Posts From November 2014

Once more, with feeling -

It's been 11 (!) months since I tasked myself with BlogHer's NaBloPoMo challenge. The idea then was to push myself back into blogging and, perhaps more importantly, just writing regularly outside of work.  I was also motivated because I'd just signed up for the BlogHer14 conference and figured if I was going to go to a conference that was all about blogging and social media, well then I better up my blogging and social media game.

It was tough but also fun and sometimes revealing--it's interesting what we force out of ourselves when pushed. 

As a result of both the challenge and the conference I made some new friends and also witnessed just how the medium can change someone's path. At BlogHer I met people who had parlayed their blogs into new careers, book deals and more.

Which is not why I'm doing this. I'm doing this just to write.

In truth, I actually thought I'd spend November doing NaNoWriMo but then we planned two trips--including a six-day Texas visit--and suddenly that didn't seem very feasible. Because blogging may be a commitent to more writing but NaNoWriMo is a commitment to an intense schedule and word count and there's no point in setting one's self up for failure. (That's a blog post for another day, by the way--the state of The Book and its ever-changing moods).

So, anyhoo. Here we are, November 1. Blogging. Every day. Let's do this.

Seven things that maybe you didn't know about me (but maybe you did, who knows).

It's only been about three weeks since Transfinite Love tagged me to write a "7 Things You Don't Know About Me" post. I joked then that I'd get right on to procrastinating about it and, sure enough ...

Anyway, it seems like an appropriate post for day two of my renewed blogging life. Some of you--many of my friends anyway, already know most of this stuff I suppose, but hey, let's play along anyway:

1. I'm partially adopted. My parents split when I was two. My mother moved to the Bahamas (or was it Bermuda? Who knows) and my father went back into the service overseas. I ended up living with my paternal grandparents in Manchester, England until my father remarried when I was four. His new wife adopted me then and we moved back to the United States (Georgia). At this point I had a British accent but according to my mother, this bothered me so much that I worked hard to speak with an American accent.

2. I didn't meet or have any further contact with my biological mother--although I knew of her existence, and her story--until I was 26. We now talk regularly. She lives in Wichita Falls, TX (where I was born) and I'll be visiting her this week. On the flipside, I haven't had any contact with my father for 15 years. His choice, not mine.

3.  I once went 'undercover" at a local high school, posing as an 18-year-old student. This was before the movie Never Been Kissed. For the record, I did not make out with any fellow students. Or teachers. Oddly, my second time around in high school was both better and worse than the first time.

4. Paul Westerberg once name-checked me in a song. I mean, he mispronounced my last name. But still. PAUL. FREAKING. WESTERBERG. Oh, I was also in bed with him once. Long story.

5.  I was arrested for shoplifting as a teenager. Lipstick and other stupid, small things. I was 16, it was the height of my adolescent stupidity.

6. I used to have a knack for counting tiny objects in large jars (jellybeans, candy corn, pennies) and have won at least three contests with this talent.

7. Courtney Love once threatened to kick my ass. I once shared a cigarette with Matt Damon. Years before that, I lit a cigarette for Elliot Smith. My childhood self once had a crush on John Travolta, and when I told him that he ended crawling beneath a coffee table for me. That was weird.

 

Obsessive compulsive listening, Courtney Barnett edition

Today in lieu of a real blog post (sorry, this month will probably see lots of, um, 'cheat' posts. It's November. I'm crazy busy, Also, sometimes, just lazy), I wanted to take a moment to insist you check out a song by one of my favorite current artists.

I first heard the Courtney Barnett record this spring and was almost immediately hooked. I think I listened to it one afternoon and thought, 'OK, that's good--though it sounds nothing like most of the reviews I've read (said reviews dubbed her alt.country).  (To clarify, the record The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas actually comprises her first two EPs). If I could get you to listen to one album this year, this would be it.

Then I listened to it again on another afternoon. And again on the same afternoon. And then again. I probably listened to the entire record four times that day. Then I made Cory listen to it, too, and got him just as obsessed with the Australian singer-songwriter.

I'm not even joking when I say I put the CD in my car back in May or June or whatever and have not taken it out since.

Her music, for the uninitiated, is smart and wordy and totally catchy with gutsy guitar work. The best way I can describe it as Liz Phair fronts Nirvana. Cory think there's also a hint of Opal in there, too. Maybe some Juliana Hatfield, too.

In August we had a chance to catch Barnett and her band (The Courtney Barnetts, naturally) at Pappy & Harriet's in Pioneertown. Had the chance to talk to her then and she was as nice and down-to-earth as I'd hoped--taking the time to talk to every single person who approached her (or hovered nervously) after the band' s set. That set, by the way, was awesome. Lots of fun guitar play and band camaraderie. Cory was even sneaky enough to email her ahead of the show and ask her to dedicate a song to me for wedding anniversary.  And she did. And I may have even teared up a little.

Now we're going to see her again tonight at Slim's and then on Saturday we'll catch yet another set in Austin at the Fun, Fun, Fun festival. (Listen, I know how it looks--but we were going to be in Austin anyway, visiting family. I swear I'm not stalking her).

All this and today is her birthday, too. To celebrate here's a live clip of "Out of the Woodwork," (recorded live at KEXP in Seattle) of one of my favorite songs (and the opening track) from the record. It's sad and moody and smart and gets stuck in your head and is, in short, worth the probably hundreds of listens I've given to it in the last seven or so months. 

 

 

That Texas feeling

In less than 12 hours I'll be on a plane headed to Texas, probably sitting in my cramped seat sipping a Bloody Mary, filled with anxiety, excitement and other mixed emotions.

There, we'll visit Austin, Dripping Springs, Wichita Falls and places in between, visiting family, seeing friends and checking out Fun Fun Fun.

The other day as I started to stress out for various reasons--mostly regarding travel logistics and family dynamics--Cory pointed out that in addition to all those things we have planned, the trip would allow me to "get my Texas recharge."

That cheered me up a bit. Because family dramas and packed schedules aside, I am very excited about returning to my home state--including the very street where I lived as a baby.

Sure, I'm disappointed that the election didn't go better. I'd hoped to come home to a new governor and a more progressive state, but the conservative status quo won out this time.

It's odd, I know, I haven't had a Texas address since I was 13--but I still consider it home.

California is home to me, too, however. Just as much so as Texas. It's just that I mostly get to experience the Golden State everyday while my Lone Star moments drift further and further apart. It's been 29 months since my last visit. But who's counting?

All of my anxieties aside (there'll be time to write about that later, I suppose), I'm looking forward to driving long stretches on the highway beneath that gigantic Texas sky. I can't wait to drive through tiny backwoods towns and, also, visit the last house where I lived. I can't wait to see bluebonnets and signs for Blue Bell ice cream. I hope we get to visit the botanical gardens or at least a few great indie record shops. I'm not necessarliy a nostalgic person, but I hope to reconnect wtih a part of myself that's always there but often lies buried beneath my grown-up California self.

Catch y'all later.

Sometime to return ...

Normally I'm a good traveler, really. I love flying. I love going from Point A to Point B.

Not today, though. Not as much anyway.

The morning started out rough.  Three hours sleep was probably the biggest culprit, which means that, essentially, I'm to blame because I'm the one who was still up at midnight--just four hours before the alarm was set to buzz--still sipping on whiskey and anxieties.

I have a hard enough time making myself go to bed on the best of nights, factor in worry and excitement and putting head to pillow seems nearly impossible.

But I got there eventually and then the iPhone alarm did its shrill vibrato thing and I was awake, bleary-eyed and trying to stuff the last of my belongings into a duffel bag

We made that first flight OK, although not without some bickering. I wish I could just set a blanket pre-apology to Cory for the whole damn trip: I'm sorry, I'm stressed. I'm worried, I know I'm taking it out on you." Instead my hackles go up and it's like my mind suits up in camouflage ready to storm bunkers and jungles and innocent villages.

And so we boarded that flight tense and mostly silent. The girl next to me fiddled with her music player, at full volume, before finally settling on some particularly loud selection and, thankfully, switching to headphones. After what felt like an endless trip down the runway--with the plane's wheels making something of a god-awful racket and me muttering silent prayers--the plane finally took flight and I fell asleep clutching a half-filled coffee cup. It's something of a wonder that I slept (and didn't spill my coffee, although I awoke once as the cup tilted, its lid pointed perilously toward my lap).

I don't normally sleep that much on planes. I love flying--staring out the window, taking the time to read or write. I'm normally such a good traveler and even in the most boxed-in, tightest fits of situations I hold sort of a reverence for this contained set of time, this reprieve from everything. The best part is ordering a Bloody Mary, no matter the time of day. There's something about that tiny bottle of vodka and the way the flight attendant leaves you the entire can of tomato juice.

Not today, though. Mostly I slept, fitfully, trying to reclaim some lost hours of sleep.

The plane landed in Salt Lake City. Things were still tense and mostly silent. A trip to the restroom where I tried not to feel too horrified at the sight of the bags beneath my eyes--accentuated in 3D relief by the bathroom's unforgiving fluorescent lighting.

Outside the bathroom, a few more tense words and then Cory cut me off--and thankfully so--to inform me we were late for boarding our flight.

"No, we're not," I said, waving my phone at him. "We have an hour."

"No, we don't," he said. "It's 9:28."

I looked down at my phone dumbly; it said 8:28. I'd switched it off airplane mode yet it was still stuck on Sacramento time.

We took off, nearly running, making our way from Terminal D to Terminal B as an overhead voice advised "final boarding call" for our flight.

We made that flight with only a moment to spare.  "Final boarding call," the voice said again, this time much sterner. "The gates will be closing."

Lungs bursting, we stumbled to the gate.

"Cory and Rachel?" the gate attendant asked smoothly, taking our bags and insisting that we check them. The last I remember is Cory putting pink tags on the bags, which we left with the attendant.

In our seats, I nearly broke down crying.

"You're shaking," Cory said.

Blame it on the 5-K dash, blame it on the stress. Blame it on the hunger growling through my stomach.

Just when I thought I'd calmed down enough to deal, Cory wondered about those bags. We'd left them at the gate. Did they actually make it to the plane? In the rush, we hadn't thought to ask if we needed to carry them to the plane ourselves.

There'd be no way of knowing if our baggage traveled with us until we landed. Literally, that is. Metaphorically speaking, all our baggage was present and accounted for.

Bloody Mary's ordered, we bumped and lurched as the plane navigated its way through a rough storm patch above Texas. Every now and again the plane tilted suddenly side to side and I'd feel my stomach tumble with it.  "The pilot has advised us," the flight attendant chirped happily over the intercom, "that the ride will be like this much of the duration."

In Austin, we were, thankfully, reunited with our bags only to find fiasco at the rental car counter where I was informed that the car I'd rented was actually in Ontario. You know, Southern California. Seems there was some sort of mix-up (I mean, obviously) that confused details with another rental I'd made on the same day--this one for a trip to Joshua Tree next week.

I'm not even sure how that could happen--because there was also, still, another reservation for that weekend. A computer glitch, but they could still help us.

With a mini-van.

Which I declined on principle.

Or a Mini Cooper.

Which Cory declined on practicality.

Finally, we drove away in a Dodge Charger. It was pouring outside. Torrents of rain, actually, with a five-hour drive to Wichita Falls ahead.

And I'm not going to say it was the easiest drive but there was big sky and water towers and rural junctions and tiny towns that came and went in just one roadside exit. And as the miles drifted by and I eventually drifted off into a nap, all of the day’s troubles finally drifted away.

Texas.

 

 

Welcome to Whisky-ta-Falls

I was born in Wichita Falls but, I'll admit, I've never spent much time here. My father moved me overseas when I was barely two and after that I only came back a few times to visit his grandmother (Grandma Zack, mean as can be) and other scattered relatives.

When I was a teenager he'd drag me up here now and again for a family reunion--something I hated fiercely. It was always hot and the place seemed old and shabby. I didn't connect much with it at all except for the moments (always) when I'd wonder if I'd run into my mother.

If she lived here still. I tried to imagine what she was doing, where she lived, if she'd recognize me if she saw me on the street. I didn't know then of course that she was nowhere near Wichita Falls at the time--in fact she was about as far away as you could get, living in Korea with her third husband. There was no way of knowing then--because almost no one on my dad's side of the family would talk about her and when they did it was in a mostly hushed and disapproving way--but the person I imagined my mother to be was the complete opposite of the person she turned out to be.

Anyway.

As an adult, I've been back several times and over the years my feelings about the place have shifted. Turns out Wichita Falls is a lot bigger than I remember it. My dad's grandmother lived in a poorer section of town. I remember a creaky old bungalow with a chain link fence and a reunion dinner held at an old barbecue place housed in a trailer. I remember the air force base and a mostly deserted downtown.

The Wichita Falls I see today is still pretty run down in places. But there are also really nice neighborhoods with lovely brick Tudor homes and sprawling mansions. My mother and stepdad (husband number three) live in this neighborhood--on the very street that my parents lived on when I was a baby. My parents lived in an apartment building and now my mother's house is across the corner. It's more than a little strange to think about the long journey she took between here and there.

On this trip, as with everyone I've made since my mother and I finally met nearly 20 years ago, they gave us what they call the "nickel tour," showing off Midwestern State University (where my mother went to college for a few years), the (still mostly deserted) downtown and all the built up "oil homes," including one that used to belong to the family that founded Mobile Oil.

Apparently there used to be a lot of money in this town.

"Wichita Falls used to be the richest city per capita," my stepdad told us.

It also was, apparently, quite the place for crime.

Bonnie & Clyde spent a lot of time here--in fact Bonnie Parker once worked in a cafe here and, according to an exhibit at the Museum of North Texas History, moved here to be with Clyde Barrow after he got out of jail (lying to her mother in Dallas that she was just coming here for a job).

Jesse and Frank James also spent quite a bit of time here. As did Charles Ponzi. Yeah, the Ponzi scheme guy.

My favorite bit of Wichita Falls history so far, however, is its reputation as something of a liquor town--in fact, they called it Whisky-ta-Falls.

With 21 saloons and liquor traffic so heavy they changed the train schedules to accomodate those who came into town to buy some booze, this obviously would have been my kind of place back in the day.

5 Tips for Visiting Your Republican Mother

What's that saying about picking your friends, not your family? Essentially this just means you're stuck with the people with whom you share bloodlines. And that can make for some awkward moments.

Because common bloodlines don't necessarily mean common values, shared interests, or, especially, a similar political outlook.

I still remember the time my biological mother told me "I'd never have let you vote Democrat." As if she had a choice.

 

And if she had raised me, who's to say I wouldn't have still turned out to be a liberal "silver flower" (her name for hippies or at least that one well-to-do hippie we ran into in downtown Wichita Falls on my last visit. She was dressed in a maxi skirt and wearing no make-up--the horror. I can only imagine that my mother glanced at my still-dyed hair and sighed in relief, thinking, there but for the grace of God and Nice N Easy Root Touch Up go I.

Anyway, point is that sometimes--unless there are devastating reasons to decide otherwise--you should probably sometimes go home again. And it doesn't have to be too painful if you just adopt a few methods of self-preservation.

1) Focus on what you have in common: On the surface I don't think my mother and I share much. Certainly not looks--at least not obviously so. But we have the same eyes and we definitely share a love for clothing, shoes and bags even if our tastes in such are very, very different. Cory thinks we share the same sense of vanity although I'm not apt to reapply my lipstick nearly a dozen times a day (I'm, sadly perhaps, more of a one-and-done kind of gal). She also loves bright colors and flashy jewelry in the same way I wear a lot of black. I'm pretty sure in fact that she finds my fashion choices appalling. Still it's there--those common threads. We both also love black coffee, chocolate and cats. I don't know if that's genetics but it at least is a starting point for conversation.

2) Share the past: I can count on one hand the number of times I've come out to visit my mother since we first met in 1996. There are still many pieces to the family history puzzle that I'm still coaxing from her. It hasn't been easy but at least it's something to talk about. Where she grew up, what her parents were like, what her sister is like. Little bits of history, spilled drop by drop.

3) Don't sweat the stupid, small stuff. Really. So she thinks being vegetarian means finding you a place to eat that offers a vegetable-heavy side dish menu. Just eat the steamed broccoli and baby carrots, smile and say it's wonderful

4) Go ahead and talk politics--that is if you've got the will power to bite your tongue when your mother tells how handsome and charming Rick Perry is and what a good job she thinks Greg Abbott will do as governor and goodness, didn't he just kick that little Wendy Davis' behind? Ask politely about the congressman with whom they had breakfast on Election Day. It's OK, you can handle one conversation like this and, amazingly, she never even brings up Obama once. Progress!

5) Alcohol, obviously.

Heavy

We're on day four of this trip and already it feels like it's been a lifetime. We've flown halfway across the country and driven more than 600 miles up and around the state of Texas to visit family. Two days with my biological mother and a day and a half with my aunt and grandmother. Super-fast trip, but not so fast that the heaviness doesn't have time to sink in.

My family's history, like that of so many other families, is one built on half-truths and myths, secrets and regrets. But there are sweet memories, too, and laughs.

Visiting with my grandmother today brought a sense of bittersweetness. Joyful memories and the weighty realization that this might be the last time I see her.

She recognized me--my aunt was afraid that she wouldn't--and she got to meet Cory and she told me he was handsome. She held my hand tightly and told me I was beautiful. I told her I loved her, she said she loved me, too. We shared a few memories as she sipped on the beer that Linda brought her, and then finally I could tell she was exhausted and it was time to leave. She wanted me to spend the night in her room--like I used to when I was a child and, even sometimes, a teenager.

Instead, I kissed her goodbye and promised I'd see her again.

Somehow, someway, in some other lifetime, I know I will.

Circling home ..

In less than 12 hours we'll be on a flight to Sacramento.  Is it possible to feel like you're leaving home in order to go home?  That's what it feels like here.

Every time I return to Texas I feel as though I've come home to reclaim a part of myself. And every time I board the plane or train or point the car back West, I feel like I'm returning home to who I am now.

These feelings don't comprise two separate parts of me, they comprise the whole.

Goodbye, Texas, hello, until the next time ...

Ancient battles, lingering feuds and immeasurable love

This trip ended with echoes of how it started.

But this time for different reasons. Once again there was no sleep--and this despite three glasses of cheap wine. After less than four-hours of tissue-thin sleep we stumbled through packing the rest of our belongings and making our way to the airport. There were no almost-missed flights, rather our flight from Austin to Los Angeles arrived 40 minutes early, which meant we had to taxi--at an excruciatingly slow pace--the runway until a gate opened up. It was like Speed except with 100 percent less Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock and excitement.

By the time we made it to the terminal, a misty fog blanketed Los Angeles, and kept us trapped in LAX for nearly two hours beyond our departure time. Finally, however, the plane lifted itself above Southern California, above the clouds and toward Sacramento.

This time instead of anxiety I felt relief. I was ready to return to my California home, but I also felt frustration and sadness.

Mostly, however, I felt gratitude. Family provides such insight into who we are--the choices we make, the paths we avoid, the wrongs we aim to right, etc. Which is just part of the reason why it was so important to me that Cory finally get the chance to meet family on my dad's side of the family. Not my father, of course, but at least my aunt and my grandmother.

My beautiful grandmother, who at different times in my life has amazed me, entertained me, angered me, frustrated me and always, always loved me. The senior Miss Rachel and I have had our differences over the years. Arguments and bitter words. But we've also had immeasurable love and I'll never be able to repay the way she took me in at a time I needed her most. I'm so grateful that Cory had the opportunity to meet her; I'm so grateful I've had the chance to see her again.

I'm also so grateful for my aunt--my dad's younger sister--who has always been there for me, too. For as long as I can remember, she's had my back, despite the way certain histories have unfolded. That couldn't have always been easy. I imagine it's still difficult at times. And yet she always makes me feel like family, like I have a slab of something solid in an otherwise cracked and rocky foundation.

I thought of this as Cory and I sat at LAX eating overpriced omelets, parsing the events of the last several days. I wondered how it is possible to have two living biological parents and yet still feel orphaned at times. I wondered what it means to have the unconditional love and support of my adoptive mother, and yet still feel the need to seek out other answers, other chapters to the history book. I wondered at the way people hold on to old angers, to lingering feuds, to decades-long hurts--grasping them stubbornly until, finally, they fossilize diamond-hard and impenetrable.

I wondered at just what I could do to not be a part of this--to not repeat old mistakes, to not carry on ancient battles. Is there a way to do this, to study the past and yet remain grounded in the present?

The answer may never be clear.

 

 

What we worry about when we worry about trying not to worry

Today's NaBloPoMo prompt asks: "If you could permanently get rid of one worry, what would it be?

The question seems odd both in syntax and context, For starters, it sounds as if it it's asking which worry I'd like donated to Goodwill and carted away, thank you very much. 

Also--and I realize this might seem weird--but I'm not sure I want to "permanently" rid myself of one particular concern. Worry serves a purpose. Worry reminds us of what's important, what's at stake.

That is, of course, unless those worries threaten to hold you hostage--if they stop you from taking action and moving forward and generally just living your goddamned life already.

To that extent, I have been trying to worry less about the future (money, house, the health of those I love).

And here it's not about conflating "worrying less" with "caring less". Rather,  I realize there are so many things I have no control over (the economy, biology, etc) and so instead I'm trying to channel those worries into action. What actions can I take to address those things? What controls do I have?

This isn't to say these things don't shock me awake at 3 a.m.. They do. It's just that I'm trying to learn to take more deep breaths and realize that all the worry in the word--all the action in the word, even--may not change the outcome.

Shut up Time, why is this even a thing?

Listen, I was totally prepared to come here and start ranting about Time's asinine  "Which Word Should Be Banned in 2015" thingie but frankly I really just don't have the energy to dissect just how a national, respected magazine could lump in the word "feminist" in with words and phrases such as "om nom nom," "I can't even" and "turnt":

"feminist: You have nothing against feminism itself, but when did it become a thing that every celebrity had to state their position on whether this word applies to them, like some politician declaring a party? Let’s stick to the issues and quit throwing this label around like ticker tape at a Susan B. Anthony parade."

Since when is "feminist" a "thing" that should be derided in the breath as "bae," "literally" and "obvi'? That it is reveals the author to be sophomoric, shallow and completely missing out on all points. It reveals the author to be someone willfully ignorant and derisive of history and struggles and injustices, past and present.

I mean, seriously, how is this even a discussion?

Because it will probably always be a discussion among small-minded people and those who don't truly grasp the history and significance of the word. (And Courtney Love, too, of course).

I'm not going to rant about it now because I ranted about this subject four years ago--how the word "feminist" has been vilified. In fact it was the subject of one of my first blog entries here:

"Maybe it’s not a big deal that young women don’t want to use the F word – maybe it’s outdated, maybe its connotations don’t resonate, maybe there’s another word that better defines what it is we are and what we do.

That’s not to say I won’t still call myself a feminist — I am one, I always will be one, even when I don’t think about it all the time.  That said, I won’t get freaked out when some woman 20 years (or younger) my junior speak a different cultural language of change (maybe it’s similar to how I cringe at the word “lady” or “ma’am” in certain contexts) at least not as long as she’s actually out there living the life."

So this is me not ranting now. Besides, Shawna at The Bluest Muse does a much better job of explaining why Time's argument is infuriating and why the word and concept remain relevant:

"I'll stop "throwing this label around" when the pay gap disappears, when mothers aren't systematically punished in the workplace for caring for children, when men can access paternity leave freely, when women aren't asked what they were wearing before getting raped."

Perfectly said and, accordingly,  here's me giving zero fucks about this controversy.  Because "feminist" is not a trendy word, it's a social, cultural and political movement that's far from over or outdated.

On how I'll become the most sleep-having, green tea-drinking, most Zen person ever

Hey guys, remember that time I thought it'd be fun to blog every day in November?

We're not even half-way through the month and I'm feeling some blogging fatigue. I think, mostly, it's because the last week has been so hectic, so heavy.

But, I can't just blame it on Texas. If I'm being honest with myself, the fatigue has been brought upon by a lack of care for myself, a lack of mindfulness.

Between work and school and time with friends and families, it pretty much feels as if every last minute of my day is packed. To the point that it's 10 p.m. on a drizzly and chilly Thursday evening in mid-November and I'm suddenly struck with a sense of exhaustion and dread:

Oh yeah, that's right, I still have to fucking blog because apparently I thought it was a really good fucking idea to commit to one more goddamned thing in my life.

So, yeah, that.

Still, it's 13 days in and I'm invested. While I understand the importance of knowing when to tap out, to know when to say when, I'm also saddled with a healthy (I think) sense of pride.

I'm going to do my best to see this through.

But it's also got me thinking a lot about how to make my life a little more balanced.

I mean, for fuck's sake, I haven't worked out in 10 days. And I can feel the effects of that not just in the tightness of my jeans (oof) but in the stress held in my shoulders and the stiffness of my legs.

I need yoga and spin class and long walks and green tea and healthy juices and notably smaller amounts of alcohol and carbohydrates and sugar. And plenty of sleep. God, especially the sleep.

Of course with the holidays crush about to happen, all of those things may not be happening anytime soon--at least on a consistent enough basis to make a difference.

In the short-term however, we are getting away for a quick trip to Pioneertown and Joshua Tree. There's a part of me, naturally, that would rather stay home this weekend. We were gone nearly a week and have been home for only four days and I'm already having to think about packing again...ugh.

Still, this trip will be different. No family drama. Just good friends and gorgeous nature and awesome music and some much-needed time on the open road.

I swear to God that after that I will exercise more, eat better, drink less, sleep more and generally just be the most green tea-drinking Zen person ever.

I mean, maybe.

 

All of these lines in my face getting bolder ...

I feel as though BlogHer's NaBloPoMo prompt was written for me, specifically:  Do you enjoy growing old or do you fight against it?

If I'm being completely honest--and as a feminist who tries to fight against conventional gender norms and stupid beauty standards, I hate being completely honest in this case--I don't particularly love getting older.

But I'm not necessarily fighting it either.

I've been thinking about it since my trip to Texas. When you go two-and-a-half years without seeing family members they suddenly appear older the next time you cross paths. That can be jarring.  Last time I visited, my grandmother was relatively mobile and clear-headed. Just 29 months later she is noticeably frailer, less cognitive. My birth mother is thinner, too. Grayer in places.

It happens to the best and worst of us, I suppose. Unless you want (and can afford) legions of Botox treatments (and thus turn into one of those "women of an indeterminable age" as my aunt calls them) then you get distinctly older: Grayer hair. Lines creasing your face. Thinner or fatter depending on your metabolism.

Certainly, it's happening to me. Crow's feet, smile lines, etc. I mean, I just got a pair of reading glasses. If that doesn't say "getting older," I don't know what does.

Aging slows you down, too. You tire more easily. And maybe find yourself more prone to getting sick. You forget things. For a while it's fine, you're just forgetting things that don't necessarily need to be in your brain anyway like Britney Spears' birthday or whether you needed to pick up creamer.

But then you get around someone significantly older than you and you realize this is just going to get worse. You're going to forget the names (temporarily, but still) of people close to you. You're going to get stiffer and slower each year. You're going to watch people die off around you.

I can see this through the eyes of my grandmother and, also, Cory's.

And so even as I look in the mirror and curse the furrowed line between my brows (thank god for bangs, right?), I recognize there are deeper fears at work here.

Of not being self-sufficient. Of losing my sight or my ability to walk. Of watching years slip away--and with them, agility, critical thinking skills and opportunity.

Oh my god, there are so many things I haven't done yet. So many things I still want to do.

I'll be 45 in just five weeks or so. Middle-aged, officially, really.  As such, I've found it impossible not to think of everything I have yet to accomplish in my life. A pessimistic view, I suppose, but for me a realistic one. An impetus to get my ass moving.

Am I fighting getting older? Not necessarily. That's nearly impossible (save the Botox), but I do think I've made willful decisions to stay active, both physically and intellectually. I try to get exercise, I take classes, I try to make sure my life is filled with new experiences and new stimulants.

Most of the time I don't feel like I'm 46. In my head I'm just me.

But the physical evidence is there. God, how I hate the physical evidence. I just can't lie about that or sugarcoat it; I miss the babysmooth face of my 20s. I hate my stupid metabolism.

So thank goodness I still have some control over the other things. All those things I still want to do. Is that fighting getting older? I guess, in a way, that it is.

 

 

Gone ...

Headed to Joshua Tree and Pioneertown (and Pappy & Harriet's). So, for now...(this counts as a blog post, right?)

Some summers, they drop like flies

It's Autumn, my favorite season--but one that seems to take forever to seed and take root.

Here's a playlist I made a few weeks ago to try to coax it out of its hot, summery shell.

Re-entry (or how I stopped blogging and learned to give myself a break already*)

Listen, I know I've been a shitty blogger lately what with just the pictures and the playlists but I just spent two-and-a-half lovely days in Joshua Tree and then had a cruel re-entry into work, which after hanging out watching the Dum Dum Girls and Victoria Wlliams and that keyboardist who once played with Leonard Cohen and just eating so much good food and drinking great drinks and hanging out with amazing friends and getting nearly swept away by monster wind in a state park, and then heading back into work and then class, well I am tired.

Very, very, very tired.

So that's why I'm just posting this pretty picture of the mountaintops between Ontario and somewheresville.

This was our last real trip for the year and, really, I'm glad. I just want to spend the rest of 2014 with my husband and my cats and my friends. I want to get centered again, I want to have time to be lazy. I want to spend an entire day in my pajamas just reading and watching TV (I honestly cannot tell you the last time that happened. January, maybe).

So, for now....

*And, no, this isn't the end of blogging, it's just the end of me beating myself up over a half-assed post.

How to be home

Been home for almost three days and I still haven't unpacked. Truth is, I never fully unpacked from the Texas trip--there were just four days between that arrival and the next departure. So now my suitcase remains full, rifled through every morning as I pull out clean socks and that top I never got around to wearing in Joshua Tree.

But that's OK because that was the last out-of-town trip of the year and this weekend I plan on doing a whole lot of nothing, if by 'nothing' you mean unpacking and cleaning and generally getting my life back in order.

It's been a good year for travel. Although there was nothing to quite rival 2013's trip to the U.K. and Belgium, 2014 brought several shorter trips: the Nevada desert, Malibu, Nashville, Austin, San Jose, Lake Tahoe, Austin, Joshua Tree--twice.

But now I'm glad to unpack the suitcase one final time and spend the remainder of the year at home.  I love traveling--visiting places new and old--but right now I also feel uncentered, without focus. I feel rushed and distracted. I feel as though I can't quite catch up on anything. My writing has fallen behind, other projects need attention and the thought of the holiday season is sending me into a mild panic.

This weekend will be about shifting back to the center: Unpacking, sipping tea, reading a book, writing, sorting through mail, cleaning, finally pulling out the winter sweaters and putting away summer clothes. There will be sleeping in and time spent with cats and lazy TV watching and I really hope it rains because that's the best way to enjoy such a weekend. That's the best way to be at home after so much time away from it.

 

 

I'm just waiting on a friend ...

It was a sunny day in late May as I perched on the steps to my New York third floor walk-up. A Friday morning, I think--10 a.m. 1998. The movers were already two hours late and as my U-Haul blocked off part of the street, double-parked with hazard lights flashing, I wondered just what the hell I was going to do. With the dozens upon dozens of boxes cluttering my tiny studio apartment. With my futon, my desk, my dressers. With my life.

I'd only lived in New York for a few months when I decided to move back to California. To call my Manhattan career stint an epic fail would be an epic fail of an understatement. But that's a story for another time. All that mattered then—all that matters now--is that I was in love and determined to move back to Sacramento.

I'd managed to get out of my lease and had given two weeks notice at my job and now I didn't have an income and any professional pride I'd previously held on to had already disintegrated to smithereens. But I did have a fiancĂ©—a guy who I’d really only known for a few months when it comes down to it—and a new home waiting for me. There was no looking back. Just forward motion.

I'd spent the last few weeks re-packing almost everything I'd just brought out with me from California. What I didn't want anymore I hauled down to the front stoop. Usually whatever offering I left to the gods of New York living--an old bookcase, piles of tattered books, my grandmother's ratty green chair that I'd loved sitting in for an afternoon of reading--would disappear within hours if not minutes.

Eventually that left just me, my cat Sophie,  and the rest of my not-so-worldly belongings. I didn’t have much but as I waited for the movers to show up--and waited, and waited, and waited--it felt like a junk shop’s worth of outdated relics in the History of Rachel.

I started making a mental inventory of everything I had. Part of the deal of getting out of my lease early was that I had to turn over the keys by 5 p.m that day. I'd called the movers a week ago--after pulling the number from one of those torn flyers that decorate telephone poles and bulletin boards everywhere in NYC--and they'd promised to have someone at my West 105th street apartment by 8 a.m. It would cost me $200 in cash (plus tip) for the job.

Now, however, I knew they weren't showing up. Nor were they picking up the phone when I called. I tried to figure out my options. I had an envelope stuffed with cash in a kitchen drawer but not must physical power. I stood five feet six inches and weighed 120 pounds, not much of which was actually muscle.

In other words, I was in a world of trouble.

Theoretically I could move most of the boxes myself. It's just that there were so many and I still had an entire storage space's worth of stuff waiting for me on the Lower East Side. Clearly planning had not been my strength in organizing this move and now I had to face reality in the coldest, harshest of terms.

And yet sitting there on the stoop, I felt paralyzed with uncertainty. Even if I could handle all the boxes, how would I move the big furniture? And how could I do it all before 5 p.m., or even 7 p.m. when the storage unit closed? I felt so overwhelmed that I’d moved past the point of being frantic and sunk into a frighteningly still and bottomless sea of numbness.

Just as I'd resolved to leave everything big behind, a man approached me. I don't remember how he started the conversation. Friendly enough, I'm sure. Just small talk. He was older, maybe in his early 60s. Graying hair and loose, paunchy skin in the face. Shabby but clean clothes.

He asked me about the U-Haul and I told him it was mine, that I was just waiting on movers who were apparently never going to show up.

I wondered aloud if the landlord would take a cut of my deposit because I'd be leaving the apartment filled with cheap furniture. I wondered if they could extend my lease by a few days, a week maybe. I wondered how much this would cost me. I speculated on all of this without hysterics. I no longer had the wherewithal to be upset. Things just needed to happen. I had to somehow push myself off that stoop and start moving already.

The man looked at the U-Haul and then at me. He asked me what floor I lived on.

"Third," I said. "No elevator, steep, winding stairs."

"I'll help you," he said.

I looked at him, surprised.

"No, that's OK--I'll figure it out." I didn't know this man, certainly I couldn't trust him. It would be stupid to let him into my apartment, to let him handle my belongings, to trust him with what little I had left.

He pulled a wallet from his back pocket and handed it to me.

"You remind me of my daughter," he said when I didn't take it from him.

"Go ahead. Give it back to me when I'm done. I want to help."

Sometimes in the years since when I've recounted this story, someone will frown with disapproval when I reach this part.

That was probably a fake wallet. He probably stole it from someone else. You have to be careful.

Of course you have to be careful but sometimes you find yourself sitting there facing a giant, black hole into the unknown and when someone come along and offers even the tiniest bit of a hand, you accept it.

I didn't take out the ID inside his wallet and look to see if the name or picture matched the one he’d given me. I didn’t look to see if he had cash or credit cards or any evidence of a life, real or counterfeit.

Instead I thanked him, took his wallet upstairs and placed it into the kitchen drawer next to the envelope stuffed with cash and then showed him the boxed-up mess that comprised my life.

He immediately set about to work, lugging piece after piece without complaint. Box by box. Sometimes two or three boxes at a time, stacked precariously as he flew down the stairs, skipping several at a time. His agility and cheerful enthusiasm far belied the gray in his hair, the looseness of his skin.

At some point the movers finally arrived--at least four hours late. Two young men, fit and muscled. They were angry when I told them I no longer needed them. We argued. Finally they gave up and left.

For the next several hours this man and I moved boxes down the stairs and into that U-Haul. He carried a million times over the load that I did. He lugged as much of the big stuff as possible by himself and then roped in a neighbor to help him with my futon and dressers.

In return I gave him water and lunch and some conversation. When we were finished, when he’d slammed shut the U-Haul door with satisfaction, I thanked him for his help and returned to him his wallet along with a small handful of cash. $80 I think--that's the most he would allow me to give him.

He wished me luck, told me to drive carefully out there on my way back to California. Hoped that I was starting a happy and prosperous life.

I made it to the leasing office well before 5 p.m. and turned in the keys. Then I drove myself, Sophie and that packed moving truck over to the storage unit where I spent the next few hours using a dolly to carry loads of boxes out of my space, into an elevator and to the truck.

Sophie and I crossed over the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey sometime shortly after sunset, singing along to Whiskeytown and Yo La Tengo songs, scared but happy. Ready for the next adventure. Alone but not really.

**This post is in response to today's NaBloPoMo prompt which asks "Tell us about one time that you benefited from the kindness of strangers."

**That picture above? That's my old apartment. West 105th Street and Broadway, thank you Google street view for the memory.

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blogging...

...to bring you some self promotion. Earlier this year (July, I think), I was interviewed for a Blogger Beat podcast episode.

Trisha Lynn Fawver and I chatted about all things personal blogging--but most specifically about "writing boundaries" and breaking through creative blocks.

I haven't listented to the finished episode yet but it was a fun conversation, so give it a whirl if you have time.

And, in other self promotional news, I'll be reading tonight at Luna's Cafe ( 8 p.m., 1414 16th Street)  as part of the quarterly series. A couple of poems including, maybe, this one:

 

Words do what they do”

 

You will not escape unpunished; this will

find you like a dog trained for blood;

the scent brutal, cold, metallic.

 

Hunt you, push you deep into piss-puddled streets and coffee cup gutters,

until you’re coated with taxi-choked exhaust;

fighting sad-eyed ghosts with toothless smiles.


You must run, run, run;

never look back; even if you think

you’ve outpaced revenge.

 

You’re not lucky. No.


You must fall into a heart-sized abyss of fear;

you must pour a thimble-full of regret;

you must grieve a sense of loss, bigger than Texas.

 

You can retell the story a million times.

Change the ending, repaint the truth.

Forget the names; shift the blame.

But this will not carry into dust.

 

Words do what they do.

You will not escape unpunished.

You cannot burn bridges.

Ashes always flutter—float the sky, smother everything.

 

Now, crime scene evidence: letters shoved into drawers, buried beneath layered silk.

Hidden photographs, even with their scratched-out faces—

become proof of wanting. Waiting. Willing a return.

 

You will not escape unpunished.

Your face will fold into itself, crease into ugliness.

Hair will pale to gray; fall out. Fall away.

 

You did it. You wanted it. You made it so.

You will not escape unpunished.

 

Even as you build altars of apology:

Tiny dolls, made-up whore faces.

 

Small offerings mean nothing.

You stupid, stupid girl.


 


 

 

 

 

Young adult (a.k.a, 'Because, whiskey')

I was trying, desperately, to think of a blog post topic without just resorting to a photo montage of my cats (but that would be, OK right?).

There are plenty of topics on which I want to write--Bill Cosby, President Obama's action on immigration for starters--but it is Friday night and it is has been such a long week and my head hurts and Cory is sick with a horrible cold and asleep on the couch and...well, you get the idea. My brain is not particularly ready for any heavy lifting at this point.

On a whim, I ventured over to the Bluest Muse blog for inspiration. Happily, she did not disappoint.

A recent blog post titled It's okay to hate squash and other things I like about adulthood got me thinking.

Here, Shawna mulled how she  "realized how much I enjoy certain facets of adulthood. Bills suck. Buying tires sucks. Dealing with death, and drama, and endless taxes sucks." (YES. I just had to buy four new tires and found it the worst possible way to drop $350 on a Saturday afternoon).

Still, being an adult, she continued, meant many good things, including but not limited to eating brownies for breakfast, openly hating squash and grocery shopping. I LOVE grocery shopping. Maybe it's just because I love food. Or maybe it's just that those are the kinds of decisions I like to make and that's the kind of money I like to spend (as opposed to, say, tires).

In March I wrote a blog post about why I don't really feel like an adult, (I've never hosted a family holiday get-together, for starters) but truth is I am and as such I get to take advantage of some liberties.

  • Not only can I stay up as late as I want, I can hit the snooze button repeatedly. This is such a welcome contrast from those high school days when my mother (rightfully) policed my sleep
  • Popcorn or oatmeal for dinner. Or pizza for breakfast (actually, my mother schooled me on that one). I can eat whatever the hell I want when I want it. Freedom!
  • I can plan important things with friends such as impromptu trips to Joshua Tree at 10 p.m. on  a Tuesday night, entirely via text. That's why God created SMS messaging and credit cards, after all.
  • I can buy as much Hello Kitty shit as I want. AS MUCH AS I WANT,  do you hear me?
  • I can gorge myself on young adult fiction because, other than my book group, I have no required reading list with which to contend. Or book reports. Holla.
  • Whiskey.
  • And beer.
  • And a Bloody Mary at brunch or whenever I fly.
  • And red wine, obvs.
  • I can use "words" such as "obvs" both seriously and with irony, just because.
  • Good friends. The older you get the less time you have for needless drama, rudeness, cluelessness, etc. Strip that all away and you're left with good friends. Great friends, actually.
  • I can hate lima beans, thank you very fucking much. And fucking okra. Screw okra.
  • I can swear as much as I want, when appropriate
  • I'm grown up enough to know not to swear at family gatherings in front of the grandparents.
  • Except for that one time I told my future cousin-in-law "fuck you" because he wore a tie to the Christmas Eve dinner table, which in turn made the rest of us look bad (Sorry Kale, I love you, but really--a tie?)
  • I can have three cats. Or four. I can spend a huge chunk of my income on those adorable creatures because they bring me so much joy. And I do.
  • I can be married for 15-plus years and muddle through arguments and hard times because I realize that marriage is hard and you work at it and you're really goddamned lucky to have someone that you not only love and trust so much but who also makes you laugh like no one else
  • Did I mention Hello Kitty? My mother hardly bought me any when I was kid. I have a lot of making up to do. Don't judge.

Rainy autumn Saturdays are the best

I could write a blog post today. Or, rather, I could enjoy the bottle of whiskey I just bought and take a chance to enjoy the season that's settled in around us.

Choices, choices....

Writing: A playlist

Sorry for all these lame-ass posts lately but I seem to have caught Cory's cold and, frankly, it's taking every bit of energy I have to even think about this.

 

That said, I've been thinking a lot about returning to my book--I was supposed to do NaNoWriMo after all but opted for the "easier" NaBloPoMo because of all of our November travel.

I've found it takes awhile to gear up to write after taking a few weeks or months off. At least for me.

Last year I made a playlist for my book. At the time my book had this definite 80s thing going on but more recently both its story and its vibe have changed significantly.

When i first started writing this book it had a different plot and title. It also had this very specific Madonna thing going on. Now the book has a new title, less of a plot altogether and although Madonna still factors a little, the whole aesthetic is just markedly different. The Madonna thing, I guess, reflected my own freshman-year love for her when I was in high school. This was a woman who owned (still does) her sexuality. She was sexy but on her own terms. That was kind of rare in pop music in 1984.

Anyway the playlist now, like the novel, is something of a work-in-progress. At least I don't have to workshop it or try to find it an agent.

Anyway, it's constantly changing but still, in a way, reflects the story from start to finish. Maybe you can give it a listen and tell me what the hell to do next.

 

 

 

Twelve shots....

When I was 16 I was picked up for shoplifting, among other things, some makeup from my neighborhood grocery store.

It was about 8 p.m. at night when the police were called and I was led out of the store to a squad car. I wasn't arrested exactly and there were no handcuffs. Instead the police officer lectured me on just how badly I had let down my mother. On just how foolish my choices were.

The police drove to the hospital where my mother worked the swing shift as a nurse and then walked me up to her floor and left me there in her care, safe. Unharmed.

Later, I had to attend juvenile court and family therapy. I also was required to pay restitution and, essentially, I was on a probation of sorts until I turned 18.

I didn't realize then just how lucky I was to be white, to be female, to be suburban, to be middle-class, to be privileged in so many ways.

I'm not, in a million years, trying to make this about me or compare myself to Michael Brown but I couldn't help but think of that night as I watched as St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch announce that a St. Louis grand jury had declined to indict officer Darren Wilson in the August shooting that left the 18-year-old dead.

As a white suburban teenage girl, I was upset and embarrassed but not once did I fear for my safety, for my life.

Please don't tell me this isn't about race. Of course it's not just about race--it's also about socioeconomic status, It's about the unchecked abuse of power--but it is, definitely and without question, also about race.  It is about deeply inherent, institutional racism. It is about a fear of young black men. It is, arguably, about just how dark Michael Brown's skin happened to be.

Tonight, my feelings have alternated between anger and resignation, shock and disbelief. Some of that disbelief, by the way, is directed at those in my Facebook and Twitter feed who feel the need to announce to everyone else that they "don't care" about the announcement. That people should just "go inside" in Ferguson. That, "obviously," there was no evidence to indict Wilson (despite McCulloch's own bumbling explanation that there were many "conflicting witness reports.")

They point to that razor burn of an "injury" on Wilson's face as proof that Brown, who was unarmed, got what he deserved: Twelve shots fired. Twelve shots in "self-defense."

Twelve shots. For allegedly shoplifting from a convenience store. For allegedly assaulting a police officer. This is the version of the truth that we're being told to accept, despite many, many eyewitness accounts to the contrary.

Twelve shots for being a young black man in America.

 

 

 

 

Is change possible?

Is change possible?

In the aftermath of the St. Louis County grand jury's decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, I'm not so sure.

At the very least, I see no clear path to a better conversation on race, class, privilege and the abuse of power.

Institutional racism doesn't still just exist, it thrives but there are so many people who don't see it that way, who will deny it without pause.

There are so many people--way too many fucking people--who will wholesale accept the official version of this story, despite so many conflicting accounts to the contrary. Despite physical evidence to the contrary.

Those people will continue to not just say that Wilson was justified in shooting an 18-year-old kid, but that Brown essentially got what he deserved. I'm not making this shit up. I've read it more than once on Facebook, on Twitter, on Huffington Post, in the comments section of so many online news sources.

Those people will say that no trial was needed. That Michael Brown doesn't need anyone to defend his life, much less question his death.

Those people will say that racism is a myth. Or, at the very least, over-blown.

I can't even begin to list the upsetting things I've read online today. Some of them written by people I know. Some of those words are horrible and vile. Others are simply ignorant, willfully or otherwise. I'm still trying to decide which category (horrible and vile vs. ignorant) is more heartbreaking.

And I don't even want to get started on the riots. If you think the riots are the problem here, you clearly haven't been paying attention to the story--to the stories--that led up to them.

Meanwhile, I'm grateful for those who are still out on the streets protesting, making their voices heard. I'm thankful for those who refuse to let Michael Brown's life fade into obscurity. For those who refuse to let him become just another statistic.

I'm grateful for those who refuse to accept the status quo, the official version of a story.

Those are the people who will and do make change possible.

Holiday survival guide (don't forget the whiskey)

Well, it's not even Thanksgiving yet and I'm already breaking one of my major rules: No holiday music until the Friday after the big stuff-your-face day.

But I have a cold and it's been that kind of day--month and year, really--so here I am listening to some festive tunes. All thing Christmas will soon consume my life, which means it's time to get my game face on.

It's time to think about survival because, let's be honest, I'm going to over-extend myself. It happens every year so that by the time my birthday rolls around on December 23 I am tired and maybe even a little Scrooge-y. OK, probably very Scrooge-y. Last year my birthday followed a weekend of parties and then two days of exhausting work and it was all I could do to go out to dinner and have a good time damn it. I know, poor me).

But that's part of the fun. I like the holidays. Actually I love them. Hey, I don't know what's wrong with me either. Maybe it's the glittery lights and the promise of good will and cheer even if those things never quite materialize in full. I love the idea that maybe, just maybe, we can all work toward common good. Or something like that.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't about a Jesus-y Christmas although I was raised in a Christian household and maybe that's where some of my enduring love comes from. This idea that we strive for kindness and generosity. That and as a kid I just freaking adored the annual Christmas pageant. The glitz! The carols! The cookies after!

By the way, this isn't necessarily about it not being Jesus-y, either. That's a different topic for a different day.

Certainly, I love the cold weather. I love frosty air and breath that floats on cold nights like icicles.

I fucking love Christmas music. It's a sickness, but I do.

(For the record, I hate Black Friday, ugly Christmas sweaters (take your irony and shove it) and stupid holiday commercials that feature St. Nick as a 'regular guy'. Stupid.)

I love looking at holiday lights, I love getting together with friends and exchanging White Elephant gifts. I love holiday baking. Too much, actually.

I love, love, love watching It's a Wonderful Life, Elf and A Charlie Brown Christmas.

I love Christmas trees and fragile vintage ceramic decorations passed down from my grandmother. I love stockings hung from the chimney with care.

I love the anticipation on Christmas Eve--even without a huge stack of presents to open, I still feel it. I love the early quiet of Christmas morning when we do stockings and drink the good coffee and enjoy a few moments of respite. I love that the cats play with the toys we got them for about five minutes before moving on to the wrapping paper.

I love the comedown between Christmas and New Year's Eve. I love the prelude to the next calendar year, I love the promise of January and all the fresh opportunities it promises to bring. (January fibs like that, but I believe it every year).

I love getting together with my family. Sometimes they drive me crazy. Inevitably something about the big family dinner will cause me great stress. But they also always make me laugh. Always. And there's always booze involved, too, so we've got that handled. Although, pro tip: Bring a flask. Just in case. You'll thank me later.

Speaking of booze, most holiday-related things are better with it. Here's a recipe for my SN&R Bake-off entry, Whiskey Spice Bundt Cake -- a.k.a Survive the Holidays Cake. Tip: Use the good coffee and expensive whiskey for this one, it's worth it.

It didn't place in this year's competition but Greg the distribution manager declared it his favorite and demanded the recipe. Greg's a seriously stand-up guy so that's a win in my book.

This recipe is from The Kitchn blog and I like it because it's not terribly sweet and, also, because whiskey. And, if you put it in a pretty vessel such as this Nordic Ware Holiday Bundt Pan, it makes it seem as though you did a ton of work when really you're just an expert at buttering and flouring a pan:

 

Spiced Bundt Cake with Whiskey-Coffee Glaze

Spice cake adapted from Dorie Greenspan and Bon AppĂ©tit

Makes 12 to 14 servings

For the cake:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (whole or 2%)
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries

For the glaze:
1/4 cup brewed coffee
1/4 cup American whiskey
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt

Powdered sugar, for serving
Lightly sweetened whipped cream, for serving (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously butter and flour a 12-cup bundt pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugars and beat until creamy and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each one until fully incorporated. Add the vanilla and yogurt and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture and beat lightly, just until flour is no longer visible. Fold in the cranberries and transfer batter to bundt pan.

Bake on the middle rack for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, place all the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer, whisking, until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat.

After the cake has cooled for about 10 minutes, poke 10 - 12 slits into the surface of the cake with a sharp knife. Spoon about half the glaze over the surface, or as much will soak into the slits. Loosen the edges of the cake from the pan with a butter knife and turn the cake out onto a rack. Place the rack on a baking sheet to catch drips.

With the point of a sharp knife, cut 10 - 12 slits into the top of the cake. Spoon glaze over the cake, soaking as much in the slits as possible, and using a brush to spread glaze over any uncovered areas. (You may have some glaze left over.) Let cake cool completely.

Just before serving, dust cake with powdered sugar. Top each slice with whipped cream, if desired.

Note: The cake can be made 1 or 2 days ahead. After cooling completely, wrap with plastic wrap or store in an airtight container at room temperature.

 

 

 

Sometimes I'm even thankful for the darkness

I'm not one much for gratitudes, but I do try to remember the things that keep me going, that remind me why it's good to be alive. In the spirit of the season, there's so much for which to be thankful.

Mostly I'm thankful for the things you'd expect--my husband, my cats, my family, my jobs, the fact that I have shelter and food and even music and books. I'm able-bodied and healthy. I have good friends. I have whiskey.

I'm thankful for other things, too.

I'm thankful for feasts with my family and old jokes and traditions. I'm so thankful to have a good relationship with my brothers and their wives and, now, my baby niece.

I'm thankful for friends who've become family.

I'm grateful I was able to visit Texas this month and visit my grandmother. Knowing it might be the last time I see her is at once heartbreaking and beautiful. I didn't get to say goodbye to my grandfather, so this was really a gift.

I'm thankful that the same trip gave me added perspective on my relationship with my birth mother. It's been 18 or so years since we first reunited and it hasn't always been easy. Let's be honest, it still is kind of fucking hard. More and more, however, I realize this is just what it's going to be so I better get used to it and maybe even get over it because I have an adoptive mother here in California who's been to hell and back for me and, really, that's enough.

All that and I know my birth mother loves me. And the silvery thread of that is enough for me to soldier on in this relationship.

I'm thankful that after 15 years of my father not speaking to me that I' m really learning to give zero fucks about it. Sure, there may still be tears but there is also acceptance. I can't fix him. It's not my fault. I've done what I can.

I'm thankful for the desert and the mountains and the ocean and wide-open skies and endless roads to nowhere. I'm thankful to know there will always be new adventures as well as far-flung places I can call home.

I'm so goddamned thankful that there are people in this world who care enough to fight and, yes protest, for the Michael Browns and the Trayvon Martins of the world. I'm thankful there are people who want to see real change, who strive to fight injustice and lies.

I'm thankful there are people like Wendy Davis who will campaign for women’s' rights and even after losing a political race, will keep on taking a stand.

I'm thankful there are homeless shelters and, even more so, animal shelters to take in creatures in need. I'm thankful there are volunteers who help run those organizations even when money is scarce and I'm thankful there are people who give money to keep them going. We're all in this together folks, let's help each other out--let's be kind and generous, OK?

I'm so incredibly thankful for the ability to love art and, also, create art. Sometimes those are the only things that seem to keep me sane. The right piece of music, art, literature or film can be life-saving. To create your own bits can be life-changing.

Sometimes I'm even thankful for the insanity: the depression, the sadness, the fears that creep up. They teach me so much. Honestly, at this point I can't even imagine life just being an effortless ride free of glitches and bumps and questions and the darkness.

Without all of those rocky stretches, without all those moments of utter blackness, who would ever appreciate the sunshine again?

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours....

 

Three days down...

Only three more days of blogging for NaBloPoMo.

Sounds so easy.

But it's not.

Listen, I just got back from drinking beers with friends at New Helvetia. And while we were there we ran into more friends. And one beer turned into three.

And it's barely 9 p.m. and I'm a little drinky. And another friend is texting me from Pappy & Harriet's and I wish I was there, too..

So, basically, life is good.

Here's to four-day weekends.

Still thankful...

Tonight was a good night. We didn't get to see my side of the family on Thanksgiving so tonight my brother and sister-in-law had us over for dessert. Her parents were there as were my mom and my other brother, sister-in-law and niece.

It was low-key and fun and the older I get the more I appreciate and value and honestly just love being around my brothers--my 16-year-old self would be shocked to discover this, I know.

More than anything I love getting to watch Audrey get bigger and more curious and playful. Her great big smile is adorable and watching her play with her uncle--who was, he'll admit, too scared to pick her up when she was a newborn--is pretty much the best.

Now we're home and we're changing into comfy clothes and we're going to watch a movie and hang out with the cats. It's supposed to start raining anytime so I'm glad we made it home off the road before then.

Not a bad way to end a pretty good day.

On writing like a motherfucker

OK, fine, I did it. NaBloPoMo.

I don't know why, exactly, but for some reason it was harder this second time around. More frustrating, more challenging.

In some ways, too, it was more rewarding.

This was at least in part due to the nature of the month itself. November started with a bang. First the election and then a trip to Texas to visit my biological mother and, also, my aunt and my grandmother. There were, other things, too. Old stories, non-rants and fresh pains at the world's injustices. I feel like I ended the month a different person than when I started it. I imagine that's true for most months--most days and hours, really--it's just that this time I noticed it all the more.

This gave me plenty to write about which, in turn often meant that I found myself trying to censor some thoughts and feelings, to keep them private.

And, often when I felt that coming on--that need to censor, to keep things hidden--I tried to push through. I tried to write honestly, I tried to write the truth, I tried to write like a motherfucker, instead. Because, otherwise, what's the point?

I don't know how successful I was with any of that. Certainly I failed, miserably, at posting my stuff to BlogHer as one is supposed to during this challenge. And I'm still catching up on reading other blogs--something I do want to do for equal parts inspiration and perspective.

The writing challenge proved one certain thing: I'm a million miles away from being a really good writer, This isn't a false plea for praise. I know I'm a good writer. But i'm not a really good writer, much less a great one.

But I'm trying. Everyday, I'm trying.

*The above photo is, like the phrase, borrowed from Cheryl Strayed and The Rumpus.