Monday, December 31, 2007

Winding it up

What a day to have at the end of the year; perfect, calm, cold, but clear. My mother's walking her usual distance again, with no obvious impairment, although she tends to be very stoic and not let on. Now I hope we can build up the cheerfulness quotient. Mine was shored up by a short but intense climbing session, just enough to fortify me.
Nice little gathering of kayak enthusiasts tonight. They appreciated the home made bread I brought, leaving but one little slice on the plate. Quite a variety of people, and all were looking forward to more paddling in the new year.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Off the wall

So good to get back into the climbing workout routine. My oldest climbing friend and I got in a nice session, full of a variety of problems. She's clearly back into her usual good form, after a spring and summer of surgeries, set backs, and recovery. Also getting back into playing soccer for two teams; amazing, at 48 she's unstoppable.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


We finally made it over to a newish restaurant not far from us which is owned by a climbing acquaintance of mine. She's been a chef for a while, and wanted to start her own place, which is almost entirely certified organic. There are some things you just can't get organic, like sugar, I think. We met up with some old friends, and tried a number of good dishes, one of them pork belly. It was surprisingly, to me, wonderful. Pork belly had not sounded appealing to me, but it's good winter comfort food. Not exactly a bargain joint, but everything was fine in my book, especially the duck burgers on mini brioche buns, or maybe bunlets. And the red wine risotto; and the quail; and the tuna, and mussels with Pernod in the sauce. Enjoyable to share with our longtime friends.
We dropped in at an open house afterwards at some other old buddies' place, and caught up with them. Perhaps it will be a year of re-connecting.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Sucker holes agin

Enough holes in the cloud cover to buoy us up for a walk; fortunately I got my mother inside before a frightening incident. I took some garbage out to the can, and just down the block was a large fawn and white dog that happened to be a pit bull. It spotted me and came running towards me, so I scuttled up the driveway, vaulted over the porch railing and got into the house as it reached the front door behind me. It hung around on our side deck, peering in the window, causing our cat to get very fierce, puffing himself up to twice his normal size; he actually went over to the store door, put his paws up and screamed loudly at the dog, who looked at him steadily. It wouldn't leave, interfering with my plans to go running. Animal Control wasn't answering, so I called 911, where a very nice lady told me she'd get hold of them. Not too long afterwards, two very nice young women from Animal Control showed up, and searched our yeard. It had left, but they said they'd cruise around and see if they could find it. I decided to go running anyway, but was still pretty shaky.
I did feel sorry for the poor thing at one point, but it was impossible to tell what kind of temperament it possessed. Stupid owners, not securing their dog.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Dark and dreamless

Living not in a snow globe, but in a swirl of icy water, like a flooding creek; occasional globs of snow fell for a bit, taunting us as we valiantly made our way around a block. It doesn't get much more miserable. We earned our stripes.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Holiday blear

One too many little frosted sugar cookies, mayhap? Sucrose poisoning? Running cleared it out.
My mother's tailbone seems to have finally healed, and we'll hope there are no more ice skating on tile floors kinds of incidents. The holidays appear to cause befuddlement for her, perhaps from mingling and confused memories; her generation is also typically tight-lipped regarding their own personal emotions, although not always about others' perceived short-comings and errors. Fortunately she's never been abusive in that latter regard.
Toothsome bit from Iris Murdoch's 1973 novel, The Black Prince:
"The natural tendency of the human soul is towards the protection of the ego. The Niagra-force of this tendency can be readily recognized by introspection, and its results are everywhere on public show. We desire to be richer, handsomer, cleverer, stronger, more adored and more apparently good than anyone else. I say 'apparently' because the average man while he covets real wealth, normally covets only apparent good. The burden of genuine goodness is instinctively appreciated as intolerable, and a desire for it would put out of focus the other and ordinary wishes by which one lives. Of course very occasionally and for an instant even the worst of men may wish for goodness. Anyone who is an artist can feel its magnetism. I use the word 'good' here as a veil. What it veils can be known, but not further named. Most of us are saved from finding self-destruction in a chaos of brutal childish egoism, not by the magnetism of that mystery,but by what is grandly called 'duty' and more accurately 'habit.' Happy is the civilization which can breed men accustomed from infancy to regard certain at least of the ego's activities as unthinkable. This training, which in happy circumstances can be of life-long efficacy, is however seen to be superficial when horror breaks in: in war, in concentration camps, in the awful privacy of family and marriage."

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Despite a kind of trend to not going ballistic materialistically, we all got just the socks we'd been dreaming of, as well as other thoughtful items which will be used gratefully. Spent some time with friends, hoisted a glass of cheer, and observed everyone more or less contented.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Deep pan, crisp and even

We're having a good little family night before squidmas dinner, with a breadmaking tutorial for one family member. The loaves turned out beautifully, and we feasted on salmon, fresh Dungeness crab, and crabcakes. The tree's up, we found all the plugs on its trunk for the lights, and we'll eventually get around to decorating it. What's the big fuss about?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Hog-tied and rectified

Not quite hog-tied, really, since it was self-imposed, but a good old solid workout at the climbing gym seems to be working its magic. And we're watching a movie here this evening, something I usally don't do since I get really disappointed in the material Hollywood's been churning out.
But I can always default to a novel afterwards, if there's time.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

it was a dark and stormy weekend

Hairdo Day and pizza night; what better antidote for anything? Maybe those holiday cookies my friend said she was gonna give me...

Friday, December 21, 2007


Decided we needed less of that and more action; the rehab program for the sore back is stepping up, literally, and it seems to be working.
I have friends with virtuous names, like Faith, Hope, and Joy. One sleepless night I lay there, going through the alphabet trying to come up with virtues that would make good names, wondering which I'd choose. Amity, Beauty - no, Brevity - Charity, Delight, Equanimity...on through Zest. I think I'd like Brevity; it fits my style and my physique. Nemesis is good, too, but maybe a tad too intense.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Declining to decline

Well, not sure there's enough chocolate in the world to buoy people up lately. I'm tempted to rifle through that Advent calendar and up the dosage. When people tell you they feel old, ya gotta listen. There's solid evidence.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


A family member sent me an Advent calendar, which is ironic since this person is not a Christian. Of course, neither am I, having no truck with the fiction of any kind of religion. The little chocolate hearts behind each door on the calendar are tasty, but there is a sentence of the story of baby jebus printed inside all the doors. This STORY reminds me of being forced to go to church, Sunday school, etc., and never really buying any of it. I managed to grow up with solid humanitarian values and practices regardless, and it makes my blood run cold to think of all the people who claim to "believe", and yet are horrible to their fellow humans and non-humans.
More chocolate.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The medical equipment store

A recent development for one of our household persons required a trip to a store that sells all kinds of medical equipment. We just needed a shower chair, but it was a bit overwhelming and sobering to see all the things people can need for simply living day to day. There were wheelchairs from toddler size to adult; hoists for special beds, again in a variety of sizes, infant to adult; and any number of bewildering therapeutic items. Of course I have seen people of all ages in wheelchairs, and in various states of disability, but coming into this big room full of their daily necessities struck me. When I asked for one of those doughnut seat pillows, and was told they didn't carry them, a voice piped up from the depths of a huge orthopedic lounging chair, telling me to try Walgreen's. A woman I hadn't even seen was buried in the chair, reading. She told me how she had some logistic problems with the doughnut cushion in her wheelchair, but that it would be fine for regular seating. Her cheerful pragmatism was a sharp contrast to the potential sadness of the place. I left, hoisting the shower chair, and gratefully walked home.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Lowered consumption

One of the members of this household has been fasting and purifying lately. Since I had a similar process foisted on me via a germ not so long ago, I did not want to join in this activity. I'm inclined to think it's like trying to run your car on fumes, but maybe it will have positive results. One taste of a wonderful holiday cookie the other night kind of riled up a temptation to bake a few, just for that extra little something with the last few sips of morning coffee. But we really don't need any more extraneous calories around here. I don't think calories from cookies are any worse than any other source, but we can do without them.
Here's a passage from an Iris Murdoch character's musings which appealed to me: "Though I am a creative person, I am a puritan rather than an aesthete. I know that human life is horrible. I know that it is utterly unlike art. I have no religion other than my own task of being. Conventional religions are dream stuff. Always a world of fear and horror lies but a millimeter away. Any man, even the greatest, can be broken in a moment and has no refuge. Any theory which denies this is a lie. For myself, I have no theories. True politics is simply the drying of tears and the endless fight for freedom. Without freedom there is no art and no truth. I revere great artists and the men who say no to tyrants." (from Murdoch's 1973 novel, The Black Prince)
Don't cotton to all of it, but I do like that bit about politics.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


We moved about gingerly; the cold seems to be seeping into our bones. Nothing in the great wide world, which seems sometimes to be getting smaller and dingier rapidly, seems inspiring. We visited a former neighbor who decided to have a belated housewarming spontaneously, as she felt it was the best way to get herself to do it. She and some others who've left the block are missed, as they were always friendly, positive, and considerate, right from the start. Her little boy is growing at the usual alarming pace, but seems to have evened out some temperamentally. She's still in for quite a ride in the years ahead.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A christening is announced

A good friend just acquired a used, 32 foot sailboat, and we went to its moorage for a celebration. She and a crew of hearty fellows had brought it down the Sound in a snowstorm a couple of weeks ago, and it was the first time for some of us to take a look at it. The interior is in wonderful shape, warm-looking wood; the air wasn't so warm, although by the time we left, our bodies and the little electric heater had generated enough heat to get it up to the low fifties. Windy cold night, as we walked to and from the dock along the marina; it made the Italian food we had later that much tastier.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The gathering part

There are plenty of places in which to hunt the daily bread; just need to drum up the desire. It occurred to me that I needed to finish assembling a package for one of my family, who enjoys the chocolate items I've sent in the past. Got her done, and enjoyed an informative yet unusually brief conversation with the proprietor of the mailing store, a man who came here from Iraq in the late seventies or early eighties, who always has insightful and ironic observations about everything. Customers were arriving behind me, and he wished me a happy holiday. He was brought up Christian in Iraq, and has a very broad worldview that usually jibes with mine, despite my non-believing ways. When the Bush/Cheney regime blundered into Iraq, this guy had a New Yorker cartoon up for quite a while that depicted soldiers at an Ali Baba-like cave full of what looked like WMD's; I don't recall the caption, but of course "Open Sesame" was involved.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Road trip

If I even drive to the other end of downtown, that's one in my book. I'm always thrilled to surf the big waves of traffic around here in less than a half-hour each way; a routine trip to the dentist is at least a diversion. The Asian super market was crammed with people, including several little old Asian ladies pushing carts with screaming infants in them. Other ladies beamed at them as they navigated the aisles, trying valiantly to plug up the howling little orifices with binkies. Such a hubbub, and I did appreciate the relative quiet in our hood later.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Life in a time of melancholy

Dragging along, one of us walking wounded; early to bed, late to rise. Strange foodlike items keep arriving on the porch. Fortunately they aren't tempting to me.
Life is tranquil and gray, to quote the weather report.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Sure are fighting the downiness. Best thing for one of us is the full-on Hair and Toe Do Day, which worked its magic for a little while.
The latest issue of the New York Review of Books is full of good pieces. One is about Joyce Carol Oates, whose fiction I have not been able to appreciate, but whose literary criticism I do like. She's prolific to the point of disbelief, but she and her husband don't have kids, which is a time saver. I've only read a couple of her novels from the 1970's, and this article made me want to take another look at her work. Here's an excerpt from her journals:"The obvious motive for much of literature is the assuaging of homesickness, for a place or a time now vanished; less obviously, to the reader kept at a little distance by the writer's coolly crafted 'art', the motive may be to assuage hurt and/or to rationalize it." Perhaps just some of her "doodling", but certainly one solid idea about a function of literature.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Doggy delight

Swell walk with my friend who's almost all healed up from her surgery; we took her dog, who it turns out has been sick for a while with a bladder infection, but wasn't showing any symptoms other than fatigue or occasional listlessness. Said pooch has fully recovered, and dashed about like a pup, vaulting over things, rolling like crazy in wet grass, full of vim and vinegar. We visited a newly finished pocket park not too far from the zoo, a little space with a fantastic view to the west, and a mythological theme in its design. There are some words on a decorative band in the cement entry, referring to Theseus rescuing Ariadne from the Minotaur in the labyrinth, although no mention is made of the monster. Kind of a sanitized version, but I suppose if kids thought they were heading into a place replete with monsters, they'd balk. Or maybe not, but they'd be disappointed by the lack of video games.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Nipped noses

Good walk with another friend who's been disabled a bit, this person by back problems. Nothing's going to hold her back, though, as she's going in for an epidural of steroids to ease the swelling. Just the thought of that needle makes me shudder, but if you're in enough discomfort, I'm sure it's nothing by comparison. So we all got walks, and chilled by the damp coldness, which can be as miserable as any subzero windchill I ever skated in back in Ohio. Oh, probably not in reality, but at this age and this level of tolerance, there's only so much frosty humidity I can stand. Makes the hot chocolate beverages especially delightful, though. One guy at the chocolate store drizzles the whipped cream with both chocolate and caramel, and sprinkles teensy marshmallows on top; nirvana you can carry away with you.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Busting out

Usual walk, a bit shorter since my mom's back is sore, but she's a trooper, wants to keep moving. Lovely day; evening visit with friends who had just put up their xmas tree. One member of their household had a musical treat for us: The Carpenters' Christmas album. Strange to hear that wonderful voice of Karen Carpenter's caroling such cheerful tunes.

Friday, December 07, 2007


Putting fingers in ears and trying to ignore the endless trite xmas tunes which blare everywhere; I don't know how people can stand them for decades on end. Someone a block over was playing them on loudspeakers until far too late a couple of weeks ago. An acquaintance on that block told me there has been some pretty bad feuding going on between a couple of households, so maybe it was revenge-tinged holiday music. Only in America.
Random acts of moderation, that could be a remedy for the escalating conspicuous consumption everywhere. They don't have to occur at this time of year, they could pop up unexpectedly. Quietly, unaccompanied by jingle bells.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Fell into a gap

My good friend and long time climbing partner and I managed a short session. We saw the oldest living climber I've ever met, who is 88 years old; he still shows up at the gym, although we haven't seen him for quite a while. When we exchanged greetings and asked him how he was, he said he was "in a downward spiral," and smiled in his usual courtly fashion. He then said he hoped we'd "spiral nicely upwards." He didn't start climbing until he was in his early fifties, but has done a good deal of back country climbing. We've seen him bouldering at the gym and falling flat on his back from ten feet off the ground, get up, dust himself off, and walk on to the next problem. A force of nature, he is, and it is hard for it to dwindle.
After reading Margaret Laurence's last novel, I found a little collection of her first published works, The Tomorrow-Tamer and Other Stories. Not very far into it, but it's a gem; and I've got all her work in between these two to read, if I can find them out there.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Skies wrung out

Terrible aftermath of all the rain; much suffering and damage, but no one seems to want to look at the long-standing conditions that made it all worse. The forests have been clearcut, the hills and shorelines overbuilt, and there are far too many people around, contributing to climate change. The free marketeers and corporations look at human populations as potential markets, but they are heading towards a point of diminishing returns and no return.
No, happy, sparkly, little holiday elves are not going to help.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Living in caves

Feels like it lately, in many ways; my theory about the rain is that it's because more water is in the earth's atmospheric system due to the melting polar ice. As the weather worsens, concurrently so does human behavior, from the poisonous likes of Maureen Dowd, beer bottle openers catchily named "The Moaner Lisa" - Shakespeare's Sister has an expose on the revolting line up of Neanderthalian gadgets on the market lately - all the way down the hellish continuum to devastation of the environment and needless bloodshed. In a nutshell, and it's floating madly downstream, like Queen Mab's chariot; yes, I do wonder if there's any point to long term hope. Where are the pineapples?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Disappointingly drippy

The cheerily named "Pineappple Express" has hit the area, and it doesn't mean sun and drinks in hollowed out fruit; well, it could mean the latter, to counteract the horror of the days. My feet were soaked from a short walk to and from the nearby little shops for grocery necessities and coffee beans, and it took all day for the skies to let up enough for my mother to get in a bit of an amble. So lousy the cat refused to leave the front porch, where he sat dejectedly on the welcome mat.
Margaret Laurence's The Diviners is still drawing me in, although the middle sections are occasionally a bit predictable. I suppose that has to do with its female protagonist leading an oft-repeated fictional existence of disillusionment, divorce, living as a single parent, getting worked over by lousy guys; of course this novel is set in post WWII in Canada, and was published in 1972. I should probably give the author credit for being among the first to use a modern -ish character in Canada; it's hard, though, when the writing doesn't always make it into the timeless realm.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Saturday = football

Last night we enjoyed the company of friends at an Ethiopian restaurant, where the vegetarian selections were far better than the omnivorian ones. I've never seen spinal column bones in a lamb dish before. But the conversation was lively, and the food mostly good.
Despite a lack of energy, I decided to go with our kid for a climbing gym workout. If it doesn't hammer in the last nail, it tends to rejuvinate. Increasingly clumpy snow was falling, making us sort of wish for a real blowout of a storm, but I'll wager we won't see any more of those around here for a very long time, if ever. When we got back, the sports fans were getting ready to watch four games simultaneously, and the cat was heading for higher ground.