By: Esther M. Powell
Posted on: Thu, December 01 2011 - 5:11 pm
December 31, 2011 Valparaiso, IN
Waking up in the pre-dawn this morning, I remembered how little I used to feel like getting up in the dark for work. I hated it!
I really hated it when it was still black when I left for work, especially given that I was walking and felt more vulnerable on foot in the dark.
One thing I loved about being forced to get out and about a little bit earlier than I would want, though, was the sunrises I experienced on the way to work at my clinic job in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
On that walk I could see the entire mountainous horizon, and the sunrises were glorious. If you were not familiar with the sky of the Land of Enchantment, you might not be able to tell which part of it was west and which was east. Those sunrises would tint the few clouds in every direction of the sky with pinks and golds.
The lack of trees which creates hot penance conditions in the summer midday makes sunrise and sunset viewing optimal. I used to go around the office buzzing "sunset alert" when there was a particularly good one.
If you have to spend all your waking hours of daylight inside, at least you should get the incentive and reward of a good light show on your trip to and from work!
Are you fond of the more colorful transitions between night and day? Go west to the Land of Enchantment.
December 29, 2011 Valparaiso, IN
I wanted to be able to put Chicago, IL! again at the top, because we spent yesterday afternoon, overnight, and all day today in Chicago.
We (two family members and I) spent a night in the big city in order to enjoy a little of what the city has to offer, and we managed to achieve our plan.
Yesterday afternoon on the way between the South Shore and the Palmer House Hotel we scampered around Millenium park a bit. I had seen The Bean before - some people call it The Cloud but I don't know its official name and to me it looks more like a bean. Yesterday I learned you simply must get really up close and intimate with it (as in under) to experience its true wildness. All is not as it seems in its seemingly contemplative outer aspect!
And today I finally found out why I get so confused by the landscape of Chicago. Millenium Park is built over the South Shore Railroad. It truly is a new green space. Don't ask me how I could leave the station yesterday and get up to the park without realizing that. Chalk it up to my mesmerization by that fantastic sculpture of an auditorium.
Today we saw the new Contemporary section of the Art Institute. Several Georgia O'Keefe paintings are there - what a pleasant surprise to New Mexicans!
We also saw Picasso, Magritte, an intense Chagall stained glass window, Pollock, Miro, Braque, Rousseau, Dali, Sargent, and last but not least some beautiful furniture, including an awesome bench that could seat a whole family of differing heights comfortably.
There was a wonderful instrumentalist playing seemingly perfectly with much joy in the main entrance hall. Unfortunately I don't know the name of the performer or the instrument, but I bet I could find it on the Internet!
So many people in Chicago were so helpful to us in our time there that I think it must be one of the most generous cities in the world. Having said that, though, I must warn you it might be the human race reacting in unity for survival in the face of Chicago's fierce and merciless wind. Pretend you are travelling to the North Pole to visit Santa Claus!
December 27, 2011 Valparaiso, IN
Merry Third Day of Christmas! For the third day of Christmas, Mother Nature gave us winter. A white Christmas.
Bleh. White, slushy, power-going-outie winter.
I'm armed with a ton of dusty candles just in case, but the power was out and on again in a flash.
We have had a wonderful holiday so far. Tons of food including brand new dishes created by my partner. Today he made banana fritters with a caramel rum sauce.
My daughter says I have lost weight. I can't imagine how! (Maybe she said I've lost wait. Am I more impatient than before? Impossible!)
We are looking forward to going to a mask exhibit that is showing in downtown Valparaiso at the historical museum. It will be on display into January, so don't use the usually dead downtime between Christmas and Epiphany as an excuse not to get out and about.
I'm planning to leap around this winter like a Cincinnati Bengal Tiger! Or at least like one of those little brown bunnies that we can now see against the snow - even early in the morning.
P.S. Did not find the museum open. This is the second time we have tried unsuccessfully to see the mask exhibit, and this time I feel there is no excuse for them not to have posted holiday hours!
December 24, 2011 Valparaiso, IN
In the wee hours of yesterday morning I awoke on the 18th floor of the Palmer House in Chicago, and contemplated the unusual circumstances my family found itself in.
Firstly, it is highly unusual for me to be on the 18th floor of any building!
Secondly, my daughter-in-law had just gone into early labor with my first grandson (my mother's first great-grandchild) in New Mexico, where, oddly enough, it was snowing!
At that very moment, my two daughters were making their way across the continent on the Southwest Chief (formerly the Silver Chief) train - hardly a daily occurrence.
My elderly mother, frailer than last month, is making a gradual transition of her own.
I had the feeling that my son's baby had been born, and within a short while my guess was confirmed, with a phone call and an offer to send a picture by telephone!
My cheap phone was incapable, but last night the whole family, including great-grandma, saw the baby's picture via Facebook. What an amazing event, unthinkable even at the time of my own children's births!
It makes me ponder what wonders my contemporaries and/or I will experience at the age of 92. Holographic interactive images? Personal transport of an unheard-of nature (not likely teleportation, I read) on short notice? Or something else by me completely unimaginable?
The birth of a new baby in a snowstorm in southern New Mexico makes me think (from the vantage of a green, 40 degree Christmas Eve in the usually white-blanketed Midwest) that, this Christmas, Las Cruces might have been the place to be!
We're philosophical, though, and we hope that when we go down to see that early-bird newborn in January, the snow will have changed places.
December 22, 2011 Chicago, IL
Yes, Chicago! Forty-five years ago I used to walk through the Palmer House on the way to college and think how wonderful it would be to stay here. Such glamor! Such excitement in the middle of the big city! (Judging from the office workers we could see across the way, the big sitty! I never could sit eight hours a day, but I'm sure most of these employees don't literally do so, either.)
We like the Palmer House! The resident Lockwood Restaurant is wonderful also, but pricey. Good sauce and vegetables with my entree. I couldn't identify my sauce's ingredients, but I did detect - butter. Well, no wonder it was good. Lockwood uses local ingredients when possible and the presentation is as good as the flavors.
A couple times while relaxing in our room I have mistaken the El running over the street below for a big wind. A big, but remote, non-threatening wind. We are happy here. Too bad we can't stay longer.
Still, staying here we have realized a dream I first entertained forty years ago!
Here we feel in the thick of it. On the way we stopped at the Museum of Science and Industry and saw the Christmas trees from other lands. By far our favorite was the Japanese tree, which was abundant in folded paper and whimsey.
We happened upon a "madrigal" concert of mostly Christmas music. How many selections were both madrigals and carols I don't know, but a few serious intonation problems notwithstanding, it was an enjoyable concert. Specially featured was a jester (I almost wrote "jester") who bounced around the audience and enjoyed pestering the singers during a simple dance number.
This museum trip was expensive! Big city, big money!
But what choice do we have? It is too cold and damp to camp, and I don't see any place to pitch a tent, anyway.
December 21, 2011 Valparaiso, IN
Do poets have pretensions?
In Santa Fe there were lots of people who called themselves "writers," but I don't remember people calling themselves "poets" very often, unless they were leading poetry workshops.
Nor did they call themselves "novelists" or "playwrights" although I do remember meeting (in the dark, so I don't know what she looked like) a charming young woman who had written a screenplay and was hiding out in the shrubs waiting for someone recognizably famous to try to sell it to.
She was probably waiting for a specific individual, but if she told me I don't remember who.
Now her, you have to admire! There is someone who deserves to have pretentions, for the sheer courage and verve it takes to hide out at night in Santa Fe, waiting to ambush some innocent one, when there are plenty of bad guys out there, waiting to ambush innocent you!
Librettist. I had the ambition to be that for a short time, but that might have been my shortest-lived ambition, and I never presumed to call myself that.
But for some reason everybody thinks it is safe to call himself a writer.
Well, why not? Only the non-literate are not writers.
If nothing else, we can sign our names on checks and credit card receipts!
December 20, 2011 Valparaiso, IN
I guess I decided to send Christmas cards this year when I saw cards on sale after Christmas last year. There were some I just plain loved (plus I felt like I had to buy something when I walked into that Walgreens while on vacation to use the restroom.)
After I had done a basic thirty or so, my Mom got some cards in the mail, so I decided to add those folks to the list. (They were already on Mom's list, but I couldn't face getting her to sighn (that spelling was a Freudian slip!) so many cards this year.)
One couple has received cards from us pretty much since I got here, but I don't remember them, even though they live in town. I don't recall ever meeting them, but with me that doesn't mean much.
My mom didn't seem to recognize their names, saying, "Your dad had so many students." I sent them a card thanking them for remembering "us" even though it was really sent only to her.
On the way to the gym after my card signing ordeal, I had a fantasy.
Wouldn't it be funny if they don't really remember Mom, either, but send us a Christmas card every year because we are on their list from thirty years ago? "I can't quite place her, but let's send one just in case. We don't want to disappoint the old dear. She probably doesn't have that many friends left!"
Ho ho who? Merry Xmas!
December 18, 2011 Valparaiso, IN
Frontal lobelia. Manic destination. Mantra re the nation under prestidigitation. Floral backfire.
Gigantic giaconda billboard floating pillbox hattery. Matchless mordant mystery reeling punchdrunk from romancing. Blurring texts, furring scaly genres.
Slurry. Seasons mixing, weather fixing to surprise all surmises. Baked alaska and papaya snowcones, pinecones for baby and holidays for snowboots.
Where is Christmas? It has gone to scooterland and God riddance. Music christens and educating nature glistens so holy, holier than the socks get when you buy them cheap.
Bye, bye. Cheep cheep.
December 17, 2011 Valparaiso, IN
Mental habits do make a difference.
My Dad had perfect pitch until he intentionally tuned a harpsichord differently to accommodate an old-fashioned instrument (maybe just to sound the way musicians did it before scales were "tempered".) After that time (late in his career) Dad would sometimes get confused about which perfection he was looking for.
I (probably foolishly) "studied" numerology and got pretty good at adding digits together to reduce them to a single digit. (E.g. adding the digits in 29 (2+9 = 2) instead of real addition, (2+9=11). A weird way to get meaning out of numbers, but not arithmetically or mathematically significant. Harmless? Until you start doing it unconsciously while working at a retail counter!
The last such mental trick I caught in myself was an interlinguistic confusion. In Spanish "v" is pronounced like a slightly softer "b."
So do I want to go to the ballet or the valley?
Are you the vane of my existence or the bane?
Going to bat or to the vat? To bet or to the vet?
The same consequences, of course, can attend more dangerous mental habits.
Paranoia, meanness, envy, anger - you think you have a choice when you indulge in them, but they can be hard to get rid of.
And Santa, who himself has a nasty habit of making lists and checking them twice, notices!
December 16, 2011 Valparaiso, IN
Yesterday, brushing by shrubs along the sidewalk, I saw forsythia blossoms.
Today, stepping onto the porch which has certainly gone below freezing at least once this year, I was greeted by dianthus in the pots, and a big yellow pansy.
Violets in the lawns. Another squash (edible) growing out of the compost pile. We had it tonight with a little corn, spices, agave syrup and a splash of black rum. (Did I tell you my partner is a chef?)
Every time we walk by an especially saucy squirrel, my partner threatens blithely, "Brunswick stew!"
Christmas is coming, and we are still greeted by summer presence! Fall harvest! Winter's absence.
December 15, 2011 Valparaiso, IN
I would like to be funny. I would like to be a funny funny funny writer like Dave Berry (sp?) or Janet Evanovich or Edna Ferber (was that her name?).
If it is true that humor is really a form of complaining, maybe my life is just not hard enough. I don't have enough to complain about.
But what does Dave Barry (sp?) really have to complain about? His life as a syndicated writer must be hell, it is true. (Think of trying to be funny when you are being threatened with hellfire. "Make me laugh or I'll burn you!")
So why is complaining supposed to be so funny? Maybe those are comedians, not comic writers. Maybe it is mostly in the visual.
Why do we think comic writers are so funny, though? They also evoke hysterical mental visuals and dialogues and they never have to practice in front of mirrors. (I never could bring myself to practice in front of a mirror, unless maybe trying to learn how to write backwards.)
It is sad, but I am one of those people who is really only funny kind of backwards by accident. One of those people who trips on a banana peel while trying to virtuously clean up a gum wrapper.
It's sad. But also - kinda (not very) funny!
December 14, 2011 Valparaiso, IN
Rain, plain, stain, Cain, slain - so many of the "ai" words that rhyme with rain are negative!
Refrain can be positive or negative - but so often banal and negative! How about "Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?" for an icky refrain?
Train will be good when it brings my daughters to us - bad when we hear the blinkin' whistlin' things go by several times a day, including the night - freight trains all! Does a passenger train come to our town? Not yet - in both meanings of the word.
Strain, twain (positive if you are Mark Twain but negative if you're the one chopped in) fain (well that is archaic and how often do we get what we would fain?)
Lain - positive if you prefer the horizontal.
Main - neutral, I admit.
Grain, good! MacLaine, good!
Okay, okay I stand corrected. Throw this down the drain.
December 13, 2011 Valparaiso, IN
In the past I have written about misleading headlines. They seem to say one thing, then when you read the article, the real news is not the same - closer to the opposite.
Today I saw an Internet article headline that said that not as many houses had sold between 2007 and 2010 as formerly reported by some real estate association.
All the article said was that, when challenged, the real estate group said that fewer houses had sold than they said before.
Is there some kind of abstruse accounting system for defining the word "counting" that I have never heard of? Is it that complicated to "count" the number of houses "sold"?
Well, probably - but I don't know because rather than explain the discrepancy, a video came on advocating buying foreclosed houses!
Talk about bait and switch!
Now I will be afraid to read headlines without the long-term (heh) commitment to reading the articles.
Maybe I'm a little too sensitive to issues of mind-control and propaganda because we watched the documentary Hot Coffee yesterday.
No, on second thought, considering what is going on in the U.S.A. today, we can't be too sensitive.
In fact, I think colleges should offer courses called "Propaganda and How to Detect It."
God knows there are enough people learning how to churn it out!
December 12, 2011 Valparaiso, IN
Some home illuminators in the neighborhood are doing their best to make up for the autumnal loss of light.
We went on a special walk this evening to see a house on Jefferson street whose bulbs we had seen during our daytime errands. Our curiosity was piqued especially by the blue-and-white snowflakes on a couple of shrubs.
Well! The lights were gaudier than a sunset and of twenty different styles and colors! The eaves of the house were trimmed with multicolored icicles, and there were conical tree shapes near the edge of the property with round bulbs which could light up in a seemingly infinite series of rippling colors. Such light-hearted fun, and definitely worth the walk!
Other houses seemed determined to convince you they were buried in an avalanche of glittering snow to rival the Alps.
Altogether a successful antidote to winter, especially such a mild case of it as we have had this year.
December 11, 2011 Valparaiso, IN
Ah, life is so cruel! Fate is so enshrouded in mists!
In the old days we all knew that those with theatrical ambitions went to New York City. Ditto artistic, writing (often enough) and dozens of other ambitions. Sure, there was Hollywood for the movies, Santa Fe for visual arts. There were definitely centers besides New York.
But if you wanted to SUCCEED you went to New York. In the physical U.S.A this is still true, I guess. Those of us not courageous or passionate enough don't go.
They do something else.
Many of us have tried the Internet as an alternative to physical relocation.
But what is the New York of the Internet? Where is the virtual Big Apple (no confusion with Mac intended).
How do you gain recognition in a virtual world bigger than New York City?
My kids tell me it is links, or association with larger websites, and I believe them.
I find, however, that the lack of passion for worldly recognition that kept me unambitious in my youth remains with me now. My purpose for writing, is, alas, that it is fun!
Attention I want. That I will not deny, but there are ways to get it from the real world inside and outside my home.
Recognition for talent? That would be nice, but what can I expect when I don't have the humility or discipline to hone it?
Well, for one thing, how about getting put up as a finding in a random search (in this case me myself and I) and being included before the bloggers who are moaning and lamenting about not having written in their blogs for months?
How about that? My writing, with all its flaws, is more interesting than that!
Shoot. This virtual world is just like all the others. You have to sell yourself, and selling yourself is boring.
Now touting iris rhizomes - that is another matter. One day, it'll be back to the Farmers' Market for me!
Goodbye, New York!
December 9, 2011 Valparaiso, IN
Ha! The other day I was talking about the multiplicity of the Internet.
Well, at least duplicity! I just happened to see a website called Spokeo which takes my name in vain.
It tries to get you to join and probably pay for more information about me, but even some of the information (or should I say outformation or exformation or aformation?) it provides for free is inaccurate - so don't believe everything you read!
Even here on my own very personal (as opposed to nosy about others) website. I try to be honest, but gee, aren't we all guilty of exaggeration (or should I say inaggeration or outaggeration or proaggeration or exagyration or inaggregation or outage-aeration or outregyration or...
On a few choice themes, including the truth.
December 7, 2011 Valparaiso, IN
The Internet, while rewarding in its multiplicity, is very frustrating when it comes to research.
I know, I know. In ways it is wonderful. You can access certain kinds of facts amazingly quickly.
But how do you handle the fact that the more information detail you submit, the more your results expand instead of contract?
There used to be a way to say "and" or "or" to tell the search engines what you wanted, but now it seems "or" rules. Is that because it sounds like "ore" and we are all mining away?
In an index in the back of a book, you can find how your subjects of interest intersect by looking them up and finding common page numbers.
With the Internet, the more I give detail that I think should narrow my search down, the more responses arise!
Why, when I enter "needle" and "haystack," do I get anorexic stars and bad boy haircuts?
This is efficient?
Do I need a lesson? Or even, heaven forbid and alas, a class?
December 6, 2011 Valparaiso, IN
The more experience I acquire, the more I realize that the ability to universalize your own experience is an important key to success in many areas of life.
I remember hearing the phrase first from an English teacher, and as I think I have confessed before, I didn't really understand what he meant.
He was, of course, talking about literature. This is what an author has to do to write about something he knows - not only to give his experience more widespread appeal, but also to avoid making personal enemies!
Trading Up gives us another set of examples of the advantages of universalizing your own experience. I failed to universalize my experience when in college, when I envied my dorm mates their sexy black underwear, but was not willing to sacrifice the comfort of cotton. I remember walking into several stores in the Loop in Chicago, including one that specialized in lingerie, and finding NOTHING both fetching and wearable.
Now I realize that this was an example of a dearth in the market the authors of Trading Up could "drive a truck through" (and the buyer of Victoria's Secret did just that.) At the time, I felt like a very odd duck, and kept on wearing the insipid.
The major advantage of universalizing your own experience, though, is realizing that other people have gone through the same experiences you have gone through. You are not able to isolate yourself from the whole world if you acknowledge this truth.
I would like to say that this realization has made me stop squawking (or should I say quacking?) about the imperfections of my own existence, but alas, alack, ack ack ack quack quack quack QUACK!
December 5, 2011 Valparaiso, IN
Since when did one-issue doctors' appointments become the norm in the United States?
I used to go for my check-up and talk with the physician about everything. Admittedly "everything" wasn't much because I was younger and had fewer medical problems.
How is it more efficient to have to go through the process of making a separate appointment for every problem, then spending time going to and from the doctor's office for each appointment, not to mention the gas and wear-and-tear on the car if you have to drive?
Is it really better for the doctor? Why don't they just ask when you make the appointment how many medical questions you have, rather than resenting you (or kicking you out!) when you overstay your eight minutes with the doctor?
Is it really better for the health system as a whole? If a person doesn't address all the problems at one time, the forgotten one might be the one that poses a real health risk, requiring expensive testing and treatment that might have been unnecessary had he been able to ask multiple questions.
Now I read in Trading Up (see For Book Butterflies Fir Greens in my menu at left if you want more information) that some doctors, for four thousand dollars a year (in 2002) will give you that old-fashioned kind of leisurely consult plus same-day appointments if needed.
And no, doctors, we are not fooled by your habit of letting us wait in a consult room for an additional 15 minutes instead of just leaving us in the general waiting room. Anyway, doesn't that make for expensive overhead, a special room being used exclusively for one customer to read mags in?
Hey, I had an idea! We are lolling around half-naked anyway. How about running soft porn while we're waiting? You could charge even more.
Just kidding. Really, I'm longing (not nostalgic, because it hasn't happened in my lifetime except for a foot doctor who came and cut my elderly mother's toenails (and the last time I tried to call him his number was discontinued.))
Oh, for the good old days, when the doctor had to walk or ride to your house through snowstorms and was so glad to come in out of the cold that he would stay inside, drink hot tea, eat supper, and examine every one else in the family while he was at it!
Huh. In the movies.
December 4, 2011 Valparaiso, IN
I complained about November on its last day, but November was really Fall! We have cheated winter out of one month, anyway.
Now here it is, December, and winter has still not reared its icy-sculptured head. There was a real rain during the night that could have been, with colder temperatures, snow.
We took a walk today and thought we were in Oregon! Some days in November we thought we were in New Mexico. This weather is very strange.
Yesterday at the carol singing in the Westchester Museum in Chesterton we sang, "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!" but Dot, our organist, ended the song with a spoken coda: "But please don't!"
The only time this winter I will really feel sincere about tempting fate to snow on us will be Christmas Eve, and even that will be for appearances sake.
My partner, if he has his druthers, won't even bend for that.
December 3, 2011 Valparaiso, IN
I had to stop exercising for laughter. How often do I have that excuse?
The only way I could listen to Herman Cain today was by doing theraband exercises so as not to waste my time. My partner put paid even to that effort by saying, "Plan B. I don't want to make liars out of those women who accused me, so right now I am going to go out and sleep with every single one of them!"
My partner's sequel that comment is, "Instead of the 9-9-9 plan, I'm going to pursue the 69-69-69 plan!"
Too bad Cain had to quit politics because it is such a dirty, dirty game.
Poor Cain. He can deny the truth, but he is not able to stand up to it.
My partner continues, "Cain was originally the outsider. Now that he is having sex with all these women, he's an insider. So he has a dual life - outside her, inside her, outside her, inside her."
December 2, 2011 Valparaiso, IN
Instead of bringing out Billies, offer up Carols!
Instead of Sue-ing, try Flo-ing.
Don't Bruce people, have Patience with them.
Use a Mike, not a Lance.
In the morning have a Joe - before or after your lawn Moe.
If you're a Barron, try Sharyn.
With dark chocolate Candy, life won't Paul.
Be a Martin or a Jay, not a poor whipped Will or a woodpecker Harry!
Don't Blair, but be Clare, or Mary!
December 1, 2011 Valparaiso, IN
In my experience, silence does not mean assent. It means, no, not really, but I don't want to:
a) hurt you
b) rain on your parade
c) disappoint you (is that the same as b)?
d) yell at me
e) beat me up
If your question or suggestion meets with any one of those responses, it doesn't really matter, since your questionee ain't talkin'.
Because a b c d e f, whatever.
Silence does not mean assent, unless silence includes a big smile, hug, kiss, tears of joy, etc.
Maybe the people who hope silence means assent are confusing assent with ascent - of mood, hope, a body - oops I'm getting into the blue zone, the wild blue yonder.
There are many who would consider that course a descent.
No, not decent! Not dissent!
Er, double negative, not dissent, equals assent?
I'm in the wild blue yonder of confusion. It just occurred to me the word I first heard used in this saying was "consent."
If I don't hear from you, does that mean you agree?
Ha, ha ha ha ha ha!
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