February 29, 2012

The Help, or My Own Private Mississippi

The great indie bookstore, Square Books, on the Oxford square.
Up until a couple of weeks ago, I felt like almost the last person on the planet who hadn't yet read The Help or at least watched the movie.  There's already been so much written about the book, from reviews to intense debates about its merits and its place in talking about civil rights, that it feels pretty pointless for me to throw in my two cents about it all.

Except that I will say: I liked the book, and more than I expected to after all the hype.  (Actually, I had to give it a second shot: I checked it out from the library once during the summer, and found the handling of the dialect a little heavy-handed: “de doe nob” for “the door knob,” etc.).  But I gave The Help another shot, and am glad.  I also recently watched the movie on DVD, and as it always goes, thought the book was better, and dealt much deeper with the issue that's often raised about “the white girl saving the black women.”

But really, I'm just using The Help as an excuse to talk about Mississippi.  Way back in 1995, I lived in Mississippi for a total of about 9 months, when I attended, very briefly, the University of Mississippi.   (The school where The Help's Skeeter earns her English degree.)  As you know by now, I'm a California girl, born and bred.   Not to bore you with my entire personal history, but in 1995, I'd never traveled further east in the U.S. than a family trip out to Oklahoma for a week.  I'd certainly never lived outside of my native state.  Also, I was a “non-traditional” student, meaning that I didn't go to Ole Miss straight out of high school...nope, I was already well into my 20s, and had worked at several full-time office jobs while earning my General Ed credits at a community college.

And like now, I was a major bookworm, and through the years, had become fairly obsessed with THE SOUTH, or at least some idea of THE SOUTH.   I'd read Carson McCullers and some Faulkner and Welty, and of course, Margaret Mitchell, but honestly I was more influenced by contemporary Southern writers, like Bobbie Ann Mason and Gail Godwin and Alan Gurganus, and most especially, Ellen Gilchrist, who was born in Mississippi.  (Oh, and I was also heavily into Tennessee Williams: my chief fantasy about going to THE SOUTH involved me sitting before an old fan, in a chemise, and asking somebody to fetch me a “Co'-cola.” With plenty of ice, too, honey.
Courthouse on The Square, in Oxford. Image via here.
Well.  I landed in Memphis in January of 1995 and arrived in Oxford that same night, via a campus shuttle van that ferried students from the airport.  I stayed in a chain motel overnight, and in the morning, tried to figure out how to get myself and  two heavy suitcases over to my new home in campus housing.  It was cold outside, near freezing. Oxford is in northern Mississippi, not far from the Tennessee border. And yes, it snowed while I was there. 
Let me say, my time in Oxford felt about as different and exotic from my home in L.A. county, as spending the same amount of time in say...Bora Bora.  It was lush, and green and yes, there were telephone poles and fences choked with kudzu. There was water everywhere, in the form of streams and lakes and ponds and fishing holes.    I saw and crossed the Tallahatchie Bridge, from where 'ol Billy Joe McAllister jumped in the old song.  I ate more fried food than before or since (and frequently had an upset stomach) and spent an inordinate amount of hours exploring my first Wal-Mart (which hadn't yet made it's way to the West Coast). 
I walked and walked everywhere, that first winter semester.  Out on the outskirts of town, I saw people living in a kind of rural, broken down poverty that I'd never experienced in my urban background. I had no car.  After the summer break, I drove my car across the country. My little gray Nissan with its California plates and Janes Addiction sticker stuck out like a sore thumb.  I shopped at the Jitney Jungle, because I could, because " hello, Jitney Jungle!" 

Totally unaware and unprepared for the dominating campus culture of Greek life, I walked alone past the pillared sorority and fraternity houses, waving their Confederate flags. One frat house, on a Saturday, was waving the Rebel flag and blaring Lynyrd Skynrd out an open window.  For all my loneliness, and isolation, and slowly dawning realization that I'd picked the wrong place, and didn't belong here, either, that one moment walking past that Chi Omega house made it all worthwhile. It felt so...iconic.
Image via here.
I drove away in December of '95, heading west for home, for good. My then-boyfriend (now husband) had flown out from California and was driving a rented U-Haul with all my stuff and following behind.  In retrospect, those nine months in Mississippi were really more about the early days of our relationship, about the hours and hours of long-distance phone calls between us (back in the old days before “unlimited long distance” phone plans).

My main misconception about going to the South was that my fellow students would be interested, even fascinated, in the fact that I was from Cali-forny.  In fact, quite the opposite was true.  In the back of The Help is a brief interview with author Katherine Stockett. A native of Jackson, Mississippi, she talks about the defensiveness of the natives. What I experienced was a weird mix of pride and embarrassment, which she describes perfectly here:
"The rash of negative accounts about Mississippi, in the movies, in the papers, on television, have made us natives a wary, defensive bunch. We are full of pride and shame, but mostly pride.

Still, I got out of there. I moved to New York City when I was twenty-three. I learned that the first question anyone asked anybody, in a town so transient, was "Where are you from?" And I'd say, "Mississippi."And then I'd wait.
To people that smiled and said, "I've heard it's beautiful down there," I'd say, "My hometown is number three in the nation for gang-related murders."

To people that said, "God, you must be glad to be out of that place," I'd bristle and say, "What do you know? It's beautiful down there."
And yes, it was beautiful down there. And someday, I'd love to go back, and see it again,, and browse through Square Books and visit  Faulkner's Rowan Oak, like I did with my now-husband on a beautiful, memorable November day.
Rowan Oak image via here
 In my photo album of that life-changing year is a picture of me, in a white t-shirt and jeans, standing right in that same alley of oaks.  I may have been already well into my twenties, but my nine months at Ole Miss taught me that I  was so naive. There was so much in the world that I knew nothing about.

February 28, 2012


Temecula. Pronounced Tuh-MECK-u-la, not Teme-KEW-la, for reference.  We've lived here almost eight years now.  I'm a native of Southern California, Los Angeles county to be precise.  Temecula is in SoCal, but it's a relatively new community overall, although it's been on the map as a stop on the Butterfield Stage route (as in stagecoach, as in Wild West) since the late-1800s.   Like most of the planet, I'd never even heard of the place until sometime in the 1990s, in my early 20s. But now I call it home. 

It's an in-between place that's close to other, bigger places.  One hour northwest is Orange County (and Disneyland), an hour south is San Diego, and driving forty-five minutes southwest through winding foothills will land you almost right on the sand in Oceanside.  An hour east and we're in the mountains of Idyllwild. 

Anyhoo.  I'm participating in a link-up party this week, over at the awesome and ever-inspring Design Mom blog.  Gabrielle is asking her readers to "Love the Place You Live," and since that can be a challenge for me some days, I thought it was a good project for me to tackle.

So before getting myself too tangled up in the pro and cons of living in this uber-surburban, arid little city of 100,000 souls,  I'll focus on something here that is unequivocally great:

Our public library. 
It's almost always packed.  Although it has a large parking lot, many times I've had to circle around vying for a space. (I hear that plans are in the works to expand the parking.)  When we moved here, the only library was across town from me, nearly twenty minutes away. It had a charming children's area, but overall the space felt dim and dated.  (And the parking was and remains horrible.)

Then, about five years ago, the new, sparkly library opened its doors.  In this town of stay-at-home moms, the mid-week Storytime is always crowded (they usually have to turn folks away).  The after-school events for the older kids usually sell out weeks ahead of time.
Snow-capped San Bernardino mountains in the distance
Perched on a high hill, you are surrounded by lovely foothills and an expansive view of our valley.   Inside is a long row of chairs parked in front of floor-to-ceiling windows that offer the same views. These are premium seats, and are hard to snag on any given day. Not a bad spot to blog from, or peruse the magazine archives.
Mt. San Jacinto in the distance. (Behind it lies Palm Springs and the desert.)
And it's open on Sundays, which seems impossible in these economic times for a county-run facility.  It's always busy on Sundays, too.  I've read that, in all of sprawling Riverside county (which includes the big cities of Riverside and Palm Springs), ours is by far the busiest in terms of circulation, book holds, and inter-library transfers. 
These photos were all taken from the parking lot on a Friday in February.  The Santa Ana winds were gusting, clearing out the clouds and raising the afternoon temperature into the mid-80s.  As I often remind myself, the Fates could've definitely placed me somewhere worse than here.  And after all, there's nothing like the consolation of books.

February 24, 2012


Sacramento riverfront image from here.
Ah, the end of another week.  I felt slightly more productive than last week, which is still not very productive at all.  By taking a slight little break from the blog earlier this week, I freed my brain up to...I dunno. Ponder. Make plans.  It's the last weekend in February, so there's a definite expiration date on the winter doldrums.

One thing I did accomplish was booking reservations for a quick spring-break getaway to Northern California, specifically San Francisco and Sacramento. It will be a whirlwind trip, but that's okay.  My children get two weeks off for spring break, so I'll just be grateful to go somewhere.  And I'm looking forward to checking out Sacramento and it's Old Town district. The more I read and discover about the area, the more it seems like it could be a place to move someday. And it's beside a big river...and I really love rivers, even more than the ocean.  (Note to husband: there's also a very awesome-looking bike trail along the river, that goes on for miles and miles. Just sayin'.) 

Happy weekend. Be productive. Or not.  It's still February.

February 23, 2012

The House of Many Angles

I'm linking up with Jules every Thursday as part of her 2012 William Morris Project.

 I live in a tract house in a "planned community," meaning there are pathways (or "paseos" as they're called here), and tot lot parks and a swimming pool and a tennis court. We pay a modest monthly HOA fee for all these amenities. I tell you this, because sometimes I really, really wish that I could go back in time about thirteen years to when this tract was first built, and tour the Model Home version of my particular floorplan.   Because I'm very curious how a Professional Decorator would have dealt with all the random angles and cut-outs in my house.  My house has a LOT of weird angles, and the majority of them are in the entry-way and stairs area.  And the upstairs landing. And the bedroom walls. You get the idea.

Over the years, I've struggled with how to decorate and best utilize the spaces in my home. And this past week, I sort of threw in the towel on a couple of my old ideas. First, is the entry way. I talked about my pesky shelves before, especially here, where I say that basically the shelves are ALL form, and only 1% function. I'm tired of dusting them and arranging them to be "seasonal." Here they are in half-hearted "Valentine" mode this month.
Well, enough of all that.  Out they went. Leaving holes. Big holes, from the anchor bolt-thingies my husband used to hold up the weight of the shelves.  Oh well.  (My husband has a good system for covering up all the holes I leave behind: spackle, then re-texturize to match the orange-peel wall texture, then dab with leftover paint that is hopefully still hanging out in the garage.) This is my entryway now, the first thing a visitor sees (next to the Useful Hook): 
Then there was this area upstairs, right outside our double-door master bedroom, and across from my office nook.  I put two leftover Lack side tables up here, as a place for Tucker to sit and draw, usually while I'm on the computer and he wants some company.  Except that lately, he sits there maybe one or two days out of the month. The rest of the time, these tables and the area around them become just another landing spot for random kid-junk.  It was looking worse than usual this past week, which I guess was my inspiration to Deal With It.
I cleaned it all up (well, the Lack tables are down in the kids play room, waiting to be dealt with. One is trash and the other goes in the donate pile).  I unscrewed the magnet strips that held kid art (kid art that never really rotated out), and now it's nice and empty.  I WAS planning on screwing yet more things into the wall here, with some ledge shelves purchased at Ikea this weekend.  I was going to put some kids books face out, and put the bean-bag next to the shelves, as a kind of reading nook. But as of today....I dunno.   I think it's another "fake" area that I'm creating, that won't really be utilized.
Let me add, standing right here is one of my favorites spots in the entire house: I really love all the windows, and though you can't tell here, there are several large pine trees out the windows, giving the space an airy, treehouse kind of feeling. 

So this is where these areas look as of today. No brilliant "After" photos yet.  Maybe the upstairs area won't have an "After," and it will just stay clean and empty. Because that's probably how the Professional Model Home Decorator would have it, right? 

Some more views of the upstairs angles:

One of the things I liked most when we bought this house was all the natural light and the high windows in the stairway.  I still like those things very much, but did the architects really have to create all these angles in the name of "visual interest?"  I don't think so.

February 20, 2012

I Got Nothin'

I've been holding firm to my resolution to post here more often in 2012.  I talked here about how hard it is for me to stick to routine, and digging into the new year and the new me with gusto.  Huh.  

Well, it's not quite the end of February, and I'm feeling a little burned out. I don't know how "real" bloggers do it, coming up with fresh content on a nearly daily basis.  I'm thinking that at the very least, they leave the house more often than I have lately.  So I'll be back on Thursday with another "William Morris" post, but as for today, I'm feeling dry and sere and empty of inspiration as that photo up there.  That's a shot of our local foothills along Interstate 15, at the end of a long, hot summer.  Tinder box, ready to ignite.  But I ain't got no spark.

February 16, 2012

The Big Pink

I'm linking up on Thurdays with Jules of Pancakes and French Fries, as part of her 2012 William Morris home series. 

 I've been putting off doing a reveal of Lily's new "tween" bedroom. (I don't like the word tween, but I don't stop using it, either.) My feelings about the room are mixed, as you'll read below.   We completed the re-do in late November/early December, so it's definitely high time for the reveal of this big-girl room.  Lily's going to be turning ten in just a few weeks.  A decade of daughter! Hard to fathom. Here are a couple of "Before" shots:
Note the pink paint chips taped to the wall, next to her pinboard.
You can see the strange, angled little wall here.
Even since before she was born, she's had a pale blue room.  First in our old house in Orange, and then in this house, where we moved when she was two.  I liked the combo of pale blue walls, white furniture, and vintage accessories.  But alas, she's getting older and getting her own ideas about decor.  First, her best friend had her room painted HOT PINK and BRIGHT YELLOW last summer, and Lily was all over that. I said okay to the HOT PINK, but ixnay on combining it with bright yellow.  Then, she visited another good friend, who has a loft bed. And ever since that visit, it was all about: "my new room is going to be HOT PINK and have a LOFT BED."  And so it has come to pass:  Hot pink walls, and a black loft bed.  (It's wood, by Ikea, quite sturdy, and we bought it on Craigslist.)

I want to tell you that I love it, but I don't.  I really do like this shade of hot pink, it's called Springtime Bloom, by Behr.   What I don't like so much is the loft bed, and how it eats up the air and the space of her small bedroom, and most of all, the LIGHT. Oh, the light.  The black loft bed is a black hole for light, sucking up all the sunshine and good natural lighting of our home. 

The white desk is new (by Pottery Barn Teen, and a steal on Craigslist)  and the small bookshelf is new (she had a much taller one that doesn't work in the new room).  The Malm dresser was already hers, but it was hiding in the closet before. Now it's out, along with a mirror, to give her a little vanity area.  Because young girls need to gaze and preen and sing into the mirrors in their bedrooms. 
I truly wish I'd been able to preview the bed in the room before I painted the walls. Because the bed is so massive, it's a game changer, in terms of the color, and the lighting. This room faces north/northeast, so it only gets good morning light (when I took these photos). By afternoon and later, it gets even darker in here.  It's the pink cave, and I guess she'll enjoy it, since teens tend to like their rooms dark (the better to sleep until noon).  But personally, it's already starting to bug the hell out of me.  And so is the zebra-print comforter, which was also Lily's choice.  I strongly have the itch already to re-do some of this room: paint it white, and only have hot pink accents?  Paint it a more pale pink?   Either way, the question is kind of moot, because Lily loves her room.  And it was a lot of effort to paint the room, build the bed in the room (can't bring that thing upstairs!) and get the heavy full-sized mattress up there. I've got lots of other plans for my house this year.  This is going to have to stay for awhile.

So let's look at a couple of projects we did to the room a couple of weeks ago.  First, we finally got around to painting the Ikea spice rack, and putting it up on the wall next to her bed.  Lily is a big reader, and wears glasses, so it's a pain for her to have to get up when she's awake in the middle of the night, and climb down the ladder to fetch her book or Nook and her glasses.  (I take no credit for using the spice rack as a book shelf; this particular hack is all over the 'net.)
The next fix is something my husband came up with. I'm not thrilled with it, in fact I kinda hate it. But I agree that it's totally necessary: a safety board for the bed.  When we bought her new pillowtop mattress, we didn't take into account the fact that it's so thick, it sits right at the top of the highest bed rail. Meaning, zero safety for Lily. She hadn't fallen out of her old bed in a long time, but the fact that it could happen, and that she's so many feet above the floor, made both me and my husband pretty nervous.  Enter the painted board:

Basically, my husband got a large piece of plywood at Home Depot, cut and sanded the edges into a softer curve, and painted it the same pink as the walls.  The he just slid it in, between the bed frame and the mattress.  We both agree it's a little taller than necessary; it can be shortened a few inches.  It isn't pretty, but we all sleep better knowing that Lily can't just tumble out and require a visit to Urgent Care in the middle of the night.   (On the other hand, it's another element that is blocking even more light in the room.) 

Bottom line: Lily loves her new room. I'm happy that she's happy, but I get a little twitchy when I stare at it too long, and think of all the fixes I'd like to do.  For now, she still needs more art, and a shelf installed on that big empty white wall, to hold her birthday-doll collection, and some hooks, to hang her hats and necklaces.  And color! More color! I envision some pops of bright orange and/or lime green to break up all the pink, black and white.  Ideas?

February 15, 2012

February 15

I am so glad today is Not Valentine's day, and that I can return to my regularly programmed life. That is to say, my regularly programmed married life. 

We've been married for almost fifteen years.  Fifteen, great, happy years.  You know how in some movies or books,  people look back and say, "oooh, that one. That one was a bad year"?   We haven't had that.  Granted, we've lived through some bad years, years of sickness and loved ones dying, days of intense worry and personal grief.  But we haven't had a "Bad year" in our lives as two people together, and in love.  Those first few years were hard, I guess. I had to learn how to be a Married Person, and did a lot of emotional thrashing about and button-pushing to find my happy spot of daily life.   I don't do well with the whole "daily life" bit.   I grew up with a good amount of drama and chaos shadowing my days, so to relax and breathe and enter into the current of normal daily life is hard, hard hard. It's gotten easier.  Somewhat.

I don't know how to do Valentine's. If we were another kind of couple, I would've suggested, "look, let's make the kids an early dinner and then we'll enjoy a late dinner alone with some good wine and filet mignon."  But my husband doesn't drink wine, and truth be told, he'd prefer to eat even earlier than the kids do.  "Late dinner" is not a phrase that holds any charm for him.   We also aren't the kind of people who have a regular baby-sitter (we did, but she grew up), so dinner out on the town wasn't an option, either.

It's a good sign that we both wanted to make a date out of February 14th. I know some couples who both tacitly agree to just ignore the whole manufactured holiday bullshit and go about their business.  That's not us.  We both still want to do something special for each other.  It just where our individual notions of "something special" and "romance" intersect that the problem starts. 

Supermarket flowers and chocolates, and lunch at the mall are fine, really.  There isn't anything wrong with them. Except that they reveal such a lack of forethought and planning, the words that define the concept of romance.  I usually play "cruise director" for our days.  Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, vacations: I'm on them like white on rice. I love to plan, love to research, love to find new places to see and visit.  

On Valentine's, I surrender that control,  hoping that I can leave the planning to the non-expert, and it always ends badly.  Even when I should know better.   Also: women have such long memories. So, unbidden, come the memories of every other Valentines or date night when I thought, really? Really, this is the extent of your creativity?   And then I think of all those Dear Abby letters I've read over the years, from long-suffering wives complaining: every year, no card, no flowers! No birthday cards, no candy!  And then I start hating myself for complaining, for being disgruntled, for here is my heart-felt card, here is my candy, so why the hell am I such a spoiled brat? 

Yesterday I was made grateful for the daily, for the non-event .  The daily meals, the daily kisses. Our private, stupid jokes.   The hanging out and love and friendship that are the real deal, the things that a life are made of.  Not the card and the wrinkled pink wrapping paper from a decade-old stash. not the gargantuan chocolate-covered strawberries, when all I really wanted was a small, heart-shaped box filled with something rich and complex.   It was a lot of pressure for everyone.  Let's just move on, my love. 

February 13, 2012

Last Disney Hurrah

Last month we spent the day at California Adventures and Disneyland, as a sort of last hurrah.  It wasn't our last visit ever, but it was our last time using our annual passes.  They expired at the end of January, and we made an executive decision not to re-up this time.  Time to take a little break from The Mouse.  We have some big vacation plans in the works for the summer, and we also want to visit some of the other major amusement parks in SoCal, like Knotts Berry Farm, and/or  Universal Studios.

So here's my last installment, at least for a good while, of Looking up at the Parks. We hadn't been on the big ferris wheel at the California Adventures boardwalk in a long time: 
Out in the distance, in the area resembling a mini Grand Canyon, you can see the new Cars Land area that's set to open later this summer.  (This area is closed off and unseen at ground level.)  Like a lot of little boys, Tucker used to be such the Cars fanatic a few years ago. But now he's the ripe old age of seven, and by the time we visit Cars Land, he's going to be too big to fully enjoy it. (But I think it will still make him happy.) 
These are the lights in the indoor waiting area for the Toy Story ride.  It's supposed to look like an old-fashioned state fair. 
Then we headed over to the Bug's Life area.  It's surprising that this area has (so far) remained untouched and unchanged, because I've never considered A Bug's Life a very major Disney/Pixar film. But what do I know?  Here I am, looking up at a clover, from a bug-size perspective:
Over at Disneyland proper, they had a small area celebrating Chinese New Year, near Small World.

Another project I need to tackle is printing out some of our oodles of Disney pictures that we've taken over the last couple of years.  The kids have autograph books, with a slot to insert the photos you take with each character.  Lily's book seriously need updating (and is full), and Tucker's is still empty of any photos!

Tucker put his book on my desk as little reminder: Get on it, woman. 
I really should get on it.

Read about my other Disney re-caps in these posts:
Here We Go!  
Looking Up At the Park 
and Hidden Corners of the Park, written almost exactly a year ago, but it feels like forever. 

February 9, 2012

Small Steps

I'm linking up on Thurdays with Jules of Pancakes and French Fries, as part of her 2012 William Morris home series.  

My projects this week are not very exciting, but the "After" effects of both make me happy.  Small, inching steps are still forward progress, and I'm still crossing line items off of my 2012 master list.

The first one is a sequel to last week's project, of doing a thorough cleaning of my son's room.  The worst part of his room I didn't even discuss last week, because I (actually, my husband) hadn't yet installed the fix.

But this weekend, we (again: husband) removed the old, filthy, nasty, broken metal blinds that came with the house when we bought it nearly eight years ago. Of course, they weren't always this bad. But after years of dusting and trying to push the grime around, I just gave up.    Here is the before shot: 
And no, that is not the golden glow of sunset shining through and making them that color. That is dirt, plain and simple  How embarrassing.  But there it was, one of those simple fixes that we didn't bother with and pushed to the backburner. Here is the bright and shiny after:
 Woot woot! New blinds.  Faux-wood, but so much better looking.  Poor Tucker: his room has the worst views of any of the bedrooms.  This is the largest window, and it looks right at the side of the neighbor's stucco.

 Onto my next minor fix, which was to add some color to my office nook.  I've had these photos by French photog Robert Doisneau framed for several months, and wanted to switch out the boring beige mats that came with the frames right away. I couldn't figure out what to use, all the stock mats were just too boring.
But recently I ordered wrapping paper of French paper ephemera from Paper Source, and used that.  I'm not really a Francophile at all, even though I'd love to visit Paris someday (and Midnight in Paris was my favorite movie of last year).  I just thought they were a good match for my writing ladies up there: one typing barefoot along the Seine, and another of Simone de Beauvoir at famed Parisian cafe, Deux Magots. 

There are still more pops of color I need to add to this area (a slipcover for my white Parsons chair, more art on the neighboring walls)  but now, looking up as I type at my desk, I don't have to be irked by those boring beige mats , and the reminder of another pesky, small project that I haven't gotten around to yet.

Two down. Many, many more to go....
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