Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ninety Percent

means an A on exam #1. I am mucho relieved. The goal for exam #2 is to get the A by a slightly higher margin.

My Pop was over yesterday and I sort of helped him build two 4'x8' raised wooden beds for my winter crops. I'll be using the Esther Deans no-dig straw method (read about it here in the LA Times), so we put the beds on the huge concrete slab in the side yard. Now I just need to get the straw and hay and get ready for fall planting. Mmmm, home-grown lettuce, spinach, and carrots.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Field Trip

Yesterday Stephen joined me for a joint Horticulture/Biology field trip to the San Diego Wild Animal Park, just outside Escondido. Egads, it was hot. At one point I thought an insect had gone down the back of my shirt, but when I reached back to get it away, I realized it was just rivulets of sweat pouring down my skin. Eccch. September is by far the worst month here.

The horticulture lecture focused on the California native garden that the Wild Animal Park maintains. I have been very interested in putting California natives and other climate-appropriate plants in my garden, so despite the heat I did enjoy the tour. But afterward, trying to do a Biology scavenger hunt in the main park, I was miserable. I did what I could, but the heat was finally getting to me and so we left. I will have to do some online research to fill out the rest of the paper for the Bio class.

On the way home, we stopped at the Tree Of Life nursery outside of San Juan Capistrano. Tree of Life features all California and Baja California natives, plus seeds for native wildflowers and grasses. I bought four plants and a packet of native grass seeds. San Miguel Coral Bells is a vine that grows big clusters of showy pink flowers - the one they had growing there was stunning and I bought two one-gallon pots to plant next to the patio cover in the backyard. By next summer we'll be eating under a canopy of flowers. I bought a fucshia-flowering sage and Mexican Marigold. The sample plants they had in their garden were so beautiful I just had to have them. I wanted an Indian Mallow, which had beautiful grey-green foliage and orange cuplike flowers, but they said it will be another month before the seedlings are ready to be sold. The nursery is a really lovely place and I am looking forward to going again.

Stephen and I laughed at ourselves and what plant geeks we have turned out to be. I wanted to buy every book they had on native edibles, and the had a prickly pear cookbook I was sorely tempted by. There is a huge cluster of prickly pears across the creek from us, and I really should go harvest the fruit. leather gloves, tongs, and a big burlap sack!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

yesterday morning

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

-Carl Sandburg, 1919

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Arrr!

Completely unrelated to International Talk Like a Pirate Day, last weekend my Mom took Paul and his cousin Noah to some ridiculous pirate dinner theatre in Buena Park, the epicentre of local dinner theatre extravaganzas. She's a good Grandma and never gives up on taking the boys to neat events. Which is good, because I have no patience for those sorts of things! Paul came home very happy and excited to tell us about it.

Mom & Dad took Eli as well, so Dan and I got to go on a mini stay-cation. We took the bus to Laguna and just walked around. I should have been studying. We ate vegan tacos (mushroom, mushroom & tofu, and potato) at Taco Loco, which were very tasty indeed. We ate gelato (twice). The watermelon sorbetto was heavenly, but the hazelnut gelatto should only be consumed in small quantities, as it was just too rich. We saw at least three weddings going on along the coast, and we found a secret beach cove that we hadn't known existed. As much as I hate Orange County, living 11 miles from the coast does have its perks. Come down sometime and go to the beach with me.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Failure

Ugh, I took my first online Biology quiz last night. bombed it - 3 out of 5. I have been alternately despairing and nonchalant. I have been making flash cards. I stopped using the elliptical at the gym and switched to stationary biking so that I could study while exercising. I am hoping that when taking tests in class, without my kids yelling in the background, I will perform better. Yeah, that's it, it's the kids that distracted me. Sure.

Stephen, who is the bestest friend ever, went behind my back and added my Saturday horticulture class. Joy! The last time we ever had a class together was, ironically, high school science with Mr. Baker. Wow, did we have interesting teachers.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Help!

Please talk me out of cutting my hair. Please.

My hair has changed over the last few years. I thought it was age or pregnancy-related, but now I have decided that I will blame it on my lame-o autoimmune disease. No matter! The issue is that I have hideous hair. It's thin - I have lots of individual hairs, but they are THIN little buggers. It's unruly. It curls at the slightest hint of moisture, but usually in a crazy avant-garde sort of way that i could have pulled off at 25 and blindingly hip, but not at 33 and depressingly frumpy.

I put a temporary dark brown in it because I could no longer stand the dust-bunny brown I was naturally given. It's awful. You know how it looks when a woman "of a certain age" puts dark brown dye over her white hair? It looks kind of like that. It's not cool enough yet for wearing hats every day. All I ever do is ponytail it and pin the sides back. This is the worst part of growing out hair - when it hits that length where it doesn't look good and you can't make it do what you want and have no idea what on earth would look good. Maybe trashy OC Mommy highlights. Bleh.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

When I Was Homeless

I alluded to this story in this morning's post. If you are my father, you should not read this. My Dad does not like to hear about this phase of my life; I suspect he feels guilty about it. He shouldn't. This whole experience never upset me. My memories of it are not crystal-clear. My journals don't go into much detail about it all, so I have to recreate this from fuzzy recollections.

When i was eighteen, my parents decided to make their second attempt at escaping the sucking hopeless black-hole gravity of southern California. Their first attempt was moving to Hicksville in southeastern Arizona, back in 1984 (note that Hicksville is a satirical name, not the real place). Arizona failed, but not before inflicting a few humdingers of emotional damage on me. Attempt number two involved moving to Cottage Grove, Oregon in early 1993. I had been to Cottage Grove once before; it was a lovely town, but it was not the kind of place that the eighteen-year-old me wanted to be in. So, as an utterly self-centered person, I stayed in California. I had already been out of high school for two years, was in college, and i had a job at a frozen yogurt shop, so I was cool, right?

Mom, Christine (age 16), Matt (age 15) and Adam (age 11) moved to Oregon. Dad had to stay in Chino and run the shop while Mom tried to get a job and get everything established up there. At first, I had the house to myself, and it immediately became Colleen's Home for Wayward Teens. Nicole and Chau moved in. We ate a lot of potato soup, because i was feeding everybody on minimum wage and that was the only thing i really knew how to cook. Christine was there for a while, but soon went up to Oregon, which was good because I think she and Chau were going to kill each other. Eventually Mom and Dad rented out the house to some people Dad knew, with the provision that I got a room. I must confess that i was so self-centered that I don't remember where my Dad stayed. Nikki and Chau had to vacate, leaving me with the tenants.

The tenants were... lackluster. Bordering on low-class. Not obnoxious, not mean. They just made me feel sad about the human race (I developed a keen sense of snobbery at an early age). Occasionally my food would be eaten by somebody other than me. Nothing horrific or Dickensian, I just didn't like it. I stopped sleeping there. I stopped keeping my very, very meager possessions there and began keeping them in the trunk of my car (Tim - a gold 1979 Mazda 626 with a moon roof and super-bouncy back seat). My dad got me a better-paying job through one of his customers, paying $10 an hour! I still couldn't get an apartment and couldn't find a suitable roommate. I began sleeping at friends' houses, on their couches. I was dating Scott Costello then, so I spent a lot of time at his father's house and slept there, or in Scott's van. Scott was good to me, I'll always remember him with gratitude and fondness. I slept at Kristen Davis' house a lot too (Tricia, I blush to think of our vulgar regular Thursday nights there). I occasionally slept in my car, sometimes in the Institute of Religion parking lot or in the parking lot at work.

This wasn't a bad arrangement, really. It was actually by my own choice, and being a naturally restless and unsettled person, I think I kind of thrived a little bit. I had to quit school because my job hours changed and i could no longer work nights. If I had really wanted to, i could have called my Dad for help, although the Oregon Experiment was going badly and Mom actually had to get food stamps for a while there. I could have gone to my aunts and uncles. I had a saftey net, so in a sense it's kind of dishonest to even refer to it as my homeless period. When i was on Win Ben Stein's Money (yet another story for another time), i offered it up as one of the interesting things about me, and it really hurt my Dad to hear it on TV. I'll always feel bad about that.

Oregon failed. Mom and my siblings came home. I moved back in. I went on being completely self-centered and I'm sad to say I still know very little of what went on with my family during this period. I'm not sure i ever wrote to my mother while she was 1,000 miles away and struggling. I don't know why i always had to distance myself so much. It was certainly a contributing factor to the humongous nervous breakdown i had back in 1999. My, my, so many more stories to tell!

2 kool 4 skool

Since I am a mother (a fact i occasionally neglect on this blog), I should talk a little bit about my kidlets, as they are the human beings i spend the most time with.

Paul started first grade last Thursday. I will forever feel guilty because I was not there - I had class. Daniel took him, and apparently there was crying. I am never sure if Paul's crying level is normal for his age, or if I am a horrific monster of a mother who has bred a child that cries because there are carrots in the pasta sauce. What kind of emotional damage have I wrought? Will their college accounts become therapy accounts? I would post a picture of him on his first day, but he's in a stained shirt and Daniel does not understand how to frame pictures so the messy house doesn't show. The "first day of school" picture will now forever showcase what a bad housekeeper & laundress i am.

Paul's teacher seems like a nice lady so far (there are good reports from other parents), and once the trauma of the first day wore off Paul got into it pretty quickly. He is not very forthcoming about what he does at school, except when he told us that he mooched a free lunch from the cafeteria. I tried explaining that the free meals are for kids whose parents can't afford to feed them enough, but Paul insists that free lunches are for everybody. We will work on this. We are still not into the homework routine, and between Paul's school and mine there is just NO TIME LEFT for much else. I have to get more time-efficient.

Eli is doing really well with his new babysitter, Liz. Liz also has a three-year-old, and he and Eli are already best buds. There is much crying when I, the evil mother, swoop in and take Eli away. Eli is whip-smart and continues to crack us all up (last night he wrapped a black sock around his face and robbed us all), although Paul is determined to spoil the fun by pointing out that "Eli isn't really an alien," or whatever the current charade is. Then I wonder if we are neglecting Paul and he needs more fun attention. This post should be titled "Mommy Insecurities."

I am adding a low-unit horticulture class that meets approximately one Saturday a month. It kills three birds with one stone - I earn extra credit for my Biology class, I get to go on guided/group hikes, and I get to learn more about native plants and landscaping. I have also resumed practicing the guitar - I bought a Mormon guitar book in Utah this summer and have finally begun practicing out of it. It's nice to learn using songs I already know the tune to. I can play "O My Father," "I Need Thee Every Hour," and "Love at Home" semi-incompetently. I am pretty bad at "I Am a Child of God," but it has a G chord and that requires stretching my weak little left pinkie. My left fingertips are very sore, but the boys love to listen to me practice (Eli actually stops the carnage, sits down and watches) and that helps motivate me to keep it up.

Book Recommendation: Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich. She goes "undercover" as a minimum-wage worker (waitress, cleaning lady, rest-home worker, Wal-Mart associate) and attempts to make ends meet on just her minimum-wage earnings. It's pretty shocking. I only spent a few months as a homeless full-time worker (don't you know that story? I'll share it later), but I had a safety net to fall back on. This book taught me things about working poverty that I never knew, such as illustrating how difficult it is to set aside two months of rent as a security deposit when you are living in a weekly hotel room (which costs roughly 30% more than a comparable apartment), and what it is like to live in these kinds of places. This book made me embarassed at just how rich I am, and see how vulnerable I would be if Dan died and I had no family that could help us.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Weekend Roundup

No more politics, I promise. Although I did love how it brought everybody out of the woodwork! Stephen, your blog is long overdue, even if it does end up just being me and you arguing about how and when the world will end. I'll argue that if Obama is elected, he really WILL turn out to be an Islamist terrorist and he'll blow us all up. You can argue that if McCain is elected, he will deplete all of our remaining credit and troops on bombing Iran, which will leave us vulnerable when Russia and China decide to invade. Your scenario is more likely, I have no faith in the American voters ever electing a Democrat again. I need to start Mandarin lessons! Crud, I broke my promise in the very same paragraph I made it in.

Two weeks back into college, I'm feeling a little more on my feet now. My reading comprehension still leaves much to be desired, but this week in lab I sat next to two very nice young men (younger than most of my nephews, ack!) who made the lab experience much better. They are so young, so young. Still waiting for Miss In-Your-Face-Ignorance to drop the class, but at least I found out I am not the only one who wishes she would STOP TALKING.

Paul and I went to a wedding reception tonight. Eli has a fever (nothing serious, just toddler ague), which gave Daniel an excellent excuse to stay home and not have to socialize. The bride was a mature woman from our ward who had been Paul's Sunday School teacher two years in a row. She loves Paul, and he loves her, so it was unthinkable that I would go and not take him, but of course he made it impossible to engage in much adult conversation. And I really like adult conversation. Insert sigh here.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Why I'm a Commie

Laying all my cards on the table. Now my friends can officially know where I stand.

I have no party affiliation. I think I was briefly a R when I was 18, followed by a mistaken enrollment in the Independent Party (I thought I was registering as an independent). After that I went "Decline to State" and have been DTS ever since. I refuse to commit myself to agendas & platforms devised by other people; I will not march in lockstep.

I vote for both parties, and have been known to throw my vote away on obscure, hopeless candidates because I am disgusted with the offerings before me. Honestly, Bush or Gore? The GOP lost me (not that they ever really had me) back in 2000 when they gave McCain the bum's rush and shoehorned in GWB. CA has an open primary, and I had voted for McCain, but the GOP didn't want unaffiliated voters back then (though they sure want us now). Bush or Kerry? I voted for Kerry, but held my nose when I did it. He ran his campaign like an idiot and framed his arguments poorly. I would have been fine with Hilary getting the nomination. I was never won over by Edwards. I find much to like about Obama, but I have very carefully avoided ever listening to him speak, because I do not want to be swayed by his obviously charismatic personality. I do not want to be blinded by Obamamania.

I do not want "a regular guy" running the country, somebody just like me. I did not ever vote for GWB, I never fell for his folksy pandering schtick. I want somebody smart, somebody who thinks things through, somebody who is capable of changing their mind. If Romney had gotten the GOP nod I might have considered voting R, because I think Romney is a really smart guy. It's OK with me if somebody admits they do not yet have an answer to a question. The term "flip flop" pisses me off like few other things can. Everybody should flip flop! When new information comes in, when situations change, when we have an epiphany, we should not cling to ideology like a lifesaver. Clinging to ideas that don't serve us, principles that are leading us the wrong way... consistency is not always a laudable quality. I vastly prefer flexibility.

On to my positions. I support tighter market regulations. Free (anarchist) markets benefit those who already have plenty of money and do nothing to help the middle and lower classes. Let's take the recent boom (and bust) in housing prices, particularly here in CA. Some people made wads of money off of the bubble, but a lot of those people are now unemployed (they should have gotten a financial advisor and invested conservatively). Home prices drove hundreds of thousands of young families out of the state (like some of you, my friends), breaking up extended families. Despite the fact that Dan earns a very generous amount over our city's median income, we have been frozen out of owning even the most modest house for 5 or so years now. Banks are in danger of failing. Our government is spending billions of dollars it doesn't have on bailouts and economic stimulus plans designed to prop up prices that never should have skyrocketed like that in the first place (and yes, I'm aware that $#@! Dems are responsible for this doomed bailout - I was very pleased when GWB said he'd veto it, but then he folded and signed it). This could have been prevented, or at least blunted, by tighter regulation of the mortgage market. Ack! Liberalism!

Shockingly, I am a fiscal conservative - in that i believe in living within your means, investing wisely and conservatively. You can say what you like about ol' Bill Clinton and his personal moral failings, he had us on track to a balanced budget and a surplus of $559 billion (I find it amusing that Lieberman mentioned this in his speech at the GOP convention and got not much more than mumbles - gads, those R's hate the Clintons!). The last 8 years have been a complete flip on which party is in favor of spending within our means and streamlining government. We are now so deep in debt that it is unlikely we will ever in our lifetimes see the end of it.

I don't mind paying more taxes if those taxes are supporting good causes. Example: Public education, as flawed as it is, is necessary to ensure an educated populace. I am also wholeheartedly in favor of overhauling health care, and I am not afraid of "socialized medicine." I can't even begin to cover this here, but based on my own observations and experiences the system could be a lot better. I also acknowledge that it will be a messy process to fix it up.

Our immigration system is a mess. I do not believe in mass deportation (on both ethical grounds and grounds of practicality), nor do I believe in "amnesty" (which is a word, like "fascist," that gets thrown around too much). I believe in some sort of reward system for illegals to turn themselves in and register for guest worker permits (work visas, if you will). These would not be permanent permits, but renewals would be possible. But this must be combined with tighter border security, which we could achieve easily if we didn't have our military tied up in Iraq (crap, I wasn't sure I even wanted to mention the I-word). This system would encourage compliance, help prevent foreign workers from abuse, and get everybody working legally.

Pollution/climate change. Who likes pollution? This is actually the reason I am an almost vegetarian - commercial-scale animal farming is a huge polluter (methane for the air and feces to pollute groundwater and oceans). I don't like to support pollution, when I have a choice. I do not believe climate change is a fraud. Yes, the earth has cyclical temperature variations and was already on a very slow warming trend, but our massive deforestation (reduction in photosythesis, which consumes CO2) combined with our massive increase in the amount of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere, plus the methane created by our unnaturally large and unnaturally fed food flocks (roughly 96 million cows in the US alone) is speeding up and probably surpassing what would have happened naturally. Arable (farmable) land is mostly maxed out, and we are using more and more dangerous methods (synthetic chemical fertilizers and increasingly nasty pesticides) to extract as much food as possible from those lands. Our food system in the US is a frightening creature, mostly controlled by very aggressive semi-monopolies. Honestly, I see neither candidate talking about this, but those darned liberals are usually much more willing to do something about it, even if it means hindering business (I support assistance programs to help small businesses not be destroyed by regulations). I would rather have industries be hindered than have my drinking water polluted.

Energy - I agree with Paris Hilton on this one. We have to reduce our consumption (that means changing the way we live, sorry), carefully utilize what fossil resources we have, but work very aggressively toward creating as much renewable, clean energy as possible right here in the good ol' USA. I very much lean toward Obama's plan. He's even talking about insulation incentives, which are very un-sexy but would make a huge difference in energy consumption in this country.

What it all comes down to is that I believe in cleanliness and efficiency. I believe in compassion and generosity, administered with a firm hand. All too often social programs are depicted as being softy handouts. We should have "workfare" instead of welfare (as much as that calls to mind the poorhouses of old London), but there have to be systems in place so that the poor don't slip through the cracks and die of shockingly preventable causes. Humans deserve to live productive lives. There should be help for those that need it and want it. Poverty, real poverty, is not as easy to escape as we like to tell ourselves it is. Of course we will never eradicate poverty - there will always be people who are too foolish or weak to succeed. But we should want our fellow human beings, our fellow Americans, to at least be able to have decent food to eat, acceptable places to live, and to be healthy. It should be a fair playing field, because we have the power to make it that way. I'm no Pollyanna, I know perfection isn't possible. But I want to work toward noble, loving principles and goals, not give up on them because humans are flawed. The pursuit of money is not so very vital to me - money is only valuable for the things we need, and things that advance humankind.

I'm not at all certain I've covered all the bases I should have. I've been a middle-straddler for a long time, weighing my positions and my beliefs, but I belive I belong on the left, with a leg still flung over to the conservative side. In some aspects, I am a bit of a socialist. Don't worry, I'm not going to follow the Stalinist or Maoist model. But I think socialism has been set up as much more of a bogeyman than it really is. For example, Norway's mixed economic system (they are not strictly socialist, despite propaganda to the contrary) has served it quite well. It doesn't have to be all or nothing - all unrestricted capitalism or complete communism. Most of us liberals don't advocate pure socialism; I think there have been enough semi-socialist successes for us to learn what might work well here.

OK, OK, i'll shut up now.