Thrashing About

Our curved-bill thrasher says good morning.

And yeah, he always has that annoyed look. He lands on the feeder and launches into an ear-splitting song, then proceeds to whip his bill back and forth through the seeds, scattering them hither and yon. Every once in a while, he pecks at the glass sides. He eats a few seeds, also.

I’m not sure what is driving the behavior. Maybe birds do weirdly obsessive things, too.

Jeri Smith-Ready (@jsmithready, a wonderful author and terrific gal — if you haven’t checked out her series about all-night vampire DJs, it’s worth doing) tweeted yesterday that “Checked e-mail so many times today, fingers permanently frozen in Ctrl-Shift-T position. Will bang head on wall instead.”

Which made me laugh.

I have my Outlook set so that send/recieve occurs every five minutes. On both laptops. When my IT guy was autopiloting my work laptop (have you done this? it’s kind of freaky: I relinquish control and watch while he runs through my computer settings from the other side of the country. it’s kind of Poltergeist-ish), when he saw this, he somewhat primily informed me that HE has HIS set to every 30 minutes.


What? Like he’s more patient or something?

I didn’t tell him I also hit my send/receive button all the time, too. Anyway.

Which is how all this came up, because my work laptop Outlook started being weird. It’s connected to our Exchange server in Arlington, and so is kind of a real-time “live” connection. This is apparently why I shouldn’t need to hit send/receive ever. Or why 30 minutes is plenty long enough, because it’s always synching. But it’s a habit, okay? Only now, when I hit send/receive, it sends Outlook into some kind of loop from computer hell and it helplessly cycles until it crashes.

IT guy doesn’t know why. His solution: don’t hit send/receive. This is logical, because I don’t have to.

But I can’t seem to stop.

I know. I know. It’s stupid. It’s ridiculous. I tell myself not to touch it. I know I can’t. And then I’ll be working away, click over to my Outlook and reflexively hit send/receive. Scattering those seeds willy-nilly with an angry orange eye.

At least I have company.

Tweets for the Sweet

So, I caved.

I’m doing the Twitter thing.

I know, I know — all of you out there are either scoffing that I’m late to the game or stubbornly reaffirming in your heads that you are NOT going to do it.

That always seems to be my place in the pack. I’m never the first kid on the block to have the new thing. But neither am I the one who holds out forever.

I’m a third wave kind of gal, apparently.

So far it’s pretty fun, now that I’m getting the rhythm of it. It’s a bit lonelier than Facebook, because people don’t seem to respond as much. My tweets go out into the world, often to vaporize to indifference. Or passing interest. Hard to tell which.

And this could be just be me. After all, I’m not that fascinating.

I did get a bit of response to my tweeted pic above. (So pleased I figured out how to do it!) But as mediocre as my camera photos are, my Blackberry camera ones are apparently worse. I kept this one small, to minimize the fuzziness. Are there workshops on taking good camera phone pics??

At any rate, this was part of my Connecticut series of tweets. I’m thinking of them like paintings. Or a serial story. On the way in I tweeted about the really need video-poster ads that scatter like rose petals when you wave your hands at it, then coalesce again. On my return flight, however, I was on a different airline, American, which is apparently low dog enough to be relegated to the “B” terminal in Hartford. As in “B” movie.
All the shops and restaurants outside of security were closed, temporarily or permanently — and this at 4:30 in the afternoon. Security was a wasteland, with this very odd Gorey-style guy who held out his hand for my boarding pass at the magnetic arch, never looked at it, but gave me the hairy eyeball and didn’t step back for me to pass. I half expected him to grope me as I sidled past him.
The above pic shows my one option for sustenance. Not pretty. The couple of people who replied to my tweet enthusiastically endorsed sticking to a wine-only meal.
It was fun to have the conversation about it. Which is what this is all about: exchange. Even if it’s about airport trauma.
However, many people, I’ve noticed, are more interested in sending than receiving. Another symptom of our culture, that people seem to want to talk more than they want to listen.
I have one writer-friend who started Twitter quite a while ago. And started a blog, to build an audience for her new book. I supported her by “following” her blog. And by commenting on her tweets that went to Facebook.
I can’t help but notice that she hasn’t returned the favor.
I try not to let it bother me, but I do notice. And I really notice which authors respond to my responses to their tweets. Who is interested in engaging with me and who, it feels like, holds me as beneath their notice.
It colors how I feel. One author who replies to me? I just bought five of her books to catch up on the series. Another who has never once acknowledged me? I’m losing enthusiasm.
A professor from college once told me that I was an unusual student because I took information and gave back interesting things from it. I was surprised that he told me a lot of students don’t do this. To me, it’s a crucial part of engaging with the world.
No one can read everything that’s out there. Respond to everything. I firmly believe in the meritocracy of all these forms of communication: say interesting things and you’ll be deserving of listeners.
But do be sure to let people know that you’re listening.

A Western Gal on Connecticut’s Highway

The view from my hotel room in Hartford, Connecticut.

Which sums up for me all that odd about many parts of New England. I don’t mind the view. There’s lots of sky and it’s a Homewood Suites over in Glastonbury. Nothing to write home about. Good for a few days’ stay and the linens are nice.

Traveling way too much, you get picky about stuff like linens. You wouldn’t believe how a rough sheet or thin towel can push you right over that edge, the one that’s been waiting for you.

The edge that, apparently, many Hartford drivers fell off, years ago.

In some ways, New England is so bucolic. With these gorgeous wooden farmhouses and real red barns.

There are dense trees all around, so one scarcely notices the busy highway just beyond.

Then there’s the whole industrial side. Both the shabby warehouses and crumbling parking lots and the gorgeously rehabbed buildings that pay homage to the past while providing reasonably green and pleasant working environments.

But underneath the pretty farmhouses and the chain stores all made to look Colonial, is this anger.

Granted my co-worker is a hesitant driver, the worst kind to be amongst the aggressive kind. And no, we so don’t know where we’re going or what lane to be in. But we were honked at four times yesterday and three times today. Not a get-going beep. Not even an impatient pop. But full-on rage-filled honking. And as the people speed by, their faces are set in dour, pissed-off lines.

I mentioned it on Facebook and a number of people commented that Connecticut drivers are worse, even than Boston. I can see it. Boston drivers are scary agressive and fast, but they don’t exhibit this level of sheer rage.

It’s interesing to be in this milieu, following Rep. Joe Wilson’s angry outburst, in a solemn and public setting, no less. And then, in a considerably less formal setting, but no less disconcerting for that, Kanye West’s bratly behavior at the Video Music Awards.

I wonder if it’s just that people’s filters are wearing thin. Which is okay, in many ways, since the what know are always telling us to vent our emotions, rather than bottling them up in repressed Puritan-throwback ways.

It could be, I suppose, that everyone is all stirred up. It’s been a hard year, in many ways.

People feel uncertain and insecure, which is understandable. Anger is what drives us to make a change really. If you’re pissed-off enough, then you finally act to change whatever it is that’s sticking in your craw.

But, at the risk of going Justice League, it seems that anger needs to be used for the powers of good. To create change, not to attack other people.

What does throwing a fit do? The angry honking. The yelling. The body-shaking frustration.

If only we could bottle the stuff…

But What IS Normal?

I left our new house today, almost exactly one month after we first arrived.

And yes, there was an unreality to it.

My schedule doesn’t often allow for an unbroken four weeks at home, so that was a blessing. But last night, as I packed for this business trip, a part of me pictured the old house in Laramie. As if I’d be returning there after this trip, as I did for so many years.

In fact, it felt a bit like the vacation was over.

We’ve been feeling that way, less so now than at first. We’ve been feeling like we’re simply renting this vacation house and we’ll return to real life sooner or later. I’m not sure where that comes from. We’ve certainly done that before, rented a house in a beautiful place for a week or two. With always the return to normal life after.

And the new house is beautiful enough to be that. I remember when we moved into our last house, it took me a while to become accustomed to the new circumstances. I wouldn’t habitually drive to the old house, the one we lived in for 11 years, but I’d feel the impulse to go that direction. Sometimes I’d drive by the old house, just to see it, even though the new house was a step up in every way.

That move though, was only from the fifth block north to the fourth block south, and from 6th Street to 11th Street. Our new house was only around the corner from the apartment I first rented when I moved to Laramie as a grad student in 1988.

So the relocation has something to do with it. Though I don’t remember feeling this way when I moved from Denver to St. Louis at 18, or from St. Louis to Laramie at 22.

I’m really wondering if this isn’t habit so much as age.

Yesterday, David bought a field guide to the local plants, insects and animals. He needs a real grounding in the nature around him, so different from Wyoming’s.

Leaving the house this morning, I felt funny about it. Packing had been weird, since I was out of step on my habits. Still learning where I’ve put everything.

“Will it be strange for you,” I asked David, “being in this house without me?”

“Probably,” he answered, and looked a little sad. Then he shrugged. “Just another new thing to get used to.”

It’s good for us, to make this change. To stimulate our mental flexibility and learn a new place and culture.

I wonder when it will begin to feel like normal life.

Cracks in the Glass

I have this tendency to drop my right shoulder.

It’s the scoliosus, I suspect. I was diagnosed with the sideways spinal curve when I was 12. Girls develop it then quite a bit, I understand, a result of the emotional and phsyical spurts of adolescence. I am now the height I was at 12 and managed to avoid the back surgery by doing a lot of exercises and wearing a Milwaukee brace (think Judy Blume’s Deenie). My back is pretty good now, which I attribute mainly to years of Tai Chi. But I still tend to drop my right shoulder, so many of my photographs come out with a slight downward slide. I often correct them, to make the horizon level. I nearly did on this one, but decided to leave it. A stamp of who I am, flaws and all, in this photograph.

We watched The Soloist last night. At one point, Nathaniel Ayers, a mentally ill musician who bombed out of Juliard and now wanders the streets of Los Angeles with a shopping cart of precious garbage, asks the reporter, Steve Lopez, who champions him if he sees writers. Nathaniel sees Beethoven and Mozart hovering in the air, embodying the music that drives him. Steve says that he writes for a living, so it’s not like that.

I really wonder if it ever is for writers.

Where are the Shine, August Rush and The Soloist movies about writers? Are we just not crazy interesting enough?

I’ve written about this before. The difference between being an artist like a musician and being a writer. With music, there’s a vast learning curve involved in being able to read, play and eventually create music. With writing, we all learn to create a sentence in school. After that, anyone can write and it becomes a matter of opinion, to some extent, whether or not you’re good enough. I suppose that can be also true for the garage-band approach to music. Strum a few chords and see if anyone will pay to listen.

Maybe this is the same for all artists: it’s so hard to know when you’ve done enough.

I’m in the midst of this ruthless revision of my novel (which I’m sure you’re all sick of hearing about). I revised the first third, and a bit more, according to some detailed notes from an agent. Then I moved, which vaporized everything in my life not involved with moving for nearly two months. Coming back to the book, I ended up revising the beginning twice more.

I can’t seem to stop.

And yet, each time I feel closer. I feel like I’m weaving in the things I need to have there.

I told Allison that I wanted this book to be brilliant. And she didn’t laugh at me, which I appreciated. Though I suspect this may be a character flaw in myself. Another agent told me the book was a page-turner and exactly what she was looking for, but that she wasn’t quite obsessed with it, as she needed to be.

I want my readers to be obsessed.

Maybe I don’t see Jane Austen and William Shakespeare floating in the air, but I have shaken books by Ann Patchett, A.S. Byatt and Jacqueline Carey in my hands and shrieked “I want this to be MY book!”

See? We writers can make for crazy drama too.

It’s just that the soundtracks aren’t nearly so compelling.

The Great Grape Pie Gastronomical Experiment

A little while back, I mentioned that we have a grape arbor here.

My friend, author Keena Kincaid, suggested that I make grape pie. Actually she said: “If the grapes are ripe, bake a pie. Grape pie is my absolute favorite.”

Which, I suppose, is more of a demand than a suggestion.

But, since Keena and I were apparently separated at birth, because we share all sorts of common opinions — such as the same favorite restaurant in Charleston, SC, while niether one of us lives remotely near there — I figure if Keena likes it, I will too.

Never mind that I’ve never HEARD of grape pie before this.

So I dutifully requested the recipe, which Keena doesn’t have. Clearly she’s not a plotter. This is what she tells me:

Mmmm…I don’t really have a recipe. Just squeeze pulp from grape skins. I remove the seeds. You’ll need about 5 cups of fruit (depending upon depth of pie shell), 1 cup sugar (depending on how sweet the grapes are) and 1 tbs butter. Mix sugar and grapes, pour in the shell, dot with butter, put in top crust and bake.

Fortunately, I never plot either, so I’m fine with this. I know the ending — that’s enough for me.

I made the crust like my grandmother taught me. Okay, I use the pastry blade and my food processor instead of two butter knives, but hey…that’s the freaking point of technology.

I also use whole-wheat flour instead of all-purpose, so it never looks quite as pretty. But it’s healthier. Actually, the grape pie overall was reasonably low-fat, low-sugar, which is a bonus.

I started squeezing out the pulp like Keena said to and, after about ten, I lost interest and threw them all in the aforementioned food processor.

Yes, there is a common thread here.

My friend, Kathy-now-Kathryn (Marin –I think you’re so funny!), posts amazing pics of her culinary creations and whrrls the whole process. I am not her.

But, my pantster pie-making method worked out just fine. I ended up adding just 1/2 cup of turbinado sugar, since the grapes were super sweet. I figured we needed some sugar to make it gel. I baked it at a conservative 350, just in case, (oh, and yes, hardened the bottom crust about 20 minutes in the oven first before adding the filling). It ended up
taking about an hour to bake.

I never let pies cool long enough (see impatient food-processor approaches above), so the pie wasn’t perfectly gelled. But hey. Also note super-cool high-heeled pie server in background from my super-cool stepsister, Hope.

Verdict? Tres yummy! Like sunshine and grape jelly in a pie shell.

Now, what do I do with the REST of the grapes???

The Point of No Return

The time has come to say good-bye.

Funny how that time is different for every person. How we each work our way through hope until we can face reality and know when to let something die.

My friend, Angela, spotted this article about my lost friend, Craig, the other day. I was grateful she sent it, since it’s a loving and lovely tribute to him. And it sums up his disappearance and presumed death. She commented that, after reading my postings about it, this confirmed for her the ending of it all.

For me, that final post about it on May 8 was when I came to terms.

Though to confess the hardness of my heart — I’d given up hope well before that. While his family fought to extend the search for weeks and weeks, I gave up on him after about five days. After that, I figured that, even if they found his body, he couldn’t be alive.

Perhaps I’m not a hopeful person.

Had I been Odysseus’ wife, I would have remarried long since.

Perhaps it’s just an acquired skill. Having lost my father, when I was very young, I think I learned something about letting go. Elizabeth Bishop says that the art of losing isn’t hard to master and I think she’s right. You learn that someone can be there one moment and vaporize the next.

The hard part becomes the holding on.

In many ways, I think it’s hard to hold out hope. It takes constant energy to hope that something isn’t so. To somehow remold the past, to change the outcome. Maybe that’s why we regard hope as a virtue, because it can be so difficult to generate and maintain.

Yet, I believe there’s also a virtue to finding the end of something. To knowing that it’s over and having the courage to recognize it.

I think the articles and memorials for Craig have just now kicked in because school restarted. As if everyone took summer vacation from grief and worry. And from hope, perhaps. Now is the time to wind it all up. It’s appropriate, since Craig lived according to the ebb and flow of the academic calendar.

Beginnings and endings.

Farewell, Craig.

Putting Your Money Where Your Wardrobe Is

I’ve created a clothing budget again.

This is noteworthy because I haven’t been “organized” about wardrobe acquisition in quite some time.

The first real budget I ever had though, was for clothes, bless my mother. When I was in high school, she converted to giving me a monthly allowance that I had to use to pay for all personal expenses — including all back to school shopping. This was intended to teach me fiduciary responsibility before I was off the leash in college and it worked to greater or lesser degrees. Yeah, I had a few tussles with the credit cards, damn their seductive shininess.

So, later, after I dug myself out of my grad school debt, I went on a strict budget. Which included $50/month to buy clothes. For those aghast that I would spend so little — this was nearly 20 years ago, so $50 went quite a bit further. Also, what I didn’t spend each month would roll over into the next month. Since I lived in the Land of No Malls, I sometimes would have as much as $300 by the time I got a chance to go shopping. Mad Money, indeed!

Now, for those who think that clothing should not be a budgetary line item, and I know who some of you are: the other reason I did this was to make sure that I was buying good quality clothing on a regular basis. I was starting to work in the professional world and my mother taught me to dress for the job I wanted to have. And I had high aspirations.

Still do, as a matter of fact.

Over time, as the cash flow improved, I abandoned the budget. And waxed and waned on how important I thought good clothes were. I have a tendency to keep stuff — yes, I still have clothes from high school, so what? — and so my wardrobe got huge and unweildy.

I also got somewhat huge and unweildy, myself.

Fat, that is. Alas.

Letting yourself blimp out is hell on the wardrobe, because you cease to care about what you put on your body, just so long as you can pretend you’re not really as fat as you’ve become. Denial can be an ugly thing. Soon you find your wardrobe consists of large drapey things and those cute clothes from your twenties? Stuffed in the back of the closet, staring at you in grave reproach.

Two things happened then. First, I saw The Devil Wears Prada. I know, I know — it sounds dumb. But I actually had to own the experience, which I seldom do. Sometimes I put in the DVD just to watch the fasion montage scenes. Call me shallow, but I was inspired.

I started to get rid of all the nasty, outdated and unflattering clothes. I gave David and my best friend carte blanche to tell me when something didn’t look good and then promptly got rid of it. And I went shopping. I read What Not to Wear and bought nice clothes that flattered my body as it was.

Then I got serious about losing weight.

This can also wreak hell on the wardrobe, because you don’t want to buy anything for fat you, and you’re not entirely sure where the new thinner you will come out, as far as size, or when that will be. Because real fat loss takes a freaking long time. Nearly two years for me now.

But I’m happy with my new size and shape. And I’ve decided it’s time to buy clothes again. So I have money set aside. $200/month now. It’s lovely to go shopping with a little money in your pocket — but only enough to encourage yourself to buy just a few key items.

Dressing for the me I want to be.

Photographic Evidence

We knew we had a packrat here from the first day.

Well, second day, really. Since our actual first day involved the drive from hell, parking the U-Haul in the driveway, going to the closing from hell, cooking a frozen pizza and unloading enough of the U-Haul to find our bed and then crashing in it.

So, it was really the second day that David rounded the corner to see a pack rat cheerfully trotting up the U-Haul ramp to see what goodies we might have for him. The sight of David threw him into a frenzy, of course, and he bolted for the nearby desert shrubbery.

But we didn’t give it much thought.

Until David notifed the garbage pen was filling up with dead chunks of cholla.

“I thought the woman was trying to booby trap me with cactus!” he says to me.

“What?” (And, yes, this is really how he talks to me.)

“In the garbage. I wondered what you were doing, sticking all that dead cholla in there for me to trip over.”

“I haven’t been putting any cholla in there!”

“I know that now — it’s the pack rat.”

Now, we won’t say anything about David assuming that I would just randomly pile cactus pieces around the garbage cans. Or that he, probably grumpily cursing my name, which he now has to make up to me with all kinds of sweetness to balance the relationship karma again, bagged up all the cholla so I didn’t get a good picture of the incipient nest. David figured it out the next day, when there were a couple of new, carefully placed pieces of dead cholla, as seen here. Apparently David decided that even I, in my random garbage pen activities, wouldn’t do this kind of thing.

So he put the new wildlife camera in the garbage pen. It’s one of those infrared cameras, that’s motion sensitive. David’s been hopeful of snapping the coyotes, bobcats or screen-surveying mountain lions, but so far all he’s caught are birds and our own domestic wildlife, like the top pic of Isabel.

I did helpfully put up my purple lizard beanie-doll in front of the camera when he went to the store, since David was so disappointed not to have any good animal pics yet. The photo was hysterical, but he deleted it. He assures me that his deleting it is not an editorial comment and that he does still think I’m funny after all these years. He even offered to redo the photo, so I could post it here, but I thought the spontaneity would be lacking and you’d all notice it was staged.


Anyway, as you can see, he got a photo of the rat. Several in fact. Here’s a close-up.

Not a real pack rat, after all. In one of the pics, which is quite blurry, so I won’t bother putting it here, you can see an incriminating chunk of dead cholla in his mouth.

I am vindicated.

But contemplating filling the garbage pen with purple lizard beanie dolls…


So, our neighbor is mowing the desert.
Some people here do that. Mow the desert like it’s a lawn. They create this kind of short-grass expanse around their houses.
It’s bizarre and strange. Of course, we sold our lawn mower when we left Laramie, with the intention of never having a lawn, or a lawn-like substance again.
I think you can see the contrast in this picture — the tan flat stuff? Yeah.
He came over to introduce himself this weekend. He’s a builder, relocating to work with a buddy between Houston and Galveston. He was planning to mow it down, he said, as part of the house sale. The way it used to be, orginally. I assume that means when he bought it. I’m just hoping whoever buys the house has a different ethic.
The thing is, we know there’s green belt between our property line and his, but he seems to be mowing all the way up to ours. At least he seems to be showing no fits of overly-neighborliness by cleaning up our act as well. Mowing the greenbelt would be a violation of the covenants, but we’re new here. Doesn’t seem right to bitch in our first three weeks.
One of the most ironic bits to me is that some other neighbors of ours relocated here from the East Coast and, over drinks, he was waxing poetic about the Santa Fe landscape, how spiritual and old it is.
A lot of people here do this. I have not escaped the Western Myth.
“Right around the house, here,” he told us, “has been landscaped. But the rest hasn’t been touched for 5,000 years! I’m sensitive to that, walking only on my same paths. It’s such a spiritual thing, thinking about walking on land that is the same as it’s always been.”
I nodded at him, sipped my wine and refrained from pointing out that his pristine arroyo contains septic tanks for all the houses around. They didn’t grow there from septic-tank seeds. Though that would be a nifty invention.
The landscape grows up and recovers. The great Myth of the West is that it’s somehow preserved in this museum-worthy contaminant-free vacuum. It’s not. It’s been fixed up again. Witness our neighbor’s lot, recently made like it was originally.
Time will pass. The winter will come and the grasses regrow. Maybe no one will feel like messing with it next year.
Maybe a cholla will choke his lawnmower.