Friday, January 30, 2015

Doing Phoenix

I had no idea that the XLIX Super Bowl was scheduled while I was visiting my parents in Phoenix. Millions of eyes fixed on the city, hundreds of thousands mobbing downtown's NFL Superfan Festival and drinking and eating in a giant street party now in its fourth or fifth day, where a ticket scalps for $5000 and up; 110,000 spectators -- 30,000 more than last year -- at the Phoenix Open with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson; but I sat watching The Price is Right, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy with my parents, who haven't been to downtown Phoenix in a decade and learned only days ago who the Super Bowl teams are (like myself, who had no idea. I'm not proud of that. Never brag about your ignorance). They wonder where all these people are parking. In their back yard grow grapefruits and oranges, and yes, you can pick your breakfast grapefruit from the tree. About a mile away on a desert nature trail I saw long-eared bunnies, cacti in an alphabet of shapes, and headless doves--the work of feral cats. I prefer trees to desert, and no TV to 6 hours a day of TV in a 10x10 wood-paneled den, but I've got only one set of parents.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Rock Those Booties

My mother and stepfather, appalled to see me barefoot in their 80-degree fully-carpeted house, immediately found me a pair of these, the one constant and bane of my childhood and still haunting  me in adulthood, whenever I visit and even when I don't, because they surface too in my mother's scary Christmas packages: knitted house slippers. Sometimes they're crocheted. Doesn't matter; they're all psychotically handmade by old women using synthetic and non-absorbent yarn in hideous colors, are terribly slippery to wear on smooth surfaces, never fit, and are ugly as sin. (Why the decorative ties?) They are meant to warm the feet. They prove only that it's true that feet sweat at a rate of a quart a day. And that the wearer never expects to have sex ever again.

These slippers go back, historically, to the rural and pre-sidewalk admonition "Take off your shoes at the door," but I also associate them with central and southern European immigrants and Americans from the Depression era, who were practical, poor, had skills now obsolete, and to whom "barefoot" signified not only poverty but a lack of class. I had formal knitting lessons when I was 10, at a Sears store to which I was sent by bus. I never got the knack of knitting, although forced to knit an hour a day so as to justify my mother's investment in my skill set. Thus I do know that this pair, modeled by myself (in my giraffe-print pajamas), are knitted (in stockinette stitch) rather than crocheted. I think. See you in the nursing home.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Things Mom Did That I Don't

  • dust with Pledge.
  • towel-dry the dishes and put them away. To this day I ask her why not air-dry the dishes. She simply doesn't like leaving them out.
  • percolate coffee.
  • sneezed violently all day instead of using antihistamines.
  • her own taxes.
  • set her hair in brush rollers pinned with pink plastic pins, and then sleep wearing the whole assembly.
  • wear a real rubber girdle--a sheath with pinholes for ventilation--and when rubber ones were no longer made, she wore a spandex girdle. When I was a kid I asked her why women wore girdles and she said it wasn't nice for ladies to wiggle.
  • have children. She made it look extremely difficult.
  • hung clothes and sheets on a line. We used to steal the clothespins and make puppets out of them.
  • make and fry doughnuts. The five of us ate them all within minutes.
  • remove mice from traps. I toss the trap with the mouse still in it.
  • had a cookie jar.
  • darned socks and sweaters, inserting a light bulb and patching the hole over it.
  • canning, always on the hottest day in August, with an electric fan whirring to no effect.
  • put clothes through a wringer.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Basics

Here in eastern Missouri we had an easy December 2014, with one or two snowfalls, but are having a ridiculously easy January 2015 with, like, no snowfall (only some rain and a token bit of sleet), no ice storms, no below-zero temps, and highs regularly in the 40s and 50s. It's not the January thaw, because January never froze. Another good sign: a Yellow-Shafted Flicker at my feeder, on his way north. We can now take walks at 4 p.m. and be back before it's dark, enjoying January sun and shadow unmitigated by foliage, and scenery we're usually too cocooned to see, like this simple view -- this tallest tree is a sycamore--taken while walking Doc Sargent Road. Everyone I know is pleased. Do I speak too soon? Should I knock on wood so writing this won't hex us? 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Comet Lovejoy 

A friend said "Follow Orion's belt up to the Pleiades" and to their right -- with binoculars or a telescope, because this rare visible-to-the-naked-eye comet is at its brightest right now, today, at magnitude 3.8. That's not very bright; the North Star is much brighter at magnitude 1.97. About 11:15 p.m. last night in the marvelous 99 percent darkness we have here (except for the headlights on passing cars) I searched with my 8x binoculars. Didn't find the comet.

Back in the house I consulted the Google Sky map. It's not on there! Googled it, learning its name -- Comet Lovejoy, how wonderful! -- at, and their map showed the comet's location and trajectory for every day of January--currently to the right of the Pleiades, just as I was told. The page had wonderful astronomers' photos of the comet, which is bright green. Out again but did not find it. Kept looking to the right of the Pleiades. Now I'd been looking for an hour. I knew it was out there. Back indoors, looking at the same map.

The temperature, above freezing, was tolerable, so I went out again because I hate to give up on anything. Carefully, carefully I  swept the sky with its shovelsful of stars. This time I recalled that the sky is a curved shell and "to the right"--as the stars progress westward--will also mean "downward." At last, at last: I found it. A smeary little wad of light, no tail, not visibly green, but rather the color of Vaseline. Beautiful, to me!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Draw a Line Through His Name

Nearly six years Demetrius has been gone. He is most present in the garage, in his gardening tools. His massive old wheelbarrow I gave to the first person who could move it. In the garage he left rolls of plastic, and vinyl-coated concrete discs and 2x4s, and two fishing reels still in their packaging. (Fishing is about hope.) When dragging 50 pounds of rock salt or oilseed, I sometimes ask him aloud, "Why did you leave me?," and walking where we used to walk, I say, "Where are you? Are you okay?" I thank him for the ramp he built it from particle board, allowing me easily to roll the portable dishwasher into the kitchen; I won't be able to replace it if it breaks. I tell him, "I remember the retired lamplighter" he knew when he was a boy, because that lamplighter will live as long as we remember him, and "I'll never forget Polka the Giraffe," a character in a children's book he was writing but didn't finish. He perfected one short story, about a farm laborer, I'm still sending to literary magazines. In his final months he dreamed that the closet door opened onto a polar landscape with warm furs and a sled and sled dogs waiting for him. (He liked biographies and stories about polar explorers.) In January he rode Amtrak to the Rocky Mountains, bedridden all the while because he'd forgotten about high altitudes. He returned skeletal, angry at everyone, and lived 12 more days, dying less than 5 miles from where he was born.

Seed catalogs still arrive with his name on them, as do letters and newsletters from the radical organizations he so much wanted to be a part of. I write on them "Return to Sender," draw a line through his name, and write "Deceased Feb. '09."

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Mysterious Number Twelve

I'd like to roll on the floor ecstatic every time I receive from Terri's son Patrick a dozen fresh eggs, pastel-pated and stamped with their dates--these from early December--and part of the thrill is the fact of the dozen. In a base-10 culture like ours, why do eggs come in dozens? Why are there 12 hours on the clock? Remember learning to tell time, how intricate it was? Why 12 months in a year? 12 Apostles? 12 inches in a foot?

It turns out 12 is a special number, long ago agreed to be more versatile than 10. Ten can be neatly divided only by five or two; 12 can be divided by six, three, two, three, or four, for maximum possibilities when packaging, shipping, and retailing, and seating friends at table. The concept of "a dozen" (the word is from Old French dozain, from the Latin duodecim "twelve" from duo, "two" plus decem, "ten") is thus far older than its name, which appears in French around 1300. A dozen is brilliant for eggs. Ten wouldn't seem like enough, and 14 would be too many.

What, am I hard up for thrills this winter that a dozen eggs will thrill me? No! Nothing is prettier than a fresh egg except 12 fresh eggs, beautifully and naturally tinted and cradled like gems. Happy Eastern Orthodox Christmas today. I was raised Eastern Orthodox. The calendar we use diverges from the standard Gregorian calendar by 13 days. Thirteen is another whole story.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

I Want to Be Cute

Before After
(Note: I had just removed a hat.)Ninety minutes later.

Fallen in love at first sight: 48 percent of men have; only 28 percent of women. (Citation.) From the back of the pack I've been watching as men at events -- middle-aged events such as networking, singles, and hikes -- go straight for the blondes, falling in starry-eyed love right there in front of me. Kitchen-sink bleach-bottle blonde with an inch of dark roots doesn't matter, weathered skin and a voice like a foghorn don't matter. I'm fitter, thinner, better educated, very cute, or, in a tight dress, a ringer for an exotic Russian spy. Doesn't matter. In Jefferson County, 7 of  every 10 white women can be classified as blond because they've been quicker to learn that blondes have more fun. I've examined this issue from every angle, and it is what it is. A woman who hasn't clearly and deliberately altered her natural appearance might as well be a man.

My natural hair color resembles 80-percent-cacao chocolate. I've never colored it. Furthermore it's short. I think I'm wonderful. But, maybe it's just wintertime, I consulted my hairdresser, who thought I'd make a terrible blonde and suggested highlights instead. I made an appointment for the very next day.

Now my hair is more like a peanut butter cup. Come hither, gentlemen! Let me sort YOU out by your hairlines.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Saint Peters Sandstone

Entertaining friends here is a matter of serving a meal, followed by outdoor activity, or outdoor activity followed by serving a meal, and I must say it's delightful to host a friend, Frank, with a British accent that my other friends from Britain say is not the same accent as theirs, and to learn that I do not pour enough hot water into my teacups. Did I mention he's an engineer? They are easy to entertain: I showed him the dump on the property, where he might still be figuring out the origins and angles of everything and wanting to take it all home unless I'd shown him the nearby Waterfall #1, now frozen, the one with the shallow cave of St. Peters sandstone. He said it was "extraordinary."

Sunday, January 4, 2015

There's a Hole in the Roof

Some HUGE quadruped--I could hear it sniffing! I could hear its fur!--thumped and shuffled in the attic above my head, rattling my ceiling. Mice teethe and scramble in the bedroom walls all winter, but mice this was not. I phoned the handymen saying, "I think there's a hole in my roof." Before they got there I checked the Internet and learned that if there's a raccoon there's almost always a nest with little ones crying and squeaking, and getting them out requires professional pest controllers trapping them and releasing them 10 miles away. I didn't hear any crying, but because I'm so often 100 percent wrong when I self-diagnose house problems I figured 1) there was 100 percent chance there was no hole in my roof and 2) that there were baby raccoons I didn't hear. It's so great to be me.

The handymen came with their ladder, checked the roof, and found Something Not Human had pulled off a patch of hardware cloth--not "cloth" at all, but flexible metal--at a juncture between roof levels. There was indeed a hole in my roof. I was ecstatic to be right. Pete and Tim stuffed the hole with more hardware cloth and screwed down more on top. "If it's a squirrel or raccoon," said Pete, "it's usually out and about during the day." Haven't heard anything but mice ever since.