Friday, November 28, 2008

A Quick Little Book Review

- spoiler alert -

PEONY IN LOVE, by Lisa See
8* out of 10*

The first hundred pages of this novel did not win me over. They seemed a bit wooden, predictable, sentimental. The information about 17c Chinese culture - the government, the role of women, the opera - those were all interesting enough, but the story seemed to simply be the sob story of a powerless, swooning, foolish girl who dies for the love she can't have, which ironically ends up being the love/marriage her parents had actually arranged for her. It felt so predictable and lame when that all came down that I remember smacking my borrowed paperback on the couch and physically sticking my finger down my throat as if to gag, and shooting accusing eye daggers at the red cover because the author had wasted my time.

Is that a strong enough reaction?

Oh, and along the way there'd been awkward sentences in clunky dialogue, which made me feel that the book had just been carelessly cranked out by the author and publisher because Lisa See's previous book, Snowflower and the Secret Fan, had been such a smash hit. (Haven't read it.)

BUT I kept reading because readers I respect had liked this book. And, to my delight, the last 2/3 of the book indeed represented the author's creativity, smart cultural analysis and storytelling skills.

The rituals of the Chinese and their dead were so wonderfully conveyed through the point-of-view of Peony, a sixteen-year-old girl who'd died of that foolishness mentioned in my first paragraph. Caught in the after-world - one of its crazy layers, according to Chinese belief - Peony lives as a ghost where rituals have not been rightly performed and brutal consequences result for her unless she can change them.

So, that foolish girl she had been comes to understand the many depths and ways human beings can love. And, of course, woven in there is a deep (and cultural ?) lesson about women's strength and their rightful claim on the arts.

In the end, while I don't think the book is a perfect 10 in its execution - although I do think the first hundred pages had to set the stage for physical and emotional events to come (maybe only 75 were needed?) - I think the novel's overall depth and uniqueness and creativity earns it a solid 8.

Monday, November 24, 2008

An A/Typical Pre-Thanksgiving,
(Disinfectant) Kind Of Day

The Not-So-Typical Part
Aubs is home with a stomach Flu. Bummer. Fortunately, though, it only lasted a couple hours this morning.

She spent the day on the couch reading books and listening to Move and Groove with Paints Pots on the pink Hello Kitty cd player. Later, she watched Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a ridiculous spin-off cartoon movie kids love.

She said it made her feel queasy to sit up, so she laid there with all those fun things until about 2pm - when she felt like dancing to La Bamba.

The whole day she kept an old dishwashing detergent bucket at her side - no complaints from her about the bucket or the potentional for puke. Just matter-of-fact. I like that about her. I'm not-so-much that way, which gives me all the more reason to admire it.

The Typical Part

A kid on the couch in a pre-guest Thanksgiving house cannot slow a mom down. I've spent the day (can you guess?) CLEANING. Lots of ammonia, lots of Windex, lots of scrubbing, sweeping, rinsing, laundering, vacuuming, mopping. And a big fat To-Do list with little boxes to check off along the way.

And I'm not even hosting the Thanksgiving dinner!

It all feels pretty good - since I've let it go around here for a good week or two, knowing I'd have to spiffy it up exactly the day before guests arrive, so it would feel fresh. Any sooner might mean doubling up and doing it again, heaven forbid. Apparently, that's just my way. It's how I trick myself into believing I'm no slave to the sponge, the broom, the paper towels, the toilet scrubber, day in and day out. That probably makes no sense, but we all get by somehow, don't we?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"Junkie" is the first post I ever wrote for the Writing Mamas blog. I see lots of ways I should've revised it, but I just felt like posting it today anyway as-is. Dane's eight now...


Dane, my five-year-old, is sitting on the couch watching Prehistoric Planet, his favorite DVD about dinosaurs.

Leiopleurodon—an ancient whale-like sea creature whose jagged-tooth jaws have been likened to a giant car-crusher—has eaten a dolphin thing. (I don't know it's name, but I'm sure Dane does.)

The kid’s cozy under his afghan, but his hands are cold. He woke up too early so I sit and watch the video with him. I hold a homemade hot latte in my hands. It feels so good I think Dane will like holding it too.

He holds it and looks so comforted I tell him he can have a sip. He raises an eyebrow and cocks his head at me.

“Go ahead,” I coax with a nod.

He brings the cup to his lips, tips his head back a little and drinks a sip in. He slowly brings it back down to his lap, looks over at me, and smiles the smile of a conspirator. I return a knowing smile.

“Good stuff, huh?” I say.

I feel like a junkie who’s just scored a kid his first hit.

Since he’s able to recall every arcane detail about the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods, I’m tempted to tell him that these are Blue Bottle beans, voted by some to be the finest coffee beans roasted in San Francisco and home brewed on our Rancilio espresso machine. But that can wait.

Instead, I let him hold my warm cup on this cold early morning as Leiopleurodon makes his way further into the deep.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


I'm still feeling the love, folks. Got myself another blog tag. Thank you, Natalie Nelson. This one didn't quite inspire me, but if I am anything (oh, this should have been my first answer) I AM: a good sport! (Notice photo to the left for proof of that.) So, without further ado, here's me playing this game of tag:

I Am: fighting a cold and sitting on the couch all day.
I Want: to make sure this is the only day I feel like this.
I Have: to be healthy for the week of Thanksgiving.
I Miss: the walk I didn't get to take today.
I Fear: I might miss my walk tomorrow.
I Hear: the hum of my computer and the little sounds of the house settling in the afternoon sun.
I Search: the internet for random stuff.
I Wonder: where mincemeat pie came from and why Grandma Seewer liked it, what Skirt! wants from their contributors, when I'll get something published again.
I Regret: that I'm not going to divulge any regrets here. My mantra - No Regrets.
I Love: being healthy.
I Forgive: whoever sneezed in my face or didn't wash their hands.
I Ache: in my nose and in my throat and a bit behind the eyes.
I Always: try not to whine but I do anyway.
I Try: to try not to whine.
I Am Not: 100% today.
I Seem: to have nothing interesting to write.
I Know: there's something interesting to write somewhere.
I Feel: I'll have something interesting to write someday.
I Dance: when I have something interesting to write.
I Dream: of writing something interesting in the next hour.
I Give: Yeah, I give.
I Listen: to the heater turning off and on.
I Sing: like Margo from the Cowboy Junkies when no one's around.
I Laugh: daily.
I Can't: keep going with this list.
I Write: boring stuff on it.
I Cry: out.
I Sleep: not.
I Am not always: interesting.
I See: dead people.
I Need: you to know that last one was a Sixth Sense reference lest you worry about me.
I Should: n't have to explain that.

I tag Shelby?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ten Steps To A Meaningful Veterans Day

1. Talk about why there's no school. Talk about what it means to be a "veteran" and how the holiday is meant to honor the life of any person who's ever worn a military uniform, standing up for the freedoms we have in this country.

2. Talk about who the family knows that's ever worn a military uniform. If the kids have no clue, that's a jumping off point for learning and a sense of wonder. My kids learned their Poppa and their Grandad (as well as my Dad and their great-grandfathers) served in the military. There are many others we didn't identify -- those people can be added to the mental list throughout the year.

3. Have your kids call the veterans they know to wish them Happy Veterans Day. Encourage them to ask questions. My kids called Grandad and learned he'd served 20 years in the Air Force and National Guard, and that he'd served abroad in Korea and Germany, to name a couple places. They learned Poppa served in Europe, where the Army sent him to film projector school. Note: the tones of their conversations might be different -- this is also wonderful and fun.

4. Print up coloring pages from the web for the kids to color. We printed up a soldier in combat gear, a cat in a uniform, a Special Forces character, and a woman reading a list of missing soldiers at a wall. These pages inspired artistic outlet (they loved creating their own camouflage, guessing what color a stripe or badge should be, and making the cat look like a fox); they also inspired thoughtful conversation -- especially the woman at the missing soldiers list.

5. Buy two bouquets the day before Veterans Day and plan to take the kids to the cemetery to lay flowers at soldiers' graves. With a flower or two per grave, you should be able to honor at least twenty or thirty soldiers.

6. Prep the kids with a list of how they might identify a soldier's gravestone. My kids each carried a post-it that read:

Lt. = Leutenant
Col. = Colonel
Gen. = General
Pvt. = Private
Maj. = Major
Sgt. = Sergeant

Note: you may feel you don't know enough. That's okay. My list worked fine, but I was able to identify that I have no idea how the ranking system works -- that's something to research or ask a veteran -- and I left many options out. (Corporal comes to mind.) I probably could've written the different military branches, too.

7. Hit the cemetery on Veterans Day. We walked, carrying the bouquets and umbrellas, wearing rainboots and raincoats.

8. Walk through the graveyard together at first, and then separately, if desired. Our first soldier had an easy give-away on his stone: World War I. There were many WWI and WWII veteran headstones -- something we hadn't anticipated, but now makes sense.

9. Invite family or friends to join you. We invited the cousins and the kids all worked to find places to lay their flowers. It was really sweet.

10. Brainstorm about how you might honor soldiers next year. For instance, I realized it would've been nice to honor living veterans next year -- say, at a VA hospital or Soldiers Home -- and the kids thought we should do something with flags.

Friday, November 14, 2008

and she plays it so well.
Thanks, pal.

Here's what today's Guest Blogger wrote about the 2nd photo in her 2nd folder:

It's from the California central coast - in Cambria. My Grandma Urlie lived there for about 30 years and I spent some of the very best times of my life playing on those craggy beaches. There are seals out there on those rocks, although since this is taken with my phone, you can't see them very well. And there are huge ropes of seaweed, sandfleas, sea anenomes, starfish, bitty crabs, and other strange creatures on the sand and in the little tidal pools.

This memory is making me cry, because she would have just celebrated her 101st birthday 3 days ago and since she passed away in April, it's the first time in close to ten years that I haven't gone down to spend it with her.

Ever since I was a toddler, when I'd come to visit, we'd get all bundled up and take buckets and shovels to the beach, to dig and hunt to find interesting driftwood, and stones, and shells. And later in her life, she told me she would go to the Grill in town and get a hotdog and drive to the lookout very near this picture, sit in the car, eat lunch, and read my letters to her and write letters back to me.

I miss her so very, very much but am so thankful to have such real memories of our wonderful times together.

* * *
I took the liberty of adding a picture I have on file of Karen's Grandma. Here's Grandma Urlie at age 99.

Agnes Erickson Urlie
1907 - 2008

Thanks for playing, Karen.

* * *

(Now pony up, Big Share, cousin Kare, & JJJ. And you, too, Danigirl: Take 3rd folder, 3rd photo - if you really are SBD!)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


The Game

Okay, I feel like I've finally been picked to play ball, or I've gotten a long-awaited Oscar nod here: my friend Shelby tagged me.

Do you know what this means? This means she likes me! she really likes me!

See, in the blogging world people play this game called Tag -- usually it's some sort of questionnaire or a photo task at stake -- where a person who's been tagged posts a response to the "tag" on their blog. At the end of it, they then tag a couple of their friends, who respond and tag their friends, etc., etc.

I've been watching fellow bloggers tag each other for some time now. In fact, you may recall I recently tagged myself, things were getting so pathetic.

But now, I've made the team, folks. I've been admitted to The Academy. It's a blogging dream come true.

Tagged - 4th Folder 4th Picture

So, there up above is the fourth picture in the fourth photo folder on my computer.

Aw, it's Aubrey and her best little pal, Gia, in Sausalito. That was one of the last nights Gia came for a sleepover before we moved -- and she lost a tooth at our house! She and Aubrey were so excited, squealing, "Maybe the tooth fairy will bring us both money, since this is so special!" (I believe Aubrey spearheaded that campaign.)

Aubrey, who's never lost a tooth, lay close to Gia that night, their heads nestled next to each other on their pillows. And, lo and behold, the next morning, they both had dollar coins from the tooth fairy!

I love this picture because you can see Gia with the tissue she's been holding up to her mouth, and Aubrey's proudly holding Gia's tooth in her fingers, as if she lost it herself.

Tag - You're It

Okay, I think any of my readers who actually blog have already been tagged (Shelby, Annie, Bethany, Natalie?) so I'm going to do something unconventional: I'm tagging my four loyal non-blogging readers:

Karen (Url) - send me your 2nd photo in your 2nd folder and I'll post it.
Karen (cous) - send me your 3rd photo in your 3rd folder and I'll post it.
Jan (mother-in-law) - send me your 7th photo in your 7th folder and I'll post it.
Mom (do you even have photo folders???) - send me the 1st photo in your 1st folder and I'll post it.

Don't Ask Me Any Questions

Just do it however you want, if you want. Just remember: it means I like you! I really like you!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Naked Lady of Assland

I haven’t seen her yet. She’s elusive, like the wind – but not like the wind, because she’s riding her bike down Main Street. Topless. In a G-string.

Local lore says when she arrived in town, fully clothed, she stood her bike up outside the little police department office. She walked in and up to the counter, asking what the local exposure laws were here in Ashland. When she learned there was no town ordinance on nudity – other than that you can’t expose your genitals – she ran outside onto the little patch of lawn and tore off her shirt and did a head stand.

My brother-in-law saw her this summer on a sunny afternoon, riding her bike along Siskiyou Boulevard. She was just riding along when she stood up on her (moving) bike, hiked her G-string up as high as she possibly could, stretched her hands in the air and shook her breasts side-to-side hollering “wooooooo hoooooooo!”

Later that month he saw her in a bike shop, fully clothed – probably one of those No Shirt, No Service signs at the window – checking out bike horns. He wasn’t sure what she finally settled on, but evidently she needed a little honk to accompany the woo-hoo.

I’ve really wanted to see her myself. Imagine the, um, nerve (you know what I wanted to write there, don’t you?) it would take to draw such attention to yourself! And to possibly ruffle so many feathers! I know I’d have no interest in doing it myself, and I’m not exactly sure how I feel about my kids grappling with the image (although I’m actually more okay with it than not), but I indeed admire her moxy.

So, because I haven’t seen her and because she's so intriguing, I looked her up online to see what her deal was, and here’s what I’ve since learned:

She’s Naked for Peace. She agrees there are probably other things she could do to promote peace, but this is the one that speaks to her. And, when you really think about it, being naked is a very peaceful gesture, isn’t it? How much more vulnerable can you make yourself at that point? I know I wouldn’t assault or attack if I were naked. What if all world leaders and soldiers had to engage with each other naked? Wouldn’t that b… Okay, I’ll stop there.

She changed her name from Jen to Gen because it has a better vibe.

She recently moved to Portland that’s why I haven’t seen her! I had a feeling she’d left town, but I think I’d kind of hoped she’d gone someplace sunny, like Scotsdale, someplace where she could really be a mover and a shaker. Portland seems like a drippy gig for your droopies if your goal is to ride naked for peace.

Alas, she’s practical. Portland peops won’t peek at her peeps much this winter. Turns out she won’t bother to ride topless if it’s just too nippy out.

* * *

So who knows if I’ll ever get to see the Naked Lady of Ashland nee Portland nee ___. Maybe she was just passing through on some sort of nudie World Peace tour and I missed my chance.

I will say this, though, about her: Even if what she’s doing is considered socially unacceptable, and even if I’d probably never in a million years consider riding topless through Ashland myself, she represents something I’m drawn to.

She’s free. She’s fluid. She’s not confined to worrying about whether she fits in.

She’s a child running naked through the sprinkler; she's siblings in the tub, wrestling and throwing suds at each other; she’s college pals tearing off their clothes, running and somersaulting through the air off the end of a rickety old lake dock.

To put it in peaceful terms, she's just hanging out.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


One of my new friends here in Ashland, Jennifer Margulis, is an accomplished writer. And I mean accomplished: she's published a couple books, was a Fulbright scholar, and has written articles for the likes of The New York Times and The Smithsonian.

Imagine my surprise then when she wanted to interview me for her website. I didn't think about it too long, though, and decided to just jump right on board. You can read the interview here. She says you should feel free to comment.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Signed, Sealed and Delivered...
He's Ours!

Do people change jobs?

Dane asked us this last night after dinner.

I started to launch into my own spiel about having been a college teacher and a pre-school teacher, when Aubrey says, "Oh yeah, Mom, you were a tour guide in Alaska."

And Dane says, "Oh yeah, Dad, you used to make pizzas and drive a train."

Apparently that's how 'Pizza Time delivery guy' and 'engineer' translates to the eight and under crowd.

Saturday, November 01, 2008


No, it's not the latest George Lucas movie, it's Dane and Aubrey's
a l l o w e e n .

We had a full day of festivities -- and, fortunately for us, it quit raining around 11! At noon, Aubrey's class had an hour of cookie-decorating, bat cutouts, ghost puppets, popcorn gloves and witches broom pretzel crafts.

After that was the all-school Ghost Walk, where every single kid in the school wore a costume and they did this elaborate parade through the halls -- where one class would stay at their room, posed like statues, while another class would walk around them.

Then, at some point, the posed statues would form their own line and walk through all the other classrooms. I have no idea how they organized it, but it went smoothly and was absolutely amazing.


We left the school at 2:45 and headed straight to downtown Ashland, where the whole town seemed to be costumed and ready to celebrate. No kidding--there were thousands of people there.

The parade started at the library and went about 8 blocks to the downtown plaza. The road and sidewalks were jam-packed the entire way and these terrific marching drums led the whole procession. It was so much fun.


We met up with the cousins -- an organ grinder monkey, a genie, and two space aliens (handmade showstopper costumes by their Grammy Linda):

(Isn't he the cutest little monkey ever?)

After mooching loot off all the local vendors, we went to the cousins' house to eat lasagna, goof around, and go trick-or-treating in their neighborhood. Here are some goof-around shots:


When the treat bags were full and the kids were ready to spill all their spoilage on the rug to count the candy, we parents ditched the kids, leaving them all with (the cousins') Grammy and Alvin and the Chipmunks.

We headed for Alex's Restaurant for a spookylicious time downtown. We were Medusa, a space alien, a priest, and a who-knows-what -- joined later by Rainbow Bright and Where's Waldo (Mick's fellow associate / dentist, Nicole, and her husband, Chris).