Friday, October 30, 2009

Chapter 2 - Reuning

Clad in my $200 jeans and my butterfly boots,

beside a similarly stylin' MTF, old friends were just a taxi ride away. A long, motion-sickness-inducing taxi ride, then through the 3 story lobby, past more mailboxes than there were students in the Cuters' high school, and up almost all the way to the top. Tucson's one-story adobe homes felt very far away.

Rang the bell and fell headfirst into my past. There was my very first date - he'd escorted me to a bowling party in the 6th grade. Gallantly, he claimed to remember the entire event. Thankfully, he'd forgotten the orange and white stretch pants I'd worn. My memory was crystal clear : I'd left my front door with a smile on my face, loving my new clothes...... and then he asked me why I was wearing pajamas. A lot of the fun of dating was lost for me that evening. The look on his face when I told my story was the first indication I had that something was going to be different about this weekend. He looked genuinely sad that he'd hurt me. 43 years later and he felt my pain.

Oh, yes. Something was definitely going on.

Without name tags (don't groan -- you'll be hearing more about them over these posts) recognizing people took some artful questioning. "So, where are you living now?" was a good one, because I knew who was from Harrisburg and Cincinnati and L.A. and might be able to make a good guess. There was a good deal of discrete whispering and huddling in the kitchen for a run-down of names and salient factoids and then we were off to dinner.

I live in a destination. When guests come to visit, they can rest assured that I've scoped out the restaurants and that they're getting the best the neighborhood has to offer in whatever category they can come up with. My old friends did a great job in the "lots of people with lots to say who want to eat lots of different things" department. Our long table along the wall was as unobtrusive as such a thing could be, and our reshuffling and regrouping and waving and "hello-ing" was no louder than any other table's conversation. OK, maybe just a little louder. But it was happy talk, and who could be mad about that? Ruth remembered being my campaign manager, and Ann didn't know where Kay was, and the conversation bounced around like that over fajitas and burgers and tuna and salads and then someone did the math for the check and we were out of there, on our way to the next party.

(This was also the last time that everyone in the group was able to speak. By the next morning, the first cases of laryngitis began to emerge. By the end of the weekend, there were only one or two of us still able to croak above a whisper.)

Those of us not staying on the Upper East Side returned to the bar in The Park South for a pre-reunion-stop-by-if-you're-in-the-neighborhood get-together which had been announced on Facebook.

And this is where it starts to get mushy, as in wiping tears out of my eyes. Things began to take a turn I hadn't expected. I just knew going into it that everyone would be exactly the same. Nasty then would be nasty now. Boring then would put me to sleep tonight. Attitude was attitude and I was prepared. MTF and I had all our snarky responses ready. We were on the alert for each other's distress and were ready to intervene if necessary. This was going to be tough, but we would get through it. After all, we were pretty fabulous ourselves and.......

And none of that was needed. There was a warmth and an inclusiveness and a willingness to share that, if it existed in high school, was well hidden from my purview. Easy camaraderie - I was stunned.

Then I heard my name - my childhood name, the name no one has called me for 4 decades - in a voice I would have recognized even out of context. Her freckles, her sparkly eyes, her hair (a little less red, but still thick and enviable), her just-like-her-mother-had perfectly polished nails and that voice, that voice that tormented me on the playground and on the street we shared and in our hallways and suddenly she was hugging me tightly and expressing joy at our meeting and telling everyone in earshot that we'd known each other since we were 1 year old and how great it was to see me and then she looked me in the eye, hugged me tighter and shook my world: "I was sooo mean to you when we were young. I am so sorry. I am so not that person anymore. Will you forgive me?"

I realized that I had nodded agreement with her admission of guilt - yes, you were mean to me. Like a ton of bricks it hit me that I had never, in all my life, admitted that fact out loud. We were friends. We lived on the same street. We played together as kids did back then, ringing doorbells at friends' houses up the street until you found someone at home to do something with. Our parents liked each other. I always knew she was mean to me, but we were still friends.

If anyone holds the key to the intricacies of a young girl's mind, please enlighten me. All I know now is that a knot which had been hiding in a storage locker in my soul is now sliced through. Vanished. I've been carrying around the little slights and the bigger hurts and she looked right into my eyes and brought it out into the open and squished it like a bug. I cried. She cried. People noticed and smiled as we hugged and laughed about her "12 Step Friendship Program" and from then on it was perfect.

Yes, perfect. Sometimes hot and overcrowded and rained upon but always perfect. I had been wrong - people weren't going to be the same.

(next: Chapter 3 The Main Event)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

OHS 40th Reunion - Chapter 1

There's too much to consolidate into just one post, so this will stretch out until it's finished. Along the way we'll touch on New York City, friendship, air travel, fine food of all descriptions and sizes, apologies, artwork, politics, sports, history and love. The Reunion is just the framework.
Chapter 1 - The Preliminaries

This is usually my favorite time of day. Errands are finished. Dinner's planned. The sun's painting pictures
right outside my window on the Pusch Ridge and I'm writing to you.

Today's different, though, because I have to be on the road in 12 hours to make my plane to fly me to NYC for the Reunion. And I still haven't packed.

Things are in purposeful piles, but those piles are scattered around the house. These are not procrastination piles. They are working piles. I just wish they'd work themselves into the suitcase. I'm tired. Neurasthetic.

I wish I were there already, and unpacking . Not that I'm wishing away the adventure of air travel in America (I tried to write that without the italics and it just wouldn't let me.........) but I'm checking my bag (obviously..... you don't think I'm going to New York City for 6 days with people I haven't seen for 40 years and only taking a carry-on???????) so I'm worried about theft and misdirection. Plus, I'm changing planes at O'Hare. Never a stress-free experience. And another place for my bag to go astray.

But I'm deciding not to obsess about it. There are stores in Manhattan, after all. MTF texted me this afternoon wondering why I'd not been on-line all day. How could she have known that I spent the morning chasing down a cobbler (to really polish my boots .... and he "didn't have time" and I stood there flummoxed and had no words) .... and doing laundry and sorting clothes from definitely to possibly piles and wondering if I had covered every contingency and then trying on my $200 jeans and being stunned by the realization that my great belt doesn't fit around these pants. She caught me in the mall, whimpering to sales people. The reason I love her should be clear from her response upon learning of my whereabouts and my mission : "I'm sure there are belts in NYC!!!"

I'm definitely not worrying about my bags any more.
Up at 4am so that TBG could drop me off on-time for my 6am one-stop to LaGuardia. (Yes, I live in a place where, since the economy tanked, you can no longer fly direct to NYC. How did this happen to me???) My packing morphed into another suitcase - the chartreuse Target roll-on the Little Cuter bought and left here on a trip home from the Big 10. It's big enough to hold my cowboy boots and my winter coat and small enough to fit in any overhead, even the MD-80 American stuffed us into. I'm not a big person, and I felt cramped in my aisle seat. Then the middle-seat person arrive - a soldier in fatigues. When they couldn't/wouldn't upgrade him to First Class (and yes, I did go and ask the flight attendants to move him) I volunteered to squeeze into the center. It seemed like the least that I could do. We all slept well, got food at O'Hare, and landed in sunny New York City.

The inter-terminal shuttle bus driver waited til I shlepped my bags up the steps and into the storage rack and soon I was at USAirways, waiting for MTF. Would I recognize her after 15 years? Just ask the people around us who jumped 3 feet when we ran screaming into each other's arms. Much hugging and smiling and looking and laughing ensued, a taxi was secured, and all of a sudden we were in Manhattan.
There's an energy in New York City that just doesn't exist anywhere else. Drivers have the lights timed perfectly, and our speed up slow down race through the intersection cabbie was a prime example. Safe and somewhat sound we checked in and gasped. Two beds, 8 pillows, a mini-fridge and a desk with a chair. And this was the closet:

Two women in Manhattan for 6 days and this is someone's idea of enough hanging space????? Deep breaths, more hangers, underwear left in suitcases... we were unpacked and on our way to dinner before we had a chance to get sad.

28th and Park, our hotel's corner, is the center of a vibrant southeast Asian restaurant scene. We found an Italian bistro with sidewalk seating and watched the world go by, drinking a "nothing special but quite nice" Malbec and munching on scrumptious garlic toasts. Eschewing their tiramisu, we opted for a stroll and some ice cream. After several blocks, we asked the 20-somethings walking their dogs for a suggestion and they guided us to Madison Park and The Shake Shack. Talk about bright lights and glamour. Under the amber glow of the Empire State Building (which, to me, will always be the tallest building in the world) we sat on a park bench on the edge of the picnic tables and beside the most orderly, spacious, smiling queue I'd ever seen. It looked like a long line, but it was moving, and we were tired of sitting so we stood up and found ourselves at the front in no time where we heard a conversation, off to the side, about Cornell. The manager is a Hotelie and lived near where we'd lived in College Town and then it was time to drink my yummy strawberry milk shake with vanilla ice cream and watch MTF neatly destroy her chocolate cone while sitting on another bench. There were Wall Street overcoats and skateboards laced to backpacks and lots and lots of very well-behaved dogs.

When I was a little girl, my all-time-very-favorite thing was to pile into Daddooooo's car and get Carvel. I can feel the dopamine rush just typing about it. The taste, the sounds, the whole idea of being outside at night..... this Reunion was really turning out to be a blast from the past.

We were doing a whole lot of smiling when we fell, exhausted, onto our really comfortable beds. No wake up call, no plans til 7 the next night, and a really good friend within hugging distance. Life is good


Walked the High Line and watched as MTF offered to "take a picture of both of you" every 50 feet or so.

Had an interesting argument about the difference between a weed and a native grass and admired the way the tracks had been repurposed:

The sky was overcast, but this building still screamed look at me!

The High Line wasn't much of a work-out, so we continued downtown through the Meat Packing District

with stops to shop and browse and marvel and once to buy some sandals. The merchants were genuinely glad to see us and happy to pose

and discount the merchandise even though I'd clearly mis-read the sign and really didn't deserve it. New York City was beginning to grow on us.

In Greenwich Village, the grid of mid-town vanishes into an Alice-in-Wonderland maze of teeny streets lined with cupcake stores and apartments to rent and S&M boutiques and more Halloween decorations than I'd ever seen in an urban area.

We soaked it all in but it started to drizzle and we were hotel-bound.
The Reunion festivities would begin at 7pm. It was time to let others into our little circle of wonderfulness.

It only took me 5 or 6 different outfits before we were on our way.

(Tune in tomorrow for Chapter 2 - Reuning)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

(The "real" reunion post will show up tomorrow. This is a quickie, written while in The City, in a windowless cubicle in the basement of The Park South Hotel.)

OK, I suppose it wasn't as big a deal as the Northwest pilots who were surfing the web while flying over Minnesota, but we had our own travel snafu in NYC on Monday.

We'd wandered down to South Street Seaport, munching on hot pretzels and Sabrett hot dogs along the way. We'd shopped and looked at Trinity Church's graveyard and the hole in the ground that used to be the World Trade Center and we were ready to be reminded that Manhattan is really an island - we needed to see the water. Watching the river flow, drinking a beer, listening to a high school band play music from the 1940's..... we were definitely in New York.

Exhausted, we opted for the subway instead of walking back to the hotel. Found the station and asked the MTA men behind their bullet-proof windows for the proper train to take. It took the first guy several tries - he forgot to turn on the microphone, he didn't speak into his speaker phone, he spoke so quietly we couldn't hear, and his accent was so thick it was indecipherable. We went to the other window and asked our question again. "That would be the C train, downstairs."

A fellow traveller standing behind us said "the C????" but we thought the MTA guys knew what they were talking about so downstairs we went. Got on the C train and ended up in Brooklyn.


Exited at the first station and found a lovely transit cop who came out of her booth, shared her map, gave us detailed directions and agreed that we had been mis-informed. Got back on the C train to Nassau Street and tried again. Took the 4 to 14th Street, crossed the platform, took the 6 (a local) to 28th and Lex and there we were, across from the Park South.

I'm sending my ticket and a copy of this post to the MTA. We spoke English. We spoke clearly. We were certain of our destination. We were not rude. And we were given BAD AWFUL WRONG directions.

We want our money back.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Whither the Quarterback

Allow myself to introduce… myself. (and let that be a lesson to ANYONE who uses “myself” erroneously. When in doubt, use a different pronoun). I am known around these parts as “the big cuter”. I go by a nick-name in the real world, so, given the tendency towards pseudonyms in this blog I’ll comfortably hide behind that moniker. As an aside, Ashleigh has done a good job of discussing her thoughts on pen names, and if I’m ever called on again for a guest post I’ll happily share mine. Until that time, myself’s (wink, wink) name will be “the big cuter”.

A little bit about me, at least as is relevant to this post: I’m an avid, nay, rabid football fan. I care way too much about the success of my beloved San Francisco 49ers. I jokingly, but with far too much seriousness, state that half of my t-shirts are 9ers (the other half are Georgetown). I’ve created detailed booklets** explaining the basics and not-so-basics of football to initiate the uninitiated into the game. I’m currently retired on a 3 year winning streak in Madden football. When I hear Cris Collinsworth say, “the quarterback recognized that the Sam linebacker was going to blitz up the A-gap, shifted his protection and audibled to a hot route from his X receiver to exploit the gap in the defense’s zone”, I not only know what he’s saying, but normally can see it happen as the play develops. No, I’ve never played football on any level beyond flag (thanks mom), but I’m about as big of an expert as most people reading this blog are likely to know/meet/read.

With my bona fides hopefully established I would like to move to the topic of this post: how do we evaluate quarterbacks – subtitled, why Peyton Manning is far superior to Brett Favre.
There are many different means of measuring a quarterback statistically and even more aesthetically. You can look at touchdowns, yards, completion percentage, yards per attempt, quarterback rating (which maxes out at 158.3, for reasons no one has ever determined), to the really esoteric like DVOA and DYAR, which even I don’t really understand, but I know that higher numbers are better! Some would say that we should look primarily to statistics because it’s the easiest way to compare players against other players, whereas other possible measures are more indicative of the entire team’s ability. That said, linemen still have to block, receivers still have to catch, and the defense needs to get the offense the ball for a QB to put up these stats, so sometimes stats don’t tell the whole truth.
Another way is to look at win-loss record, both regular season, post-season and Superbowls. Many would argue that this is the only stat that matters, because you play to win the game. That said, Trent Dilfer has been the starting QB of a Superbowl winning team, so obviously just wins can be a bit misleading. That said, if you look at all time winningest QBs, the list is pretty impressive. That said, this list rewards durability as much as skill. I honestly think that winning percentage is a bit better of a marker, but aside from Jim McMahon, the list is still pretty good. On the other hand, our sweat-banded hero of the previous sentence shows that being on a good team for a few years can similarly skew the win-loss comparison.
Finally, you can compare the aesthetics of the player. Not this, or this, but rather how they look while they play the game. Do they play with grace, beauty and a mastery of the game that showcases their mastery of the game. If the language of that sentence didn’t suggest it, this is my personal favorite test. Fundamentally, we watch the game for entertainment, and I’d much rather watch someone excel than watch someone barely scrape by and win. Fortunately, my personal aesthetic rankings generally line up pretty closely with both the statistical and win-loss leaders.
In the interest of someone actually reading this whole post I’ll try to wrap it up sooner rather than later and move directly to a comparison between Manning and Favre. Specifically, why Manning is so much better of a QB than Favre. If you look at the numbers they’re both in the top 5 in virtually every category. Many people like to compare the two. Despite the closeness of their statistical histories, I respectfully contend that it really isn’t close. Primarily, my criticism comes down to the aesthetic.
If you’ve watched football in the past 20 years you’ve probably heard about “Favre’s love of the game”, and “the joy he plays with”, and “how he’s just like a kid out there.” While I wipe the vomit out of my mouth, I will state that yes, he seems to be having fun. However, he’s compared to “a kid out there” because so much of what he does is improvisational. He throws off his back foot into triple coverage. He shovel passes, he gets away with it because like Nuke Laloosh, “when [he was] a baby the gods reached down and turned [his] right arm into a thunderbolt.” While he doesn’t quite have a five cent head to go along with his million dollar arm, you don’t often get the sense that he’s succeeding because of his head.
On the other side of things is Peyton Manning. Similarly to Favre, announcers will gush about Peyton’s “preparation”, “understanding”, and ability to be a “coach-on-the-field.” His arm might not be quite as strong as Favre’s, although it’s been known to be referred to as “laser-rocket” in this fan video. What separates Manning from Favre in my eyes is the fact that he ALWAYS (absent a few playoff games against the mid 2000 NE Patriots, about which I’m still bitter) seems to know what’s going on. He can recognize exactly what the defense is doing, adjust the offense to compensate and put the ball exactly where it needs to be. As much as he out plays his opponents physically, to a similar extent, if not greater, he out thinks and out prepares his opponents. He’s the kind of guy who Collinsworth would say that quote from the start of the post.

**Due to certain posting limitations, one cannot attach a powerpoint presentation to one's blog. If you would like to view the "booklet" that the Big Cuter has put together (and trust me- it's worth a gander) please leave a comment below and we can arrange a way to email it over. -- Victoria/ Little Cuter

Monday, October 26, 2009


I've lived in suburbs and cities and had a fine time in both. But there's something about a town that's just a little bit different.

I grew up in the Town of Hempstead. That was more a political distinction than a home-town. Oceanside was where I lived, and it was definitely a town. We had our own schools and Memorial Day parade and scout councils and Little League. There was just one public high school, and hardly anybody left it to go to a private one. Football was played on Friday nights, and there were always as many residents as students in the stands. Until I was in middle school, summer nights were spent at Nathan's where each day of the week had its own theme and performers. We heard Josh White, Jr one Friday Folk Night, and square danced every Thursday, and went to the Jazz and Orchestra programs, too. Scampering was encouraged because nobody ever got lost. The whole town was there to be sure you were safe while you were having fun.

I never thought much about the fact that we knew the families that owned the department store or the delicatessen or the shoe store. G'ma was PTA President and was friends with the town librarians and everyone knew what time the Good Humor truck came down each street. After living in big cities, I recognize just how special that was.

College in Ithaca brought me to another small town, but I was more interested in the gown piece of my life at the time. I went downtown for community service (we called it "field work" or "volunteering" then) and for meals, but the town was an after-thought to my life. I lived in it, off campus in Collegetown and then way at the bottom of Buffalo Street on the edge of the commercial district, but I was never of it.

Chicago is a collection of towns which make up a city. Neighborhoods are defined and serve that function quite nicely. You know your local shops and your mail carrier and the ward workers the way you do in a town. But you're part of a bigger entity, and that changes everything.

I've been thinking about this because Amster and I spent two days in the lovely town of Flagstaff last week. Two hours north of Phoenix, 90 miles from the Grand Canyon, 4500' higher in elevation than Tucson..... we were definitely in another clime.

The aspens were quaking higher up on the path, but Amster had work to do in the afternoon so we took Fat Man's Loop at a brisk pace, stopping for me to record the colors

and catch my breath. The air is a lot thinner at 7000' and endurance sports have never been my forte. I know the hike was only 2 miles but we seemed to have taken the steeper way around the loop - or so said the other hikers we encountered ..... all of whom were going the other way.

Back in town, we had delicious albondigas (we may be in the mountains, but it's still Arizona, and Mexican influences are never far from the table) at Charly's in the Hotel Weatherford and then Amster went to her deposition and I began to shop. I wanted everything. I wandered from shop to shop, stopping back at The Schnozz in the underground garage to drop off my parcels from time to time. Within a 2 square block area I was able to make a serious dent in my holiday gift accumulation, and everyone was happy to see me. It was mid-week, but the shops were busy. There was a nice college-kid buzz in the air, but it wasn't overwhelming. The Seasoned Kitchen's owner told me that most of his business was locals, not tourists. That's nice to hear.

The whole shopping thing was getting to me - why didn't Tucson have something like this? I decided to put the credit cards down and finish my last Lynda LaPlante novel on a bench in the amphitheatre.

A very gracious aging hippie asked if I would allow him to play his disco music on his boom box. Two moms and their 4th graders licked ice cream cones. A police officer strolled by and smiled. Change the boom box for a fiddle and it might have been 1899.

I got cold after a while, and strolled over towards Amster's meeting. Right across the street was the first post office established in Flag (I'd been there long enough to consider myself on a first-name basis by then) and the best light pole I've ever seen.

Just look at it, sitting there on that great base, sturdy, solid, attractive and not going anywhere anytime soon.

Just like the town.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Guest Post

As regular readers know, I am in NYC with MTF, enjoying an elongated Reunion-related weekend. Posting while playing just doesn't work for me, and writing posts in anticipation of my trip left me brain-weary and aggravated.

Then my business manager/Little Cuter told me about "guest posting" and I turned it right back at her and here is the result:

(The language has been cleaned up with ****'s because I try to run a family-friendly blog here, kiddo!)

On A**holes and Writer’s Block

When the idea was proposed that I provide a guest blog for The Burrow, my stomach dropped, my shoulders slouched, my pulse quickened, a bead of sweat undermined my cool fa├žade. Sure, I write… I write chapter titles and flush them out with inane stories of my upbringing and off-color things that people have told me along the way. I wrote hundreds of essays in high school and college. Some even got published, and not once during those years did I have this intense nervous response. Could it have been the lack of structure I was apprehensive about? That I was not provided a topic on which to respond? Could it be that I would not be handed a letter grade, and therefore would not know if my performance would be up to par? Or could it be simply that I am a coward? That sharing my ideas in such an immediate space intimidated me to the point of wordlessness? Anyone who has ever met me would be shocked. YOU? They would say. YOU cannot verbalize a feeling? An opinion? An emotion? PUH-LEASE…
And then in my daily web-browsing I came across this photograph, and my brain unclenched:

If Kurt Vonnegut can publish a sketch of an a**hole in his novel Breakfast of Champions and still be revered by so many, what on earth do I have to be so intimidated about?


You see, what I had forgotten in my years after college, in the years removed from creative writing and over-analyzing for credit is that anyone can write anything, can say anything, and can express any opinion, as long as they can put enough words behind it to back themselves up. Talk long enough and someone is bound to believe you, all you have to do is participate. The filibuster works for a reason, people, and the daily grind of life, work, bills, and so-called grown-up-nitude (la-scope-la-glator) had numbed my ability to just express my creative self publicly. I had completely forgotten how to breathe, smile, lean back, put my hands behind my head and just share.

There are mental exercises that the FDA tells you can ward off dementia, and I practice them daily. I remind myself of my list of things to do, I play scrabble, I learn new words, new phrases and file them away in the “in order to appear intellectual to the masses” folder in my brain for later use. But one thing I have let fall by the wayside, a very important thing I just realized, is how important it is to exercise creative expression on a more regular basis. I am not an artist, can barely draw a stick figure, I’ve dabbled but never excelled in photography, but I used to be a damn good literary analytical student. But in these few years since college, I’ve completely stopped practicing. There are college counselors prepared to guide you through your major, guidance counselors prepared to walk you through your school-fueled emotional crisis, but there is no one there once you are finished with all the classroom learning to remind you to keep it up.

An epiphany that is years in the making, that perhaps I had because all of my education really did do its job, is that it’s not about who you can quote at a cocktail party (or that you knew to write “who” instead of “whom” on your guest blog). Instead the point of all of that time spent “learning” was not about the facts, but what you learned about yourself, and how to express it in a healthy forum.

That is why what Ashleigh is doing here is so important. She is exposing a side of herself that lay dormant for years. She is sharing opinions, thoughts, stories, and experiences that otherwise would fade gradually with time. By putting her words out in the world, by publishing them for actual human people to read she is showing us all that it is OK to keep growing, to keep sharing, to keep leaning back in your chair and smile, knowing that you’ve opened up a door in someone else’s conscious and participated in learning.

And look what she’s done for me. By encouraging me to share she has knocked the dust off the piles of education in my brain and forced me to get over my writer’s block. All it took was a little pressure, and a sketch of an a**hole.

1. 10/21/09
2. http://vonnegutsa****holes-day-one.html (edited for content by me 10/21/09)

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Hi there Burrow faithful, Victoria here. I would like to extend an apology for the delay in Ashleigh's post today. It would appear that Ashleigh's impending high school reunion has rendered her without the ability to tell time, and thus she scheduled today's Thursdays in the Garden to run at 6 PM instead of 6 AM. Regularly scheduled posting will resume tomorrow (trust me- I double checked!).

Thursdays in the Garden -- Triple Digits in October

It's a sad, sorry state of affairs in the garden these days. I'm not taking it personally, though it's been a struggle.

The first winter we were here there was a hundred years frost . That is exactly what you think it is - you only see temperatures this low every hundred years or so. And it stayed cold for 5 days. Everything died. I was in New York, moving G'ma out of her house, and TBG was no-way-no-how going out in the dark and the cold to throw sheets over the precious flora. And then take them off before the sun got too high in the sky. Every night. For 5 nights. No, Ma'am. He was bitter enough that it had snowed on him when he took out the recycling cart. This was, after all, "the f'ing desert for crying out loud."

This summer's monsoon was a total disappointment. There just wasn't enough rain during the time when the plants are most stressed and most in need. As if that weren't enough, we had 5 or 6 days in a row where the temperatures were over 105 and it didn't rain. True, that's nothing by Phoenix's standards, according to C&B. But here, in the middle desert, it's quite unusual. Combine the sustained heat with the lack of natural moisture - both in the ground for the roots and in the air (humidity) for the leaves and blossoms - and even the most desert hardy of our plants are suffering.

Yes, I wrote are not were. I don't blame you for being surprised. I am sure you thought that by mid-October our temperatures would have tempered and the greenery would be greening. Wrong. Somebody never got the memo (or, this being Tucson, and politics and governance being what it is, probably the memo never got sent). It bumped up against 100 earlier this week, and the solar heater working alone is enough to warm the pool to a comfortable-enough-for-laps 74. We humans are loving it. The plants? Not so much. Just look:

Of course, there are some that are doing very well, like this lantana.

And some that are really really trying to make a comeback.

Yes, the bark is green.
It's a palo verde - as opposed to the palo blanco
which has.... YES! ... white bark.

But all in all, it's been a tough Fall in the ground for the newbies. I really have to get to work on the irrigation system. I'm just not diligent enough, and the flora are feeling it.

See how the fronds are curling into themselves and bending. This agave is water deprived.... and I am to blame.

All except the oleander, of course. It just sits there, perking up when I water it, but never growing and never dying. Who knows.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Prompt Tuesday..... on Wednesday

The blogosphere is an interactive space. That's what I was trying to get at with yesterday's post. Comment on the ideas of a newspaper columnist, and you have to get your letter through the editor before others can share in your brilliance. Commenting on the inanities in the blogosphere requires only the confidence to type in your thoughts. This unmediated medium, as I've written before, demands the participation of the reader to fully maximize its potential.

I could write my thoughts in a diary, but I don't. Keeping a record of myself for myself always seemed self-indulgent. Talking to you through the Burrow is more connected, and more rewarding, than Dear Me, could ever be.

In doing so, I'm trying to take on my piece of the process in other places in the 'sphere. I've been commenting and reading the other blogs posted by Blogher in my sidebar (except for the cat people..... sorry, but even I have my limits.....) and following my favorites. And that's how I found PROMPTuesday. If you don't want to click through and read about her (of course) adorable children before you get to the point I'm trying to make, just read this: Compose approximately 150 words in 10 minutes using the following prompt. Post it or link it to your blog.

Victoria, my business manager/daughter/Little Cuter's pseudonymous alter-ego, submitted a post to Five Star Friday last month, and it was selected as one of the 23 best entries of the week. After basking in the glory, I began to realize that I had not sumitted a paper for review in 35 or so years. Not bad, I thought, getting an "A" on my first try! I lived on that for a while, but the itch kept growing.

Then I stumbled upon this. And I decided to try it. It's probably a bit over the top, but it's supposed to be "top-of-mind, primal thinking before the ego and judgmental brain kicks in."

Anyway, the goal is "to make writing fun again" and I enjoyed doing it. Why don't you try it, too?? What do you have to lose??
PROMPT: Please tell a story about this cave :

They sat enraptured, enthralled, engrossed, engaged, dancing in their minds with the shadows. Leaping, lurking, lounging, laughing the images moved in a steady stream. Seeing themselves or others or no one at all doing something or nothing or everything and they watched. Imagined and projected and ruminated and looked but never thought. Never examined. Never gazed within.

Didn't wonder about the source of the light. Or what it might mean. There was no meaning. There were only shadows, misty murky ephemera wandering in and out of their consciousness.

Without wanting or needing or deciding that participation might be possible, they looked forward, at the prancing dancing silhouettes on the wall of the cave around them. And they sat.

Knowing that they were alive. Unaware that they were merely sitting, while living was just a few feet away. If they would only turn around.

(With thanks to Plato and Socrates for the idea.... and to the Big Cuter for explaining it to me so well. It's nice when those dollars for an undergraduate education come back to wrap their arms around you and give you a great big hug.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


From a FaceBook message thread: I .... worry that since I'm too shy to write public comments back that it creates a very one sided friendship -- I know you and your thoughts so much more .... but here I am, hunkering down in the cold north with nothing but bulbs to plant and unsure how to or if I should respond to the thought provoking things you say.

From a phone call: "You should have guest posts when you're out of town." "Why don't you write one?" "I'm not ready to share."


The immediacy of the blogosphere is intimidating, it's true. Put it out and there it stays, to be read by anyone and everyone whether you know them or not. Probably not. No, most definitely not. 77 people read the Burrow last week - do you know 76 others who've been here? (Of course, if you tell them how wonderful it is, then maybe you will, but for now, I'm dealing in reality.)

I've been commenting on other blogs for the last few weeks. Actually, Ashleigh Burroughs has been commenting, and I've been watching her do it. The assumption of another persona has been the only way I could muster the courage to write to you every day. A well-respected-friend told me that, in her classroom, it would be said that I have "a voice". I bask in the compliment, but it's Ashleigh who deserves the kudos.

Sure, sure, they are my fingers on the keyboard but are they my thoughts or Ashleigh's? I wasn't brave enough to blog; she was. Is. Continues to be, as I wonder why I rest comfortably behind her facade.

These musings are the stuff of my daily conversations and emails and ruminations. They are my truths, and I stand behind them all. Yet I have a hard time - ok, an impossible time - typing them under my own name.

So I understand your reluctance to post comments or write a guest blog. Here's a suggestion that's worked for me in bowling. Perhaps it will work for you in writing. If you bowl poorly, just change your name. No need to be Kathy or Jenny when Cookie or Peaches is just waiting to show you the way.

Take it from Ashleigh.... it works for us.

Monday, October 19, 2009

An Addendum

It was brought to my attention that the previous post left some (ok, 1) reader with the need for a final photo. If you've read the post already, scroll down and see what you missed the first time through.

$200 Jeans

Who knew?

Apparently, everyone but Amster and I did.

But now we are initiated, and I wonder if we will ever go back.

Here's how it started: 18 months ago, TBG was recruited to be on a mock jury for one of Amster's trials. He spent a marvelous full day listening to arguments and then participating in deliberations with a real cross-section of Tucson's population. At the end, he was rewarded with many thanks and a crisp, new $50 bill.

He came home to my Harriet Housewife incarnation : chairs were on tables, rugs were rolled up, ottomans were resting on couches as the floor was being mopped to within an inch of its life. The kitchen counters were sparkling, the stainless steel appliances had nary a hand print nor a streak, the fallen french fries had been removed from the oven's floor, the bed linens were fresh and the bathrooms were gleaming. I had been busy, and I looked it. Bedraggled and sweaty, my manicure destroyed, I leaned on the mop handle and said "Hi". Without skipping a beat, my favorite husband reached into his wallet, took out the fifty, and handed it to me with a flourish. "You earned this more than I did, today."

This was the first money I'd earned since the Big Cuter was born 26 years ago. It deserved to be spent wisely. I placed it carefully in the top drawer of my vanity table and began to cogitate.

Laughing with Amster over weights at the gym the next morning, we tested and rejected many uses before we hit upon exactly the right place to spend my windfall - we'd invest in jeans. Our work-outs were going well, our bodies were responding appropriately, and if we waited til our birthdays we could even justify the expenditure as self-gifting (a concept near and dear to my heart). We had a plan.

But by the time winter was ending and our birthdays were arriving, the temperatures here in the desert Southwest precluded the wearing of anything heavier than corduroy shorts. There was no reason to buy the jeans and have them sit in the closet until the weather cooperated with our new purchases, so we waited. And we procrastinated. And we got busy. And life interfered, and with it our shapes changed again. So we hit the weight room with renewed energy this summer and (she) began cross-training and (I) concentrated on aerobics and then the perfect time arrived: my reunion.

I'd decided on the outfit for the event itself, but I'm going to be in New York City for 6 days, and fancy jeans will be the perfect thing to pack. So, off to Loop we went.

We were the only patrons, at first. One salesman, two women and two dressing rooms. Seemed like it would be a quick and easy experience. Not.

I had a vague recollection of the Little Cuter telling me I'd be there for a while, trying on all the brands until I found the perfect pair. "Have fun with it, Mom!" I tried, but it was scary.

Who knew there would be an interview before we were allowed to begin trying them on? Low rise.... mid-rise... boot cut... boyfriend jeans ..... dark wash.... flap-pockets.... whiskering (?!?).... distressed.... stitching.... embroidery..... Amster and I were caught in a fashion tsunami.

Wranglers. Levis. Gap. These were the designers I knew. Simple, single names that didn't confuse me. Did we like 8 for the People, or something like that? I shrugged at Amster, she shrugged at me and then she rescued us by announcing "We don't speak 'cool'". Ted got the hint. He handed us each a stack, and sent us into the dressing rooms to try on and show him every pair, whether we liked them or not.

In and out we trotted, turning, discussing, rejecting, approving, suggesting, questioning and trotting, once again, back into the dressing room for more. And more. And then some more. It never ended. I'd bring out three rejected pairs and be presented with 5 more options. I rolled up my sleeves and I sweated. This was hard work.

I've always let life tear up my jeans, and I don't understand the need to purchase something that is pre-ripped. Like my wrinkles, I've earned every one of the holes in the knees and the seats and I love them all. All the "distressed" options were thus removed from consideration.

Embroidery and obvious stitching were also non-starters. I'm a short person and I was going for a long look; there would be no distractions on these pants. One solid straight line from hips to heels, elongating mightily on the way. Ashleigh Burroughs is tall and willowy with legs that don't stop; the body which will be attending the reunion shares with her literary counterpart only the fact of having legs. I'm taking all the height-help I can get.

Did I want to struggle to latch and unlatch the obviously very cool but impossible to grasp - literally and figuratively- clasp? Did I like the hardware? How did the back pocket look? Were they comfortable? Suddenly, the entire purpose of blue jeans was being called into question -- aren't they supposed to be comfortable by definition ???

But the store was getting crowded and Heather and her boy-toy wanted to check out, so I put off my existential musings. Figuring that Heather had obviously shopped there before, since she was nodding sagely as Ted was pinning and selecting and dismissing and suggesting, her opinion was sought and received and agreed with mine and I bought the damn pants. By that point, I think I'd have agreed with anything just to have it be over with. My brain was awash in a sea of denim.

I'd always worn jeans to blend into the crowd. They go everywhere, here in Tucson and on Madison Avenue. As long as my other garments were sufficient, I never worried if I had blue jeans on the bottom. And my criteria for choosing them were simple - inexpensive and comfy and not ugly. Having spent the better part of an hour being schooled on the finer points of wearing my default clothing, however, I realize that time has definitely passed me by.

I remember taking a 4 year old Little Cuter into our favorite sandwich shop on Webster in Chicago (it's a fancy shoe store now, but that's another story...) and being snickered at by two middle school girls sitting at the first table. "Can you believe she is wearing blue jeans???" "She's so old." I turned and smiled sweetly and told them that I'd been wearing blue jeans since before they were born and that my generation had virtually invented the genre and they were wearing my fashion statement and ....... at that point, if she'd been a few years older, the Little Cuter would have dragged my ranting self away from them. As it was, the tirade sputtered and we ate our tuna.

Now, though, I begin to wonder if jeans have passed me by. People of all sizes, shapes, ages and colors were in and out of the store as we fine tuned our purchases. None of them were surprised at the prices nor at the depth and breadth of the selection. A woman "just back from eating myself across Europe" bought a pair of "fat pants" until she could lose her vacation weight. $200 fat pants? What ever happened to sweatpants and the gym? Somehow I don't believe in her determination to slim down. Or maybe she has a range of sizes of expensive jeans?

Expensive jeans. It even looks oxymoronic. What happened to me?? Where is the grounded, sane woman who knows value and refuses to be swayed by the tides of fashion? I'm lost, I fear, lost and drowning in .....

Oh, enough already. All that is true, but I just picked them up and tried them on I have to say that they look pretty good.

Yes, G'ma would be appalled, but THAT's the view you get. Because, as Ted reminded us, "It's all about the butt."

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Most Important Question

How dressed up are you getting for the reunion itself?

I bet you went to a lot of other places in your mind before you got to clothes for the party, didn't you?

Well, I didn't. In fact, I'm just back from checking to see whether my Yearbook will fit into the purse I've tentatively decided upon. It does.

What with President Obama being awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace when Arizona State University didn't think he deserved an honorary degree last spring, I wonder that anything could surprise you. So I hope that you won't think me trivial when I say that this is, in fact, an important question.

It is also a question that everyone is reluctant to ask. I, however, have no boundaries between my brain and my mouth, so I've been asking everyone. "How dressed up are you getting?" is how I phrase it, and the responses have been uniform - everyone laughs. Giggles on the phone and LOL on Facebook messages and behind every smile I am also detecting (projecting???) a sigh of relief. Finally, we'll decide on the answer.

Because there really isn't an answer. Lunch at a fancy Upper East Side restaurant, then an after party up the street where the dress code is casual but neat. Now, I can definitely do "neat". Casual is an interesting term.

TBG and I once received a gorgeous printed invitation to a dinner that requested "dressy casual attire." This sounded like jumbo shrimp and military intelligence - oxymoronic and confusing. Turns out they didn't want a certain contingent to show up in t-shirts, so they couldn't just say "casual", and they weren't requiring suits and ties, so they didn't say "dressy." Clues would've been helpful.

I have my standard black silk skirt (or black wool pants) and a white silk blouse. My fashion-consultant-playgroup-mom friend told me decades ago that this would take me everywhere, and she was absolutely right. Proof of this is the fact that every woman to whom I posed this question included, in her list of possible outfits, a pair of black pants and a nice blouse. The brains-behind-it-all-organizer-classmate even sent an email saying that that's what she'd be wearing.

But this is 2009, not 1967 and I don't think I really want to blend in that much. I'm comfortable in my own skin, and I dress like it. I had no idea that it was possible to spend $200 on a pair of blue jeans until a niece let me in on the secret. Most of my wardrobe is hand-me-downs from my boys. Discarded polo shirts and flannel shirts and gym shorts and sweat shirts fill my closet. One of my favorite parts of the Hileman Holiday Celebration Tour is the pile of rejected-by-them-and-adopted-by-me clothes at the edge of my chair after we've finished opening presents. Oversized is just fine, thank you. I'm comfy. I try to stay away from sloppy; relaxed would be an appropriate adjective.

Living in the desert Southwest gives me certain sartorial privileges, and wearing cowboy boots is one of those perks. I'm not a poseur; I wear them around town the way a New Yorker would wear Chucks. They're comfy and they make a statement. I have a few pair from which to choose (it makes TBG happy to buy them for me, and who am I to refuse????) so I've moved on to the shirt decision.

Definitely tucking it in since I have the perfect belt. Black, dark green, taupe..... I have a collection of great silk blouses that are good looking and classic. They all tuck in. But what about the Nat Nast shirt as a jacket-type-thing with that fabulous J Peterman sleeveless light wool shell (which I bought at the only J Peterman store I'd ever seen, and where is J Peterman these days?)? It got great reviews at the rehearsal dinner last month. Or what about the crocheted sweater and the tea length skirt with ballet flats? I have a trendy short shirtwaist I bought at American Apparel, but I don't want to dress "too young" this time. This, even though the two 20-somethings in the store stopped and complimented me as I was trying it on and dismissed my "Isn't it too young for me?" with "No waaaay" in harmony. Still, nothing that gives me even a second's hesitation is going on the short list.

The weather will be a huge factor, since I'll be leaving 85 and sunny. Lovely Linda and her Little Sister didn't have that in LA today while we were on the phone discussing, among other things, wearing black wool pants to the Reunion.

But as I said, there's no right answer. As long as a group of us agree, then we're fine.

When did it get this easy to be the one setting the rules? Was it always this easy and I just didn't know? Did I improve or is it just old age?

Whatever....... I'm liking it a lot.
Come back on Monday for the tale of the $200 blue jeans.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thursdays in the Garden - Sending the Memo

After shopping at both Tohono Chul and Greg Starr's nursery, I spent a few days planting. I remembered to keep things watered, and I covered the exposed area with a nice pine bark mulch. The weather's cooled off enough that I don't worry (too much) about serpents slithering as I'm kneeling in the mid-day sun. There was so much to do, and life was pressing, so much of the planting took place as the sun was setting.

There's a peacefulness that comes over the garden as the sun sits low in the sky. I could feel the earth relaxing as I carved out new homes for my treasures. There were lots of snake holes, especially around the space I'd reserved for the Rhyolite bush, but I decided that I wasn't going to worry about that. I'd consider them participants in the project as they aerated the soil through which the Crossosoma bigelovii could shoot its roots.

The two yuccas - schottii and torreyi - are guarding the walkway to the little garden gate.

They are a nice complement to the hesperaloes I planted last year along the same berm.

I'm broadening my palette in the sunset cactus garden, too. This Broad Spined Barrel (Ferocactus latispunus) sits nicely amongst the Golden Barrels, but the variegated spines say "look at me!!! look at me!!!" in a fairly demanding tone of voice. (Listen...... if I can talk to the plants, then they can talk to me. Don't think I'm making this up - our container plants in Mill Valley perked right up to Gilbert and Sullivan)

I added some White Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis) to the front courtyard, but there were still some bare spots. Another trip to Tohono Chul and I had three Lantana camara to fill in the gaps. There's a nice amalgam of white and yellow in the blooms, and the foliage is a lighter shade of green than their white and purple cousins. I think I bought it for the name as much as anything else, though -- Lantana Patriot Sunbeam. It sounds like an infant daughter on a survivalist commune.

I protected the Texas persimmon and the white lantana with chicken wire. This requires the use of a tin-snip and thick but supple gloves. Once you get into the groove of cutting it's not that hard, but towards the end, as the rolled up wire is digging into my forearm and my fingers are beginning to cramp, I wonder if it's all worth it.

The answer is, of course, yes. The unprotected rhyolite bush's before and after pictures tell the sad story of planting without protection.

Didn't they get the memo?

The lantana is supposed to be more palatable than this poor little rhyolite.

I'll wrap it tomorrow, after a trip to Home Depot for supplies.

The tender shoots that are emerging after the fauna gorging it endured are a testament to the strength of native plants. They're used to this happening to them, and they perservere through the adversity. I'm sure there's a deeper meaning to be found in this, but I'm just wondering where to send the memo to my resident fauna --- leave my flora ALONE!!!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Good Mechanic

There is really nothing to watch on the boob-tube (or, Daddoooo used to call it, the idiot box) these days. Channel surfing is frustrating and depressing. We really do have 57 channels and nothin's on.

So, when I landed on Mythbusters TBG couldn't really protest. Once again, my inner nerd had triumphed. Turns out that the Big Cuter was watching the same episode, so there was also the bonding piece. And it was fun.

There were two myths tested, one silly and one profound. I loved them both. Kari and Grant and Tory tried to see if they could "knock your socks off" in a series of more and more absurd experiments culminating in 500 pounds of explosives blowing mannequin legs to smithereens. In fact, you cannot get blown out of your socks and live to tell the tale. "OMG there's a foot in it" was only one of Kari's finds after the test.

Adam and Jamie, on the other hand, aimed to devise an experiment that would prove that two bullets, one dropped and one shot but both released from the same height, would reach their target at the same. They wanted to do the releases at once rather than testing the firing first and then the drop. There was some faux drama ("...and we had to build it fast".... what was the urgency?.... was there a sudden need to know the answer? was the family coming home from Disneyworld to an unfinished experiment?) but mostly we watched them build stuff.

There had to be a release mechanism for the drop and a platform for the shooting. Pre-tests were conducted, brows were furrowed, but all along you knew that they'd come up with something totally cool and unexpected. And, of course, they did.

When Mythbusters' ultimate solution involved a clip, some rope, and a lot of imagination I could just about see Daddooooo on Jamie's shoulder, nodding, his lower lip pursed and his eyebrows raised in surprise, ready to bestow his ultimate compliment : "This guy is a good mechanic."

The Cuters knew that bringing me their broken toys, with sorrowful but hopeful eyes, would mean that their treasures would be packaged and shipped to Long Island. There, as long as it wasn't plastic, Daddooooo and his workshop would make it right. It might not be quite as beautiful as it once was - repairs often involved neon orange duct tape or red nail polish - but it would be "in good working order."

When Adam hopped on his unicycle for the trip to the other end of the experiment, I went to Daddooooo on my old 1-speed non-Schwinn bike, pedaling towards the high school, following the string of the kite that "had to be somewhere..... just gimme a minute....."

Too bad they never met - these guys would really have liked my Dad.

Daddooooo would have been 93 today. Happy Birthday, Herb !

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Something to keep you company while I'm out of town

I'm off on an adventure with Amster in Flagstaff. I'll tell you all about it when I return, but til then, I thought you might like to read some of the other fabulous stuff that's out there in the blogosphere. I've added my commentary, in case you only have time for a snippet and you trust me to guide you along your path, grasshopper.

One more cute kid and a dog story. Short and sweet and perfect.

Exactly how I feel about gardening. Beautiful photos:

This is real writing. I try my best and I aim to please, but Laurie White is an artist. This one is a bit longer than the other two, and requires your brain to be engaged. Go for it; you'll be glad you did:

Hope you liked them. Leave a comment and let me (and them) know what you thought. That is, after all, one of the pleasant distinctions between blogging and newspaper-column-writing : with blogging, you can be a part of it, too.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Today, October 12, is Columbus Day. Not Amerigo Vespucci Day. Not Leif Ericson Day. Columbus Day.

It really is Columbus Day. Chris and his fleet landed at a place he named San Salvador on October 12, 1492. Of course, that was according to the Julian Calendar. In 1582, a papal bull (and what an image that conjures in the brain) restructured the concept of the leap year and named the new calendar after the Pope himself. Suddenly, La Nina and La Pinta and La Santa Maria had landed 9 days later, on October 21st, Gregorian time. Adding 3 days every 4 centuries doesn't seem like a big difference, but try telling that to Columbus. Someone must have agreed with me on this, since we celebrate his arrival on the Julian date. I love it when things that shouldn't change don't change.

And that's why I'm smiling about today being Columbus Day. Because, in actuality, Columbus Day is now celebrated on the 2nd Monday of October, regardless of the date. That's just wrong. Totally and completetly unacceptable. Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12th, George Washington was born on February 22nd. Neither of them was born on the 3rd Monday in February... or at least not every year on the 3rd Monday in February. Holiday-declarers need to get with the program. Certain things should not be messed with.

But today is October 12th. And it's Columbus Day. And all is right with the world.

I've always like Columbus Day, because it's not a birthday party. It's the celebration of an event. Being born isn't anything to congratulate the infant about. If we had pictures of Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Washington there would be reason to say "Nicely Done, Ma'am". The babies really didn't do much at all. Columbus, on the other hand, sailed across the flat world to find a faster route to India's spices. Though his math was a little shaky, and he really wasn't in India at all, he found the Bahama (which had been doing very nicely without him except for just a little bit of internecine warfare) and laid the groundwork for the casinos at Atlantis.

No one expects you to be at her house for dinner on Columbus Day. You don't have to eat special foods or dress in any particular color. You might not have to work (it's a Federal Holiday) and there's probably a raft of politicians marching down the main street of the nearest major metropolis.

You can avoid the political controversy over the whole celebration because, really, if you stop to think about it, there was no way that all of Europe was going to stay on their side of the pond forever. Globalization was bound to happen. I'm sure the indigenous population had their own word for Columbus's intrusion, but that's what it was. As a result of a search for financial advantage, the Americas were introduced to Europe. I'll leave the would they have been better off remaining un-found to those with more interest in navel gazing than I have. It's a moot point. The world is and was and always will be a series of interdependent spheres. It's only the access points which change. (Need an example? Go to Erie, Pennsylvania and see the results of progress.)

Columbus Day is a holiday without stricture, without structure, without musts, shoulds or oughts. It is a break from school when you can go apple picking or clothes shopping or jump in the leaves. You can hike or take the kids to a museum or just clean your closets, all while enjoying an official holiday.

Thanks, Chris.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Afghan Situation

President Obama is doing a lot of thinking about Afghanistan this week. To prove it, NBC Nightly News just ran a picture of him sitting at the head of a long table, in his shirtsleeves, surrounded by Cabinet members and the Veep and lots of paper. There wasn't a laptop in sight. The President was the youngest person in the shot by a bunch of years. He's drinking a bottle of water; Hillary's a Coke girl. Not Diet Coke. Regular, full strength classic Coca-Cola. That's one of the few things I think she gets right.

I really hope they recycle at the White House. Otherwise, they're setting a very bad example for our nation.

In another conversation on Afghanistan this afternoon, Campbell Brown couldn't believe that the President was "considering separating the Taliban and al Quaeda. I mean, can you do that?" Um.... yes, Campbell. One is a repressive, hateful-to-women political force with no ambitions beyond its own borders. The other is a terrorist organization with a world-wide vision and no mainstream political ambitions. Al Quaeda isn't running candidates in elections; the Taliban were the ruling party in Afghanistan for many long terrible years. If I know that how can she not know it? Didn't she read Kite Runner?

It's one thing to think that Americans in general are woefully out of touch with the nuances of foreign policy. We're separated by an ocean, we only speak English, we're bigger and better and we know it so why bother. I get it. But she's a television journalist. She's paid to provide insight or at least to prompt her guests to provide it. Mr. McCarthy was wrong in 8th grade social studies when he told us "There are no stupid questions." That was a stupid question.

General McChrystal is talking about Afghanistan, too. Agree or disagree, that's fine. But you're in the military and that's all about chain of command. Shades of MacArthur and Truman, only Obama hired this guy himself. He said he wanted "new thinking" when he replaced General David McKiernan, and it looks like he got it.

The Big Cuter and I were talking about Afghanistan last night. Had his Special Ops friend returned? I've been ever grateful that my boy resisted the temptation to serve his country by putting his body at risk. I'd have been proud of him, for sure. But like his Special Ops' mother, I wouldn't have slept starting from the exact moment he enlisted. It's a land war in Asia; haven't they seen Princess Bride?

And I've been thinking about Afghanistan. There can be plans and strategies and sorties and drones and boots on the ground and better intelligence and we still won't win. It's not that I don't hold our military in high regard. It's just that it's been tried before. The Russians failed. We've been there for 8 years. And, for an historical perspective, Alexander the Great conquered just about everyplace that he knew about except Afghanistan. He stayed there for three years (Iran took him about 6 months) and finally agreed to leave when his troops told him that they were going, with or without him. Alexander the Great. The one who rode Bucephalus. Who conquered the Persian Empire. He couldn't do it. The places in which we are fighting bear more resemblance to the villages Alexander saw than they do to Kabul or Levittown. They couldn't be subdued in the 4th century BC and I don't think they can be now.

But it's nice to see that people are thinking about it. After all, Nixon and Kissinger didn't talk to anybody but each other and that got us Cambodia and Laos.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Thursdays in the Garden (a new regular feature)

Meet Jay. That's J-A-Y. He was one of the many happy shoppers at the Tohono Chul Members Only Plant Sale this afternoon.

We began lining up before 2. I'm not sure how much before 2, but I was fifth in line. Apparently, the beautiful woman in the straw hat has been first for as many years as the others in line could remember.

I was pretty impressed with 5th.

Jay is a very talented man. He created the perfect cart for shopping the narrow aisles of the plant sale. Look at the size of those C-Clamps.

There is also an excellent collection of bungee cords, just waiting to secure many wonderful specimens.

Jay was about 10th in line.

I'm trying a new approach to landscaping this year - I am actually going to plan ahead, stick to a color scheme, and think about the plant's ultimate size before I stick it in the ground. I'm digging holes exactly the right size (just as deep and twice as wide as the root ball), setting the plants down on undisturbed soil, and protecting the most vulnerable with chicken wire cages. It's hard to know what the fauna will be munching on this season, but I'm guarding the ones with the most delicate leaves and stems. After a certain point, the yard begins to look like the outer edges of San Quentin, so I have to be a bit restrained in the chicken wire department.

Anyway, back to Tohono Chul. I had a plan - 7 white lantana to break up the butterflies-love-it-but-I-think-it's-boring purple lantana in the courtyard and around the pool. Some yuccas to complement the hesperaloes in the front - but I'm resisting the hesperaloe parviflora because Judy's going to bring me some from her garden tomorrow. Two or three cacti to replace the ones that just didn't make it on my program of benign neglect. And one or two things that strike my fancy and make me smile. I was in the grocery store, and I was hungry, but I had a mental list.

The gates swung open at 3pm sharp, and I was ready. I headed for the lantana first. Took 4 white ones and 3 white and yellow ones and then I began to browse. There were so many choices and I had spaces in mind with no particular plant picked out. That can be dangerous. And expensive. But browsing was educational and friendly and surprising - who knew that I could grow a Texas Persimmon tree in my front yard? That oleander can glare at me all it wants. My Diospyros texana will be 15'x15' and blocking the view of our living room from passers-by while oleander decides whether or not to flower.

I dragged my not-as-cool-as-Jay's wagon up one lane and down another and around and around and around until this is what I had

This is what Jay had when I left. I'm sure he had more shopping to do; look at all those bungee cords he's yet to use.

Everything fit perfectly in the trunk. We drove home singing about the admirable qualities of a modern major general, much to the amusement of the kid in the 4x4 next to me at the light. Oh, well.

More on the planting next Thursday.


I have a feeling that some of Jay's friends and family may be reading a blog for the very first time. Welcome! If you like this post, you can click on the "gardening" label in the postscript below and read similar posts. Or click through the archives. Or check out some of the bloghers linked on the sidebar. And be sure to leave a comment; how else will I know that you've been here?