Saturday, December 31, 2005

"A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind..."

I am sipping champagne and enjoying the hell out of the Sci-Fi Channel's marathon of The Twilight Zone, which I think is playing from now until like forever - at least as far ahead into tomorrow evening as my dish guide will go. Thing about this series is that some eps are so well known to me that I can practically recite the dialogue, and others I've still not ever seen before and I wonder how can that be when I've been watching this for 40 years?!?!?

Didn't even know the marathon was on until Keith mentioned it today on the phone, I flipped on the tube and there was Robert Redford circa 1962, as the young injured cop who turns out to be a gentle angel of death in the episode "Nothing in the Dark." I'm so wishing I didn't have so much work to do otherwise I'd be glued to the set until it ends, but it's been fun to have it on in the background and seeing these iconic actors in their youth. Mickey Rooney's one-man episode as a horse jockey accused of race fixing. An almost silent Leonard Nimoy as nothing more than background behind a very young Dean Stockwell in a battle at Corregidor...followed immediately by that incredibly stupid William Shatner episode with the creature on the jet wing...wonder if they planned it like that.

Burgess Meredith, Martin Balsam, John Carradine, Cliff Robertson, Dennis Hopper, Charles Bronson, Mariette Hartley, Elizabeth Montgomery, Cloris Leachman, Buster Keaton, Martin Landau, Patrick MacNee (oh gosh, I about fell over at James Franciscus as a young ship's officer in WWII) ....... everybody was in this series! I think it went downhill in later seasons with the hour-long format and just... I don't know, something about it growing up and becoming a little more modern or something. It began to lose the quality of stageplay-on-film that is what I enjoy about it so much.

Fireworks are starting early over on the bluff by Earthquake Park and I can see them clearly from my chair. Will even be able to see the big downtown display from my bedroom window, just because of the lay of the land as the city curves around the bluff - I'm out here in west Anchorage but it's just a little way across the water from downtown. We have first-class tickets!

Military Mad Libs

Hunter and I went out on the trails north of Anchorage today for a long walk. Not exactly wilderness hiking - these are paved trails that run along the six lane highway as it cuts through Fort Richardson. But I like walking out there in the winter because even in the ice and snow, it's relatively flat for good footing, and while there's busy traffic just 100 yards away, the landbelt is broad so it's easy to spot moose - some of it is even moose-fenced. Anchorage, a Top Trail Town USA, has over 100 miles of paved trails and 300 miles of unpaved or wilderness trails, and these particular avenues can take walkers and bikers almost 25 miles north of town, to right by my old house in Chugiak.

We didn't go that far today. Just got a nice leg-stretching on a grayish day. Close enough, however, to observe the signs posted along the boundary. I guess the military's penchant for paint has not extended to these particular signs in a while, as it appears that what were very large bright letters top and bottom (I assume of the Achtung! variety) are no longer legible. The remaining letters in strong black read


which is actually a little more ominous now that I think about it.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Year of the dog

Kendra says in Nathaniel's blog, "Five minutes after I wrote my previous post, Nathaniel did the "dog" sign while reading a book with Grandma Sherry. He's done this before with a little help from us, but this time he did it without ANY help after they closed the book and she said "dog" AND when they came back to that page the next time around!"

Peg says: My grandson is brilliant!

Time for a thought

On the Mary Engelbreit calendar at the office, today's page shows a little girl slouched comfortably against a grandfather clock, unconcernedly contemplating her nails. The thought is "An unhurried sense of time is in itself a form of wealth." -Bonnie Friedman

I thought about that in my current context of beyond-critical deadlines and cascading computer failures. I thought about the few times in recent years when I have had an unhurried sense of time and how truly rich and luxuriant that indulgence is. I thought about how it would feel to smack that little girl really hard.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Grab bag of cute stuff

Hunter has been cuddling with the Christmas pillows on the couch and looking even more terminally cute than usual...

We were at home today and had an early morning visit from Uncle Allen and then a nice long afternoon talk with Auntie Kari. As usual, visitors get the cuddle treatment that I can only wish for...

Kari also showed me how to make these candies - they're tasty and they make me laugh! The bacon and eggs are mini pretzel sticks with vanilla bark (she uses Candiquik) and a yellow M&M, the green eggs and ham are mini pretzels with green M&Ms. Melt a couple chunks of the candiquik in the microwave, drop a small amount over the pretzels and stick on the candy. They cool and set up very quickly. Kids would have fun making these! (so did I)

Monday, December 26, 2005

Movie: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

In a word: Shrug.

Worth it for the effects, and does a credible job of moving the series along, but this is just too much book to capture in one movie. So many new characters, so many large developments, just So Much of Everything that it's jarring simply as juxtaposed against a book that took like a hundred years to read. It moves through scenes like a flip book, and yet some scenes maddeningly dragged out past tiresome - sorry, HP in a hot tub just ain't worth lingering over, playing the hide-your-bits-in-the-bubbles way beyond sense - and the same with the ballroom scenes that really lumbered the pace. The central people we care about in this series are barely acknowledged in order to accommodate the greatly inflated cast of new figures who enter the story. Actors the likes of Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman, Maggie Smith and Miranda Richardson are reduced to bit players. A challenge to capture it all in 2.5 hours. And yet if any of those figures had been dropped despite the fact that keeping means they're all given pretty short shrift, there would be have been an outcry. My biggest objection is that they've turned Hermione into a weeping stupid git and the Death Eaters into a boys' choir. And the incarnation of Voldemort just ain't that scary - he's a bogeyman without real malevolence. I did very much like Brendan Gleason as Mad-Eye Moody, though.

Anyway, worth seeing for the whiz-bang factor, but a mere shadow of the book.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas

Here are a couple photos from our 2005 holiday collage while we get going into our day's celebration plans. I love Hunter's tuxedo collar - he has a black one that's pretty but it gets lost against his fur. Also I fell in love with the soft focus on this shot. Gosh, look at that face.

We both slept soundly until almost 7:30 and then began the day with a Hunter moment. He put his chin on the bed, wagging his tail - the sweet 'good-morning-mama' which delights me daily. I got up and let him out. While he was outside, I put food in his elevated bowl by the back door, went upstairs for a second. When I came back, I found that he had pushed open the back door, but rather than enter, he was standing with his back half on the deck, front feet in the house, neck craned to reach his dish. Honey, you don't have to stand out there in the cold, come in the rest of the way and have breakfast. Brain operations momentarily halted mid-threshold. I love this dog.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

...and to all a good night

It's been a lovely day. Up early to do some chores and errands and by 9am we were on the road driving north to the valley, just as NPR began to broadcast the Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols from King's College. Perfect timing! I relaxed into my seat and let the music fill me. My mind's eye picturing the tradition of how among the young boys who sing the treble, none of them knows which of them is to sing the opening solo, "Once in royal David's city..." until the director's cue. Are they nervous? They're trained singers, but they're also little boys. I hold my breath a little until that small voice is all the way through the first verse and the men's voices arise to move the music on.

The drive was very cloudy and dark. Stopped by George & Becky's to leave some presents. Sat in Allen's living room (I love that he puts up a tree now that he's Alexa's grandpa) and had coffee and visited. By the time I headed home, the sun was finally up. Moved quietly through the day with our tree aglow and with all my favorite holiday CDs playing. Shoveled off the deck, shoveled out the driveway. I have been telling people we had around 6 inches of snow yesterday but my deck measured 11". Heavy, wet. Back aching a little when done. I love shoveling snow. Feels like you can see what you did when you're done. And was a good neighbor by providing first aid when little Zoe next door cut her paw. Will check on her tomorrow.

Back inside to make a delicious Christmas Eve dinner for Keith's visit tonight. So nice to take the evening to chat, share a bottle of wine, enjoy a truly outstanding meal (we had to establish a moratorium on the compliments eventually), and watch It's A Wonderful Life while spoiling dear Hunter generally.

After he left, Hunter and I curled up together turned out all the lights except the tree, and listened to Patrick Stewart's "A Christmas Carol" CD. That's a Christmas Eve tradition that I've so missed the last few years.

My heart is full. Some of it leaked out tonight. I guess this is a time of year when we reflect, and there are some rifts in my life that I just don't understand yet. And perhaps am not meant to know why the paths of some have diverged from mine. But in truth, those thoughts came to me more in the context of gratitude all day for the relationships that are real and ongoing. I thought of the friends I visited today and of Michele and Chuck with whom I'll celebrate tomorrow. These are some of the inner circle, the ones I'd go to the end of the earth for, and I know they would for me because they already have. When I have been in free fall and could do nothing but reach out blindly, these are just some of the strong hands that have gripped mine surely and pulled me to safety.

All of these relationships have in common the absolute ease which underpins them. There are no flares of temper, no hurtful misunderstandings, no posturing bullshit. There's tremendous trust and resilience, in the simple assumption that our friendship is strong and honest and enduring. No wondering What did he mean by that? or How can I get through to her? Never has to happen. We are open and known to each other as our best selves. Even as we are frail and fully human, there is confidence that we are who we are, all the time. Nothing lurking in corners. That is foundation on which to stand and shelter in which to rest and the rooms in which such precious memories reside.

And the miracle is that I have it every single day of my life.

My grownup Christmas list

by David Foster and Linda Thompson Jenner

Do you remember me? I sat upon your knee
I wrote to you with childhood fantasies.

Well, I'm all grown-up now, but still need help somehow
I'm not a child but my heart still can dream.

So here's my lifelong wish, my grown-up Christmas list,
Not for myself, but for a world in need:

No more lives torn apart,
And wars would never start,
And time would heal all hearts...
Everyone would have a friend,
And right would always win,
And love would never end...
This is my grown-up Christmas list.

As children we believed the grandest sight to see
Was something lovely wrapped beneath the tree
Well heaven surely knows that packages and bows
Can never heal a hurting human soul.

What is this illusion called the innocence of youth?
Maybe only in our blind belief can we ever find the truth

No more lives torn apart,
And wars would never start,
And time would heal all hearts...
Everyone would have a friend,
And right would always win,
And love would never end...
This is my grownup Christmas list,
This is my only lifelong wish,
This is my grownup Christmas list.

Sea changes

There is a work going on in me.

I don't know how to capture this well in words, but there's been a convergence of a number of things lately - a book I've read, some things I stumbled onto on the web, a conversation here and there with other people, some encounters with a spirit guide - that is changing the sense I have of myself. Struggling to articulate it here... Though these are concepts I've known about for 25 years and have the education and the training and the practice in making them work, it seems like only recently it's started to reach me inside in a way that is gently and very easily filling. I know this isn't easy to understand when I'm not coming right out and saying it, but all of these things have been pointing at the same core concepts and issues, all at once - I couldn't not pay attention.

More and more I realize I've underestimated how debilitated I've become over the last year, physically, mentally, emotionally. (This is not going to turn into a waah-waah story.) That I have been so...unlike myself in many ways. Not all the time, certainly. But under tremendous pressure that just didn't let up, I was becoming someone I didn't recognize. After my mom left, it was nearly a month until I finally let myself really breathe, and one night as I was going to sleep I realized it was without the sense of constant vigilance that wouldn't let me sleep deeply, ever. Not because she was so difficult, but because I felt so responsible for everything, always. The stress of working 60+ hours a week, trying to provide. The setbacks in so many areas. The demands that didn't give way.

But in the last few weeks, though many pressures still exist, I find my mood is lighter. I've always been able to take joy and strength from small moments in the day, but I find now that when there's a setback it's just harder to keep me down generally. I am not at the mercy of the prevailing wind. And I find my apprehensions at potential conflict with other people are beginning to lessen. I find I am more ably reaching my calm center and the part of me that loves those people even when they are difficult, and if I love them, then that's how I need to treat them. I find I am living more in the moment, and more authentically. I am finding contentment.

No, it isn't finding contentment. It's realizing I don't have to search for it, nor for peace, nor for anything else that matters. I don't even have to make the conscious decision to choose these things. I only have to acknowledge that they are already here.

I want to postscript this by saying something like I know this state of grace won't persist on all days and blah blah blah. But... who says it couldn't?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Tastes great! Less filling!

An email from Kendra today contained photos of Nathaniel opening my Christmas present to him, a pretty ornament from an Alaskan artist's design. My thought is to establish the same tradition my own mother has with her grandchildren, to give him an ornament every year so that when he's all grown up and has his own first tree, there will already be many years of memories on it.

I admitted to Kendra too that the added bonus of this lovely plan is that with any luck I'll never really need to know what is the must-have Christmas toy each year. Sure, he'll hate this idea when he's 10 or 12 or 14 years old (or even right now, from the looks of this photo), but so what! Deal with it! You'll like it later! Poor kid isn't even a year old and it's already Tough Love Time.

Postscript added later - I realized I didn't take a photo of it before I sent it, so I found it online. It's in the Ne'Qwa collection and is called Puffins and Wildflowers by Joanne George of Angoon.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Sweet words whispered in the dark

"Sunrise will be at 10:14 am, sunset at 3:41 pm. We'll have 5 hours, 27 min and 7 seconds of daylight in Anchorage, a gain of 3 seconds over yesterday."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Coffee talk

One of the many neat things about Nancy is her sense of playfulness. She recognizes and celebrates it in herself too. She had errands to run yesterday afternoon, and called me to say she'd make a Starbuck's stop and bring us a nice coffee. When she got home, she said that the coffee had tipped over and spilled in the car, and her way of making lemonade from, um, coffee beans was to enjoy the smell of it on the carpet all the way home.

The other way of making it fun was that the small portion that had survived was then presented to me ceremoniously, in Nancy's mother's china teacup. So pretty, and so delicate that you worry you might sip too hard and hurt it. I objected initially to being the recipient of the remains, and as we chatted, I said we could have gotten into her daughter's toys instead and pulled out a little tea set and then we both could have had a cup. We laughed.

This morning when I arrive, I find this miniature coffee service waiting on my desk. You can get a sense of the scale from the spoon. (The note says "Morning coffee?") Nancy had the cutest imp's smile on her face. I giggled and primly drank my cup.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

For the kid who has everything

Last night I ran into some friends with their three young ones, who are of course pretty excited about the arrival of Christmas. Older sister Maren is six years old and as her little brothers were talking about whatever toy is 'important' this year, she said conversationally "I don't really need any more toys."

"Don't you want *anything* for Christmas?", I said.

She said very honestly "No. I have my doggie who loves me."

*three adults exchange meaningful misty glances*

And I could respond honestly "You know, honey, I feel the very same way." Nice to know she's coming up behind us, isn't it?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

To tree or not to tree, part 2

So once un arbolote artificiales (okay, maybe that isn't exactly Spanish for Big Fake Tree) dominated the living room all week, it was time to Deal With The Past. That is, drag it up in boxes from the crawl space and see what there is to be seen.

My main observation is that it is darned hard to trim a tree all by oneself. This tree swallowed boxes upon boxes of decorations and you know, after it turns into an endurance event it starts to take a bit of the bloom off the rose, if fake trees had blooms and they were roses. A number of boxes of things just didn't pass the audition this year when I ran out of energy, though not out of tree space.

But I am soooooooooo very glad that I waited until now to do this. Instead of doing it some year earlier, when I'd have to do it bravely 'in spite of' the pain of memories and regrets. Or in a year where it would be just 'okay' and neutral. Instead I waited until I really wanted to see and embrace whatever might be there, and I found...none of the painful history anywhere.

Partly that was because it's been twice now that I've had to divide out these things with someone and so I'm not looking at their history (not to mention their ugly-ass ornaments). But what touched me about today was that what memories that have come forward are such good memories. I'd nearly forgotten that my mother has given me some of the family decorations from 50-60 years ago. Such cheap drugstore stuff but I remember as a child being enthralled by it. Memories of Max and Gryphon and Diva and Courtney grace this tree. I called Becky in the middle of it, to tell her that her friendship saturates so much of this, because the last time I saw these objects it was with her, in my cabin on Lazy Mountain, going through all of it and packing it up again as property division. My old friend, who has been with me in more than one breakup and moveout and move-on. Some things that came to me from friends now returned to Spirit.

Not that there weren't tears, but they were tears of the heart-touching sort. I talked to Michele about this later and she commented that she was so glad I'd done this and reclaimed that part of my history. She made the sweet observation that since these things hold our memories, they are alive, and they need to be brought out and cherished and given air and light.

And a few more items came into the collection this year and they will have their own memories. Last weekend as I chose a few new items, a young man nearby was scrutinizing a box of ornaments with pretty blue and silver snowflakes. "Silver and blue really means Christmas," he said aloud. I smiled politely and thought to myself, "No, red and green and gold really means Christmas, silver and blue really means Hanukkah but whatever floats your boat, dude..." and then I bought a box of the snowflakes too. He blurts out happily, "This is my wife's and my first Christmas together, and she's still sleeping at home, and I've come out to get the tree and buy all the ornaments and come home and surprise her."

Gosh, he must have been dying to share that with someone, and I'm pleased as punch to be the lady in the aisle when it came spilling out of him, a co-conspirator in his lovely scheme. I remember what that sort of first-year delight felt like, and I'm so glad that I can remember it now without necessarily having to connect the losses that came later.

Two very unobtrusive ornaments hang on this tree. One is a small pair of white plastic doll shoes. They came from my first Christmas, at ten months old when my grandmother gave me a doll which I ripped apart in only a few minutes. My mother took the shoes - the only part that wasn't destroyed - and they've hung on the tree each year since. The other is a little plastic rattle in the shape of a B, from an alphabet rattle set that my brother Barry got when he was a baby. I held it in my hand today thinking of how his tiny hand had once held it, and a door opened between the nearly 30 years since he was killed, and I felt him with me and in me and I wept, as I'm weeping now. Not because he's gone, but because he's right here.

I love our Christmas tree.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Fully poseable action figure!

It's babbling, it's cutting teeth, and it certainly looks ready for a trip to Alaska to meet some more grandparents, don't you think?

I'm probably not ignoring you

Most customers are either without email or have it sporadically right now, some difficulties have been ongoing the last two days. This is an excuse I wish I could use on demand from time to time.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Movie: Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

So I've been reading some grumpy reviews of Disney's let's-put on-an-epic, ripping on whether the talking beavers are adequately believable and how the sets are a faint imitation of Peter Jackson's vision of Lord of the Rings, etc. etc. etc. To which I say just take that witch's ice spear out of your, um, chest already and become human again because this is a captivating movie.

And can I say how charming to have sat through a PG movie for the first time in a while. I found that I could do quite nicely with all those battle scenes devoid of actual heads rolling. As far as the quality of the CG effects, I can't see what the complaining is about. It is what it is and if you compare it to the BBC miniseries which I loved but was truly abysmal for effects (now those were scary 5-foot beavers!), well, there is no comparison. I'm split about 50-50 on the casting of the kids, thought Lucy (wonderful!) and Susan were just as I pictured them in reading these books, Edmund somewhat less so (though his misery is portrayed palpably), and Peter unfortunately quite forgettable.

But James MacAvoy's rendering of Tumnus the Faun changed my whole view, adding so much depth to what I've always thought was an endearing but largely one-dimensional character. And how I cried at Aslan's humiliation and death even though I knew that was not the end, and I completely forgot that was Liam Neeson's voice too.

Setting this production apart in my view is Tilda Swinton's portrayal of the White Witch. The BBC miniseries' witch was dark and imposing, while Swinton is born from the ice. Even her rage is frozen and distant. I can't imagine anyone eclipsing what she did with this role.

There are certainly many bumps here and there - like how these children seem remarkably impervious to cold and snow, products of a good English upbringing no doubt. And C.S. Lewis' story in many places is not an adequate guide for a film - the epic battle scene occupies only a few pages in the book, and depends on the reader's imagination to fill in the gaps. In bringing that vision to life, this film beautifully succeeds. I can't wait for the next chapter, when Prince Caspian comes to the screen.

The blog is back

Herewith begins the filling of gaps. That will take a while and won't all happen in order. Also some photos I've wanted to share for a while (hi, Raina!) will have to wait a bit longer for me to access them. But as of now one of the formerly dead computers maintains a pulse as long as I don't move its carefully angled power cord from its partially-connected state of grace, the other dead one is now officially awaiting its heart transplant, and an old refurbished one on which all our dreams are now pinned was brought home today. Allez blog.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

"Where the underworld can meet the elite..."

(Entry backdated)

So Michele calls about 5pm and asks if I have plans (it's been a most unproductive weekend so my 'plan' is to remain in denial that life is normal, maybe even tackle the to-do list in the last futile, dying hours, so of course I say "no, what's up"...) I'm ordered to dress nicely and to meet her in the Carrs grocery parking lot at Minnesota & Northern Lights at 7pm to claim my Christmas surprise.

Eyebrows raised, I follow orders while wondering what in the world this could mean. Lots of thoughts go through my head but I let them go and just see what happens. And also appreciate two hours warning to put myself somewhat together, safe in the knowledge that it's unlikely I'm headed for speed dating or something equally odious. No practical jokes to worry about, etc. I get in her car and we go downtown. Still no idea, though the fact that she was so prompt makes me think we must have tickets for something? We park near the Delaney Park strip and start walking north. Still no idea. Although I do actually know what Big Deal Major Event is going on down here and even that one of my friends was the local reviewer, it just hasn't occurred to me. Finally Michele takes pity on my clueless face, as she is so often called upon to do, and says 'Well, obviously we are headed toward the PAC." (that's Performing Arts Center) And I say vacuously, yeah...?

And then we were transported back to the Depression, via the Anchorage premiere of the national touring company of the Broadway production "42nd Street." What a GRAND squealing surprise!

I've been trying to calculate in my head exactly how many individual clicks of tap-shoe-on-stage we might have heard in the course of the evening. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands I'm sure. The voices were strong, the comedy was sharp, and oh, those incredible legs... Nothing like a live performance to bring those old songs back - "We're in the Money," "Lullaby of Broadway," "Shuffle Off to Buffalo..."

What Michele didn't know is that besides the geographic connection (the constant references to Allentown PA just up the road from where I lived all last year) is that this show contains my all-time favorite love song, maybe my all-time favorite song, ever. When my mom was growing up, she became an accomplished pianist, even played some concert broadcasts and so on. Next to the movie house in her little town was the music store she frequented, and whenever a new movie musical opened, the music store would create a window display based on the movie. Back then, a musical would publish sheet music of every song, not just the one or two most famous, and my mom's big brother would pop for a movie and then take her next door and buy up all the songs for her too.

And eventually that's how I learned to play the piano too. I was too stubborn to let my mom teach me, so I fumbled through and taught myself badly, from old lesson books and from all my mom's sheet music of the thirties and forties. I was playing songs from Carousel, State Fair, On the Town, Holiday Inn, Meet Me In St. Louis and so many more, years before I ever saw the films. I could pick Dick Haymes or Jeanne Crain out of a lineup before I ever saw one of their performances. I've known there were actual verses to White Christmas since I was little, all those prologues to the tunes that are familiar standards. We didn't have a record player so most music I learned was by pulling it off the page.

And I discovered "I Only Have Eyes For You" cold from the sheet music of the 1933 Busby Berkeley musical 42nd Street when I was 11 years old and it's been in my heart ever since. (Later on I figured out that it was a pretty famous song too.) So simple and lovely, so heartfelt, it puts a lump in my throat whenever I sing it. I've just never tired of it. It was just a thrill to hear it performed live with all its original charm. Michele said she'd read a suggestion somewhere to cut back on the presents and to make memories instead, and she gave me a perfect one tonight.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

To tree or not to tree, part 1

It's been five years since I was at home on Christmas, and even then I wasn't "at home" - it was the last holiday in the Chugiak house, where 13 years of relationship strain put bullets through any number of 'special' days, as one of my partner's special superpowers was to either make holidays wonderfully memorable or make them so full of anguish you only wish you could forget. And that last one was just a few weeks after Max's death too, and Gryphon's not many months before.

Hunter and I have only had one Christmas together since we hooked up, and this is our first one together at home. So I'd been thinking about whether to put up a tree. For some years I've been glad to avoid the decision. The last time I even got into the ornaments, it was with Becky, to fulfill the task of splitting all of it down the middle, half for him, half for me. They've been in Kari's crawl space since, and then in mine this last year. Haven't wanted to face the memories inside.

And then when you live here, there's a great Real Vs. Artificial debate. Some folks are surprised to learn that Alaska is among the rottenest places for Christmas trees. We just don't have 'em. If we have 'em, they are shipped, from places where Christmas trees are wonderful, and we pay the price. A lovely 7' fir from Minnesota might run you $80 if it was frozen, over $100 for fresh. [Well, that was five years ago - now, God only knows.] We had high ceilings at Chugiak and so it was fun to get 8 and 9 foot trees to put in our 'low' corner, but it wasn't unusual to pay $130-$150 for them.

Impractical, cost-wise and effort-wise for just us. So I decided to part with my love of the real thing and hunt a fake tree. But such disappointing displays in all the stores, and most more expensive than real trees too.

I'd nearly given up when I drove out to Chugiak today to pick up mail and happened to stop at a department store in Eagle River. This story is already too long, so suffice to say I managed to find a tree in a box, the only one of its kind, of a model that wasn't on display, for way less than it should have been worth, if it anywhere matches the description on the box label. I went up to the cash register expecting from the tag to pay about $130 for this $220 tree, and the SKU comes up at 89 bucks. My eyes widen. The checker's eyes widen. She smiles and wishes me a Merry Christmas.

Should I share the details I went through in advance of the purchase? Where I had to buy a tape measure first, go measure the box, then out to the parking lot to measure my tiny car and figure out a way to get this big box in there, and along with the dog too. And it wasn't really possible, but with a complete suspension of public dignity I got it to work. I wasn't going to leave a deal like that behind even if I had to call for assistance!

And I got it home, and darned if it does mostly live up to its labeling, with about 2100 tips on a 7.5 foot fake fir. Now it's to drag all that stuff up out of the crawl space and do all the decorating. Next weekend maybe. Almost glad I only have half the ornaments now.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Movie: Pride and Prejudice

I was simply transported by this classic story given an entirely new life by a staggeringly talented cast. Breathtaking cinematography, lush music, wonderful staging, but you could have put these actors on plain cardboard boxes and it would have been spellbinding anyway. The two generations in get the sense that Keira Knightley and Rosamund Pike and Matthew MacFadyen and the other younger actors actually have the depth to evolve into Judi Dench and Brenda Blethyn and Donald Sutherland in the fullness of time.

My only real regret may sound funny, but I'm just sorry this movie wasn't longer. It was so immersing and lovely and funny and full of vitality, that it would have held me another hour easily. It moves at a relatively fast pace, and the romance between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy is only one of a dozen compelling stories that would have been equally wonderful to draw in detail. The world created here is one that begs to be lingered in.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A white knight

Names removed for privacy, but on a day when the weather was ghastly in midtown Anchorage at evening rush, this small episode touched me with its precious view into a friend's marriage of 23 years.

"On my way home from the office today I had my first flat tire ever. Loud, low rumble sound. Didn't know what it was, sounded like I was driving a big Mac truck. I called my white knight. He came in blue jeans and old clothes. Right there in front of God and everybody, he changed the tire, put on the little donut tire, and we both went home. Freezing rain, snow, sleet and hail was falling at the time. I was impressed. He said he has changed hundreds of tires. Funny thing, it doesn't seem like I have seen him change hundreds of tires. Maybe he has saved more damsels in distress than I could ever know."

Monday, December 05, 2005

Blog on hiatus

We are temporarily paused due to multiple computer deaths in the family. Might be back by the weekend. Life goes on in the meantime and we'll have photos to prove it.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Hunter gets a job

I am so very proud of my boy. Today was the first day of our experiment with having Hunter accompany me to work two days a week here at Nancy's home. He was wonderful. He was completely unobtrusive, occasionally connecting with me or Nancy or Darla, but mostly just curled up in his assigned 'cubicle' without a sound. (I just realized this is a tongue shot - for a second I thought he had a kong in his mouth but we don't got no kongs there!) With my mom gone, this generous accomodation from Nancy has taken tremendous pressure off me as the three days per week that I work here, I'm on the far east side of town and can't reasonably get home to Hunter during the day. So he'll come to work two days, and be in daycare one day. Another lovely part of the arrangement is that taking Hunter and Emma for a midday walk is now part of my job description.

This afternoon it seemed deserted in my corner of the house, so I looked around and happened onto this staff meeting in Nancy's office - Hunter is already making strides into office politics by sucking up to the boss!

Quote for December

[post archived to this date]

"When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


The verdict is, I liiiiiiiike it! Busy at work all day, no time for web surfing to dink around and check what's up of interest. Get home and with just one Bloglines login, I get my daily dose of imagery, read two jokes from Comedy Central, get the Wordsmith word of the day, see the status of every blogger I follow (only Dephal has written new stuff and I pick up those two posts), and cruise a couple of the 36 new article headlines at Motley Fool, and see that everything else I currently follow online has no new news. My online experience feels very shiny and manageable!

Sure hope they come up with Lifelines soon.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Way to go, Idaho

Kudos to the Idaho State Legislature for their solemnity and prudence in passing House Concurrent Resolution 29 commending Jared and Jerusha Hess, creators of Napoleon Dynamite. If you don't click on that link and scroll down to the bill text you're all freakin' idiots.

What do you call someone from Toronto?

A Torontoan? Torontoid? Torontula? Dunno, but this guy Sam Javanrouh lives there, and his photoblog 'daily dose of imagery' is a take on the world that I wonder how I ever got along without before now. He consistently captures a journey in one moment. He's originally from Tehran and I don't know what people there are called either but possibly the bus driver simply misunderstood him.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Land of the living

I'm not completely there but I can see it from here. (And the land of the living is pretty cold today at -2F.) In an abstract way I'm worried about all that didn't get done with this unprecedented five days off, there are so many critical FOP deadlines that this time was supposed to address. And yes, there's still today but I am so weak yet that I know not much will get done against that mountain of work. My mind feels tired and out of focus.

Late last night my phone rang with the gang up at Lake Louise, telling me they had gone through the beer and were into the tequila (I could have guessed) and were playing Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. In my first opportunity as the phone-a-friend, I failed dismally (I didn't know India even had its own rhino much less how many horns it had, though if I'd had more than 20 seconds it probably would have come to me) and lost Robert and Erin $250,000 in fake money. Er, well, I hope it was fake money. However, I must have retained some credibility as they called me back later for a question of word pronunciation (that one I knew).

Kari said they'd had to stay in most of the weekend because the overflow on the ice is too dangerous to do much snowmachining. It was -28F there last night. It was fun to be on speakerphone and hear all the laughter.

Spending several days here at home, once the fever broke, has also confimed the fact that MY HEAT ISN'T REALLY FIXED YET. Looks like +64F is my upper limit on both floors of the house now and I just didn't realize it. My landlord came and fiddled yesterday but Rome didn't burn. With the much colder temps last night, the living room dropped to +58F. I'm ready to return to the good old days when it was 85 degrees upstairs and no heat downstairs, at least I could choose my biosphere then.

On a more philosophical note, I also had an email exchange last night with a friend who's also single and lives alone - she commented on how horrid it is to be so sick and alone, perhaps a preview of our older years. But how valued are the simplest things in life as we emerge from illness. I have been feeling so grateful for things like my dog's being willing to lie next to me for a few minutes when I shook with uncontrollable chills. For being able to get up and get dressed and spending more of the day sitting instead of sleeping. For the taste of a cold ginger ale even though I could only handle a few sips before the chill set in. I thought for a while yesterday about how damned grateful I was for the pain and fever to have stopped, and wondered how much worse it is for anyone who is experiencing real illness long-term. Well, I don't need to wonder because I can remember those years for myself. But I did get better - I just didn't have any assurance that I would, so lived in a protracted state of fear and frustration and defeat. (hey wait, how is that any different from now exactly?)

Such elemental parts of life come into stark relief, and I would like to keep that clarity. I would like to keep it while living comfortably at +70F too.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Gang aft agley

By Wednesday night very shortly after my last entry, I succumbed to fever and chills, and lost the holiday and the weekend trip both.

I couldn't ask for a better companion when I'm sick than Hunter, who is so undemanding and adapts well to shattered routine more than any other dog I've had. Possibly this only means that I've given him so little structure to count on in the sort of tenuous life I provide for both of us that he's come to expect very little from me. He is still recovering too so did not get too stir crazy about being shut inside. But I did nothing except sleep and stumble downstairs a couple of times to let him out and throw some kibble in the bowl at bizarre times, finally it was too much to go up and down the stairs and when I collapsed on the couch, every time I woke up he was curled up at the other end by my feet. I've lost all track of time, with that protracted fever I would lie down 'for a minute' and find that hours had gone by as the snow kept falling.

Last night I thought I could stay awake long enough to watch a movie, and a few minutes before it started, I heard a noise on my front steps. My neighbor Gregory was clearing my steps and driveway - I wrapped a quilt around me and peeked out the front door into the single-digit night. He said he knew something must be wrong because we'd had three significant snowfalls and I was the only person not out shoveling, though he'd seen that Hunter had come and gone outdoors so he knew I was home and semi-functional. I thanked him and lay back down on the couch, and after that much effort I didn't even see the opening credits; woke up three hours later in time to go to bed.

Early this morning the fever broke, I had heavy pajamas on (hand-me-downs that my mom bought and didn't like, so altered them for me before she left... thank goodness, because in my adult life I would never own a pair of flannel pj's otherwise, and I really needed them) and was under a double comforter and was still cold. And my very non-bed-snuggling dog obliged me by staying in bed close enough to keep my legs warm until the worst of that was over. I was just so grateful that he stayed put - he really hates that generally but I was so cold I wanted to cry.

So it's been a rough 48 hours. By this afternoon the aching had lessened and my eyes felt normal again, and I felt well enough to sit up more and sleep less. We stayed on the couch all afternoon and eve and are both headed to bed now. I suppose it's a measure of how sick I still am that I actually don't care all that much that there was no Thanksgiving and no wintry cabin weekend. I don't have the energy of interest to feel bad about it yet. Hunter is feeling better also and burned off some steam in the backyard today for a few minutes. I don't know what he looks for when he buries his head in the snow - my other dogs would push down and maybe sniff hard or root around and come back up - instead Hunter stands very still and stays down there long enough to alarm me a bit.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

How I spent my day off

Hunter didn't make it home last night - I got caught in a traffic snarl as I headed out of town. People were bailing off the highway and there was gridlock as far as I could see up the road. I knew I could never get all the way out to Palmer before the clinic closed. So I got off the road at my last-chance exit, called them and they kept him overnight.

By early this morning, however, several inches of snow had fallen, more was coming down, roads had not been cleared, and a winter storm advisory was in effect. This was my view for the over four hours' round trip to get the 50 miles to the clinic and back. Very glad I was headed the opposite direction from the morning commuters but still it was unnerving. I have a lot of experience driving in crummy conditions but I never take that for granted. Slow and careful got me there. If I hadn't made it I could have called George and Becky and had them retrieve him but I really wanted him home with me. Had I gone later in the day, I wouldn't have made it at all - an accident with injuries closed the road for three hours. These are the disadvantages to having only one road out of town - what a drag for anyone trying to go north from Anchorage today for the holidays too.

And maybe Hunter is fixed now, and maybe he isn't. (If you are put off by a description of my dog's lower intestinal tract, go away.) Dr. Ron said that he got out all of the sutures that he could find, but there was a track leading to what he is sure were more buried stitches. He also said that the tissue itself - sort of that productive lining at the back end of the operation - was friable and just kind of fell apart. He began to remove that tissue and said he just pursued things as far as he felt he would with his own dog, stopping short of turning it into another more serious operation. Enough may have been removed that with time and meds, Hunter may be able to tolerate whatever is still in there. If he doesn't, it's another surgery and it would begin to compromise the actual structures too. Ron and I were both discouraged.

Got him bundled into the car and back into the nasty weather. Back to Anchorage and ran some errands. Here's a diversion: This is where Hunter tucks himself whenever he's waiting in the car. A 60-lb dog should not be able to fit under the steering column of my tiny car, but he does. Once there, however, he is unable to get out. (PS: May I just point out that this is the most adorable dog ever???) So when I return and open the door, I have to help him get extricated out onto the ground, turn around and get back in the car. This is repeated at every stop, so on a day's outing we go through this perhaps 6-10 times. People look at us funny but I'm used to it. He started doing this about 8-10 months after I first got him. Initially I thought it was because it was a warm summer and he was trying to get out of the heat. I have no idea why he does it really, though I'm sure he feels safe and out of sight from people. But why he doesn't just do it on the passenger's side where there's room, I have no guess.

Not that there was much room on the passenger's side today, and let me hasten to say that under normal conditions my dog is also not surrounded by that many cases of booze. This was my part of the preparations for an expedition northward to the Campbell family cabin at Lake Louise from this Friday through Sunday. I can't wait to get up to that breathtaking spot in the mountains - there'll be a ton of snow up there and just all that winter beauty plus a beautifully built place to stay (with heat! power! satellite TV! propane fridge! everything except plumbing!) will make remote camping awfully luxurious. We'll park at the lodge and snowmachine back to the cabin.

Anyway - back to the day's wrapup. Hunter was feeling punky and climbed onto my bed. He looks pretty pitiful here. I think he was hurting because he didn't protest when I got in bed too, curled up around him and we both slept - I conked out for about three hours and felt a little ill on waking, think I've just been pushing hard for a long time and also the day's tension had rather knocked the stuffin out of me too. It's snowing again and there's no place I need to be until Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, and that's even within two miles walking distance if the roads were bad. So I am content and just glad to be safely back at home with my little boy.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Surgery to fix the surgery

Just a minor matter, but Hunter is going under this morning to followup on the anal gland surgery from 10 weeks ago. I hope this will finally bring this chapter to a close.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Angel and Zoe

These are our brand new neighbors sharing the backyard fence. Angel is a 9-month-old Lab mix puppy and Zoe is a beagle mix about three years old, her young human girls inform me. They seem like a nice family, and we have had a little too much drama on our block recently, so that suits me fine.

Angel is rapt whenever Hunter is in the backyard. She sits at attention and her eyes never wander - just fixed on him and whatever he does. She also idolizes her 'big' sister though her big sister is already smaller than she. Zoe reminds me so much of Courtney. Hunter doesn't seem that interested either way, but I notice that when Zoe is out, he will often stand with tail wagging furiously though he doesn't approach her - he adored Courtney and I wonder if he sees the resemblance too.

Got myself an early Christmas present today in the form of a very inexpensive digital camera to make life's blogging moments easier. Actually it probably just means lots more pictures of my dog:

Or the stuff that's on my walls, like this pretty print that I just looooove so much and finally had framed this summer with Nancy's help - when the frame I wanted was way beyond my ability to purchase, I settled for something less (but still nice) and that stinker Nan called the frame shop and had them upgrade to the frame I'd coveted so much...

Or just what I'm currently wearing:

Yep, you're probably feeling real glad right now that I got a new camera.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


(Entry backdated)

I've just been through one of the hardest 5-6 day stretches I can remember. The regulatory audit felt grueling; the last time we went through it I wasn't present - not sure why though probably just because I was working a part-time occasional schedule. I feel very proud of how we did but it was a constant scramble under the sort of pressure that went past difficult and into truly debilitating - my muscles hurt, my face was gray and drawn, felt like there was just no inner space of peace or calm, nothing but unrelenting pressure. It's the kind of thing where you welcome the scrutiny - besides the fact that it's an ongoing requirement - because it confirms that your clients have the best possible representation, and you learn things that you can do better. And the examiners were good and decent people, conscientious about their job but pleasant in their interactions. But it's also like a test for which you can't study, you can only rely on having never missed a detail, never having looked out the window or let your attention wander, and knowing where every piece of paper is too. And to pass requires a perfect score.

The lifeboat was Kari and Erin's stepping in to take care of Hunter every day. What a godsend to drop him off as soon as they opened in the early morning in order to get to work a couple hours early, and know that for the next 12 hours I didn't have to worry about him for a single minute. They were really the only other people who saw me during this, and from their feedback I gather I was projecting as someone to be worried about. Without my mom here as backup now, I just don't know how I could have coped - there would have been no moments that I could leave or do anything to have taken care of him. It was a hard week anyway but it didn't impact his well-being - he hadn't been in daycare for several days in a row before, long days too, but he handled it and I'm so grateful to them for that care. Also grateful to Nancy, who offered to foot the bill as a demonstration of her own thanks.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Change in plans

I was supposed to be on a plane today. Have been clinging to two free tickets for over a year now, and had decided this trip was the one worth spending it on. A flight out of this cold weather, to a warm place I'd never been, into the welcoming arms of a friend for a delicious week of relaxing and exploring and connecting.

Didn't happen. Some months ago that friendship tanked. A few weeks ago I canceled the tickets and paid a fine for the privilege which I guess means they really weren't free. Got back to the real world where wonderful delicious plans aren't part of life on Planet Peg.

Check that. This morning I awoke in the dark with my dog buddy breathing quietly by my side, got up and got the coffee started. It's been a working weekend as we prepare for a regulatory review that's part of operations every couple of years. Hard concentration kind of work but interspersed with Emma's companionable attentions and those incredible oatmeal chocolate chip cookies that Nancy makes.

Listened to the quiet from the rest of the house now that my mother has returned home. Went outside in the snow. Met the two new dogs next door (photos soon!), one of whom could be Courtney's sister. Heartstrings pulled there, but gently.

Put a few of those yummy cookies in a bag for Keith for a drive-by as I head to work. He answers the door and we set plans for O's fluids tonight so he will feel better soon. Get on the phone to Michele about dinner tonight since Chuck is still out of town. Send a few emails, catch up here and there. I'm working at the computer, Nancy's clearing some files away, there's the sound of the table saw from the workshop where John is building his beautiful wooden boat. Emma naps throughout.

Today is a breathtaking, clear winter day, work is challenging but the pace and the energy is easy, friends are woven through the day making it rich with warmth and moments of meaning. I thought perhaps I'd feel sad today but I'm just too content. Life is all about the changes in plans, and I'm checking out the airline schedules to choose another warm place I've never been.

A word from our sponsor

Yes, I know the clustrmap isn't working. That's them, not me. Use a thumbtack like anyone else.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Just a reminder

that I live with the world's most adorable roommate. The other pup is a heating pad - guess Hunter was feeling the stress of all his little doggie responsibilities.

Hood ornaments

I'm a big fan of bumper stickers (reading them, not wearing them). Vanity license plates too. But some forms of individual expression bemuse me. Who really needs a double-cobra license plate holder on a Ford Focus?

We have liftoff, almost

Nana should be on the plane now, taking off in 15 minutes or so. The best idea I had was to arrange a wheelchair escort - I did so more to make sure that someone else would be responsible for her than for her physical ability, though I don't think she could make the Chicago connection on her own two feet. But it made things very abrupt for our leavetaking tonight. We are only a couple minutes from the airport. Parked the car, walked in, found no line at United, checked in, took the bags to TSA, her escort picked her up, went to security screening, and she bypassed all 300 people in six lines and straight through on VIP status. They didn't even have her stand up for her own screening. I leaned over and kissed her face and she just vanished. Nothing left for me to do so I was out of the airport before I even had to pay for parking. Certainly no time for sentiment either.

And she's gone, and after nearly a year here that will take some getting used to, in finding our way into the life pattern that happens next. But I still have the next 12 hours to worry myself sick before that happens.

Friday, November 11, 2005

A message for my grandfather, on Veterans' Day

I never met either of my grandfathers. My paternal grandfather died when my own father was a child. My maternal grandfather died while my mother was pregnant with me. There are no family stories of my father's father, though it has seemed to me that his death was the knell of disaster that fated my father into a difficult struggle for the next 40 years until he also died, also too young. But there are lots of stories about my mother's father, born Andrew Jackson Burrell in 1893 in Clayton, Georgia.

My brothers, though their own memories are only those of small-childhood too (they were 10 and 4 when Dad-Dad passed) regaled me through the years with their bragging about all the spoiling that they got and I missed out on. Frankly, I think a precious little granddaughter would have really messed up that gig for them! A black and white snapshot shows Dad-Dad cuddling my brother Barry who has been dead nearly 30 years. My mother's memoirs contain a chapter called My Father's Hands, which begins with how when she was born weighing only 3.5 pounds, her height of 13" was measured in the span of her father's hand.

On this day of days, it isn't that my grandfather was the only soldier my family sent to war. We sent all of the men, on both sides. My dad was a Navy cook and a gunner's mate on a subchaser in the Pacific, while both his brothers were sent to Europe. Though one of his brothers deserted while on leave, the other was decorated for valor in crawling alone to a machine gun emplacement and singlehandedly taking it out.

Both my mother's brothers were drafted into the Army and sent to Europe. Her oldest brother Amory was a young father when he went to war, and the period of long weeks when he was injured and missing were hell on his family back home. Her other brother Marion remained in Europe for a time after the war's end as part of the occupying force.

But it was Andrew Jackson Burrell who went without being asked to go. At the age of 53, he enlisted rather than only send his sons where he himself was not willing. He was sent to the Pacific as a boiler tender on the USS Ticonderoga, called "Pops" by his young shipmates. And he was in the boiler room on January 21, 1945 when the first kamikaze struck. About 40 men were killed in the first strike, and several planes stowed on board caught fire and the ship began to list starboard. The captain ingeniously ordered the port bulkheads flooded so that the ship would list to port and dump off the burning planes. But not long after, the second kamikaze hit, killing a hundred more including the captain, and wounding over 200 others. My grandfather survived, though it was a hell of confusion in the depths of the burning ship - the vignette I remember vividly was being told how one of his young friends tried to escape up a ladder, and was melted to the steel.

There are other things that measure my grandfather in ways less dramatic. Those large hands wrought furniture and tools and a lovely little house built on our Pennsylvania dairy farm. He could imagine and build and repair. He raised his children, adored his grandchildren, and was a husband three times over.

My grandfather has always been shown to me through others' eyes. My mother's reminiscences, my brothers' memories of a grandfather who must have seemed godlike to these small boys. My own few contacts with two of my grandfather's nine brothers, nearly 30 years ago now, but which left definite impressions on me. His spirit as wrought in his oldest son, my adored Uncle Amory who died when I was six but whose impact on me is indelible. In Amory's son, my cousin Mike, in whom I see the same qualities of intelligence and humor and integrity and strength.

But now in my own middle age, I find I set aside the interpretive lens of others, and their memories, however precious. I think instead of the man who left behind a wife and daughter, and went to war believing that to do so would bring his own sons home. I think of the man with imagination and capacity, who knew what was right, and lived it. I reach out and find my hand engulfed in one that is impossibly large but entirely familiar. I realize I have always known my grandfather. And I speak to him, and he knows who I am.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


First pictures. This is one Redoubtable Little Stylin Cat. He doesn't have the juvenile look of a kitten - he is extremely petite and fine featured, but is proportioned like an adult cat in miniature. Gregarious, engaging, cuddly, and rumbles like a volcano every moment. So cute it should not be legal!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A couple of pretty girls

Just ran across this photo that I took of Deeta and Kozmo this fall. Kozmo really misses Pogo, I think. But she still has her playmate in neighbor Buddy and now his brand-new little brother Pooch too. Also a petite, rambunctious and rumbly kitten, Ziggy, has stepped into DC's honored pawprints to take over the black boycat role - I need to go over and get some pictures. Kozmo does not know entirely what to make of him. She was lying on her bed the other day, and Ziggy walked up, settled in under her chin and wrapped his front legs around her muzzle, which is about the size of this whole cat. For a youngster, he's beautifully inhibited about using his claws, and he just patted Kozzie's face all over! Adorable.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Happy birthday, Matthew

Thank you for being my big brother. Thank you for being a good man.

Monday, November 07, 2005

This could work!

Auntie Kari sent home some Halloween candy, and tonight I find that Hunter has quite an affection for Smarties!


After a weekend of postponements while the humans gathered their courage, O got his first delivery of fluids at home this evening. I had the easy job as the needle pusher. Keith had the very tough job of making sure we didn't get hurt. Difficult to keep a cat scruffed firmly for several minutes when the kitty is all loose skin to begin with. It went about 200 times better than I was expecting. O complained and squirmed and complained more, but he didn't really mount a struggle or break out the weapons. He ate some wet food afterward too. One down. Who knows how many more to go. He seizured again earlier this evening so I really hope that getting him into a fluid schedule will support him through this stage of his life.

Creampuff contractors

I'm working at Nancy's today and there is a bathroom renovation going on upstairs. One of the contractors came down to ask a question and as he returned upstairs, he encountered Emma in the back hall. It's been close to 3 minutes now and his nonstop stream-of-consciousness quiet babytalking has not paused, while she soaks up the attention and I sit here with a big grin on my face. Impolite to eavesdrop. Too precious not to.

(updated) He's leaving now. He's kneeling beside her and kissing her nose again and again and crooning to her about what a wonderful girl she is, and rubbing her ears and kissing her some more. This is a company for all your home renovation needs!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The story of O

My friend O is an old white cat with of showing his regard for people. Let's just say that our encounters have involved occasional bloodletting and none of it his. I've also awakened to find him purring on my pillow, a sense of sweet enjoyment combined with the thrill of impending disaster should I inadvertently move any of the wrong muscles.

And he is old and confused and in renal failure and seizuring. In the years I've known him he's gone from sullen to vulnerable, and in his little sphere of influence, a claw has hooked into my heart.

Love without risk

I learned something about me today. Actually I learned this last summer but today it reappeared with clarity. This is purposely vague because the details do not belong only to me. But I spoke to someone I love, just opened my heart and let its words rise. They were thrown back at me today in an angry wave, and...the wave washed through me without any harm at all. I bowed my head a minute, expecting some recoil or objection to awaken and mount a defense. And it just didn't happen. I realized that I was bowing my head to honor his strong emotion, but where the wave actually touched me it was calm and moved smoothly through. My throat was aching, but I realized that was for his pain, not mine. Do I wish it were different? I don't know. I don't think I would have done anything differently because my motives were pure and I had no agenda in mind. But while I've had my love thrown away about a dozen times by lovers and partners and friends, this is the first time I've noticed that as it lies discarded, it's no less sparkling and warm among the other small treasures forgotten in the sand. I have not found it in me to love many (any?) people with that much largeness of heart. Now naturally it's the way of life on Planet Peg that an unprecedented piece of love and care still gets ashcanned with the many, many other less noble attempts. But today I'm planted true and I open my hands and I ask the next wave to come.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Movie: Shopgirl

This is a sweet, spare story, a Steve Martin screenplay based on his acclaimed short novel. Successful and wealthy Ray (Martin) is charmed by artist (and Saks shopgirl) Mirabelle (Claire Danes) who is perplexed by young bohemian Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman).

Ray's essentially perfect existence has no beating heart of its own. Mirabelle lights all the corners of his life in a way nearly divine for its simplicity and its depth, but he chooses to use only a small part of the bright love and beautiful grace that surrounds her. This part, and nothing else. He refuses her more, and he shows her his limits in a painful way, and the decisions she makes for herself are clear-eyed and sure and true. She loves deeply. . . and she values herself. When some months later, Ray sees Mirabelle one day in the arms of the messy and incongruous man who has dived headlong into loving her with all the truth of his heart, Ray realizes the full measure of her worth and the measure of his loss. I am still feeling the tears behind my eyes when he murmurs, "I did love you."

The heat is on

May it last longer than 24 hours this time. Have been without heat downstairs for the last 18 days. Night temps outside in single digits. Reluctant landlord does not wish to pay real repair people. Have also been going to a lot of movies this week in order to be away from house while pseudorepair people with impressive mechanical engineering credentials work on furnace. Just got back from another movie. Downstairs is a-warming. Last time this occurred, we celebrated. We are not so quick with the enthusiasm now.

Hunter's woe of tail, chapter 31

The vet confirms today that Hunter's continuing post-surgical problems (he is two months out from anal gland resection) are from having rejected the dissolvable stitches. This does not surprise me as I have so far clipped three long filaments of PDS that had begun to extrude from normal skin at some distance from the original incision, plus cut out an area near the incision that seemed to be drawing inward, tightly binding off normal skin. So I knew we had issues with the stitches. Though I'd been looking at him very carefully, I hadn't felt inside him until today - the suture knots are easily felt, and they aren't going to go anywhere. No wonder he's been uncomfortable. He goes back to surgery on the 22nd, should be a minor matter to explore and cut out anything they can get to. Nystatin and triamcinolone cream in the meantime to try to bring down the inflammation and keep infection away. Possibly this story will end one of these days.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Sunny day

Just a couple of pictures I took of Emma last week before the snow fell. Outside for cold air to sniff, inside for sunny spot to nap. Life is good.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Well-known in Wichita

Nathaniel's blog is published in a Wichita Eagle story about local bloggers. As the far-flung Nana, naturally I can only interpret this as a small taste of fame to come.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Movie: North Country

This is a richly told story based on the real experiences of women at a Minnesota taconite plant in the 1980's, where they underwent horrific treatment by male workers resentful of their fight for jobs in a place where women 'shouldn't' be. Since essentially it's a character story told against a grim industrial backdrop, the casting to carry it off is crucial, and what makes this a blockbuster is the gathering of Charlize Theron as Josey, with Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins, Sissy Spacek, Sean Bean, and Woody Harrelson - yes, that's all in one movie.

The most powerful acting comes in its non-speaking moments. Dozens on dozens of them - where Josey has to pull up all of her bravery to keep going in the face of unspeakable intimidation and the rejection of friends and family. Where women in the mine confront the constant horrible traps laid for them but contain their reactions to keep the paycheck coming. Where the good men around them feel outrage, then quietly put away their courage and say nothing to disturb status quo. Where a husband still has eyes only for the woman who once was his vibrant wife, now a shell melting away from Lou Gehrig's disease. Where that same woman - the first woman to breach that environment years before - struggles out of a union meeting painfully and men behind her feel only appreciation that at least there's one bitch out of their way with no effort from them.

The thing that disappointed me about this movie was while it tells so masterfully the horrors these women went through, it then puts the "sexual harassment" label on it. This goes beyond creating a hostile work environment - it was a protracted series of mob attacks carried out in conspiracy and approval of the mine's management. The depths to which these women were openly degraded, and the capacities for the gang mentality to justify it, make this a story to challenge the mind long after the credits roll. Best of all, the real women behind these events give it their approval.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Quote for November

For well you know that it's the fool who plays it cool by making his world a little colder...


Dia de los muertos

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever; I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood,
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

--W. H. Auden

Sunday, October 30, 2005

First snow

Woke up to our first snow of the season this morning - nothing much by accumulation, not quite two inches I'm guessing - but it stayed cold enough all day (20's) that that small amount of snow turned into a quite satisfactory sheet of black ice across the city. I had hoped to get my tires switched last week but ran out of time - it was so gorgeous all week with the high pressure system we'd had, I knew the tire places wouldn't be busy. Now it'll be a mad rush so I guess I'll just bide my time awhile until we're deeper in it and the lines have diminished. But was rather wishing I had my ice grip tires on as I sailed neatly through two stop signs tonight despite all precautions. Dozens of minor and not-so-minor fender benders today here in town.

Ecclesiastical humor, part 2

On a bumper sticker today:

Jesus loves you
but I'm his favorite

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Hunter's Howl-o-ween

They had a big party at the day care today, with a remote broadcast from one of the local radio stations, and a costume contest. I knew the strange sights and the chaos would be too much for Hunter, but we went over after everyone left. Even with no one else there, Hunter was still pretty afraid of the big inflatables - there was a great 'grim reaper' archway and then some huge pumpkins - and of course everything was covered in cobwebs and spiders. They really had turned the place into a total Halloween Central. Earlier in the day, Auntie Michele had decorated Hunter with an adorable halloween bandanna, so he went in his little 'costume' and trick-or-treated just to Auntie Kari - here's a photo of them. He got a little jack-o-lantern pumpkin pail with cookies, a greenie, and a bag of garlic Cheerios. By the time we left he had almost untucked his tail.

Photos from their party include a great closeup of a miniature pinscher in false eyelashes, glitter eye makeup and pearl earrings, plus a wonderful Big Bad Wolf in granny's clothing, and a terrific Yoda costume.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Makoshika Meadow letterbox gets its first finder

Had an email this morning from a gal named Judy who was the first finder on the box that we placed during the Long Haul Chicks tour on our way out of Bozeman, MT. It took me almost a year to post the clues of the boxes planted on the trip, and I fear that some of my writeups are too vague as I tried to decipher my notes - which didn't seem as crystal clear as I thought they were at the time, since I was trying to be careful. But I knew the Montana box was written up clearly including compass headings and paces, so my only curiosity was whether the box itself had survived in its location to be found, and if anyone would make the effort. So I raise my cuppa to Judy, and picturing so clearly the lovely view she saw from that meadow on the high buttes of the badlands. As glad as I am to have made it home, my thoughts of those two cross-country trips find moments in which to beckon me, and I really want to hit the road again.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Movie: Dreamer, Inspired by a True Story

Much as I prefer movies that are a little more meaty, an advantage of being the caretaker of an elderly person is the occasional outing to a G-rated movie. There's something...reassuring, in a quaalude sort of knowing that the movie you're about to see will move inexorably to a completely satisfactory ending.

What else is there to say. The horses are beautiful, the countryside is beautiful. Kris Kristofferson and Kurt Russell really do look like father and son - I'd have a tough time making that choice given my extreme preference for the GQ (geezer quotient). David Morse comes back in a reprise of every villain he's played (we get it, you aren't the good doctor from St. Elsewhere anymore). And that darned little Dakota Fanning is a real actor.

Besides some pretty cinematography, there are two moments of exceptional filmmaking in this movie. I've never seen a horse race filmed from the perspective of just a little above and behind the horses as they run - the immense power of those hindquarters is so transfixing that you forget the giant screen is actually filled with horses' butts as they dig in and push themselves to their limits. The other moment is when the horse has its accident. The fluidity and grace of the animals in powerful motion is so horribly corrupted in that crashing fall, you felt a physical shock wave went through the theater as everyone bodily recoiled. There is no warning, it all takes maybe a second and a half, and I've never seen anything quite like it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Ecclesiastical humor

I was out in the Valley, where the snow is now well over a third down the mountainsides on its relentless approach toward full engagement. In an eccentric little area known as the Butte, I passed a church with the following on its letterboard:

JOB 37:6

Monday, October 17, 2005

Catfish Emma

Today while I was at work, I got a sweet little email from Emma, who has come to be with us for the next week. I think it's grand that the dogs I love will take a few moments to email me about their day.

The picture she sent is also grand, and gives a glimpse of the immense, thick whiskers she has on her flews and over her eyes. I call her Catfish or Fishface a lot, partly for the whiskers and partly for the distinctive perfume she carries from eating a lot of salmon meal and salmon oil to help with her dermatological and allergy issues. Though right now she smells like oatmeal and strawberries because she had a bath before she came here. Poor doggie has to be bathed every other week to help her cope.

Of course I often call the duo "Catfish Hunter" for its classic twist. Oh, and her letter? reads

Dear Auntie Peg, I am doing well at home with Nana today. I like being at your house. Even though I miss my family, this is surely the second best place to be. Love, Emma

She's an awfully polite guest to write her bread-and-butter notes before she even goes home!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

It shouldn't happen even to a moose

In another stellar example of Alaska's ambitions toward a bureaucracy as screwed up as the rest of you have, Fish & Game put the stranded moose out of its misery today. It only took EIGHT DAYS of protracted animal suffering and anguished public outcry to finally rub a couple tiny little public-employee neurons together and - lightbulb! - put a bullet in the goddamn gun. They said after eight days, it "didn't look well." (Really?)

Now, I don't think that any of the proposed rescue scenarios would have truly worked. And I recognize that such incidents play out with no human intervention or knowledge, all over this great land, to species large and small in the myriad ways of nature. But when it plays out on the bluff across from a city of a quarter million people and you can see it and you can do something, then for god's sake, you DO something to end the thirst and the terror and the desperation. You don't suddenly pretend that Alaska has some high-minded policy of non-intervention, for a species that is "managed" to the level that can damn near predict the second when folks in McCarthy will be able to pick up their dinner forks...but we can't possibly spare a bullet to hasten the inevitable for this one that suffers for days before our eyes? I am so ashamed of this debacle I don't even know what to say.

Patience pays

Or maybe it's just inertia. But after what feels like much longer than six weeks of negotiations (probably because there were six months of anticipatory worry preceding it), as of Friday afternoon I have four months of a reasonably better job deal. Four months was the best that my bosses at two jobs and I could put on paper. I have a lot of ambivalence about this process - there are things about these jobs that tug and pull at me, both in what I'm doing in my work life, and in the working relationships and long friendships that I hope to preserve.

The patience part was simply that I made my demand and then I waited until it happened. It was without exertion but not without effort.

For now, it's just a matter of these next few months should at least bring some relief in not having to work days, nights and weekends just to get by. It will basically be the equivalent of one full-time job, with some extra hours here and there as both businesses have pressing demands. There is a small retirement benefit, some leave, no health coverage. But one of the biggest consequences to my health has just been the fact that I've just been working constantly, so this will help.

All cards will be thrown into the air again in January.

I didn't feel the relief until just a little while ago, in the small hours of Sun morning. My mom is spending the weekend with Becky out in Palmer, to give them a chance for a visit before my mom return East next month, and to give me some caretaker respite. After running around today doing various things, I was tired and thought I'd lie down for a few minutes before feeding Hunter, and I didn't wake up for over two hours. Woke up feeling that all the strength had gone out of me, in a physically over-exerted, nauseated way - a feeling I recognize as when all the fright/flight hormones have begun to dissipate. I held my furry dog and the tears I've been holding in on various scales finally started to seep out a little - something I haven't had the privacy to indulge in a long while. But unfortunately the habit of containing it has become pretty strong, as I couldn't just cut loose either to get it all out of my system. I imagine that's where all this blood pressure stuff has come from over the last few months. And I would think that will come right once I am actually living alone again.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Signs of aging

Or is it a welcome sign of my approaching crone status when a hair appointment turns into an effin intervention? Jeez. Three and a half hours of industrial strength effort and numerous chemicals got me looking like...well, looking substantially like I looked before I went in. At least I haven't lost any ground I guess.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Vanilla, Latte

Looked like I'd need to work late tonight, so I took a break about 4 pm to get a bite to eat and just clear my head a minute. Got an adventure instead when a few blocks from my boss's house, I encountered a stray dog in traffic. Getting close to evening rush, there were a lot of cars passing from all four directions, cars pausing but being bypassed by other drivers with evidently more important things to do. The dog was an enormous chocolate lab. I parked along the street - he'd veer when I tried to approach him, but when I just backed off and encouraged him toward me, he'd wander generally in my direction. From his distant look and his lack of confidence in choosing a path, I got the impression this was a dog who was tired of being lost. You can almost always tell in loose dogs that either (1) they've just realized they're lost and they're panicked about it, or (2) they know where they're headed and although they're loose they're not lost. This dog didn't, either one.

He never engaged me - always kept looking over my shoulder or past me, even when he climbed obligingly into my car. Since he was wearing tags, I had him home within about 15 minutes. Latte's family was very happy to see him, but concerned that he's getting out of his 6-foot chain link fence. I think he's probably just climbing it. He'd come across once of Anchorage's largest arteries and was nearly at the next one when I caught him.

Got home later and then had to head out again for an errand, and down the street there was another loose Lab, this one a very small yellow female so pale she was almost white. She was just plain lost. Shy, skittish. Wouldn't come to me, but would walk six feet from me and accompany me down the middle of the street. We walked all the way back to my house, where I sat on my neighbor's steps and the dog finally touched her nose to my hand briefly. About that time some little kids came from the opposite direction on bikes and started calling to her. She was just too confused - evidently unsure she wanted to go with these little hooligans - but when I shouted down to the kids, they said yes, she was theirs. I started walking down the street toward them, issuing responsible pet owner instructions at 8-year-old's level (never abandon the teachable moment) and finally Vanilla recognized her own corner and her own kids and within moments was trotting down the sidewalk next to the little boy's bike.

Every loose dog I've nabbed this whole summer and fall has been wearing ID tags. Good humans.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Movie: Wallace & Gromit, Curse of the Were-Rabbit

So my penance for going to kill-kill-kill movies is to go again later, and take my mother to see Wallace & Gromit. I can't believe somehow she has missed this whole franchise. I dunno, there was something about this one that is...too much somehow, when put up against A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers or A Close Shave. In this movie, W&G run a successful venture as Anti-Pesto Humane Pest Control to keep rabbits from destroying the gardens of citizens all bent on winning the Golden Carrot Award at the largest-vegetable competition (sounds familiar for Alaska), the 'humane' part being that they bring all the bunnies home to live with them. Though the voice talents of Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes were incredibly funny, and there are just silly laughs and all the requisite near-misses and new inventions throughout, there was a sense to me that the world created in this movie has gotten just a little too big and complex and jaded for these characters now. Still, let's face it: in any universe, Gromit rocks.

Movie: A History of Violence

At first I felt a little cheated at this movie's short length and the way it does not plumb deeply into the trauma/drama of the events that unfold, but about halfway through I decided that was a near-perfect treatment - to make this a (very grim) fairy tale in its telling, stylized with just the main brushstrokes, and to leave unfinished that for which an ending would be impossible to tell. You can't make a neatly-wrapped story from a premise where all sense is lost, and the shock throughout is better left unsettled so that you feel it rather than just watch it happen.

Really I came for the violence. The first three deaths are wrongful but the rest all had it comin'. They threaten your employees, blow em away. Threaten your family, blow em away. Bully you at school, beat the shit out of em. Try to finish you off? Kill, kill, kill, kill, and...kill. (Go home, eat dinner.) For the kind of week -month, year, life- I'm having, this was very gratifying. Problem? BOOM. No more problem.

Okay, I really came for Viggo Mortensen. Upstanding family man, Indiana pure but a dagger in disguise. Sigh sigh sigh. His ability to inhabit a character is compelling. You see just a hint of the change in him when his real identity surfaces, the voice is a bit more edgy, the broad open face a little hooded, the eyes with a different past behind them. But the movie's best performance is from William Hurt, who is only onscreen for a few minutes but in that time delivers a fully developed character both funny and hideous. In the scenes between Mortensen and Ed Harris, I just kept thinking how much I want to see them playing father and son - I never thought about their physical resemblances and the nuances of expression that seem to be cut from the same cloth.

Okay, I really came for Viggo Mortensen. And all that boom, boom, boom. You won't look at a bowl of chunky tomato soup the same way again either.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Ducks on Jupiter

I've tried to declare this as a mostly-off-weekend. I spent about six hours of today out in the woods walking and letterboxing. First, Hunter and I explored a part of the Coastal Trail that begins downtown. Part of the recently completed Anchorage Light Speed Planet Walk was along our route, as Jupiter lies just beyond the waterfowl preserve at Westchester Lagoon. Not too many people out on this crisp fall day. Hunter and I have been so off our walking schedule, it felt good to go without breaking stride for over an hour. After that, he went home to nap while I drove on out to Thunderbird Falls to finally snag the letterbox that has eluded me on previous trips, up toward Eklutna Lake for another letterbox. Then back to Anchorage and on south of town to work letterbox clues on the Potter Creek trail system. By late afternoon the sun was bright on what gold leaves still cling to the trees, and the air was so chilly. I want to take Hunter back down on that trail system with its breathtaking views of the incoming tide on Turnagain Arm. All told I walked a good four hours today and I really needed it so much. Have been thinking of how I could place letterboxes at all stations of the Planet Walk, but the downtown locations would be pretty tough placements to maintain in such a public urban setting.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Hunter is Dog Tired

Hunter spent most of today at doggie daycare. It was a good experience, though Nana missed him until I brought him back home in midafternoon. He emailed me partway through to tell me he was having fun, and to show me some photos with his new lookalike friend Molly. When I picked him up this afternoon, Auntie Erin and Auntie Kari said that he'd had lots of fun and got along well with all the playmates - they had 14 dogs there today.

Can I also just say, looking at this photo, how much I love my dog. I love him so much it feels my heart will burst, or break. For the last six months, I have been going through a rather spiritual experience with another doggie friend Jenny, who has been teaching me patiently (because I am so slow to learn) about communicating with dogs. I believe this is deeply impacting my relationship with Hunter too - at least I don't think this is entirely coincidental. In just the last few months, there are new precious routines with Hunter that we hadn't had before - especially the morning wakeup, which now involves him curling up next to me in bed for a little quiet talk and some hugs before the day starts. And more precious than anything else, is that this dog now meets my gaze at times, and doesn't break it in distraction or agitation or just inability to stay connected. Our eyes really meet now, often, and when we're alone and quiet in the evening, sometimes minutes go on and he doesn't stop looking, doesn't stop engaging me just with his eyes. This is brand new for us. There are some windows opening, and I know now that there is more which lies beyond for us to find.