Tuesday, May 23, 2017

My inherited magical power

Well, I can tell Mom is feeling better, because for the last two days I've sprung her from the clink to go on outings in the car. Last week she wouldn't have had the strength to go out. However, I've been pushing Mom around in a wheelchair in 80-degree "it's a dry heat," so I think I've lost some five pounds in water weight. Mom is very motivated to bring up her strength in rehab so she can go home, so she's getting a little stronger every day. (And so am I. Wheelchair pushing burns calories!)

I have mentioned in the past that Mom has this magical ability to get strangers to tell her their life stories. I don't think I've explained yet that this ability apparently runs in the family. I look (and sound) enough like my mom to have the same kind of friendly, familiar, approachable, pretty-but-not-intimidating face and manner, and many's the time I've been sitting in a public place, minding my own business, when A WILD STRANGER APPEARS! and tells me all sorts of stuff. Since I fancy myself a writer, this ability is a godsend for gathering stories.

"Your thoughts to my thoughts..."
Sometimes this magic power can be amusing, as when I offhandedly asked the driver at the rehab center how he got his job, and was regaled with a long and adventurous tale of employment woes for the next twelve minutes. And sometimes it just comes out of nowhere.

For example: I was waiting in the local pharmacy to pick up a prescription for a family member (I swear, I spend about half my waking life in drugstores) when this guy came in and sat down next to me. He cut quite the figure: big, muscular, bald, with a black eye, a padded brace on his right arm and a couple of notable stitch clusters on his right knee. He was wearing shorts and a grey muscle shirt printed with the words "OBAMA CAN'T TAKE THESE GUNS" and two large arrows pointing to his biceps. Mr. Guns listened to the piped-in music ("All About That Bass" by Meghan Trainor) for a few seconds, then turned to me and said, "Pfft. She ain't all about that bass."

"That right?" I asked noncommittally.

That was all that was necessary for Mr. Guns to launch into his tale. He told me about how he'd just had a knee replacement, about how he'd put it off for years because he was a bodybuilder and his doctor had warned him that after a knee replacement he wouldn't be able to lift more than 200 pounds, but finally it got to be a necessity and he was incredibly pleased with the results. Except... the first few days he was recuperating from surgery at home, he was all hopped up on Percocet for the pain and thought he was a superhero. The phone rang downstairs, and instead of letting his wife pick it up he decided he'd just run downstairs and get it. Well, he did get downstairs... the hard way. Which is how he picked up the arm brace and the black eye. (Remember, folks, despite how it makes you feel, Percocet does NOT give you magical powers of flight.)

I think Mr. Guns was all geared up to share another story, but just then the pharmacist called my name and I had to break things off gracefully to pick up the prescription. He gave me a cheery "Take care!" in parting, and I thought but did not say, "You too. Really. And lay off the Percocet."

Heh. Maybe I really should have gone into journalism. I wouldn't even have to ask nosy questions -- I'd just show up, smile, and let people tell me EVERYTHING.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Hey, Sooz, whatcha reading now?

Glad you asked.

I've got three books going at the moment -- two histories and one science fiction title. All three have proved to be slow going, but for different reasons.

Mom belongs to a book club at church, and during my two most recent visits I've read aloud to her from the latest book club title while she recuperates from surgery. (Rehabilitation isn't otherwise all that mentally stimulating, and Mom thinks I have a pleasant reading voice, so I suppose it's a good fit for her circumstances.) In the Garden of Beasts; Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin is a work of creative nonfiction in the style of Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman, in which the author uses historical documents and other media from the era to create a story about the American ambassador to the Third Reich that, while factual, reads with all the zest of a novel.

Why haven't I gotten far with this one? Well, it isn't for lack of trying. Trouble is, every time I sit down to read to Mom, she falls asleep -- usually within a paragraph or two, sometimes within a sentence or two. No, the book isn't boring (and I hope I'm not), but some of the medications Mom has been taking make her woozy and prone to drowsiness. Plus Mom has always had the enviable talent of falling asleep at a moment's notice. Sometimes I've cheated and read a chapter or two while she was asleep, but I don't want to get too far ahead.

I can't remember where I first heard about Ibram Kendi's Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, but I was intrigued by his thesis that we've been teaching about racism and racist ideas in effect-first rather than cause-first fashion. To put it another way, it's not "ignorance and hate led to racism which in turn led to racist policies," it's more like "racist policies were rationalized by racist ideas, which led to the ignorance and hate of racism."

What's slowing me down here? This is a big, thick book which means business, and with all the going back and forth between Mom's home and the rehab center, I haven't had much time to get into the meat of it -- though what I've read thus far has been both illuminating and heartbreaking. Instead I've been focusing more on the third book in my list:

Sci-fi, bay-bee! Vast is difficult to sum up simply, but I'll do my best: the Null Boundary, a partly-organic human spaceship, is doing its best to outrun an alien cruiser created by a race known as the Chenzeme, which had a peculiar appetite for annihilating all other sentient life it encountered. Five more-or-less human beings on the Null Boundary are doing their best to outwit the Chenzeme cruiser before it catches up to them and destroys them, but they have some differences of opinion about how it should be done; some would rather kill off the alien ship, while others want to try convincing it not to harm them. The writing style of this book is metaphysically seductive; most stories which involve nanotechnology feature human beings transformed in surprising ways, their tech grown more organic than mechanical. This transformational aspect of the story provides the biggest appeal, at least for me.

Why am I not getting through this book quickly? Well, actually, I've finally started to build up some steam with Vast. As I begin reading most speculative fiction, it takes a little while to sort out the world into which I've been flung, which slows down my words per minute. Once I've got it all sorted, I can get back up to RAMMING SPEED. And I need to move along with this one, because it's an interlibrary loan and I can't renew it past the due date. Read, Sooz, read like the wind!

So what are you reading lately? And would you recommend the book(s) to others?

Monday, May 08, 2017

I can drive. Really. Sort of.

As of Saturday, Mom was out of the hospital and once again ensconced in a rehabilitation center (albeit a different one this time). I've been over there every day since, talking with her, reading to her and otherwise seeing to her needs.

(By the way, if you, like me, think my mom is a lovely person and would like to help her out, we're taking up a collection to help her finish the basement of her house as a handicapped-accessible apartment. Stairs are out of the question when you've had a hip replacement, and Mom has to negotiate two flights of stairs just to get to her bedroom in this house. Not Working For Her.)

Mom had a dialysis appointment in the late morning today, so I thought I'd take the time to run some errands. I've been using Miss V's little red car, a 16-year-old sedan which has developed a few quirks, including a driver's-side window that doesn't roll down and a driver's-side door latch that no longer opens from the outside. (To get into the car, you have to unlock and open the passenger door, lean across both front seats, unlock and open the driver door from the inside, block the door latch with any handy object and run around to the driver's side before it closes again. By the time I'm done here, I should be equipped to join the circus.)

Anyway, I had a few birthday cards to mail, so I drove up beside the mail drop just south of the post office, left the engine running, opened the driver door wide and left it open, and ran to the mailbox. As I slotted the cards into the blue box, there came two ominous sounds from behind me: *SLAM* *click*. The wind had just blown the driver's side door shut. And because this model of car happens to be one where all the doors lock automatically as soon as you put the car in drive... yep. The keys were still in the ignition, the motor was running, and my purse and phone were safely locked in the car where they were doing me little good. Worse, I'd hopped out of the car in a zone clearly labeled NO PARKING AT ANY TIME.

I paused for a moment, just to listen to the universe laughing at my idiocy.

Fortunately, the shop on the corner happened to be an auto body mechanic. Hail and well met, good auto body mechanic! I went into the office and told them my sad tale of woe and ineptitude, and one of the guys grabbed a Slim Jim and had the car unlocked in five minutes. And he wouldn't accept payment, either.

So I got errands done today! Even filled and washed the car. And I am getting an estimate on having that latch fixed ASAP. Because apparently I am not bright enough to drive Miss V's car.

(Thank you, Miss V, for letting me drive your car. Even if I'm kind of derpy at it.)

Tuesday, May 02, 2017


I'll have to keep this quick. Mom's in the hospital again with excruciating pain in her right hip. Turns out the pins they put in didn't work as intended, and now the top of her femur has died and broken off. The pins are currently digging into the cartilage around her hip joint, causing pain that not even morphine can touch. So she's currently hopped up on lots of the good drugs while she awaits hip replacement surgery later today.

Why they didn't just do this in the first place is anyone's guess.

Anyway, if you're inclined to pray for Mom, that would be much appreciated. She is not the best surgical risk right now, but she can't continue as is -- the pain in her hip and groin is so severe she's afraid to move, even with painkillers, and it looks like the pins have probably done damage to her hip socket. It's just not a good situation. But I'm glad we are here and can spend time with her.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Some things, like baking, require everything to be just so. Exactly one tablespoon of baking powder, exactly three cups of flour, exactly a quarter-cup of butter, oven set to exactly 400 degrees Fahrenheit, etc., or everything goes pear-shaped.

Other things, like cooking, are a little more free-wheeling. Casseroles and quiches are particularly flexible. Tonight's example: tuna noodle casserole. We're trying to use up food in the fridge and pantry instead of buying more, so the only item I picked up was dollar-store noodles, since I didn't have quite enough macaroni. (Besides, I like egg noodles for this dish.) The recipe calls for two cans of tuna, and I only had one, so I substituted 12 ounces of canned chicken chunks (thanks, Mom and Dad!). It also calls for a half-cup of milk, but I put in just a little bit more since I had some evaporated milk in the fridge that needed using up. I didn't have red bell pepper, but I had half a green bell pepper, so I threw that in. I had frozen peas, but I also had my eye on some fresh asparagus languishing in the crisper bin. We could have steamed the asparagus and eaten it on the side, but instead I cut the asparagus into small pieces, parboiled it for about a minute and added it to the casserole instead of the peas. And we're out of breadcrumbs, so I crushed up some cornflakes instead, mixed those with butter and sprinkled the crunchy goodness over the top.

I'm now sampling the resulting chicken noodle casserole. Guess what? It's tasty. It's really tasty. Casserole alteration to da rescue!

Life is like this. Some of it requires precision and fine-tuning, but usually it's more like cooking -- things don't turn out perfectly, you may have to alter your plans or your expectations a little (or a lot), but you can still use your head and solid advice to make good choices, learn from experience, and end up with a worthwhile outcome.

(Oh yeah, and add asparagus. Always add asparagus.)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Riding a wave of ick

ARLY this morning I awakened to the enchanting sensation of extreme nausea. Ten minutes and lots of barfing later, I showered and promptly crawled back into bed. Since then I've been shaking and trying to take small sips of water, trying to keep liquid down. Not sure where I picked this bug up, but I'd be more than happy to drop it somewhere else.

Roxy-cat has decided she can best help by hopping up on the bed and sleeping next to me. (We have observed that, despite her timidity, Roxy is very curious about "her people" and wants to be wherever they are. No matter where CM and I go in the house, five seconds later she's there looking at us like "whatcha doin'?") She's a good kitty.

For the nonce, the queasiness has settled down, but I'm still shaky and dizzy. My head is killing me, but I'm afraid to take aspirin for fear it will come back up. Something tells me I'm not going to be terribly useful today.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Time travel

OK, right now my house is a midden. Seriously. Last week Captain Midnight and I pulled everything off the floors in the front room and our bedroom so we could get the carpets cleaned, an action sorely needed (ten years in the same place + lack of carpet cleaning in all that time = gross carpets). Now the carpets are clean and dry and the furniture is mostly back in place, but much of the "everything" that was on the floor has been temporarily relocated to the kitchen and the dining room table. You'd think I would be spending every waking hour attempting to find a place for all this flotsam. But no. Instead I went out yesterday and bought a blank book for the purpose of making a smash journal.

There is actually method to my madness. Most of the detritus we have on the kitchen floor is composed of half-finished craft projects in bags and plastic bins. If I finish (or get rid of) some of these projects, no more detritus. But the mess on the table, I've noticed, is mostly made up of items best described as "ephemera" -- old theater tickets, playbills, flyers from museums and churches and other places we visited on vacation, cable car fares, Oyster cards, BART passes, that sort of thing. They have no home, so they've been taking up valuable real estate all over the house. Instead of letting them continue to take up space or summarily tossing them out, I thought I'd give them a home by making a smash-style travel/tourism/theater journal where items could be pasted or slipped into the pages and given some explanation with accompanying text. Yeeees, I guess it's a scrapbook, but without the bajillion fancy papers and die cuts and stickers and other crafty cruft that, if I felt compelled to use it, would drive my tenuous sanity down to the piers and send it off on a cruise to Alaska.

How does all this relate to time travel? Patience, Grasshopper.

The oldest travel-related item I've found (I'm sure there are others that are older, but for now they remain hidden in the archaeological dig that is my bedroom closet) is a cable car fare receipt from April 1987, during my senior year of high school. I seemed to remember something about a choir-related tour around the Bay Area that spring, but my memories were hazy. So I found this.

Yes, it's my little red book! (Not to be confused with this little red book.) I have a habit of picking up magical-looking little blank books and turning them into diaries, and this one, about the size of my hand, with gold patterns stamped on the covers and spine -- well, I couldn't pass it up, obviously. This particular diary spans the period between September 1986 and June 1987, which was my senior year of high school and the brief period before I launched directly into college. It's short enough that I read the whole thing.

Teen angst galore, people. My first serious boyfriend going off to college, the subsequent breakup-by-mail, woe-is-me entries, plays, dances, TPing people's houses, multiple crushes, that sort of thing. A representative selection from choir tour, when we were staying in the barracks at the (now-closed) Naval Air Station Alameda, since it was cheap accommodation:
We were quite tired when we got back to the base, but we managed a few shenanigans anyway -- the boys' dorms are on the second floor across from ours, and there is a bit of yard between us. Naturally, they had to yell out their windows to us. One of the girls started to play [cassette] tapes and tried to do a dance [I remember she'd brought along a lot of Erasure], but it failed. Then the guys had to try to start a game of frisbee by throwing it between the dorms. All in all, things were weird but enjoyable. Not for Mr. Lindsay [our longsuffering choir director], though. He was tired and bummed out in the first place, and now here are all these nutsy guys flirting long distance and throwing frisbees out the window.
The memories started out hazy, but every word brought back another detail from tour. I remember the open windows, the guys and girls leaning out of them and yelling across the yard at each other, dancing around like goofballs in our respective dorms, the scent of blooming trees in the air, and a boombox playing lots of '80s synthpop. And the feeling of being young and giddy and willing to do anything. (There's a reason why tour romances are a thing.)

And that's why you keep a diary. It lets you time travel in your own life. Yes, like Quantum Leap, but without Dean Stockwell following you around like a creeper.

Having now read this diary in its entirety, two observations spring to mind: 1) I sure hope I've become a better writer in the years since 1987. 2) Though I think I've matured a bit, some things about me haven't changed. I still talk too much. I still worry too much about what kind of impression I've made on others. I'm still super socially awkward, especially around people I like. I still don't do housework as often or as well as I think I should. I'm still not fond of my weight, although oddly enough I worry far less about it now than when I only carried about 20 extra pounds on me. And yes, I still yearn for romance (oh, Captain Midnight, you're my hero!).