Let's Get Sustainable

I’ve always wanted to write about products that use less plastic in their packaging.

Why is that important?

The whale, the dolphins, the albatross, even us. We’re all eating plastic and we don’t yet understand the effects, do we?

Voting with our pocketbooks is a great way to encourage these great companies.

Quaker Oats Oatmeal. I’m so glad that oatmeal comes in a round cardboard container. It’s simple. There is a plastic seal with a ring you have to pull off, though. I wonder if they could use wax to add that? The seal makes us feel safer even though it doesn’t actually make us safer. Did you know that? Wax would make me feel safe, as if my letter hadn’t been opened without my knowledge. So many other companies have converted, probably spent millions of dollars, for new packaging and it almost always contains more plastic than it had before, not less.

Am I the only one who buys according to the amount of plastic packaging when I can?

Arm and Hammer is another great example. Their baking soda comes in a cardboard box just like the ones I used in the 60s when I was learning how to bake cookies. I still love that little flap that folds down to allow me to scrape off the heap so I get a good measure. Does Arm and Hammer have a monopoly on baking soda? If they do, I’m okay with that. I still bake cookies and stuff. Plus, I use it to clean my oven and anything else that’s dirty and needs a little scrubbing with grit. I always feel safer knowing I didn’t use any weird chemicals that will bake into the food in my oven.

Arm and Hammer also makes good cat litter that comes in a sturdy recyclable cardboard container. There’s a plastic handle that I can pry off with a butter knife when I’m recycling, but it’s a minimum compared to the other brands that use heavy plastic tubs and jugs. I collected a good number of those tubs and jugs before I realized I had more than enough tubs to store stuff and too many reusable jugs for recycling used motor oil. Plus, I buy the fragrance-free cat litter and, again, there aren’t a bunch of chemical smells floating around my house. Most fragrances give me a headache anyway. My only question is why their unscented cat litter still has a smell? I had to learn the hard way, twice losing a day to migraine, that unscented and fragrance-free is different. I have to wrestle with that cardboard, again with a butter knife, to get it flattened, but I’m excited to tell you that cardboard is solid enough that the boxes have never trailed bits of cat litter across my floors. I just wish my cats could do that.

Can one of you scientists develop a bottle or jug that can biodegrade with the application of something cool like ultraviolet light or heat? Really, I would imagine it is possible, a rugged, stable solid that melts or crumbles to reusable dust? Wouldn’t that be cool?

On that note, I’ve heard that some of the 3-D printers work on recycled plastic. We need to do anything we can to get that plastic out of circulation. Anything.

And there’s tea. Today, I’m drinking Choice Organic Rooibus. The cardboard boxes have a clear plastic layer around them that I have to throw away. Could they make that out of waxed paper or something else biodegradable? After that, both the box and the teabag wrappers are paper. What I love about my tea is that it has one ingredient: rooibus. It’s a simple flavor and if I wanted a little vanilla, I could just add a drop of my own. I never do, though. Other types of tea come in foil and paper combinations and I have no idea if they’re recyclable. My husband drinks Red Rose Decaffieinated tea which comes in a cardboard box and the individual bags aren’t even wrapped, one step closer to a sustainable solution.

One more thing that I’m proud of: I’ve been using my insulated klean kanteens every day and I’ve only drank from one disposable plastic bottle of water in the past eight months. Dare me to do better than that in the next eight months. The bottles keep my water cool so it’s more refreshing. When I put hot tea in them, I have to leave the lid off for a little while so my tea will cool down soon enough for me to drink it. It stays warm all day and into the night. I put both the stainless steel and the lids into the dishwasher on a daily basis. Lately, I’ve been adding lemon or lime to my water because my urologist said that lemonade reduces the formation of kidney stones. Yay, lemonade!

And have you seen Boxed Water? Like the little cartons of milk, the cartons used for Boxed Water are recyclable. I’m going to get some for emergencies in my car because those things won’t leach plastic into the water when they get hot in the trunk in the summer time. Isn’t that a great idea?

No, I’m not being paid to write about any of these companies. I just thought you ought to know they’re doing the right thing without being harassed to do it.

Okay, so I want to know what other companies are doing the right thing. Really, don’t you get to a point when you’ve done everything you can think of to get to sustainable and you still need to know more about what responsible corporations are doing so you can support them? I know I do, so please leave comments.

Thank you for listening, jules

A Quivering Pickle

Suddenly, I’m a judge?

Somehow, someone applied voltage to my ordinarily inert state and my electrons have jumped into a higher orbit, something like the way a neon bulb lights up when you plug it in. Did you know a pickle will do that too, but you have to be really cautious about applying voltage to that pickle quivering there on a plate. Make sure it’s a ceramic plate so you don’t get zapped by electricity trying to go to ground. Seriously. And turn the lights off so you can see the glow.

Tomorrow at 2pm, I’m going to be a poetry judge at the Poetry Coffeehouse competition at the KCLS Redmond Library! Me. Imagine that. Either somebody thinks I can write or nobody else would show up and I was the dope who felt honored enough to say yes anyway.

Then on Sunday, I’m going to host the haiku booth at the Cinco de Mayo festival at the new Downtown Park in Redmond. That, I can do. I’m good at standing there while people work. I can be encouraging, too. That’s the only talent it’ll take, right?

Watch out..

I know I’ll have fun, but by Sunday evening, I’ll probably emit photons when I drop back to a lower orbit. I’ll just be a quivering pickle on a plate with no glow.

Thank you for listening, jules

Be the Show

I have to admit that I’m still having a vulnerability hangover after attending the Seattle Writing Conference on Saturday. It saps energy to sit in front of someone and condense the last year or two of your life into a three minute nugget. You have to justify the time you spent in front of a computer every step of the way. Will it sell?

Memoir takes the whole process to the next level. Ultimately, pitching a memoir to an agent is like reviewing your life.

“Couldn’t your character have done something a little more out there?” they seem to ask.

“Uh, um, my character is me. I’m not willing to decorate my cat at Burning Man or to leap from a helium balloon to snowboard Mt. Everest naked while detoxxing from methamphetamines.”

“Did you grow up in a cult or a brothel? Are you a member of any thrill-seeking fellowships, cosplay clans, or poetry slam charities?”

“Uh, I’m still in Scouting but I’m not as active now that I’m writing.”

“No, I’m thinking something quirky.”

“I’m quirky!”

“In what way? How does that manifest in your story? Do you have any issues with gender fluidity, mental illness, political resistance, or social justice? Those areas are hot right now. Hot.”

No, this isn’t the real conversation I had with an agent, but a river flowed under the surface. Don’t write what you know. Be the show.

It takes the navel-gazing of writing memoir to the extreme. Were the results of my life marketable? Would my actions sell a million copies and the rights to the Netflix special?

That could be the question that I am asked on the threshold of my death and my answer would have to be that I took a lot of walks and talked to a lot of people.

Thank you for listening, jules

Why Cats?

So many things in this world are such a mess right now that it's a wonder that everyone on the bus doesn't have their noses buried in a book about a kitten. Do you ever wonder why cats_of_instagram has 10.2 million followers? I don't. I know exactly why.

We need a break. We need to be drawn down the path of a story, something that will make us laugh, cry, and help us face the world when we turn the last page of the book.

Wouldn't you like to take a break from work and the news to follow a lumpy middle-aged woman into a room with a kitten that weighs just over a pound? If it were a battle, would you bet on the determined woman or the kitten? It may not exactly be a battle, but by the end, the woman lies face down on the floor and asks for reinforcements.

Two beings enter and only one leaves in one piece.

Clumps and Turds

What do you do when you have a cat that finally wants to be petted, but rolls in the litter box right after you clean it? I mean, what does it mean for a litter box to be clean, anyway? All I do is sift the clumps and turds out of the box and throw them into the kitchen garbage where they sit and stink up my kitchen for an hour and a half because the boy refuses to get off his video game in the middle of a mission to empty the garbage.

I only change all the cat litter in the box when it starts to smell even after all the clumps and turds are cleared out.

Am I supposed to empty the whole thing every time? Am I supposed to wash it, bleach it, and wipe it dry every single fucking time the cat pees in there? Who does that?

I might have to.

Thank you for listening, jules

Unintentional Fusion

Do you ever get tired of the same old shit you make for every meal?

Hell, I do. It seems like I go around and around repeating my usual meals until nobody wants to eat any of it, let alone the leftovers. Beans and rice, spaghetti and meatballs, peanut chicken, chili (which is more like goulash), wraps, and beef stroganoff. It’s not even a week’s worth of recipes. They’ve gotten old, seriously old.

So yesterday when I was at the store, I got chicken breasts and Italian sausage. I didn’t quite know what I was going to do with them. I also bought zucchini and Santa sweet tomatoes thinking maybe I’d saute them with olive oil, garlic, and oregano, that concoction I learned how to make when I lived in New Jersey with my Italian friends. That stuff tasted so healthy. I hadn’t made that in a while. We needed fresh vegetables, ones that hadn’t had the colors cooked out of them. I should have bought some Locatelli Pecorino Romano cheese to grate onto the top. That always made it so perfect. I forgot about buying any kind of Parmesan or Romano. In fact, I just remembered that secret just now.

On a whim, I bought a package that was labeled Louisiana Seasoned Crispy Chicken Fry. It’s been about forty years since I had real fried chicken, the crispy kind that so many fast food places try, unsuccessfully, to mimic. I miss fried chicken. I miss mashed potatoes with gravy on them. I do.

I’ve tried to copy what my mother used to make, but I refuse to buy Crisco and it drives me nuts to have all that grease popping and burning all over my kitchen. So, I’ve never managed to copy her fried chicken. Never.

So tonight when I got home from walking the dog and dropping of library books I would never have time to read, I pulled out all my ingredients: Santa sweet tomatoes, zucchini, Italian sausage, two chicken breasts, and the Louisiana Seasoned Crispy Chicken Fry. Then, I got out my usual acoutrements, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and olive oil.

I cut the zucchini on an angle. God, I am so predictable. Once years ago, I was served nearly raw zucchini cut on the diagonal and I’ve been doing it ever since. From the side, they look like little parallelograms. Face forward, they are ellipses. I like parallelograms and ellipses more than circles and rectangles. Don’t you? I set them aside next to the tomatoes.

Then, I heated up olive oil in a large skillet. I put a second skillet on another burner, added a touch of olive oil, and set it to simmer. I didn’t want my zucchini going gray and soggy in that thick layer of olive oil.

I cut the Italian sausage into bite-sized pieces and put them into the hot skillet. Flavor that oil, I thought.

Some people put rosemary or oregano into their olive oil to flavor it. Tonight, I was going to use sausage.

Once they were browned, I loaded them into the warmth of the secondary skillet.

I cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Then, I followed the directions to wet and dredge the chicken with the Louisiana Seasoned Crispy Chicken Fry. That didn’t take long to cook either. They looked like chicken nuggets. Damn. They tasted like chicken nuggets too. I still hadn’t found the secret of my mother’s fried chicken. It didn’t taste bad though. Who doens’t like chicken nuggets? Then, the nuggets went into the second skillet with the sausage. It smelled good.

I threw the zucchini into the second skillet, but picked it back out and sauteed it in what was left of the hot olive oil until one side blistered. Then I moved it into the second skillet and added the tomatoes.

Dinner was done. Easy as pie. Mmm. Pie.

But there was that gruesome pan full of fried batter, sausage bits, and oil. That was going to be a bitch to clean.

So, I did what some enterprising young mother once did long ago: I added the stuff I’d dredged my chicken through, stirred it into a slurry. I know there’s a fancy word for flour and oil cooked together, but for the life of me, I can’t think of it right now.

Roux. Thank you, Internet. It sounds fancy, but it wasn’t fancy when I made it.

Then, when the roux was bubbly, I added milk and scraped up all that crap that had been seriously stuck to the bottom of my pan moments before. No scrubbing tonight. Yay!

I got out a spoon. It was delicious, like having dinner at Grandma’s house.

So, in the end, I integrated my Italian zucchini into the wish for fried chicken and the reality of Grandma’s sausage gravy and served:

Salsiccia e pollo pepita (nuggets) con saltati zucchine e pomodori coperto di bianca sugo.

Did that come out right? It sounds impressive in my Internet Italian, doesn’t it?

I served the sausage gravy on the side, just in case anyone was offended by my fusion techniques. Yet, every plate came back to the kitchen scraped clean. Nick even thanked me.

For vegetables.

He thanked me for fresh vegetables, well, and for Grandma’s sausage gravy.

Thank you for listening, jules

Purple Mountains

I just got home from a flashbang roadtrip to see Nick’s college. We arrived late last night after a long drive, ate quickly, went to bed, and were up early for a seriously busy day of cheerful orientation today. It almost made me want to go back to college. Almost. Nick chatted all the way home in the car, even asked for advice. Man, I love road trips. I really do.

The whole thing reminded me just how young my son is. I forget that when he’s taciturn and hides in his room for too long. He’s still working on getting experience driving on an interstate. I tried telling him that he’d done well in driver’s ed three years ago, but then realized that it was probably only the third or fourth time he’d done it.

He did fine and I told him that by the time he’d driven that stretch of road for a year at his new college, he’d be an old hand at it.

“In the meantime, Mom…” he asked tentatively, “…um, could you stay awake while I drive?”

“Are you sure you need that, hon? You’re doing fine.”

“It would help,” he replied.

Yes, I forget how young he is.

He told me that he wanted to talk face-time about once a week when he leaves for school. That sounds great to me. It might add up to more time talking to him than I get in an average week with him now.

On the road, we talked about feminism, about girls, about classes, college, parties, friends, roadtrips, driving congested interstates, his dreams, our old dog Indiana, rotten apples, and about the view out the window. Sometimes, we didn’t even talk at all.

I talk too much. I talk to entertain people. I talk to make connections. I talk when I get nervous.

I love that there are two people in this world that I can be with and don’t have to talk to if I want to be quiet. That is a rare gift.

The mountains really were purple and majestic. The fields weren’t amber waves because they’d all been harvested, but they were cropped golden in some places and a new green in others. In one spot, it looked like a slash of gold, a smudge of purple, and an immense sky of gray-blue. I wanted, more than once, to stop and take a photo of the stark beauty of this world.

But we were on a mission to get home to cats who’d been partying by themselves overnight and Nick felt safer with my phone set to navigation mode. So, I let him rush me home.

Now, he’s back in his room with the door closed. But I feel a whole lot better about that than I did two days ago.

Thank you for listening, jules

Live Your Own Dreams

I work with a student who is brilliant. He’s equally brilliant in both math and language arts, but he loves math and computer science best. For as long as I’ve known this boy, he’s worked two hours a night twice a week at tutoring, one hour in math and one in comprehension each night. He’s ahead. He’s bored. He wants to quit, but his mother says he can only drop down to one hour.

So, I’ve been asked to weigh in on which he should study, math or language arts.

If you know me by now, you know that I love the written language. I love reading. I love writing. I love learning new words and the nuances of words I thought I knew. I’m not too bad at math, but my love resides on the other side of my brain.

So, it is with no hesitation that I plan to tell his mother that he needs to study math. He needs to study math because that’s where his brain is leading him. He needs math.

“What if Einstein didn’t have time to think about gravity?” I will ask her. “What if Stephen Hawking was made to take foreign languages instead of courses on astrophysics? We need to let your boy’s brain lead the way. It knows what it wants. It knows, innately, what its own strengths are. If I worried about his proficiency, I would argue in another direction. And yes, I would have him read a bit every day, but ultimately, I think that he should pursue his passion and learn young to live his own dreams.”

This is my advice to you as well. Read a little every day and live your own dreams.

I can’t wait to deliver my message, even to my own soul.

Thank you for listening, jules

Feed Your Soul

Do you know what your purpose is in this life?

I reread that and it sounds as though I believe I get more than one life. There are theories about reincarnation, but none of us can know for sure until we die. Personally, the way nature works, dying back and spring forth in bloom again, makes me believe that there is a similar function in souls. Think about that: cycles for a soul. A strand of DNA or a solar system, spiraling out into space.

I don’t know what to believe but I want there to be more than one chance to get it right. I do. That’s because I’m not getting it right. I’m living the life I’m supposed to be living instead of the one I was born to live.

Does that make sense?

What do you do that you know you’re supposed to do?

Well, I brush my teeth and clean out litter boxes. I serve my community by tutoring, something I did without pay for twelve years before I finally got a job doing it for a little bit of money. I cook real food. I think real food is important. Because Mike earns most of the money in the household, I clean and run errands and try to keep up with the people I need to hire to fix things that we can’t fix ourselves.

And generally, my life of doing what I’m supposed to do is a good one. Generally.

But I have a creative streak through me that doesn’t want to look at a clock, that needs to dawdle over words. Oh, I try to make that come into work with me. It’s lovely how our group of tutors now argue over pronunciation or origins of vocabulary words we.

Today, we argued over the root of ‘abracadabra.’ One guy thought it wasn’t even a real word. I found it in the dictionary where it said it had Latin roots and two meanings.

“I will create as I speak,” another tutor said. “That’s its translation.”

And somehow, we talked over her for a little while. Why am I the expert? I have a good vocabulary, but not the best one in the room. Obviously.

Because I just now looked it up on the Internet and she was right. And there’s another potential root that says, ‘perish like the word.’ Isn’t that just lovely? It’s almost as if the two roots have a cycle themselves that involves creation and death.

And that’s what I’m here to think about: creation, meaning, and death.

I told you that I thought I could die back in September, didn’t I? I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. When I felt like I really could die, there came a sadness over me: I had not finished my work, my stories.

Yeah, existential angst.

And I haven’t quite gotten over that dread that I could die before I finish what I was put here to do.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I will continue to take care of my family. I am so blessed to have these people. I am so blessed to be able to care for them. They love me.

Nick leaned over the cat last night for a hug. He does that and once he goes to college, I’m afraid there will be a hole in his daily life where the cats once were. But then, he scooched over and leaned on me for a hug. He buried his head in my shoulder and held me. I can’t tell you how much I needed that yesterday. It was lovely and he knew it. My boy is growing up.

But since my boy is growing up, I’ve needed to refocus and the words came back with a sense of urgency. I’m getting older. Creativity. I used to play the piano as a creative outlet. Then, I took almost all the art classes my local community college offered. Now, it’s words and I’m not done until I’m done. I get that. When I was about to pass out because I wasn’t getting enough air, that was the thought that made me feel incomplete.

Now that I’m feeling better, I’m still messing up. Yesterday, I watched three and a half episodes of ‘Call the Midwife’ on Netflix. It’s good. It really is. Before that, I watched a whole season of ‘Russian Doll.’ I loved it. Netflix is awesome!

But when I got up afterward, I felt emptier than when I sat down to reward myself.

So, I bought a book called Sanctuary by Gloria Burgess. In it, she asks what I feel I ought to do compared to what might renew me.

Yes. What do you need to do so you can do what you’re supposed to do?

What makes you feel as if you can go out and help others again?

That was what I was missing. Every day, I felt obligated to either sit at my computer or clean something. There was no time for renewal. None.

Am I going to get to work and finish my work?

Nope.

I’m going to play for a few days. I’m going to play with words, take long walks, look into depth of the sky, search for art. I’m going to turn off the TV, as much as I like the shows, and see if I don’t feel more refreshed when I get up than I do when I wait to be entertained.

Feed your soul.

Then, you can feed others.

Thank you for listening, jules

Hope

Last night, I dreamed I was going to speak briefly at an assembly. Thousands of people stood waiting.

Traffic had been bad and I hadn’t prepared. I put my tights on in the back of the Uber, but my feet became soaked in my open-toed shoes after I stepped out of the car into a puddle of sludge. A woman with a baby in a stroller and a dog on a leash mired in the snow. I tried to help her, but I was useless and in a hurry. The organizers had asked the main speakers to lunch privately beforehand and had studiously avoided eye contact with me. They didn’t expect much from me. They didn’t care, really, if I even showed up.

Doesn’t it amaze you when you have these vivid dreams?

But finally, I made it into the building. Without having time to sit first or collect my thoughts, I was ushered to the podium at just the right time. I stood blinking past bright lights at thousands of faces.

And then I woke up.

God, I was nervous, as if I were going to address a huge crowd in real life, as if I actually had cold wet feet, was almost late, and felt incredibly unprepared.

I can still feel that cool tingling of fear in my gut and my shaky hands gripping the podium..

I write almost every morning. It can be a drudgery and I feel sorry for anyone who ever thinks to plow through all the chaff of my notebooks looking for something of value. Sometimes it’s hard to drag myself to the blank page. But sometimes, I can’t get to the page soon enough. This morning was like that.

In my dream, as I stood in front of all those people, practically petrified, this is what I had decided to say:

Sometimes in February, it is so incredibly cold, so bleak.

Sometimes in February, I look out over dirt and desiccated leaves, over patches of dirty snow, and I think that spring will never arrive. Hope will never come.

They say that plants already work under the soil in February. I can’t see changes. It feels so hopeless.

This political season is much like that, endless, cold, dark, and, seemingly without hope.

Then, one day, as I trudged outside toward my car to go to work teaching mostly immigrant children, I looked down at the ground, came aware and it was there, a tiny green shoot barely peeking through leaf litter. I stopped, dropped my bag of books, squatted down, and touched the tender shoot.

I looked around and a dozen other shoots peeked through, bright green against dull winter colors. How did I not see them before this? Here is hope, evidence of change coming.

Senator Kamala Harris is that green sprout of hope for social justice.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is that hope against the ravages of climate change.

Representative Rashida Tlaib is that hope against xenophobia.

Representative Kyrsten Sinema is that hope against intolerance.

Senator Amy Klobuchar is that hope for equality and for Trump’s ultimate impeachment.

Beto O’Rourke is that hope against children separated from families and housed in prisons.

All during these dark two years, we’ve looked at the ground, at dirty snow, and thought that nothing was happening, that spring would never come. But here, embodied in their diverse faces, is our evidence. The roots of morality, of equality, of science, of inclusion, of the rule of law, and of social justice have not died.

Here is our hope, springing into the light.

Thank you for listening, jules

Which Valentines Day was Best?

How could I be crabby when Mike made eggs Benedict?

It feels like a holiday.

We practically skipped Valentines Day so it feels like Valentines Day. Last Thursday, I wrote him a note on a card with a dog on the cover and he bought me new slippers that haven’t arrived yet because of the snow. We are old, old valentines. We’ve celebrated thirty-three Valentines Days together. The first one was amazing.

He’d been house sitting and made me dinner. He bought me a dozen red roses. He lifted me onto the kitchen counter, leaned in, and said, “I would make a really great husband.”

Yes, he said that on our first official date. Oh, we’d worked together for six months while an old boyfriend slowly broke up with me and a new one treated me like dirt. He’d taken me camping, to happy hour dance clubs with our coworkers, to play tennis, and to a Moody Blues concert, our first unofficial date.

Are you old enough to remember ‘Your Wildest Dreams,' the song that was on the radio every five minutes back then?

In my mind, at least, that was our song.

It’s funny that I had to look that up just now, that what i had so fervently thought of as ‘our song’ would be something that I’d have to google using 80s popular songs and then scan through. Seriously.

Our fourth Valentines Day was amazing in a different. This time, he’d moved to the Pacific Northwest and I was still deciding if I was going to follow him. I had a great job and had never been to there. He wanted to explore, but he hadn’t asked me to marry him.

On Valentines Day that year, a dozen dead red roses arrived.

Later in the day, he called.

“Did you get them?” he asked.

We both knew what he meant, but I still wanted to know what he meant by sending me blackened roses. The night before, he’d said he loved me before hanging up the phone for the night.

“Yeah, they were…”

I tried to keep my voice even.

“What? They were what?” he said.

He really sounded a little panicked.

“They were kind of dried up. Did you mean them to be that way?”

And then my boyfriend, almost for the first time, got mad over the phone.

“I told them it was important. They were supposed to be perfect. I can’t believe it. Did you think that I… Oh man. I really have to call that florist and have a TALK. I’m not fucking paying $90 for them to deliver dead roses from three thousand miles away. Fuck?”

I think that was the moment I decided to move out here with him even though we weren’t married or even engaged.

The next year, he said he couldn’t bring himself to buy me roses again. Then, he slid a huge thin package out from behind our new couch.

It was an Ansel Adams print of Half Dome. It still hangs in our living room. I still love it.

And after that, our Valentines Days got simpler. I made him pie and he wrote me love letters and gave me simple gifts.

A couple years ago, he decided that I needed a good backpack for all the hikes I took with Teddy. That was a good one. He made sure I had the ten essentials so that if I got lost, I wouldn’t be helpless. That was one of my favorite Valentines Day gifts, better than the black roses message.

And today, he made me eggs Benedict. I really enjoyed eggs Benedict. Later, maybe, I’ll make him an apple pie, but first I need to head out to take Teddy for a hike in the snow. I’m bringing my backpack.

Thanks for listening, jules

Getting My Blues Back

It’s only three days past my cataract surgery and already, I’m feeling pretty good.

But I have to tell you that magic started as soon as I took off the tape from my eyelid, even before I could focus my eyes properly.

What magic, you ask?

Brunescence and cyanopsia.

In some cases, an untreated cataract can cause a person to see mostly brown tones. My vision hadn’t deteriorated to that extent, but seeing through my left eye, the one that still needs to have the cataract removed, the world is dingy, not quite brown, but certainly has a yellow filter. Blue in my right eye is teal in my left. Bright pink in my right is dusty rose in my left. Red in my right is more cayenne. Plus, I have no true whites through my left eye. Even the snow outside is of a darker shade, something called vanillin according to Sherwin Williams.

Yes, I am a nerd. I just now looked at paint chips on my computer and compared sample colors using my right eye with the color of snow through my left. My right eye sees snow as brighter and bluer than the ‘high reflective white’ sample. My left eye sees it as dirty snow, or more nicely, ‘vanillin.’

My brain is getting used to the effect, so it’s harder for me to distinguish now after three days of comparing. And I’ve been comparing. In every room, in every light, outside in the sun, in the shade, i’m comparing.

Through my right eye, everything is much more blue, more what the medical sites term as cyanopsia. It’s very pretty. But I’m sure that what I see isn’t as blue as the more extreme cases that have occurred. But who knows? I didn’t even mention it to the doctor. I like it too much to worry him over it.

Do you use Instagram? My right eye seems to have a ‘lark’ filter and my left eye has ‘rise.’

The strangest part is that I can tell, in any particular situation, which eye is dominant now because of the differences in color. Before surgery, I was left-eye dominant. The right lens of my glasses has always been much thicker than the lens of my left. I’m myopic. In my right eye, it was really bad even before I got cataracts. But now, when I don’t have my glasses on, I can tell, whenever my view is brighter, that my right eye is carrying the weight of my vision.

Sometimes a thing, for example, my car out the window right now, will look dingy on the right side and bright and clean on the left. The view through the window to my car is partially blocked by a tile that Nick painted for me when he was eight. When I close my right eye, I can only see the right side of my car. So, the two-eyed solution for my brain is that my car is dirtier on the right side than on the left. I’m sure that there have been as many piles of slushy dirty snow splashing the left side of my car as the right, but that’s what it looks like to me.

Strange.

I love how the human brain works.

All of this makes me think of Monet and how he painted just before and after his cataract surgery. The surgery was much more invasive back in 1923, but the effects on his color choices were stark even though he tried to control them. He labeled his tubes of paint to keep from getting the colors wrong. But his brain saw what his brain saw and he painted so many browns and oranges then. Before the surgery, he was so unhappy that he thought about not painting any more. It took a long time after the surgery for him to get used to his new colors. Can you imagine losing the one thing that you loved to do?

But the artwork itself says everything it needed to say. After the surgery, Monet got his blues and greens back.

And so did my eye.

Thank you for listening, jules

A Wish Granted

Last night, I wished for a snow day. I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I didn’t have anything I had to do on a particular day. Months. So, I wished hard for that snow.

This morning, seven inches of wet snow blanketed my deck and the yard beyond. I had a free day! I watched news coverage of cars sliding on slopes, then went outside in my pajamas and a layer of coat, hat, scarf, and mittens to take pictures of the snow. My lamppost looked funny with its tall white cap. i shook snow off my Japanese maple and boxwood. Some if it went down the back of my neck. Then, I shoveled snow down the hill in two grooves that Mike could use to back out of the garage if he decided to go to work. Shoveling is the kind of thing I do when I want to look normal in my snowy yard, when I can no longer take a turn with the sled down the steep driveway, when there isn’t anyone to throw a snowball at except for Teddy. He danced around and flipped a stick into the air. This was magic. He seemed in awe as much as I was, as much as the birds who dashed through the trees, dislodging hunks of snow from branches where they landed and took off again.

When I’d shoveled down to the highway, I pushed a groove into the place where the garbage truck could drive so they wouldn’t skip emptying our garbage if they came. Two UPS drivers, almost the only ones on the road, waved at me as they drove by.

They waved.

So, I waved back. I love that snow slows things down so that I have a little more time for humanity and magic around me, so that I have a day during which nothing is expected, so that I can play and stare at my nearly black and white landscape. I love that I have nothing more complicated to do today but kludge together some kind of meal tonight from old things in our freezer.

When I came inside, I made popcorn and tea. I intend to read a book.

What do you do with your snow days?

Thank you for listening, jules

Multiverses Could Be Fractals

I may have gotten in over my head.

I tutor a preteen student who is brilliant, who reads at a 12+ grade level, possibly a higher reading comprehension than I have, and who is bound to study physics, astronomy, or cosmology one day. His vocabulary is only at a tenth-grade level. Only. Ha! Look at me. What is my vocabulary level?

But yesterday, I promised his mother I would challenge him and work to raise his vocabulary to his comprehension level. I showed her a stack of books I had in my library that might challenge and interest him. I said we would read these books together. What did I do? Am I qualified for this?

So, we are reading Stephen Hawking now. My student doesn’t like to write, though he’s perfectly capable. My goal is to get him to write daily responses to Hawking’s work, to expand his vocabulary using words like syzygy and axiom. No, I didn’t know what syzygy meant until I looked it up. It’s even fun to learn to say. (Hint, it rhymes with analogy.)

Some religious zealots declare their axiom that the world will end when there is syzygy, alignment of the moons and planets, in the solar system, but that is just superstition regarding science that most people don’t quite understand. Just wait until those zealots get hold of the ideas of a multiverse. Their heads will spiral out of control. See, what I did there? I used my new words.

The cool thing about working with a student like this is that I get to learn alongside him. I get to stretch my mind into the abyss of black holes and variable time. There’s a poetry to it. As I read Hawking’s book, one I can never quite understand because the math isn’t included and I wouldn’t understand it if it were, my mind is transmitted into its own imagination. I see galaxies that consist of electron stars with black hole protons and neutrons at their centers. I see Fibonacci spiraling at a cosmic level. I see a sinusoidal Big Bang, expanding and contracting, as a simple wave of light traveling from another sun to another tilted face. I see fractals on a grand scale, a sun shooting around a galaxy, spiraling its planets in a nautilus shape around it. And then my mind is out of time and I stare into space.

My brilliant student, sitting next to me in a room full of ordinary kids, may look at me and think I’m a little bit deranged. I don’t care. This is really fun.

Thank you for listening, jules

A Derelict Dog Mom

Why is it that when you feed the cats fifteen minutes later than you fed them the day before, they fight with each other as if it’s a deathmatch?

“It’s your fault we’re starving! It’s always your fault!” one seems to say as he swats the other across the face.

“Hey, if you don’t shut up, I’ll have you for breakfast, asshole.” The other hunches up, prepared to present claws.

And then fur flies.

With dogs, if you don’t feed them within six hours after you usually feed them, they’re all looking at you like, “Hey, excuse me. Um, I was wondering if you noticed that anything was wrong here.”

And then they might crawl under the coffee table as if they were in trouble for chewing the phone cable, which was the cat’s fault anyway.

Two more hours might pass and the dog might pace back and forth in front of you for a bit. You’d let them out and they’d stand there as if they’d been kicked out of the house instead of let out to pee.

“Would you mind,” they seem to say, “if I had something to eat today. I’m really rather hungry and I promise never to look at the phone cable again while the cat chews it if you don’t want me to.”

And you can let him back in. He’ll slide under the coffee table for another hour or so.

Then finally, when your husband comes home, your dog will stare soulfully into his eyes for a bit. Males really do know how to read each other, especially when it comes to food.

“What’s for dinner, hon?” your husband might say.

“I don’t know. I’ve had a busy day and I kind of forgot to make a plan for dinner.”

Then your good-natured husband will get up and shuffle into the kitchen to see what he can kludge together for a meal. Your dog will quietly follow him, head hanging. You’ll sit there and stare into space while he works and the old movie he turned on blares on the television.

But your mind will light up when you hear kibbles being scooped up and dropped into the dog’s bowl.

“Are you hungry?” your husband mumbles.

And you’ll know that all the times your dog stood in front of you that day had been a plea for kibbles that should have been delivered with the cats’ meals promptly at 6:23am.

Thank you for listening, jules

Working to Convince Myself

It’s 5:30 in the morning. I’ve been up since 4:03. Why do I always wake up early when I most need to sleep?

I tried putting on the television, but it didn’t distract me. I buried my fingers in Blitz’s fur, closed my eyes, and tried not to think about it. That never works.

I’m taking the SAT today. It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? I’m fifty-seven years old and I’m taking the SAT. But it’s true.

Why am I taking the SAT?

I need to have a current score above a certain level before I can teach the SAT at work. My scores from high school don’t count. I don’t particularly want to teach the SAT because I don’t like the hours. It’s too much overlap with Mike’s evening hours at home, but I’m trying to be supportive of my boss and give him someone to call when the main people are out sick.

On top of that, I’ve worked with the new SAT tutors for the past ten weeks so they can hone their skills. My boss can also quote any increase in my scores to potential clients.

I have gone above and beyond to do my job, yet I wasn’t paid to do any of this. Why not?

I’ve wondered that myself. My boss said that since I’ll get paid more as an SAT tutor, I will benefit from being tutored. He’s right, but I’ve put many hours into this so I’d have to sub quite a lot to get those hours back.

Why did I do it?

I want to teach the essay when it comes down to that. I know how to teach writing. I enjoy teaching writing. The rest of it? Well, I’m glad that my math skills are more up to speed at work. It’s a relief because I used to sweat any time anyone in eighth grade or higher used to sit down and ask for help in math. Now, I’m almost comfortable with everything a math student can throw at me. I did every problem in the SAT math study guide, every single problem. I learned a lot. Well, I relearned a lot. Thirty-seven years ago, I knew this stuff. I think it’s been good for my brain, like those old people who try to avoid dementia by doing crossword puzzles and sudoku.

I also learned a lot in critical reading and a little more of editing. I learned that the SAT is designed to trip up the student, that there are correct answers that aren’t the best correct answers. That is such a crock of shit. I don’t think that any test should be designed to trick a student. It shouldn’t have to be. Tests don’t have to be kind, but they don’t have to be cruel either. Trying to trick a student into answering incorrectly is cruel.

I went through almost the whole English portion of the SAT study guide too. I say ‘almost’ because I was really good in the editing portion of the practice test when I took it in November. That’s my forte.

So, I’m going to try to go back to sleep now. I’ve worked hard to get to this point. I’ve helped the tutors get ready and I’ve studied on my own. I’m much more familiar with the way the test works, so I’m ready.

Can you hear me trying to convince myself? Can you?

It’s working. I am ready for this.

And afterward, maybe I should clean my house and take down the Christmas tree. Afterward, I’ll put away those study guides for now and focus on my own creative work. Afterward, I might stop at Starbucks with my notebook and a book and sit for an hour. I need time to stare into space. I can’t wait to get that extra time back during my week. I’ve earned it. I have a plan for those hours.

Thank you for listening, jules

It Sounds So Stupid When I Describe It

Why yes, I can crawl out of bed without moving the cats that weigh down the covers on either side of me. First, I lean on my left elbow and slide as far across my pillow as I can get without banging my head against the bookshelf that is the headboard.

So sue me. I like having books at the ready. I like feeling as though I can flip on my reading lamp and reach up for a book, or two or three. Who knows what I’ll feel like reading in the wee hours? Sometimes I fall asleep with a book under my pillow.

But in the morning gymnastics, the bookshelf can be a hazard. If I manage to keep from whacking my ear as I flounder, I rotate forward in a nearly fetal position until my butt is borne out of the covers. Then, I try to keep from falling off my bed while I lift one knee past a cat who glares at me for disturbing his morning sleep hygiene. It’s actually an all-day routine because Seth, the old one, sleeps about twenty-one hours a day. For two more hours, he sits on a lap to get petted. For his twenty-fourth hour, he complains that the water bowl isn’t full enough, the kibble bowl has no kibbles in the center and he might starve to death soon, there needs to be kitten kibbles here and fresh wet food there, and don’t sing or whistle. Don’t you dare sing.

I used to think I was pretty good at singing.

Seth also tells me I can’t sit in that chair because he just decided to sit there just milliseconds before I sat down. He is faster than I am. He has possession of this particular chair. He also glares at me to tell me the dog needs more food even when the dog is asleep on the couch. Seth does his angry-cry to complain any time Blitz adds a turd to the litter box and I don’t immediately clean it.

Seth’s last hour of wakefulness? It is one long-ass hour.

So when I try not to disturb Seth’s nap, I am well motivated not to wake him as I try to wriggle out of my cocoon.

If I manage to get that one knee out, I lie on my side in fetal position, head hanging off the bed, one knee up in the air as if I’m getting a really good PAP smear, and I try to half-sit and roll backward without banging my head on the bookshelf again. I have managed to get up some mornings with bruises on the back and also side of my head. The best thing to do is rest my neck on the bookshelf edge and roll gently to my other side while holding one leg perfectly straight and the other one up to my chin in a tight birthing crunch. Then, I repeat the process on the other side of loosening my knee from its bondage under the covers.

By now, I realize that any sane person would have routed those cats the moment the alarm went off.

I am not sane, nor am I alpha. I should have made a resolution to become more alpha in my own house, but whenever I tried to do that, especially with the teen, and menopause, it was not pretty.

But now, I can finally pull my last leg out and I have emerged from my chrysalis, metamorphed into a beautiful butterfly.

Just kidding. I’m still the lumpy, nearly hairless, overweight love bug that I always was.

But I’m not done yet.

At that point, I have to stretch my head off the other side of the bed, where it grinds into the poorly textured wall, lift my legs clear of the piles of cat, and aim my toes toward the side of the bed where I can slide out.

Oh, to go back to the days when Mike would fall asleep on my hair and all I had to do was wake him to get out of bed. Cats are much more fussy. Seth, awake now, looks at me placidly. Blitz, looks back and forth between me and Seth, perhaps wondering if he should move. Seth stares at him momentarily as if to say, “Stay put. I want to watch the end.”

I consider crawling on my hands and knees along the wall to the bottom of the bed where I might be able to get out more easily. I’ll bruise on the useless footboard. Why couldn’t they have made a shelf of it for more books?

Instead, I scootch toward the exif at the top of the bed, where I would ordinarily sit as I take a peaceful moment to wake up. I gather a PJ wedgie sliding feet first until the balance of my weight rights me, my one good abs crunch for the day. My toes reach for the cold floor after all my exertion.

I am up…

… and standing, with my right foot in a squishy spot. One of the cats has puked.

Welcome to my morning.

Thank you for listening, jules

Golden Threads of Light

The other day, I walked with a friend of mine, Dina. I always feel a glow when we’ve walked. I look at trees differently. I feel so relaxed, connected. It’s magic.

Or is it?

Dina is a reiki practitioner and has opened Moon Valley Healing. She seems to heal wherever she goes.

I am a convert to reiki. In the past, I would have asked about the science of it, the proof. But somewhere along the way, I became more comfortable with the unknown. I’ve felt direct benefits of acupuncture and pressure points. Just ask me how my back is feeling today. It’s great! I felt the flow of energy after taking tai chi class and came home invigorated, flexible, and relaxed.

Yet, my science mind wants an answer to the mechanism of reiki and finally, I found an answer: reiki can be linked with quantum physics. That Newtonian physics works for what we see, touch, and hear makes it seem more rational. But on a very small scale, we all consist of moving particles that don’t work according to Newtonian physics at all, but instead follow completely different rules of existence, of energy, and of light. Everything around us, everything inside our bodies and outside them, also operates according to the rules of quantum physics. I give you reiki.

Take that, you skeptical science nerds.

I wonder if there are also links between quantum physics and biofeedback, prayer, creative visualization, and the placebo effect. Has anyone studied that?

So, when Dina performs reiki on me, I feel heat from her hands. It might not seem so unusual except that her hands ordinarily seem cool. Something happens to them when she’s at work.

The most amazing response I have to reiki is to see swirls of colors while I lie with my eyes closed.

Here’s the thing - at bedtime, sometimes I see jagged black and white patterns and sometimes I see purple swirling behind my closed eyelids when I’m trying to fall asleep. If I can get the purple light to spiral out or in, I can always fall asleep. I think of it as biofeedback though I have no proof what it is, really. If I’m agitated or drank too much coffee, it’s difficult to achieve this movement of light, but when I can, it helps me sleep.

So, the first time I experienced reiki, I saw green and yellow swirling light instead of purple. It moved in concert with Dina’s hands above my body. I felt so creative, so relaxed. I even opened my eyes to see if light was somehow coming in a window. It wasn’t.

At other times, I’ve seen orange and blue. But afterward, every single time Dina did her reiki magic, I felt a deep connection to the world around me. It may have faded as I reentered the busyness of my life, work, errands, and chores, but continued treatments allow me to stay connected longer, to recognize a level of spirituality that I want in my life and sometimes, to create it.

The other day, all I did was plan to schedule a reiki session with Dina, a Christmas gift to myself. Then, I began to visualize golden threads that connected me to you, yes, you. It was a lovely web of light, delicate, but not fragile. I closed my eyes to look at the light, your light. And it was beautiful.

I can really rock that quantum physics, don’t you think?

Thank you for listening, jules

A Chewed Jute Ornament

Mike vacuumed and put up the tree while I made him pizza. Not a bad trade, right? Keep in mind that I can’t even eat pizza any more, no crust, no cheese, because of my body’s reaction to them. It was a little bit agonizing, to be honest. The guys would have homemade pizza and I got leftovers again. Two-day old salmon didn’t leftover all that well.

In my kitchen, I put on a Christmas CD but by the time I finished kneading dough, rolling it out, layering it with their favorite ingredients, and came out to join Mike, he’d already finished the lights and most of the ornaments, then put on a movie that had arrived from the the library. I love getting free movies from the library, but sometimes the hold timing isn’t all that great. So on TV? The Purge. Why were there always so many horror movies around Christmas We weren’t looking at a simple curmudgeon like The Grinch, but instead out and out murder, terror, and gore, the premise of suspending all legal consequences for one day. The story went straight to slaughter. I had trouble tuning it out.

It changed my mood away from Christmas. I needed to shop for more presents, but I didn’t want to do it under the influence of The Purge.

But the cats were excited. In the course of the season, I anticipated that they would climb the tree trunk, bat at accessible ornaments, remove their favorites to other rooms for play, chew pine needles and garland, and nest in the tree skirt. Later, if I put garland on the mantle, Blitz would gaze from below while Seth leaped the great height, weaved through the mess, knocked off a framed picture or two, and generally managed to pull the balance off so that the loops and the lights would be wonky at least twice a week.

Then, if they chewed anything up, like the jute angel my sister gave me two years ago or the cabin I bought made of bark and twigs to replace it, I would find bits and pieces of them in the litter box later. Mike hung all breakables and undigestibles where he thought they were out of reach, but you’d be surprised how far the combined will of two fifteen-pound cats could reach.

I wouldn’t be surprised if I came home from the grocery store to find the tree overturned and garland and lights pulled half way across the living room floor.

Welcome to the season!

Thank you for listening, jules

Christmas Gift Experimentation

Tonight, I made caramel corn for dinner.

Okay, we had some great leftovers, pork tenderloin chili, chicken noodle stew, and meatloaf with horseradish. There were two kinds of veggies ready to go into the microwave, and extra mashed potatoes.

I love leftover mashed potatoes.

But I didn’t want to eat any of that. Mike had come home from a Scouting event with a new bag of popping corn. We already had two open bags of popcorn, so I popped some popcorn and munched while wondering if I could make a load of popcorn balls for Christmas presents for my students.

I could, except that I’d never made popcorn balls for Christmas before and I have this little gift of crazy when it comes to new recipes. So, I decided I needed to make some caramel even though I didn’t have any corn syrup and most of the recipes called for corn syrup. I blended most of the ingredients, minus the corn syrup, until the taste of the raw stuff was like the buttery caramel I wanted to eat. Yup. That was the taste I craved, buttery sweet.

Oh, the sugar called me like a siren song. Sugar is addicting, isn’t it?

And so I stood at the stove for over an hour and stirred the creamy mixture on very low heat. I had visitors. Both Mike and Nick brought spoons to taste-test. The house smells incredible. Now, I have a pan of caramel that I’m pretty sure will set up well enough. Somehow, I misplaced my candy thermometer and just now remembered the test of a ball of candy in a cup of ice cold water to see if it would set.

It’s late and now I’m too tired to see if it will set properly or stand at the stove any longer. I also mixed some of the caramel with a wad of popcorn. I want to see if it will work or just turn into a soggy mess. Nick will be my taste-test participant tomorrow at lunch.

This is a test. This is just a test.

Nobody minds these kinds of tests, at least not in my house.

Thank you for listening, jules