"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Boo to you, too.

Quick post today, although I often start to dash off a quick post and end up pages later, thinking, where did I put that damn editor?

I love Halloween. Love to dress up. Love the fun-sized candy bars. Ten fun-sized Snickers equals one full-sized, doesn't it? Unfortunately, I don't get to dress up these days. No one in my age or friends group has costume parties. I could go trick-or-treating, but I think it might be just creepy for a middle-aged woman to go house to house, begging for chocolate.

This is my all-time favorite costume. My aunt Ardell made it for me. She's still alive, in her 80's, up and about with her self-decorated walker. By the way, I'm supposed to be a horse.

I made quite a few of Marcus' costumes. He wanted to be the Tin Man when he was four. I sewed the outfit, using silver lame, which isn't for wimps. A year or two later, he wanted to be Pikachu, a Pokemon character, which led to my best New Year's resolution ever: I promise not to ever work with fleece and cotton batting again.

This year, my college freshman is going as Jimi Hendrix. He can get away with it. He's going to a Halloween party, hosted by one of his college friends who is a very nice young man AND a few years older than Sonny-boy. Let's review - party is on Sunday night and Sonny's first class is at 8 o'clock on Monday morning. His last class is at 7 o'clock Monday night. As the responsible mom, I'm not sure whether to discuss the possible consequences of his possible actions, or whether to sit back and watch the train wreck unfold via his Facebook status.

I've dressed the horses up a couple of times, but only for the Holiday parade at the ranch. My favorite costume for Frostie is when she was pregnant at Christmas time. She looked great as the Virgin Mary. I'll probably burn in hell.

Snoopy has been The WW I flying ace (from Peanuts), Snoop Horsey Dogg (cornrows, bling, and all), and this little number, that I like to call, A Trailer Park Trash Christmas.

Oh - and Dale? He sometimes dresses up like this:

Get it? He's pretending to be an excitable guy. For those of you who know Dale, you'll totally get this joke. For those of you who don't, let's just say my hubby's bio-rhythm chart is a straight line.

What do you do for Halloween?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bach to Bugs

Let's begin this blog post by acknowledging two things about me:

1. When it comes to music, I am an eclectic person. I can't think of any musical genre that hasn't produced at least one song I like.

2. I was raised on a strict diet of country twang, and learned about classical music from the Looney Tunes.

So, when I go to a classical concert, there is a little of the Looney in me. I mean no disrespect. I'm just, in my son's words, "really weird."**

Last Sunday, Marcus sang with the Cal State Long Beach University Choir at the Los Angeles Bach Festival. It was held at the First Congregational Church of L.A. They presented Bach's St. John Passion as their finale for a week-long event, which apparently included a laser show on Friday night to accompany his famous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

Wish I'd been there for that – it had to be pretty cool.

The St. John Passion was, well, passionate. The music is beautiful, although long. There were sixty-eight individual pieces, for both chorus and soloists. Sixty-eight pieces… in German. We had a script to follow along, with the English translation on the side (the elderly men in front of me still got lost). Dale and I managed to sit on the correct side of the aisle and could see Marcus in the balcony. It was golden.

Like I said, the music was beautiful, but long. This allowed my mind to wander… my weird mind. The first thing I noticed was the TV monitor next to the organ. Since the organist faced away from the conductor, they had a monitor for her, so she could be conducted along with the orchestra.

Ever played with funhouse mirrors? As you move in and out, your features get distorted, larger and smaller, right? Unfortunately, that's the way the camera was portraying the conductor. He was not a large man, dapper in his tuxedo with tails, a blinding-white shirt, tie and cummerbund. But every time he raised his arms and directed the choir and orchestra, the camera enlarged his white shirt, like a balloon, expanding on the monitor.

Expand. Contract. Expand. Contract. I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. I was trying not to laugh. Elmer Fudd came to mind. I started smiling. At this point, I wanted to point out the Fudd-istic event to my hubby, but I didn't dare. As opposed to the last four years of enduring noisy audiences at high school concerts, this audience was silent as the grave, if you'll allow me a cliché.

So I sat and smiled and read along with the program and started laughing again when the gorgeous bass, as Jesus, sang, "Put up thy sword in thy sheath", which in German is, "Stecke dein Schwert in die Scheide."

C'mon, tell me you're not thinking of Blazing Saddles, or at least giggling from the alliteration.

At intermission, the two old men behind me had a few things to say. They did not understand why the CSULB choir was singing, probably because they didn't read the program notes that explained the conductor, Jonathan Talberg, is also the director of choral, vocal and opera studies at the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music at CSULB. They also didn't care for the man sitting in the row ahead of me who had an earring. But the most intriguing conversation they had was this:

Old Man 1: "I met the conductor in the men's room. He seems very nice."

Old Man 2: "He looks like he's (*unintelligible word*)."

Old Man 1: "Well, most people in music are (*unintelligible word*)."

What was the word? What are most people in music? Short? Classy? Episcopal? I didn't turn around and ask, although I wanted to. I may eavesdrop, but I don't intrude. It's called manners, people.

At the end of the two-and-a-half hour concert, I was mostly impressed that the soloists had learned such intricate melodies, especially the Evangelist, who had the largest role. We didn't get to speak to Marcus before we left, but I texted him. "Good job!" I said, "Catchy tune. LOL."

See? I can listen to classical music and enjoy it. I just can't keep the funny out.

** Marcus recently informed me that he and his dorm-mate are, "eerily similar. We like the same anime, music, and we both have really weird moms."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A political rant

By the time November 2nd rolls around, I'm hoping to have the will to vote. I know I'll have the desire to beat something – anything – with a baseball bat, just from listening to all of the ads.

I'm tired of the accusations and the exposés and the mudslinging by the spin doctors on all sides, so here's my two-cents, as a registered voter, to all the politicians out there: It's all about you, isn't it?

Last year, I was president of my son's choir booster club. We began the year in rough shape. Due to various reasons, we owed several thousand dollars, to both companies and parents. Even though it wasn't my credit score on the line, I felt the enormous weight of all the money we needed to raise – just to pay our debts off. I wasn't even certain if we'd raise enough to pay for what our kids needed this year.

I'm no financial wizard. I had no grand ideas for getting out of this mess. I only had two things going for me: 1) my honesty, and 2) my eternal optimism, both of which I hoped were contagious. For our first meeting, I explained our situation to the other parents and appealed to their sense of honor. We needed to make these debts right. And then I asked for their help.

The parents responded in ways bigger and better than I could have ever imagined. We paid our outstanding balances, we raised enough money to get music for the teacher and send the kids on a couple of small tours, and we ended the year with enough in the bank to get the next year started in the black.

I'm not telling this story to brag – I didn't do anything special. The parents did it all. I was just the cheerleader. I'd probably make a poor politician, because it'd be hard for me to tell everyone how I am going to solve the government's problems. All I could do is tell you, honestly, what the problems are, and appeal to you to help me solve them.

So it pisses me off to see all these politicians tell me how they're going to fix everything, because all I see are people who think they are going to ramrod their ideas down everyone's throats. Even if they're good ideas, do you have to be a bulldozer?

(An aside I must throw in here: in my state, and possibly in others, we've got former CEOs running for office. There's a lot of bragging about how much money they made for their company and shareholders. But what was it like for their employees? Did they offer good health plans, pay a living wage, treat them like human beings? Do they see the voters as shareholders or employees?)

A long time ago, a teacher described the difference between a manager and a leader. A manager pushes work onto their employees. A leader draws results from their employees.

I'm tired of being managed. Where are the leaders?

Okay, rant over. Hurry up, November 2nd. I want to get this thing over.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Today's post is brought to you by the letter G for Grief, Good-bye, Gah.

Remember my sassy little book trailer for Freezer Burn? There is a picture of the book on a boat:

That's Jim Barnes. My book is wearing his arms, paddling the kayak on Salmon Lake, in northern California. Here's the actual shot:

I met Jim at the Gray Eagle Lodge in the Plumas National Forest in 2002. It was a fairly innocuous meeting; I honestly don't remember much about him except he was very quiet and went along with whatever anyone else wanted to do.

We kept going up to Gray Eagle every year, and kept meeting Jim and his family and kept forging our friendship. In addition to being quiet and agreeable, I also found out, over time, that he was funny, he played the guitar, and he was nice to hang around with. (This is a pic of our usual campsite. Jim's in the middle, standing.)

Eight years later, we're good friends, even though he's in Sacramento and we're in Placentia, which is about seven hours apart. We don't know the details of each other's lives, we don't speak daily, or even weekly, unless you count our Facebook shenanigans. But we see each other when we can, and if he needed us, we'd be northbound to Sacramento ASAP.

Which made it difficult when we found out he had cancer. Neither Dale nor I are doctors, caregivers, or have any clue about how to help our friends and loved ones go through this awful disease. We can be cheerleaders. We can offer our shoulders to absorb tears, or the weight of the world. We can even stand in the middle of a hospital and yell, "Who do I have to sleep with to get some attention around here?"

Okay, I can probably yell that better than Dale.

So we hovered, as best we could, 400 miles away, texting, calling, and doing the Facebook thing. We saw Jim in August at Gray Eagle. He was taking a lot of extreme medication to control the pain, and had just had the first biopsy. It was either lymphoma or pancreatic cancer, and he'd find out when he got back from vacation.

It's weird, but we were praying for lymphoma. It is, at least, the most treatable and most recoverable.

Several weeks pass, mostly because it seems that his doctors and nurses each want to piss one more day away and schedule things daaaaaayyyyyyssss apart. Not that I'm bitter about the medical establishment and insurance companies… We finally find out it's lymphoma and he's starting chemo.

Yay, lymphoma! (Weird, right?)

His first treatment doesn't go well. He's in pain, he's scared, and all we can do down here is tell him he's in our thoughts and prayers and we love him and if the kids need anything, we're here to help. I see on Facebook that some of his friends are familiar with the effects of chemo and are offering suggestions, and I feel better, knowing he's got such a big support group.

Another few weeks go by and I don't hear anything from him. I send a message to his daughter, Alyssa. "How's your dad?"

"Not good." Her reply is devastating. He is in constant pain. The chemo isn't working. Nothing is working. He asked his daughters for permission to go into compassionate care and slip away. There is nothing else to be done, except to be medicated beyond consciousness and wait.

Turns out it was pancreatic cancer all along.

At 11:25 p.m., the same day I receive this message and alert the rest of his friends in southern California and send a message to Lyssie of love and support, I get a text from a friend of his oldest, non-bio-daughter (not that it matters). Jim has just passed.

There are a frantic few days, trying to figure out whether to run to Sacramento just to hug three girls, or whether to wait until we can be of help, or attend a service, or… or what? What do you do for a friend? When my dad died, we flew back to Illinois to attend the funeral and help my brother clean out his apartment. Services for Jim are still a few weeks away. He has family who are helping the girls.

All I feel I can do right now is get out the tissues and the pom-poms. Cry on my shoulder, Sweeties, and know I'm rooting for you.

And Jim – I'd tell you to rest in peace, but I'd rather you rest on your own terms. Let it be peaceful if that's your desire. Or come back and haunt us if it gives you a giggle. Love you always.

One of our outings was when Jim, along with "Sarica" (Sara, the oldest and her BFF, Erica) came to the Sacramento Convention Center to see Marcus sing with the All State Jazz Choir. He was here, in the audience:

Proud Member of ALA!

I support fair and equitable library access to ebooks and so should you.