Wednesday, January 31, 2007

RIP, Molly

Molly Ivins died of breast cancer yesterday. Damn.

She was only 62. Way too young.

I can't eulogize her. I'm still in shock, and besides, she speaks for herself, in all the myriad words she wrote "afflicting the comfortable" and calling on all of us to fight for our nation and ourselves.

She, and the late Ann Richards, and (the fortunately still with us) Linda Ellerbee, were the best things to ever come out of Texas. A triumvirate of brilliant, funny, strong women. How can the same state produce women like that -- and George W.?

In her last column, Molly said

We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we're for them and trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets to protest Bush's proposed surge. If you can, go to the peace march in Washington on Jan. 27. We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, "Stop it, now!"

I'll do my best, Molly.

Oh, and say hello to Ann.


While I was trying to make dinner last night, on a day when I was in the midst of amassing more miles than a Boston cab driver on a good night, I kept getting bombarded with questions by my offspring, as usual. We were having tortellini with homemade alfredo sauce, which takes all of about twenty minutes to make, but their little enquiring minds still demanded answers.

These questions included, but were not limited to:

"What's my email address?"

"Why doesn't my email work?"

"What was the last battle of the Revolutionary War?"

"Are you sure it was Yorktown?" (No, I wasn't.) "I thought it was Bunker Hill. Wasn't it Bunker Hill?" (No, it wasn't Bunker Hill. Go look it up.)

"Why can't I get the confirmation to the game website on my email? I can't play until I do."

"Can you come look at my email, Mom?"

"In colonial times, would blacksmiths have been rich?"

"Would they have been as rich as silversmiths?"

"What show is that song from?"

And my favorite, from Echidna Boy, who's all of ten:

"Mom, what's the plot to Les Miz?"

The Not-So-Little-Drummer Boy had only one question, in keeping with his teenage priorities: "What's for dinner?"

At least that one I didn't have to think about to be able to answer.

And they wonder why I look so harassed all the time.

The long fight is over.

This is the obituary I've been waiting to write for six months -- which was at least five months too long.

Barbaro has finally been put down. It seems the whole country was pulling for him to make a miraculous recovery. Not surprisingly, since he had cheated death twice before: once from the massively fractured right leg that ended his racing career and in past times would have ended his life, and once from laminitis, the same disease that felled Triple Crown winners Affirmed and the magnificent Secretariat.

He developed an abcess in his left hoof (the one that had had laminitis) a week ago, followed by yet more surgery, followed by the discovery of laminitis in both his front legs, leaving him, as his surgeon noted , "with not a good leg to stand on." Unable to rest, the colt was clearly in significant pain, and the owners decided that they could not subject him to any more, and had him euthanized.

The entire case of Barbaro raises significant ethical questions, most notably: when is enough, enough? By all accounts, laminitis is a painful disease. And surely, both the broken leg and the abcess would be painful. And yes, he would have been on painkillers, but still... his handlers insisted all along that he was not in pain. A horse cannot talk; what if they were wrong?

And there is the question of resources: Barbaro underwent nearly two dozen surgeries and other procedures. Yes, it is the owners' money to use as they see fit. But is it really wise to spend so much in such an elaborate attempt to keep one horse alive? Especially from such devastating injuries? As much as I love them, horses are not people. Measures which may be justifiable to keep, say, a newborn alive may not be justifiable to keep a thoroughbred alive.

Then there is the question of precedent. We may be dangerously close to breeding horses that are lightning fast and china fragile. If we are willing to go through all this for this horse, what will we do for the next good horse that breaks down? And should we? Barbaro's treatment has pushed the boundaries of what is possible. What is in the best long-term interests of the breed may be another thing altogether.

Aside from the ethical questions, there is simply the sadness of the loss of what was surely going to be one of the great ones. I have seen the Triple Crown winners and other major race horses since I was about ten : I fully expected Barbaro to be in their league. (Well, maybe not Secretariat: he was in a class all his own.) After his phenomenal career, we expected Seattle Slew; we got Ruffian.

There is talk of burying him at Churchill Downs. I hope they do that; the site of his greatest triumph, it was the place where for a shining moment all of us caught our breath as possibly the greatest horse in a generation thundered past. Barbaro was in the house, and all was right with the world.

I don't fall in love with horses easily, anymore; Ruffian taught me the pitfalls of giving your affection to large animals with slender legs. But Barbaro made me fall in love with a horse again. I'm glad he's no longer in pain. But as his owners said in a press conference Monday, "Grief is the price we all pay for love."

Rest in peace, Barbaro. You fought a good fight.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

It's that time of year again....

Woo hoo!

The pro football (that's American football, none of this soccer stuff) conference championships are this weekend. And this year, the choices are pretty easy for me.

None of my favorite teams (Bucs, Dolphins, Raiders) made the playoffs. But several of my second-tier teams did, and two of them -- New Orleans and Indianapolis -- are in the championship games.

I've always been fond of New Orleans. My family used to live there, and I was born in Oschner Hospital. And the Saints -- neƩ the "Ain'ts" were for many years the league's most hapless and lovable losers. I have a soft spot for losers -- hence my support for the Buccaneers and the Democratic Party. (Just kidding.) And the city needs this: the Saints have a large impact -- psychologically and financially -- on New Orleans. Although the game is being played in Chicago, the better the team does now, the more enthusiasm for next year, the more tourists, etc. Besides, in a city still reeling from the effects from Katrina a year and a half later, don't you want good things for them?

And then there is the Manning factor. That would be Archie Manning.

Archie Mannning was maybe one of the best quarterbacks of all time. He just played for the Saints. For ten years. Ten years without a single winning season. According to Wikipedia, had sacks against been an official statistic, he would have held the record. In 1972, he set the League record for pass attempts and completions, and for yards passing, all for a team that went 2-11-1. Hell, the one year the Saints hit .500 (1978), Manning was named NFC Player of the Year. He ended his career with the Oilers and Vikings, teams which went a combined 6-35 when he was with them.

He survived all this with grace and humor. He once said, "“I never intended to stay in New Orleans, ... [But] along the way, New Orleans was really good to me. We were the only pro team in town. We weren't too good, but the fans were passionate about the Saints and extremely good to me and my family.” Such an attitude is rare in professional sports. Archie Manning was -- and is -- a class act.

Now, of course, he's mostly known as Peyton's (and Eli's) dad. And Peyton plays for the Colts. It would be lovely to have one of Archie's kids go to the Super Bowl, since he only had the chance of a snowball in hell of going himself when he was playing.

But the real reason I root for the Colts these days is Tony Dungy. Tony Dungy used to be the coach at Tampa Bay, which is my team. He was a damn fine coach there. He made the Bucs respectable -- so that we could say "I'm a Buccaneers fan," and people would no longer laugh at us.

Dungy was unceremoniously dumped in 2002. He had gotten the Bucs to the playoffs, but not to the Super Bowl. It was handled poorly, and many people thought he got a raw deal. The Bucs brought in Jon Gruden, who won the Super Bowl the very next year.

With the team Dungy had assembled. Completely. In the four seasons since, the Bucs have only had one winning season -- 2005, when they won their division -- in contrast to the three seasons before that, when they had made the playoffs every year.

Dungy moved on to Indianapolis, but many Bucs fans still have a warm place in our hearts for him. He and his family are still so well regarded in the Tampa Bay area that when his son committed suicide in January 2006 -- four years after he left the team -- it was front page news in the St. Petersburg Times.

So this week I'll pull for the Colts against the Patriots (and haven't the Patriots just been to the Super Bowl too many times already?) and the Saints against da Bears. If they both win and go on the Super Bowl, well, I'll worry about that then.

I'll root for the Clydesdales.

Dear Mr. President...

I saw how in that interview with Jim Lehrer the other night you said we Americans “sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible image of violence on TV every night.” You went on to say that “the psychology of the country…is somewhat down because of this war.” You said this in explanation of why you would not ask us to make sacrifices to support the war effort.

You insult us, sir.

Each and every American. Do you really think us that frail and delicate that we cannot make difficult choices when neccessary? Do you really think us such a whining bunch of babies that we confuse being upset with what we see on television with real honest to goodness sacrifice?

Or is it you who are afraid to make sacrifices? Is it you who are afraid that if you ask more of us that the majority -- yes majority, much larger than you ever had when you were elected to office -- of Americans who oppose this war and who you have steadfastly ignored, and the even bigger majority who oppose the increase in troops you are pushing for, in contravention of all common sense and the recommendations of even your own blue-ribbon commission, that we will raise our voices and become even louder so that you cannot ignore us any longer? Are you afraid of upsetting the rich and powerful, who are more than willing to send young men and women to risk their lives in the hellhole of a civil war that Iraq has become, but who balk at actually paying for it?

You won't even rescind the ridiculous tax cuts you pushed through, with the aid of a cowardly Congress. And the budget deficit which was nonexistent (in fact a surplus) when you took office heads into the stratosphere. We will not have to sacrifice, oh no: our children and our grandchildren will. Shame on you.

Our parents and grandparents knew sacrifice during World War II: they rationed everything from sugar and gasoline to nylon. They bought war bonds. They planted victory gardens. They worked and sacrificed in support of the war effort because their country asked them to.

Hell, even during Vietnam, Americans faced the uncertainty of the draft, which brought the war home in ways that today's volunteer services -- which cause the sacrifice to fall most heavily on only a part of the nation's young people and their families -- don't. Or don't you remember? Oh, that's right. You chose to take a course which would avoid you seeing combat, or even going to Vietnam at all -- and your fellow Republicans had the unmitigated gall to mock your opponent who actually served in Vietnam and performed heroically.

Maybe that's the problem: you have no idea of real sacrifice because you have never in your life been asked to make any.

I do not know how America would respond to being asked to sacrifice in the name of the Iraq War. My belief is, given how the majority of Americans are opposed to this war, any efforts would be soundly defeated. But not because we're shrinking flowers who can't face the truth.

It's because we realize sacrifice in support of one man's insanity is in itself insane.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"In Summer and in Winter I shall walk..."

Most war poetry speaks to the situation of the soldier. One of the most subtle speaks to those left behind:


I walk down the garden paths,
And all the daffodils
Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
I walk down the patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jewelled fan,
I too am a rare
Pattern. As I wander down
The garden paths.

My dress is richly figured,
And the train
Makes a pink and silver stain
On the gravel, and the thrift
Of the borders.
Just a plate of current fashion,
Tripping by in high-heeled, ribboned shoes.
Not a softness anywhere about me,
Only whalebone and brocade.
And I sink on a seat in the shade
Of a lime tree. For my passion
Wars against the stiff brocade.
The daffodils and squills
Flutter in the breeze
As they please.
And I weep;
For the lime-tree is in blossom
And one small flower has dropped upon my bosom.

And the plashing of waterdrops
In the marble fountain
Comes down the garden-paths.
The dripping never stops.
Underneath my stiffened gown
Is the softness of a woman bathing in a marble basin,
A basin in the midst of hedges grown
So thick, she cannot see her lover hiding,
But she guesses he is near,
And the sliding of the water
Seems the stroking of a dear
Hand upon her.
What is Summer in a fine brocaded gown!
I should like to see it lying in a heap upon the ground.
All the pink and silver crumpled up on the ground.

I would be the pink and silver as I ran along the paths,
And he would stumble after,
Bewildered by my laughter.
I should see the sun flashing from his sword-hilt and the buckles
on his shoes.
I would choose
To lead him in a maze along the patterned paths,
A bright and laughing maze for my heavy-booted lover,
Till he caught me in the shade,
And the buttons of his waistcoat bruised my body as he clasped me,
Aching, melting, unafraid.
With the shadows of the leaves and the sundrops,
And the plopping of the waterdrops,
All about us in the open afternoon --
I am very like to swoon
With the weight of this brocade,
For the sun sifts through the shade.

Underneath the fallen blossom
In my bosom,
Is a letter I have hid.
It was brought to me this morning by a rider from the Duke.
"Madam, we regret to inform you that Lord Hartwell
Died in action Thursday se'nnight."
As I read it in the white, morning sunlight,
The letters squirmed like snakes.
"Any answer, Madam," said my footman.
"No," I told him.
"See that the messenger takes some refreshment.
No, no answer."
And I walked into the garden,
Up and down the patterned paths,
In my stiff, correct brocade.
The blue and yellow flowers stood up proudly in the sun,
Each one.
I stood upright too,
Held rigid to the pattern
By the stiffness of my gown.
Up and down I walked,
Up and down.

In a month he would have been my husband.
In a month, here, underneath this lime,
We would have broke the pattern;
He for me, and I for him,
He as Colonel, I as Lady,
On this shady seat.
He had a whim
That sunlight carried blessing.
And I answered, "It shall be as you have said."
Now he is dead.

In Summer and in Winter I shall walk
Up and down
The patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
The squills and daffodils
Will give place to pillared roses, and to asters, and to snow.
I shall go
Up and down,
In my gown.
Gorgeously arrayed,
Boned and stayed.
And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace
By each button, hook, and lace.
For the man who should loose me is dead,
Fighting with the Duke in Flanders,
In a pattern called a war.
Christ! What are patterns for?

Amy Lowell, 1874 - 1925

"To children ardent for some desperate glory...."

[Note: as of December, 2010, this post was by far the most viewed on my blog. People get here through Google Searches, usually for the phrase "children ardent for some desperate glory." If this describes you, I would strongly urge you to  hunt down a site than covers Wilfred Owens' work more generally.  He was a brilliant poet who died all too young, in the last week of the very war he wrote about.]

My eldest son is studying the poetry of the First World War in his literature class (along with All Quiet On the Western Front). Looking over what he was reading, I noticed one of the poems I find most moving. Rereading it, I was struck by how much the last four lines seem to resonate with me, when I think of the escalation of the Iraq War, or the saber-rattling towards Iran that our Administration is currently engaged in:

Dulce Et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Wilfred Owen, 1893 -1918

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Odds 'n' ends.

My friend Jen has seen the light, and now has a blog of her own, Small Moments of Grace. Jen is thoughtful, faithful, honest, and writes well. She also knits -- really knits, not just makes funny motions with yarn and needles, the way I do. Her "Works in Progress" post is a bit intimidating. *waves at Jen*


It came to my attention that my blog was banned in Pakistan. I was about to feel terrific about this -- even though I have a tiny readership, someone must have objected to something I said! I was speaking out for truth and justice! I was making waves! -- when I learned that the government of Pakistan has a blanket ban on all Blogspot (Blogger) blogs. (You can stop laughing now.)

Oh, well. A girl can dream.


We had our fifth night of sub-freezing temperatures last night. If I wanted to deal with this, I'd move somewhere with a lower cost of living. Brrrrrr.


Until January 30th, Barnes and Nobles, at least the ones in my neck of the woods, are having a "Buy One, Get One Free" sale on boxed television program sets. Which allowed me (using a forty dollar gift card) to get the eighth season of "Red Dwarf" and "Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 2" for $25. Not too shabby. I had been wanting to get the latter of those two for some time because it included "What's Opera, Doc?," which is listed on the National Film Registry (as is "One Froggy Evening," also in the set).

"Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit, kiiiilllllll the waaaabbbbiiiiiittttt............"


Speaking of the National Film Registry, the 2006 additions were released on December 27. They include Blazing Saddles, Rocky, Halloween, and sex, lies and videotape. Fargo made the cut the first year it was eligible. To be selected, a picture must be "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." Which leaves me wondering why they selected Groundhog Day....

Overall, not as much fun as last year's class, which included the footage from the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, Toy Story, and best of all, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Now there's a "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" picture. Even more so than This is Spinal Tap, which made the cut in 2002.

I still can't figure out how they can leave off the Apollo 11 moon walking footage, though.

On a serious note....

Growing up in Florida, of Southern parents, and then living later in Atlanta, I have never bought the contention that bigotry is solely a Southern phenomenon. Over at Orcinus, Dave Neiwert has a piece on "Sundown Towns" and the horrific effect of racism across the country. Fascinating reading.

The reason it matters? Because pointing fingers at the South does nothing beyond stir resentments, while not addressing the widespread nature of the problem. Just yesterday, for MLK Day, someone in a condo across from the Starbuck's had hoisted a Confederate flag. A Confederate flag which doesn't fly any other day of the year. In California.

The piece on "sundown towns" part of a series on eliminationism in America. Important -- if scary -- reading.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Food for thought.

When I gave food to the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why the poor were hungry, they called me a communist.

Dom Helder Camara

This week I'm worried about fruit.

We've had a cold snap, with temperatures in the high twenties and low thirties (no snickering from those of you who live in genuinely cold places), and the tangerine tree in the backyard has taken a hit. We strung Christmas tree lights up to try and raise the temperature a few degrees, and probably saved most of the tree, but the fruit is done for. (I started to say the fruit was toast, but realized that would not be the best metaphor here.) I pulled some of the fruit -- maybe 150 -- off the tree on Wednesday before the weather hit, and have been giving them to friends since them. We will see what survives: the frozen ones should drop to the ground in a few days, and the rest we can pick.

This is the third year that we've lost some of the tangerine harvest. The past two years, fruit thieves stripped the tree -- and I do mean stripped, not a fruit was left, not even a green one -- before we could harvest the tangerines.

This annoys me no end. First of all, we use the tangerines: the tree supplies our fruit for lunches and snacks for a good couple of months. Tangerines picked right off the tree are wonderful. We juice them. We cook with them. We put them in salads -- ambrosia and green (lettuce, tangerine pieces, pecans, dried cranberries, with a raspberry vinagraite, yum). And we help feed the hungry.

Some portion of our harvest -- anywhere from 10 percent to as much as a third -- is dropped off with the Second Harvest Food Bank.* They give it to people who need food. Simple as that.

California is the land of the ornamental fruit tree. You can't drive down a street without seeing at least one orange or lemon tree (and usually more) laden with fruit. More fruit than can be eaten by an average family. And not just citrus: persimmon, fig, apple, pear, and pomegranate all can be found in the city I live in.

A lot of that fruit goes to waste. You see it on the ground, or you see it being cleaned up. Lately that's been bothering me: how to get the fruit that would otherwise go to waste to people who can use it?

I try to do my part. Concerned about thieves, this year the first harvest went to the food bank -- some 400 tangerines. Only then did we think about picking for ourselves or our friends. I was still unhappy that I had been unable to make my usual donations the past two years. But I keep feeling the need to reach others.

I was fretting on this, and then I found Village Harvest. Village Harvest, among other things, sends teams of volunteers to pick fruit off trees which is then donated to food banks and other charities. I can't volunteer to pick -- picking the fruit off my own tree was hard enough on Wednesday, and the earlier harvest of 400 was done my eldest, who was paid a nickel a tangerine -- but I can get the word out. That's what I am going to try to do.

Which begs the question, why do we have a society with such a driving need for food banks anyway? Part of it is the war, and the billions of dollars being siphoned off every month, money that could go a very long way towards eradicating hunger. But more than that is the discomfort we feel at the notion of poverty among us. Poor people are scary -- because we hate to face the fact that, given the right set of circumstances, we might be where they are, too. So poverty becomes a moral failing, thus relieving us of our duty to help people.

How come so many politicians and others who trumpet their special relationship with Jesus Christ so studiously ignore his words about helping the poor?

* According to the Village Harvest website, the SH Santa Clara warehouse is not accepting home-grown produce due to a med-fly quarantine. On the other hand, when I showed up with the produce, they took it (and I talked to a warehouse person, not simply left it in a bin). So which is right, I don't know. I'm concerned that the fruit may have simply been thrown out when I could have taken it elsewhere (other food banks, including the San Mateo County SH, are still accepting home grown produce). However, it looks like the Village Harvest website may just have been out of date: the quarantine was lifted on September 7, 2006. Our fruit would not have been from within the quarantined area to begin with -- the medfly quarantine was limited to the San Jose area.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

EchidnaQuest 2006, Part II

EchidnaQuest Part I, here.

The fateful day arrived. Echidna Boy could hardly contain his excitement.

We arrived relatively early at the zoo, and there were already long lines for tickets. Going to major tourist attractions during the week between Christmas and New Year's is always stressful for the crowd-averse (i.e., moi), but at least it wasn't Disneyland (*shudder*).

We had determined that Victor the Echidna was in the Children's Zoo, right near the petting zoo. We set out, going right by the long lines for the "sky-fari" and the tour bus, and dashing past the beautiful blue macaws and the flamingos. Some of us were not especially happy with this.

We followed the signs to the echidna enclosure. And there was Victor. Curled in a ball, with only spines showing. Asleep.

Echidna Boy was ecstatic. We sat there and watched Victor for a long while, during which the only thing he did was snuffle occasionally. People would come and go, usually walking up and saying "Look at the porcupine!" Echidna Boy would quickly say "It's not a porcupine, its an echidna!" I was chagrined, and told him it was rude to correct people.

After a while, and far too many people who couldn't be bothered to read the large sign which said "Short-beaked Echidna" I (and the rest of our party), found ourselves saying to passers-by "It's not a porcupine, it's an echidna."*

The rest of us got bored and wandered away, mostly to look at the wombat around the corner. I had been under the mistaken impression that wombats were roughly the size of housecats -- instead, they're the size of small pigs. The eldest child was driven up a wall by parents saying to their kids "Look at the piggie!" He took to saying, "It's not a pig, it's a wombat!"

My kids, pedants through and through.

We finally convinced the obsessive that we could come back later in the day to check on Victor, that the rest of us wanted to do something else than watch a sleeping ball of spines. Like the polar bears and pandas and gorillas, or just about anything else.

After we left the children's zoo, our friend had the brilliant idea of calling the zoo's office and explaining that we had a child who had come all the way from the Bay Area just to see Victor, and couldn't someone come and wake the echidna up? A very nice keeper named Richard met us at Victor's enclosure.

He held Victor up, and the echidna seemed none too happy about this. My kid was over the moon. He could see the face and underside. The keeper gave a short talk about echidnas (by this time other people had gathered), and asked Echidna Boy if he knew any cool facts about the animals. EB, who on a normal day can talk for hours about the stupid things, became extremely self-conscious. Finally, he stammered that echidnas have been known to live fifty-six years in captivity.

Good answer: it turns out that Victor was closing in or had surpassed the echidna longevity record. He had come to the Zoo in 1952, and had been at least 2 when he arrived, making him at least 56 this year. He is the oldest animal at the zoo. EB beamed with delight. He then got to pet Victor, at least until Victor decided he had had enough and put his spines up. EB delirously -- and predictably -- announced that he would never wash that hand again.

Richard put Victor back down and left. We got people washed up and had lunch and then saw the rest of the zoo, staying until it closed at five. The other big hit was the gorilla enclosure, although I had a lot of fun watching the river otters. (I skipped the pandas, even though everybody else stood in line to see them. They're cute, but they are not the only cute animal in the world, and I didn't feel like standing in line for half an hour.) Dinner was aimed at adults: we ate at a great Mexican restaurant in Coronado, so that some of us could window shop at the boutiques in the Hotel Del Mar. Picking up insanely decadent desserts at a dessert restaurant (the name of which escapes me) completed the evening.

The next day we headed home, relatively uneventfully. Five of the six people in our group geocache (guess which one doesn't?) so we stopped several times along the route to find caches. I was okay with this and went along, until we hit caches located in the middle of agricultural fields in pitch blackness. Having read too many novels about serial killers, the thought of being out where no one could help us if something went wrong did not appeal to me. So I (and the middle child, who is none too keen on dark deserted fields himself) camped out at a local Starbucks while the crazy people went off with their flashlights.

A late dinner at Harris Ranch (if you're ever there, get the pot roast, it's out of this world), and a quick gas and coffee stop at Casa de Fruita (fortunately, we arrived there after almost everything had closed -- my kids love Casa de Fruita) and we straggled in after midnight.

It was a pretty good trip, all in all. I really could do without the car breaking down and the eldest getting sick, but seeing Echidna Boy's face when he stroked Victor sort of made it all worthwhile. It's not often you can give a kid his dream -- and have it be just as wonderful as he imagines it.

*Knowledge is contagious: A man came up with a child and said, "Look at the porcupine!" I replied, as usual, "It's not a porcupine, it's an echidna!" A minute later, his wife came up and said "Oh, a porcupine!" The man said to her "It's not a porcupine, it's an echidna!" I felt I had accomplished something.

Monday, January 08, 2007

EchindaQuest 2006, part I

My youngest son is insanely obsessive about echidnas. They are his favorite animals. He can tell you all about them. Where they live (Australia and New Guinea), what climate they like (temperate), how they give birth (leathery eggs like reptiles, then the young stay in a pocket like marsupials), which ones are endangered (long-nosed) and which ones are not (short-nosed) and how long they live in captivity (over fifty years).

We're not quite sure why he became so obsessed, since an echidna looks pretty much like a porcupine or hedgehog. Sure, they lay eggs, but so do platypi, and those are seriously trippy animals. Part of it may be that he can say "I just love echidnas!" and quite a number of people -- kids and adults -- will say "What's an echidna?"

Not every zoo has echidnas. They're not common, like giraffes or lions. So, at some point this fall, it was decided that during the break we would drive to Los Angeles to see the echidna at the L.A. Zoo, since K. had never seen one. (Neither had anyone else in the family except my husband, but the rest of us didn't really care.)

Oops. We found out, a week or two before we were to go, that the echidna from the L.A. Zoo is on loan for breeding purposes. It looked like the pilgrimage was over before it was begun!

But then there was Victor. Victor is the echidna at the San Diego Zoo, and we decided that, what the hell, we were driving the five hours to L.A., might as well drive the additional three to San Diego. I wept a small inner tear for Santa Monica and Hollywood, as well as the La Brea Tar Pits, but it did seem like the best solution. Especially since we could also hit the San Diego Model Railroad Museum for my train-freak middle child, and go to Harris Ranch for the teenage carnivore. (The last was miffed because he could only order an eight-ounce steak for breakfast -- we wouldn't let him order two -- instead of a sixteen-ounce. We made up for it be also eating dinner there on the way back, much to the annoyance of his two younger brothers, who decided early in November that they were going to be vegetarians for ethical reasons.)

So we loaded up the van and headed off. The weather was not fun -- nasty wind gusts, intermittent showers, dropping temperatures -- but we had gotten an early start and made very good time and was looking to pull into our hotel at about 4:00 p.m. We stopped for a late picnic lunch at a park just off the freeway in Pasadena, that my husband knows about because it is on the way to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he often goes for business. As we were leaving, the van died.*

My husband went with the van and the tow truck (in spite of our instructions to the tow-truck company, they sent a tow truck which could carry only one passenger), leaving me and the boys stranded in the park, with nothing to do, and with rapidly dropping temperatures. We would end up sitting there for two-and-a-half hours. Attempts to get a cab failed when the cab company refused to send a car out because I did not know the address of the park.

Anyone who thinks it does not get cold in Southern California has never been stranded outdoors in Pasadena in late December, in a relatively light fleece jacket. By the time my husband came to get us with a rental car, it was close to freezing, and getting dark. The boys had been running around (thanks to the inspired efforts of the eldest, who organized games for the other two)and so were pretty warm, but I had been sitting down and was chilled bordering on hypothermia.

After getting hot drinks from Starbucks (which only warmed me up a little -- I stayed cold most of the night), we fought rush hour traffic through L.A. and made it down to our motel about 8:30. The friend who was meeting us there had already checked in, which was good, so I could simply veg out while the other adults went out for pizza.

The next day had originally been planned for the zoo. Change of plans -- my husband had to go back to Pasadena to pick up the van and drop off the rental car, and I was going to go with him so he could take advantage of the car pool lanes and so I could drive back. So we went to the Model Train Museum in the morning -- my husband and I, our friend, and the two younger children. (The eldest spent the entire day in the hotel room vomiting uncontrollably.) Then the van rescuers left, leaving our friend to take the kids around Balboa Park for the afternoon (they had a marvelous time -- well, except for the eldest, who was back at the hotel). We picked up the van, fought more traffic, rolled back into San Diego at about 8:30 -- fortunately missing the Holiday Bowl traffic -- having spent a good seven hours driving back and forth from San Diego to L.A.

The next day was the Zoo. And Victor.

[To Be Continued ....]

*This is the same van that died in the Central Valley on our way back from San Diego in June, and that conked out in October -- and it is less than three years and 70K miles old. It has led to two things: it is the last vehicle we will buy from Ford, and it may be the last time we drive to San Diego, at least for a little while, until the curse wears off.
Virginia Woolf was right about a lot of things. Mainly about how life can interfere with the creative process. I have a room of my own -- more or less -- but there is no place to write in there, and I am sadly lacking in outside sources of income.

Life is. I am supposed to be writing -- it is allegedly good for me -- so I am going to try to do better in that regard. I am still here, although many days lately it feels like I can't say much more than that.

There are some good things. The holidays are over, which is good because the kids are now back in school and everyone is over being sick. (My youngest, poor child, spent Christmas Day vomiting uncontrollably. His eldest brother spent a day stuck in a hotel room in San Diego doing likewise.)

My drawing class starts on Friday. I volunteer at a local arts organization, and have racked up enough hours that I get a free class. Maybe I'll post some of them, if I can ever figure out how the scanner works. If I really work hard, I can rack up more hours and take the class I really want to -- watercolor. (I decided I really needed to learn to draw before I learned to paint.)

Right this second, my kitchen counters are clean.

I keep thinking of things I need to write about -- musical odds and ends, football, EchidnaQuest 2006 -- and just can't seem to get my act together.

Oh well. Happy 2007.