Tag Archive | personal

My young man

I was in the checkout line at the grocery store on Saturday and the clerk asked me if there was an occasion, since there were two cakes and some ice cream among my purchase. So I explained that my husband’s birthday was this week, and that we had friends coming over Saturday evening. Then she asked if it was a major birthday, and I said that he was turning 48. She grinned and said, “Oh! Forty-eight! You got yourself a young man, didn’t you?” And I laughed and said, “Yes, yes I did!”

Yeah, that handsome young guy with the headset on is my husband. How did a white-bearded old fart like me manage that?

Yeah, that handsome young guy with the headset on is my husband. How did a white-bearded old fart like me manage that?

There are people who might object to the characterization of a 48-year-old as young, but age is relative and my husband is ten years younger than me. When we first started dating, he was in his 20s while I was in my 30s. More than one of my friends and acquaintances at the time expressed (some less tactfully than others) worry about the difference in our ages. Though I think some of those worries were very inverted. He’s far more sensible and mature than I am, for instance. I know at least one of his friends was convinced that I was an evil old pervert taking advantage of him. I get it. Most of my adult life I think I’ve looked older than my actual age (heck, when I was in my late teens people kept mistaking me for my Mom’s brother rather than her son!). When I look at pictures of him from when we first started dating, I think he barely looked old enough to be in a bar, let alone working as a bartender!

And truth be told, I’ve also felt way too lucky to even be with him, so it’s not like I could blame people for having doubts. But we’ve been together for a bit over 20 years, now, so I hope we’ve put those doubts to rest.

I’ve written before about how wonderful Michael is. So rather than risk repeating myself, I’ll just quote one friend who observed one time when Michael pulled a tool from his pocket and casually repaired a light fixture at a mutual friend’s house, “You’re married to MacGuyver!” while another time when we had to the huge solid oak entertainment center and Michael grabbed it and moved it before the rest of us could get in position to help him the same friend commented, “Your husband is a circus strong man!”

Michael is sweet, kind, helpful, smart, funny, cheerful, and patient. He reads novels faster than anyone I know, and retains memory of even very minor details in the books long after. He cooks incredibly well (the homemade rub he made for the ribs this weekend resulted in supernaturally good ribs, for instance!). He chops vegetables so fast it’s like watching a movie being played back sped up. It seems as if he can repair just about anything. He always finds far more awesome presents for birthdays, anniversaries, housewarmings, and the like than I ever do. And did I mention that he’s both funny and kind?

So, to extend the observation of the cashier: yeah, I’ve got myself a young man, a smart man, a hot man, a kind man, a man that anyone would feel fortunate to know, let alone be married to.

Happy Birthday, Michael. Thanks for letting me share your life!

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One year later, way more than a few April showers

Two cats sit on a log under a propped up umbrella, surrounded by water and rain. “Noah called, he picks us up in 10 minutes.”

(click to embiggen)

I meant to write a blog post for the weekend about the fact that it has been exactly a year at the new place. But I was still sick and run down. My weekend wound up being all about sleeping, doing minimal errands, napping, a little housework, more napping, sleeping, and repeat. But I realized it’s okay that I didn’t make that post, because technically it has not been a year of us living here, yet. A year and a few days ago we signed our first lease here, and we started hauling things from the old place to the new, but it was a few weeks before we were ready for the big moving truck to do the bulk of the move. So early next month will be the anniversary of the first time we spent the night in the new place.

I was trying to remember when I moved the flower pots from the old place, because last week maintaining my collection of pots and planter included a task I didn’t have to do last spring: flood control. To be fair, this is an unusually wet April. The local National Weather Service office observed that if the rains had stopped completely on last Saturday, it would already be the fourth wettest April on record in Seattle. And it kept raining Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and a bit on Wednesday. Spring is usually quite damp around here, so I strongly suspect that even though the long range forecast is all dry, that we’ll get a bit more before the month is through.

I noticed the weekend before last that not only were all of the little catch basins under the pots full to the brim, but that several of the flower pots and planters had at least an inch of standing water around the flowers. I can’t just dump the water off. The thing I call our veranda is a 38-foot long deck at the back of the apartment, and on that side of the building we’re three stories up. There’s a neighbor with a nearly identical deck directly below us, and then the walkway for the basement apartments below that. And the lease actually has a clause about not dripping or pouring water off the decks, right?

Which is why all of my pots that have drain holes sit on a small saucer like thing, and each of those is inside a larger plastic catch basin.

I took a bucket outside, carefully lifted each pot and set it aside, poured the water from the saucer in the bucket, pouring off water from the planter itself if it had standing water, and then poured the water from the second basin into the bucket—trying my best not to spill any. I got through a third of them of them before the bucket was full and I had to carrying it away and pour it out and repeat. The bigger planters where my grandma’s irises and a few other things are planted were a bit more difficult.

I moved the pots and planters that don’t have drains away from the rail, and against the wall, so they wouldn’t keep getting rained on. Clearly until we get to the dryer part of the year, I can’t leave those out from under the roof.

That’s one way our veranda is different than those one floor down. Our deck serves as their roof, and it is as wide as their deck, so even planters put right up against the rail on those decks get a little shelter from the rain. Whereas the roof of the decks on our floor is the eave of the building, and while the deck is five feet wide, the eave only extends four feet out. I thought of this as a feature last year. The planters got plenty of water when it rained and lots of sun when it didn’t.

By the time the heaviest rain was coming down in November, most of the flowers had died back, and I just didn’t worry about the pots getting super saturated. I regretted that a bit when I discovered that the cute otter planter froze and crack in a whole bunch of places. It hadn’t done that during several winters at the old place, but at the old place it was draining into the flower bed. Similarly, the hanging pot I had last year got too heavy when it’s soil was constantly soaked all winter and the plastic hanging parts broke.

They’re all learning experiences.

I now know I need to move some of the planters under the roof during certain times of the year. I’m seriously considering replacing the small pots that don’t have drain holes. The problem is they’re both purple—which makes me want to keep them despite being a bit more work. On the other hand, I have no intention of getting rid of the larger planters. I haven’t seen many that size with drains and matching catch basins. Those few I have seen have very tiny catch basins that I suspect would wind up dripping on the downstairs neighbors during the times of year when I have to do the watering.

Living in a chemical world, plus dream sequences

Cat with head deep in coffee mug “iz not addicted to caffeine, i juz need it to function”

(click to embiggen)

Every time I have my annual wellness exam, my doctor gets a little carried away on the prescription renewals so that when I show up at the pharmacy to pick up the meds I expect, there is often extra things like the codeine cough syrup he’s prescribed when I last had bronchitis, or the inhaler he prescribed one time when I got bronchitis and it didn’t respond to the first antibiotic, or the corticosteroid nasal spray he keeps recommending for my allergies or when I get a sinus infection. So I wind up telling them I don’t actually need several of them, but I have kept one unopened bottle of the nasal spray, just in case. I don’t like using it because when I have done so in the past I got very vivid and disturbing dreams for several days after. And by disturbing I don’t mean that they are bloody or horrific (usually) it’s just that they are so vivid that it takes many minutes after waking up in a panic before I can convince myself they aren’t real.

So the other night, when I conked out after dinner unexpectedly, I woke up to find the apartment full of smoke and my Mom was standing at the door, calling to me to come help her open it because and we needed to get out and where is Michael? And I jumped up from the recliner, stumbled over a filebox on the floor trying to get to my mom and the door and just as I’m opening my mouth to yell for Michael the smoke had vanished. Also, Mom (who hasn’t visited us in over 20 years because travel is difficult for her for various health reasons) had vanished. There was no smoke. There was no fire. There had been no Mom.

And the dream was so vivid that I went to the bathroom and dug out the box with the unopened bottle of the nasal spray just to confirm that I hadn’t opened it and used it when the sinus headache had been real bad the night before. I didn’t remember using it, but the dream really felt like one of those, so I thought maybe in the middle of the night, when I was half asleep and had been tossing and turning because of the headache I had given in and added the spray to the mix of allergy pills and over the counter cold medications I’d already taken.

And that was only the first day of the fever.

I haven’t used the spray, but I keep having the weird dreams. The next morning my alarm watch went off a few hours after my husband left for work (he leaves much earlier than I even want to wake up). I often wake up briefly while he is getting ready for work. I may mumble, “I love you” or “Good morning” to him as I stumble to the bathroom and then back to bed. Sometimes I just try to wake up enough to say something to him and don’t succeed. Also I often wake up briefly once or twice before my alarm goes off, note that I still have more time to sleep, and roll over. But back to the alarm: The alarm was ringing and Michael is calling from the next room that I should turn off the alarm and asking if I’m going to try to go into the office or call in sick. And I get up and stumble out to the room where my Apple watch is on its charger to turn it off and I ask Michael, “What are you doing here? Did you get to work, decide you were too sick, and come back home?”

And Michael didn’t answer. But now that I’d spoken aloud, that was enough to completely wake me up, and I’m standing in front of the watch in its charger. Its face is lit up showing me that there are still two minutes until the alarm will actually go off.

There have also been two dreams where I was somewhere in the city trying to remember where I had parked the car because I either needed to pick up Michael somewhere or I was trying to get away from someone who was trying to hurt us. And both of those ended with me awake, standing in front of the phone charger, trying to find the app on the phone that will help me find the car. One of the mornings I wasn’t actually holding my phone, I was holding the TV remote (which is normally on the shelf above the phone charger), but I swear a few seconds before it had been my phone. And yes, it was as if I watched it morph from phone to remote as I finished waking up.

The fact that when I’m having a nightmare I will get up, walk around, talk (sometimes yell), and so forth is one of the reasons that normally I don’t watch scary movies, by the way.

So I still haven’t actually used the spray. I’m of two minds: since I seem to already be having the side effect I least like, maybe I should go ahead. On the other hand, the spray might just make the weird dreams even worse.

And this gets me to two reasons why I shy away from writing dream sequences in my fiction. When I have tried to write them like the dreams I remember, the reaction from readers (at least the ones I hear from) is that the dream was more confusing than enlightening. When I tried to write them to have a bit more narrative flow, readers say they went on too long. Having had these reactions, I am not enthused when someone suggests that a dream sequence would better explain a particular mystical thing happening in one of my stories.

Besides trying to get work done while juggling regular meds, symptoms of this cold thing, extra meds, it’s been a bit of a struggle to remember to keep hydrates and get enough caffeine in me so that I don’t wind up with a caffeine-deprivation headache on top of everything else. You would think that coffee, of all things, would be something I didn’t have to remind myself to drink, but you would be wrong.

I hope I’m well sooner rather than later.

More adventures in managing light

“Somedays you just have to create your own sunshine.”

(click to embiggen)

I’m continuing to never quite having the time or energy to finish more serious posts. This week one complication is that what seemed to be several worse-than-usual hay fever days in a row turned into a full-blown cold with fever, body aches, sore throat, and significant loss of energy. One of those symptoms that can be either bad hay fever or signs of an actual viral infection is red, swollen eyes. They can be bad enough that it hurts to be in a well-lit room—let alone in a brightly lit room where I’m required to stare at a computer screen for hours. On such days, whether it turns out to be a cold or not, I’m grateful for the option to work from home. I can make progress toward my work deadlines while sitting in a dark room with the laptop screen brightness turned way down.

That’s not the only light management I do.

Work from home days have been different in that regard since moving to the new place. At our previous residence, because all the windows had heavy, lined curtains, and because almost every window was in a location where random passersby could see everything if the curtains were open, the curtains stayed closed in most of the rooms all the time. No matter how bright the sunlight was outside, the living room tended to be the same level of dimness.

The new place has an open floor plan, and more windows that shed light into the living room/kitchen/dining room space, And since all the windows are equipped with white vinyl blinds rather than the thick curtains, if the sun is out, a lot of light gets into the room. There’s a point some mornings when for about 15-20 minutes the sun lights up perfectly with a gap in the trees east of the house, and the closed blinds are almost like a bright spotlight. When those sunny days coincide with bad hay fever days, I have a considerably more difficult time avoiding pain in the eyes.

On overcast or rainy days the amount of light from outside is considerably less, making it easier to manage light.

When it is sunny outside, people often suggest that I should go out and enjoy the sunlight. When I explain that even if I’m not having a bad hay fever day that bright sunlight hurts my eyes1, people express skepticism. Plus a tendency to skin cancer also runs on one side of my family4, and since I have now had one small tumor that had to be removed from my forehead, I am under additional medical orders to never go outside without wearing a hat with a broad enough brim to fully shade my face and neck.

And it’s not just the doctor’s orders. That lack of pigment in the retinas? If I get more than brief bits of sunlight without UV sunglasses, my eyes start hurting because of the burnt retinas. And when the retina burns, it kicks off the release of mneurochemicals which make me drowsy, but it I need to stay wake, that means that I just get that “I should have gone to bed hours ago” headache along with the crankiness and decreased ability to concentrate.

Explaining this to someone who has never experienced it almost always turns into an adventure of, “but what about? And what about?” Not to mention the expressions of pity—it’s not sympathy about my medical issues, it is definitely pity that I don’t enjoy sunlight the same way they do. And there’s frequently a hint of disbelief. As if I could tolerate sunlight if only a wanted to.

Which isn’t to say I don’t enjoy sunlight, I just have to have it filtered. I’m perfectly happy outside if I have my hat and my UV-blocking sunglasses that wrap around the sides, and can get into shade when I want. I just don’t look forward to it the same way that other people do. Think of it as the intense cold winter of places like Manitoba or north Wisconsin. As pretty as snow is to look it, needing to take all those precautions to avoid frostbite can dampen one’s enthusiasm for the weather.

Days like today when I have a fever, my eyes are red, and my sinuses are congested and sore, I like sitting in a dark room. I’m happy. It isn’t gloomy in here, it is pain-free.


Footnotes:

1. I have no pigment in my retinas2 and am actually under medical orders never to go out in the daytime, even on overcast days, without UV blocking sunglasses, because your retinas can get sunburnt3.

2. A not uncommon thing in blue-eyed people.

3. The first time an opthamologist told me that I was surprised as can be! “Your retinas are sunburnt right now,” she said, peering into my eyes during the exam.

4. Also not that uncommon in those of us whose most recent ancestors came from northern Europe and thus whose natural skin color is pasty pale5.

5. I have been known to point out that my skin isn’t actually white, it’s very pale pink with blue highlights6.

6. Unless I have been out in the sun at all lately, at which point my skin will be either bright pink or very red. After which it will fade back to the pale bluish pink but with more freckles. My skin appears to be utterly incapable of tanning.

Camp NaNoWriMo and the continuing adventure of resetting

Reset buttonCamp NaNoWriMo is underway, sponsored by the same people who do National Novel Writing Month. Camp happens in April and July each year with far more nebulously defined goals that NaNoWriMo’s bit word count target. For camp, you set your own goals. Often people use camp to edit something already written, or to write something shorter than a novel, or to get out of a rut of non-productivity. Because of the camp metaphor, participants are encouraged to join a cabin, which is really just a small on-line chat. You can let yourself be randomly assigned to a cabin, or you can set up a private cabin and invite your friends, or you can join someone else’s private cabin.

I like having the expectation that I’ll publish my word-count (or number of words revised, or what ever) regularly and having at least a few people to kibbitz and commiserate with. My attempts at Camp have had a varying degree of success.

Anyway, part of my Camp NaNoWriMo project for this month is to implement some of the new things and changes that I’ve been thinking about as I’ve been revising my goals. I wrote earlier about why I hadn’t posted a list of goals for the year, nor posted monthly updates. The summary is that I’ve been writing private checklists each month, and so far each of those checklists has included at least one item about better defining my long terms goals. The list of long term goals is shaping up, though there are some details I haven’t quite finalized.

I am still using the model of attempting to replace a bad habit with a better habit. I’m also trying to redirect where I’m expending my energy and attention. I’ve been cutting back a bit on my Twitter activity, for instance. Another more obvious change is that I’ve replaced the labor-intensive Friday Links weekly post with a much easier to assemble Friday Five post.

When I start posting monthly updates on my goals, the posts are likely to be put up on Patreon, rather than here. I’m still figuring out how much and where other things I post a lot (such as my Writing Advice posts or my Why I Love SF/F posts) should be posted/cross-posted and how to manage that without it eating up more time than I’m freeing elsewhere.

I hope to finish a longish NorWesCon Convention report to post here this week. There is at least one movie review and one book review about half finished that should go up soon, too.

So that’s what is happening here. If you’re doing Camp NaNoWriMo, especially if you’re interested in joining my Cabin, leave a comment here, or send me a message on twitter, or send me an email with the Contact Me page here—or if you already have another way to ping me use that.

Let’s get writing!

I don’t mean to be a jerk, part 2

“What if I told you that saying 'no offense' doesn't make you any less of an asshole?”

(click to embiggen)

Anyone who has hung out in certain progressive circles, particularly around young LGBTQ people in the process of coming out/figuring out who they are, has heard noble speeches about how we must respect how people self-identify, because questioning those declarations is being judgmental. Questioning those declarations is dismissive. Questioning those declarations trivializes their experiences and existence. Questioning those declarations denigrates their personhood. Questioning those declarations denies their agency, effectively treating them as children or non-persons who need adult supervision and guardianship.

And I agree. If someone refuses to call a transgender person by that person’s preferred pronoun, that someone is a first-order jerk. As one friend once responded to one such idiot who kept harping about a transgender woman of our acquaintance, “You’re right. Gender isn’t a matter of opinion. Her gender is not a matter of your opinion.”

However, there is a difference between matters of identity and matters of behavior. Being a “nice person” is not an identity on the level of gender or sexual orientation. It is a product of how you behave toward others, not who you are.

Therefore I want to state now, for the record, that I am not a nice guy. I try to be nice. I try to listen. I like helping people. I like doing nice things for people. I strive to be kind and understanding. Often I succeed. But I also fail. And I fail more often than I should. I know this. I’m not saying that as some sort of humble brag or a warning. It’s just an observation of a phenomenon that is true of most people. We’re trying.

Being nice seems to come more easily for some than for others. I know that one of the reasons it comes less easily for me is that one of my role models growing up was a very abusive man. When I mentioned in a recent post that I realized in my twenties that I was carrying around a lot of toxic waste from those years of abuse, I wasn’t referring so much to angry and resentment but more to that role model effect. Humans are hardwired to imitate–there are specific structures in the brain for imitating what we observe–and this trait is more active when we’re young. So even though I didn’t like the way Dad treated me (or other people), his way of reacting to things, his behaviors, even many of his figures of speech got encoded in me.

There have been times in my life when I have been shocked to hear essentially Dad’s voice coming out of my mouth. I have literally said to some friends when that happens, “I’m sorry. I don’t know where that came from.”

That’s not an excuse. Each time it happened, I spent some time figuring out what triggered that reaction, then thinking about what I would have rather said, and finally practicing in front of a mirror saying the other things. It isn’t about acting or putting up a facade. It’s about being mindful. When you have a bad habit, the best way to get rid of it is to replace it with something else that fulfills the impulse underlying the bad habit.

All of this is to say that if I interact with someone who is behaving in an obnoxious, combative, abrasive, mean-spirited manner, it is not unreasonable for me to point out that they’re acting like an asshole.

Some people will say that using such coarse language is too rude. It depends on the circumstances. Rudenss is defined by the social context. That means once one person begins acting detestably, it becomes acceptable to respond with blunter language. So depending on the circumstances, I might say, “That’s uncalled for,” or “I don’t know why you’re being so angry,” or “Hey, no reason to be a jerk about it,” or “I really can’t deal with asshole behavior today.”

Someone calling out your behavior for what it is isn’t an ad hominem attack, it is a signal that you have stepped over a line.

Insisting that the label of jerk or asshole is somehow worse than the behavior that earned it isn’t a valid argument. Insisting that you’re actually a nice person if we only got to know you isn’t a valid argument. Angrily insisting that someone doesn’t know you well enough to identify you that way isn’t a valid argument.

For example, remember a couple years ago when group of white people crashed a child’s party at a black family’s home, waved guns in the faces of the adults and kids and shouted various racist slurs (all caught on video)? When they were all arrested, tried, and sentenced for crimes such as reckless endangerment and racially-motivated intimidation, they cried. They sobbed and wailed and insisted that they “weren’t racist” and “not the sort of people who would do that!”

Except they had done it. They had done it and then bragged about it afterward. It doesn’t matter how many times they had gone to church, nor donated to charity, nor been nice to puppies. It doesn’t change the fact that they pointed guns in the faces of small black children and screamed the n-word.

So, if you act like a bigot, it’s perfectly acceptable for other people to call you a bigot. Act like a jerk? Accurate to call you a jerk. Behave like an asshole? Perfectly legitimate to call you an asshole.

And I’m saying this as someone who has deserved to be called an asshole more than once. I’ve tried to get better. Getting better meant recognizing that even if at the moment I didn’t think the word was called for, I had pushed the other person into a situation where they felt they had to say it. And if I didn’t want people to react that way to me, I need to change.

If, when I’m reflecting on why someone called me something like that, I decide that it wasn’t called for at all, the change I make might be to spend as little time as possible around that person. But that’s a topic for another day.

Ken and Ben, twinks in love — or where did you think fashion came from?

Magic Earring Ken

One weekend way back in 1992, my late husband Ray and I were having brunch at the old Hamburger Mary’s in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, and I was reading the local snarky alternative weekly newspaper, The Stranger when I read about Mattel’s latest edition to the Barbie toy line: Magic Earring Ken. He was being written about in the snarky paper because one of the many so-called Christian anti-gay organizations had sent out an alert to their supporters explaining how Mattel had released a Gay Ken, marketing it to children, and each doll came with a sex toy! They helpfully published a 1-800 number where people could call Mattel and tell them they were going to boycott the company. And apparently a lot of them did, prompting the company to issue a statement trying to explain that the Ken wasn’t gay and there certainly wasn’t a sex toy included.

The reason the wingnuts had gotten up in arms about Gay Ken was because a couple of weeks earlier, Sex Advice Columnist Dan Savage had mentioned in his column that he had seen this so-called Gay Ken. He noted that the clothes and hair style of the doll would not have looked out of place in the West Hollywood a couple of years previously, but wasn’t exactly super stylish any more, but that every gay man would recognize a piece of jewelry that came with the doll as something they usually only used while having sex.

Because Dan hadn’t said what the jewelry was, and then the wingnut pastor (who I’m sure was only following Dan’s column to keep tabs on a notorious queer—except this was 1992, and Dan wasn’t really famous or notorious, yet) had called it a sex toy, apparently a lot of his followers assumed that doll was being sold with a dildo or vibrator and they really confused the poor people answering the phones at Mattel, let me tell you.

Later that day, Ray and I scoured a few toy stores until we found Magic Earring Ken, and we bought two of them. Ray named them Ken and his boyfriend Ben. He decided they needed to be displayed like art, and got a couple of doll stands so they could stand atop a shelf we had in our living room in the teeny studio we were living in at the time.

I have seen people post on tumblr and other places a very wrong version of how the doll got designed. It had nothing to do with trying to make Ken look like someone at a rave. It had a much more innocent origin. The designer responsible was interviewed for several magazines after the incident. She was looking for new ideas for the next year’s Ken—because a survey the company had done asking girls whether Barbie should get a new boyfriend, had returned the results that girls wanted Barbie to stay with Ken, but that wanted Ken to be “cooler.” The designer, realizing one of her nieces was exactly in the age group that played with Barbies, took her niece and several of the nieces friends out for ice cream at a mall. And there, she asked the girls to point out all the boys who they thought were dressed “cool.” As people walked by, the girls would point out guys (usually older teens or college-age looking), and the designer took notes and made quick sketches of the clothes and hairstyles.

She was not aware that the chrome metal ring some of the young men were wearing on chains around their necks were cockrings. And truth be told, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the guys wearing them didn’t know, any more than a lot of the girls in the mid-eighties inspired by Madonna started wearing silicon cockrings as bracelets. And also, most of those guys probably weren’t gay. It’s often been the case that certain marginalized groups, including by not limited to queers, establish fashion trends that get copied subsequently by other folks.

Based on follow up conversations with some of girls and her notes, she designed a new look for Ken. And the next year (1992) it came out. It was selling as expected for at least a month before someone writing for another gay paper somewhere saw it, wrote a short humorous article calling the doll a Gay Twink. And Dan found out about it, and things were from there.

Contrary to what many of those other blog posts claim, there was also a Earring Magic Barbie and several other members of the Barbie line got an Earring make-over. But only Ken’s makeover looked gay. And as word spread about the Gay Ken, thousands of queer men like Ray and I ran out to buy them. Magic Earring Ken became the best selling model of Ken in the history of the Barbie line.

But, because of the controversy, Mattel decided to stop making or selling that model.

When I first saw this look in the box on the shelf at the toy store, I thought it looked more like late 80s California dude rather early 90s, but...

When I first saw this look in the box on the shelf at the toy store, I thought it looked more like late 80s California dude rather early 90s, but…

Our two dolls didn’t just stand around gathering dust. No, Ken and Ben became an ongoing art project for Ray. It started innocently enough, we both decided they shouldn’t always dress identically, so we picked up some other Ken outfits and started mixing an matching. Then Ray found more toy props, so he could pose them sitting at a table, drinking coffee. And of course more outfits. After we moved to a larger apartment, Ray bought Barbie’s dune buggy. Then the pink Barbie jeep. And a G.I. Joe. And another action figure (I don’t remember which cartoon show he was from, but he had a weird tattoo on his chest). And more outfits. And a Shaving Magic Ken. I found a Christmas tree that was just the right size for them to stand around at Christmas time. Ray found multiple sweaters, include two different designs of ugly Christmas sweaters that fit them.

Month after month, Ray would change the the clothes on all the dolls, and change out the props to fit with the season. In the summer they would all be in swimsuits or wet suits and have the dune buggy and surfboard, for instance. And every year the Christmas party scene would get a bit more elaborate.

Until Ray died.

The last setup he did was for Halloween. He’d found some things that could be cheesy costumes for some of the dolls, and a little jack o’lantern, and I think a little toy black cat that was the right size. On the night we were discussing Thanksgiving plans, he made a comment about changing Ken and Ben’ clothes and setting all the boys around one table like a Thanksgiving Dinner. Later that night, in the wee small hours, Ray had the seizure that led to the coma and ultimately his death.

I left Ken and Ben and the others in the Halloween set up for a few weeks. I wasn’t in a mood to change them (or really do anything for a few months, to be honest). I decided not to decorate from Christmas that year, until one evening I got hit by the irrational thought that Ray would be very disappointed with me if I didn’t put up at least something. So Ken and Ben and the others went into a box. I bought few Christmas things (because I knew if I tried to unpack any of our big collection of Christmas ornaments and such I would start crying and might not be able to stop) set them up on top of the entertainment center, which had been Ken and Ben’s stage for years.

I did eventually get Ken and Ben and the others out of the box, changed their clothes, and posed them in a not terribly interesting way. It had been Ray’s project, and while I loved helping him do it, it just wasn’t the same without him. After Michael and I got together, he would occasionally make suggestions to change the boys up a bit. But it still wasn’t the same. A couple years later, that entertainment center was getting wobbly. It had been a cheap particle board kit and was at least 8 years old. And while looking for a replacement (and making considerably more money than I had been 8 years prior), I found this enormous, beautiful, solid oak entertainment center that I just had to have.

It was so much taller than the old one, that I couldn’t really see Ken and Ben when they were up there, and changing their clothes and such required a small step ladder. So I packed up a lot of the accessories (the jeep, dune buggy, tables, chairs, et cetera) and most of the dolls, and took them to Goodwill. I kept Ken and Ben, though. I was thinking I should hang onto them if for no other reason, as a monument to a particularly weird and funny pop culture/queer culture collision.

I thought that Ken and Ben were still packed away somewhere in the computer room closet, but when we were packing to move out of that place last April, I didn’t find them in the box I thought they were in. I was a bit perturbed, but figured that at some point in the unpacking I would find them. But they weren’t in any of the boxes from other closets that hadn’t been opened for years. Nor were then in any of the boxes in the basement in a similar state.

I know what probably happened is that one of the times in the last ten years when I would make attempts to go through all of the Too Much Stuff™ that we had at the old place, that I decided to finally donate Ken and Ben to Goodwill or Value Village or the like. But I don’t remember doing it. So I’d rather believe that they got tired of being boxed up and forgotten. They staged an escape and ran off together—two twinks in love, looking for adventure.

Spring has sprung, but winter isn’t through with us, yet! (and what say the squirrel god?)

On of my lavender plants on the veranda is blooming!

On of my lavender plants on the veranda is blooming!

Just over a week ago we had a pseudo-spring, when over the course of three days the daytime high temperature went from about 10 degrees below average for this time of year, to more than 25 degrees above normal (and then over the next two dropped down to right about normal). Today, on the first official day of spring, the daytime high is set to be just a teensy bit below normal. Sunny and dry, and clearly the plants are all loving it. Rain and cooler temperatures are coming. Though we’re going to just get a fringe of the enormous atmospheric river about to hit California. They are currently predicting some snow in the foothills on Friday and maybe Saturday. Which is nothing compared to the winter storms heading toward the eastern U.S.

In our little corner of the world, spring is definitely here, as noted with the lavender starting to bloom, for one. Most of the rest of the flowers blooming out on my veranda are spot colors I planted weekend before last, so those don’t really count (though they are very pretty).

Most of them don’t count, that is.

The squirrel-planted tree and two pansies from last year survived the winter.

The squirrel-planted tree and two pansies from last year survived the winter.

Because in addition to my lavender plants which wintered out on the veranda, a couple of the spot color pansies from last fall survived, along with my tree. That’s right, I am growing a tree on our 5-foot wide deck. It wasn’t something I planned to be growing. See, a squirrel at our old neighborhood buried a filbert nut in one of the smallest flower pots I had, and it grew to just over 10 inches last year with a small cluster of leaves. Once I identified it (by the distinctive leaf shape), I posted pics of the little tree online and asked people’s opinions on what I should do. Everyone who replied agreed I should see how well the tree could do out there. One friend said, “Of course you keep the tree! Mustn’t anger the squirrel god.”

But, as I mentioned, the little tree was growing in the smallest flower pot that I had (there had been one smaller one at the old place, but it had a broken lip and large cracks, so I tossed it rather than move it to our new place). I was afraid the tree would quickly outgrow the pot. On the other hand, I didn’t want to damage its roots digging it up. So I left it in the pot over winter, intending to move the entire contents of the small pot into one of the big planters where I’m trying to keep my grandma’s irises alive. For whatever reason, the two pansies in the tiny pot had also survived the winter. Usually two or three of the fall pansies appear to make it through the winter, but usually in the spring when I start planting new flowers in the pots, a closer examination reveals that there are only a few green leaves visible above a decidedly sickly-yellow body of the pansy. Any time I tried to keep them, they usually died without blooming again. So I usually compost the over-winter pansies and replace them.

Since I was moving the entire pot, there was no point in pulling the two pansies loose. So they moved to the bigger planter along with the tree. It has been 9 days, and not only are they both much leafier and much greener than they were when I transplanted them, one has bloomed again! Which I’m going to take as a sign that the squirrel god is happy that I am trying to keep the tree alive. I know in the picture that the tree just looks like a stick, but just a few weeks ago it was a drab brown stick, whereas now there is clearly a lot of green in that bark. Plus there are a bunch of little buds all up and down the tree. So I expect it to be much leafier this summer.

I also moved my teeny wind chime from one of the medium pots to the bigger planter. My husband insists on calling wind chimes of all types “wind clunks” and gives me serious side eye whenever he catches me looking at them in stores. This little stained-glass butterfly and tiny chimes was a gift from a friend, and are so quiet that one has to be outside and fairly close to hear them, so my husband can ignore them.

I’ve been thinking about whether to move the bird feeder to a spot further down the veranda, away from the place where our chairs and table are. More of the birds might be brave enough to keep eating while I’m out there if it were further down. Also, most of the spilled hulls and seeds would be centered away from the section I walk on to get to the table. The down side is that the feeder would be harder to see from the living room window if I moved it down.

So, for now, I’m leaving the feeder where it is.

…and the darkness comprehended it not

I have a longer, rambling post about my feelings after seeing the movie A Wrinkle In Time last week. There’s a long digression about what the book meant to me as a kid and so forth. And I will finish it and post it soonish. But there are stressful things going on in the lives of people I love, and I’m in a weird headspace.

So, my quick review is this: The movie is awesome, it is glorious, it is moving, it is sincere, and it absolutely sells the truth of the book. There are many dissenting reviews I have seen, many from friends, so I will offer the following caveats:

  • If you’re a cynic, you will not like this movie. Don’t bother. I’m giving certain cynics of my acquaintance serious side-eye when they claim, while griping about this movie, to be fans of the book. If you’re a cynic, you completely missed the point of the book.
  • If you’re the kind of fan who complained that Tom Bombadil was left out of the Lord of the Rings movies, you will not like this movie. Don’t bother. And if you did see it, don’t post long lists of things they left out. You sound like a small-minded pedant shrilly complaining that they got the stitching wrong on the tunic of that background character from page 76…
  • There’s another kind of fan that I don’t know of a way to warn they won’t like it. But their reasons for not liking the movie were summarized best on Twitter by Matt Santori (@FotoClub): “It is earnest and it treats a girl who has low self-esteem with respect instead of ridicule. And I think that bothers a lot of men.”

There was a point, early in the movie, and not when anything that you would expect to make you cry, when I found myself crying so much I kept having to wipe my eyes to see. It was a beautiful scene that was giving me all kinds of feelings, and realized that the people making the movie had captured the wild sense of wonder and joy that I, as a 9-year-old when I read the book the first time, felt at several parts of the book. It’s a feeling that L’Engle herself described at one point:

“It seemed to travel with her, to sweep her aloft in the power of song, so that she was moving in glory among the stars, and for a moment she, too, felt that the words Darkness and Light had no meaning, and only this melody was real.”
― Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

Adaptation requires elliding things, simplifying things, and in a book that was written 56 years ago, updating things. The movie is only a little over an hour, which is a perfect length for a kids movie. And there are things that work in text that don’t work so well visually, so sometimes directors have to get metaphorical.

One last note: one of the authors I follow on Twitter is Saladin Ahmed. Last Friday he saw the movie with his daughter and a whole bunch of her classmates. I’m going to paraphrase his review: “I don’t usually say ‘screw the critics.’ I will simply say, If you possibly can see A Wrinkle in Time with some kids, do so. They will love it, and you will love being there while they watch.”

Pseudo spring arrived, time for flowers and to assess our plans for the veranda!

“It's like winter is really mad and keeps storming out of the room and then coming back yelling, 'And another thing!'”

(click to embiggen)

While some parts of the country were experiencing unseasonable warmth punctuated by intense winter storms in a weird whiplash effect, here in western Washington we were experiencing colder than usual temperatures. A lot colder for a while, there. And while we were getting rain, we were also having more dry days than usual. For most of my life the wet part of the year as been more about drizzly or non-raining but cool and overcast than intense rainstorms. Lately, thanks to climate change, our rainy season has been about more intense rain storms punctuating longer stretches of dry-but-overcast days. Then this weekend it was as if someone flipped a switch and turned on spring all at once. No rain, almost no clouds, and temperatures climbed from the forties into the 60s. Then Monday they soared (relatively speaking) into the low 70s!

Now the temps have dropped, but not all the way back to the 40s. Forecasts indicate that temps are going to be in the 50s all week, which is statistically more typical for this time of year. While that isn’t as cool as it was last week, it’s still a drop of about 20 degrees from Monday!

Looking up the row at all the planters after I was finished.

Looking up the row at all the planters after I was finished.

One of the things I accomplished this weekend was getting the veranda ready for spring. Which meant planting new flowers in my planters. And that meant a lot of cleaning, repotting, pouring off excess water, dumping of old potting soil and the dead remnants of last fall’s final flowers. My various lavender plants were already budding, so it is arguable that I should have started working on the other pots earlier. On the other hand, it was only a couple of weeks ago that overnight low temperatures were in the 20s, so this sudden temporary spring was a great opportunity to get things started out there.

My hanging planter had to be converted to a regular pot. I had fuchsias in it last year. At the old place I used to take the hanging planters down as soon as the plants wilted then stuck them in the basement until the next spring. Since I have to use completely contained hanging planters here (don’t want to drip muddy water on my neighbors downstairs!) I only had the one. And every time I thought it was time to take it down, I would notice not just that one of the fuchsias was still green, but it had a new flower! All through December and January it kept putting out new flowers. And a local hummingbird kept visiting it to eat, so I felt guilty thinking of taking it down.

So one evening about a month ago I was outside refilling the birdfeeder with seed, and I banged my head into the hanging planter. As it was swinging I thought I should take it down, now, because the very cold weather seemed to have finally done in the last fuchsia. As I was raising my hands to take hold of the planter, its hanging mechanism broke.

I caught the pot. Barely! The super saturated soil made the whole thing a lot heavier than I expected, and I wound up dumping about half the potting soil onto the deck, but I didn’t drop either the pot or any of its contents over the side. I set the whole thing down and figured I’d sort out what to do about the hanging bit later. This weekend I cut of the reaming bits so the plastic suspension system, planted a couple of pansies in planter, and put it at the end of the row of pots next to the railing. A new plastic hanging pot just like this one is less than 5 bucks. In a few weeks fuchsias starters should be available, so I can set up another hanging planter then. I just need to remember that before the heavy rainy season begins next fall to take the planter down, no matter what state the flowers in it are in. If one of the plants is still blooming, I can put the planter agains the rail so the flower hangs out. The hummingbird will find it.

Our poor otter planter cracked and had large chunks of terra cotta break off.

Our poor otter planter cracked and had large chunks of terra cotta break off.

Another issue we had was the otter planter. The cute terra cotta planter survived about 8 years outside at the Ballard place with only a few cracks. But she didn’t do so well this winter. I think the problem was she isn’t shielded from the rain as much at this location and we had a lot more hard freezes this winter. The super-saturated potting soil froze, expanded and broke the terra cotta in a bunch of places.

But with she can still hold a flower!

The other thing I’ve been thinking about is whether to try to grow tomatoes or some other edibles out there. Last year, since we only signed the lease on this place in mid-April, and didn’t finish clearing out the old place until the end of May, I didn’t even try tomatoes. I’m still a little ambivalent in no small part because most years I’m not sure the number of tomatoes I managed to grow were worth the expense and effort. On the other hand, when they’re perfectly ripe right off the plant they do taste so, so, so much better than the ones bought at the store. And there are possibilities for growing things other than tomatoes. There’s certainly room for more planters on the veranda!

We’ll see. I still need to get more of grandma’s irises planted. And right now the pots just have a minimum of spot color flowers. Once everything is going, I may decide that what I have now is taking up all the time I have available to pseudo garden.

Oh! I ought to mention the tree. Last year a single stalk of something came up in one of the smallest flowerpots I had, and when leaves started growing, I realized that it was a Turkish Filbert (there were a couple of yards in our old neighborhood with Filbert trees). The squirrel at the old place must have put it in the pot, and when I posted about it last year, the consensus was that we should try to keep it alive, lest we anger the squirrel god. Anything, I’ve moved it to the larger planter with the irises. If it keeps growing, I may eventually be asking around whether anyone who has a yard wants a Filbert tree.

We’ll see what grows and what doesn’t!

The otter can still hold a flower, despite the breaks!

The otter can still hold a flower, despite the breaks!

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