Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Why do I have to move to a Google account on blogger... why have I been tagged... oh, alright...

ABC's About Me- a Lesson in Survey Tagging
A=Available - Nope
B=Best friend - sister, mama, S.O.
C=Cake or Pie- Well, that all depends doesn't it, on mood, on the baker, on the season... one can't just make blanket statements like that! What if they never let you have the other because you expressed a preference for one?
D=Drink- coffee in the morning, white wine at night
E=Essential item you use everyday- eye glasses
F=Favorite color - violet
G=Google your name (first), my IMDb page
H=Hometown- Hayweird
I-Indulgences- chocolate, white wine
J=January or February - Feb. because then it really feels like the new year has started in earnest
K=Kids- two lovelies
L=Life- is not a platitude
M=Marriage date- May 10, 1997
N=Number of siblings- 1 sister
O=Opinion (state one)- Everyone is scared of something, we are not kind enough about that
P=Phobias or Fears- dying before my children no longer need me, snakes, saying what you want to happen out loud
Q=Quote- I can't think of any! How lame am I? No wait, my favorite, from "The Secret Garden" (movie) "All will come to pass"
R=Reason to smile- when S.O.v.2 says "Oh my goss"
S=Season- What's a season?
T=Tag 3 or 4 peeps- ? Sister, Kate, Kimbaya, Arianna, Jane...
U=Unknown fact about you- When I was 18 I committed a robbery
V=Vegetable you don't like- haven't met one yet
W=Worst habit- picking my face, not standing up for myself - which is probably at the heart of it the same thing
X=Xrays- teeth, have them all
Y=Youth (a memory)- Chasing my sister in anger down the hallway, she closing the door just as I haul out and punch her, putting my fist through the door and both of us immediately teaming up to figure out how to prevent my mom from finding out... she didn't till years later because we put a white sheet of paper over the door and painted it...
Z=Zodiac sign- Libra

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Driven by Hormones

I am full of love today.

Which can only mean one thing (or maybe two: S.O.v.2 behaved very well this morning and that always starts the day out right!) - that tomorrow I will be an onery cuss. And being an onery cuss can only mean one thing - that I will be starting my period on the following day.

I realize how un-PC it is to admit that women have *gulp* hormones and that they *double gulp* influence how you feel and *yikes* behave, but I find it to be true. The older I get the more distinctly I can feel the daily hormonal shifts. Not all of them obviously. Or maybe it is having been pregnant that makes you more aware of your body. I dunno. But I do now notice patterns that I would have vehemently denied in younger incarnations of myself. Note above pattern.

Maybe it is my body saying "Hey you have only a few more years of this 'normal' hormone routine so you'd better appreciate it before the hot flashes come"... or maybe that was the pharmaceutical industry talking...

The one area where these patterns are most evident and irritating - literally, figuratively and any other kind of ly, is in my face. Just after the end of a cycle my face starts clearing up, softening up, gets nicer. Probably all those same hormones that made my skin so lovely when I was pregnant. I get a little glow, I'm a little sweet, a little cuddly. Then after ovulating and no fertilizing that angry egg sends a message to my face. "OK. Fine! You don't want to fertilize me. Look at this each morning for the next 2 1/2 weeks! Ha!" Unfertilized eggs are really mean.

And indeed my face becomes irritated. Itchy. Angry. Red. Breaking out. Throbbing mean pick at me zits.

And then it starts all over again... Sheesh!

Monday, February 05, 2007


My grandmother died on Thursday of last week. She was 91.

It doesn't seem to matter how old someone is when they go, it still hurts. I feel tremendously sad that I was unable to make my grandparents more proud of me and my accomplishments. There is so much that I wanted to impress them with. But in the end the things they were proud of are the things that define me more than any performance or award or publishing contract could have.

And my grandma did get to read some of my short stories and enjoyed them. She had been telling me since I was able to write what a good writer I am. I was glad that I was able to share with her something other than a personal letter, although those were probably the most enjoyable for her.

And I was glad that she was able to read a story I wrote just for her, an attempt to tell her how much she has meant to me and my growth as a person. That story follows if anyone is interested...

What I Learned From My Grandma

When I was a young girl, just starting junior college, and starting on the path to my adult life, though still living at home, my mother became sick. She contracted a rare form of leukemia. The kind children get. Most adults, when they get it, don’t survive. But she had total faith in her doctor and when he said to her, We are going to take you to the very brink of death and then bring you back, she said, OK.
Because I was not even 20 and my mother barely 20 years older than me it was a shock when she got sick. No one was prepared. She was too young to be so sick. My mother had chemotherapy treatments for almost a year. Few days of chemo, hospital stay, then several weeks of recovery only to do the whole thing all over again. And then remission. The whole thing lasted a year and a half before it was all deemed ‘over’. But it seemed like an eternity.
At the beginning of my mother’s illness my sister left to go to college at UC Berkeley, only 30 miles away from where we lived; and later my mother’s boyfriend left her. I was left to deal with daily living, paying bills, cooking, cleaning and seeing to all the little details that are requisite to a life. Whenever someone would come to visit it was like they were dazed. I remember my favorite uncle coming to visit while my mother was in the hospital and coming into my room late at night and just crying and crying. I was still at the point in youth when being alone with adults was uncomfortable and strange. Here I was in our house with my uncle whom I loved so much, and he was so bereft that all he wanted to do was hold someone, for me to give him a hug and yet I couldn’t do it.
It was an odd time for me. I couldn’t sleep for weeks on end and finally I went to some quack doctor in Castro Valley for a prescription for sleeping pills. It was the first and last time I ever tried them. I felt like a fuzzy cucumber in the morning, all stiff and cold and no focus. I broke up with a boyfriend whom I loved terribly because I was so distracted by my mother’s illness that intimacy was difficult. Relating to my friends seemed weird and inconsequential. Though one weekend, probably in desperation to do something that felt even slightly normal, I stole my mother’s boyfriend’s car with two friends and drove down to Hollywood over Easter break. Just for three days, pretending there were no such things as IVs or chemo or parents even felt wonderfully freeing. We saw Pierce Brosnan in the Thrifty’s on Easter Sunday buying his two young children Easter baskets. I always liked him after that because somehow it seemed so human and not star-like for him to have forgotten baskets until the morning of. We met some people who worked in a restaurant on Hollywood Blvd. and spent our last night there on the floor of the manager’s apartment up the street. He seemed nice enough but made me nervous. When we got home I found out why. He called me several times, saying how much he loved me and wanted to be with me and the fact that he was a good 20 years older than me made no difference to him. I was thankful I hadn’t given him my address.
And I regularly took the keys to my mother’s brown Porsche 944 and drove it around with some friend or other. The nurses had insisted we take away her keys when she checked in to the hospital. I got away with it actually. No one, except my sister, of course, realized that I had driven the thing and she was primarily jealous that she didn’t have the opportunity to drive it. I even went to my mother’s boat sometimes and just sat there on the bow or slept there overnight and then drove to the hospital in the morning. All these things added up to odd behavior and had someone been keeping a tally they would have worried about me. At the time these activities made me feel somewhat better.
It was just my way, I suppose, of dealing with the fact that my mother might be dead before I even turned 20. Strangely enough it was my mother who kept me on course. She insisted, in a drug addled stupor one of her first nights on chemotherapy, that I should continue school, continue plays and continue work. If I hadn’t gotten that message from her my odd behavior might have slipped into the realm of dangerous.
Finally, when my mother was declared to be in remission from the leukemia we all heaved a sigh of relief and everyone went back to life as normal. Except me. Probably it didn’t seem normal to my mother or my sister either. At the time, I was just finishing my junior college requirements and had just been accepted into UC Berkeley. My mother was now back home, but I still felt funny, at odds inside my skin. I couldn’t put it into words then and even now an exact description eludes me. I was, of course, as excited as any college student starting their first semester of university. I experienced all the hope and self confidence of any young student, yes, but underlying it all was stark panic and confusion. My mother had been gravely ill and now she was fine. I was just supposed to go on with life as if it had never happened. No one ever talked about it except to say things like, Oh good, and, Well, let’s hope she doesn’t relapse, and things like that. But nobody ever said anything about what affect it all had on me or anyone else for that matter. Maybe I am selfish to think that someone might have done so, and I certainly was too intimidated to reach out to anyone and say, Hey, I’m still struggling here, Can someone help me parse this out and figure out how I get on with life? So, I did what I suppose anyone does in those situations, I just moved awkwardly forward.
The first weeks of a new school year are a flurry. Classes to register for, student loans to apply for, books to buy and various other details to be sorted. And most importantly for me, auditions for the semester’s plays. Since we lived just a few cities away I decided that I would stay at home for at least the first semester. Thoughts of doing otherwise brought the panic I had felt during my mother’s illness back to the surface; and images of my mother lying dead on the bathroom floor, gathering flies, haunted my mind. When I told my mother I was planning on living at home for a while, I think she was grateful and relieved too. She had been lonely in the hospital and when she was home, in between treatments, it was just the two of us. When chemo made her lose all her hair, I had started to rub her head each night and we’d make up little chants for it to grow back curly and really blonde. Then when she started to lose muscle mass and be in pain all over I would massage her whole body. It made her sleep better, I think, and it made me feel better being able to do something that helped. When she was in the hospital, also, I brought her macrobiotic food, which I had just discovered, whenever I could. I would wake up early, cook her food for the day, drive to San Francisco to the hospital to be there before breakfast, leave all her food in the refrigerator with instructions for the nurses to give her that instead of the regular hospital food and then be to school for my morning classes or rehearsals or whatever. That made me feel better too.
Now that she was in remission yet not quite back to normal, my need to do something to make her feel better was no less. Sure, I wanted to go straight to the dorms like my sister had done. And I envied her that experience. But who else was going to stay with my mother if not I?
When I was cast in a good roll in a graduate student directed play that first semester I felt vindicated in a way. I felt this was a bigger pond than the one I had been feeding in. I had never had any problems getting cast in plays, managing to get a role in almost everything I tried out for but it was all high school and community theatre and small summer stock in my hometown. If I got a role at Berkeley I reasoned, that proved that I was a good actress. Back then my identity was almost 100% Actor and the thought of maybe someday having a professional career as such made me happier than anything ever had. The role, a middle-aged woman, with a child, held captive in Harold Pinter’s “One For The Road”, made me almost feel as if my future was assured. And at that point in my life I needed assurances.
At first it all seemed to go well. I would wake up early and take the BART to school, attend my classes, study and knock around campus until rehearsals and then take the last BART train home at night. I loved those first weeks, feeling probably for the first time, independent and almost adult. Reading and dozing near the bridge that led to the Theatre Department offices on the bank of Strawberry Creek was nearly sublime. My classes were stimulating and the coffee houses in Berkeley – before there was ever generic Starbucks – were always abuzz and endlessly fascinating with all kinds of people coming in and out. People watching alone I could waste three, four hours.
But after a few weeks of this schedule, and add to that working as a waitress on the weekends, I was beat. I also came very close to missing the last BART train out of the Berkeley station on several occasions. I would get out of rehearsals at around 10 or 10:30 p.m. and run my ass off, knapsack full of books and all, the twelve or so blocks from campus to the station, hurdle myself dangerously down the stairs and slip in through the closing doors, sweaty and exhausted. God help me if I needed to stop at the machine and get a ticket! If I missed the connecting train in Oakland, which did happen a couple of times, I would have to catch a bus the rest of the way home, making the normally one hour trip over two. This would put me home and in bed well after midnight and up again at 6am to do the whole thing all over again. Even at the age of 20 I couldn’t keep it up and something had to give.
In the summer before I started Berkeley I had performed in a musical on the campus of my junior college. “Over Here” it was called and I had a good role, lots of dancing and singing. My dancing partner hated me for some reason, maybe because I was fat or not pretty enough, or maybe because I had rebuffed his amorous advances a few times, but probably the former. Anyway, he thought he was too good. His bad behavior did endear me to others in the cast and I became fast friends with all the girls around my same age. Two of the girls, Amy and Eva, were also starting Berkeley in the Fall and we made plans to meet up. Walking across campus one day I ran into Eva. She had decided to give up theatre and go into the sciences so all her classes were on the other side of the campus so seeing her was a happy surprise. We laughed and bounced and screamed when we ran into each other, all the things that teen girls do. Over a latte – which, back then was quite cool and exotic – I found out that she was living in a house owned by her brother-in-law and was looking for roommates. This put a bug in my ear. We exchanged numbers. Later that night the last BART train was late getting into Berkeley station and caused me to miss my connecting train. As I sat on that bus, watching Oakland pass by, all I could think about were those banners you see on huge apartment buildings facing freeways and busy avenues, “If you lived here, you’d be home by now”. If I lived in Berkeley, I’d be home by now.
I didn’t want to tell my mom I had to move out. But I couldn’t figure how else I could go on. I worked up a fight in my head where my mother would tell me that I should quit the play. I would get indignant in this imaginary fight, as if she had just told me to stop breathing. But when the conversation actually happened what she did say was, If you move out then that’s it, you can never come back.
It wasn’t what I expected but it was a blow nonetheless. Of course, now, in hindsight and with an adult perspective I can see what she was really saying. She was telling me, in her way, that she didn’t want me to move out, maybe she wasn’t really ready after her illness to be left alone in the house. But she was also trying to convey to me the seriousness of my decision, that I was taking a step into adulthood and she wanted me to be sure I was ready. I didn’t get any of that message at the time though.
My rent was $200.00 a month. It seemed like so much at the time and I was to share the big room, which was really the living room, of the house. In college life every possible space is squeezed for accommodations to lower the rent for everyone. Or in this case, to make as much money for the landlord as possible. At first, I had the living room all to myself with my friend Eva in the ‘real’ bedroom, which was actually dining room, and another girl out in a little cottage in the back. Later in the year, in a relieving turn of events, my sister would move in and share the big room with me.
I kept my job, so, I was still home on the weekends mostly. But I felt that my mother was annoyed with my presence there. So, in short order, instead of taking the BART I started driving my car to and from Berkeley. Which, in Berkeley, meant having to move it every morning and night so that I wouldn’t get parking tickets. This was a huge hassle and the reason I hadn’t brought it with me to begin with. The first month went fine. I bought my books, paid my rent, bought food. But by the second month, things started to go wrong. I got several parking tickets at $25.00 a pop. Traffic enforcement has the whole town locked up so that getting them is really unavoidable if you spend much time there at all. Great earner for the city of Berkeley, but to a college student a distressful event. In subsequent years living in and around Berkeley I threw up my hands and simply began budgeting in parking tickets in my monthly expenses. If I ever got less than one a week it was like getting a bonus.
Then there was an additional book to buy for some class, though I don’t remember which. It was a doozy of a book at $50.00 and not knowing any better I went right out and bought it. Turned out I didn’t even need it until very late into the semester. But to my mind this was an urgent need. You didn’t get caught without a book in your fist semester at Berkeley! I was already struggling with ‘smart-issues’ as it was. My sister, who was also still attending Berkeley was always the smart one in the family. I was always the ‘creative one’ or worse, the ‘dramatic one’, which in my mind meant I was not very bright but somewhat entertaining. The idea of not having a book on the syllabus sent me into absolute idiot-panic. For sure, someone would suddenly notice me in the room, go back to my college application and realize a terrible, terrible mistake had been made in admitting me.
I was despairing one night at the hostess stand at the restaurant where I worked weekends, trying to surreptitiously beg for tables, (I didn’t even have enough self regard at that point to openly beg!) when one of the line cooks, Will, I think was his name, came up and joined the conversation. It was getting late and it still hadn’t picked up on a Friday night and I was lamenting the fact that I would probably not make any money. The conversation came around to my imminent rent and my skimpy bank account and Will offered to lend me the money. Really?, I said, overwhelmed with relief. I’ll pay you back in a month, I promised, and he whipped out the cash right there.
My rent was paid and I went back to stressing about all the normal college things, grades, boss, friends, etc. I paid Will back just as planned. Right after my play finished with rehearsals I picked up some extra shifts and actually made some extra money. I was feeling pretty good about myself. So when Will came to me and asked to borrow money, with some story that his little girl’s mother’s car broke down, or something, I said, Sure. I felt confident that since I had paid him back on time he would return the favor. But he did no such thing. I never saw a penny from him and, in fact, he disappeared. He just stopped showing up for work or answering his phone a couple weeks later and I was completely rooked. Humiliated, and embarrassed I dared not tell anyone about the whole business. But, here was the beginning of the month coming and rent due and once again I was short.
I didn’t want to do it, but I couldn’t think of what else to do. I called my mom. Too bad, I told you, you were on your own, she said and went on to change the subject like I had just called to chat. My sister didn’t have any money either and I couldn’t think of anyone else to call. So, I called my Grandma.
By the time I talked to her, I must have worked myself up into a frenzy. All I could imagine was me being kicked out of my room for not paying the rent. SInce I couldn’t stay with my sister, because she lived in the dorms, I pictured me banging on the front door of my childhood home, the locks having been changed, rain pouring down and my mother peeking through the curtains mouthing ‘go away’. This didn’t happen, of course, because my Grandma said of course she would send me money as long as I needed, till I could get my finances sorted out. We talked a little about how I had gotten into this situation. I don’t know if I confessed my bad loan, I may have, but I don’t remember. She talked to me a little about budgeting and advised that next semester I go to my professors to find out what books I might need right away and what others I might be able to get later. Just tell them you are on a tight budget and paying your own way through school, they’ll understand, she’d said.
My Grandma has always been a calming, happy influence in my life. My sister remembers distinctly my Grandma being a speed demon behind the wheel of a car. I don’t remember this, but certainly it was only because I trusted her completely and it would never have occurred to me that she could falter and crash the car. And she never got angry with me but once that I can remember. I was somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be, probably fiddling with something I wasn’t supposed to, and got caught. She raised her voice and for an hour I hid in my uncle’s room, sure that I would never feel good again.
My mother used to put my sister and I on a plane to Los Angeles to visit my grandparents over the summer. I cried the way down, already missing my mother, but I would sob and sob on the way home knowing that it would be months until I could see my Grandma and Grandpa again. When we would arrive at the house there would always be a little brass canister of pennies on the dresser. We would count up all the pennies and wrap them in paper. Sometimes there would be $2 or maybe $3 and we were allowed to keep this. On a couple of occasions Grandma took us in the bank to cash them in. That was my first lesson that if you save your pennies they really add up. I always considered very carefully how I would spend my special dollar.
Inevitably on these visits my Grandma would be sewing something, either for us or herself. Back then it really was more economical to sew yourself a new dress or skirt than to buy store bought. I learned the basics standing alongside her and her Singer humming away. She made it all seem so easy that I was emboldened to try. I sewed lots of things over the years; a prom dress, Halloween costumes, shirts and slacks. I even sewed matching outfits for myself, my sister and our ‘sister’ Angela, who was a foreign exchange student from Colombia in our high school come to live with us when her original host family had more ideas for her about house cleaning and babysitting than schooling. We wore those outfits over a long weekend sailing out to Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay. They were aqua-marine shirts and stripped white and blue pants. They didn’t last a summer of wear. But I still get a little slush of pride when I look at pictures of the three of us in those outfits.
I also watched my Grandma cook meal after meal when we visited. She made a good many holiday meals that were memorable too. Her food was pretty typical American cuisine but I always looked forward to her cooking. My mother herself was an OK cook but I think she looked at it rather as a burden than as a creative pursuit so sometimes we would have a bland ham steak with unsalted mashed potatoes or boiled ocre (though to her credit I think she only did that once, it was just that awful that I remember it so well). My mother, being a baby boomer and a working woman of keen intelligence felt undermined, I think, in some regard by the daily grind of preparing meals on top of having worked a full day. It certainly was not her most favorite thing to do. But I think I absorbed some of my Grandma’s love for cooking by osmosis if not by direct teaching. The whole house was her domain, of course, but the kitchen seemed to be her special place of peace and calm. Here, you came and went at her discretion, and I remember my uncles and Grandpa being shooed out on occasion. To me she seemed happiest in the kitchen, that is to say the activity of cooking made her focused and steady and there was an air of assurance about her that I longed for. I share that assurance in the kitchen now though I am not so deft at keeping my own children and husband out of it. My own mother did come around a few years after my sister and I left home, when cooking finally ceased being a necessary chore and could enter the realm of recreation. After some nearly 70 years of cooking, I think, my Grandma now looks at it less as fun and more as a necessary chore. The arthritis in her hands makes it difficult and no doubt the pain and lack of strength makes it a weary task for her.
One of the genuine treasures my Grandma gave me in the cooking arena is her cheesecake recipe. She claims to have gotten it originally out of some magazine or cookbook or other and not to have created it herself. But years of adjusting and transcribing the recipe from one soiled recipe card to another have made it uniquely hers. And to her credit has made me quite famous with my friends. I am a great lover of cheesecake and have tried all kinds but none quite like my Grandma’s recipe. I suspect its not so much the combination of ingredients as the preparation that makes it so delicious. Don’t completely blend the cream cheese mixture, its better when a little lumpy; It cooks better on a cool day; Leave it in the refrigerator two days before eating. I have myself doubled the recipe and added extra vanilla. But the accolades and smiles I have gotten from Grandma’s cheesecake are definitely due to her refinements, not mine.
My Grandma sent me $200 a month for three months that fall. Let me know when you are on your feet, she’d said. When I called her to tell her to stop sending the checks, that I was fine now, she practically insisted on continuing to send them, worried I suppose that I would falter again and trying to allay that possibility. I declined though and offered to pay her back at which she firmly pishawed me. Its not that those $200 made such a difference as such, though they did pay my rent during those months. It was a sort of culmination of all her lessons, those intentional and not; years of standing and watching my Grandma do her daily routine; and finally the unyielding kindness and gentleness with which she always dealt with me that finally put it all together for me. From that fall forward I was always able to make whatever I had go as far as it needed. I was able to spot a deal as well as figure out how to make it from scratch if that was going to be cheaper or better. And able to spot the moment when a splurge is in order, like a great huge slice of creamy cheesecake.
My natural frugality was enhanced by all of my Grandma’s lessons too, and has made me self reliant in a day and age of convenience foods, ready made drinks, store bought cheap clothes etc. It makes me confident that, if, say, I should be transported back in time 100 years somehow, I would not starve, nor be bored by my own food. I’d be able to make a dress and balance a budget. I also wouldn’t be afraid or intimidated by food or house and hearth. I know so many women who look at a recipe as a foreign language and carry it as a badge of honor that the only thing they can make is an espresso. Not to mention many, many men.
They may not seem much in cosmopolitan times, the domestic arts, despite the Food Channel and Martha Stuart influences, but it is as much a level of self reliance and confidence to be able to navigate a cookbook or a sewing machine as it is to be able to balance a checkbook or invest wisely. In either case, if you can’t do it yourself or at least figure out how it all works, you have necessarily beholdened yourself to the kindness and sincerity of others. That is not a bad thing if you can absolutely trust those who are taking care of your affairs and your needs just the way you like them. But as women’s lib moved women into the workplace it made the kitchen and the more domestic activities seem anathema to a liberated life.
But what my Grandma really gave me when she helped me that semester was a little perspective. And with perspective comes the ability to think ahead and plan. And that is really all cooking, cleaning, sewing, budgeting and all the other crafty pursuits that necessarily come along with having a life, need to do them well. We all have to do it and one way or the other we will. She gave me a little advice, a little skill, a little help and then a lot of love and faith and that soup made me more capable to take care of myself, come what may. Since college I have had times that have been flush and times that have been lean and in either case I have been able to cull together the lessons from my Grandma and get by and even treat myself. Because there really is nothing more comforting than a nice slice of cheesecake.