Monday, November 30, 2015

It's A Quandary

If your car could travel at the speed of light, would your headlights work?

That's the kind of question that gives me an instant headache, as I try to grapple with the science.  It only takes a moment for my brain to realize that the person it inhabits has failed to internalize the physics it once learned.  If it's in there, I can't find it.  

And so, I move on.  

I am bemused, realizing that your headlights are probably the least of your problems if your car suddenly began traveling at the speed of light.  Or, perhaps, it's a specially designed car, and then wouldn't the engineers and other smart people have figured out the solution, if there is, in fact, a problem?  And there I am, back at the science, again.

Big Cuter and I spent several hours driving to and from the Mesa Airport.  As always, time in the car is the most valuable. We talk.  We disagree.  We laugh.  And he teaches me things which are complex and deep and profound and presents them in such a clear and interesting fashion that it's really a shame that I can't replicate his explanations here.

Or were they explications?  We spent some time on that distinction, and I was much more comfortable with that conversation than the one surrounding it.  That was the conversation that really gives me a headache, the same headache I've had since I first thought about it, in elementary school.  

What's outside our universe?

Image result for atlas holding up the world rockefeller centerBig Cuter was very clear about the inflaton (no, it's not a misspelling, there is no "i", it's a different word, apparently) field, the fabric of something-or-other which oscillates and when it oscillates a certain way a big bang occurs.  At least, that's what I think he told me.  I could be wrong.  It doesn't really matter, because it doesn't answer the original question:

What's holding our universe up?

I asked Atlas Holding the World the same question as a teenager.  I did.  I remember standing at Rockefeller Center, wondering if people would understand if I started screaming at the sculpture.  What was he standing upon? Did anybody know?  It made my head hurt just to think about it.

It's a quandary.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Random Thoughts - The Thanksgiving Evening Edition

Having the world's best next door neighbors is something for which TBG and I are profoundly grateful. We admit our foibles, laugh at our failings, and find comfort in the knowledge that we're all falling apart at about the same rate.

Being there for one another is, of course, quite wonderful.  But it's the shared amusement that acts as the glue holding us together.
Joining them for Thanksgiving dinner, some of us reveled in the lack of acrimony, in the ease and grace with which this family flows through the world.  Where was the whining... the head shaking... the muttered imprecations and the slammed doors

Our natal families bore no resemblance to this; we agreed that this is much better.
We watched sons and grandsons discussing George R R Martin and Jessica Jones, smiling as 20's and 30's and 40's blended together, seamlessly.  The college freshman's boyfriend was a willing helper among strangers, insisting that JannyLou must have something that needed doing.  I peeled turkey necks and chopped liver for giblet gravy because it was easier for me than for her.  Everyone seemed to be responsible for the dogs.
The instructional emails in the preceding weeks were a big help. JannyLou had given each of us tasks and timelines, so bagels were procured and gluten/dairy/egg free dessert recipes were tested in a timely fashion.  Everyone was just-a-little-bit dressed up for this extended family and friends event, and everyone had some skin in the game.

There was a lot of justifiable pride floating around the kitchen.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Overheard at Thanksgiving - Redux and Revised

Big Cuter set the oven on fire last night, so it's a good thing that JannyLou is making the turkey.  I can cook on the burners tonight, and beg left overs for tomorrow's late night snacks.  Foodstuffs taken care of, I had time to re-read my Thanksgiving posts, one a year since 2009.  

This one is from 2010, before most of you knew my name.  JES and Nance and I were wondering how to increase the traffic to our baby blogs as we called them, and then, as JES so aptly pointed out, "Damn, girl, you go and get shot!"

Over the years, Nance's Mature Landscaping blog and Meg (see below) has vanished along with her Members Lounge, but JES and I continue to plug away.  Time passes and the important things stay the same - the friendships, the work, the love.

So, this throwback to a gentler time warms the cockles of my heart.  From those cockles to yours, denizens, I send love and warmth and many many many thanks for reading.  
I am so grateful to know that you are out there.
Wednesday Evening:  "I just had to have vegetables," came from Little Cuter as she made caramelized carrots to accompany the tacos her male relatives craved.  What a healthy thing to hear.
Son to Mother and Sister who are still cooking dinner: "Dad was going to take something to the trash so I followed him because I thought he was going to sit at the table.  So I sat at the table and then he saw me sitting at the table so he joined me at the table.  We're really not rushing you girls at all."

No, you're just munching on the cheese and putting your napkins in your laps and waiting... and waiting... and of course I'm feeling rushed.  But they are smiling and laughing and most of all they are HERE so I don't mind.  I just try to will the carrots to caramelize.
Said after watching Little Cuter and me in the kitchen, cooking up a storm, while he and his father lay on the couch watching ball games:   "Do you girls mind this gender specific role division?"

I know that my personal feminist revolution has been won if my son acknowledges such inequities.  Of course, they kept watching and we kept cooking, but we were all where we wanted to be.
Thursday Afternoon: "What time are you getting your mom?"

"Oh, SHIT, I forgot about G'ma!"
As I, math challenged that I am, asked G'ma how many ounces were in a cup, TBG wondered why I needed to know.  "I don't want to measure them out, I want to know how many are in the box." Big Cuter explained: "She wants to do the math.  I know that's weird coming from my mother, but.........."

They laugh at my foibles and love me nonetheless.

And my mother, without missing a beat, knew that there were 8 ounces in a cup.  And she was surprised that I didn't remember that fact... and that she did.  I know she's in there somewhere.
I was in the kitchen, grabbing a serving spoon for the mashed potatoes when Little Cuter's voice came like music to my ears: "Mmmmmm... Mom, are you hearing the mmmmm's?"

It's nice when your kids want to be sure that you're sharing the love.
And on that note, Meg, over at The Members Lounge, asked for my brownie recipe.  In the spirit of sharing the love, here it is:
  • Melt 2 squares of unsweetened chocolate and 1/3 cup unsalted butter.
  • Beat together 2 large eggs, 1 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract and a dash of pure almond extract.
  • Add the melted chocolate and butter.  Mix together.
  • Add 2/3 cup King Arthur Flour and 1 teaspoon each of salt and baking powder.
  • If you like, add chopped walnuts.
  • Bake in an 8x8x2 ungreased pan at 350 for approximately 20 minutes.  My crew likes them slightly undercooked (17 minutes) and gooey, but you may prefer them with a drier texture. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Over the River and Through the Woods

The Air Force Dentist and his family found themselves stranded here in the desert when the snows closed the airports back east.  She Who Turns Up Everywhere managed to fly in from San Francisco without any trouble.  JannyLou's kids can't wait to sleep in the camper they'll park in the driveway.  FlapJilly will accompany her parents to Maga and Papa's, truly over the river and through the woods to Indiana.

Everyone is traveling, except us.  We'll meander along the path between our houses, arriving at Fast Eddie and JannyLou's doorway with side dishes and desserts, expending only foot power to get there.  Somehow, that just doesn't seem right.  The holidays seem to demand transportation over distance and time.

Little Cuter wants my people around her for the holiday; she'll have to travel to accomplish that feat. Although she protests that with three jobs and a toddler her traveling should be limited to picking us up at the airport, her father and I continue to want them to come this way in the winter.  Leaving the sunshine and shorts for snow and ice doesn't make us smile, even with the prospect of their smiling faces at the bottom of the escalator at O'Hare.  I slip on the slick surfaces.  My hands ache from the cold. I miss the stars at night and the blue skies during the day.  I buy the tickets, they use them, I heat up the hot tub for small swimming experiences..... I don't know what she's complaining about.

True, traveling with a little one requires packing with care.  A 16 month old has no love for sitting still; I walked across America many times, bent over, holding her hands after I held her brother's hands, up and down the aisles of planes.  I do wish we lived closer, but this will have to do for now.

We used to put everyone and everything in the car and drive straight through to Cleveland from Chicago.  East on I-80, singing songs and reading aloud, the miles were boring but manageable.  Nannie was always standing in the door as we pulled into the driveway; how she knew we were arriving in that era before cell phones remains a mystery to this day.

There were presents on the hearth in the dining room, perfect presents for whatever age and interests the kids had.  How she knew what to buy is in that same mystery pile; it was always just what I wanted!!!!  Their basement held all sorts of treasures, as did the attic and the crawl spaces.  Daddy's castle came out of hiding, small metal soldiers constantly appearing underfoot. The heavy metal trike went up and down the long straight driveway; somehow the snow always melted enough for the kids to be able to play.

There was something about the automotive transition that made the holiday special to me.  I left my in-box behind.  There was always someone to watch the kids, to play cards with the kids, to cook the food and shop for the food and to bring in the mail.  I had nothing to do.  I could nap in the afternoon without worries.  I could come down late for breakfast and find that my children were fed. I could read to my heart's content; there were grandparents around making sure the little ones were happy.

TBG's family didn't go in for loud arguments or snarky picking around the edges of life.  They were content to revel in the joy that was everyone all together, eating food brought in from Hough's.  I spent Thanksgivings there for almost 20 years; I've never enjoyed the holiday more.  Now, they are gone, the house is sold, the family is scattered to the corners of the country, and my little girl is making her own in-law memories.

I know just how she feels.  I loved being there.  I missed my Mommy and Daddy.  I was thankful for the love and the joy and the ease, but I wanted my people around, too.  Holidays have a way of twisting us up and turning us around, don't they? They combine the joy and the angst in a brightly wrapped package, which comes around every year, bringing the same tugs and hugs.

And this is only the beginning.  We still have Hanukkah and Christmas and New Years and TBG's birthday and the Stroll and Roll........  I'm exhausted and it's only just started.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

52 Years Ago This Week

I remember those days as one long grey fog.  I remember being aware, at the time, that I'd be remembering those moments forever.

I was walking up the stairs to 8th period math, distracted by the level of chatter in the stairwell. Something was afoot... no one was smiling... there was something about someone being shot... and it wasn't until we were seated and the bell had rung that the assistant principal's announcement came over the loud speaker above the blackboard:  Our President had been shot.

She told us to bow our heads and pray for him and our country.  I didn't know any Hebrew words to put to my thoughts, and I wasn't sure that G-d would be listening to my words if they came from my heart and not the prayer book, and then it was time to pretend to learn math.

We didn't get very far in the book that day; school was let out early.  I remember G'ma picking us up, my cousin and my neighbor and I somber but clearly delighted that school had been cancelled for the next day or two... until G'ma totally lost it and shouted at us with a new tone in her voice: "Great!  Maybe they should kill him again tomorrow!"

Grown-ups had never been that shaken before.  We shut our mouths and rode home in silence.

The next mornings were cloudy and cold and dreary.  There was nothing to watch on television except Walter Cronkite and the casket in the Rotunda of the Capitol and the lines of mourners and then the caissons and the little boy saluting and it was all so very sad and so very public and I didn't know what to make of it.

Our family wasn't big on showing emotion.  You dealt with your sorrows internally, unless you decided to lash out in anger.  Anger we understood.  Compassion was another story, entirely.  This week seemed to call for love and closeness and a drawing together, but my family wasn't big on public displays of affection, either.

Big hugs ended with a potch in tuches, a gentle smack on the rump, a reminder that getting comfortable might not be the smartest path to follow.  Or maybe it meant something else, or maybe it meant nothing at all.  I only know that relaxing into sorrow or delight was not something with which we had much practice.  And there we were, business and school closed down, our news sources filled with death and loss and Cold War worries, each of us in our own private silo, together but alone.

I don't think the sun came out until things returned to normal.  And here I am, 63 years old but still an 11 year old girl standing alone, out on the driveway, bouncing a ball and wondering how to think about a world which could make me feel so lost.

I was right.  I will be remembering those moments forever.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Hamlet at The Rogue

"If I had paid off-Broadway prices in New York to see this, I would not have been disappointed."

Thus spake Scarlet as we strolled down the alley to the free, patrolled, parking lot.  We'd spent 2 hours and 40 minutes with the dysfunctional Danish royal family, seated comfortably in the first tier, right on the edge, near the exit door. I was relaxed and comfortable right up until who-killed-which-and-why took hold of my brain.  I needed to know, I worried about consequences, I was a little teary at the end.

I've never been as entranced with the plot as I was at this performance. I saw Dame Judith Anderson act the role in 1971 at Cornell.  I've seen Mel Gibson and Laurence Olivier on film.  I've read it, at least twice, for a class.  Until this weekend, it bored me.

The Rogue Theater, this little place in this little town in Scarlet's words, brought the ambiguity and the conflict into as much clarity as the words themselves allow.  It's a complicated tale of revenge and madness and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, which we saw the week before, was of absolutely no help at all.  We laughed at Tom Stoppard's verbiage, but  I'd be hard pressed to tell you the story.

In Hamlet, though, I had no trouble at all.  Starting as it ends, with men at arms, the sentries drew me in and, before I knew it, I was going with the flow. All those phrases I knew but never could place were popping out of the actors' mouths with fluency, as if they spoke that way in the grocery store, too. I was following along, not just with the action, but with the words, themselves.

I don't think I am that much smarter now; I think The Rogue took the play to another level.

The costumes, the simple tapestry which, along with 2 thrones and Ophelia's flowers was the entire set design, the tenderness with which both the content and the performers were treated by the production, made it a magical afternoon.

No, it's not New York.  It doesn't have to be.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Dilated and Numbed Pupils

The drops went in easily.

The results are long lasting.

It's been 7 hours and I still can't put in my contact lens.  Bright lights are shooting through my wide open eyeballs and searing themselves on my brain.

Typing with my eyes closed has some merit...... if I were still in 6th grade and learning the skill.

For now, though, I will beg your indulgence and take the day off.

I'll be back on Monday... with normal size pupils

Thursday, November 19, 2015

I Can't Help Myself!

I've tried, denizens.  I've really tried.  I must admit that I've failed.

I tried to make sense out of Ted Cruz's suggestion that we only allow Christian refugees across our borders.  I couldn't.

I tried to think about credit cards issued by airlines which will no longer allow everyday purchases to accrue points toward flights.  A brief foray into the mental machinations which allow me to feel justified buying not-really-necessary items by consigning the purchase to FlapJilly's Flight Fund Miles went just that far before ending with a thud.

There are rants about step-parenting and kids' basketball games which rattle around but get no traction.  There's the chip technology in everyone's credit cards when there is barely a merchant with the relevant software to use it... and I can't get worked up about it.  Not one little bit.

This is what I am thinking about:
 Running and Yelping (after finding her LOUD button) and Conquering the World.
I hope it gives you as much pleasure as it gives to me.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Basketball is a much better sport than football. I am prepared to argue the point.

It is easier to understand. There are only 5 players on the court at any time, and they usually have their names on their jerseys. It's easier to follow the ball when it's not blocked from view by 2500 pounds of padded flesh. The players' faces are unobscured by face guards and helmets; their grimaces and their grins are part and parcel of my enjoyment. 

The game frowns upon undue bodily contact; players don't suffer two concussions in six weeks (cf. Anu Solomon, UofA quarterback). There is bumping and shoving and pushing, but no one is diving into your chest, driving you to the ground, preventing you from making a play. Defense is played with the feet, not the hands or the shoulders or the head. I don't have to worry about brain stem contusions while watching young men play a game.
I grew up with the Knicks, moved on to the Bulls, took second in TBG's office pool with Jim Valvano's Wolfpack and have never looked back.  The pro game is uninteresting until the playoffs, and only marginally (to me) even then.  I like talking about Steph Curry with Mr. 10, but I can't name another player on his team.  

I follow the college game more closely.  DePaul... Arizona... I've enjoyed it most when I've had a home team. There are few big stars in the college game; there are great teams and coaches and rivalries, though.  It's the team game that appeals to me, and I see more of that in the college arena.

As I type, Coach K is letting his players suffer the slings and arrows of a double digit deficit, not calling a time out, giving Kentucky all the room it needs to spread its wings and fly.  Georgetown is on in ten minutes, and Kansas/Michigan State tips off after the Blue Devils /Wildcats contest.

I love this time of year.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What I Can Do

jean jullien on
The world is going to hell in a hand basket, and I'm feeling quite powerless.

Kids are being blown up at concert halls and small restaurants and I can change my profile picture on Facebook and repost meaningful cartoons but I cannot make a real and important difference.

TBG is finally able to recognize that watching the news in a relentless loop helps no one, least of all, himself.  We both share a certain sense of guilt, a need to watch and show our solidarity and not ignore it and go on with our lives but after PTSD visited last week, in all her damaging glory, we've concluded that the 24-hour news cycle will just have to go on without us.

And so, with Mary, my Yogi, leading the way, forty or so humans of all ages took a Meditative Hike this morning.

The "real" hike, the one with elevation and some rock scrambling, was cancelled.  It doesn't rain that often in the desert Southwest, but when it does, surfaces become slick and hikes are deferred to drier times.

I joined that hike three years ago, and walked to the first check point with Miss Cindy.  With two poles and a friend-who's-also-a-doctor insuring my safety, it was still both terrifying and exhausting.  I never felt that I was in control.

The scenery was beautiful, but I was hardly able to enjoy it.

This time, 
these boots were made for walking.

I strode up these steps with attitude.

I did not use the handrail.

I put each foot down, carefully, slowly, heel - ball- toe, meditatively moving my self onward and upward.  Holding my hands in anjali mudra was too difficult, so I satisfied myself by joining my pointers and thumbs on each hand, splaying the other fingers out to catch the light.....

the light reflecting from all the others making the same journey.

The stones were broad and well secured.

The rain had left puddles in the crevices.

Some tiers took two steps; some were manageable with one long stride.

I was conscious of my entire self moving along, 
rather than concentrating on the individual pieces. 

Those pieces were moving in synchrony without my help.

The waterfall was our reward.
It is a naturally occurring precipice which the resort enhanced to increase the water flow.
By directing the water toward holding tanks, creating a series of burbling ponds along the way,
they can water the golf courses in a xeriscape friendly way.

Loews Ventana Canyon Resort has received all sorts of ecological kudos over the year.
They take their stewardship of the land very seriously.
There are interpretive signs nestled in quiet places.
I stood and read and looked around and imagined the immense forces of the Basin and Range times.
Living on a collapsed volcano top brings tectonic forces home in an up close and personal way.

There was a babbling brook along the path
as we paused to watch the sunlight glisten on the leaves.
 The leaves turn on their sides when it's very hot, saving moisture and preserving themselves for better times ahead.

Bag It!, a not-for profit seeking to ease the fear of a new cancer diagnosis by providing information and folders and charts to help patients and families keep track of medications and appointments and doctors and verbiage.... with a canvas bag in which to carry it all, is all about living the life.

Sometimes that means turning things on their side for a while, until the world manages to right itself once more.  Until that happens, there are always hugs.... from friends and from the trees around us.
It wasn't much.
But it was something.
Our little corner of the world held peace and promise this morning.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Uuuvvvvvvvv

Out With the Old, In With the New

"When the repair bill exceeds the value of the car, the decision is a no-brainer."

Thus spake TBG, and I could not disagree.  Having heard nothing from Volkswagon of America (which is, admittedly, dealing with far larger problems than one falling apart GTI in Tucson), I took matters into my own hands.

I asked my husband what I should do.

He's the car guy, the one who keeps up on trends and developments and as he was questioning me about my requirements we paused at the same moment, saying the same word.  Tesla!

I don't need a $70,000 automobile, but Tesla Motors is bringing out a $30,000 model which would suit my needs quite nicely.  A quick foray on the internet sent me to live chat with Tesla.... which burst my bubble by telling me that there would be information available in March, 2016 about a release in Spring of 2017.

The Schnozz wasn't going to make it to Tuesday; I needed a new plan.

Reliability, safety, visibility, cargo carrying capability topped my list.  Honda came to both our minds.  At one point, our family owned 5 Honda products.  They always worked.  We changed the oil and replaced worn tires and belts and pads but we never had a technological problem.  Never.  After the past few months with VW, that sounded very appealing.

I took myself to Carmax, met a lovely man from Chicago who agreed that Steph Curry is amazing but Michael Jordan was in a league of his own, and Chicago in the 80's and 90's with the Bears and the Bulls was sports heaven.  Unfortunately, the conversation didn't result in a purchase.  The Hondas they had did not meet my needs.... and I was leery about buying a used car, anyway.

I have my own troubles; I'm not looking to take on anyone else's right now.

So, I drove homeward, only to stop at the Honda dealership at the end of the Auto Mall Parkway loop.  The Schnozz was clean and vacuumed and devoid of debris.  I parked him in front, was directed to a sales rep, and began to shop for a new car.

She sat me in a CR-V.... and then looked at me..... looked at the size comparison... and wondered if I needed all this car?  Had I thought of the HR-V?

It's a new model, which is always an iffy proposition, but it's built on the Fit frame with Civic and Accord parts, so there's nothing particularly worrisome in that regard.  The research I did on-line had only good things to say about it.  The only complaint was the lack of bells-and-whistles-safety-stuff... and I didn't want any of that, anyhow.

We drove out to the highway.  We parallel parked in a parking lot.  We made left turns and right turns and accelerated and braked and I just kept smiling.  I liked the color and the price and the trade in value and I made plans to return the next day and buy a new car.

Then I went home and had a serious case of buyer's remorse.  Even though the automatic, continuously variable transmission, gets better gas mileage than the same vehicle equipped with a manual transmission, I felt a bit guilty about giving up the stick shift.  It feels as if those of us who drive them are a rapidly disappearing breed; I feel disloyal to my clan.  

I had a mini-meltdown, feeling I'd crossed the line into my Uncle Abby's old Buicks..... big, soft, comfy and gooshy but no kind of driving fun at all.  But it's a lot easier to drive when you're not constantly shifting.  I worried that I would be a less attentive driver when the car did more of the driving for me, but, I found that, on the test drive, I was much more aware of many more cars around me.  I like sitting up high.

G'ma knew we were thinking about having a baby when we sold the MG and bought a 4 door Civic 33 years ago.  I could feel her smiling from heaven, nodding and reminding me that I am not as young as I used to be.

Actually, she's right.  Driving doesn't have to be a contact sport between the vehicle and the driver. Guiding this behemoth down the road is a much more elegant pursuit.  If I still lived in Marin County, if I were still hiking Mt. Tam three days a week, I'd never get behind the wheel of such a high profile vehicle.  This is not the car to drive on Panoramic Highway, twisting its way up to the top of the mountain, with a cliff on one side and steep drop offs on the other.

But here in Tucson, where the roads are straight and flat and go on forever, comfort is proving to be very seductive.

The whole process took two and a half hours, and I have to go back this week to have the metal door guards installed.  Caitlin and I will sit down with Joe, the go-to-tech guy who promises that he will explain Bluetooth and the menu and anything else that confuses me.

For now, I'm enjoying seeing the world form way up high.

P.S.  Are you wondering what her name is?  We were stumped for a while.  I didn't like Orca or Shamu; big is not the characteristic I want to enshrine.  Then Big Cuter and I were talking as he was looking at the HR-V on his laptop and he expressed surprise that I was buying an SUV.

I gasped, TBG comforted me by calling it an Urban Utility Vehicle.... a UUUVvvv.... The Uvula!

It's a good thing when a swollen body part connected to the worst experience of my life can be transformed into a silly name for a brand new car.

The UUUvvvv (pronounced You've) is here to stay. At least that's the plan; I bought the extended warranty.  85,000 miles here we come!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Too Much....

It's just too much.  I owned a car whose repair bills exceeded its value which made replacing it a no brainer and that was fine except I had to do it right now and there are GRIN projects and Burrow essays and Stroll and Roll and Cornell and ......

I took a deep breath and laughed at myself.  I am here to complain about it.  Beautiful, athletic, young mothers dying at home, surrounded by family and friends who are now bereft and clinging to one another... even if some need a bit of alone time.  They, too, are here to complain about it, but they watched her die and could do nothing to stop the process and now they are here and she is not.

Survivor's Guilt.... out of which grew GRandparentsINresidence ..... because Christina-Taylor won't have the chance to make the world a better place, I can try to do it in her honor... in her memory.... just because we had so much fun and I want everyone else to share the joy.

I'm laughing, again.

PTSD, the gift that keeps on giving, has been biting the butts of our on-line Survivor's Group with just these kinds of brain tornadoes.  Around and around and around and there's barely an exit ramp... I can be happy because she'd want me to be happy and then I surround myself with little kids and I'm joyful and which came first?

I don't know and I don't care.  I medicate with their love, and they learn with me and it's making everyone, including the teacher, very happy.

Christina-Taylor's involvement in the events of January 8th provided my introduction to this school, these administrators and faculty and staff... these women and men who smile and tease and tie shoes and listen carefully and marvel at the progress their charges have made.

Does it matter that I'm doing it because it mitigates the sadness, or that the hugs feel good, or, because, as her Dad reminds us, Christina would not want us to be sad, or because I feel a responsibility - not a guilty sense of duty, but a responsibility - to finish the work she and I were starting that Saturday morning?

I've always taken kids along to do good deeds; just ask the Cuters' friends. Doing the same with Christina-Taylor and her mom would have been no different.   We'd have found something worthwhile and meaningful and hypoallergenic (I had already vetoed Animal Control and the Humane Society) and we'd have made a difference.  I'm doing it without my wingman, now, but I'm doing it.

So, when days like the past few pile up and I feel like it's more than much too much, I'm learning to sit back, take a few deep breaths, and remember that I am, in fact, here to complain about it.
For those of you hoping to find a second installment of Ashleigh in CarLand, consider this the preface.  I did the whole thing myself.  It's exhausting... nothing else is accomplished... and I run on fumes.  I'll have the weekend to regroup and Monday will bring your further tales from the automotive front.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Car Trouble

First it was just routine maintenance.

Then it was two tires, an alignment, and brakes..... about $1000 out of pocket.

Two tail lights went out, at different times, and neither could be replaced by the owner.  They required special tools and devices available only at the VW dealership.

Then it was $1700 to repair the sunroof, which refused to close.  They had to order the parts, which took a while.  Then they kept the car for several days, removing the roof assembly and installing a new rim.

I drove the car on the highway, and the noise from the air rushing over the roof was loud enough to drown out Mara Liasson on NPR. I was worried about bringing The Schnozz in for a noise complaint; I was prepared to be told that no one else could hear it.  Unfortunately for me, the news was even worse.  Not only could they hear it, loud and clear as the service rep described it, but they kept hearing it after three test drives.

The technician decided that the rubber gasket around the glass sunroof was creased, probably as the damaged sunroof made its way back and forth on the track.  He thinks that replacing the gasket will make the car almost like new.

Almost like new?!??!  What happened to fixing it right?  The most surprising thing about owning this VW has been the excellent build quality; it had nary a squeak or a squawk or a whistle.  Now, if I pay them an additional $247 to replace the gasket, the noise will mostly be gone.

That's just not good enough for me.

I've been driving with a noise under the hood every time I start the car for several months now.  They told me it was a fan, it wouldn't bother anything, and if I could live with the noise I did not have to repair it.  Now, I wonder if that advice was correct.

Did I mention that the car was in because the battery light flashed on as the noise annoyed me on the highway?  That light was not my brand new battery's fault.  It was the air conditioning compressor's fan belt which had torn to smithereens when the bearings in the compressor itself wore out. That caused the alternator to refuse to recharge the battery.  The belt and the compressor, which had to be ordered, cost me $993.

No one knows - at least according to the service rep - why this happened.  It is not an ordinary event. The fact that it happened two weeks after I had the car in for the sunroof repair; the service rep thinks it's an interesting coincidence but I'm beginning to wonder.

My wonder began to change to despair and then outrage when the service rep went on to say that both the timing belt and the water pump will need to be replaced in the next month or two.  How he knows the timing on their failures is a mystery to me and to him, as well.  He's just reporting what the technician tells him.  Should those things fail, the car will stop dead on the side of the road.

If these things wear out on a regular basis, why aren't they in the owner's manual for routine replacement?  It seems like a dangerous situation; had I not had these other problems I'd have been stranded when they broke.

The timing belt and the water pump will cost about $1300.

Including the routine oil changes and various fluid fill-ups and minor adjustments recommended by the company, I'm closing in on $6000 in repairs this calendar year alone.  The car is worth about $6500, according to Kelly Blue Book.

I'm contacting VW's North American representatives to talk about this. It seems to me that if the sunroof broke they should be able to replace it to its original, non-problematic, status.  Mostly gone... almost perfect....they don't work for me, especially after spending $2000 on repairs.  If the timing belt and the water pump are going to die within the next 6 weeks, shouldn't they have been on the check me, please list at the 60,000 mile check up?  Why do these things arise two or three weeks after my service appointments?

Inquisitive car owners want to know.

I tried to copy this post to VW's contact page, but I was only allowed 999 characters.  I sent it to them via email, telling them how I'd love to tell my readers that I was thrilled with their response.  As of bedtime last night, I've heard nothing.

Tune in tomorrow for the every exciting adventures of Ashleigh in CarLand.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Ben Carson and the Media

Behind that mild facade there lurks a nerdy twelve year old boy.

"They are mean to me.  They are not mean to anyone else.  They are just mean to me."

It's true that Donald Trump is a bully, but he's mean to everyone.  Ben Carson is whining about the media's close scrutiny of the words he wrote in his biography, carping that no other candidate has ever been so closely parsed.

It's one thing that he doesn't know the name of the faction we're supporting in the Kurdish hinterlands.  It's another that he doesn't think Richard Nixon might have something to say about the media and its intrusion into his reality.

What about those pictures of Bill Clinton in his teeny tiny jogging shorts? Buzzfeed ran this picture with a caption describing Clinton's white thighs.

Does Mrs. Clinton enjoy having her hair and makeup analysed?  Did the Ford kids like having their escapades recorded in graphic detail?
As President Obama pointed out, the American media is a much gentler opponent than Vladimir Putin.

But it doesn't really matter, does it?  The people who will vote for him will believe his cries about disparate treatment regardless of the facts.  The people who won't vote for him will shrug their shoulders and sigh.  This conversation is being had for the benefit of those in the middle, those who haven't made up their minds.  The right answer is as obvious to me as it is to Candy Carson, even if the rights we know will never meet.  We don't need to be convinced.

And so the conversation about the moderators of the debates and the treatment of the candidates and the refusals to participate and who's in and who's out and on and on and on and meanwhile the world is going to hell in a handbasket.  I don't want a President who relies on his generals and his Secretary of Defense to answer his questions; just look at what Bush Senior has to say about the advice his son received from Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney to see where that got us.

I'm loving the fact that a man of color is running for President and his race is not an issue.  I wonder if he's thanked Mr. Obama for taking the heat on that one.  And while he's talking to The Man, perhaps he can apologize for implying that the media was soft on him.  Perhaps the reason that there were no obfuscations or fabrications or embellishments or out right lies reported after his books were perused by media savants was because there were no obfuscations or fabrications or embellishments or out right lies Mr. Obama's books.

I fear the candidate doth protest too much.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Canary in the Coal Mine, or, Big Cuter and the NFL

There were several non-negotiable items in my son's Pantheon of Perfection. Among them was the sanctity of Sunday Football.  Unless there was a wedding or a funeral, Sundays were spent devouring the NFL.  His Perfect Girlfriend was welcome to watch with him, and he would be happy to explain anything and everything.  She could share the space while reading or crocheting, as he watched me do for decades.  She could go out and have her own version of a fabulous day; he wouldn't mind at all.  All he wanted was to be allowed to watch his games in peace.

That's why his photo on Facebook was so surprising.  He hiked, with friends, up Twin Peaks.  He posted a photo of the city which he took himself.... out in nature....  with nary a television in sight. His team, the 49'ers, was playing a locally televised game and he was not only not watching it, he didn't care that he wasn't watching it.

"Until there's a total change in the administration of the team, I am choosing not to care."

He watched the last part of the last quarter, but only because he and TBG were on the phone and my husband, who still chooses to care, couldn't find the game on Red Zone. (If you don't understand, don't worry.  It's not important.... on any level.)  Big Cuter was willing to share updates, but, for the first time in my memory, he was more interested in talking about life than about football when Sunday rolled around.

His disillusionment is based on more than the team's current dismal performance.  He began to question the nature of the sport itself when Chris Borland, a rising star on the 49'ers, quit the game after one season. He cited the risk to his brain, declaring that thinking was more important than playing.  My boy has a close relationship with his brilliantly functioning brain (I'm his mother, I get to brag) and this young man's decision resonated with him in a way that I'd not seen before.

Throughout his childhood, I told him that I did not sleep on a basketball for 9 months for him to destroy his body while playing professional football.  I've always felt that he resented that, on some level.  Recently, I've begun to hope that he sees, once again, how right I was.

And now, with all weekend to talk about it, Greg Hardy's domestic violence conviction  and subsequent overturn on appeal (when the complainant did not show up at the appeal hearing.. and we can speculate about that all night long.... from personal experience, facing the assailant is terrifying... and who knows what was said or threatened or feared..  and why should she have to be there once the case is adjudicated?) is on the big screen for all to watch as his Dallas Cowboys play in the national, Sunday Night Football game.

There are second chances and there is sharing a locker room with a man who beat a woman... even if the words on the indictment weren't enough for you and you needed the photographic evidence to realize what your new teammate had done... and all the talking heads were agreeing with themselves, saying that since the NFL's punishment was stymied by an arbitrator, the team's owner, Jerry Jones, should do the right thing and fire his sorry ass.... or some variation on that theme.

My former-NFL-fanatic son is "making a conscious choice to avoid everything Cowboy's" which is why he had other plans for the Sunday night game.

The NFL should be very worried.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Writing Center

I needed the kindergarten love.
Ms Levine told me to come on down.
So, I set the alarm for much-too-early and arrived in time to give stickers to kids on the playground.
A fourth grader served as my minion, helping me search out those kids who were alone.
We extracted smiles, some larger than others, and then it was time to get smarter.

Matt is a modern day, English as a Second Language YouTube savant.
The kids were mesmerized.... silent.... absorbed.... imitating....
learning the days of the week and reviewing their morning routine.
Brush brush brush your teeth...
comb comb comb your hair....
with an acoustic guitar and a reedy voice he had these digital natives entranced.
Once breakfast was finished and cleaned up, the scholars went right to their learning centers.

The interactive computer activities were much less attractive than the table full of library books for this little one. She was quite proud of the softness of her shirt; we discussed the concept of nap with great seriousness. We agreed that a soft and silky nap is quite wonderful.
I was assigned to assist at the Writing Center.
The scholars brought their journals and their letter charts.
The crayons and the sharpened pencils were in the purple tub.
 Sentences were required.
The sentences needed correct spelling and punctuation.
Pictures were to be drawn in the box at the top.
The pictures needed detail. 
The humans needed arms and legs and necks and bodies and hair and hands and facial features.
It's an exercise in expanding on the possible, in learning to do more, in knowing you can do better. 
 I love to watch it happen.

Creativity came in the most unexpected ways.
I am in Colorado, he wrote.
Yes, he insisted, he was finished with his picture.
All the detail necessary was provided.
He was in the snow.

Once I laughed, he got to work on what was happening beneath the flakes.
He's funny, but there's no snarkiness in someone that young.... and that makes me happy.

Some just refused to write a complete sentence.
On the other hand, he took his time sounding out the entire word.
He was willing to erase and start again when I pointed out a missing syllable.
He did it all himself, using the chart only once.
His b's and a's all faced the right way.
It felt churlish to complain.

And then there were the girls.
The pink one was going to the mall.
Her pencil followed her mouth as she sounded out the words, then she moved on to the illustration.
Body parts flowed effortlessly from her crayon.

Her colleague refused to have a thought.
She stared at me with those big brown eyes, expecting me to answer my own question.
She picked the wrong grown up for that trick to work.

Once she figured that out, she, too, decided to go shopping.
I'm not sure what the first line says, although the author was quite clear as she enunciated each letter.
It may be words of her own, but I have no doubt they are spelled perfectly.
The purple lady on the end is me.

Some details are more special than others.