My turn my turn!!!

From Ann and Mary and Mom... here goes! The first line from first entry each month of 2005... Wow, I really was obsessed with that lemon tree!


New Hijinks
I've decided I'm going with Blogger instead of trying to be a technical superhero....

Exercise...or lack of it
We human beings are definitely doing something wrong.

The Power of Optimism
Do you believe in the power of positive thinking?

Garden Update
My lemon tree now has two blossoms and tons of buds.

"The coldest winter I ever spent
...was summer in San Francisco," said somebody once upon a time.

Bimonthly Garden Update
Two months after my first report, we have lots of action in the garden.

So busy!
Isn't it funny that the noun form of "being busy" seems like it ought to be business?

Urban Garden Update
It's been an eventful couple of months for my little garden on a deck here in San Francisco.

Off to Vietnam
I had so many things I wanted to say and do before I left on my vacation, but they will have to wait.

On NaNoWriMo
This odd activity has the majority of my blogging friends and family writing 50,000-word novels this month, and, swept up in the wave of creativity energy, I signed up too.

How long it has been
I can hardly form a sentence.


SF Snapshot

Today I experienced city living the likes of which I don't think I'd ever really believed I personally would experience. (I mean, I'd always hoped, but until it actually happens, it's just a dream.... I suspect there's a deep philosophical underpinning behind that statement, but I think I'll wait to investigate that one :) Anyway, we took Bart downtown to spend some leftover Crate and Barrel gift cards from our wedding (thanks Jack and Joyce Sullivan!) now that we actually have a house to fill. That alone was a thrill (though how is it possible that a Bart ticket downtown costs less than a Muni bus trip? Something's amiss...). The real fun, however, was on the way back. We were exhausted and really eager to get home to relax, but as we passed Cha Cha Cha's on Mission, I said something I think I've only seen in movies and TV shows like Ally McBeal.

"Wanna stop here for a drink?"

Nick was a little skeptical at first but acquiesced. We stepped inside and were the only ones at the bar. The place was generally quiet but had an air of preparation, a popular bar bracing itself for a busy night. I asked the bartender why he was wearing one latex glove. He explained, perhaps a bit over-explicitly, that he was about to cut up a bunch of lemons and limes, and that such an activity can be rather painful if you have a hangnail. As we sipped our sangria, the place slowly began filling up with its dinner crowd of hipster revelers. Then, just when things were getting busy and the list for a table was growing by the minute (by now it's probably a half hour wait at least), we headed on home to our fabulous new nest....

I don't know why it's so much more exciting to go to a neighborhood bar as a homeowner, but today it really was. Salud!


Not your average Urban Garden Update

Mean...selfish...uncaring...cruel...heartless...desperate... These are not words typically used to describe a gardener. Yet I can't think of any other way to categorize the person who stole my lemon tree and my prized collection of succulents. I know in my heart it was the same person, even though the theft occurred in two stages.

The succulents were the first to be stolen. All I thought was, "My, how brazen, to steal a lovely pot of plants from someone's front porch." I was upset, yes, and saddened to lose my Desert Delight, which I'd spent well over a year assembling. But I laughed it off and figured it could easily have been a silly misunderstanding. The pots had been casually placed on our porch during our many trips in and out of the house while we were moving. Someone could maybe, just maybe have thought they were being given away, I blithely imagined.

I was being way, way too generous of heart (must be the gardener in me). Desert Delight was flagrantly stolen in broad daylight by a greedy, vicious [expletive deleted]. This was no innocent misunderstanding among grabby green thumbs. This was a theft, pure and simple. I know this, because today when I got home from work, our front gate was open and my lemon tree was gone.

You all know how unusually important this lemon tree was to me. It had helped me finally discover the gardener in me, the gardener I'd always wanted to be, in the tradition of Honeygram with her marigolds, Tutu's lantana and lavender bush, the immaculate houseplants of my father.... You probably hadn't seen it lately, but it had two lemons that were getting bigger by the week. Even though it was losing its leaves in the cold, I had begun to suspect that the lemons would make it to spring.

Now it's gone. I never thought I'd shed a tear for a plant, but that happened this evening. I know it's just a plant, but as so often happens in this material life, it symbolized all sorts of other things: not just my heritage as a gardener, but my visions for our new house and the potential for our new neighborhood, no concrete jungle of transient junkies and miserable criminals, but a lush and beloved ecosystem kept thriving by caring and optimistic homeowners eager to put down roots, literal and figurative, here.

I can only hope that wherever my plants are, they are being well cared for. I'm having a hard time believing that's true, though. Gardeners have to be attentive and giving. They must show love without words. They can't expect instant gratification or easy rewards. I think I understand why this vermicious knid has to steal plants from other people. Anybody who'd steal a plant can't be a very good gardener.

Not that I'm giving up, mind you. Our neighbors have their pots chained to their railing, and I'll probably resort to something similar even though it's a tad severe (and possibly not even effective; the neighbors say the person who lived in our house before had plants stolen, too--dug right out of their massive concrete pots). But I won't give up. I plan to adorn my plants with biographies, little stories that show just what they mean to me. I'll translate the stories into Spanish and Chinese, hell maybe even Russian and Tagalog. I know the plant thieves won't care about these things, but at least I'll know they can't delude themselves into thinking they're remotely righteous.

All sorts of military analogies and war metaphors come to mind, but I don't want to think of this as a battle. I'm just an urban gardener doing her thing, trying to get her plants as much light as possible, and the back porch has northern exposure. Lately I've been describing my life as an adventure. This definitely qualifies.

was looking at pictures of my garden to post here, found these:

What's that last one, you ask? Holy crap, they stole my LAVENDER too?! Forget pacifism. It is SO on.


How long it has been

I can hardly form a sentence. I won't even try to complete sophisticated paragraphs. I hope nobody minds. If I hold myself to that standard, this post won't get done.

Buying a house is an insane process. I commented many times throughout that I couldn't believe this is how it actually works. It feels in some sense like the honor code at work. You sign hundreds of pieces of paper, many of which are almost illegible due to overfaxing/photocopying, agreeing to complex and consequential demands and legal requirements, accepting liability for hundreds of thousands of dollars, using only your scribble of a signature, or even your initials. It would be so easy to play dumb... "You can't prove it was I who initialed it!" or "I checked the 'don't know' box—I didn't know anything about that!" And I'm sure many people do rely on those shifty, fallback positions. Which leads to litigation, betrayal, arbitration...all those things so often lamented in today's world. We, however, were honorable buyers, and we read everything really thoroughly and had lawyers look over questionable documents and only agreed to things that made sense and blah blah blah. We're not so sure about the sellers, but hey, the deal's done, so at this point everything is simply a lesson learned, and those are valuable.

Throughout much of the process, my only comfort was the knowledge that so many others had trod this path before. They hadn't necessarily done it during the biggest real estate bubble in history, or in a USGS-certified liquefaction zone in San Francisco. They hadn't necessarily bought 125-year-old Victorian houses. With partners. In a building that they may have loved despite its many proverbial warts. But I knew that everyone's housing deal has its own distinct characteristics that rank it among the scariest things that person has ever done, and knowing that they survived made it easier for me to believe that I, too, would survive.

So, the house is now in our names, and I'm a San Francisco property owner, for better and worse. It's truly thrilling. I love our home, especially now that we figured out our heat actually works. Owning an old home, I can already tell, is a huge adventure. We had to jump through a few (copper pipe) hoops to get our laundry hookups installed, but they're now there, and...


....Yesterday, OMFG, we bought brand new washing machines that will be delivered sometime tomorrow. If you read a certain recent post, you know exactly how immeasurably exciting that is for me.


Not done!

In fact, Barely Even Started! As November nears its end, my friends and family who legitimately undertook NaNoWriMo are starting to post their triumphant entries about finishing their novels. I'm here to admit that I didn't even break 5 digits--not even close. I guess I picked a bad month... with all the house buying and paper signing and getting horrendously sick. But congratulations to TuTu and Mary for finishing their books and best of luck on getting them published someday!


A Pleasant Side Effect of Consumerism

Now that we're moving, I joined two local branches of Freecycle and am stunned to have found, within 12 hours, not only that there are a tremendous number of moving boxes and packing supplies being shuffled around these parts, but that there are both people looking to get rid of exactly the things I want to get rid of and people seeking out precisely some of the things that had been on their way to achieving JUNK status in my household.

I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if I were trying to get rid of an old computer monitor or a desk; these oft-upgraded and typically underused items always seem to be in overabundance on the thrift store circuit, as any Salvation Army pickup guy will tell you (right before he refuses to load your stuff into his truck). But no, instead Freecycle has given me the startling awareness that, apparently, I'm not the only person in San Francisco who woke up this morning thinking it was time to rid myself of my charming old vintage suitcases. It's also shown me that, surprisingly, someone out there might need a hat box quite like one I have in my possession. Coincidence? Probably not, considering how much stuff we have in our lives, but it still seemed a bit unexpected. I'll chalk it up to the power of the Internets!


On NaNoWriMo

This odd activity has the majority of my blogging friends and family writing 50,000-word novels this month, and, swept up in the wave of creativity energy, I signed up too. The first week of this month has had me on a tough deadline and buying a house (color added for enthusiasm and glee) and it’s already clear to me that writing 50,000 words in these particular 30 days of November is a totally unrealistic goal.

This doesn’t mean I’m giving it up. That just wouldn’t be me, now, would it? Instead, I’ll probably flog and flagellate myself continually whilst churning out hideous and disjointed prose in insufficient quantities. I've already written enough to determine that, no, NaNoWriMo is not a magical activity that mysteriously elicits The Great American Novel That Resides in All of Us. I’ve written other fiction that I know was better simply because I actually had a story I cared about and characters that, even at the worst of times, remotely interested me. No, NaNoWriMo is about the creative process, dispelling self-judgment, discipline, community, and, perhaps, pirates. (Get to know a few NaNoWriMoans and you’ll soon discover they use a lot of additional words and throw in many additional details (plus plenty of peripherally related parenthetical comments), often completely out of context and simply added for volume. But no, this isn’t part of my NoNo (November Novel) so, no, I probably shouldn’t be doing that here. It’s fun, though, isn’t it, to see how far you can take it?)

But back to the point—I’ve also written enough to determine that the most painful aspect of writing is its very solitary nature. So, in order to make the process more fun for myself, I’ll occasionally post some of my more hideous excerpts. (And no, I don’t secretly think these are good.)

Here’s the first:

She fumbled with the tea bag trying to get it out of its box. When she poured the boiling water over the bag into the cup, she forgot and filled it too full. How was it that she could be thinking to herself that she had to leave some room for the milk, and then in that very split second, forget to leave room for the milk? Perhaps it was their influence, all the lurkers in her head. They weren’t supposed to jump in there, were they. They were supposed to stay where they’d started out, harmless and pathetic in their utter voyeurism and vicariousness. But she felt their presence at the oddest times, and before she knew it, five minutes had passed and the tea was steeped.

I'm really sad to say that I already loathe this character, and I’m only 1000 words in. My mom said I should kill her off, and I just might.

And by the way, have I mentioned that we bought a house?! (NaNoWriMoans are also fans of repetition. It helps the word count AND makes sure your readers don't forget the pertinent details whilst wading through all that wordy crap.)


Can't Slow Down

This blog post definitely gets filed in the "substitute for real human interaction" category. I can write about this once here, and I hope I won't have to tell this story over and over again throughout the next few days and weeks.

On my bicycle ride home tonight, I got hit by a car. I'm pretty sure I'm fine, but naturally I'm a bit shaken up. I'm really mad at myself for going through a dangerous intersection on a yellow light at dusk. Bicycles can't afford to do that. I'd even been warned about this particular intersection by my friend who's been cycling in the city for years. I'm really mad at myself for my poor judgment. I just couldn't slow down in time to make the proper decision, and I paid the price. I'm mad at myself for putting my life in danger like that.

But I might be even more mad at the person who hit me, because she didn't even stop to see if she'd, oh, say, killed me. I often remark that I'm not a lucky person, but you won't hear me saying that ever again. I was very, very lucky tonight and I'm really grateful. I feel that walking away from such an incident with only a bent back tire is a sign of great fortune. Please remind me of this experience next time I'm complaining about anything trivial. I'm even more fortunate that as I was standing there on the phone with Nick telling him what happened, several people came by to see if I was OK and to offer me help, even if all they could do to help was to note that, yes, it was completely immoral and illegal for this person not to stop.

I'd only gotten the first few numbers of the license plate number, and at the time it just seemed pointless to even think of doing anything official like calling 911 or reporting this to the police. But as I was standing on the street corner feeling addled and (I'll admit it) ashamed, a man ran up to me with a piece of paper. In a very comforting German accent, he explained that he'd seen what happened, followed the woman, written down her license plate number, and identified the color and make of the truck. He said he'd scolded her and told her she should have stopped. She apparently blamed me for running a red light.... He said I should call the police, because it wasn't up to her to make that judgment, and no matter who is at fault, you are supposed to stop and exchange information. I'm grateful to him for reminding me of this, and I did call the police. I suppose that, if anything, a driver like that should be ticketed. God knows I've gotten tickets for much less.

No, I was not wearing a helmet, and yes, I knew how stupid that was even when I was doing it. I almost grabbed my helmet on the way out the door this morning, because I'd been thinking as the days get shorter that I really needed the helmet because I'd be riding in the dark more often. But I was already running late and couldn't find it in our massively disorganized Front Closet of Doom. Rest assured, I'll be wearing my helmet from now on. Maybe even my motorcycle helmet.

I don't think I've ever experienced time slowing down the way it does when you are involved in a sudden, fast-paced, high-stress experience. But it was almost kinda cool the way it did. I just wish I'd been watching it happen in a movie or something and not experiencing it firsthand. It went a little something like this:

Hmm... I'm going really fast and that light at Harrison is green. I'll make it.

Crap, it just turned yellow and I've just made it into the intersection.

Oh god, this is THE EXACT INTERSECTION that Mo told me NEVER to cross on a yellow light.


I'd better just hurry the HELL up and GET OUT OF HERE.

(At this point I was actually yelling to the cars at the red light, "STOP! PLEASE! I HAVE TO GET THROUGH!" or something to that effect.)

OH NO OH NO OH NO Is that truck speeding up to barrel through this intersection?

OHMYGOD It's going to happen JUST like Mo said it would.


(This part I believe I actually said out loud, in Rainman-like fashion.)

Then came the point of impact. Then I was like,


Even though it all happened so fast, time slowed down enough so I had an opportunity to think all those thoughts. It was very very scary.

So anyway, that's my story. You know I already feel very reckless and foolish about it so please don't scold me. I can't even believe I do such things as ride bicycles and scooters in the dark in the city. I'm beginning to understand why they say you have to just slow down and think, no matter how eager you may be to rush home to your kitty cats. I'm beginning to understand why my mother worries so much about me.


Interesting Magazine Covers + Political Pontificating....

all for the price of one entry!

What I found most interesting here are the various covers about Vietnam. They are all from 1965-66, fairly early in the war. Two thoughts/questions:

  • Does that mean press outlets were covering the atrocities and potential hopelessness of the war, but popular opinion just wasn't on their side, so people didn't notice?
  • I'll admit that I haven't been a news junkie lately, but I do regularly scan the headlines, front pages, nightly network news, etc. Maybe I'm tuning them out, but I don't see vivid pictures like this one...

    ...prominently placed. (Don't even get me started about why the press isn't covering the soldiers' dead bodies being returned to the country.)

    When I visited the War Remnants Museum (formerly called the War Crimes Museum) in HCMC/Saigon, I saw on display a copy of the good old New York Times' front page story the day after the My Lai Massacre, labeling it a successful mission in which 128 enemy soldiers were killed (of course, it is commonly known now that the body count was actually over 500 and included babies and children). Now I know that it's hard to report accurately from war zones, but I still feel compelled to point out the interesting items that show up on the front page of this so-called "paper of record." Keep this in mind when reading the paper nowadays, when we are once again involved in a seeminly hopeless war in a far-off region!

    /end political pontificating
  • 10.17.2005

    Before I Forget

    "We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection." —Anais Nin

    I read a post on Sandblower about keeping a journal during one's travels, and it made me realize how much stuff is fresh in my mind about my trip now that will fade over time. I kept an actual journal during the trip, and my travel companions contributed to it too, plus I posted here a couple times. But there's so much more that's impossible to capture, so here I'll make my "before I forget" entry, all the little details that didn't necessarily fit anywhere else, in the order in which they come out:

    Working Vietnamese women have a uniform. When you walk into a hotel, store, restaurant, or any other professional or upscale establishment, all the women will be wearing the traditional Vietnamese ao dai, a long-sleeved silk dress in a solid color worn over white silk pants (Trinny would so approve). The dress has high slits on both sides so it's very graceful and drapes elegantly without looking constrictive. Men actually wear them too, but the men's version has a shorter dress/shirt so it doesn't look quite as striking or distinctive.

    There are Vietnam Airlines offices EVERYWHERE. We were told when planning our domestic flights that you're best off buying your tickets once you arrive, as prices are fixed no matter when or where you buy and that there are travel agents or VA offices all over the cities. It's no joke: We arrived in Saigon, checked into the Rex Hotel, looked across the street and saw a VA office. What luck, we thought to ourselves and trotted over to buy the tickets. Little did we know that there would be a VA office across the street from every other hotel where we stayed, and that there seemed to be a VA office across the street from pretty much any business we went to. They were everywhere!

    Vietnamese businesses are fabulously overstaffed. The above-mentioned VA office had no fewer than 15 ticket agents, each with her own kiosk. You walk in, take a number, and are immediately called to a counter. This was true at hotels. We were travelling in a group of 4, and usually when we showed up anywhere, we each had our own attendant. We couldn't figure out whether this was because the country is ramping up for more tourism and we happened to catch it at a particular time in history, or if the culture is particularly service-oriented. Either way, you know these people come cheap. We heard that a hotel employee earns $25 a month.

    Vietnamese people love to do stuff on the street. They eat, get manicures, get haircuts and shaves, drink beer, sit and gossip, watch TV, feed their kids, play badminton, fix their motorbikes, etc. all on the street or sidewalk, right in front of their storefront or houses.

    The Vietnamese are the kings of small business. All they need is a product or service and a patch of sidewalk, and they'll sell it to you. I've already mentioned how some of the country's finest restaurants actually have no structural elements other than an enterprising individual colonizing the sidewalk (bring your own chopsticks!). But this concept extends way beyond "street food." Jeff saw a guy with a laminating machine and a sign; that was his laminating business. Buy an all-in-one fax/copy/print machine and an extension cord, open your front door, voila! Kinko's Vietnam. Plus, your sister/daughter/effeminate son can do manicures and pedicures while the fax is transmitting! So now it's a Kinko's/Supercuts combo. We kept joking about the various types of businesses we'd have to open out of our front doors when we got back. Of course, there are real businesses too with proper retail spaces and infrastructure, but the amount of wheeling and dealing that takes place right out on the city streets is impressive.

    The scooter is a member of the family. One of our guides shared with us a little saying: In the old days, all a man needed to be happy was his wife, his house, and his water buffalo. Now he needs the wife, the house, and a scooter. Yes, that picture shows a family of four zipping around Hanoi on their iron horse. The most we saw were FOUR children and an adult on one scooter, the kids all lined up by size. (I wish I'd gotten a photo of that one, but the scooter pix are hard to catch because they flash by you in an instant.) All I can think is the kids must love it. When it rains, the parent wears a poncho with a little plastic window in it the kid can see out of.

    The Vietnamese seem to feel inordinately safe on their scooters. Some of the stuff we witnessed either driving or being transported on a scooter: babies (held by women riding side saddle on the back); a pane of glass about 5 feet by 2 feet; a dozen plastic bags filled with water and koi fish; a 27-inch TV in the box; a women sending a text message on her cell phone; 3 live (we think) pigs; oh, god, I'm already forgetting, but you get the point... I think the key is that they drive pretty slowly (my estimate is 10-15mph) so they can slow down quickly to avoid obstacles. But the side-saddle thing just cracked me up and terrified me.

    And they don't wear helmets. On the freeway outside of Hanoi, some scooter drivers do wear them, but in the city it is a rare sight indeed. We didn't see any accidents until our last day, on our way to the airport. That's when we drove by a big truck, which had a woman lying very still in front of its front wheel. She was wearing a helmet.

    Both Nick and I rode scooters at one point. In the little town of Hoi-An, we actually were there long enough to befriend some of the locals, who for a variety of reasons offered (at separate points) to give us rides home. I really thought it would feel more dangerous than it did...

    Nick had a lot of fun pretending he was Australian. He said "G'day" to everyone—even other Australians. He had an entire conversation in which he told a local he was from Sydney, y'know, the neighborhood by the Opera House. There are tons of Australians travelling in VN, so people are already inclined to think white people there are Aussies.

    When we went on our tour of Halong Bay, Nick had been really looking forward to asking the following question to the guide: "How long is Halong Bay?" I stunned our group by beating him to the punch, and he still hasn't forgiven me. (By the way, it's 175 meters, according to our guide.) Nick also enjoyed singing "Halong, Halong" to the tune of the U2 song "Vertigo" as in "Halong, halong, I'm at a place called Vertigo..." He regaled us with the tune pretty much throughout the trip.

    Vietnam was the only country any of us had been to that had no McDonald's.

    Drivers in Vietnam also honk a lot. They're not really saying, "get out of my way" but rather just "hey, here I am!" And I'm not sure anybody listens.

    Crossing a Vietnamese street isn't easy. There's just so much traffic, and the vehicles never seem to stop. We learned that you basically have to cross the street slowly, giving the moving vehicles enough time to swerve around you. You must act resolutely. Once, in Hue where the streets were totally flooded, I walked out into the street and then shrunk back in hesitation. This was the closest I ever came to causing an accident, as the bicycle and scooter that had been reflexively swerving around my forward motion then had to correct their courses suddenly, throwing the whole street's assumed traffic pattern off. It was terrifying for all concerned.

    We did, however, see a dog cross the street. Walking. Between his two owners. Without a leash. He did not get hit. And I've already covered how insane crossing the street is in Vietnam. It was an amazing act of dog survival that, I'm thinking, can only happen in a country where THEY EAT DOGS.

    Have I mentioned that THEY EAT DOGS in Vietnam? Apparently, eating dog meat around the full moon chases away bad luck. Naturally, this led to a lot of jokes in our group, whenever something not so wonderful happened, about the only way our luck can change. Also: chihuahuas as diet meals and poodles as the choice for true gourmets. Hey, I didn't say they were good jokes!

    I'm sure there are many more bullet points to come but that's all for now.



    It seems I can no longer read my blog from Vietnam, as blogspot.com appears to be blocked. Oh well... I probably won't get to post again either, since the clock is ticking and we only have a couple more days here. Hanoi is warm and dry, and we've been enjoying exploring the crowded ancient streets of the Old Quarter and the (slightly) more spacious French Quarter. We very spontaneously stopped into this cute little salon and got our hair cut this afternoon. I must say that I totally trust hair salons in Asia. Clearly, they "get" straight hair. They also do extensive head and face massages while washing your hair! It was cool but I hope I don't come down with any strange illnesses as a result. We still need to make it to Halong Bay for a day trip (we won't have time for the overnight cruise) and then it seems we will be whisked home before we know it. The trip has gone by very quickly, but I can also say that 9 days is actually a nice amount of time to get a thorough glimpse of this lovely country. On that note, however, I'd better head off to dinner--no time to waste! We found this hip little neighborhood, sort of a Vietnamese SoHo, and we're venturing out this evening to find a restaurant there.

    Signing off, from Hanoi...


    Clothing Report

    We left Hoi-An yesterday, and I was sad to say goodbye to the friendly little town and its gorgeous Life Resort. I broke out my extra bag upon departure, so I could fit in all my new clothes. All in all I spent $330 and got 11 pairs of pants, 4 shirts, and 1 skirt. Nick spent $650 and got a suit, 4 pairs of copied pants (which were more expensive), 2 pairs of jeans, 2 pairs of pants, and 11 shirts.

    Now, I have to be honest: Our experience getting these clothes was pretty thoroughly insufferable. We were lured by this girl outside our hotel directly into the belly of the beast: the Hoi-An Clothing Market, a huge warehouse filled with little sewing machine stalls, shelves and shelves of fabrics, insistent children hawking post cards and cheap necklaces, and at least a few rats. We picked our stuff from patterns in a catalog, then went around grabbing different fabrics from the shelves. Then they take your measurements and send you home. When you come back the next day for the fitting, you basically have to strip down to your undies in clear view of an entire marketplace, sweating torrents in the tropical heat, while the little child-vendors accost you in mid-strip, even though you've told them over and over you won't buy anything, especially not while in your underwear. Then you have the tailors make all the adjustments and pick the clothes up later.

    The overall quality of the finished product failed to meet my high expectations, though I think this has more to do with my inability to pick good fabrics than the actual workmanship. Cotton is king; polyester deadly, right? Any fool knows that. But the harsh truth is that most fabrics these days are a mixture, and it's really hard to tell, as a novice, what's going to fit well. Light, stretchy denim feels really flimsy on the bolt but great on the body. Certain stiffer denims, on the other hand, seemed like great choices on the bolt but have absolutely no give on the body. It's also tough to pick the right cut, so while I'm pretty sure the seamstress made the pants I ordered, I'm not sure I ordered the right pants. (Also, I completely forgot that you have to designate a thread color; when you see my clothes you'll notice that pink thread must be really big in Southeast Asian fashion right about now.) Next time I'll have to be a little more careful about my fabric and pattern choices. I'd say the best results we saw were Nick's copied pants; they made perfect replicas in much better fabric than the originals. I definitely should have brought stuff to copy, using a tested quantity as a guide through the hullabaloo, rather than relying on my ability to summon gorgeous couture on the fly.

    I also think our experience was probably a lot less pleasant and user-friendly than it needed to be. Outside the main market, there are tons of storefronts with mannequins wearing replicas of all sorts of different clothes. They have dressing rooms, mirrors, fans, etc., and they take your order over to the market and have it assembled for you. We're also guessing you don't pay a whole lot more, as the prices we paid weren't exactly cheap. Ah well, next time...

    I'm still going to miss Hoi-An a lot, and I would love to do it all over again... As you all know I was really looking forward to the clothing thing, and now that it's behind me and I've gained all this knowledge (and wardrobe!), I think I might have to start planning my next trip to Thailand, where Jeff and Nancy say they have the same services but in a bit more orderly and calm environment.

    We arrived in Hue yesterday and toured the walled citadel built in the early 19th century when this was the country's capital. It's very stormy and wet—the power in the Life Resort kept flickering on and off before we left, so I didn't get to post this from there. The three-hour drive from Hoi-An wasn't bad. We've all been impressed at the good roads, especially Nick, who says Vietnam's infrastructure and cleanliness put India to shame among developing nations. Unfortunately, we're eager to leave Hue, which has presented us nothing but heavy rains and meager sights. Our hotel, the Saigon Morin, is old and stately; our room's filled with carved wood, marble, porcelain vases and the walls are covered in old black-and-white photographs from the colonial days. Unfortunately it all has this very slight tinge of mildew, despite the fact that everything is completely spic-and-span. Must be tough fighting the creep of dampness in this climate, in October, the wettest month of the year.

    Today we leave for Hanoi where it's supposed to be dryer. From there we depart for home in a few days. The trip is already halfway over!


    Coming to you LIVE from...

    SAIGON, for one night only!

    Actually, we're not in Ho Chi Minh City anymore, but since we're a day ahead of the sleepy land you call California, I can use that line anyway because where you are, maybe we still are in Saigon... I don't know; strange things happen when you cross the International Date Line.

    The trip has been amazing so far. I can't seem to say anything without it coming out trite and cliched. Aw, what the heck, cliches can be useful sometimes, so why not? The people are so friendly and wonderful. The drivers are intrepid and insane. There are a zillion scooters. Street vendors with two pots hanging on either end of a balancing pole over one shoulder sell delicious(-looking; I wouldn't know because we haven't been bold enough to eat at one just yet) food that you eat while sitting on a little chair next to their "restaurant," or more accurately, "patch of sidewalk." The parks all contain American fighter planes and helicopters, on display as war trophies. It pours rain in the afternoon and then, after the rain stops, within moments the city has forgotten all about it because it evaporates that quickly in the intense tropical heat. People wear pointy straw hats. Everything has been really, really fun and interesting.

    We left HCMC today and flew to Danang, and then we took the scariest cab ride through the pouring rain to Hoi-An. Scooters, bicycles, buses, taxis, trucks all sharing one little tiny road. We've only been here a few hours, but I've already ordered 3 pairs of trousers, 2 pairs of jeans, a skirt, and 4 shirts from the tailors. I go back tomorrow for my first fitting. We're staying in an incredibly luxurious hotel that is criminally cheap. Never in my life have I felt this rich. It's downright bizarre and feels rather colonial....

    I'm trying to stay up until 10:30pm to get on a regular sleep schedule. The jetlag hasn't been that bad though because I slept surprisingly well on the plane. Tomorrow we hope it doesn't rain because we're planning to sit by the pool, which is so beautiful it feels like a work of art. Vietnam is the kind of place you want to recommend to everyone and no one. Spread the word or keep it a secret?

    Anyway, I'm loving it so far. I won't be checking email but will be reading comments. Love to everyone!


    Off to Vietnam

    I had so many things I wanted to say and do before I left on my vacation, but they will have to wait. If the author of The Orange is reading here, I can say that the magnets have varied over the years but they have included one of Ulala from Space Channel 5, a little black cat, a 'how to recycle oil' reminder from the SF garbage company...

    I'll try to blog from the road; it's something I would love to do and hope this will be my first vacation from which I can report back, LIVE. Check this space!


    It is time

    I found this story in Harper's magazine a few years ago, and I clipped it and stuck it on my refrigerator, where it's been hanging ever since. I only read it once in a while, but every time I do, I find new meaning in it and appreciate it more and more. Luckily, the author, Benjamin Rosenbaum has it published on his web site with a Creative Commons license that allows me to post it here just because I love it so darned much. Read and enjoy!

    The Orange
    by Benjamin Rosenbaum

    An orange ruled the world.

    It was an unexpected thing, the temporary abdication of Heavenly Providence, entrusting the whole matter to a simple orange.

    The orange, in a grove in Florida, humbly accepted the honor. The other oranges, the birds, and the men in their tractors wept with joy; the tractors' motors rumbled hymns of praise.

    Airplane pilots passing over would circle the grove and tell their passengers, "Below us is the grove where the orange who rules the world grows on a simple branch." And the passengers would be silent with awe.

    The governor of Florida declared every day a holiday. On summer afternoons the Dalai Lama would come to the grove and sit with the orange, and talk about life.

    When the time came for the orange to be picked, none of the migrant workers would do it: they went on strike. The foremen wept. The other oranges swore they would turn sour. But the orange who ruled the world said, "No, my friends; it is time."

    Finally a man from Chicago, with a heart as windy and cold as Lake Michigan in wintertime, was brought in. He put down his briefcase, climbed up on a ladder, and picked the orange. The birds were silent and the clouds had gone away. The orange thanked the man from Chicago.

    They say that when the orange went through the national produce processing and distribution system, certain machines turned to gold, truck drivers had epiphanies, aging rural store managers called their estranged lesbian daughters on Wall Street and all was forgiven.

    I bought the orange who ruled the world for 39 cents at Safeway three days ago, and for three days he sat in my fruit basket and was my teacher. Today, he told me, "it is time," and I ate him.

    Now we are on our own again.


    Boob alert!

    This Sunday I'm walking in the Race for the Cure on a team sponsored by Feel Your Boobies, a site started by my friend Sharon's friend Leigh. The name just makes me laugh so I had to join up, plus her story is compelling to me: She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33 after finding a lump in her breast. Everyone always says young women have such a low risk, but it can happen and we should all be aware, as Leigh says on her site:
    Right now, mammograms are targeted only for the over 40 population. For women under 40, feeling your boobies is one of the primary ways to ensure early detection. Somehow telling young women the importance of "self-breast exams" doesn't quite have the same punch as saying "feel your boobies." So you might laugh at the slogan, but hopefully you'll take it seriously and do it... and so will those who see your t-shirt.

    Also, the site is built with Homestead, a product I helped build back in the early days of the Internet boom! Anyway, I'm not asking for sponsorship for the walk because there's really not much time until the race (though tax-deductible donations can be made at the SFKomen web site linked above). You can also buy awareness-raising shirts directly from the Feel Your Boobies store.


    Dirty Laundry

    People who know me are aware of my laundry issues; I've made sure to bellyache about them frequently. I'm a renter who wants to be a homeowner, and my apartment doesn't have in-unit laundry. Our building has a washer and dryer, but they're down two flights of stairs in a cold, dark, and dirty little room in our garage just past the garbage (mmm...garbage). We share our one washer and dryer with two other apartments in the building. A full load requires eight quarters, 105 minutes, and the good luck of not having any of your seemingly few but annoyingly concomitant* neighbors come and dump your wet clothes out in between the washing and the drying.

    But I've been patient. I know the time will come when my laundry problem is solved. I don't know exactly how it will happen, but I know it will. In the meantime, I've accepted my current reality. I've stopped bellyaching about it. I've started doing laundry as frequently as possible, so there are only one or two--and not 12--loads to do at any given moment. I've begun diligently trudging over to the bank at lunchtime every couple of weeks to withdraw $50 or $100 worth of quarters at a time. Hell, I've even declared Wednesday laundry night. Fun! I've started looking on the bright side: Running up and down those stairs is exercise! Yaaaaaay! OK, I don't really feel that chipper about it, but sometimes a forced enthusiasm is key to accepting one's current reality. "Happiness takes strength!" cheers Tutu

    The dryer stopped working about a week ago. Now, after one properly loaded and totally not overstuffed cycle, my clothes come out damp. Now, a full load requires eight quarters, good luck with the neighbors, 105 minutes in the machines, and overnight drying on a rack in my bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, and wherever else I can hang the damn stuff. My apartment is now covered in wet rags. Have I mentioned our landlord hates to replace broken stuff and often insists on "fixing" things. Over and over again. Until you just stop complaining.


    Right...that was forced.

    Yup...still forced.

    Happiness takes strength!

    * This word just sounded right. I don't think it's used properly. But I'm guessing you catch my drift.


    Urban Garden Update

    It's been an eventful couple of months for my little garden on a deck here in San Francisco. July and August had unusually cold weather, on which I was very conveniently blaming certain of my failures in the garden. Looking back, however, I realize that my ignorance and impatience probably played the biggest role. We should start with the story of my favorite garden project, the Improved Dwarf Meyer Lemon tree that I bought back in March on a rainy day from Sloat Gardens.

    In my last update, you'll remember the tree was full of blossoms, and its future looked very bright indeed. There were a few little green lemons, whose evolution I was jealously monitoring. Weeks passed, blossoms bloomed, and the little green lemons stayed little and green. Then many blossoms withered (which my cousin had prepared me for) while some grew into more fruit, yet the little green lemons still stayed little and green. And then most of the little green lemons started to wither and die.

    This is when I started to really worry. I wondered if maybe our foggy summer was too much for the little tree (after all, aren't the famed citrus-growing regions of the world places like Florida and Orange County?). I decided to pull the tree into my kitchen and let it sit inside during the coldest days. Instinctively, this felt like the wrong thing to do, but I had to experiment. Nothing changed, except that I was worrying a lot more about the tree. I eventually went over to the Floorcraft garden store on Bayshore to browse the plants and ponder. I noticed that their Meyer Lemon trees sit in much a microclimate very similar to my own deck--windy, foggy, and on a street filled with loud traffic--and yet their trees had scrumptious medium-sized lemons (green like mine, but much bigger and healthier-looking).

    So I had to ask Abby, who's very friendly and helpful in case you ever need some garden advice. First, I told her I'd brought the tree inside. She shook her head and said that was no good, mentioning something about photosynthesis and a plant's formidable will to survive. OK, I noted. But her next question was the most enlightening: "How many years have you had the tree?" I immediately realized that the life of a tree is measured not in weeks or months, but years. When she heard I'd only had my tree since March, she just laughed. "You won't see real fruit for the first year, and the first lemons your tree produces will be little and shriveled. But the next year..."

    She didn't need to go on. I know exactly what happens the next year, and I'm really looking forward to it. So I invite you all over for lemonade, in the summer of 2007! For now, I give you two pictures of my little green lemons, which I expect to stay little, green, and utterly healthy for some time.

    The other big garden lesson I had is that I'm nowhere near experienced enough to grow anything from seed. Remember how I planted nasturtiums, morning glories, daisies, alyssum, basil, and cilantro? Here's what I have now:

    Notice you see geraniums, marigolds, lavender, and a tea rose plant? All plants I bought from professional gardeners to replace my seed-based plants that all pretty much much died. This is what my sad little herb garden looks like today:

    I do have alyssum (seen below) that was also bought pre-grown from Abby:

    Alas, I've started growing things from branches cut off of other healthy plants (like the geraniums and jade below):

    But I know you're all really dying to know what's happening with the tomato plants! I won't picture them here, because it's really too sad. I'll just say that even in the middle of the city, aphids will find a way. We did harvest a couple salads worth of tomatos, though, and they were really tasty. Maybe next year we'll get one of those jars of ladybugs when we start the tomato plants.

    In closing, I have my favorite assortment of all--the succulent Desert Delight. Now these are hardy plants:


    Art Party

    I wrote this piece for the Potrero View, a neighborhood newspaper. My friend Ruth is working on the project and asked me to help out with the promotion by writing an article. Here it is!

    Community Arts Project invites residents to take part in collaborative sculpture
    Potrero Hill and the arts go hand in hand, but never so much as they will in the next few weeks, as the Potrero Hill Community Arts Project accepts submissions for its first-ever collaborative art project created by members of the community. Anyone can participate—artistic training not required—by submitting a decorated plastic panel that will be combined into a sculpture and unveiled at a fundraising event at Neighborhood House on September 16.

    The idea is a simple one. Community members are invited to attend art-making parties throughout the next few weeks where blank panels will be available. The panels come in two sizes and can be decorated in any number of ways. Photographs, drawings, paintings, personal mementos, gift wrap, feathers, bottle caps, you name it…the only limit is your imagination—and, of course, whether you can get your materials to stick to the panel. Once the panels have been created and gathered, local artists from the Community Arts Project will assemble them into a sculpture—a unique work of art with many creators. “The more diverse the participants, the richer the artwork,” says Deborah Reed, one of the event organizers. “By working on a group project, people can create something for and of the community.” The sculpture will actually be a modular piece that can be disassembled, moved, and reassembled for other community events such as the Potrero Hill Festival and History Night. Every time it is reassembled, it will be unique.

    Whether you’re a budding Picasso, an artistic neophyte, or (like most of us) something in between, event organizers welcome you to contribute to the project. “We can provide instruction and suggestions, if needed,” says Reed. What’s important isn’t your level of ability; it’s your desire to participate. “Each person can design his or her panel in a way that speaks to them and expresses something about themselves or their world,” Reed says. “It’s fairly wide open.” Reed also says that all panels will be used—there will be no board of judges or standards that must be met. She hopes the diversity of panels will reflect the diversity she sees in the neighborhood. “I love living on Potrero Hill, and I love the sense of community here,” Reed says. “A collaborative art project seemed a natural expression of that sense of community.”

    The unveiling event will be a fundraiser for Neighborhood House, a non-profit community center that offers space for meetings, classes, and other events. Housed in a building designed by historic architect Julia Morgan, the center has been serving the Potrero Hill community since 1907. Though several art-making parties have already taken place, there is still plenty of time to add your panel to the project. The next party will be on September 8 at 6:30 p.m. at Neighborhood House. Other parties will be happening right up until the unveiling on September 16. More information is available at http://arts.potrerohillsf.com/project.html

    Sounds fun doesn't it?


    Writer's Block

    I got it, bad, and it sucks! I have a bunch of things I'm supposed to be writing and none of them are coming out. I start all sorts of blog posts, but every one ends up in the trash. It's mental hijinks of a completely unacceptable sort.

    So what does it boil down to when writer's block strikes? Bullet points. Lots of 'em. Here we go:

    Visiting Tutu in Texas: really great, really exhausting, really big cars.

    Emily and Thomas: How is it that they get cuter each day? At what age does that phenomenon cease? (Tutu, I'm sure you have a great answer for that question.) Spending time with them in Texas made the trip sparkle that much more.

    Traveling for business: How is it that business trips ever got the reputation of being glamorous?

    Footballers' Wives on BBC America: so delectably scandalous and terribly good. If I'd been watching this sort of TV during the days of Dynasty and Dallas, would I have loved those too? For some reason I think not. Something about British accents makes bad behavior seem so much more dignified.

    Riding my bike to work: thus far I've gained, not lost, weight and my pants feel tighter so I know it's not increased muscle mass. Awesome!

    It's a cool, cool summer: I like cool weather but this is getting ridiculous. Every morning for the past few weeks I've awoken to thick fog, which on some mornings is actually drizzle. Sure, it burns off. By about 4:45 p.m.

    My lemon tree: hates the cold weather too. It was doing so well but then sort of withered and wilted. I brought it inside and hope that might save it.

    Better go: work on that other writing, the stuff I'm getting paid to do. At least this has been a sort of proof of concept that I can put some words on a page.


    So busy!

    Isn't it funny that the noun form of "being busy" seems like it ought to be business?

    (That's all I have time to say...)


    Sticky issues

    One of the petty little arguments I have with my husband is about the pans we chose for our wedding registry. He wanted some form of Teflon non-stick; I insisted on stainless steel. My reasons were simple: Non-stick pans, no matter how expensive they are when you buy them and how well you care for them, start to corrode after a few years. I also dream of being a good cook someday, and I'd always heard that "real" chefs don't use non-stick. And last but definitely not least, I'm scared of the chemicals they use to make the pans non-stick. This fear isn't based on any concrete knowledge. I just sense that, much as processed, enriched, packaged, and preserved foods aren't as healthy as fresh, whole foods, these chemically coated miracle pans that were invented 20 years ago can't be as safe as the DuPont company would have you think.

    Today in the New York Times, I saw an article about PFOA, a carcinogenic chemical commonly found in food packaging, most notably certain cardboards, paper plates, and microwave popcorn bags. (I always knew there was something not quite right about that microwave popcorn!) PFOA is also used in the production of Teflon pans. Now according to DuPont, "none of it remains in the finished product," but they acknowledge that overheating an empty non-stick pan releases toxic fumes. Of course, DuPont says the pans have to be heated to 660 degrees before scary things start to happen; the non-profit environmentalists say that barrier is a much lower 325 degrees. Which would you rather believe?

    I don't expect everyone to toss out their beloved pans or stop ordering pizza, but while we're waiting to see what interesting (or even dirty) little secrets the PFOA class-action lawsuit brings to the surface, let's check out these easy news-you-can-use tips mentioned in the article:

    For those who don't want to wait for definitive answers from the government, the Environmental Working Group has some suggestions: Use Teflon pans at lower temperatures, and never put them on the stove to heat without food or liquid inside. Greasy food that is heated in a microwave oven in a cardboard container is a potential source of PFOA; take the food out of the container and heat it in glass or ceramic.

    For popcorn in the microwave, the group suggests the following: Place a quarter-cup of good quality popcorn in a standard brown paper lunch bag; mix with oil and seasoning; seal the bag with a single staple (one staple does not contain enough metal to cause a spark) and heat for two to three minutes. Alton Brown, who cooks on the Food Network, uses this method.

    Another solution is to cook the old-fashioned way. If cast iron pans are seasoned and heated properly, very little oil is needed for browning. Chefs generally do not use nonstick pans because they do not think they do as good a job of cooking as cast iron and stainless steel, especially for browning.

    Meanwhile, I think we'll...um...stick with the pans we have.


    Creature from the black lagoon

    This weekend I organized my very first independent scuba trip, and the first dive since my certification last March. This picture is of me crawling out of the water, and despite the warm surroundings, all the neoprene I'm wearing actually was necessary. It may have been 80 degrees outside but the water was 58 degrees and freezing. We went to Lover's Point in Monterey Bay, which was only about 20 feet deep but was the perfect beginner dive. We had 9 people in our group, and everyone did at least one dive. Most of us did two dives. Even though we weren't on the typical scuba schedule, where being in the water by 9 a.m. is considered late, we had a great full day of diving. The best part was that it was hot enough outside that when we peeled off the wetsuits (or sausage casings, as I like to call them) we were able to bask in the summer sun. (But how did I get to this age without learning that, no, in fact I can NOT be in the sun for even 15 minutes without scorching my poor skin beyond repair?)


    Coffee Confessional

    Well, the insomnia that led me to quit coffee for a week has gone, and like any good addict, I've basically gone right back to my bad old ways. Sunday, Monday, and today have all been coffee days. Think I can keep it to 3 days a week?


    Office Space...Cadet

    Yesterday it occurred to me that I might have to quit my job. All week long, I'd been showing up to work feeling optimistic and perky, but by 3pm, I'd become a depressed mess with aches and pains of the body and heart. The days were dragging by. I had no energy to go to the gym. Yes, I know that would probably have been the best thing for me, but if you'd told me that in one of these moments, I'd have found some reason to get really upset with you for suggesting such an obvious and inapplicable solution for my deep, dark problems. I should have been happily busy with plenty of stuff to take my mind off my bad mood; instead every task felt like torture. I discovered the office version of waiting for water to boil: waiting for your document to print. Usually I am able to multitask and get lots of things done, then walk over to the printer and find all my stuff ready to go. But this week, I found myself forgetful; if I didn't go right to the printer, I'd forget that I'd printed something until hours later. So I kept ending up at the printer before things were done and I had to stand there...Processing...Receiving Job...Processing...all the while fomenting moral and personal outrage about my horrible career choices.

    I couldn't understand what was so different about this week. My job is far from perfect, and I've had plenty of so-so weeks...hell, MONTHS...that made me wonder if maybe, just maybe there's something better out there for me. I scan job postings, have my resume at the ready, and so on. But I think this is pretty normal for the average working stiff. We're all looking for meaning and fulfillment, but we're often forced to take day jobs that pay the bills and (if we're lucky) provide some modicum of satisfaction and/or a tolerable work environment. I also suspect that even the best jobs, "dream jobs" bring challenges, painful growth, learning, and, yes, boredom and burnout. (That's why, in my opinion, everyone needs a vacation, even if what you do is what you love.) My job, like most, sometimes feels like a dream, sometimes a nightmare... but most of the time, I can roll with the punches and enjoy the good parts and get myself to the gym and be happy with the world we live in and life in general (to quote Depeche Mode, in case you missed it).

    Perhaps you are wondering by now, where the devil is this all going? Did I finally figure out what it was that made this week seem so much worse than all the rest? Well, gentle reader, you're on to something. This story does indeed have what we journalists like to call a "kicker." What was so different about this week that made me into Colonel Crank?

    I was drinking decaf.

    I guess that's not a true kicker, because I'm continuing the story. (If this weren't a blog I might polish this gem of an essay down a bit further toward Hemingway-esque perfection, but Hemingway got a) paid and b) published, so here goes...)

    Yes, I recognized the fog of caffeine withdrawal that had hazed over my sanity yesterday afternoon, just around the time I was getting ready to hurl the printer (and myself) out the window. So I poured myself some diluted green tea, treated myself to some coffee ice cream, took two ibuprofen, and got myself to the gym.

    Well, maybe in the Hemingway version... In real life I didn't really go to the gym. Because I had an appointment to get to. But I felt good dammit, and I didn't have to quit my job.


    Life in a bubble

    We looked at 3 open houses today. We liked this one the best, mostly because it was relatively cheap and has a dog & cat grooming business in the building. But that neighborhood without any parking is probably not realistic for us. We saw one even cheaper place that felt like it was cut off at its knees. You peeped out the back door and you were, like, inches from your neighbor's gorgeous yard. The realtor quickly told us "there's no back yard" as if we had to keep ourselves from leaning over and encroaching the neighbors' property. Plus, so often these Edwardian floorplans are just useless for modern living. The rooms tend to be small and connected to other rooms, so you can't exactly do anything useful with them. You might technically have 4 rooms, but they only work as parlors or dining rooms, definitely not as bedrooms or offices and hardly as living rooms. We've been in the market long enough that we know within seconds of walking in whether or not a place will work for us. That one didn't. Last, we saw this odd combo of units that were on the quietest, loveliest street in Noe Valley. Other than that, the place was overpriced for all the work it needed, and the layouts were pretty much pointless for anyone other than rich young singles. There were 3 units that, again, were technically 1 bedrooms with "parlors" or "fainting rooms" or "large closets" that are being sold as two bedrooms. Plus this obnoxious speculating couple was there boasting about how many places they've remodeled and flipped. It's hard to stay optimistic when you're regular middle-class people trying to buy in this market. I'll be monitoring the sales and I'm sure you'll all be as fascinated as I am to see what they end up selling for. Won't you?


    Bimonthly Garden Update

    Two months after my first report, we have lots of action in the garden.

    Please welcome my newest flower, the Lantana...

    which my mom says "almost thrives on neglect." I haven't found this to be the case so far, as you'll see there are no flowers at all (there were a bunch when I bought it). Mom thinks the potting soil might be too rich and that it needs plain old dirt. Unfortunately, as a city dweller, I have no plain old dirt. Keep your fingers crossed for this one.

    My Meyer lemon tree is doing well, though I'm still waiting for life to give me lemons! I had no idea how long these little guys take to develop.

    The tree is now FULL of purple buds, which will become blossoms, which then become little green lemons like the ones in the second picture. We'll see how long those lemons take to grow. I now understand my cousin's warning that a lot of blossoms would fall from the tree. I can't quite imagine having as many lemons as there are currently blossoms.

    My herb garden is giving me more trouble than anticipated. I've come to love adding little basil leaves to salads, noodles, and sandwiches. But it's so hard to keep the basil from dying after a few weeks! The cilantro is basically gone... though it too was fragrant and tasty while it lasted. I'm not sure what I did wrong. Did I underwater? Or overplant? Did I let it go to seed without realizing it? I'm going to try again with some new cilantro seeds or plants. We still have a lot of warm months ahead! The pictures are blurry but I didn't bother retaking them because these sad little plants look a bit less pathetic in soft focus.

    The nasturtiums have basically taken over any pot they were lucky enough to inhabit. I'm glad I went for the multicolored flowers because they look really pretty.

    I just wish I hadn't planted them in a pot with my beloved marigolds because the nasturtiums have completely dominated and the marigolds are no longer reproducing the way they once did.

    The "easy to grow and hardy" daisies are taking their own sweet time, though they have gotten bigger. Might be some time before a bloom, though.

    You probably won't even recognize the tomatoes. Remember this little guy?

    Well look at him now!

    The other two plants have actual tomatoes and tons of flowers.

    We'll close with a shot of my remaining marigolds and my new pot of succulents, which I lovingly call Desert Delight!


    On Mean Girls

    I think I learned how not to be a Mean Girl in 7th grade, and I'm pretty sure I haven't been one since then. I was in school at E.A. Hall, and I had a big group of friends--Joy, Laura, Tiffany, Cathy, Desiree, Rhoxanne, Chantell, Alicia, Yarrow, Marlene... We ate lunch together every day at one particular bench. We had almost all the same classes, and we always sat together, passed notes to each other, chose each other for group projects, and so on. We invited each other to our slumber parties, hung out at each other's houses after school, signed each other's yearbooks (and those of us who worked on the yearbook even put each other's pictures in prominent places). We may not have been the popular girls, but it didn't matter. We'd de facto declared ourselves popular within our own big group.

    And then one day, there was a big fight. I can't even remember now what caused the rift. I probably have the details written in my diary, but all I know is that one day I came to school and instead of having a big group of friends, I was the rebel leader of a faction at war. I had Desiree, Alicia, Chantell, Rhoxanne, and Yarrow firmly on my side. Joy and Laura were heading the other group, with Tiffany and Marlene. Cathy, who was sick the day of the initial conflagration, was sort of stuck in the middle, though I remember considering her an enemy. We've talked about it since then and she says she remembers just showing up back at school and there was a war going on, and somehow she'd gotten kicked to one side.

    It was during this brief period that I was a Mean Girl. I remember purposely starting a club that only my friends could join. In fact, I can remember now precisely who was on my side in the struggle because there were 6 girls in my club, which was called All the Rage, and we all had nicknames: jeni (that's when that delightful spelling was born), rhoxi, desi, ali, chanti, and yari. We had a special way of writing our names--all lowercase, and you dotted the i with a star. I have a really cute Polaroid picture of us on the day of the school carnival. We are all smiling hysterically and we look incredibly pleased with ourselves for being such good friends.

    What's interesting now, though, is that when I look at that picture, I mostly think of it as "taken during the time of troubles." I look at it and I only see part of my group of friends. I'm thankful that we were able to have such a cute and fun little club, but I can't help but think that underneath our scribbled names should be a caption: "These girls hate a bunch of other girls."

    Now, I can't remember exactly what went through my mind or when. I think it had something to do with our English class. We had to do "creative" book reports, which were oral presentations in front of the whole class. We got to do them in groups of our own selection, and they were really fun. (Tiffany and I once lip-synched to the song "Valley Girl," though for what book that was I can't remember anymore...but I do remember our teacher saying he thought we'd slightly stretched the interpretation of "book report.") During the time of troubles, I remember having to do my own solo book report because none of my faction members were in that class. The presentation was an interview with one of the characters in the book, and I played both roles, switching back and forth between reporter and interviewee. It may have been a decent idea, but I remember thinking how much more fun it would have been if Tiffany had been my partner. At the same time, Joy and Laura did a presentation together on flowers, and they had all these different types of roses in little individual vases. Their report was sorta bland, but I remember really wishing I could have participated even in a boring group presentation rather than my (albeit clever) solo one.

    There's an entry in my diary around this time where I clearly have recognized that I don't want to carry on the war. "I miss having a big group of friends," I state, quite unambiguously. I remember talking things over with my mom, who suggested I write a letter to Joy and Laura, apologizing for the fight and asking to be friends again. I don't quite remember exactly how things shook down, but I do remember that when I moved away at the end of the school year, I counted all those girls as my best friends forever, and we stayed in touch throughout high school. Cathy and I are good friends to this day.

    This was such a pivotal moment in my life. I learned that it is OK to suck it up and say you're sorry, even if you've virtually forgotten what it was you're sorry for or don't even know whether you're the one who should be sorry. I learned that sometimes even when you completely lose your pride, you gain a whole lot in return. I learned that when nobody's feelings are hurt, everyone has a better time. I learned that there is always room for more friends, and that leaving people out just makes everyone feel sorta bad. I learned that it takes way more work to exclude people than to include them. Maybe Joy and I didn't have so much in common, or maybe I thought Marlene wasn't quite on my wavelength. But it was way better to have everyone together at one gigantic, unequivocally superfun end-of-the-year pool party than to have separate factions at two smaller pool parties where you spent most of your time feeling dubiously satisfied that you've managed to keep a couple key people out and hoping your party is more fun than the other one. I learned that not being a mean girl feels wonderful.

    I've kept this lesson with me all my life. And even as I get older, I find the lesson continually relevant, in family matters, adult friendships, and (perhaps most often) professional life. Tom Brokaw was so right.


    All the news fit to print on one currently uninspired woman's blog

    I'm terribly upset to learn that the new season of Starting Over doesn't start until September. Also disappointed to hear that they meant it when they said they were casting couples; the web site says excitedly that "MEN are moving into the Starting Over house!" I can't see how this will be anything but a stunning disaster... but then again that's what makes reality TV tick, so I guess I ought not be surprised.


    Batman Begins!

    I have a confession to make: Action sequences in movies bore me. These are supposedly what makes so many movies so popular, and yet for me, a long chase or fight scene basically means...bathroom break. Even in movies I loved like The Matrix or Lord of the Rings, I can pretty much skip the action sequences without sacrificing any enjoyment. Most of the time, in fact, I find myself wishing they were shorter or I could just skip 'em.

    So I'm happy to announce that, except for a couple parts in the beginning of the film, Batman Begins was not at all boring and was in fact pretty damn good. The movie's storyline was just so compelling; it kept me guessing and entertained throughout. The cast was outstanding. Liam Neeson...so handsome and mysterious. Gary Oldman as a friendly old cop? He was perfect, believe it or not. And I LOVED Christian Bale as Batman. He has such an awesome balance of the wryly sarcastic yet also slightly wooden demeanor we expect in a superhero. Plus Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are excellent in their subtle supporting roles. Then there is this amazing guy

    who plays the creepy psychiatrist...I enjoyed simply watching him--and that is not something I say much about Hollywood blockbusters. Also, whoever did wardrobe rocked the eyeglasses.

    No really, the glass--and Gary Oldman as a cop (believe it!)--do work!

    Anyway, the best part may have been that when I went home after the movie, I quite happily threw away my ticket, confident in the knowledge that no matter how many years passed, I would never, ever want to put it in a scrapbook.


    Good Ol' Tom

    I heard a funny quote from Tom Brokaw's commencement speech at Emory University.

    "Real life is not college. Real life is not high school. Here is a secret no one has told you: Real life is junior high."


    Earmuffs in June?

    OK, I researched it on a weather almanac, and quite unbelievably, the week of May 21-28 last year was colder on average than this year. Today, however, it is raining and utterly wintry in San Fran. But I like it! I guess I just must remember to carry around a warm hat and scarf.


    "The coldest winter I ever spent...

    ...was summer in San Francisco," said somebody once upon a time. It's known as a Mark Twain quote but supposedly actually isn't.

    This year that quote just comes to mind day after freezing day. We've had a few warm days, but mostly it's just been bone-chilling. Is this year colder, or am I just getting sick of it?


    Release Me!

    In my continuing efforts to free my life of material clutter, I am approaching all things, big and small. (The keyboard is still here, by the way, but I am working on it. Slowly.) Tonight I took an envelope of "sentimental crap" and sorted through it, pulling out a few items and ditching a bunch more.

    Some of the things I tossed:
    • One of my brother's old business cards for a company, Pixelhaus, that he started himself
    • Ticket stubs for a bunch of old movies, including Titanic, There's Something About Mary, Addicted to Love, Lethal Weapon 4, and Career Girls. I'm a bit surprised I saw Addicted to Love in the theaters. I'm surprised I saw Lethal Weapon 4 at all, much less in a theater. I don't have any recollection of the film Career Girls. In fact, I'd go so far as to say I've never heard of it, yet apparently I saw it and paid full price.
    • Greg Ryan's phone number, written on a piece of paper ripped off a pack of cigarettes. I've got no idea who Greg Ryan is, but he lived in Brooklyn when he gave me his address and number.
    • Suzanne Vega's manager's business card
    • Some printed logos for the 1998 MTV Movie Awards
    • A luggage tag written in Japanese, which (I think) made it cooler than your ordinary luggage tag, and that's (I think) why I kept it all these years
    • A Tower Air boarding pass (who knows why I ever kept that. I hope it was accidental)
    • A visitor's badge to Bloomberg dated April 10 1995 (a j-school field trip I remember being really dull)
    • A ticket to a Giants game vs. the Colorado Rockies I went to with Homestead
    • THE MOST PAINFUL ONE SO FAR... A realtor's business card with a note scribbled to myself: "229,000 2BR" The property in question was a single-family Edwardian home in Noe Valley on Sanchez Street. In 1997.
    Some of the things I couldn't...release...just...yet:
    • A bunch of concert tickets, to Sonic Youth, Neil Young, Tori Amos, Ben Folds Five. I remember all of these shows quite well
    • A VIP badge to a Blur concert at the Warfield
    • A napkin from 21, where Benj and I went during my last crazy days in NYC
    • A sticker from Antique Boutique, a store I adored when I was 25
    • My MTV Radio Network business cards
    I know that holding onto these things only makes them more painfully sentimental, and they're worthless except for the fact that I have clung to them for so long. But right now I will keep them a bit longer, and if you've read numbers 62-64 you know some of the reasons why.



    I think I've decided to sell this electronic keyboard I bought about eight years ago. I spent a lot of money on it back then, and I thought it was worth the investment because I was convinced I'd use it to realize my long-slumbering creative musical dreams. And I wrote 1 1/2 songs on it. (That half song becomes important when you've written so few....)

    I've been lugging this keyboard (and it's real big and real heavy) around forever, but I've never really been able to use it. It's too complicated, and I've never had the time or motivation to actually learn to program it. I know plenty of boys (I'm sure there are girls out there too but I don't happen to know them) who can hook those things up to a computer and be writing cheesy techno in a matter of hours, but I'm just not one of those people. Somehow, inertia has prevented me from even taking up my musician friends on their offers to teach me.

    Getting ready to let go of it has gotten me thinking about the spirit of musical instruments. As I attempt to rid my life of clutter and unnecessary objects, I look to my stable of instruments: acoustic guitar, electric guitar, keyboard, cello, grand piano, flute (listed from newest to oldest)... heck I think I even have a violin thrown in there, and I don't even play violin. Part of me knows they should be the first thing to go. My flute needs a complete overhaul. My cello could probably be donated to some ailing youth symphony program. My guitars are almost an embarrassment, since I only just started playing those but I've already hit a plateau in skill level beyond which I might not realistically rise. And then there is the keyboard. The Kurzweil K2500 that has cluttered up many a sacred space of mine...

    Instruments do have lives. Perhaps they do not themselves have spirits, but they do channel ours, and they deserve to be played. This one was used by a well-known band to record a major-label album. I think those guys remember me not because they know me so well, but because they know that I was the one who let them borrow the keyboard. They wrote songs on it and took it on tour with them and played music on it for audiences all over the country. They even wanted to buy it from me at one point, but I wanted to keep it. I remember telling the guy that I "still had my dreams" and he said, "there's nothing wrong with that." I agreed with him then, and I think I do still.

    But my dream of playing my keyboard is reaching that frightening and very busy intersection with pragmatism. I only have so much space, and the truth is that this is one dream I haven't even come close to making true, in eight years. I always thought that one day I'd have a room in my house where I could keep all my instruments, where I could go to play piano and not worry about bugging my neighbors, where I could invite friends to play chamber music, where I could have my keyboard all nicely set up next to a computer and speakers and mess around with it and my other instruments and just see what forms of expression were born. That part of the dream is looking more and more unlikely. (I live in an apartment that can't even accomodate the keyboard comfortably, to say nothing of the grand piano that my dad is still storing for me.) Pragmatism is a bunch of cars zooming down the street, and I'm trying to get across carrying my keyboard of dreams. I can see that something's gotta go...

    Even if I shed the baggage, I still need someone to hold my hand.

    Unanalytical Fun

    Shockwave's Daily Jigsaw


    Hair Crisis. Number 2.

    This one makes my first blogged hair crisis look like an Andy Paige makeover. This time, my hair is actually messed up. It actually looks weird. It's such a bad color. I went to my hair appointment all excited. This was the woman who did my hair for my wedding! Something went very wrong in the mix, and after sitting in the chair for two hours, we discoverd that my hair just "wasn't taking the color" or so Doreen kept muttering to herself. She became a bit frazzled and started doing all sorts of additional weird processes to fix the problem, which made the original problem look damn good in retrospect. It's just hair, yeah, but... boy can a bad hairdo make me feel horrible about myself. Luckily I'm heading off for the weekend to Las Vegas, where, as my friend Amy pointed out, there will be plenty of people with worse hair than mine. I just hope I can actually get it fixed when I get back. Small, silly thing--vanity. Surprisingly powerful. Sometimes painful.

    Especially when your scalp is all red and irritated from having had 6 hair processes in a 3-hour period.


    Garden Update

    My lemon tree now has two blossoms and tons of buds. My cousin who's an expert at growing citrus says not to be too disappointed when half of my blossoms wilt and fall of the tree. He says it's normal, but not to worry because if the tree has lots of other buds, there will be plenty more opportunities for successful lemons. (Is that an oxymoron?)

    The nasturtiums and morning glories, planted from seeds about 4 weeks ago, are growing like weeds (which, by the way, is how some people have described nasturtiums...growing as they do in cracks in the sidewalk, vacant lots, and other such untended gardens). No flowers yet but plenty of gorgeous new growth. Soaking the seeds for 24 hours before planting (as the packet advised and rather strangely called "scarification") really helped, I think.

    The daisy seeds, too, have sprouted. I planted them about a week after the morning glories and nasturtiums. Despite the fact that the packet advertised them as the hardiest and easiest-to-grow, these seem to be taking a lot longer to push up. They're still just tiny little green sprouts.

    Planted the same day as the daisies are the basil and cilantro seeds. Each defied my expectations by growing perhaps a little too readily. (I now believe I put way too many seeds in too small an area and some of the seedlings are going to have to die in order for their sisters to survive. I feel an unexpected sense of guilt about this.) Alongside them, I have planted both a cilantro and basil plant, which I bought at the local non-Home Depot garden store. It's fun having the plants in separate stages; one gives me an idea of what to expect from and look for in the next.

    We also have three tomato plants, two of which are looking beautiful and one of which almost died when we brought it home from the store but has been slowly and caringly nursed back to life. The two big ones have plenty of flowers. Pray for tomatoes.

    Last but not least, we have the sturdiest plants of all, the flowers that remind me of my grandmother, the marigolds. These have been growing for years now, after my mom gave them to us and Nick planted them. They hardly need any care and love and regenerate very vigorously. I heartily recommend them for beginner gardeners. You'll notice a few nasturtium leaves in the pot. I couldn't resist throwing them in there, thinking the oranges will look pretty together. I just hope they can all coexist peacefully together!

    Not pictured: Geraniums, cactus, and dying Aloe Vera.


    Yes, we have a Pope!

    ...and His name is Popeon the First!


    My 100 Things

    1. My favorite thing to do is write.
    2. My second favorite thing to do is eat.
    3. I don't write enough and I eat way too much.
    4. I'm growing a Meyer Lemon tree in a pot on my patio.
    5. I'm also growing a bunch of other flowers from seed, and this morning the first ones sprouted.
    6. I like being short.
    7. I like wearing black.
    8. I ride a scooter to work.
    9. I don't feel that it's all that dangerous.
    10. I love to travel.
    11. I get homesick really easily.
    12. I can converse in four languages: Russian, French, Spanish, and English
    13. Of those, I sorta wish I could swap out Russian for Chinese.
    14. I do fit in rather well in Russia, where the people are very soulful and melancholy.
    15. I am a melancholy soul.
    16. I have freckles.
    17. I'm a fabulous singer.
    18. I love karaoke.
    19. I play piano, flute, cello, and guitar.
    20. Stringed instruments intimidate me.
    21. I like rainy days much more than sunny days.
    22. I love to cook.
    23. I'm not that great a cook just yet.
    24. I'm a newlywed.
    25. It was really hard for me to let go of all the things that didn't go as planned at my wedding.
    26. Still, my wedding day actually was the happiest day of my life so far.
    27. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that.
    28. I believe there's an even happier day coming up.
    29. I'm so detail-oriented that I keep checking the numbers on this list to make sure they're in the proper order.
    30. I reorder the dishes my husband puts in the dishwasher.
    31. I never complain to him about this, as I'm pretty sure "it's me, not him."
    32. I accept he'll never do it my way.
    33. I'm overanalytical.
    34. The first time someone pointed this out to me, I was hurt and insulted.
    35. It's taken me 10 years to learn that I can't change that quality in myself.
    36. I'm finally learning to make it work for me, not against.
    37. I'm often way too honest, especially on my blog.
    38. I'm pretty sure only people who know me read my blog.
    39. I'm a really tough editor.
    40. I'm good at spelling.
    41. I don't like to copy edit.
    42. I can't help but copy edit.
    43. I have extremely straight hair.
    44. I have only recently realized how many women want straight hair.
    45. I think if I had wavy hair, I'd probably just leave it wavy...
    46. ...Because I'm really lazy when it comes to stuff like hairdos and makeup.
    47. I think high fashion is truly a joke.
    48. My favorite reality show is "America's Next Top Model."
    49. I wish I were a faster reader.
    50. I'm photogenic.
    51. I love getting my picture taken.
    52. I used to dream I'd marry a guy who loved to photograph me.
    53. I've managed to surround myself with people who don't take many photos.
    54. I have two cats.
    55. I used to get up early, until I got cats who like to sleep late.
    56. On my recent scuba certification dive, I saw a used condom on the bottom of the ocean.
    57. My buddy thought it was hilarious; I thought it was sad.
    58. I'm scared of having children.
    59. I think I'll be a great mother.
    60. I have an unusually great mother.
    61. I'm much happier in clean, uncluttered spaces.
    62. I'm not good at throwing things away.
    63. I love keeping written, audio, and video records of my life.
    64. Nostalgia is one of my favorite feelings.
    65. I never get sick of Chinese or Italian food.
    66. I do get sick of American, Japanese, and French food.
    67. I like saving money.
    68. For as long as I can remember, I've thought I had a pretty face.
    69. I have naturally straight teeth.
    70. I used to like hot dogs, but now I hate them.
    71. I love macaroni and cheese.
    72. Most of my favorite music is in minor keys.
    73. I've written a couple of songs in my time.
    74. When I'm in museums or galleries, I often feel I don't really understand art.
    75. I've always felt I really understand music.
    76. I think the Beatles are way better than the Rolling Stones.
    77. I like Beethoven way better than Mozart or Bach.
    78. I like Stravinsky way better than Beethoven.
    79. Even though I understand that "comparisons are odious" I still love to make them.
    80. I'm listening to Bach right now.
    81. I have an unusually huge music collection.
    82. I've only illegally downloaded a handful of songs, most of which were songs I already had bought at one point but didn't have in listenable format at the time.
    83. Brisk walking is my favorite exercise.
    84. I live in a cruddy neighborhood for brisk walks.
    85. Earthquakes excite but don't scare me.
    86. The largest earthquake I've experienced is the 7.1 Loma Prieta in 1989.
    87. I was in the Soviet Union during the 1991 coup.
    88. That day, military police showed up at my apartment door in Leningrad.
    89. It was because I'd set off the apartment's silent alarm, not because they were about to take me as a political prisoner.
    90. I've been to Cuba.
    91. I think I lived through WWII in another life.
    92. I'm not convinced I wasn't a Nazi.
    93. I think German is a beautiful language.
    94. I dream in color.
    95. I grew up too fast.
    96. At the time, I was utterly convinced I was growing up at just the right pace.
    97. I prefer watching movies at home than in the theater.
    98. I think there are lots of right answers to every question.
    99. Even though I feel I should read this list over before publishing it, I'm not going to.
    100. I could really go on and on.