like about being married to her?

Garry: Well, for starters, she's brilliant and sexy.

Me: Sounds like tough competition.

Garry: Very.

Some things in life just keep getting better.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

California Dreaming

Over the past few years, I've realized that I don't really consider myself an American, any more than the average Scotsman considers himself British. I am an American, but foremost I'm a Californian. I understand deep in my soul the importance of water. I know how hard we need to fight to save our environment, our towns, signs of the past. I know that the soul of the land is the tough manzanita that re-sprouts after wildfires, not the redwood or the palm or the showy California poppy. I know the importance of basing one's diet on fresh fruits and vegetables. I know that the cardinal sins of human existence are social, environmental, and dietary rather than sexual.

I know that earthquakes aren't a big deal (except when they are), and that building codes are our friends. I know that snow belongs tidily in the Sierras instead of scattered willy-nilly all over the state. I know that the real seasonal variations are wet and dry, and that it never rains in the summertime. I know that farming requires irrigation. I know that every drop of water that sustains our cities comes from the snow in the mountains, and must be conserved.

I know that real trees are thousands of years old, can be 30-40 feet thick at the base, and that they can tower 400 feet in the air. I dream of climbing some of those trees like mountains and spending a night in their canopies. I know that real mountains are 10,000 or more feet tall and made of granite, while the ~5000' ones near the coast are more properly called hills.

I know that the ocean is large, wild, and cold, and that the sun sets over it. I swim in it anyway, even in January. Some places the ocean rides gently into beaches while other places it smashes into the mountains at the edge of the continent. I know what a microclimate is, and always dress accordingly.

I know the meaning of diversity: in the land, in the culture, in viewpoints, in the economy, in languages, in religion, in diet, in dress, in social mores. I know the costs and benefits of rapid growth and the struggle to create a meaningful, workable post-industrial society. I know that the state is large enough to embrace the Imperial Valley and The Land Behind the Orange Curtain as well as Berkeley, Marin, La Jolla, Garberville, and Eureka. It does not cause me the least bit of cognitive dissonance to put Spanish and English place names in the same sentence or to drive through neighborhoods where the store signs are in Cambodian or Vietnamese.

I grew up knowing how to eat an artichoke. I know that vegetables come loose in bins, not shrink-wrapped on plastic trays. I can eat a Cabo San Lucas chicken sandwich on pita bread without a second thought. I know that I can always find a recycling bin, wherever I might be, and that reusable trumps recyclable.

I know that deep-fried foods, public consumption of tobacco, single-use diapers (or single-use *anything*), SUVs, failure to take turns on the approach to the cloverleaf, incandescent light bulbs, ethnic or sexist or heterosexist jokes, transfats, and pushiness are rude and quite possibly ought to be illegal. I do not know how to send a restaurant meal back to the kitchen, but I can pass the time of day with the wait staff in basic Spanish.

I know that, even though we have 1/8 of the U.S. population, California is not taken seriously, and our concerns are routinely ridiculed and marginalized. This is one of the reasons I don't consider myself an American, really. If the rest of the country wants to stick their heads in the mud, so be it. We'll just keep on trying to invent post-industrial society and they can get there, like, whenever. No hurry, because hurrying is not, in fact, cool.

I don't hate people from other regions of the country, nor do I feel superior to them. I don't call the middle of the country the fly-over zone or make cracks about Iowa farmers. The folks I've met from the Midwest are pretty nice actually, a lot like the folks I've met from Mideast. (And I don't understand why Kansas isn't in the Mideast; American geographical terms don't make a lot of sense when viewed from this coast.) I don't get the cultures of the Northeast or the Deep South, let alone that of Texas, but hey, whatever.

I think about Asia a lot. Europe and Africa, not so much. I feel a cultural affinity with Mexico and Central and South America; we're all part of the same Spanish and Portugese colonial expansion.

It's January 8th and I noticed this morning that my roses are blooming.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

When I Grow Up

In our living room, just after Christmas

Morgayn: When I grow up, I want to be a gypsy.

Me: When I grow up, I want to have children who don't drag their feet on their chores.

Matisse: When I grow up,  I want to be a velociraptor.

Morgayn: When I grow up, I want to be a parasaurolophus.

Me: When I grow up, I want to be a really big pterosaur.

Morgayn (using an English pronunciation with a short e): Quetzalcoatl, maybe.

Me (using a Costa Rican pronunciation with a long a for the e and a soft s for the z): When I grow up, I want to be a quetzalcoatl!

Morgayn: You can't pronounce it like that; it's pronounced kwetzelcoatl.

Me: Why can't I? Quetzal is Spanish, isn't it?

Morgayn: Yeah, but kwetzelcoatl's name isn't pronounced like Spanish.

Me: Okay then, when I grow up, I want to be a kaytsalcoatl that doesn't speak English!

Dissolve to a fit of laughter.