The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.

--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Clearing the Air

As I write, I am sitting in one of my favorite bars in San Diego: The Aero Club. I have been coming to this bar ever since I got my fake id in 1998 (actually, it wasn't fake. It belonged to another girl who sort of looked like me if I didn't wear glasses, were 6 inches taller, and about 15 pounds thinner. She had lost it, replaced it, and passed the now extraneous id on to me.). At first, I came because it was seedy and dark and the bartenders really didn't care whether I was 21 or not. Then my reasons for going morphed as my tasted for alcohol matured. I then started going because they served good beer and the crowd was an excellent mix of socially awkward college misfits like myself and aging locals.

Plus their jukebox freaking rocks!

Nine years later, not much has changed. The bar is cleaner and they have free wifi (two things I appreciate more and more as I get closer to thirty), but the beer is still good, the crowd still solid . . .

and their jukebox freaking rocks!

I am not kidding. This place is located on busy and awkward one-way India Street, so it's been able to maintain a sort of bar purity mostly because almost all who pass it are either whizzing their way to the 5 north or to Washington Street to get to Hillcrest. This is not the neighborhood for breezy tourists or uber-yuppies. This is an inbetweenplace. And like all inbetweenplaces, it remains a place of rejuvenation.

A place to celebrate the literal clearing of the air as the marine layer marches in and chases off the ash and smoke that have coated all San Diegans' lungs since Sunday night.

There's a feeling of celebration in the air as the fires start be more and more contained and the event that continues to dominate the TVs is the second game of the World Series rather than pictures of burning homes.

I'm not in any way stating that the fact that the fires still are burning--that people are still displaced, that many have lost homes and a few have lost loved ones--is trivial. But to have the oppressive air that has hung over this area of the city for fully five days to lift is a moment to celebrate.

We are emerging from our homes and shelters after days of avoiding "bad air," shaking our heads, wondering where we've been all week. And though for many this isn't the case, life is starting to "get back to normal" as businesses and schools talk about opening again.

I am blessed in that I don't know anyone who lost a home in the fire. All of my friends were merely displaced for a few short days and returned to their safe and whole houses. This situation is also a blessing in that all of us (me and my friends) were left free to help others who had suffered loss. To be able to cheerfully aid others is indeed a true blessing.

I truly mourn the losses of so much for so many people. Yet I also celebrate how we, as a city--a community, supported each other. Those who had shared with those who had lost. It kind of makes you think that maybe the human species isn't quite so bad as we usually seem.

And as I write this, I look up and see the local bartendress. She gives me a smile, sharing with me the relief of spirit at the cleared air and the joy that we can still be kind to each other.

Wedding in the Ashes

On Sunday, 21 October, I went to a wedding.

This wedding was interesting for two reasons.

a) It was my first wedding where kids aren't invited, and

b) I caused a glorious scene by coughing through the bride's maids' entrances.

I'm serious about a. I've never been invited to a wedding where my wonderful, so well-behaved, absolutelythecutestkidontheplanet son hasn't been welcomed with open arms. Apparently, childless weddings are all the rage. And who can blame people? I love dancing a sober jig with my darling boy, but I love dancing a slightly buzzed jig without him all the more. Leaving baby behind does have a touch of that date night, devil-may-care excitement--except I am still waking up at 6am to a whiny toddler.

What is so odd about this childless wedding is that apparently the bride and groom didn't realize they didn't want rug rats cutting capers until after the invitations had been sent and RSVPs had been returned. In short, we were given a two-week (Lynn Truss, eat your heart out) notice to find a sitter for this wedding via a slightly abashed call from the groom, clarifying that the RSVP was for two not three.

At first my motherly ire rose and I railed about how my gift to this blessed couple would be the $10-an-hour sitter I would have to find. However, I was quickly set straight by all of my more wedding savvy friends about the normality and propriety of this exclusion by my son. And more importantly, my grandparents came down that weekend and watched my sweetest one for a whopping free dollars.

Lucky couple. They still got their gift certificate to Crate and Barrel (to which I had happily found out at the wedding they had actually registered at).

Now on to part b. As many of you already know, I am prone to ridiculous coughing fits. However, no matter how ridiculous they are, these fits are no laughing matter. These moments of extreme cough-dom can last for as long as 30 minutes, in which I am literally gasping and retching. I simply can't control them.

They've happen when I've been teaching. All I could do was wave a weak hand at my horrified students as they watch me hack up a lung with horrified expressions on their faces. Happily, they've all left the classroom with minimal fuss (since I am in no shape to argue with them), and I've recovered after agonizing minutes of searing explosions and possibly a little pee leakage (I'll never tell . . . but I did have a baby. Mommies everywhere can attest that your bladder is never the same).

They've also happened during important interviews. One of which I failed to mention was when I interviewed to be in the lab I currently am performing research in. Yes indeed, I did begin a coughing fit. For about five or six awful minutes, I frantically scanned my no PI's desk for any type of device to swab my watering eyes and running nose with. To no avail. He finally noticed my plight and gave me permission to flee to the ladies' room where I proceeded to streak my linen shirt with tears and snot. Oh yes, I walked back into my no PI's office to continue that interview, red nose, eyes, face, and all.

However, in both of the above situations, I have had the option to flee when such fits start. Not so with this wedding. The fit started when the ash from the then unremarkable southern fire (Harris for all of you in the know now) became lodged in my throat. The air was already bad because of the smoke, and this particular ash was merely the straw that broke my civilized throat's back.

I erupted into hacks and gasps . . . just as the bride's maids began their sssssssssssllllllllllllloooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwwwww march down the aisle to Pachelbel's Canon. Now this bride and groom are very lovable which was evident by the mass of people who attended their wedding. Seating was at a premium and very cramped. I happened to be four rows from the front of the action and two seats from the center aisle, crammed in so tight that to exit right then would have entailed a mess of "excuse me's" and chair shifting (we were outdoors) and people standing and calling a lot of attention to myself.

I was faced with a quandary: which is the greater disturbance? Poorly suppressed coughs or clumsy evacuation of wedding. I choose the former as being the most discrete. My thoughts were that if I didn't breathe for a bit, I could refrain from coughing too loudly until people stood for the bride and then in the jubilant confusion I could make my escape.

Unfortunately for my plan, I didn't have enough breath for the bride's TEN FREAKING BRIDESMAIDS! All marching as slowing and inexorably as time does to tasteful classical music. These lovely ladies (and they were lovely) were followed by TWO ring bearers and a flower girl.

I was in agony. My breath-holding had turned into a sort of beached whale gasping, snot and tears soaking my newlypurchasedforthisevent sassy dress.

Finally, the bride appeared, and I booked it for the nearest watering hole. I ended up watching the wedding from a discreet distance. The bride was indeed beautiful. The wedding indeed touching. And ultimately, I am thankful for the kid ban. I don't know how I would have wrestled my kid along with my errant bronchi.

So, what do you serve grandparents (also great-grandparents) when they are watching your kid for free? Goat-cheese stuffed burgers.

hamburger meat
goat cheese
buns

lettuce
tomato
onion
pickle
avocado

Roll hamburger meat into small balls (about half the size you would for a regular patty). Pat the small balls flat (yes, I know how that sounds . . . you think of a better way to say it). Place goat cheese slices on top of one flat patty. Top with another. Seal. Repeat.

Grill.

Assemble a burger.

Enjoy a wedding without your kid.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

An Eye for a Well-Turned Phrase

I know a person who can turn a perfect phrase. It’s an art really. One that so many of us have lost in this day and age of anticipatory texting, smileys, weird shorthand (e.g. “lol”), and “you know”’s.

Taylor Mali in “Totally like whatever, you know?” laments that “actually our disarticulation... ness/ is just a clever sort of... thing/ to disguise the fact that we've become/ the most aggressively inarticulate generation/ to come along since.../ you know, a long, long time ago!”

And while Mali focuses more on our lack of conviction in our speech, his poem (and poems) so nicely outline that we are continuing to raise generations of people who will never learn to truly express themselves. It’s sad really. Millions of people who are trapped inside themselves, frustrated they do not have the words to relate to others and unable to figure out how to change this sad state of affairs. Unable to communicate and unable to understand one another. For even though this or that smiley might adequately express a surface emotion (much like that pain chart at the doctor’s office where a 1 for pain is a happy face whose smile gets more and more linear until level 5 where it begins the downward slope to a full frown at 10), there really isn’t a yellow visage that can truly represent the soul.

Someone might argue with me that language is just as inadequate as a smiley. Language is just a continued and always delayed representation of the real thing—the real I. But I argue, try having a thought without language. Try to gauge how you feel, react, or interact in the world without some sort of symbolic representation. Impossible? Exactly.

Jacques Lacan calls this pursuit of language as a method of defining ourselves and the world around us the manifestation of the absence of the petit a. The little a (which is “autre” in French and “other” in English—so I guess it would translate the “little o”) is the center of ourselves we can never express or define. This inability to access our other makes us split souls (or subjects in Lacan’s speech). We are incomplete. We know this fact. We strive to pursue that which will make us complete—our petit a—and in that striving, create language. We can never actually access our other center-self, yet we can have terrifyingly beautiful moments when we come ever so close.

Why terrifyingly beautiful? Because to come so close to accessing our other leaves us terribly exposed, yet, at the same time, beautifully whole. We become intimate.

In Sex/God, Rob Bell writes about the human condition of lost intimacy with each other and the world itself. He discusses physical intimacy as an important component becoming whole. However, this intimacy is also couched in language. He distinguishes between animal sex, human sex, and angel non-sex. What is important to note is that humans, according to Bell, occupy a realm that is neither solely physical (animal) nor solely intellectual (angel). We occupy the middle realm. A space between pure physicality and transcendent ethereality. A space of spirituality that is mediated by language.

Because our entire perception of reality is based on our language system, to not have a grasp on said system is tantamount to putting oneself into solitary confinement and throwing away the key. Isolating. Destructive.

Someone else might argue that because language and meaning is so subjective, we can never truly have a grasp on it. Never truly master it. Never truly master ourselves. However, think of the time you’ve been struck by a poem or a story or a spoken phrase. One that slices through the meat of you to the core and leaves you exposed and gasping. In that moment, language was mastered.

For a person, like the one I know, who makes a point to master language—who more often than not refuses to just blather away as many of us do to fill that void of silence in our souls—there are amazing “aha” moments. But there is a darker side to these moments as well. With the ability to expose the soul with True words, comes the ability to wound as well as reveal the beauty within. With a mastery of language, one can build the soul up or break it down.

I have words that will reverberate forever through my being. Some leave me joy-full. Others continue to rend and tear through my heart until it weeps tears of blood. Both types, because they are True, establish intimacy even if painfully so.

This person I know knows that language is an art: the art of expressing exactly the way our souls feel at that moment. This person knows the importance and power of the-perfectly-right-grouping-of-sounds. The “aha” moment of “that’s just what I was feeling.” This person also knows seemingly smaller language details like the difference between “i.e.” and “e.g.” Yet in these details is also power.

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty understood this power. He articulates that the real question in life is who is to be the master: the words or the speaker. Dumpty elaborates, “They’ve a temper some of them—particularly verbs: they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!” I love how nicely (if a bit pompously and circumambagiously) Dumpty explains the problems with mastering language. Sure we can all come up with filler. But when we have to get concrete—depict actions, motivations, Truth—word-use gets tricky.

But we still have to try. We need to speak confidently but also Truly. We need to stop filling silence with talk. Rather, we need to construct intimacy with language. We must be brave enough like the person I know to be exposed and to expose. We must take the time to turn a perfect phrase. As Dumpty puts it, “When I use a word […] it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

Exactly so.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

A Spoonful of Sugar. . .

At this moment, I am watching Mary Poppins for the fifth time in two days.

I do love this movie. The songs are like a magic ticket back to childhood for me; however, I am feeling that 5 times in two days is a bit excessive.

My son does not agree.

Now, I am not one of those moms who parks her kid in front of the TV for a few moments peace. I am not one for three primary reasons: a) my husband often takes the role of entertainer with our son; b) I have a gift for being able to tune out my son's whines for me to play with him, causing him to have learned to play by himself; and c) I regard movies as a secret weapon for when I really really really need him to be quiet and relax.

Because of his lack of TV viewing, my son thinks the television is truly magical. You can put on almost any movie, and he will be transfixed in front of the magic screen of color moving pictures. This power of fixation is key when I am in situations that my son has to be still and quiet (i.e. the airplane, meetings, a pub).

So I rarely indulge his pleas for movie time at our house let alone watching movies over and over again ad nauseum. However, my son has chosen to sport a fever of 104F as his newest accessory. And I have a rule about TV viewing and sickness: when you are sick, there are no rules (okay maybe a few little ones here and there but virtually no rules). If you want to eat cold mac and cheese nonstop throughout the day, you can. If you want to wear your pajamas all day, you may. If you want to watch Mary Poppins over and over and over again, be my guest.

There are worse movies he could be begging for. Trust me.

Besides Mary Poppins has the added benefit of the scene where Jane and Michael take their medicine and love it. Perfect for inducing a toddler to sip down some fever-relieving, candy-colored concoction. So now my son is not only begging for the movie, he wants to take his purple or orange medicine every few hours or so. Indeed, the problem is telling him he has to wait the prerequisite 4 hours or gnarly fever spike before he gets the "lime cordial delicious" as he calls it.

So right now, having just taken his medicine, he's sitting on the couch, mesmerized by the chimney scene in Mary Poppins, sippy cup of water in one hand, sippy cup of milk in the other, and a wet rag on his head that he insists is making his head feel better.

This is not my son's first fevered illness; however, it is his first illness where he can communicate his various ails and desires. I get to hear how his "tummy hurts," "head hurts," and how he "wants to talk to Dr. Rash" (our pediatrician--no joke, I promise).

In fact, my son has gotten so adamant about talking to Dr. Rash, that I had to pull the super-secret-suspect mom move of calling my dad (aka Papi) and asking him to impersonate said doctor. The conversation went roughly as follows:

Papi impersonating Dr. Rash: What do I ask him?
Me: Ask him how's he's feeling.
Papi: How are you feeling.
My son: Dr. Rash, I sick.
Papi: Oh, you're sick? What hurts?
My son: My tummy hurts, Dr. Rash. And my head.
Papi: I'm sorry to hear that.
My son: I have a fever.
Papi: Oh. . . .
..... awkward silence .....
Me: Tell him to take his purple and orange medicine to feel better.
Papi: Take your purple and orange medicine and you will feel better soon.
My son: Okay, Dr. Rash.
Papi: Okay, bye bye
My son: Bye, Dr. Rash. Thank you.

I don't even think my son noticed that the good doctor sounded so much like his Papi.

Because my baby is eating cold mac and cheese, I decided to unabashedly cook something full of green goodness he wouldn't touch if his life depended on it: Greens and Beans Ragout.

I got this recipe from my CSA newsletter and love it because it's quick and can be majorly tweaked. Tonight's incarnation is as follows:

Sweet Italian sausage, cut up into bite size chunks
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic, finely chopped
1 zucchini, chopped bite-sized
2 carrots, chopped bite-sized
1 turnip, chopped bite-sized
lots of misc greens (chard, dandelion, turnip), raggedly torn up
2-3 cans of beans (usually great northern, but tonight I did garbanzo, black, and pinto), drained
1 28-oz can of diced tomatoes
Salt
Herbs de Provence

Saute the sausage with the onions in a tiny bit of olive oil until sausage is browned (use a large pan over med/high heat).

Add the fresh vegetables and herbs de Provence. Saute until veggies are soft.

Add the beans, tomatoes, and greens. Bring to a boil. Cook about 5 more minutes or until greens begin to wilt.

Salt to taste.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Double Booking

There seems to be social trend going around my group of friends that we call double booking. What double booking entails is agreeing to attend multiple social engagements on the same day and sometime the very same evening. Actual attendance to the engagements appears to be optional.

I hate double booking.

Perhaps it is the fact that I have a toddler, so I don't have the prerequisite devil-may-care-go-where-the-wind-blows attitude you need to attend multiple events. Or perhaps because of said toddler, I don't have the luxury of moving about once I've made social camp. Or perhaps, I just feel that time spent with true friends shouldn't be rushed or an afterthought or plan b.

I'm all about letting an evening take shape with little to no agenda. If that shape takes the form of house hopping (or in my younger days, party hopping), then wonderful. But to plan truncated time with people you care for because you have also planned time with others shows these persons that you don't consider them a priority.

The above stated, I am about to finish a weekend of double booking not only on Saturday night, but on Sunday as well. I have become what I abhor, yet I seem to have an uncanny knack for pulling this feat off not only successfully but also with no stress or inconvenience to others.

Saturday, the family unit made the trek up to North County to visit two groups of friends who had the poor taste in making that area their homes. Both of these friend-groups have returned from far away places that I would most likely never ever go in my entire life (Idaho and Iceland) to San Diego county. And their presence here is a great joy; however, when I heard that they had decided to make their homes in hard core suburbia (topped only by Scripps Ranch), I told them that they might as well have stayed in their respective I-lands.

As you all know, I have some very
strict boundaries that circumscribe where I spend my time. North County greatly exceeds these boundaries--and I can't even ride the trolley there. So, it seemed reasonable to combine two social events in the far north on the same night to prevent me from dying of asphyxia or something like that.

Fate also aided me in my plans of social hypocrasy: the female of the first friend-group who has boys my son's age and a little younger was running a triathlon on Sunday, so she didn't want a late evening. We agreed to a 4pm to 730pm social time. Fortuitously, the second friend-group called and asked us to meet them out for drinks around 8pm after their date night and oh-so-generously offered their babysitter to watch our (we hoped) sleeping son.

Excellent.

The evening went off without a hitch. Both times with the friend-groups proved satisfactory and fulfilling. Unfortunately, I think I am addicted now to this trend of double booking because not one day later, I not only double booked, but triple booked.

This time the family unit did lunch with a friend whose husband is in Iraq. I then went home to prepare for a later meeting with the Dinner Divas (of which I made cucumber salad cups), and followed that up with quiz night at the local British pub.

Again a success.

The salad cups are cool and crisp and perfect for the dog days of summer we are so definitely in.

I cribbed them from from Vegetarian Times and the dressing from Epicurious.com.

1 medium zucchini, finely chopped
1 bell pepper, finely chopped (I used red, but I think yellow would be better for the color)
1 carrot, grated
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cantaloupe, finely chopped
1 heirloom tomato, finely chopped
3/4 cup mix of herbs, dill, basil, parsley, mint, finely chopped
1/4 cup parmesian cheese, grated

1/4 cup balsamic dressing (I added about 2 tsp of honey)

3 cucumbers, striped peeled, sliced into about 1/2-inch thick rounds, and middle of rounds scooped out with sides and bottom in tact (harder than sounds)

Mix all the chopped stuff. Toss with the dressing. Scoop into the cucumber cups.
Quick. Easy. So good.

Just like double booking.

I am starting to wonder how many of these things I have in me before I encounter a spectacular failure. I'm already planning a double booking for this coming Friday . . . concert in the park followed by a movie, anyone?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Which of Course in German Means . . .


Seattle is the city of swine.

We've just returned from four rain-swept days in that lovely city where I took over 100 pictures of portly pigs, brilliantly-basted bacon. Apparently, there's a movement going on right now in Seattle called
Pigs on Parade--sort of like San Diego's urban tree thing where various artists feature their works in strategically placed parts of the town, but in Seattle it's with snub-snouted mammals rather than bark-covered flora.


I did do the obligatory Pike's Place Market and first Starbucks (Seattle being the only town in the Western U.S. where you can go to Starbucks without feeling as if you should later be branded with a scarlet letter of infamy). But though I love this overgrown farmers' market as well as coffee, it's hard to go somewhere and be tempted by amazingly fresh seafood and vibrantly colored produce and not be able to buy or cook any because you don't freaking live there. Every time I go to Seattle, the market makes me want to stay forever. But, for now, that is an impossible dream, so I contented myself with a quick trip to Pike's and spent the rest of the time walking the city in the rain and photographing happy hogs.

I've been to Seattle once before almost exactly two years ago. I stayed a week during the fourth of July and learned in that time that California may not be the only amazing place to live in the United States (I qualify with "may" because I'll need to do some further field research (preferably sans toddler) in Seattle to confirm this possibility; though, like any good scientist, I know that I can do an infinite amount of research and never be proven right but a single experiment can instantly prove me wrong. So, I guess, I'll never know if California truly has a competitor in perfection.). I'll admit, I had a short and sordid affair with Seattle two years ago and since then--though living an apparently contented life in San Diego--have looked for ways to get back. When this weekend presented itself, I jumped at the chance to see if Seattle still lived up to the fantasies I've been having about it for the past two years. And with the addition of an army of pleasurable porkers, Seattle didn't fail to please the second time around.
Being from California, I rarely experience rain. In fact, when I go places that are known for their rain, it is often in the middle of an inexplicable drought. 2006: ten days in Ireland, not a drizzle. 2005: seven days in Seattle, not a drop. 1999: four weeks in Guam, barely a deluge. So I tend to plan my vacations around the fact that I can spend the majority of my time outdoors in very little clothing with no discomfort. Such was not the case this weekend.
Seattle decided for our second rendez-vous to show me her true nature: she rained like a fiend. I've got to hand it to her, it takes guts to let it all out on only the second date. To show Seattle that I love her just as she is, I continued my outdoor activities, regardless of rain. And like any relationship when people decide to get real, some moments were pure bliss while others a bit more challenging.

One particular moment of bliss was running (or some semblance thereof) through sleepy Seattle the first morning I was there. A good friend maintains that you can only truly know a city if you run/walk the streets. Something about the contact made when you are physically brushing past people, moving along store fronts, connected by smell, sound, and touch.

I agree. That first morning, I got up before everyone else in my travel entourage and sought out the Seattle I remembered from two years ago. With DJ Tiesto's Elements of Life playing softly in my ears (so as to accompany rather than drown out the sounds of the waking city) and a soft drizzle falling, I felt more alive than I've felt in months. The steady susurrate sound of the rain melted into the slightly blurred grey streets and sidewalks flecked with startling colors--green of trees, red of a door, blue of a sign, yellow of (of course) a pig.

I passed stores and restaurants I remembered from my previous trip on my route from the 6th Ave Hilton to Belltown and encountered new sights as well. I am amazed at how little has changed and wonder if the "new" stuff to me is really new or places I just didn't notice last time.

Everyone who knows me knows that I have a horrible memory. Events disappear, shift, blur into things I can't recall, remember differently, or relate to others in some sort of morphing tale. Initially, I found Seattle to have suffered from my poor ability to recollect things. While I had no problem finding places I love and associate specifically with Seattle--Macrina bakery, the market, The Bookstore bar--I kept looking for things I had experienced in other travels. That first morning, as I sorted out my location and sense of place, Seattle was a mix of itself, Dublin, and San Francisco. It was slightly unnerving to turn a corner, expecting a certain view or building and find it conspicuously absent, only to realize that what I expected didn't even belong here in the first place.

But part of returning to somewhere (or someone) after a prolonged absence is getting to know each other all over again. Every morning I was in Seattle, I made a point of walking the streets. A different neighborhood each day: Belltown, Pike's, old Seattle (Washington Square), Chinatown. It is amazing to watch a city's personality as it is expressed in the architecture and people who call it their home. I briefly followed a man who seemed to know everyone we passed, greeted them by name, and in turn was greeted by name back. I caught snippets of conversation (political, literary, local gossip) at the various coffee shops I popped into (because you can't travel in Seattle without a coffee in hand): Cherry Street, Pegasus, Zeitgeist, and (of course) Starbucks. I heard music bursting from the speakers placed above the sidewalk outside of the symphony hall. I was struck by the sudden salty sweet smell of fresh seafood, the sharp green scent of fresh herbs, the cacophonic color of cut flowers at the farmers' market.

Travelling with toddler and indulgent Nani (my mom) in an rainy city can produce its shares of challenges. First, we somehow managed to get everyone a rain-proof parka except my son. At first, I figured that he would be fine in a relatively thick sweater, but as we continued walking in the rain, my son continued to get wetter and wetter.

Still, it seemed manageable: a leisurely lunch at a little cafe would allow him plenty of time to dry and then we would head to the indoors part of Pike's to watch fish being thrown or whatever.

However, my son had other plans.

In one of the squares off of 4th, there's a water feature that creates a tunnel of water. My son just had to go through it. And Nani is incapable of saying "no." A few photographs later (yes, I did take pictures of their watery journey), my son emerged from his water tunnel.

Now, this feature is designed (I believe) to cool people off on a hot (and not rainy) day by soaking those who traverse this tunnel of water from the knees down. Pleasantly, I imagine if one is wearing a sun dress or shorts or something similar that leaves the legs bare. Also, pleasant if one is taller than knee-height, which is not my son.

He emerged soaked to the skin. So much for lunch . . .
With a wet and cold small child, our options disintegrated to two: a) go back the 15 blocks to our hotel where we will effectively end our day or b) find a nearby store that sells children's clothes and purchase my son a new (and weather appropriate) outfit. Option a was not an option.
Luckily, Patagonia happened to be a few blocks away on 1st, and for the paltry sum of $200 (if you are Donald Trump!!), we purchased my son shorts, shirts, and a parka. I have a hard time spending that kind of money on clothes for an individual who, for all of his small size, will really only be able to wear them for a few months. I tend to believe that if we must spend money on clothes, it is money better spent on someone who won't be changing body shape any time soon and also has an appreciation for all that is fashion, namely, me.
However, necessity can make even the most ardent believer changer his or her views. So my son got a new outfit. I did make sure his parka from Patagucci is three sizes too big, so he'll be able to wear it for at least two years.
My son then spent the rest of the day in happy as a pig in chocolate, looking like the Morton Salt girl with his ginormous parka and Nani's pink "brellela." And with happy toddler, we had a pretty good time too. Even when we found out that we weren't going to be allowed in The Bookstore (a fun little pub on 1st a few blocks past Pike's) because of the under 21 member of our party, our mood couldn't be dampened. We ducked into a little sushi place right behind the pub and enjoyed wine, edamame, miso soup, and relaxed conversation while my son played happily on the table with his little sand-stuffed animals Nani had bought for him at Pike's.

Camaraderie seemed to reign as the spirit of the weekend after that. I looked up my doctor friend who is doing her residency in Seattle and met her for dinner and drinks later that evening. We traveled to Whidbey Island for a wedding of old family friends, marveling at the scenery at Deception Pass. We spent a lazy Sunday morning at Pike's Place Market one last time where we finally go to see some fish thrown to my son's utter delight.
I left Seattle, happy to return to San Diego, but with full acknowledgment that Seattle will hold a place in my heart not to far below that of the self-proclaimed America's Finest City.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Spontaneous Generation

Today I made RNA. How many people do you know who can say that? Well, I guess depending on which circles you travel in, possibly a lot. But still, talk about freaking cool. I made the molecule responsible for communicating cellular instructions.

In all actuality, the making of the RNA is kind of anti-climatic. I didn't design and then produce something novel and ground-breaking in molecular biology. I just demonstrated that I could produce RNA from the control DNA template provided in a kit. Yes, that's right, a kit.

It seems that a lot of science is about following directions that outline the mixing of provided ingredients and then heating them up for a bit. Two people can follow the exact same protocol--literally, everything exactly the same--and get drastically different results. Because apparently science isn't really an exact . . . science.

Sound familiar? A bit like following a cooking recipe? It really is. There's a list of ingredients, an explanation about the order and amounts they should be mixed in, and a person to put them all together (scientists even get to wear the little white coats that chefs wear). Every person in the lab unwittingly adds his or her own touch so that one procedure done over and over again by one person with constant success can be mimicked by another to no avail. And there is always room for improvisation if a certain procedure doesn't work or deliver the desired results. Yes indeed, a lot like cooking.

Except science is cooking without all of the sensory experience that makes working in a kitchen so amazing--an experience unparalleled. Lab work is like cooking without all the wonderful odors and colors and tactile sensations. In the lab, there's no burst of green scent that fills the air when you chop parsley or cilantro. There's no melodic motley mix of orange carrots, green and white cucumbers, red tomatoes, yellow bell peppers, pink radishes, brown mushrooms, and emerald lettuce in a salad. There's no rhythmic pulse of the knife hitting a worn wood cutting board.

Granted, lab has its pleasures. There is nothing better than getting a result you thought you didn't have or solving various problems. My mind is never idle. Nor is it stirred to poetic heights from a contrast in texture or smell.

So, while I love my new job and am excited about continuing, I find my thoughts often turning to the pleasure of my kitchen with its tacky orange and black tiles and too little counter space. I look forward to the end of the day where I can hold my chef's knife in its comfortable groove in my right hand as I prepare yet another meal.

Mexican Lasagna
(tweaked from Vegetarian Times
October 1, 2006 p.72)

  • 3 Tbs. olive oil, divided
  • 1 big onion, diced and divided in half
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin, divided
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 2 cups pinto beans, cooked
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 3 Tbs. lime juice

  • 4 grated carrots
  • 4 grated zucchini
  • 4 bulbs garlic, chopped
  • 1 can Chipotle chiles in adobo, pureed and added to taste (this is super spicy. Add slowly and cut with some tomato)

  • corn tortillas
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar and jack cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Coat 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Heat 1 Tbs. oil in skillet over medium heat. Add 3/4 cup onion, and sauté 5 minutes. Add 1 tsp. cumin and coriander, and cook 5 minutes. Purée onions with beans, cilantro and lime juice in blender.
  3. Heat 2 Tbs. oil in skillet over medium heat. Sauté remaining onion and garlic in oil 5 minutes. Add carrots and zucchini, and cook 5 minutes more. Stir in remaining cumin, and cook 3 minutes. Add pureed chiles, and simmer 2 minutes.
  4. Layer tortillas, bean mixture and vegetable mixture in prepared pan. Repeat one or two times, and top with cheese. Bake 30 minutes, or until cheese has melted.
Serves 6







Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Dependency?

In one month, I will officially cease to be a wage earner. In fact, strictly monetarily speaking, I will become a gaping sucking black hole of needs (a cavern of want--if you will) rather than providing any type of economic reciprocation to my family unit. Much like my three-year-old son is now.

Does this bother me? Yes.

Will I cease my current plan to be a student (of SDSU as well as life) in order to find a more lucrative way of passing my time? No.

I've been taking a hard look at why my financially insolvency is niggling at the back of my mind. It's not like my adjuncting job provided all that much money. It's not like I really care about how much money I have nor does my husband make me feel bad for cutting our family income by several thousands of dollars so that I can play scientist for a few years. In fact, he's incredibly support of my scholastic goals of being a student for the rest of my life so that I never have to a) teach or b) get a real job. We've always shared the money equally, and I don't foresee this arrangement changing just because I will be making even less money that before.

I think the biggest reasons why I am bothered by my pending lack of personal income are as follows:

1. I am currently reading The Price of Motherhood by Ann Crittenden. In this book, Ms. Crittenden outlines the heavy wage "tax" placed on people (primarily women but also some men) who choose to take a few years off or part time in their careers to do the necessary job of raising productive members of society. It's an amazing book. Crittenden nicely outlines the economic value of said child rearing and discusses the sad truth that our society does not give the value this rearing-sacrifice deserves. I recommend this book to any woman who a) has children, b) intends to have children, or c) advocates for women's rights.

This book boldly pushes to the forefront, the possibility of lost goals and dreams because of the choices we make regarding family life. And I know that having a child is a choice (even if you were on the pill and it didn't work . . .); in no way am I looking for a pity party because I have a beautiful and bright son. However, I will never be able to put in the research time in my lab because I want and choose to be home for my child. I will possibly never be as successful as my fellow grad students in our field because I won't sacrifice my family life for the sake of career laurels. And (as Crittenden has put into sharp relief), I probably will never be as successful as my husband in a chosen career because we've laid out the roles in our family, and mine is not that of the primary breadwinner.

These are hard facts to swallow: especially when your whole life you are told you can do anything you want as long as you work hard--your merit will win the day. Sometimes there just isn't enough time to juggle all the hard work. And sometimes people will refuse give your merit its deserved value because you have so many things to juggle in such a finite amount of time.

After I've swallowed these facts would I have it any other way? Hell no! (Well, maybe I'd be skinnier and have better hair. . .) I'm just working on the reconciling that my meaningful work (and both raising a child and being a professional student are meaningful work) requires me to be financially dependent on someone else. Trust me, I know life is pretty good for me.

2. (Remember: "Reasons" for being bothered by lack of personal income?) My meaningful work in the family isn't as Martha Stewart nurturing and home-making as I envisioned it would be when I quit working for money and started working for personal edification. I thought I would have free time to do some flower arranging, grow a garden, re-upholster the couch using fabric I made from eucalyptus leaves, serve up that dirty martini every day at 530pm to a tired and grateful husband home from the rat-race of the office--in short, do the whole June Cleaver home-making that sets apart the great housewives from the desperate ones. But reality is so different.

Science is hard. All of those tiny drops in bitty tubes. I'm wiped at the end of my 6-hour day. It's about all I can do to open that bottle of wine and sip directly from the bottle while sprawled on the couch. . . . Okay, honestly, I am blessed in that I have do very little around my house. We have officially entered yuppie-hood and have a house cleaner who comes in twice a week. My husband and I both pretty equally share laundry and childcare stuff. So my one major contribution to the family is in cooking. Here I so feel like this is cheating because I so love cooking.

So, the other thing that I am reconciling is that meaningful contribution to my family unit can be something I love like cooking or spending time with my child. And it still matters. It still is a sacrifice I'm making to ensure the well-being of our family unit. Showing love and being a vital part of the family doesn't have to be an un-fun thing like scrubbing toilets or working 9 to 5 in an office. Being an integral part of the family is showing love in the manifestations that are needed at the moment: sometimes that moment is 3 meals a day.

Love in the moment Portobello and Swiss Chard Sandwiches with an Herbed Salad:
*both of these are from last year's July Veg Times with a few modifications (below are my modifications; click the links above for the real deal).

3 portobello mushrooms, well cleaned
sherry
olive oil
salt
pepper

Swiss chard, coarsely chopped
garlic, finely chopped
onions, coarsely chopped


Directions
1. Place mushrooms, stem side up in a dish that has a lid. Add sherry and olive oil plus a few grinds of the salt and paper. Shake up to coat the 'shrooms. Let sit a bit and start your grill.

2. Grill until mushrooms look done and are oozing some juices.
3. Meanwhile, heat 1 tsp. oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic, and cook 30 seconds. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add chard and a few splashes of sherry, and cook 5 to 7 minutes, or until leaves begin to wilt, turning frequently with tongs. Cover; remove from heat.
4. Put one mushroom and a pile of chard and onions on bottoms of rolls. Cover with roll tops, and serve.


Make a salad with whatever you want. In my case, lots of lettuce, tomato, chopped cilantro, chopped dill, mizuno, arugula, cucumber, mushrooms.

Dressing:
equal parts olive oil, sherry, white wine vinegar
about 2 Tbs chopped chives, cilantro, and basil (mixed together)
2 chopped shallots
1 Tbs honey
1 tsp Dijon mustard

1. Mix up all of the dressing stuff.
2. Put it on your salad.

3. Feel as if you are a productive member of society as well as your family for nurturing their minds with your amazing company and their bodies with this nourishing food.



Saturday, June 16, 2007

Dining with Divas

We had another meeting of the Dinner Divas. It’s been a few long months since our last one because a) one of our members realized she hated cooking and quit and b) another one had a baby. But now we are back in business and cooking like we mean it.

We take turns meeting at our houses for each meeting. This month's meeting took place way up the 15 in one of those eucalyptus-filled suburbs that are oh-so desirable and self-contained.

I am unabashedly geo-centric. I love California. I don't want to live anywhere else in the United States (outside the U.S. is another matter). Specifically, I love San Diego. I find other cities in California to be both beautiful and amazing, but I always want to come back to San Diego.

My geo-centricities become very apparent when I leave California. I know that other places in the U.S. have value. There are rich and amazing things to be discovered everywhere. But somehow what I know never matches up with how I feel or how I respond. When I moved to Florida a few years ago, I kept being amazed that this whole other state--this whole other coast--had the same things I was familiar with in California. One embarrassing moment that lasted about three months was my constant referring to the Gulf of Mexico as the Persian Gulf. Another time (and more recently, I am embarrassed to admit), I told a friend I was visiting in New York how it was "back home in America." Again, I knew the right names for things, but they just didn't feel right. I felt out of place. Out of my state both geographical and being.

In San Diego, my geo-centricities have taken a finer focus. I have issues going too far north and east out of the city of San Diego proper. My
boundaries for living here are quite specific: I don't like to go north of the 8, east of the 805, south of the 94, and (of course) west of the ocean (note that Coronado is "west" of the ocean boundary, so I don't like to go there). I joke that I can't breathe beyond these boundaries, but in reality, it's only a half-joke. I love San Diego. I love the neighborhoods that make up this beautiful (albeit screwy city). And the area within I choose to conduct most of my living consists of the best and most diverse neighborhoods--the ones most true to the socio-economic and cultural diversity that makes up any large city. The places outside of my chosen boundaries do have some merit and cultural diversity, but many of these neighborhoods are just rows of cookie-cutter houses, strip malls, large chain grocery stores, Starbucks--in short, southern California suburbia at its worst and most homogeneous.

Of course, I do leave these boundaries when I have to; in fact, I go far far east of the 805 everyday to work in my lab. However, I've found loopholes/exceptions to my boundaries that work for daily functioning. Here are my rules:
1. I can leave my San Diego with impunity if I use public transportation (or if I am carpooling with someone else). This rule is how I make it out to SDSU Monday through Friday to work in my lab.
2. I can leave my San Diego if a neighborhood starts within my boundaries but ends outside of them. But I have to be walking.
3. I can leave my San Diego if I am going a) north of Del Mar, b) south of the border, or c) east of the Colorado River.
4. When I am going north, the 5 becomes my eastern border until I get to Sacramento. Then the Rockies become my eastern border. But once I get into Washington State, the 5 becomes my eastern border again.

I'm sure there are more rules. Quite frankly, I make them up as I go.

I've found that when I leave my San Diego outside of these rules, alcohol makes the air just a little bit easier to breathe. So for this Divas event, I made a booze dessert that ostensibly goes by the name of Strawberry Tiramasu. This desert also had the merits of using up all of the CSA strawberries I've been accruing.

1 1/4 cups strawberry preserves
1/3 cup plus 4 tablespoons Cointreau or other orange liqueur
1/3 cup orange juice
1 pound mascarpone* cheese, room temperature
1 1/3 cups chilled whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar1 teaspoon vanilla extract
52 (about) crisp ladyfingers (boudoirs or Savoiardi)
1 1/2 pounds strawberries, divided

Whisk preserves, 1/3 cup Cointreau, and orange juice in 2-cup measuring cup.

Place mascarpone cheese and 2 tablespoons Cointreau in large bowl; fold just to blend.

Using electric mixer, beat cream, sugar, vanilla, and remaining 2 tablespoons Cointreau in another large bowl to soft peaks. Stir 1/4 of whipped cream mixture into mascarpone mixture to lighten. Fold in remaining whipped cream.

Hull and slice half of strawberries.

Spread 1/2 cup preserve mixture over bottom of 3-quart oblong serving dish or a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Arrange enough ladyfingers over strawberry mixture to cover bottom of dish. Spoon 3/4 cup preserve mixture over ladyfingers, then spread 2 1/2 cups mascarpone mixture over. Arrange 2 cups sliced strawberries over mascarpone mixture. Repeat layering with remaining lady fingers, preserve mixture, and mascarpone mixture. Cover with plastic and chill at least 8 hours or overnight.Slice remaining strawberries. Arrange over tiramasù and serve.

*Italian cream cheese available at supermarkets and at Italian markets.
Bon Appétit, April 2006

I added a lot more alcohol than called for (about double) and did more preserves than the recipe said. The desert was a hit. And the alcohol induced sense of well-being allowed me to appreciate the lovely home and neighborhood of a fellow Diva.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Because I Freaking Want to Post a Blog Instead of Stressing Over the Draft

So, here goes:

It's been a stressful week. I started working as a Real Scientist (no more teaching English or literature for me. I'm now a student again, getting my master's in biology--it's all in a blog I've drafted but have yet to post. Stay tuned.) and have been taking out my insecurities and lack of sleep on those I love.

It's not easy being a Real Scientist for a few reasons:

a) I am secretly convinced that Iamnogoodatscience. Really. I tricked the people in my undergrad when I graduated cum laude with a BS in biochemistry, and now I've tricked the people at my new university who accepted me into their program based on 5-year-old credentials and letters of recommendation. I know that really I probably am okay in science. That I will be able to hold my own in my lab and my classes. But I feel that what I know really isn't the case and that I will eventually be exposed like the man behind the green curtain for the fraud I am. And then I will be sent back to English purgatory where I will teach remedial composition for the rest of my life.

b) In addition to my emotional instability (see above), I have to juggle care for a family with commitment to my research (look at me, only a week in and I am already claiming to have research--but you get my point). I now feel guilty for every second I am either 1) not in the lab or 2) not spending with my son. So, I am getting up at an ungodly hour every morning to catch a workout before my son wakes up. Also, I am staying up to ungodly hours at night, prepping for dinner the next day (not blogging, I promise).

BUT

being a Real Scientist does have its ups:

a) telling other people who are not Real Scientists but fake ones (you know who you are) that you are Real (much like the Velveteen rabbit).

b) experiencing the joy of putting teensy tiny amounts of fluids (presumably containing genetic material and proteins and such) in itty bitty test tubes and then either 1) freezing said tubes or 2) putting them in a warm water bath.

c) no longer working for small private school with stringent employee drinking rules (i.e. you can't drink at all) so that now I can openly discuss my boozing and debauchery without fear of being fired.

d) no longer having students at a small private school for much of the above reasons.

e) riding the trolley to school. Seriously, the trolley rocks! I love public transportation. And I can finally feel good about owning my terrorist-supporting SUV because I am not driving it.

As you can see, the goods outweigh the bads. Which is often how life works.

To celebrate the first morning in 6 days where I didn't have to get up when it was still way too long before sunrise, I made a frittata of sorts. I'll have to admit, I got the base of this recipe from Atkins, but I do not in any way condone this diet. In fact, as a Real Scientist, I have to tell you this diet is way bad for you.

Actually, I really just don't like meat or eggs, so this diet never worked for me. But this egg dish doesn't actually taste like eggs so that is why I love it. Plus it uses whatever vegetables you have moldering in your fridge.

Frittata of Sorts

olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 garlic, finely chopped
1 Serrano, finely chopped

5 mushrooms, washed and sliced
1 zucchini, chopped
1/4 c fresh cilantro, chopped
3 pieces bok choy, chopped
anything else you want.

4 eggs
1/4 c cottage cheese (but you don't have to use this. I've done it with or without)
dash milk

cheddar cheese, grated

Heat olive oil in a cast iron (or any other oven safe) skillet at med to med/low heat (use your judgement). Add onion, garlic, and chile. Saute for a bit. then add the rest of the vegetables.

While the vegetables saute, blend the egg, cottage cheese, and milk together. Add to pan. Stir once or twice and then cover. Check periodically to see if the egg has pulled away from the sides of the pan. Then add the cheese on the top.

Cover again for a few more minutes until the eggs seem firm. Then place skillet, uncovered, in the broiler for a few minutes until top is brown.

Serve with salsa and avocado.

And lots of coffee because you are still way exhausted from blinding people with science all week.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Sad Facts of Life

I've come to the realization that pretty much no one in the world reads my blog. Not that it really matters since I rarely actually post a new entry. But still, when you post a blog all about a friend's wedding, shouldn't she at least read it (and if you are reading this . . . oops)?

Okay, that's out of my system. Moving on . . .

Today is the kind of perfect San Diego day that gives this city the repuation for saccharine weather (seriously, everywhere I go, when I mention I'm from San Diego, the first thing out of any person's mouth is "oh you have great weather" or something to that effect). For the record, we do not have perfect weather. In the summer time, if you live near the beach, often you experience more cloud cover than Seattle because of the marine layer that smothers the life out of the San Diego coastline.

I live in on a hill that overlooks the San Deigo Bay and Point Loma. Some mornings I awaken to the rustling of the wind in the pepper tree in the neighbor's backyard, the shush of the 5, and sun--glorious sun--pushing through my window and into my bed. My first act (after reaching for my glasses) is to look out my window at the Point. More often than not, I can't see the Point because it is shrouded in the marine layer. So then I have a decision: dress for the weather at home (sunny and warm), assuming the marine layer may lift by noon, or dress for the weather at work on the Point (cold and overcast), assuming the marine layer will not lift. Whichever choice I make, it is the wrong one.

Sometimes the marine layer can be tricky. It can hide just behind the top of the Point so that I can't see it from my house. I'll then don my lightest summer fare, only to be greeted by gloom as I crest the hill on the way to work. Incidentally, my son also suffers from my matching-clothing-to-the-weather deficiency. He's gone to daycare so many times in sweaters and pants on days that are hot and in shorts and tees on days that are frigid (somehow, even though I pack his little back pack with a change of alternate weather attire, his care providers don't ever figure out that they should maybe take his sweatshirt off when his hair is soaked with sweat and his face is red from overheating).

But I digress.

Today, ah glorious today, makes everything ever said about how San Diego is the best place in the world true. And not because the stupid weather was perfect (it was) but that the quality of the air itself just causing you to feel good about being alive and in that exact physical location at that very moment.

Today I ran the race for kids who can’t read good but really want to. It was an interesting prospect considering I’d returned home from my 7 year wedding anniversary party not a little buzzed and then proceeded to pass out in my son’s toddler bed with him on top of me. I awoke at 1am, five hours before I would have to go to a race, make-up on, a million bobby pins pushing into my head, still in out clothes with a toddler lying on top of me who was producing more body heat than a volcano.

I deposited said toddler onto his bed and did the teethbrushing and bobbypin removal (must have been a million). Hydrated and slid into bed. Only to wake up at 530 to a full moon on my face.

The race went well. My son ran about 1.5 miles of the almost 5-mile race. He then did a knee-scraping face plant on the asphalt and traveled the remainder of the race in his stroller. The rest of the day followed with unfurling of simple pleasure after simple pleasure that only happens when you've gotten up ass early to run a race: breakfast at Cafe 222, good conversation, good friends, a good bask in the sun in the lingering heat of the day.

Tonight's warmth called for a farewell to winter fare (though my CSA will probably continue to swamp me with this stuff):

Roasted Vegetable Tacos (stole part of this from Vegetarian Times)

Marinade:
olive oil
apple cider vinegar
garlic salt
cumin

Veggies to Roast:
sweet potatoes, cubed
butternut squash, cubed
5 carrots, sliced
3 serrano chiles, chopped
onion, sliced
mushrooms, sliced
4 celery, sliced
5 cloves garlic, minced

Heat oven to 375. Mix the first four ingredients in a little bowl. Add half of that mixture to the next four ingredients in a large bowl. Mix until well coated. Spread on a baking sheet and bake about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the last three ingredients in the same large bowl and add the rest of the oil/vinegar mixture. After the first 25 minutes are up, add this to the baking sheet and bake another 15 minutes until the potatoes and squash are fairly soft.

Meanwhile . . .
juice one lime
olive oil
applecider vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 seranno chile, minced
cumin
chopped cabbage
matchstick carrots
radishes, thinly sliced

Mix the first six ingredients together. Mix the last three ingredients together. Combine.

slice an avocado; warm tortillas In a tortilla, layer the cabbage, roasted vegetables, and avocado (can add cheese if you want). Wrap up and enjoy.

Friday, April 27, 2007

A Nice Day for a White Wedding

I went to a wedding last week. Thought I'd record my thoughts.

I always forget the sensation of driving through winding back roads to a mountain destination. Yet whenever I experience it again, I realize that it is wholly familiar. It is like a shedding of my urban self. Each wind and twist in the road initiates a new layer of oldness falling away until I am raw and open to sudden attacks of beauty.

This time beauty showed no mercy. As I left the relatively bland scenery of the 8 for the contortions of the 78, it began to snow. First more rain than snow—slushy, dirty, heavy, lulling me into a sense that I wouldn't be vulnerable this time. That my armor—my I-don't-go-this-far-east attitude—would remain intact. But as I climbed, the snow became more concrete in the sense that it attained true snowness not that it gained any more heft because in actuality it got lighter, softer, quieter, more ethereal. And in that quiet, the absence of the staccato of the falling rain, I became suspended in time, as lightweight as one of the snowflakes that seemed to hover, frozen in air until the car slashed through its fall.

In that moment of white and silence and stillness, I either experienced a sense of no-time or a sense of being completely in the present. As temporary as a snowflake with no past or future. Only the fall. The here and now.

The lodge has that same sense of the here and now despite the hustle and bustle of the wedding. Or perhaps because of. An active removal from the anxious self, sequestered as it is up a hill, in the trees, down small and gnarled roads. It is the cliché of mountain lodge without the pretensions. In the bar: aged wood paneling, worn paisley carpet that pulls and bunches in the places it has experienced the most traffic, awkward greens and reds and golds like scattered paper after Christmas morning. There's a large stone fireplace complete with the smoke stains and scatter ashes in the grate. This fireplace is mirrored in the lobby/great room. Where the carpet gives way to deep chocolate wood floors that complain with squeaks or celebrate with resonating thunder as I walk over them. The walls are now the whitewashed plaster divided into squares with dark wood beams. The stairs (because of course there's an upstairs) are wide and shallow with the same dark flooring. Almost the entire south wall is windows that are screened the oaks and pines and dogwoods outside. Yet, even with the massing of trees and bushes, I don't feel closed in. Even without an expansive view there is the feeling of space: perhaps this place nourishes an expanse in the soul.

The word to sum up the rehearsal dinner is warmth. Fires, people, food, wine—even music. The best man played flamenco on the guitar for us. Very surprising yet perfectly suiting this place and time. The best man is quiet, unassuming, without the alternative flash and dazzle of the groom's other friends with their scruff, tattoos, and flannels. The best man is ubiquitous nice guy with his dress pants, tucked-in collared shirt (belt!), and close-cut hair. Yet when he played, he became warmth and fire and passion as his finger alternatively flew, stroked, or tapped the strings and board. Watching someone play flamenco is amazing. The passionate mixture of percussion/rhythm with melody. It is plaintive yet full of hope. And vulnerable. The best man became raw and open as he played, causing those who truly listened (as opposed to those who continued chatting) to become raw and open as well. Like good writing, souls could meet where this man played.

The cabin where I'm staying is similar to the main lodge in feeling: iron bed, wall heater, white paneled walls, heavy comforters on the bed, a coathanger made from a twisted piece of wood carved into a squirrel (the cabin is called "Gray Squirrel") with the knots at coat pegs, tiled floors in the bathroom, and an iron claw-foot bathtub(!).

On the morning of the wedding, the lodge woke up slowly and serenely. As I sat in the lounge, I chatted off and on as people came in and out of the semi-dark bar to grab coffee or help or just a friendly ear.

I'd have to say the main idea of of this wedding was to be in the present. A theme that fits nicely with the mood of separation and seclusion. Despite the brides's propensity to find drama and stress in large events, she was able to let go today and just enjoy the last minute preparations we did (folding napkins and putting colored paper rings around them, setting the tables, organizing place cards, etc . . .) as well as the fellowship with her close girlfriends as we got ready for pictures. Amidst laughter, hip hop music, and champagne, the girls helped each other with hair, make-up, and jewelry choices.

The bride was completely relaxed about everything that came up, completely in-the-moment, relishing this time with her friends and family.

The bride's cousin did the pictures. He used to work as a photographer for Victoria's Secret (he never shared what it was). Again, this time had none of the tension or hustle that usually accompanies wedding photography. With glasses of wine in hand, the bridesmaids toasted the bride as the photographer moved in and out of the room, quickly adjusting a smile here, a bow there, the curtain behind us. His mantra was "a little softer" for everything: smiles, head tilts, hand positioning. Pretty soon we were all leaning intently toward the camera, lips moist and slightly parted, our eyes half lidded invitations to sultry nights in revealing lingerie (perhaps he shared Victoria's secret after all).


After pictures, we mingled with guests in the bar (which had opened) for a while before moving to the staging area upstairs where we, at the bride's prompting, linked arms and prayed for this new chapter in her life.

The wedding was gorgeous. I know, I know, all weddings are gorgeous but this one had the added element of combining the unexpected with the traditional. As the groom's best woman said later in her toast, the bride and groom are the perfect combination of unlikely events and traits both individually and together—they are anomolies. Therefore, the celebration of their love would also be the perfect combination of unique yet not disparate things, unlikely yet not incongruous combinations. Sort of like jeans and blazers on the bridesmaids with a delicate lace wedding dress on the bride.

Even during the ceremony, the groom and the bride included a reminder for all to be in the present moment—to forget any stress or fatigue or future struggles and just enjoy the friendship and love that we had all come to Julian to celebrate. The officiant took a moment to ring a tiny brass bell three times. Each time fainter than the one preceding it. In each ring, we were told to listen to just that—the quiet call—and focus only on that instant.

My son as ringbearer was a champ. With the help of bribery and lots of attention, he powered through over stimulation and extreme fatigue and photographed and performed his ring bearer duties almost without a hitch. In a way, he also embodies that living-for-the-moment call of the bell. He expressed unmitigated joy for being with those he loved, but he also didn't hesitate to let us know when his moment changed to hunger or tiredness or just an urge to move around and dance.

And dancing did indeed ensue. After simple time of appetizers (two kinds of soup!!! Gaspacho and potato), the bridal party was introduced. The joy of the groomsmen and bridesmaids was evident. Everyone found a creative way to enter the hall (one bridesmaid rode on the back of her groomsman; my son was my partner-we did a runway intro (blazer flipped off the shoulders and a spin)). Though the bride wanted us to quiet down so that she could hear the MC's (a bridemaid (there were 11 of us!) and groomsman) introduce us, she gracefully realized that the boisterous mood of the party wasn't to be squashed and said with a cheerful shrug, "I'll get to hear it on the video." The two maids of honor, best friend and sister gave their toasts.

Then the groom's best man and best woman gave their toasts. All were heartfelt and full of love for the couple. The best woman made some fun literary references (we talked a bit that morning—she's an avid reader with very diverse tastes in literature. Way fun) of iconic romantic couples: Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde (or Tripod and Headcold as I call them), and another tragic pair I can't remember. She talked about how even though these couples represent epic love in our society, she wouldn't choose any of them as a model for love (suicide, death, incest, etc . . .); instead, she would wish a love like Beatrice and Benedict on the happy couple: one where two minds meet, may clash a bit but then are sharpened—where each heart needs the other to be whole—where love is nourished on respect. We then had a casual buffet dinner followed almost immediately by the bride and groom's first dance so that everyone could then party.

Yet another thing so right with this celebration was little stop and start to the party for the things like certain dances or cake cutting or whatever. Everything was seamlessly inserted into the festivities so that there might be a slight pause in the general merrymaking, but never a stop. This flow was greatly facilitated by the DJ. The guy was amazing. He never spoke. He just moved from one song to the next. Most of them were highly danceable tunes. Mostly along the lines of the girls' tastes of hip hop and rap but he did do a few trance and house tunes that I loved. I spoke to him towards the end of the night and asked him if he could play a few trance songs. He got so excited: "Oh yes, I'll squeeze some in. That's what I usually play when I do clubs." The song he picked wasn't that great, but it was still fun.

Not to brag or anything, but the bride's friends dominated the dance floor. The 'maids didn't stop until the DJ did. Even late at night, when most of the other people had retreated to their cabins, I watched during a lull in the music these 10 beautiful women in various shades of exhaustion continue to sway to the beat.

Sunday morning, I woke up slightly worn out but refreshed in spirit. After a shower in the claw-footed tub (memories of my old resident on State Street . . .), I headed to the lodge for coffee and further fellowship. As I entered the bar, I heard the sounds of Spanish guitar playing and thought what a cool music the lodge played. Then I turned the corner and saw the best man playing guitar in the corner. An involuntary "yes! Perfect!" escaped my mouth, causing him to stutter on the strings and blush. While my husband and son played darts, I skimmed Science, sipped coffee, and listened to the playing.

Later, the MOH gathered the 'maids around for our last duty as attendants. Armed with crepe paper, glass markers, and a large sign that read "Just Married/ A and S/ 04-21-07," we descended on the bride's Saturn VUE like 80's-era artists and gave it a thorough makeover.
The morning then peacefully progressed with further fellowship and camaraderie culminating in farewells that were comprised of the certain knowledge that with friendships like ours, farewells are never goodbyes.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Switching Gears

I have a habit of about faces in my life. I'm not sure where this trait comes from, but when confronted with an obstacle, I tend to do a 180 and move on to something completely different.

Example: Got in a car wreck, subsequently did very poorly at school, didn't get a lot of support from my faculty adviser, so I changed majors . . . five times -- before changing back to my original major (biochemistry) with the addition of a second one (literature).

Since this time, science and literature have vied for the primary place in my heart. Typically, literature has been winning. I got an M.A. in English; I teach it; I read it; etc . . . But a new development has occurred: my application to the PhD program in Literature at University of California, San Diego, was rejected.

In all honesty, I didn't have a huge chance of getting in. My literary interests don't really match that of the department's, and choosing a graduate school based solely on physical location (in this case San Diego) is not the wisest route. However, I figured I'd give it a try. Anything to be able to stop adjuncting. Even if that means I will be shifting from on field of study to another that is completely different.

So, now I am divorcing literature and returning to the love of my youth: biology. Biology is the science for lit majors: it doesn't have a huge amount of math and the math it does have is very basic. I made this decision about three weeks before the application deadline for Fall 2007 admissions at SDSU, so needless to say, I've been doing a bit of scrambling.

It's been five years since I've used glassware for anything other than vases or guacamole servers. It's been five years since I've talked about any chemical formula other than H2O (and that's only at cocktail parties when I wanted to impress someone with how scientific I could be). Five years since I've seen any bacteria purposefully grown (stuff in my expired yogurt doesn't count). Five years since I've read something talking about peptide libraries and P53 and understood it.

Frankly, I feel unready for this endeaver; however, I didn't get a BS for nothing (think about it: BS . . .). I can do that activity with the best of them. And my literary skills are holding me in good stead: I've been researching and reading up on faculty like a madwoman in the attic.

And all of this reading has been helpful in determining exactly which lab I'd like to join (think more bench work and less math) . . . as well as in insulting the professor whose lab I really really really want to get into.

I didn't mean to insult him. I came into his lab all smiles, ready to ask a few questions and answer a few.

"I cannot accept you into this program," he greeted me.

Taken aback, I stammered through my train wreck of a thought. Did he mean that I was so unqualified that I wouldn't get accepted into the school? Did he mean that he just didn't want me in his lab? Did he mean that I shouldn't take this interview as an acceptance into the program but it could only help me that we were having this interview?

Apparently he meant the last. But that didn't become clear for a bit. And in that bit, I managed to tell him that he didn't have that many publications--a deathly insult to anyone in academia.

I didn't insult him exactly in so many words . . . it just came out that way. And after back-pedaling and digging my hole all that much deeper, I decided to call that interview a loss.

Except apparently, it wasn't a loss. This faculty member decided he liked my grit and candor (my mom always just called it diarrhea of the mouth), so when I did get accepted into the Master's program at SDSU, he accepted me into his lab.

Oh happy day. I am now going to be a scientist. I am going to work with viruses. And I don't have to teach freshman comp ever again (if I don't want to . . .).

Who needs to cook today? I'm throwing the apron away and going out!