July 31, 2012

Rock the Boat

Hello, peeps.  We're back from our epic vacation...a 7-day Carnival cruise down the Mexican coast.  It was hectic, overwhelming, and fun. Fun, but a complicated kind of fun.  A check your watch for the next show/meal/excursion kind of fun.  A get dressed and live and sleep and wrangle children in a space smaller than our master bedroom kind of fun.  (Okay, it was a little bigger than that.* Maybe.*)

This was the first cruise for all of us, and I'm still processing my thoughts.  I'm also suffering from some wicked post-boat motion sickness.  Like when you spend the whole day in the pool as a kid, and feel waterlogged that night in bed? Yeah, like that, but worse. It's especially bad sitting here at my desk.

But I wanted to pop on and say howdy, between loads of laundry and clutching my head wandering aimlessly around the house, trying to decide what to tackle next.  Getting dressed and putting a little lipstick on will be a good start (something I couldn't manage yesterday, our first full day home.)

The photo above was taken by my husband before 6am, on the day we returned to home port in Long Beach.  We're just about to dock here. It's one of over 500 photos (plus video) that we took last week.  Sometime soon I hope to go through them and create a slideshow for our extended family, print out copies, and share some here with you. What was that about clutching my head?

See you back in a few days, when hopefully I no longer feel as if I'm about to be pitched out of my chair, and some semblance of routine has returned to my house.

(Edited to note: the husband says I'm whack for thinking the cabin was anywhere near as big as our master bedroom.  It was much smaller.)

July 20, 2012

Beach Break

 I don't know if we'll hit everything on this list but you get the gist. All I know is that I don't want to ponder anything much harder than margarita...or mojito?

(Photo taken in the kids bathroom.) 

July 16, 2012

Hot Summer Nights

Friday night in Old Town was warm and breezy.  Usually it's cool and breezy: not too many hot summer nights in our town, where the ocean breezes travel thirty miles inland and over the Rainbow Pass to begin cooling us off around four-thirty each afternoon.   Most nights, I feel the need for a light sweater after dark.  (Don't forget, I'm a native. Anything under 67 degrees after sunset feels "chilly.") 

We're lucky to have a family tradition of eating out most Friday nights. After dinner this past Friday, we parked down in Old Town and ambled around. It was packed with walkers, both locals & tourists, which is a good thing.  I remember when we first moved here, eight years ago, the sidewalks rolled up after dark and it felt more like a ghost town. 

We popped into a shop selling rows and rows of specialty root beers.  It was stuffy and had wooden floors and a front porch with patrons drinking their fresh purchases.  (I almost bought a red bottle of True Blood, just because it was there.)  We promised the kids we'd return soon and let them choose a drink.  But tonight, ice cream was on the agenda.

Crossing the street, we stopped for a few minutes to hear a Willie Nelson cover band. It was a real band, but the guy sported fake Willie braids, so it was a little cheesy.  I got drawn in by "Pancho & Lefty," but walked off when they started on "You Were Always On My Mind." Eh.

Finally, we reached the screen door of the Sweet Shop, the kind of place that sells all manner of retro candy bars and bins of loose candy by the pound, mini lunch boxes of I Love Lucy  and The Beatles. Typical tourist shop, but they also sell fresh fudge & chocolates, and a small selection of ice cream in the back.  More promises to the kids that we'll return soon to pick out candy -- but tonight, it was ice cream all around.

We kept walking, our hands sticky from melting mint chip and cookie dough.   The patio bars looked full of happy drinkers. There were a few taxis parked around, waiting for tipsy customers.  Another new change in town: Taxis!
As usual, there were a few restored old cars parked in the small front lot of the Swing Inn Cafe.
After admiring the cars and snapping some pics with my camera phone, we wrapped it up. A band was playing the Georgia Satellites out on the patio of Sweet Lumpy's, the barbecue joint. Ideas for a future date night.

As it was, we climbed into the car and headed for home, ten minutes away.  Sometimes it's fun to play tourist in your own town.  We should do it more often.

July 11, 2012

Creepy, Creepy: Never Let Me Go

Last month I read Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, and enjoyed it very much. It's creepy. It's haunting. It's very subtle, the way the voice of Karen slowly gets under your skin, and the way it dawns on you, slowly, the horrors of what she's talking about. 

Despite its common categorizations, it's not science-fiction, and it's not dystopian fiction -- I suppose it's speculative, in that it pre-supposes some future state-- except that the events are supposed to take place sometime back in the 1980s.  The plot is slow, but I still found it a true page-turner. 

It's hard to talk about the book without giving too much away.  Just know that its narrated by a dispassionate young woman named Karen, and right away, she tells us that she's a "carer," and has been a good one for a number of years -- longer than the usual careers of other "carers." 

Karen's job is to help her peers -- the others like herself -- get through their "donations."  Karen tells us that she'll be wrapping up her carer career soon, and starting her own donations -- which is her destiny, her reason for being on this earth.  She doesn't question, she doesn't rail, she doesn't have anger, or even much sadness.

Those emotions are placed on the shoulders of another character, her close friend Ruth, whom she grew up with at the idyllic "boarding school" where they were raised since...infancy?  (The very earliest years of the characters are never discussed.) Ruth is the one who questions and acts out. She can be an infuriating character, in the way she lies and manipulates her friends, but really, she's just a young person trying to grab some control over a life that is never her own. 

The book is one long series of flashbacks.  Karen drives through the English countryside as a carer, travelling between one "recovery center" and another, per her assignments. (Note that she is not a true nurse, but rather, someone who is employed to do just what her title says: to care.)  As she drives, her memory is triggered by the scenery, or the weather, back to her happiest days as a student at Hailsham. Hailsham, set on acres of lovely, rural English hills is revealed to be the idyllic, cream of the crop school for the nation's population of others like herself.  Later, we're told that other schools exist with far worse conditions. 

At Hailsham, the children attend regular classes and are strongly encouraged to share their creative outpourings of art and poetry.  Kathy recollects over time the moments of darkness, of questioning, that the children experience as they're slowly given to understand their true destinies in the world. Even so, the children never demand answers, never come out and challenge the adults -- instead, all is rumor, all is secrets behind closed doors.  Clearly, the children don't really want to know.  In one crucial scene, her close friend Tommy, who isn't artistically inclined and refuses to try to create, is finally told by a rogue instructor that "it doesn't really matter" if he tries or not.  This idea is so shocking to Kathy and the other students that they immediately process it as a lie.

I can't say much more -- except that there is no action-packed climax, where "all is revealed" or all is changed forever.  Things remain the same.  Kathy is content to wrap up her life as a carer, especially because she is very alone in the world, with all her emotional connections now in the past. She's a ripe old age of about 30.

The passive, detached language of the book is very effective in underscoring the true horrors that are never discussed. To be a "carer." To donate. To be one of the unfortunate (or are they lucky?) ones who "complete" after only their first or second donation.  To travel to a city, and search a crowd of "normals" for the face of your "original." 

I can only hope that it's the wildest of fictional tales, and that none of this world ever comes to pass. 

July 9, 2012

Suburban Summer

 I know things have been slow around here.  And I mean that as acknowledgement, not apology. 

It's summer, after all.  I don't want to spend my mornings here before the monitor.  Plus, my little office nook at the top of the stairs gets mighty stuffy as the temps go up inside my house. 

What's been shaking?  Two trips to L.A. county within the week -- one for business, one to visit family.  ("Business" sounds so serious, when really I just needed an official copy of my birth certificate.)

A trip to our local sports park on the 4th to watch the fireworks, which capped off a long lazy day indoors, watching the Twilight Zone marathon.  (And really, what's more American than watching your 10-year-old really tune in and appreciate the creepiness of Talking Tina, or the one where the kids disappear into the alternate, happy reality at the bottom of their swimming pool?)

Also, a late afternoon picnic at a man-made lake here in town, in the middle of a housing development.  I walked behind while the kids scooted around the lake, stopping often to admire the swarms of small fish along the banks, the baby ducks, the turtle we spied swimming along.  
It was a perfect day.  The weather was in the low '80s, and breezy.  I bought ice creams off the truck that rolled by.  The patriotic bunting flags waved on the front porches of the faux Cape Cod bungalows that front the lake. It's like a set at Disneyland: the house fronts are charming and feature deep porches, and the sides are all stucco and sheetrock. The houses are crammed close on narrow lots.  Still.  It's cute.
Scattered along the path are fake animal tracks embedded in the concrete.  Every visit, I stop and explain to the kids that they're fake, and that a rabbit or duck wasn't just happening by on the wet cement.
Not that they care.  It's all part of the carefully created charm of the place.

Summer in the suburbs.  This is where I live. The ideal temps of last week have given way, and this week is gonna be a scorcher (but at least it's a dry heat.

Popsicles, board games, trying to vacuum and clean the house with house-bound kids. Maybe a drive out to the Sonic for an iced-slushie drink.  A walk down to our community pool, after a serious coating in SPF. 

Giving up and realizing there is no "clean house" with house-bound kids, and that the kitchen counter is going to always be a little sticky. 

It's not too charming around here, but it's about as real as it gets, and the sweet birdsong I wake to each morning isn't piped in by the Directors of Reality.  At least as far as I can tell. 

July 2, 2012

Reading More

All my life, I've had a habit of going over to the homes of my female relatives and reading their magazines.  We went over to my grandma's house almost daily when I was under 10, and at least weekly for most of the years after.

I loved to read my grandma's copies of Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, and Redbook fanned out neatly on her coffee table.  I liked GH for the Emily Post and Heloise columns (I studied those helpful hints harder at age 9 than I ever do now), but especially because almost every month, there was some lurid true story involving children and medical emergencies and accidents.   I can still vividly recall reading about a boy who swallowed some toxic cleaning product, and the subsequent horrific damage to his esophagus and gut. I read it over, sloooowly.   What do you call that? Medical Crisis Porn?

At my aunts' homes, I read Glamour and Mademoiselle and the Spiegel catalog, and wondered about the point of Los Angeles magazine. (Even then, it was chock full of high-end doctor & lawyer ads.)  

Now that I'm all grown up, I still practice this habit. One aunt, now in her seventh decade, still reads Glamour, and my mom always has a reliable stack of gossip/celebrity mags stashed in a basket.  She also subscribes to More.  And I used to tease her and her "old-lady magazine," until I actually started reading it on her couch, and found it totally relevant and interesting.  One would successfully argue that her "old-lady magazine" is actually geared specifically to my own demographic (being, ahem, launched into my fourth decade) than to hers.

In years past, my mom has gifted me with subscriptions to both Traditional Home and Rachel Ray.  But Trad Home was just too...traditional for my taste, and I can't use 80% of the Rachel Ray recipes, because she loves to combine meat with fruit, which my husband abhors. 

Last Sunday, when I returned from my girls' trip to Palm Springs, my first gifted copy of More magazine was waiting on my kitchen island. 
Huh.  And I started poking fun at myself, and my younger sister and daughter joined in: your old-lady magazine! Ha Ha Ha!  But in light of recently being witness to some lithe and beauteous early 20-somethings partying out in Palm Springs, having a subscription to More feels...just about right.

The content was all interesting and/or entertaining and/or relevant. Yes, even the stuff about the haywire hormones.

I've never read one of her novels, but I always enjoy essays by Jacqueline Mitchard:
 (IMO, her friend was the one in the wrong. Touchy, touchy.)

And I liked the summery, preppy styles in this spread:

I mean, I'd totally wear just about anything up there. Especially those yellow shorts.  With that canvas tote. 

And I even got my old fix for Medical Emergency Porn with this story:
Confession: I could only "enjoy" the featured crisis because it was a shark attack. If it had been a health crisis story, I'd have gotten all clammy and anxious and hypochondriac like I do these days. 

And I don't know a whole lot about cover woman Kyra Sedgewick because I don't watch her show, but I do think her husband is a whole lot cuter now that he's an older guy than I ever did during his gangly Footloose days. 

Bottom line: I read it cover to cover. Not in one sitting, because that would be too hard on my hip bones. (Joke!) So from one old lady to another: thanks, Mom.  But, seriously, I won't need the AARP magazine for more than another decade, so don't be getting any wild ideas for Christmas.
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