Friday, February 24, 2012

Wounds and Healing

Wednesday, my four year old nephew came downstairs and climbed up on the futon next to me.  He leaned over and kissed my left wrist, then sat back, and instructed, “Now, rub it in.”  “Oh, do you have to rub in kisses, are they like lotion?” I asked him.  “Yes,” he said.  “Well, will you kiss my other arm then?” I said.  He proceeded to carefully smooch my right arm from the hand to the shoulder, over my elbow-length shirt.  I dutifully rubbed in the kisses, and he was satisfied.  My skin felt younger immediately.  Several times while I was there he came up to me, threw his little arms around my waist and exclaimed, “I love you, Aunt K.”  Rita was also demonstrably fond of me (my sister told me that the poor girl cried all day yesterday after they deposited me at the airport), crawling into my lap and humming affectionately while nuzzling my cheek (as we are prone to do in my family, like nesting animals).   

The two of them came rushing to my rescue when I fell down the stairs Thursday morning, landing loudly on my elbow and my bum in a heap of shoes by the front door.  Rita rushed to fetch an icepack from the freezer for my injured arm, and Brad went for a wad of tissue from the bathroom to tuck under my head.  Then he brought his blanket and a pillow, saying generously that I could borrow them, since I was hurt.  They were both very concerned, and hovered around patting me gently until I was able to get up (groaning) and thank them both for being so sweet.  No bones broken, thank God, but I’ve got a really remarkable bruise on my backside as a souvenir of my tumble.

Other than the shower head shrieking terribly throughout my evening ablutions, the church women’s retreat on Maryland’s Eastern Shore has thus far been lovely; my comrades are friendly, and the accommodations pleasant.  I want to shed the grief that’s been haunting me, to reconnect with God, and be reminded of his fatherhood and that he does have a good plan for my life.  I’ve been so thoroughly discouraged over the last couple of months that I’ve begun to fear the advent of another of my terrible every seven-year bouts with deep depression, and become really desperate for spiritual encouragement and renewal.  Furthermore, I’ve been punishingly lonely without family (it was hard to leave Rhode Island, and this notwithstanding the cold and the lack of green—it was just so good to be with my loved ones) and feeling ever more intellectually stagnant.  So, I hope this weekend will be a blessing.  I need help.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Bookworm and the Ham

My six-year-old niece Rita read the whole of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe yesterday.  She’s so much like me it’s alarming (except she was shocked to hear I hadn't learned to read until first grade).  She “goes deaf” when she reads and forgets to eat, and she reads in odd places and positions, like so:

She read Superfudge today, and started on another Beverly Cleary before bedtime.  She also made two potholders (woven using one of those little peg looms), painted a suncatcher, played four rounds of Busytown (a Richard Scary boardgame) and drew a picture.  And talked about Star Wars for three full hours.  I was repeatedly queried on what should be done with Darth Vader, and what particular scenes (in all three of the old movies, and the first of the new) meant. 

Four year old Brad, on the other hand, is a total ham.  He kept insisting I take his picture and then he wanted to see what he looked like—the boy would never have survived in the age of film cameras.  He also loves to be kissed by his mommy and me—and who can help it, since he resembles the Norman Rockwell ideal of the pink-cheeked innocent lad, all frogs and snails and puppy-dog tails, or in his case, puppy-dog eyes…

When Brad got home from school today, he told Rita (who has a week off) that her potholders were beautiful, and said “good job!” without being prompted.  When they aren’t fighting, the two siblings are quite fond (they’ll spontaneously hug each other, peaceably paint pictures together, and so forth), but when one gets angry at the other, I never heard such dramatics.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Reading and Re-Writing

I cannot recommend Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption too highly.  It is a horrifying and heartening story that shows with graceful hands how God can bring hope out of some of the cruelest schemes of dehumanisation man has implemented. 

I re-read selections from Granddaddy's memoirs on the train up here to Providence, as I needed to cross-check my friend Irina's Russian translations of the same (a proofing I'd promised before the end of 2011 and never quite got around to).  Reading Unbroken made me appreciate Granddaddy's wartime life even more; although he deliberately edited his own taped reminiscences (for instance, he says that his skipper's nickname was "No-Dirt Callahan" and that it was said in an admiring way--one gets the impression that Dirt wasn't the exact word used), hovering around the edges of his words are echoes of the emotional toll the experiences took, as friends were lost, and he saw broken bodies and exploding bombs and heard wounded men scream. 

I myself have had to white-out and re-write bits from a selection in the 1950s storybook I brought up for my niece and nephew to enjoy: the entertaining tale whose titular character formerly was known as "Little Black Sambo" is now known simply throughout the text as "Sam" and the tiger-outwitting Sam's parents are just "Mommy" and "Daddy".  I take comfort in the fact that only one of the illustrations associated with the story was even mildly racist (and actually totally culturally wrong, given that the action takes place in India, where tigers abound, not the African subcontinent), and hopefully that pre-modern Aunt Jemima-like image of Sam's Mommy cooking pancakes with the tiger butter will not impress itself too deeply on my small relative's minds. 

Given that my niece has apparently believed for years that her father is African-American (she came home from school around Martin Luther King Day to inform her mother that, horribly, in the old days Daddy wouldn't have been able to live with them because of the color of his skin--he's actually a swarthy Portuguese man who looks and sounds like Raymond from the show "Everybody Loves Raymond"), I expect if anything Rita and Brad will identify with Sam and his parents, rather than viewing them as irretrievably "other".

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bar Bets and Bustiers

John Calvin’s bones are climbing his crypt walls at that headline, no doubt, but I didn’t make the bet—my trivia team was its unwitting subject.  Monday night was the first of a new quarter, trivia-competition-wise, and our all-girl team decided to discard our old nom de hmm “That’s What She Said” and adopt another.  The new name is an homage to a typo (scripto?) from last quarter: “No Man’s Cupcake” (the answer we meant to write was “no man’s land” but we were discussing desserts at the time, and, well, we added crawling through icing to the perils of the First World War).  It seemed fitting, given the gender makeup of our group.  During the game we noticed some yuppie policy-wonk type guys at another table looking over at us, and eventually one came over and asked us what our team was called.  “I won the bet!” he crowed when we told him. 

My friend and teammate Mia brought me my Comic-Con magazine/preview program, which had been mailed to her address, since she was the one who bought my ticket for me at last year’s ultimate nerdfest.  We’ve been discussing costumes for months, and for one of the four days I’m planning to be a character from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Mia tells me they have a zombie parade and we’ve got to participate) and for one of the other days I’d like to be a half-and-half steampunkish Snidely Whiplash/Moulin Rouge chorus girl.  I’ve ordered a top hat, and I’ll find a suit at an estate sale I can alter to 19th century lines, and then split down the middle (I plan to cut the topper in two and cover the new opening with ostrich feathers and sequins)—the cravat or bow tie will be connected to a black velvet neck ribbon with half a cameo on it.  But, I need another corset, preferably in red leather (fabric just isn’t as comfortable for day-long wear, and my brown leather one has a pre-Victorian vibe and is besides insufficiently flashy) which will contrast with the men’s garb, and to which I can add lace and feathers.  I’ll have a mustache on one side of my face (and a Sherlockian pipe), and false eyelashes and outlandish feminine makeup on the other.  The whole point is to have fun dressing up, after all—why go to Comic-Con and be dull?

I need to send Mums the dates for the trip so she can meet me out there in San Diego the last day of the convention and we can spend the next week sightseeing.  I'm going to a new part of the country and I want to stay to explore a while; and it’s much more fun to explore with someone else.  I shall eschew eccentric dress once Mums arrives, however.  She might refuse to be seen with me, although Californians are probably used to weirdness by this point.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Hazards of Multitasking

I am a fundamentally lazy person, which is why I like to do more than one thing at a time (listening to an audiobook while sewing or driving, for instance, and talking on the phone while cleaning the house or making jewelry)--I thereby feel less guilty about doing nothing at all betweentimes.  I also do not enjoy exercising for its own sake--I'd rather be digging a ditch or walking TO somewhere specific rather than beating my body into fitness on a treadmill or elliptical--which is why I usually read a book when I'm at the gym [Mums says I can only do this because I'm not working out hard enough (whatever!)].  I've noticed I'm not the only one who likes to distract herself while burning calories, but even so, before yesterday evening I'd never seen anyone actively knitting while walking on a stair-climber.  It was one of those escalator-style climbers, and although I was distracted for a while watching an adrenaline-packed scene from one of the Fast and the Furious movies that was playing on flatscreen overhead, and so didn't see disaster strike, it seems at one point either her ball of fuchsia yarn or the washcloth or whatever she was working on decided to drop onto the moving stairs, with predictable results--I looked over later to see her pulling bright pink string out of the machine.  I'm not sure the was the end of her evening's exercise, but it probably put purled to her knitting.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Burns and Scrapes

In early December I was driving home from work at the Bethesda Gallery along Wisconsin Avenue, since the weather was horrible (pouring rain) and I guessed that the beltway would be a mass of stalled, soggy traffic, interpolated with occasional accidents.  As I drew abreast of the cathedral, I glanced up to see whether the towers had been repaired from the summer earthquake.  I glanced back down at the road in time to see that the car immediately in front of me had stopped, and only a car-length remained between its rear bumper and my front one.  I hit the brakes, which would have been entirely effective had the road been dry¸ given that I was going less than 10 MPH.  Unfortunately, it was not, and with a light thump, my battle-scarred Honda slid disgracefully into the back of the brand-new black Lexus.  The two of us pulled over to the curb and exited our cars.  The driver of the other car was a round, tall middle-aged man who unfurled a gargantuan golf umbrella.  I was so nervous I couldn't find my purse, much less anything to protect me from the rain.  I couldn’t see any damage to my bug-infused bumper, and we both looked anxiously at his, where water beaded expensively on the otherwise spotless surface.  There was a single, tiny round mark, where one of the two bolts securing my front license plate had punched into the plastic. 

I wanted to call the police, but he objected to this, asking “What are you afraid of?”  Well, him, to be honest.  Anyone who can afford to drive a car of that make, model and year in DC might well be someone used to throwing his weight around legally, and I haven’t the financial or emotional resources to respond adequately.  I’d never left the scene of an accident having just exchanged contact information, without a police report.  In fact, all I could think in my shaky state was, “Daddy’s dead and I don’t have anyone to ask for advice!”  Even in the middle of rush-hour traffic in a large city, I felt profoundly alone and abandoned.  

God hadn’t left, me, though—the other driver was not ungracious, he didn’t call me any names or use abusive language, although I could tell he was not thrilled with the circumstances.  He took a photograph of the indignity with his iphone and emailed it to me on the spot, and then we got back into our vehicles and continued on our way (it occurred to me that the DC police aren't great about responding to real emergencies, much less traffic incidents where there were no injuries and little perceivable property damage)—I burst into tears the moment I was back in the car, and shook for the next half-hour, convinced that the Lexus dealer, or whatever body shop to which he took the car for an estimate would try to sell him an entirely new bumper, instead of simply patching the 8mm mark. 

When I got home, I noticed that the name of the fellow and the email address marked him as an upper-echelon employee of one of the largest DC area radio stations, which, ironically, has the tagline “Traffic and Weather together.”  I calmed down and wrote him a note thanking him (in a diplomatic way) for not being a jerk about the event, and he responded that he would see to the repair soon.

I waited six weeks, and then emailed him again, asking if he’d gotten around to seeing to the bumper repair.  He responded that he’d not had the time, and didn’t think he was going to, and that “this one was on him.”  I am so grateful to have run into him, rather than someone less forgiving!  And happy that he was kind, as I have since discovered that we have mutual acquaintances (DC does have a small-town feel sometimes), and the story makes for a more satisfactory ending when it’s a tale of unexpected introduction to a decent soul rather than of a notorious evening I encountered yet another DC powermonster.

Injuries great and small to others and their possessions aside, the last week I must have been subconsciously determined to wreak damage on myself alone.  I have a large burn mark where I somehow cooked a strip of my right arm on the edge of my iron, and this morning, while I was doing last-minute setup for Anita’s and my jewelry show (which turned out quite successfully), I executed one of the more boneheaded moves of my long and varied career of inadvertent self-damage.  I was melting a bowlful of semi-sweet chocolate in the microwave (I did have the foresight to set it on half power, but there my wits left me), and when I took it out, there was a little spot that was smoking.  Not wanting the burnt part to ruin the rest of the bowlful, I grabbed a spoon, and scooped the smoking lump out.  Into my hand.

There’s an old saying that goes, “There’s no smoke without fire,” and I can testify to the truth of this.  And burning chocolate is not something that should be carried in the palm of one’s hand.  Nor does dumping the stuff into the other hand help.  Lava-hot chocolate doesn’t “dump” well—part stays stuck to its former container, while the main fiery lump settles into the new.  I spent perhaps ten minutes cradling both my hands under cold running water, praying that I wouldn’t develop Aztec stigmata.  And thinking “How old am I?  And how stupid am I?”

There’s little superficial evidence of my burns—only some reddening between the calluses on my palms—but my hands are very tender, and I won’t be picking up anything hotter than room temperature for a while without feeling it acutely.  On the bright side, I’d already made several dozen cookies from scratch and an entire pan of baklava before I cooked my palms, so there is enough comfort food in the house.  And the strawberries tasted wonderful dipped in the chocolate...  I can’t use the full-body elliptical machine at the gym until I can stand the friction on the hand-grips, though, so it looks like I’ll be riding the exercise bike for the next week.  And ruminating on my lack of common sense.

Thursday, February 09, 2012


My car is still functioning, thank God, but my sewing machine is waiting for a replacement part to arrive in the mail (hopefully that will do the trick--it started malfunctioning shortly after I installed the new needle, so I changed that for another.  Then it began skipping stitches...) while twenty or so patchwork bags sit in a state of semi-completion on top of my craft room table. 

I had hoped for a good turnout for Saturday's jewelry show here at my apartment, but only two people have RSVPed positively.  Anita and I had dinner Wednesday evening and agreed that it may be a really quiet afternoon.

The hoarder who lives at the house we've been working on in Maryland had a fit this afternoon and told her husband we were venturing into her space, and that she needs another two weeks to sort through things before we return.  We have another sale that we can do meantime, but I think this particular contract is going to drag on forever, with us returning for one or two days every fortnight to do what we can, and then decamping for less mold-infested environs while scant progress is made by the high strung homeowner.  I wore my super mask (with the grey rubber gasket over the mouth and nose and two screw-in pink filters on either side--I sound a bit like Darth Vader and look like I'm fresh from the Somme in it) and worked on sorting through the workshop, which is in the basement, today.  It reminded me of my granddaddy's, full of odd broken bits, random nails and nuts, pieces of wire and string and pots of long-dried paint, cans of toxic substances, half-used sandpaper and other things.  A little over half of it was salvageable, and of that, a third was still in the packaging from the stores where it was bought.  Nine nice brass register covers, for instance.  Wiring materials.  More windshield wiper fluid than a fleet of limousines might use in a decade.  And, of course, mouse poop everywhere.  I was grateful for the mask and for the rubber gloves my mother gave me at Christmas.

After our dismissal, our estate sale team decamped to the local Starbucks, and agreed that our adventures would make an award-winning Broadway musical.  The mummified snake I removed from the basement could be one true-to-death detail, and there would be show-stopping numbers, including "I'm stuck in ready-to-wear," "Haggling," "The Crazy Client," and "The Ballad of a Bottom-Feeder."  It would feature (as in life) a broadly ethnic all-female cast, and plenty of soap-opera drama, "like Dallas in Farsi," as one of my coworkers put it today.

Speaking of drama, I had another strange dream last night.  I was dining outside at a sidewalk cafe when a man with a narrow face, deep tan and a lovely nose came up to speak to me.  I didn't notice him at first because I was focused on the pets he had on leashes: three de-scented skunks.  Two were the conventional black and white, the third was blond, and further distinguished from the others in that whereas they were totally clipped, along its spine a ridge of fur, like a russet mohawk, had been left.  This unlikely trio were nosing in the gutter on their leads, and the man looked at me and said, "I know this is odd, since you don't know me, but will you marry me?"  I did what any sensible person would do.  I laughed.  "I'm flattered by your attention," I responded, "And your pet skunks are adorable, but I have to say no.  By the way, what was your name?"  He said it was Marion, and thanked me for being direct, and that he'd seen me near the river in Georgetown.  It was all very odd.  Usually I can trace my dreams, no matter how complex, to specific triggers--I'd read this or that book, or seen that movie, or had a conversation, and there was this character, or that detail, that obviously contributed to this theme, but for this one, I haven't a clue.  Marion's name and face were both unfamiliar, not based on any real-life example, and I haven't smelled or seen any skunks lately, though I have seen a number of dog-walkers out with various grades of canines on leashes.  It was also a warm, sunny fall day in my dream, and somehow I knew that Marion was Jewish, and that he was completely serious about his proposal.  It wasn't upsetting at all, but so clear that I couldn't help but remember the whole scene in full when I awoke.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

On Pins and Needles

Finding the right sort of needle on a website is almost as difficult as the proverbial search for one in a haystack.  My hypothetical coauthor of what (we hope) will become a wildly successful mystery novel was stricken with a sinus headache this afternoon and so I spent a quiet but productive evening at home, sewing on the Camper’s Tent Maker machine I inherited from my father.  While listening to an audiobook, I busily pieced over a dozen upholstery-fabric bags using Dabond sail-worthy thread (heavy stuff that purports to withstand wind, water and UV rays, among other natural and unnatural forces—I figured it would be perfect for bookbags), and then, disaster.  After months of good service, what turned out to be my last size 20 needle broke.  

To be fair, it had successfully withstood dozens of encounters with straightpins which I was using to hold the sides of the bags together for stitching, but this final barricade was too much.  I had hoped that the #18 needles I found in my notions drawer would be sufficient to handle the thick Dabond, but the thread kept splitting and bunching, turning into a snarl.

Discovery: Unlike wire, which drops in gauge number as its diameter increases, the larger the number of the sewing machine needle, the larger the hole at the tip.  A #20 is almost at the outer limit, not something that conventional fabric stores have in abundance.  I will have to wait until the two packets of #20s arrive from (it seems my father was not the only one who liked to improve the rigging on his boat himself, rather than trusting to the dubious skills of "professional" vendors—it wasn’t until I pretended to be a sail modifier that I was able to find the right website, and my local fabric retailer having let me down) before I can continue this particular creative project.

In the meantime, my common room is once again a wreck (I have to clean it up within ten days, as I am hosting a Valentines drop-in/Jewelry Show on the afternoon of Saturday, February 11), and if I can avoid lancing my feet with the errant pins which are littering the rug, it will be a miracle.