Friday, September 30, 2005

Fotos added

In case you're interested -- jo(e), that means you! -- I added a Flickr thingy on the sidebar, in which you can see the rest of the pics from our hike and vacation earlier this week. They appear backwards chronologically, so if you want to see the hike as we did it, start with the last shot and keep hitting "previous." Note, also, that the pictures drop off abruptly -- one moment we are climbing through a very tight notch, the next we are back looking at the view off our deck. All thoughts of photography were abandoned in the interests of keeping myself (mostly) vertical for the long, steep way down.

The Big Plan

First things first: It is Friday night, and my husband is on an airplane bound for Florida. Am I watching What Not to Wear and drinking a glass of wine? No. Am I out with my friends for a girls' night on the town? No.

I am at the computer (ok, with a glass of zinfandel) listening to the Red Sox-Yankees game on the radio. I was born and raised a Yankee fan, and I'm certainly rooting for the Evil Empire tonight. But I have to admit that a little bit of my heart belongs to Big Papi, Johnny Damon and the rest of the Idiots. Perhaps I've lived in New England too long, or been married to a diehard member of Red Sox Nation too long... but I can't help it. They're a bunch of quirky, funny characters, and it's a lot of fun to follow them.

Just so we're clear: I still want the Yankees to win.

Ok, with that out of the way, I can dive into a post that makes me a little nervous, because it involves writing about work. I'm still not planning to go into detail about my job (no doocing for me, thank you veddy much), but since the Big Plan would involve changing jobs, there's kinda no way around acknowledging some of what the problem is for me at the moment. In many respects, I love my job. It is challenging and fulfilling and tangible -- every time we go to press, I end up with a printed product in my hands that, essentially, I made. No, I didn't make the paper or run the printing press, but I was integrally involved with every other non-sales-related aspect of its production. And that is immensely satisfying. What's more, I love my coworkers and really appreciate the support I get from my boss. The company has afforded me a tremendous amount of opportunity and rarely, if ever, says no to a reasonable request.

And this is where the "but" comes in: This job takes a lot out of me. In large part because of my own high standards, I spend many long hours at work or working at home. And, without significantly lowering my standards, I don't see any way to change that situation. And that's not for lack of trying. As Darren and a few friends in particular can attest, hours have been spent problem-solving about ways to be more efficient, or to delegate more (not bloody likely when everyone else is as overworked as I am), or to simply care less -- all to no end.

[Sorry, it's the bottom of the 5th and the Sox have the bases loaded and Trot Nixon is up. Must pause for a moment.]

[Holy crap, the Yankees just walked in a run. 3-1 Sox. Yeesh. The bases are, obviously, still loaded, and Wang is still pitching. What is Joe Torre thinking?]

[Error by Giambi, and Ortiz scores. 4-1. Egads.]

Wow, it is awfully hard to think deep thoughts about my career when baseball is this exciting. But I will persevere, and cut to the chase: I am thinking very, very seriously about quitting my job and freelancing full-time. [Manny just scored. 5-1.] This is something I've pondered in the past and dismissed relatively quickly: I don't have enough contacts. It's too risky. You have to spend a significant portion of time pitching the next story, and the one after that. You don't have a steady income.

However, I realized over the course of a couple conversations in the last week, freelancing is something I've always planned to do someday. But, like everything else, the time will never be perfect. And there is so much about freelancing that sounds right -- the ability to write about lots of different topics, rather than the one to which I'm largely restricted these days. The ability to set my own schedule. The ability to take advantage of the fact that I write quickly and thus can maximize my free time. The ability to be responsible simply for my own work rather than for the work of others.

So, the task ahead is to figure out whether this is really possible. And partly that's why I'm choosing to write about this here. It all sounded very good and feasible when we were driving through the foothills to our friends' cabin earlier this week, and sitting by the fire and climbing a couple mountains. But as soon as we drove back into town and confronted my email inbox and the bills in the mail and the day-to-day routine, this plan seemed much more distant. I need to say it out loud to make it become more tangible. I need y'all to occasionally pester me about whether I've made any progress on my research, which involves items including determining how much money we have to make in order to cover our bills (and, ideally, save a little), checking with the editors for whom I currently freelance about what kind of work they might be able to send my way if I were available full-time and talking with some friends and acquaintances who are currently freelancing about how they manage their finances and workload. I need to determine whether we can make a go of this. And, if not, I need to look for another job.

[Yankees apparently score two while I am deep in thought about the preceding paragraph. 5-3.]

With that, I'm heading off to wander my blogroll and catch up with y'all. Torre is finally yanking Wang, and it's time to call it a night.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

How I'm getting there

Here she is. I think she's a "she," anyway... I'm not really sure yet. We are broke now, but I think it was worth it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Where I've been

Posts of substance coming, I promise, especially after 48 amazing hours in western Maine, in which I may have come up with a Big Plan that gets at some of those work-life balance issues I keep threatening to talk about. It's exciting and a little scary, which I think is a signal that I may be onto something.

Plus there's the Prius, which came home this afternoon (woohoo!), and tomorrow's trip to the doctor re: the whole babymaking endeavor. But immediately thereafter we head for southern New England, whereupon Darren will receive a fancypants award for his work, which is sorely deserved. So further updating won't happen 'till Friday night at the earliest. Sorry, pals.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Bad to the bone

Operation: Jelly Snooze is not going so well. Last night marked Day Six of this effort, and I am sorry to report that we are still spending about an hour awake in the middle of the night -- an hour that involved the squirt bottle and much cursing. The bizarre thing is that it's not Jelly who's causing the problems... well, all of them, anyway.

Last night, she got up to do her usual wandering around and plowed straight into the baby gate we have blocking the door. The gate is old and broken -- it's one of those wooden ones that pinch your fingers when you adjust it -- and so we just prop it up in front of the door. Which means that when a 20-pound dog walks into it at 5:45, it goes down with quite a crash. Jelly, who after all is mostly deaf, is totally unphased by this, though it wakes me and Darren with a start and causes Rocky to completely lose what little sanity she has. So we're awake, Jelly's wandering and Rocky is sitting on my arm, trembling and whimpering.

This goes on for about 45 minutes -- Jelly eventually settles down and goes to sleep, but every time she snores (which is frequently), Rocky whimpers and trembles violently. Rocky hops off the bed to find refuge in her own bed, but then Jelly's wandering re-commences and my dozing is interrupted by a snarl-fest that occurs when Jelly wanders into Rocky. Somewhere in there is where the cursing -- and the squirting of Rocky with water -- began.

Darren and I were talking about this drama this morning, and his conclusion is that the canine badness is a zero-sum game -- that if Jelly is getting better, then Rocky's going to get worse. Ugh.

The next step, we think, is making Jelly sleep downstairs. I think she will be ok with this, but there is a decent chance that she will bark her idiot head off when she realizes that we've abandoned her. I forsee a large investment in Tylenol PM in our future...

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Working for the weekend

Still no time to write this work/life balance stuff -- mostly because for the last couple weeks there's been no balance. It's been all work, all the time. I spent about five hours yesterday at the office, and have spent about the same working today (mostly at home, with an hour at the office at the end of the day) -- and I've got one more story to edit before I call it quits this evening. All this because I'm taking Monday-Friday off. Insane.

Another big warning sign was the realization that the last three times we've taken any significant time off, I've intended to use the vacation to figure out How I Want My Life to Be... ie, I don't like how it is now and would like to try to change that. When it hit me that I've been saving up these deep thoughts for more than two years worth of vacations... well, that's not good.

No time to think now, though. Got that story to edit, and then food and clothes to pack for our three-day sojourn at friends of friends' cottage on a lake in western Maine where, thank jebus, there is no cell coverage, but there is a fireplace and a canoe and a mountain to climb. It's not enough to change the big picture of my life, but it is a respite, and for that I'm grateful.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Cashed out

Worked a 12-hour day today, half of which involved public speaking -- which I actually enjoy, although it totally drains me. Still dealing with that unpleasant personnel issue, which should be resolved tomorrow after more unpleasantness. Still planning to take next week off, despite the immense amount of work I leave behind for my staff to do -- this despite the fact that I have worked 11 and 12 hour days all week, and will be working over the weekend.

I have lots to write about work-life balance and thoughts of starting a family, but no time or energy with which to do so. Especially because Darren's out picking up a pizza, The OC starts in fourteen minutes and I need to change out of my suit. Priorities, priorities.

PS: The new towels for our bathroom came today, and my Prius may actually be approaching Maine. To be continued....

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Par for the course

I saw this quick little meme at Scrivener's a moment ago, and though I'm headed to bed the results were too funny not to post:

1. Go into your archive.
2. Find your 23rd post (or closest to).
3. Find the fifth sentence (or closest to).
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.

(Drumroll, please)

"Nothing happened."

I think that is a tie, along with "Jesus wept," for shortest sentence ever. In case you're interested, it's from this post.

Thank you, and good night.

This morning's moment of glee

The discovery that the allegedly no-iron shirt I pulled out of the closet actually does not need to be ironed today. Which means I can get to work five minutes sooner... and thus the glee abates.


Last night, we tried Darren's solution for Jelly's late-night wandering -- a kiddie gate across the doorway and towels and throw rugs covering all the places where the linoleum floor is exposed. And, to some degree, it worked.

I actually woke up first, at 4:45, and took my temperature. Then I laid there listening to Darren and Jelly snore. By 5:15 or 5:30, she was up and pacing around the room. She climbed on top of a pillow on Darren's side of the bed at one point, in a vain attempt to hoist herself onto the bed, and put up a slight whine a little later. I showed her the squirt bottle, but was never forced to use it. I dozed for a while, and eventually re-set my alarm clock (6:45? No way. How about 7:15.).

And when the alarm went off, Jelly was sound asleep on her own bed. So I think this is going to work. I'm completely exhausted this morning, but that's in part because I was laying there waiting for something to go wrong... and then thinking about work, rather than actually, like, sleeping.

We didn't have the time -- or the equipment -- to implement Songbird's suggestion, a pedicure for Jelly. I adore this dog, but she is very particular about how she likes to be touched. So if I were to trim her nails, she'd have to be wearing a muzzle, which we do not own. A pedicure for me? That's another question entirely. No muzzles necessary.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Don't you want to make her stay up late?

Ok, dog people, I've got a dilemma for you: Every night, we go to sleep in our cozy little bedroom with the door open; otherwise, it gets very stuffy. Jelly, the half-blind, mostly deaf lhasa apso mix we adopted over New Year's, starts the night on her bed on the floor, snoring away like the little old lady she is. But at some point in the middle of the night ranging from 2 am to 5 am, she gets up and paces around our room and out into the hall. Which is a problem, since the previous owners of the house chose to cover the wide pine boards with linoleum, meaning her toenails go CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK the whole time she's wandering, which wakes both of us up.

So we've gotten in the habit of getting out of bed, picking her up and putting her in bed with us for the rest of the night. She sleeps at shoulder height, snoring and snorting and occasionally choking violently on nothing, which does not make for a restful night for any of the other creatures in the bed (Rocky usually jumps up, down by our feet, at some point in the night, too, but she's no problem). It wreaks havoc with my need to wake up at a consistent time of day in order to take my temperature for fertility purposes, and in general it just causes a lousy night's sleep.

So the question here is how to break Jelly of this habit. Since she's a rescue pooch, she loves routine. She loves knowing that when we go into the living room to eat dinner at the coffee table (glamorous, isn't it) she'll get picked up and plopped on the couch. She loves the fact that when she comes in from outside in the morning, she gets her eyedrop and a treat. And she loves to bark when things don't go her way. A couple nights ago we were laying in bed, silently having the "You get up. No, you get up" contest to pick her up; apparently we'd waited too long for her liking, because she started barking her fool head off.

We've thought about putting a gate across the open doorway, so she can't get out of our bedroom and CLICK CLICK CLICKing her way down the hall; that would also entail covering the places the rug doesn't cover with towels or something to eliminate the clicking when she wanders in our room. And we'd probably also have to get the squirt bottle, which she detests, out again to deal with the inevitable barking. All of which means at least a couple truly miserable nights before things get any better.

If anyone has any better ideas, please let me know. And if a visual of the creature in question, sound asleep on Darren's lap during the Patriots game, will help, here you go:

Sunday, September 18, 2005

You'll be sorry...

All those nice comments on this morning's post led me to think that perhaps y'all might want a blow-by-blow description of my next meal, too. (Either that or I am a sucker for attention. Ahem.) Anyway, for dinner tonight I made carrot-ginger soup -- another Epicurious recipe that made use of some of the several pounds of carrots we've received in the last few weeks. There's another pound in this week's farm share, so we needed to eat something with plenty o' carrots. The soup used up about two-thirds of the carrot backlog, and along with it we ate most of the rest of the sourdoughish bread leftover from last night.

Darren frequently helps out with dinner, but for the last several days I've just taken over -- booted him of the kitchen out so I can listen to the news or music, drink a glass of wine and do things at my own pace. I'm such a lazy slug most of the time -- leaving 90% of the cleaning and 60% of the dog care to him -- that it feels good to watch him sit on the couch with Jelly at his side as he watches a movie or some sporting event.

So tonight as Darren relaxed I listened to an amazing edition of This American Life while peeling and chopping a lot of carrots. As a rule, I don't watch TV news; I listen to NPR and read newspapers, both online and print. That has kept me insulated from some of the awful post-Katrina stories, but it's also isolated me from some of the stories of people who were affected, especially since it seems that NPR has tended toward reporting more of the official voices of Katrina's aftermath (that may be an incorrect perception based on the random times in the morning and evening when I listen to the radio; I'm not sure). And though I've read tons of media criticism about reporters like Anderson Cooper and Geraldo, I haven't witnessed any of the source material.

Anyway, as usual, Ira Glass and his crew did an amazing job of getting real people's stories onto the air (it's the top show on the homepage, called "This is Not My Beautiful House"; until next week, you'll have to pay to hear it). Two pieces stood out: One, by Nick Spitzer (who hosts the public radio music show American Routes, which is based in New Orleans), consisted solely of Spitzer's narration of a drive through downtown New Orleans to his home, which he was relieved to find still standing. He went through the house with a list his wife had given him of things to retrieve, ranging from her Elvis Costello collection to one of their sons' Wiggles towel, then drove back through a dark city to Lafayette, where they're staying with friends. Something about hearing a familiar voice, one that's always been so authoritative, speaking in ragged tones about animals dying in the streets and food rotting in his refrigerator -- it was powerful, to say the least.

The other piece, the last one in the show, was an interview with a woman who stayed in her home, floating on a Stearns & Foster extra-firm queen-sized mattress and drinking a few ounces of water a day, for eight days and nights until she was rescued. You'll have to hear it to really appreciate it, but this woman had an outlook on life that I found absolutely incredible.

When the show ended, as I was putting together our salad (lettuce, mixed greens, basil, cherry tomatoes, cucumber and red pepper, all from the farm), I popped in the Modest Mouse CD I bought months ago. At the time, I thought it was too noisy for me, but some of you have raved about it, so I was inspired to give it another try (in fact, I chose it over the albums I bought today with a gift certificate from the cool, if very dingy, local music shop leftover from my birthday: Slaid Cleaves' Wishbone and Plans, the new one from Death Cab for Cutie). While I still don't think I'll ever become a Modest Mouse groupie, I am starting to understand the attraction -- especially to "Float On." I'm only a year or so late to this particular party, but at least I got past the bouncer...

Finally, a bit of bloggage. I don't typically write about political and/or topical stuff; because of my job as a journalist, I'm very shy about airing my personal views in public (not to mention the fact that I write about serious topics 50+ hours a week, so writing meandering posts about my evening is a lot more relaxing than thinking critically about Big World Events). All that said, I highly recommend this story from today's New York Times about the women who seek abortions at one of the two clinics that perform them in Arkansas. Perhaps this story would confirm your position on abortion, whichever side you're on, but reading it made me feel very glad we sent some of our Katrina-related donations to Planned Parenthood clinics in the Gulf coast.

Gloomy Sunday morning

... which describes the weather, not the mood in these parts. I've loved this gray, drizzly weekend; it's given us a hint of fall, which is not entirely unwelcome, as well as an excuse to hole up at home. Yesterday morning we put the finishing touches on the bathroom -- installed a window shade, put together the metal shower caddy, moved storage containers into the closet and (finally) removed the boxes of toiletries from our bedroom.

We decided to have a couple friends over for dinner and to watch a movie (which turned out to be the 93rd viewing of Manhattan, with the heartbreakingly young Mariel Hemingway, the neurotic but not yet certifiably wacky Diane Keaton and a fierce, and also insanely young, Meryl Streep). The goal was to take advantage of this week's obscenely large farm share (they belong to the CSA as well), but I had trouble coming up with a meal that was suitably warm for the gloomy day while also using the peak-summer veggies (a half-pound of basil and five pounds of tomatoes, among many, many others). Eventually landed on ricotta gnocchi with a roasted tomato sauce, which is a little time-consuming but warm and hearty. (I added some pureed basil and garlic to the sauce, along with a little balsamic vinegar, and it was fabulous.)

The only problem was that we need ricotta, and I really didn't feel like going to the store, or getting in the car at all, for that matter. We had some other neighborhood errands to run, so decided to see if we could scare up some ricotta along the way. And wouldn't you know it -- the variety store in our neighborhood had a 32 oz. container of very good ricotta, which the guy even pronounced the way my Italian-American family says it (ri-GOT). This at a place where we usually buy Ben & Jerry's and beer... sometimes in the same order.

Afterwards, we strolled over to the crappy video store to return some movies Darren had rented, then ended up at our fabulous neighborhood bakery, where we procured a boule of sourdoughish bread, a bottle of red wine and a tasty apple spice cookie, which we ate on the walk home. We were very pleased with ourselves for doing all these errands on foot -- we've been making a real effort to drive less and, when we do get in the car, to think about combining errands -- and for living in a neighborhood where it's possible in the first place.

Now, Darren is making french toast with the left-over bread, and we've got some fancy maple syrup I'm dying to try (I bought it from the women who made it, from trees on their land in central Maine). This afternoon we're headed downtown to catch a movie from the embarrassment of riches currently available -- we're choosing among Broken Flowers, Grizzly Man, The 40 Year-Old Virgin (even if its title is punctuated improperly), The Constant Gardener and The Aristocrats. I've got a bit of work to do, and then there's the Sunday Times. Not a bad weekend by any measure.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Three small victories

Count 'em:

1. I went running today. For an actual run of perhaps 2.75 miles. I did not die. My thighs feel like rubber and I think the blotchiness of my face frightened a few small children, but I survived. I'm annoyed at myself that I let six weeks go by without running, especially since six weeks ago I was in pretty decent shape. And now all that work I did all summer has vanished.

But whatever. I got out there and it was good.

2. I worked two 11-hour days in a row and still managed to throw together decent dinners involving the multitude of fresh vegetables we get from our farm share. Ok, so Darren was largely responsible for last night's feast of roasted fingerling potatoes, collard greens and barbecued chicken. (Darren did the chicken and potatoes. I cooked the greens, while chatting with my in-laws who'd stopped in for an impromptu tour of the new bathroom. At 7 pm. On a Monday. Which meant that they were at my house when I arrived in all my hungry-and-irritated glory. So I think I deserve a LOT of credit for those greens, especially since the throbbing pain in my left temple, a la Angry Pregnant Lawyer, prevented me from opening a bottle of wine for fear of exacerbating it.)

But I take all the credit for tonight's burrito dinner, for which I made a nice quick salsa with tomatoes, cilanto and a hot pepper from the farm, plus a lowly yellow onion from the grocery store and some kosher salt from a box. The burritos were not fancy -- just a mixture of refried and black beans, plus the salsa, on a whole wheat tortilla -- but they were filling and pretty healthy, which is not bad for a meal served at 8:45 pm on the night before deadline.

3. I bought some super-premium Maine ice cream (Deer Tracks, yum) in a moment of weakness at the grocery store (the rest of the order: tortillas and beer) and am about to go to bed without having eaten any of it.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Meme wannabe

A while back, I wrote a post called Monday night gerunds, which I described as a meme-in-waiting. Since then, Carter has been kind enough to follow suit not once, but twice. It's no 100 things, but I'm giving it another shot here just in case anyone else is so moved.

Watching: The O.C. It is my ultimate guilty pleasure. Darren's at another Sox game tonight, so I went to friends' house to eat pizza, drink red wine and watch the season premiere. I have to admit that I was overly excited at the beginning of the fall TV season -- my motto is that I watch very, very little TV, but what I do watch is absolute trash. Except for the Amazing Race, which is somehow slightly less trashy than the others since it involves travel. It makes no sense, but whatever.

Stressing: About work, in a major way. I've had the attention span of a tse-tse fly this week, today especially. I do my best work when I have large blocks of relatively uninterrupted time -- editing, in particular, requires a kind of concentration that is really hard to replicate after 97 interruptions. I spent all day today not-editing one story. In fact, I was most productive in the hour I worked at home this morning (couldn't sleep, so was up editing at 6), and in the first 90 minutes at the office. There's no way I can finish what I need to by the end of the day tomorrow, so I see at least half a day at the computer over the weekend. Ugh. And on top of the workload, there is a personnel issue that's eating up a lot of brain space. Wish I could write more about it but I think that would be unwise.

Fretting: About the whole fertility thing. This is yet another month in which we thought we timed everything perfectly, but seem to have been wrong. In another few days, when we're sure we didn't succeed, I will call the doctor and make an appointment. I've realized in the last few days that I'm really sad about that. But then I've been reading Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom, which my chiropractor loaned to me and which is all about the mind-body connection as it relates to women's health. It's a bit crunchy for me, but I do wonder if, as Northrup writes, that the body responds as the mind thinks... in which case I wonder if my continuous waffling and ambivalence about having a baby is part of the problem. (There are obviously 1,001 ways to refute that concept, unintended pregnancies being at the top of the list. But there is, I think, at least a small amount of truth to it.)

Worrying: About my grandmother, who's been back in the hospital since Sunday. Her carotid artery is blocked, which isn't good news, and there is some problem with the length of time between heartbeats... which I guess is to say her pulse? I'm not sure. I thought I understood all this when my mother explained it on the phone, but when I start to write it I realize I have no idea what the situation is. She may be going home from the hospital tomorrow -- she's feeling a million times better, which is great -- but perhaps with a decision to make about next steps, one of which could be a pacemaker. And at 85, she is not very keen on any more big surgeries. So that's a tough one.

Running: Umm, not at all. Not since the race. Not good, especially when life is a little overwhelming.

Loving: My glorious new bathroom. As Meg said, I savor every tooth-brushing, leg-shaving moment.

Anticipating: The week of Sept. 26, which I have decided to take for vacation. We're borrowing a camp (nice Maine term that means cabin or mansion or some other kind of second home, typically near water) some friends own on a lake a couple hours northwest of here. We can hike and kayak and lounge around for free. There's no cell service and no computer. And, most importantly, no work.

Heading: To bed. And goodnight.


A quick post, in pictures, of the Now Completely Finished bathroom renovation.

(We lived with it like this for 2.5 years. Don't ask me why.)

(This is now the nicest room in the house. Seriously.)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Loose ends

I don't have anything to do tonight, and so I don't know what to do with myself. I'm antsy about the work I forgot at the office -- the work I'd intended to do while sitting on the couch watching some new fall dreck on TV. And I'm antsy about the rest of my week, in which I will try to put out a record-breaking issue with one fewer day, one fewer staffer and several fewer stories than usual since our supposedly world-class email system just began rejecting all emails with attachments over the weekend. So I'm sitting here stewing and feeling restless. Thinking about eating some black raspberry chocolate chip ice cream, and thinking again since I didn't get to run tonight -- for what would have been my first run since last month's race.

Of course, there are lots of things I could do. I could clean the tub in my shiny new bathroom. I could write the letter to New Jersey EZ Pass about how they damn well better return my deposit. I could trim the ends on that fancy scarf I crocheted over the winter but never quite finished. I could drink some more water. I could read a book. I could look for story ideas to pitch to the very nice editor who just paid me an awful lot of money for a freelance piece and who said he'd like to see my byline again.

Instead, I surf through blogs, trolling for new posts. I call my grandmother, who is chipper and feisty, yet still in the hospital. I page through catalogs for new curtains and towels. I write a post that is even more self-absorbed than normal. And I spend several minutes Googling the rules for "less" and "fewer" while revising thesecond sentence of the first graf above. Clearly, it is time to step away from the computer.

Monday, September 05, 2005

And now for something completely different

There's an awful lot of silence in the blogosphere these days... silence, and sadness. And there's been a fair amout of debate about the value (or not) of posting mundane bits about daily life in areas unaffected by Katrina.

Though it feels unseemly, I want to document where my life is, in the northeast, far from harm, at this moment. It's a familiar place, feeling tremendously lucky in the face of awful tragedy. We closed on our house a bit over four years ago, Aug. 31, 2001. We'd planned to take two weeks after closing to paint and have the wood floors refinished and get some electrical work up to snuff. So we watched the coverage of Sept. 11 in our bare apartment, filled with brown boxes, some takeout and the ugly green couch. We listened to horrific tales on the radio as we painted our brand-new bedroom a bright and cheery yellow, and we talked for hours about what was going on in the world as we unpacked those boxes in our house. Our house.

It's much the same today. We spent Friday night celebrating my little sister's 30th birthday -- as she said at the family party 10 days ago, if she's 30, that means everyone else is old. The gathering on Friday was small -- just my sis, her fiance, Darren and me. They bought steamers and lobster, and we had a cornucopia of produce from our farm share. We steamed edamame for an appetizer, followed by the steamers. The final course was lobster, and corn, and a tomato and cucumber salad that tasted purely of summer. We drank gin and tonics, and far more champagne than we should have. We talked about gas shortages and public transportation and their wedding. And we made plans for our trip to Fenway Park on Sunday.

Saturday was spent in the sun, as I dug a new bed in the long-neglected front of the house. I don't know much, if anything, about gardening, and have been paralyzed with indecision about what to do with this small, blank, unused space at the front of our house. This year, I finally decided to screw the grand plan, to just plant some stuff and see what happens. So I dug up grass and moved all the daylilies from elsewhere on our tiny plot of land. My sister donated a few to the cause, too. So I dug out the bed, turned over the dirt and slotted them in between the hydrangea and the spirea and the rhododendron (I am learning the plant names one by one, bird by bird, as Anne Lamott puts it). I listened to music for a little while, but even that seemed a distraction from the nothingness of my thoughts. At the end of the day, I was sore and dirty and tired, and it felt good. We had burgers and steamed kale and refrigerator pickles for dinner, and went to bed early.

Sunday was consumed by Fenway -- two hours down, two hours back. With even a short game in between, we left at 10 and returned at 7. I was claustrophobic in the crowds on Yawkey Way, and pacified by the sun and the hypnotic rhythm of the game once we found our seats in the bleachers. The crowd yesterday donated $25,000 to the Red Cross. At that point, we had donated nothing, though I spent $6.75 on 12 ounces of Harpoon Ale when we first arrived.

Today, Darren went back to work -- such is the glamorous life of the social worker. I stayed at home, enjoying the rare chance to catch up on bills, file the papers strewn across the desk, grocery shop and get ahead on the cooking. My dad called to give me the update on my grandmother -- she's in the hospital again, was taken there by ambulance yesterday. Though she seems fine now and is just being held for still more testing, none of us are speaking of what has become horribly obvious: It is only a matter of time. She is frustrated and feisty, but tired of being sick, tired of hospitals. I am shy about calling her, because I only call when she is in the hospital, and I am worried that the fact of my call simply emphasizes her discomfort.

So I cooked. I marinated flank steak for dinner tonight, with red wine vinegar, lemon juice, thyme and some hot sauce. I sliced tomatoes, cucumber and red onion and marinated them, too, adding chiffonade of basil and toasted cubes of bread to make panzanella salad once the steak was done. And for tomorrow night I made a polenta casserole with pattypan squash, potatoes, green peppers and gruyere. I spent hours in the kitchen, chopping and stirring. I went online and made as large a donation as we could, though as I write this I'm not even sure if those words are accurate. Of course we could have given more. I turned the radio on, then turned it off and put in a CD. I didn't talk to anyone.

And this is where we are, at the end of summer, in the wake of all this.

At a loss for words

I've been struggling to figure out what to write this last week, largely because I feel I have nothing to add on the topic of Katrina and the outrageous events that followed. I've been sputtering with outrage after every single news story I read on the topic -- I have yet to watch any TV coverage -- and am pondering what, if anything, I can to do make even the slightest difference. One of my tasks this morning is to pay bills and update the checking account ledger, at which time I'm going to figure out how much money we're going to donate and to whom. We never made donations after Sept. 11 or the tsunami; for all my rambling beliefs about the power of individual action, I've been paralyzed by the insignificance of what I can offer in response to such enormous tragedy. I'm determined to let go of that bizarre and useless mindset and write a check.

For the last couple weeks, we've been having our bathroom renovated. That's meant three weeks without a working shower, three weeks with strangers and dust in our house, three weeks of trudging down to the hideous toilet in the basement during the middle of the night. I've blamed these minor inconveniences for everything from the complete cessation of any exercise on my part to the increasing number of takout dinners we eat to my constant, low-level irritability. And that's the result of an inconvience I brought on myself, with the end result a shiny new (and, let's be honest, expensive) bathroom that will increase the value of my house.

I keep wanting to write that I cannot imagine, by comparison, what the complete upheaval and uncertainty Katrina victims are experiencing is doing to them mentally and emotionally, if the privilege of having my bathroom remodeled turns me into such a spoiled whiner. But then I think of Cancer, Baby's post about the use of the phrase "I cannot imagine." Her point is that calling something unimaginable "casts it into the realm of the extraordinary" and makes it other. And, I think, she's right. I can imagine what the hurricane victims are experiencing; I can't know it, but I can imagine. And it is horrifying.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

More housekeeping

I finally ditched those lousy Blogger comments and jumped on the Haloscan bandwagon. Please try to contain your excitement.

Update: Oh crap. I didn't realize this meant that all my Blogger comments would be lost in this conversion. Ah well, my biographer will have to make do without them...

Thursday, September 01, 2005

When I'm walking, I strut my stuff

Phantom Scribbler has a cool twist on the music-from-high-school meme that's been going around. The list below is the top 100 albums of the 1980s, so judged by some ex-DJs for a college station in California. And it's a far sight better than the horrific songs that made the top 100 in 1990, when I graduated from high school.

So, logistics: I've bolded albums I loved (in whole or in part) and asterisked stuff I'm not familiar with. Albums that didn't inspire strong feelings were left alone. Keep in mind that it is very early in the morning -- couldn't sleep for the last several hours -- so some of what seems like witty commentary to me at the moment may in fact be slightly incoherent rambling.

1. Replacements, Let It Be (1984)
2. R.E.M., Murmur (1983)
3. Violent Femmes, Violent Femmes (1983) -- Is there anyone who grew up in the 80s who does not know every single line of "Blister in the Sun"?
4. Los Lobos, How Will the Wolf Survive (1984)
5. Tom Waits, Rain Dogs (1985)
6. Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Get Happy (1980)
7. Jane's Addiction, Nothings Shocking (1988)
8. Billy Bragg, Talking With the Taxman About Poetry (1986)
9. Pixies, Surfer Rosa w/ Come on Pilgrim (1988) -- I thought I was so freakin' cool when I finally learned about the Pixies. Never realized how late I was to that particular party, though.
10. Jesus & Mary Chain, Psychocandy (1985)
11. Replacements, Tim (1985)
12. Pretenders, Pretenders (1980)
13. Talking Heads, Remain In Light (1980)
14. The Smiths, The Queen is Dead (1986) -- My friend Nikki was a diehard Smiths fan -- gigantic Morrissey poster on the bedroom wall, this album and "Hatful of Hollow" on constant rotation in her car...
Pixies, Doolittle (1989)
16. Camper Van Beethoven, Telephone Free Landslide Victory (1985)
17. *Minutemen, Double Nickels on the Dime (1984)
18. *Soft Boys, Underwater Moonlight (1980)
19. XTC, Skylarking (1986) -- This one just sparkles. So good. And "Dear God" inspired a major fight with my (very religious) mother.
20. Pogues, If I Should Fall From Grace With God (1987)
21. Billy Bragg, Back to Basics (1987)
22. Joy Division, Closer (1980)
23. Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense (1984)
24. Clash, Sandinista! (1980)
25. X, Los Angeles (1980)
26. Cure, Head on the Door (1985)
27. Husker Du, New Day Rising (1985)
28. U2, War (1983) -- My first boyfriend was absolutely obsessed with U2, to the extent that he'd make me mix tapes (mix tapes!) with B-sides and rarities, which at one point included some songs from War. Come to think of it, that was kinda cool.
29. Marshall Crenshaw, Marshall Crenshaw (1982)
30. Pretenders, Pretenders II (1981)
31. U2, Boy (1980)
32. Sonic Youth, Sister (1987)
33. *Blasters, The Blasters (1981)
34. R.E.M., Reckoning (1984)
35. Sugarcubes, Life's Too Good (1988)
36. Bob Mould, Workbook (1989) -- Holy shit, I love this album. Recently rediscovered my copy and put it on the iPod; every time one of the songs comes up, I am oh-so-happy to hear it. Pure genius.
37. Pogues, Rum Sodomy & the Lash (1985)
38. R.E.M., Life's Rich Pageant (1986)
39. De La Soul, 3 Feet High and Rising (1989) -- Another one of my favorites, which actually seems to have aged very well.
40. English Beat, I Just Can't Stop It (1980) -- I never owned this album, but LOVED the songs whenever I heard 'em. We had a pretty great local alternative station in the area; they handed out these small, square bumperstickers, and it was such a badge of honor to stick one on your car (when you finally got a car...). They played the English Beat all the time.
41. The Smiths, The Smiths (1984)
42. Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, Rattlesnakes (1984) -- I finally started listening to Lloyd Cole in college. He was just so darn sensitive...
43. Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)
44. Brian Eno and David Byrne, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981)
45. Big Audio Dynamite, This Is Big Audio Dynamite (1985)
46. Waterboys, This Is the Waterboys (1985) -- Ok, the only song I know from this album (but I think I own three different versions of it) is "Whole of the Moon."
47. Lou Reed, New York (1989)
48. *Rockpile, Seconds of Pleasure (1980)
49. Sinead O'Connor, The Lion and the Cobra (1987)
50. Prince, Sign O' The Times (1987)
51. Beastie Boys, Licensed To Ill (1986)
52. Prince, 1999 (1986)
53. U2, The Joshua Tree (1987) -- I think this might be a perfect album.
54. XTC, English Settlement (1982)
55. David Bowie, Scary Monsters (1980)
56. Stone Roses, Stone Roses (1989) -- Pretty much the soundtrack to my freshman year of college.
57. Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine (1989) -- Along with this one, too.
58. AC/DC, Back in Black (1980)
59. Go-Go's, Beauty and the Beat (1981)
60. Police, The Ghost in the Machine (1981)
61. Love and Rockets, Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven (1985)
62. Husker Du, Warehouse Songs and Stories (1987) -- Sadly, my love for Bob Mould solo and for Sugar, his band after that, never led me to go back and check out Husker Du. It's always been on my to-do list, though....
63. Camper Van Beethoven, Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart (1988) -- Does it date me to mention that this was the first album I ever bought? And by "album," I do indeed mean vinyl. I had lots of albums by that point -- freebies from the radio station where my dad worked -- but this one seemed cool enough to spend my own money on.
64. Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska (1982)
65. Cocteau Twins, Treasure (1984)
66. *Beat Farmers, Van Go (1986) -- The name sounds familiar, but I'm not placing any of the tunes.
67. They Might Be Giants, They Might Be Giants (1986)
68. Kate Bush, Hounds of Love (1985)
69. U2, The Unforgettable Fire (1984)
70. Prefab Sprout, Two Wheels Good (1985)
71. Robin Hitchcock and the Egyptians, Queen Elvis (1989)
72. *Chameleons U.K., Strange Times (1986)
73. *Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (1981) -- I thought I knew this album, but then I realized I had the Dead Kennedys mixed up with the Dead Milkmen of "Punk Rock Girl" fame. Oops.
74. John Lennon / Yoko Ono, Double Fantasy (1980)
75. Robyn Hitchcock, I Often Dream of Trains (1984) -- "Uncorrected Personality Traits" was on repeat in the cassette players of certain friends' cars...
76. Lucinda Williams, Lucinda Williams (1988) -- Oh, how I wish I was smart enough then to have known about this album...
77. Public Image Ltd., Album (1986)
78. Replacements, Hootenanny (1983)
79. Dinosaur Jr., You're Living All Over Me (1987)
80. Fall, The Frenz Experiment (1988)
81. Elvis Costello, Imperial Bedroom (1982)
82. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Tender Prey (1988)
83. *Toy Dolls, Dig That Groove Baby (1983)
84. Replacements, Pleased to Meet Me (1987)
85. Hoodoo Gurus, Stoneage Romeos (1984) -- My friend Kristi was absolutely obsessed with the Hoodoo Gurus in high school. Smart girl.
86. *Rave-Ups, Town & Country (1985)
87. Specials, The Specials (1979) -- We had a small but devoted ska contingent at my high school, and went to see local and regional ska bands somewhat regularly. Just the other day I was trying to remember the exact technique for skanking, the ska dance where you sort of run in place and hop up and down at the same time.
88. Squeeze, Argybargy (1980) -- "Pulling Mussels from the Shell," "If I Didn't Love You, I'd Hate You" -- good stuff.
89. *fIREHOSE, Ragin', Full On (1986)
90. *Minutemen, Three-way Tie for Last (1985)
91. New Order, Power, Corruption & Lies (1983)
92. Beastie Boys, Paul's Boutique (1989) -- This is another one that's aged really well.
93. Cure, Boys Don't Cry (1980) -- Another album that somehow convinced me I was cool just for listening to it.
94. Husker Du, Zen Arcade (1984)
95. Velvet Underground, VU (1985)
96. *Galaxie 500, On Fire (1989)
97. *Various, Repo Man Soundtrack (1984)
98. *Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, From Her to Eternity (1984)
99. Everything But the Girl, Eden (1984)
100. Devo, Freedom (1980)