Wednesday, March 31, 2010


We dragged the Cuters from the mid-west to California and then left their lives behind when we moved to Arizona.  When they protested, wondered, expressed dismay and were generally unhappy about leaving their friends, we told them that this was our life and when they got to be grown-ups they, too, could take that opportunity to ruin the lives of their children. But, for now, it was our turn to be the mean ones, and they had no choice in the matter. 

Contrast this to the reaction of the people who bought our last home in California. A family of 4, the parents saw a bright future in the green hills of Marin. The 14 year old son, however, was not amused. No way. No how. After 2 weeks in their new (our old) home, they packed up, bag and baggage, and returned from whence they'd come, leaving the homestead empty for nearly 2 years until they could re-sell it.

No child should have that much power. Just imagine what he'll be like as a husband.......

I have been thinking about the meaning of home this week as I spend time here in the Bay Area. I met my faux-sister for a 3 hour lunch, back in my old home town. The meal was delicious and the conversation was simply scrumptious. We settled into our chairs and shared the details that email just can't capture. Though nearly 4 years have passed since we shared pizza and pilsner, it really made no difference. That is, until we had to say goodbye. I tried to stop them, but my tears just kept coming. There is something very comforting about spending time with the women with whom you raised your children. It's in the shorthand, the ellisions, the absence of explanations – you just know. We could have been sitting anyplace; with her by my side, I was home.

She and her husband are moving back to their roots next week, nearer to family and the sights and sounds which bred them. Moving home? They've been away for almost 4 decades, and their children, though 20-somethings well on their way to making productive lives in cities far from Marin, are having issues with their parents' change of venue. Faux-sister is factoring their pain into her joy, but her enthusiasm for decorating and planting and creating a new beginning on a double lot with a fish pond in the backyard and a 3 car garage …. well, after 20-some years in a 3 bedroom apartment, she's justifiably excited. Her kids will just have to deal with their pain.

We were in the process of selling our Marin manse during the Little Cuter's last summer before college. I loved that house for its expansive gardens and 270o views but mostly for the memories it held. The Little Cuter teetering down the hall in her first going to the dance high heels, TBG standing behind her watching his little girl transformed into a beautiful young woman. The Big Cuter carrying his sister from the kitchen to the living room one Christmas Eve when she was too sick to stand up and yet needed to leave Santa his cookies and milk beneath the tree. Eating pizza on the gorgeous wooden floors before the furniture arrived, savoring the space and the emptiness. Listening to my niece play the flute after returning from a sorrow-filled visit to an ailing Nannie, releasing the pain and the sadness on a flurry of improvisation. I lost it one afternoon when the realtor told me that the kids' posters had to come down “so that buyers can imagine their own stuff on your walls.” Sobbing on the front steps, I felt the Little Cuter's arms around me, comforting me, patting me, and then, fed up with my wallowing, taking my face in her hands and saying “MOM, it's only STUFF. And if STUFF is making you cry, then you really need to stop and remember what's important. We have love and that's coming with us wherever we live.”

Out of the mouths of babes.

Home is where your stuff is.... and your stuff is mostly those you love. The memories will come with you, if you let them.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Travel Notes

I had a hard time getting out of the house on Friday. TBG had the cold from hell (Swine Flu? The sign at the airport listed all his symptoms.....) and decided not to risk his eardrums by flying. So, off I went, on my own, to visit the Big Cuter and San Francisco.

“Off I went” is a fairly sanguine (the same word two posts in 2 days.... uh oh.... am I in a verbiage rut?) description of my morning, however. Up at 6 to the sound of coughing, then a quick nap til 7 when the alarm reminded me that I had plants to water and bills to pay and patent medicines to arrange before I could say that I was on my way.

Late winter/early spring is my favorite time in the desert southwest. We've had lots of rain and seeing the wildflowers is on everyone's list of “what I'm doing this weekend.” Though I know that Marin will be beautiful and lush and green, I'm a little sad that I'm missing the California poppies which are blanketing Arizona's highways and byways. Knowing that they reseed and aren't particularly bothered by the heat reassures me that they will be there when I return next week, but there's a part of me which is anguishing. My freesia and hyacinth bulbs have shown half their blossoms and it is my vain but fervent hope that the rest last til I return on Thursday afternoon. The wildflowers I didn't spray with RoundUp are blue and healthy and covering the yard with smiles. Their un-sprayed companions are mucking up the view, but there was only so much time this morning, and murdering weeds didn't make the To Do List. I watered and dead-headed (pinching back the finished blooms to allow the plant to spend its energy growing new and healthy blossoms) and rescued the Adenium from its place in the too much sun and looked sorrowfully at the crepe myrtle which hasn't had its dried pods cut. This wasn't a priority since it hadn't started to leaf out by yesterday afternoon when I made my list. This morning, though, there are hundreds of green spots on the branches reminding me that growth spurts pay no attention to vacationing caretakers' schedules. Such is the lot of a gardener.

After tending to my babes, I brought in the papers and emptied the dishwasher and changed the bed linens so TBG could suffer in cleanliness. I tidied the bathrooms and replaced the towels and zipped my suitcase. Unzipped it several times as I found piles to be packed littering the living room and finally tossed it in the trunk. Returned to the house to grab my wallet and keys (how far did I think I'd get without them?) and made it as far as G'ma's pod castle before I realized I'd left my carry-on bag behind. U-turned and retrieved it. Got to the corner and went back to be sure the garage door had closed. Drove right past G'ma, forgetting to stop and kiss her goodbye. Debated making another U'ie but decided to take advantage of her lack of short term memory and kept on driving.

Passed the nail salon as I was examining my miserable manicure and decided to get to the airport 45 minutes early instead of 90 minutes early – a gesture toward maximizing my morning which I would come to rue upon arriving at Tucson International Airport. A note re: TIA: you can fly directly to Mexico, so I guess it deserves the fancy title even though it takes at least one change of plane to get to most major American cities from there these days. The line for those of us who'd used our own paper to print our boarding passes but needed to check our bags (for free – thank you Southwest for recognizing that people need to take stuff when they fly) stretched across the huge lobby from the counter to the doorway. There were two working kiosks and 3 working humans and I spent my time in line (on line? Where do you live and what do you say?) watching people walk to the front and try to use the machines. What did they think the rest of us were doing? Why did they think that they were so special that the front of the queue was their personal space? True, there were no signs or lane markers anywhere near the line to inform them, but somehow the rest of us had figured it out. People were anxious, but I had little sympathy for them. Arriving at the terminal 31 minutes before your flight is to take off (I saw her get out of the cab)is your issue, not mine.

Made it through security after following the government mandated sign about leaving Nellie the Netbook in her sleeve carrier, only to have the whole basket re-scanned because Nellie had nestled next to my boots and the TSA needed her to have her own little transportation basket through their machine. Of course, the government mandated sign had neglected to include that little tidbit of information, but who was I to argue with a 6'tall, 350 pound uniformed guard?

Got my boots back on, bought a delicious but over-priced tuna sandwich, and flew to Oakland in an aisle seat, close to the front of the plane. No more animal crackers as snacks on Southwest; of all the cutbacks this seems the cruelest. Somehow, I survived without them and, after collecting my suitcase and checking my directions with the lovely information lady, I took the AirBART bus to the train and arrived at the Big Cuter's apartment relatively unscathed.

He lives in The Tenderloin. Though that is a delicious cut of meat, it's not the most delicious part of town. Walking from my hotel to his apartment the next morning, I decided that being the only female not hawking her body on the sidewalk made me a fairly visible target. I retraced my steps, and found a more salubrious path to my son. We spent the day watching basketball and eating pizza and sharing laughs and hugs and rubs and smiles and deep thoughts about Plato and Law School and fantasy writers who take decades to complete a series. We did nothing and that was everything we needed to do.

I wore his gym shorts and a t-shirt when the sunshine turned his studio into a sauna and thought back to when I could shop for him by trying on the clothes myself. We were the same size then; now he's an adult and I'm still wearing his clothes. Certainly there must be a moral here..... I just can't find it.

Though I was far from my stuff and my sweetie back in Tucson, I had everything I needed right there in his apartment...... an internet connection, a comfy chair, sparkling water and the best boy in the world by my side. And the next day I got to do the same thing all over again.

Sometimes I am just the luckiest girl in the world.

Monday, March 29, 2010

March Madness Weekend

What would induce me to sit inside on a sunny San Francisco afternoon?  Sitting on a plaid recliner in a studio apartment, 10 feet away from a 50" flat screen, with windows open and sirens and breezes blowing through the blinds, I bond with my boy over March Madness.  We hoot, we holler, we high five, we call TBG (whose cold-from-hell kept him from joining me on this jaunt) and through it all we don't miss the great outdoors.  Only this event keeps me from the sunshine.
My brackets are toasted, and still I watch.  I must be a fan, after all.
The Little Cuter and SIR chose all the Indiana teams they could find, and it's serving them well.  I followed Cornell's Big Red and had them beating Kentucky, which might well have happened if any of their 3-point-shots had fallen.  Still, spending a week reading article after article describing the 15-bedroom house in which the team and a manager reside (if graphic depictions of the living spaces of college boys turn your stomach I'd advise you to avoid these links) brought me right back to Ithaca.  Though the boys lost their Sweet 16 matchup, their coach, Steve Donahue, sent a blast email to alumni thanking us for our support.  I can't remember when I've felt so connected to my alma mater.  Who says college sports have no redeeming social value?
*****  The first game was Butler vs Kansas State. Butler's coach looks much too young to be taking a team to the Final Four, don't you think.

The Big Cuter is now older than many professional athletes, what with red-shirting and straight-from-high-school players joining those ranks.  Still, it's strange to sit next to him and look at the screen and realize that baby faced Brad Stevens, DePauw '99, is going to the championship game

K-State played a double over-time game on Thursday against Xavier, and it showed in their legs this afternoon.  They were holding their shorts while awaiting Butler's first free throw, and gasping for air everytime they landed on the court after a foul.  Salt Lake City is 4226' above sea level, and Kansas is not.  I was looking for the O2 masks on the bench.
Fast basketball is fun basketball, and the refs managed to stay out of this game, for the most part.  There was bumping and slashing but mostly there was playing.  And what playing.  Butler was making 3's and playing team ball and retrieving passes out-of-bounds, slamming them in to teammates who made I can't believe that went in shots.  And they won.  And more brackets were busted.  After all, who gave much thought to Butler, though they were a ranked team all season long.  Some habits just die hard, I guess.  Thinking outside the box helped me win with NC State in 1983; where did my brave picking go this year?
West Virginia did not make a 2-point field goal in the first half, they were not the most talented players on the court, and yet they were up by 2 at the break.  There was a lot more chest bumping and fist thrusting than I thought was needed, but these kids are mostly from the NYC area and maybe it's a local thing. 
Dick Enberg has been affiliated with NCAA basketball for 50 years.
I tried to think of a follow-up sentence to that statement....... I failed.  This will be his final Final Four; he will be missed.
Didn't Da'Sean Butler ever listen to Bill Cosby's remonstrance: do not touch certain parts of your body while on the playing field?  DeMarcus Cousins hit him right in the crotch, and he took the ball down with him to the court.  My boys were cowering and I was laughing and Da'Sean went to the bench in agony.  And then West Virginia made its first 2-point shot.
And then there was Sunday, with Bruce Pearl, the most important Jew in sports today,  coaching his Tennessee Volunteers, with his parents (Bernie and Barbara) in the stands and his son, Steven, on the court.  Who says the American family is in disarray today?  They can be together for Passover on Wednesday and fold in a trip to the Elite 8, too.
I like Michigan State's Tom Izzo, too, so watching today's first game is pure pleasure for me.  Both Pearl and Izzo seem to develop men, not merely basketball players.  Sports Illustrated recounts the story of the Volunteers attending Leah Pearl's bat-mitzvah, greeting the celebrants with "Shalom, y'all."  There's something really wonderful to me about that.  It's the American melting pot at its best.
Amidst the basketball, my Cuters are chatting on the phone about the relationships on Chuck, a tv show the Big Cuter has shared with his sister.  They are dissecting love and friendship and platonic connections in amongst the minutiae of the show itself while I sit at his desk, typing to you, and feeling the pride of child-rearing gone well.  My kids are friends - I couldn't ask for more.
The best are always demonized it seems.  After all, the musical isn't Damn Dodgers, it's Damn Yankees.   I guess this allows the Big Cuter to declaim that Mike Krzyzewski, Duke's coach, feasts on the souls of babies.  He tried to show me the web page which depicted the act, but wiser minds have apparently prevailed and it no longer exists.  There are times when fan-dom stretches the boundaries of appropriate behavior.... big time.
Quincy Acy, Tweety Carter, Givon Crump, LaceDarius Dunn, Dragan Sekelja and Epke Udoh all play for the Baylor Bears.  If that's not the fanciest line-up of nomenclature in basketball history, I'd like to see your list.  And they are ahead at the half. 
The Big Cuter is full of NCAA/referee conspiracy theories as Duke, once again, heads to the Final Four.  All I know is that there are 3 more games to watch and then we start the long drought of no watchable sports on tv for my boys, until football starts up again in August.  I may actually get to make plans without consulting a televised gaming schedule.  Bliss........
I can't finish this post without commenting on the mascots.  There were bears and devils and lions and cougars, bulldogs and 'gators and buccaneers, wildcats, jayhawks,  mountain hawks and cardinals.  But my favorite is West Virginia's current incarnation of their mountaineer

Is she not the cutest thing on 2 feet?

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Conversation

My first readers are my most faithful.  The ones in my family are also the ones who call me to task the most often.  Listen in on this g-chat I had with the Big Cuter this afternoon.

BC: Read your post today.  I'm not super worried about the tea-party idiots causing '60s level unrest
A/B:  So sanguine, so young.
BC:   They don't have a unified goal or enemy; they are too fractured to actually acomplish anything
A/B: But they are armed
BC:   They might do some stupid stuff at your "bring your guns" rally
A/B:  They are certainly being urged to do "stupid stuff"
BC:  I just think, if you look at the demographics of the teabaggers vs the hippies it points to them not being as sustainable at being pissy.
Allow me to interject here, that we were not being pissy ... were were frightened and felt ignored and that led to rage and fury and demonstrations and the closing of universities.  Pissy wasn't it at all.
BC: Middle-aged, midwestern/southerners just don't frighten me as much as unwashed-unlettered teenagers
A/B:  Yeah,Tim McVeigh wasn't scary at all
BC:  Well, if you're talking about lone-crazies then there's nothing you can do about that
 A/B: For a variety of reason
BC: But as a movement that has serious legs and the opportunity to accomplish actual social change - eh.

A/B:  Eh  indeed on accomplishing anything.  They have no plan that I can discern. I know that they are against....  but what are they for?
BC: Right, but the thing is, they don't even really know what they're against. They're just mindlessly angry. It's too easy to lose that focus without clarity.
AB: They don't need a focus. We've got a man of color in the White House and they don't feel he represents them.  And they have guns and are being urged to use them.
At this point it became clearer to me that the piece which is bothering me the most relates to the death threats and guns.  Read this excerpt from this morning:
When (House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH))  was asked about a quote he gave to the National Journal about Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH) being a "dead man" for his health care vote, he said his words were taken out of context. "(I meant) politically... No one saw this quote until Congressman Driehaus and other people made an issue of it."
Now, here is Rep. Driehaus's response*:
I think it's really important for folks around here, especially leader Boehner, to understand that his words have consequences. ........

(Driehaus confronted Boehner about the interview on the floor of the House, telling him)  it was inexcusable. "It doesn't really matter the way you meant it, nor the way I accept it. It's how the least sane person in my district accepts it."
The fact that this piece of political theater could take center stage makes my point more eloquently than I ever could.  I'm thinking that Rep. Driehaus had some Tea Party people in mind in referring to "the least sane person in my district."  When the people in charge start using terms like "dead man" at the same time that there are Bring Your Guns to Washington rallies being scheduled, I'm not sure it's at all inappropriate to be worried, just a tad, at least.
BC: "They have guns," yes, but lacking the will to put them to a unified purpose, they're no more dangerous on a large scale than if they didn't have guns.  And honestly, I can't think of a way to galvanize the white-yuppie-we-won-with-Obama-establishment against the Tea Partiers than if they descended on DC in an armed mob. At this point, we tolerate/ridicule them as a meaningless side show.
On a micro-level, there's some reason to be a bit nervous, but 10 years ago we were nervous about Arabs, 10 years before that we were nervous about the Soviets. There's always going to be a reason to be nervous but ultimately, on a macro level, the tea baggers are too stupid/unfocused to be a real problem
A/B: I think you've hit the nail on the head - they are not FOR anything and being against something is harder to sustain --- the Vietnam War ended and we became investment bankers and university spokesmen and CEO's of Fortune 500 companies.
The "no war" protests were different than the world peace movement which still exists.  Once the war was over, there were no more SDS meetings on campuses, though there was still a need for Students to create a Democratic Society.
BC: "The only thing I hate more than neo-liberal anarchists are the corporate fat cat suits they grow up to become"  (quote from John Casey on Chuck)

I'd take your point about them being against something a step further. I don't even think they know what they're against. It's just random discontent with the fact that their lives are small and meaningless.  And with the diminution of organized religion's ability to act as an opiate, that type of person has turned to talk radio.  And the message of the Church of Fox is fundamentally different than that of Christianit
But the two work in parallel these days milking money from the same folks who, ironically, are probably best served by the economic ideals of the democrats.
A/B:  Too true.  I was in the grocery store yesterday and a pretty girl was promoting the fact that there were now 500 generic drugs in  the pharmacy.  A man asked the girl at the table "Is this Obama's plan" as if in 2 days there it was! And as if it was somehow providing our local market with generic medication.  She grimaced and said "OH NO" with such horror in her voice that I had to restrain myself from jumping in and telling them that they were idiots. I went and bought my pomegranate juice instead
BC:  At the same time, there are articles fluttering around now, talking about how the radicalization of the Republican Party is ultimately going to hurt them at the polls.  Which makes total sense to me.  
And it's funny that those articles are coming out now because it's the easy article to write, whereas before the passing of health care reform it was easier to write about how passing the unpopular bill would hurt Democrats. 
That said, the teapartiers are just too extreme to actually carry a national party so, let the Republicans continue to be the party of "we're dumb and we're proud!"
A/B: Yes, reporters can't follow through and see if,  in fact,  the Democrats are finished because of health care.... that is not a sexy issue anymore. And so, we move on.
There was more, touching on Machiavelli's notion that it is easier to control a fearful than a loving population among other things, but we ended with this story:

We were at dinner Sunday night with old friends and their friends. The 24 year old waiter, overhearing our conversation about the vote that evening,  was asking us if we thought it was a good idea.  Mr. Dreamy Cakes told him that there were many provisions which were directed exactly to his generation, going on to explain that he could remain covered under his parents' health insurance plan until he was 26 which freed him to do whatever..... and he interrupted and said, with a surprised and very pleased smile on his innocent face "And it'll be free????
I'm not sure how to counter the mis-information that's out there, but I'm going to have to join the conversation and do my part.  This is a good thing, America!!! Are you listening?


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Something's coming... I don't know... What it is... But it is... Gonna be........

Something's coming.... and it doesn't look good.

Watching MSNBC this morning as they replayed Rachel Maddow's interview  with the former leader of the Alabama Constitutional MilitiaThe subject was the Bring Your Guns to Washington Day (an event whose slogan is: Don't Retreat, Instead, Reload) and the whole thing was an enlightening experience.  I had been unaware of the preparations for this and the many similar events scheduled for April 19th.  Ready for another special way to spend the day? How about the group encouraging you to throw bricks through the windows of your local Democratic Party headquarters?

April 19th is the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, which, in 1775, effectively started the American Revolution.  It's also the anniversary of the 1993 FBI/Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas. Talk about the Law of Unintended Consequences..... do you suppose the FBI gave any thought at all to the historical resonance when then laid seige to the Mt. Carmel Center that afternoon? Probably not, I'd guess.  But Timothy McVeigh certainly did when he blew up the Murrah Federal  Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995.  

As I said, it was very enlightening.  There's a holiday which exists outside my purview.  Normally, this would wound me.  Someone is celebrating and I'm not invited?  But really, do I need to commemorate a frustrating tangled miserable from any perspective event?  The fact that David Koresh was fathering children with teenagers seems to escape these people. 

I'm no more angry with them than I was with the Weathermen who blew up Sterling Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. When the Little Cuter and I were doing the prospective students' tour, our guide stopped outside that building and pointed out the discolorations which remained after the bomb exploded and Robert E. Fassnacht, a graduate student studying superconductivity - not related to military uses at all - was killed.  Though the terrorists (and yes that's just what they were) targeted the Army Math Research Center housed in the building, the unintended consequences included damage to people totally uninvolved in military research.  The bombers went to jail and those protesting against the war were forced to face the fact Hell No, We Won't Go shouters might also be mixing ammonium nitrate and fuel oil and sending a loaded van into some geek's laboratory.  

It was a sobering experience to come to terms with the extremes of my anti-war position.  Could I say that I shared their rage and so their actions were excusable?  Understandable?  Defensible?  No,  I couldn't.  I had friends who tried to convince me that there were degrees of wrong and that attention must be grabbed but I could never get past the fact that innocents had died.  

And what do these people think will happen when loaded guns are the focal point of a political rally?  Loaded guns are an issue for me here in Arizona, as I watch our State Legislature discuss bills allowing high school teachers, or college teachers, or patrons of eating and drinking establishments, to carry concealed weaponry.  Loaded concealed weaponry.  Business now sport fliers like these

I am afraid that the Tea Parties' lack of civility and respect for differences of opinion has taken an ugly turn.  Were supporters of the Vietnam War concerned about protesters' violent acts?  Did they smear the entire movement because of the Weathermen?  Am I falling victim to the same trap?

I'm never surprised when what goes around comes around but this is still a little spooky.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Health Care Reform and Truthiness

"That's true, isn't it?"

"No, but it's accurate."

Sally Fields is torn apart by that difference at the end of Absence of  Malice.  She goes on to question her ability as a reporter and her perceptions of her relationships, and then she walks off the pier into the sunset.  And I am left thinking, once again, of truthiness.

Listening to The Great Health Care Reform debate is near to pushing me over the edge.  Things are accurate but not true and yet everyone is yelling at the top of their lungs.  No one is listening, because we all know our own truths and accept their veracity unquestioningly.  

Before the vote, I received robo-call after robo-call reminding me to call Gabrielle Giffords' office and tell her that re-election was in jeopardy should she support the reform bill. The buzz words were caustic and designed to intimidate and I was furious.  Nothing they were saying was accurate, because there was no bill increasing my taxes and forcing me to give up my current coverage and putting the government and President Obama in between my doctor and me.  Arguments were still being made and deals were still being cut and Rep. Giffords' voice mail system was overwhelmed and not taking calls on Saturday morning at 8am.  I sent her an email encouraging her to stick to her guns, but I think I'm going to have to do more.  A yard sign?  Phone banking?  She can't be punished for taking a difficult stand, especially when I'm glad she did it.

I was called as part of what I imagine was the US Chamber of Commerce's poll prior to the vote.  The young woman who was asking me whether I was in favor of a government take-over of the health care system and whether I was willing to pay higher taxes to support people who wouldn't buy their own insurance and if I wanted to add layers of bureaucracy between.... and at that time I could not listen for another second.  I begged her to do her own research on the issues she was raising and to listen, really really listen to the bias inherent in the questions and then I hung up.

There was no way to participate in the survey and accurately, truthfully, truly, really, honestly, actually reflect my  opinions.  The questions precluded it.  I fancy myself as being comfortable with verbiage; I'm rarely at a loss when words are involved.  Yet for the 4 or 5 minutes before I ended the call, that questioner stumped me.  "Um.... maybe" wasn't on her response card.

So, when the results of the Chamber's poll were bandied about by talking heads on tv and radio and the inter-web, I was skeptical.  Americans didn't want health care reform and they were telling the pollsters that in no uncertain terms.  Only the terms were defined by the askers and there was no way to make it come out unfavorably to their cause.  Truth?  Accurate?  Or another triumph of truthiness?

Liberty Heights' courtroom scene ends with the honest admission that no, the student could not swear to tell the truth the whole truth so help him God.  The student's father runs a strip club and a gambling enterprise and the family never talks about what dad does.  The price of honesty and truthfulness is just too high.  The family lives a life of truthiness, denying the reality but enjoying the experience.

Frighteningly close to America today, wouldn't you say?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I Am Not Alone (v.2.0)

USA Today is also into the Cornell/Kentucky game.. here is the link..... if you know nothing about the game, this would be a good place to start.  It will make you smile, if nothing else.

Thanks, Torchy, for sending this my way.

Another Game

I love playing Scrabble.  It was my favorite "junior game";  the flat cardboard squares had letters and pictures and there were pictures on the board to help you create your words.  G'ma wouldn't help me spell - "Look it up" was her consistent reply - so I learned to keep the dictionary on the table by my side.

We had rules - mostly designed to let me win.  I suppose that's why I love it still.... I'm hardwired to smile and feel accomplished when I think of it.  But that's okay, because it's not as if I'm in love with methamphetamines, after all.

I played with the Cuters and with G'ma and with roommates and with strangers on long train trips.  There's a group which plays at the local library, but I've yet to devote an afternoon to joining them.  I'd thought that G'ma and I could've incorporated that into our lives, but her brain is less plastic than it needs to be and playing is frustrating for her.  She knows that she used to put down more than 3 letter words, but that's about all she can remember now without forgetting where she started.  Alas.

There are movies where Scrabble is a major player - The Wedding Planner comes immediately to mind - and I always wonder why there aren't more.  Characters play chess - Thomas Crown, Jed Bartlet - and leave the boards out to spark conversation.  Scrabble would work just as well, don't you think?  I'm certain that chess masters can look at a board in mid-game and make an educated guess about the kinds of people the players might be.... or at least a guess that's good enough for the movies.  I can do the same thing with a Scrabble board.  Are the words long and placed without regard for the opportunities they might present an opponent?  Are the tiles themselves creating a pretty picture on the board?  Are the words boxed together,  expanding on smaller starts to create larger but still overlapping words?  Each board tells a story, and I love to read them.

I've been playing Wordscraper - Facebook's application which replaced Scrabulous which Milton Bradley deemed too derivative to live....... all we wanted to do was play, people!! - against the same group of people for a few months, now, and I've built faux-lives for each of them.  For some, I've looked at their profile pages and incorporated their actual selves into their persona.  For others, I'm winging it.  Tana and Dixie and Misty..... don't those names conjure up different souls?

Perhaps my favorite part of the game is deciding upon and decoding the words which we use.  Sexual references are often the only use for the letters in my rack, but cum and yoni aren't words I put out until I've been competing against someone for a while.  I've noticed the same hesitancy (or just absence of letters?) coming my way, too.

And these word choices do reveal even more about my opponents.  For example, I'm playing a person who has used diplont (an animal or plant that has the diploid number of chromosomes in its somatic cells) and grume ( a semisolid mass of coagulated red and white blood cells) in recent games.  Is she a physician?  Is she ill?  Inquiring Wordscrapers want to know.  These aren't words which have ever crossed my path until I saw them on our game; what kind of life does she have which put them in her way?

Gyoza  (A pocket of dough that is stuffed, as with minced pork or shrimp, and fried) sounds delicious, doesn't it?  I'm an adventurous eater, always up for a challenge, but I've never run across a gyoza. Down what street was my opponent wandering when a gyoza enticed with its aroma? 

There are certain "scrabble words" that everyone seems to know and to which no one seems to object - jo (sweetheart, dear) and qi (a variation of chi - life force), for example.  There are apparently devices called word generators which can present you with all the legal permutations on your rack, but I don't play against people who use them.  Interesting words which are part of your (sometimes, anyway) working vocabulary are fine; I use poesy (Poetical works; poetry) and eft  (An immature newt, especially the reddish-orange terrestrial form of a North American species, Notophthalmus viridescens.)  with impunity because I knew what they meant before they appeared in my rack.

And then there are the funky spellings - emir/ameer/emeer all rule Arabic lands and a raja(h) can be married to a rani or a ranee.  As long as it's in my dictionary, or on the list of approved 3 letter words from SOWPODS which the Little Cuter sent me before her office blocked Scrabulous last year, well, then, I'm just fine with it.  Beyond that, I pretty much have to know the word  before I'll use it.

Princess Myrtle refused to allow a word unless I knew the definition. but then I turned her on to The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary that SIR got for me  (he does buy the best gifts.... one of the many reasons the Little Cuter knows that if they ever break up I get custody of HIM!) and she was hooked.  Our game lasted nearly 2 hours, and no move was made without extensive consultation with the little red book and then we agreed to use it only to resolve disagreements.

As I spend, once again, much too much time watching others play games (NCAA March Madness), it's nice to remember that I can play, too.

Monday, March 22, 2010

I Am Not Alone

The Big Cuter sent me this link to one of his favorite sports blogs ---  even "real" blogcasters love Cornell it seems.  I just had to share.

March Madness

I've spared you much bloviating on March Madness and my pool and such but there are some things that must be said :

GO BIG RED - I've heard from high school classmates who went to Ithaca with me and from Chicago-land friends watching Wisconsin lose on CBS's main feed while I sat, mesmerized and chatting on-line with the Big Cuter, as a team - my team - with no scholarship players (there are no athletic scholarships in the Ivies) crush not one but two nationally ranked teams.  You may have picked them to win, but did you expect the scores to be so lopsided?
Michigan  State was down by one.... got the ball off and through the net for a 3 as the clock turned to 0.0 in the frame just behind the basket.  The Maryland players were on the floor, shocked, looking at their navels as the Michigan State kids pile on the shooter laughing and hooting...  like puppies..... like boys having fun.  Sometimes it's really wonderful to watch other people's kids play sports. 
The Big East may well be "just deep" and perhaps it is not the greatest conference in the history of the game.  Such was the hype going into the tournament and winners from other conferences have been making note of the fact.  The Big 10 has 3 teams in the Sweet 16 and the Pac-10 is doing much better than expected and, of course, there's the IVY LEAGUE (yes, I am shouting) winning by 20-ish points and advancing once again.  Bring it on, Kentucky.
NBC really blew it with the Olympics.

I have been typing this post (and others) on my desktop in the library while listening to the NCAA tournament on the big screen tv in the living room and watching it via on Nellie the Netbook, who is sitting on the desk beside me.  The main feed from CBS is showing what it believes will interest viewers in a particular geographic location (hence my Chicago-land friends watching Cornell v Wisconsin on their CBS affiliate).  All the other games are available on-line, for free, in real-time.  There's a wrap up program at the end of each day on tv which shows highlights and brings the viewer up-to-date on the latest news.  The Cuters and I can watch the same games at the same time and g-chat or text or even use the phone to share the excitement

Contrast that to NBC's pitiful time delayed even on the west coast when the events were happening live telecasts with no simultaneous on-line presence.  Aggravating doesn't begin to cover it.

The same guy who brought you Sports Watch and Market Watch made the CBS/March Madness/OnLine extravaganza happen.  And do you know why?  Because he's a huge Syracuse fan and the Orange were never on tv.... and he wanted to know the scores.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Animated Elders

Who knew that Antonio Banderas was producing animation?  Not I, that's for sure. But he is. 

In the tradition of Up (if something produced last year can be said to have a tradition) an obviously old person remembers love and lives with loss and makes a decision but someone knows better and then all hell breaks loose. 

And it's not really their fault.  Either time.  They had plans and those plans were good and somebody else decided to help. 

The Lady and The Reaper was nominated for Best Animated Short Film at the 2010 Academy Awards.  If you've not seen what we used to call cartoons in a while, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.  Watch it..... it's a fast 7 minutes or so... and be sure to stay til the credits have rolled.  You'll feel incomplete if you don't.


That was fun, wasn't it?  Did you see the reaper's last scene to get the incomplete mini-joke up above? 

Are you noticing a theme here?  The lady is comfortably dying, going off to meet her dear departed husband when Dr. Superhero decides to save her.  Tell me this character from The Incredibles

 isn't a dead ringer for our medical miracle worker
I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.  Hence, I blog and they animate, or computer graphicate as the case may be.

These are not old people making these movies.  Yet somehow they have tapped into the very essence of my issues with G'ma - who makes what decisions for whom?  At what point does someone else know best?  Are you selfish and ungrateful to refuse assistance?  Is medical science or sheltered care the best answer for every situation?  And, most important of all, who's life is it, anyway?

I've got a third story to share - one with a less buffeted-by-fate theme, I think.  The Triplets of Belleville sends Grandma, stray coarse hairs, whistle and all

to her grandson's rescue. 

And who's helping her?
Why, the Triplets of Belleville, of course.

Former girl-group-hotties, they still manage to cut a rug every now and then.  Here they are in their heydey:

There are few offers of help tendered toward the elderly ladies who anchor the story.  They make lemonade out of the lemons in their lives, and the world (and the grandson) are better for it.  Left to their own devices, these girls do just fine.

Of course, a little help wouldn't have been begrudged....  or would it?

I've got no answers.  I'd just like to believe that I'll be cognizant of my surroundings and interested enough in life to demand to be heard., as the lady and Carl and the triplets and the grandma do.  And I'm hopeful that those around me will have the patience to listen.

Thanks to for the illustrations in this post.

I found the video at Time Goes By, a personal/cultural/topical/elderblog on my permanent BlogRoll. 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Random Thoughts for a Thursday Morning

Losing in the first round of the NIT when you're playing in your home town is one thing.  Losing at the buzzer... really, after the buzzer...... as the ball goes around and around and around the rim and then falls in.  Ouch.
Did you submit your brackets?  It's an open group and I think that means you can join in any time.  The first games start today at 12:15pm ET. 
There's a spring smell in the air here in the desert southwest.  The mornings don't have that frosty freezing feeling and the breeze is moving but not particularly cooling.  We've had no rain for the last few days, and the weeds are springing up faster than I can spray them with Round-Up.  I have to admit that it is lots of fun to walk around with my spray container spritzing things I've decided are weeds. 
I received 5 agave pups from a Master Gardening friend.  Three went in direct sun and two were nestled in a shady corner with a north-eastern exposure. Sheltered by the house and a small wall, those two in the shade are still green and open.  The other three have a case against me for flora abuse.  I moved them into the corner with their friends this morning and by late afternoon they were opening up... just a little, because they're somewhat fried.... but the right plant in the right place has got to be my mantra.
How I like typing desert southwest and and knowing that it's my home.  I'm not sure that anyone who didn't grow up in the environs of New York City can understand how I feel. This iconic map of a New Yorker's view of the rest of America pretty much says it all:

drawing by Saul Steinberg

This poster was on the wall in every third dorm room my freshman year at Cornell. 
Ah, Cornell.  It's grey, it's cold, it's competitive and it is big.  Don't like your freshman roommate?  It's completely possible that your paths will never cross again once that long and aggravating year has ended.  I say this having proven it myself.  That's the upside of going to a big school - you can reinvent yourself and no one will care.

On the other hand, the downside of that reinvention is that no one will notice. 

It's possible to be lost and alone amongst 20,000 of your peers.  It's possible to walk across acres of greenspace and not recognize a single person who passes.  In high school, the work may have been difficult, but you were rewarded with A's.  At Cornell, your hard work takes more time and delivers lower grades and sometimes, I suppose, the anonymity and the pressure and the weather and your life gets to be too much and you jump off a bridge.  Literally.  And you're the second one in as many days. And the third this month.

Ah, Cornell.  At a time when you should be celebrating the fact that Jay Bilas picks you to go to the Final Four, you are mourning far too many losses.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March Madness

The brackets are out.

Wondering what I'm talking about?  Confused about the title?  Then you're probably going to be aggravated with me quite often during these next three weeks.  It's my favorite time of the sports year, and, in my new role as blog-caster to the masses, I've decided that it is my obligation to entice you to join the fun.

First, the background.  The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) is the much maligned "voluntary organization through which the nation's colleges and universities govern their athletics programs," according to  Governance implies an organizational structure, but just try to find it on either of those websites.  Google NCAA PRESIDENT and the first few listings take you to Myles Brand, who died on September 16, 2009.  That should give you a clue as to the efficiency, efficacy and enlightenment which the NCAA brings to the the table.  Their rules are arcane and there's really no way to successfully disagree but it's all there is, so that's that.  If you want to play sports in college, you deal with the NCAA.  If you want to watch college sports, you're watching an NCAA product.  And don't think that it isn't a product -- why else is there a both dot-com and a dot-org website?

"It is comprised of institutions, conferences, organizations and individuals committed to the best interests, education and athletics participation of student-athletes," the dot-org site continues.  Best interests..... one could take issue with that on many many levels with many many instances and grievances and absurdities and redundancies but that's not my point in this post.  I'm just going to ask why there's an "s" at the end of athleticS in that sentence and move on.

The NCAA sponsors season-ending tournaments in some sports and not in others - football being the most obvious example of a sport without a tournament.  No, the BCS is not a college football tournament, but, again, that's fodder for another post.  (See how kind I am to you non-sports fan readers?)  Basketball has a 65 team tournament every March, and that is the point of this post.  

65 teams?  How can you have an odd number of teams in a one-loss-and-you-are-out set of brackets? Conference winners receive automatic bids to the tournament, which presented a problem for the NCAA when the Mountain West conference was established in 1999.  Their winner did not receive an automatic bid to the tournament and no small amount of turmoil ensued.  Beginning in 2001, the NCAA instituted a "play-in" game, for the 64th and 65th ranked teams.  They did this in order to avoid having to eliminate an at-large bid for the tournament. 

Does this not make sense to you?  Don't worry..... I'm not sure it's supposed to.  Remember, this is an organization which hides its governance on its website.  It's not designed to make you comfortable or to enable you to clearly understand its decisions.  They decide and the players abide.  And the rest of us watch, because it's all there is.

Anyway, once the play-in game is finished, the 64 teams deemed worthy of participation (neither Tucson's UofA nor the Little Cuter's Indiana were so honored this year..... sigh....) begin 3 (long) weekends of play.  The first games of the full tournament begin this Thursday, March 18th, at 12:25pm ET.  That's 9:25 in the morning here in Arizona (we don't do daylight savings time... we have enough sunshine already).  The 64 teams are divided into 4 sections, 2 of which compete on Thursday and Saturday  and 2 of which play on Friday and Sunday.  This is called "the first and second rounds" or "the first weekend".  

The second weekend of play, referred to by the cognoscenti as The Sweet Sixteen, begins on March 25th.  Getting through the first weekend and into the Sweet Sixteen is a real accomplishment.  There are Cinderella teams (lower ranked but winners anyway) and favorites and suddenly teams which have been over-looked are now sportcasters' darlings.  Siena, Austin Peay, St. Joe's, George Mason ..... these teams have broken my heart over the years by defeating my higher ranked favorites.  

MY favorites, you ask?  Hang on for a while and we'll get there.

After the Sweet Sixteen comes The Elite Eight and The Final Four, whose games are played on the subsequent weekend, culminating in the championship game on April 5th.  Yes, it's March Madness, but remember, it's the NCAA......the calendar seems to be fungible. 

The best part about March Madness is the spirit.  Real team spirit.  Rah-Rah Sis Boom Bah.  College alumni and parents and students and neighbors and co-religionists are all bound together in a love fest.  There's joy and there's sorrow and there's amazement and there are always surprises.  DePaul lost one game all season long (to Notre Dame, on my birthday) when we lived 3 blocks from their 2000 seat stadium in the early 1970's and then they went to Las Vegas for the tournament and lost in the first round.... two years in a row.... to nothing teams from nowhere.  Can't you tell that I'm still suffering?

Since there is so much involvement from every part of the country it's only natural that March Madness would spawn a gambling empire.  Office Pools, legal or otherwise, abound.  I would like to declare, for the record and posterity, that I came in 2nd and won $92 in  TBG's iteration of that event in 1983 by knowing that Jim Valvano would take his team to victory.  And yes I made my own picks.

Picks are where we are going next, Dear Readers.  Do not be afraid.  I will walk you through it. It's easy and it's fun and you will have talking points all year long if you participate in the First Annual March Madness in the Burrow Tournament.  If you click on that link, it should take you to the home page of the Burrow's tournament challenge; if it doesn't work, try clicking here and search for Burrow-Ballers....and don't forget the dash. 

Why, you ask, should you do this?  You know nothing about basketball and you care even less.  You are already in three pools and don't want to expend the energy to join another.  What's the prize?  Why do I care?  Well, as the motto of our group so aptly puts it We don't know... but we care.   This is a fun and easy way to participate in the American conversation over the next few weeks, and don't we all long to be connected?  There are no prizes, except for the glory which will come from having your name announced in a special winner's edition of The Burrow.

I think you'll be surprised at how much fun 5 minutes of your time right now will give you over the next 3 weeks.  

And if nobody does it, I won't be sad.  I've got the family pool going on.  

But really, this isn't a mommy-blog and it's not an elder-blog and it's not a reviewing nor a political nor a media-centric blog.  It's The Burrow and we're making it up as we go along.   

So, try it... you'll like it......

Want some tips on entering?  If not, skip the rest and make your picks.  Right now. 
So, now you are committed.  You click through and are asked for your ESPN account.  If you don't have one already, this is your opportunity to create your web persona.  Just as I write as Ashleigh, you, too, can exist in the ether and still protect your real self  from intrusion.  Think up your name and password and there you are. If you opt out of all the emails they'll never bother you... I've had an account for years and I promise that this is true

You can make up more than one persona and mix it up by entering more than once.  You can invite your friends or children to join, too.  
You can use any method at all to pick your teams, and you can tell us about it in the comments or keep it as your own secret.  The (#)'s after the team names are their rankings within their quarter of the whole tournament.  There are 4 number 1 teams and 4 number 16 teams.  You can pick upsets based on uniform colors or on the strength of each team's offense or defense.  How do you find that information?  Hover over the team name and there it is.  
Click on the team you think will win each game and the program automatically moves them to the next round.  

Questions?  Worries?  Complaints? Ask below and I'll try to help.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

New Year's Resolution Update

Are there things in your life which you just don't want to think about?

Things which make you sad, which have no solution, or whose solution is so far out of reach that it might as well not exist at all?  Things which exist in your world but which are out of your control ... for whatever reason that might be..... do they make you as crazy as they make me?

My New Year's resolution* places the burden of my happiness squarely on my own shoulders.  I've left myself a reminder on my new phone's welcome screen, and usually that's enough.  But sometimes....

These things hit me unexpectedly, not creeping up slowly but slamming into my face and my heart with a suddenness that would be jarring even were they bringing me strawberry shortcake instead of  poop pie.

I cross my arms on the desk and rest my forehead, caring enough about myself to leave my nose free for breathing.  Though I try to feel the stimulation of my 3rd eye and create the understanding and detachment that the ajna chakra promises, the force of the feeling is overwhelming.  

So, I wallow. 

I am the Queen of Wallowers, the Empress of Self-Pity, the Princess of Why Me.  There are no boundaries, no restrictions, no qualifications on the feelings.  Out they pour, scrambling over one another in their effort to be recognized.  Sad is a big one, but angry, lost, furious, empty, frightened and all their friends are asserting their presence with authority.  I don't wallow long, but I wallow well.

At a certain point, I take a deep breath and (thank you New Year's Resolution!) I remind myself that I am only as happy as I allow myself to be.  The bad thoughts are brought up short in their tracks.... I can literally feel them going back inside to their special secret hiding space (somewhere near the clocaca, no doubt) as my heart begins to pump more regularly and I feel the wall reconstructing itself..... locking those issues back away.

I know that I won't solve them by doing that, but I won't make them go away by examining them, either.  Remember, they are out of my control.  They exist in another and in me and a resolution requires equal participation...... as I said.... out of my control.

And it's not the fact of being out of my control that aggravates me.  It's that the solution cannot be achieved by my own force of will.  I don't want to be here, but I am.  I need help getting out, and the help is not forthcoming.

I suppose I ought to let them out every once in a while when I'm feeling cheery and see if they look better under that lens.  But that would mean feeling this way on purpose.... and I am only as happy as I allow myself to be...... so, for now, I'm going to concentrate on making myself happier rather than searching for a solution.

It feels like that's at least a small step up from wallowing.

Oh, yes..... thanks for listening.

*don't want to click through?  In brief, then: You are only as happy as you allow yourself to be.