Friday, November 30, 2007

Diet, Fry-It - same difference


So here we are two months after my public declaration that I was tired of looking like the Stay Puft Marshmallow man and would be immediately embarking on both a diet and an exercise program.


So on Tuesday, feeling like the Marshmallow Man's gluttonous sister, I gathered up my courage and stepped on the scale. I knew it wasn't going to be good news, since lately I've been eating anything that isn't nailed down. And did I mention that it had been almost a month since I'd been to the gym? On to the scale, drum roll please...

I've gained eight pounds.

On a diet. I've gained eight pounds on a diet.

I don't think it's working.

So here I stand, once again making a public proclamation that this is it. It's time to get serious. The way I'm going I'll be the size of a small European country by Easter. When I saw pictures taken in California I wasn't thrilled. When I couldn't put on my fat pants I wasn't thrilled. But when my scrubs got tight I knew I had to do something. Tight scrubs? How does that work? It's like your bathrobe getting too small. That's a real problem.

I'll be posting my progress on Babes 'R' Us for anyone who needs a good laugh.

Meanwhile, I think the Weight Watchers franchise is safe from my diet plan.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Thursday Three

On this dreary Thursday, how about discussing...

Trashy Novels

Don't tell me you don't have a clue what I'm talking about. Don't even try. I'm on to all of you. There's almost nothing like a trashy novel, is there? Almost (but not quite) better than a chick flick. Having recently been sucked back into one the topic is fresh on my mind. (And now that I've finished it I can get on with my life).

I claim to not like romance novels of the bodice ripper variety, but at the base of it isn't that really what trashy novels are? The best ones, anyway. Oh, there's a lot of other stuff in there - greed, power, sex, money, lying, treachery, insider gossip, exotic locations - the entire trashy novel check-off list.

And I'm not talking totally sleazy here, either. None of that formulaic mumbo-jumbo. (Pick one from each category: Is your heroine orphaned, abused or simply penniless? Is her bosom heaving, glowing or straining? And the hero - is he virile, spoiled or self-made? Well? Plug in your answers and pop out a book).

My trashy novels at least have some substance. And if you believe that rationale - stick around. I've got a million more where that came from.

#1. Scruples, by Judith Krantz. This was one of the first to hook me and, coincidentally, the last. The first time was when I was a teenager and I was so hooked that I took it in the car and read it at stoplights. I was the driver, in case you were wondering. The last time was when I picked up a copy my mom has at the lake (after she had finished it, mind you) and started thumbing through it. That was pretty much it.

When we came home I still wasn't finished (damn kids and them wanting things like food, love and entertainment) so my mom said to take the book home with me. I said I was sure I had a copy at home somewhere and besides taking it home was giving it a little too much power, if you know what I mean. So I got home and couldn't find it anywhere. Tore the house apart. Twice. The punch line to not "letting the book call the shots"? After a couple of days of twitching, I actually went and took it out of the library, hoping to hell I didn't see anyone I knew and shielding it with a copy of Quantum MicroPhysics for Doctoral Candidates just in case.

My husband says I do my Thursday Three all wrong. He says that the best of the bunch should be #3, like in a Top Ten list and not #1 like I do it. I say if there's a clear cut winner you might as well put it out there right away. This isn't the Oscars, after all.

This book? Is a clear cut winner. An absolute classic of the genre, the stereotypical "page turner" if there ever was one. There are sequels, but don't bother. She takes a wonderful thing and jacks it up, all in the interest of selling more books. But Scruples? Too good to put down. I'm not even going to tell you what it's about. Just read it.

#2. Lace, by Shirley Conran. Oh, come on. You all know this one. Remember the tag line "Which one of you bitches is my mother?"
What? You don't? Have you never seen the campy '80s mini-series based on this book that set camp back decades? They rerun it often as an example of how not to make a mini-series. Made Rocky Horror look like a National Geographic documentary produced by the Vatican. The mini-series - not so hot. But the book is another story.

I seem to have a soft spot for the genre that follows a group of school friends through their lives to see what they make of it. To me this is one of the best of the bunch (although I also really like Rona Jaffe's Class Reunion).

Four girls (from, of course very different backgrounds) meet at an exclusive European boarding school and it all goes to hell in a handbasket from there. But it's an entertaining ride all the way.

#3. Rage of Angels, by Sidney Sheldon. I cannot tell you how this pains me to admit this, because I really think that Sidney Sheldon is a dreadful writer. Choppy, the master of half-finished sentences and pretty formulaic in his own way. And yet the man sucks me in more than I'd like.

But wait. It's worse. For me, this one is in hot competition with another of his books - If Tomorrow Comes - for my top three. So...he actually has two of my top four. Aargh. I am clearly beyond redemption.

This was also a mini-series (as was Scruples, now that I think about it), but as I never saw it I can't really trash it. (Man, they made a lot of trashy novels into mini-series in the '80s, didn't they?)

This one is about an idealistic young attorney who, without intending to, goes over to the dark side. Of course it's not that simple - these books never are.

Would we read them if they were?

Now...let's hear from everyone else...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

follow the yellow brick road

It occurred to me recently (as I was rereading California posts that exposed my homesick side) that there's a question I've never really addressed here...

Why Kansas?

How does a family of five start out in one state (the native state for four of them) and end up half-way across the country in a state they've never set foot in? And why? And just what were the circumstances that precipitated this whole thing anyway?

I'm about to tell you. Slip off your ruby slippers and stay awhile.

We need to go back to Spring 1998 to start the story. I was still staying home with three small kids (aged six, two and a half and one), but it was getting a lot harder financially. The Film Geek was still trying to achieve his perfect balance of teaching (which he loves) and film production (which he also loves). He doesn't want to do just one of them though. If he does nothing but teach he turns into a pill and if he only does production he becomes a different kind of pill. (The combination of the two is absolutely perfect for him, as we've found out years later. He gets to do both the things he loves and he doesn't have to pick one over the other).

But things weren't going well in either area. A lot of film production in LA was in the middle of a mass exodus to Vancouver, based on a lot of things but primarily lower costs. I can't remember the exact circumstances (although I'm sure I'll find out when the FG reads this) but there was some weird situation with the University system he was teaching at that was related to the guy who hired him (an old professor of ours) and the short story was that there would not be any teaching jobs available for him for the next academic year.

It was a bad time. Money was really, really tight. We had pretty much cut our expenditures to the bone by then, but LA isn't a cheap place to live no matter how careful you are. Luckily for us, we're both able to retrench into severe hardship mode pretty well. We were living in a town we loved but should never have been able to afford. Through a stoke of amazing luck we were paying considerably less rent than the going rate because the landlady hated turnover and went out of her way to keep tenants. (You wouldn't believe the hoops I jumped through to get the place to start with). The deal was good enough that even moving to a less desirable area would have meant paying more for rent. Staying put was the only answer.

But there was more to it than money. Even though I had lived there since I was eight and consider myself a Californian, I spent enough time in Michigan and Alabama growing up to see that other places had their appeal too. It had been a tumultuous time there the last few years - fires, earthquakes, riots, drive-by shootings way too close for comfort - and there was a part of me that just wanted out. I wanted my kids to be in classes with less than forty kids and to be able to have dogs in a house we owned and to look outside on a winter morning and see snow. The California growing up experience is great, but I was afraid that we were always going to be playing financial catch-up. Real estate prices were spiraling out of control. There was no way we would ever be able to buy a house there. I mentioned moving to the FG, and his reaction was immediate.

Hell, no. Our families were there, the film business was there, all the contacts he had painstakingly made, our friends, our lives...all there. He didn't want to even think of living anywhere else. I may have lived there most of my life, but this was his home.

But that Spring things were very up in the air. There were no jobs to be found. One day he came to me and said that he had been looking on-line at teaching positions and that the University of Michigan was hiring for a ten month period with an August start date. Did I think he should apply? Just for kicks?

Okay. I'm from Michigan, as we already know. I had an extremely high opinion of UofM (and all its programs) and, may the stars strike me down, my first thought was "Right. Like they're going to hire you". (He already knows this part, of course. I finally fessed up, only to find that he felt much the same way). My mind couldn't wrap around the idea of him being gone for that long, but it didn't matter because I was so sure he didn't have a chance of getting the job.

Well, to sum it all up: they hired him. Sight unseen. A couple of phone interviews, a stack of references and it was a done deal. And without getting into all the drama that went along with this decision (surely another long post for another time) the bottom line was that he was going away for ten months while I stayed home with the kids. Desperate times. Desperate measures. Yada yada.

And the thing that started changing his opinion of the whole moving issue was that he really liked Ann Arbor. (Sure he did. He was there without kids). He liked the seasons. He liked the Midwestern feel. He liked the college town atmosphere. For the first time ever, he was willing to consider living somewhere else. At some point in that first few months of him being there, we had a long discussion and worked out a strategic plan. We knew we were moving - we just didn't know where.

The magic date is January 1st. That's when most colleges post their job openings for the next academic year. We were looking for some very specific things. A tenure track position at a film school with plenty of production emphasis. An area with a variety of freelance opportunities. A town with good schools, a reasonable cost of living and plenty of things to do. A place where we could actually buy a house one day. We each drew up a list of where we would and would not live, a list of what was and wasn't important to us. We each listed our top five "ideal" places and also our own personal "not on your life" spots. We haggled mightily when we were on different pages, which didn't happen as much as it could have, but it was still an issue once or twice. And then the Film Geek launched a national search.

He didn't apply for any jobs that flew in the face of our criteria, but it was hard sometimes. Some areas (New York City, San Francisco) we would have loved to live in, but they didn't quite meet that "cost of living" requirement. Other areas seemed to have lots of openings, but they weren't places we wanted to live. Some places we would have loved to live didn't pay for crap. I had this idea in my head that if we were going to be making this kind of move I wanted to go somewhere completely different from what we were used to. I didn't want to leave everyone behind only to be in some other place exactly like LA. But no matter how you looked at all of this - it was a crap shoot.

In the end he ended up getting three offers - Ann Arbor, Pennsylvania and here. He had actually accepted the Pennsylvania job when the one here came up. At the same time, he was one of the final two candidates at Vassar (in upstate New York), which had me on the edge of my seat. When he had to give a decision here, he withdrew his name there. For me, that was kind of the one that got away. But even so, it was a no-brainer, because Liberal Collegeville had every single one of the things on our must have list and virtually every one of our "things we'd like".(It is minus an ocean, there's no getting away from that). When they had flown him in to interview he had fallen in love with the town. And in a display of giving up control that wasn't seen before and hasn't been seen since, with my blessing the FG accepted the job here and committed us to move. I had never set foot in the place.

Sasquatch and I flew out a few weeks after he'd signed his contract. The FG was driving in from Ann Arbor because he had some personnel stuff to do and, in a lovely gesture, the school brought us out too. While we were there the department threw a little meet and greet type thing at one of the chair's houses to make us feel a little more at home. It was a much appreciated welcome, believe me.

Don't think for a second that we didn't hear about our choice to move to "flyover" land. I wish I had a dime for every pair of arched eyebrows coupled with the question "Kansas?" in a disbelieving tone of voice. If I had been given one more pair of red slippers I might have screamed. Everyone, it seemed, had an opinion, and most people, sight unseen, had a preconceived idea of us moving to the middle of a tornado ridden wheat field being plowed by red-necked religious fanatics wearing Wizard of Oz hats. I don't know why some states have a more loaded image than others, but you can say "Missouri" and no one thinks twice. Or "Colorado" or "Iowa". But Kansas?

I was terrified. As long as I live I will never forget having my face glued to the window of the plane as we started our initial descent. I wanted so badly to see what I had gotten myself into.The entire area was such an unknown element, and even though on paper it was damn near perfect, the drumbeat in my head just kept saying please let me like it, please let me like it, please let this be everything we want it to be.

I do like it. Enormously. Thank god, we all do.

For eight years it's been everything we wanted it to be. And more.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

top design

This goes back to the Fun Monday post this week where we were supposed to show our unfinished projects. Really there are two parts to FM - you post your story and then you go around and check out everyone else and their story. The second part is the fun one, by the way. You get to see how everyone else "lives", in more ways than one. It's better than walking around your neighborhood at night hoping for a good peek in people's lit windows.

So here's my question...

Why does my blog look so dull? It's like a big piece of pink and blue Wonder Bread. I don't even like pink or blue. Not here, anyway. And how can I be so clueless as to how to make it look better? As I went from blog to blog yesterday I was (once again) amazed at how (creative) people can take a plain old Blogger template and make it so uniquely them. There are incredible backgrounds, header pictures and graphics and I WANT TO KNOW HOW TO DO THAT TOO!!

I deliberately went for a neutral background here, but am a little (??) bored by it. (I didn't start out that way, not that anyone would remember it. My first page design was very different. Quite brown). I've debated going over to Typepad, which would rule out any time spent sprucing up the old Blogger page, but can't make up my mind. It just seems like a lot of work to do the switchover and I'm lazy.

It's not that I think my page is stick your finger down your throat bad - it's just really really dull. And the more I look at other pages the more I notice it. There are people out there who change their blog designs around by season, change their backgrounds like there's no tomorrow, have huge splashy headers (with gorgeous photos) and just generally look exciting. I get as far in directions as that nasty "HTML" thing and then I get scared. Can you say "Techno moron"??

I'm sure my general malaise has something to do with walking around my house with camera in hand looking for unfinished projects. Ha! A tougher assignment would have been looking for finished projects. (Not to mention a much shorter post). Revamping my blog would sure as heck be quicker than tackling my house. Better for the blood pressure, too. It would also take my mind off that whole diet thing.

Then there's the Project Runway angle. It's been a long wait for this season to start, but now that it has, I'm (once again) totally hooked. If you've never heard me spout off on this particular program you might want to leave quickly - while you still can. Yes, it's a reality show. Yes, it's edited to within an inch of its life. Yes, some of those contestants are freaks. Card carrying, registered freaks. No argument.'s all about creativity. Of any kind. The show may be about fashion design (not a subject dear to my jeans loving heart), but it's really about expanding your creative horizons. Every week after I've watched it I get all fired up to do something different and exciting. Most of the time I sit down until the feeling passes, but lately it keeps coming back to my boring blog.

I need input. I need advice. I need help.

Got any?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Fun Monday #5

Today's Fun Monday is being hosted by Blue Momma at Life in the Fish Bowl. And this is what she wants us to do:

I want you to show me your......projects. More to the point, I want to see your unfinished projects. I have so many that I really need some reassurance that I'm not the only one. Home improvement projects are what I have in mind, but it you don't have any of those show me any kind of project - needlework, cooking, scrapbooking, etc. You can even show me your spouse if they qualify as a work in process. And please, I WANT PICTURES!!!! You can talk if you want, but you don't have to. I know since you are all bloggers talk is bound to happen, but I most definitely want to see photos of those unfinished projects.

Great. Just when I've committed to not writing book length posts for Fun Monday, too. I have projects galore afoot because, as I've said before, my house is trying to kill me. We've owned it a year and a half and have made a lot of progress, but...

This place gives The Money Pit a whole new meaning. Here is a sampling of home projects we are a) in the middle of, b) working up the courage for or c) too scared to think of for long (but will somehow have to).

I've complained about my fireplace before. We're trying to decide on tile and haven't had much luck. I'm about to scrap everything and start all over again.

There are two of these windows along the staircase. For the most part they're in great shape, but a few of the smaller pieces need to be replaced. And they need cleaning, as they are old house double paned and are hard to get to. You can see the broken pieces here (especially the half moon piece on the bottom right side).

This used to be a transom window over the front door, but someone de-transomed it. I'd like to restore it to the way it used to be. Eventually. On a way more global note, if you look around the window you'll see a lot of really lovely molding that needs to be stripped. The entire house is full of very interesting details that are all covered by (fifteen coats apparently) of white paint.

This is the hole in the downstairs family room ceiling. I badgered the Film Geek to take out the existing fixture so we could hang an Ikea chandelier I've had for a year. But...once he was in there he ran into one problem after another, culminating with the fact that the new hole is now way too large for the fixture. So we're replacing the existing fixture (which is fine, really) and we'll hang the chandelier in the entry hall.

This is the humiliated chandelier that started all the ruckus in the first place. It's combined wired and candles and I really wanted it over the dining room table, but I'm not willing to tear out an entire plaster wall to get it there. Eventually it will find a home that isn't covered in dog hair.

This is the big, bad scary monster that sends both the FG and I to our corners with our thumbs in our mouths. This is shot from the entry hall and shows the staircase going up. There's a lot of scraping that needs to be done in the top right hand corner and then it all needs painting. But first we need to fix a spot on the roof that's letting small amounts of water in.

The staircase curves and the ceiling is really high and there isn't enough money in the world to get me on a ladder up there. This'll be the one we hire out...eventually.

(The window at the top of the stairs is the match to the one mentioned earlier, by the way. It also has some small broken pieces).

My major project in the planning stage is landscaping the front yard. I didn't do a blessed thing last year because I was so overwhelmed by the whole thing. But this next Spring I'm planning a massive attack even though I'm still scared half to death.

The problem is that I don't know what I'm doing. But I'd better learn quick.

This is the front of the house. (Which will hopefully be painted in the next year or so. Uh oh. I'm back in a fetal position again).

This is one side yard. The other side is about the same size. (Oh yeah, we also have to extend the fence line to the privacy fence on the left). The middle area is ours, but when we moved in we only fenced the part right by the house. The middle is a huge day lily patch and I didn't want the dogs to destroy it, so for now it's just left open. But our neighbors put up a privacy fence so we're going to extend ours to theirs. And landscape it. (Rocking in corner crying for my mama by this point).

I hope Blue Momma feels better that she isn't alone in her project overload. Because I all of a sudden have a migraine.

I need my teddy bear.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Seriously Late Awards (and a rap)

I hate to admit how far behind I am on acknowledging some very cool awards that have been sent my way. Can we chalk it up to vacations and holidays or do I have to fess up that I've lived up (or down) to my moniker? The Rotten Acknowledger strikes again.
Also, I apologize in advance, because I have layout issues here that I can't seem to fix. Grr...

Dumdad at The Other Side of Paris designed this The Other Side of Paris salutes you! award on the event of his 99th post, and says:

To celebrate this momentous occasion I am handing out a special award to some fellow bloggers who have made this blogging lark so much fun.

Well, I know just how he feels, because his blog brightens up my life on a regular basis. I'll even overlook the Marmite for him. (You know I have to really like him to say that).

Thanks, Dumdad!

And from Jo Beaufoix comes the first ever I made someone Laugh so much their head fell off Award. Yowzah! For me?
Seriously, thanks, Jo!

This was Jo's reasoning:

Miss RC at Confessions of a Rotten Correspondent for her wit and her ability to find humour in the worst possible situations.

Well, as I always say - if you can't laugh...

Presumably, she's found her head because look what else she's gone and done...

She's passed on this Fab Award as well. Jo continues to humor me in spite of all the opposing evidence. One of these days she'll catch on, but until then I'll just continue to accept these "fab" awards from her - very gratefully.

Thanks, Jo!

But wait! There's more! (Maybe her head really did fall off. Uh.Oh). Also from Jo comes this Community Blogger Award. This award originated with CelloBella at Sultana.Blog and is to acknowledge those bloggers who become part of the blogging community with a vengeance.

Isn't that all of us? As one of many who has spent the better part of the last couple of days mentally traipsing the Australian countryside calling for a lost puppy, I very much feel the community aspect of BlogVille. And when your mother (in California) calls you (in the Midwest) and says "Did you see that Belle (in Australia) is back?" you realize just how strong that community is.

Just the way I like it.

I can't get the photo to show up, but The Spirit of Christmas Award is from Akelamalu at Everything and Nothing. The creators of this award at Santa's Community Blog say this about it:

What is the Spirit of Christmas you ask?

Quite simply it is those that have a generous and giving nature. Those who care about others. Those who have a kind word to say or a broad shoulder to lean on in the times that others need that. Those who display the "Spirit of Christmas".

Again, isn't that all of us? How many of you responded to my "Meltdown" post with broad shoulders and kind words? Hmm?? A lot of you, that's how many.

Thanks, Akelamalu!

This Break Out Blogger Award comes from wakeupandsmellthecoffee
and she passed it on so long ago she's probably forgotten all about it. I'M SORRY!! I am not worthy.

You all thought Rotten Correspondent was just something I made up, didn't you?

Thanks, wakeup! I really do appreciate it!

And in the spirit of the season, if you want one of these awards feel free to take it. (Except for the first two because they really aren't mine to pass on). My thought is that if you've read this far and want it - it's yours! We all deserve them.

As a thank you for sitting through my Awards Show (and navigating the white space), here's a video I stumbled across recently. This was put together by a real ER crew in Alabama as part of a competition, and it is really funny (although maybe a little hard to hear). Enjoy!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

game on

If you listen to the powers that be in Liberal Collegeville, it may get a little interesting around here tonight. Like most of the Midwest, our town is sports crazy. Normally, our local sports nuts are quiet this time of year, since on the street wisdom says that we have only two sports seasons in LC - basketball season and almost basketball season.

But for the first time in a long, long time there seems to be something to go crazy about in the fall. Our football team, which has been something of a joke (at least since we've lived here) is finishing up a fairy tale season by facing their bitter, century long rival (who have also had a great season). Tonight. Live on network. Prime time.

And the common opinion is that all hell is going to break loose. Win or lose. At work on Thanksgiving the word was that there was not a keg to be found within an hour of here. And that the tailgate parties were starting as early as 9 am for a 7 pm game. (Quick math quiz: If a patient weighs 180 pounds and drinks four beers an hour for eleven hours, buffered by nothing but bean dip, will his blood alcohol level be higher or lower than the national debt?) Our very intelligent (and always prepared) department director posted a sheet recruiting people to be available on call in case things got really out of hand.

By the time I got to the list the really exciting shifts had been filled in.You know, the ones from 11 pm to 7 am. Now normally I wouldn't work later than 11 pm for anything, but (in the voyeuristic desire to be where the insanity is) I was kind of sorry that I'd been beaten to it. I did sign up for a shift earlier in the evening, leading people to ask me all day if I realized I'd willingly put myself on call during the game. I said Yeah, so what?, cementing my reputation as a granola eating tree hugging non-native. (Come on, people! It's a football game, for cryin' out loud. It isn't like it's something important, like the Wimbledon final).

But you know what? That's all part of my ultra laid back persona, because I really want them to win this game. Really badly. I've been here long enough to understand just how bitter and long standing this feud is, and in absolute impartiality I think our side is completely in the right. I want them to win. I just don't feel any great need to watch it.

Besides, if common wisdom holds, the game isn't even going to be the most entertaining show in town anyway.

Post-Game Update: We lost. I went to work for a few hours and it was sooooo quiet it was barely recognizable. On the way there and home there was almost no one on the streets.

But...the game just ended and I hear lots of noise outside. I think it's a good night to stay in.

Friday, November 23, 2007

something died in my mouth

Does anyone remember the episode of Friends where Monica is up for a job as a sales rep for a candy company and she is supposed to tout their brand new product - Mocklate? (Just like chocolate, but not). She's practicing her sales pitch on Phoebe, encouraging her to try it.

Phoebe gamely takes a bite of the Mocklate, and after about thirty seconds of scripted television sight gags all focused on her horrified face, utters these words...

This is what Evil tastes like.

I didn't before, but now I know exactly what she means. When I was home I noticed that my mother had a jar of Marmite in her pantry. I asked about it and she said that she had bought it to try it and see what all the fuss was about. I'd never tasted it myself, but was aware that this is something people tend to be passionate about. Love it or Hate it is one of the company mottoes. All over the Blogosphere you run into Marmite proponents and detractors, and they all seem equally likely to tell you how strongly they feel - one way or the other.

Except for the fact that I don't like meat I'm a pretty adventurous eater. There is no food so spicy that I will not try it. I'll eat okra in any way, shape or form. Stinky cheeses don't slow me down a bit. Caviar, anchovies, sushi and sashimi? Adore them all. (I do like fish. A lot). Sweet (Japanese) egg dishes, spicy (Mexican) chocolate cakes, sour (Thai) soups - bring them on. I'm open minded. I'll try almost anything once.

Besides, I'm crazy about all my British and Aussie friends, and this is a beloved national product, right? Don't I sometimes in my fantasies see myself living quite happily in one of these lands saying things like this in an airy voice

Well, of course it was a mistake of nature that I wasn't born here in the first place. I was meant to be (fill in the nationality). See? I just fit right in.

Or not. Blindly trusting my Marmite happy blog buddies (you know who you are), I stuck a spoon in the jar and had a lick. And promptly prayed for death in every language I've ever heard spoken. (And some I haven't). Oh, my sweet merciful lord. It's actually worse than Mocklate. Because evil would be preferable to the taste and (help me) the feel of this in my mouth.

Surely someone will tell me if this is really true, but I read that this stuff is the yeast extract goo that is left at the bottom of beer barrels after the beer has fermented, the brown slime that is deposited by the brewing process. It can't possibly be right, because even that description sounds better than it tastes. I could have soaked my tongue in ammonia and scoured my taste buds with brillo pads and still not been able to remove the residue from my mouth. My mother watched me in sympathy. She had had exactly the same reaction. (And yet she let me put it in my mouth. Note to self: Buy better Mother's Day gift this year).

So. So...

You tell me. What am I missing?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Thursday Three

For today, let's talk

Thanksgiving Leftovers.

What to do with all that food the next day? (or days?)

My very favorite part of Thanksgiving is the green bean casserole, which I make an enormous pan of and eat (splashed with soy sauce) until every last bit of it is gone. But some of the other dishes take more thought. (And to all of you who don't celebrate Thanksgiving - Happy Second to Last Thursday in November!)

#1. Cranberry Bread. I always make cranberry-orange sauce from scratch, and after we've eaten all we can straight, I throw together some cranberry bread. Yum. Smear a little honey butter on it, make some tea...aaahh.

#2. Sweet Potato Pancakes. We are a family of sweet potato fiends, so I also make a big pan of sweet potatoes. I top them with butter, brown sugar, fresh grated nutmeg and lemon rind. No marshmallows. We'll eat them like this for a day or so, but after that I smoosh them up and we have sweet potato pancakes.

#3. Hot turkey sandwiches with mashed potatoes and gravy. This is where my southern roots start showing. It has to be on white bread and drenched in gravy. We buy a meatless Turkey loaf (which is really excellent), so even the non-meat eaters get "turkey" for Thanksgiving. I could eat these sandwiches all day long. And sometimes I do.

Bam! No more leftovers!

(thanks to my two cents for the topic idea)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

the meltdown

I spent a good part of the day Tuesday wrapped up in blankets on my bed, sleeping dogs flanking the perimeter. The phone went unanswered except for once, the housework stayed unattended. Outside it was unseasonably warm, but with the promise of a dramatic temperature drop by late evening and a strong chance of snow flurries. On paper a lovely day. But it was not quite what it seemed.

Sasquatch had a monumental meltdown Monday night. A meltdown of epic proportions. Tipped over living room furniture, threw mail all over the entry hall and then moved into the kitchen. Emptied my fruit and vegetable baskets (one deliberate banana and onion at a time) against the sliding glass door, broke my brand new Ikea napkin holder, flung a pile of plastic hangers from the laundry room all over two rooms, sprayed shaving cream on the bathroom floor, upended a box of Wheat Thins into the bathtub and methodically took every single sponge and implement from the side of the kitchen sink and tossed them into the air, verbally taunting me the whole while. The happiest week of his life had been when I was in California. I was a liar and a cheat and a thief. My only reason to live was to torment my children.

All over a video game.

I tried at first to stop him but realized quickly that that was spurring him on. I was standing, back to the sink, watching him in disbelief when the FG walked in the back door to madness. It went downhill within minutes.

All over a video game.

I stood in my entry hall wrapped in my husband's arms and I cried so hard that his shirt stayed wet for the rest of the evening. All I could think of was Am I that bad a mother? And soon, the battle raged. The FG, infuriated, not only for himself, but especially for me. The younger boys scattering like marbles, running upstairs to huddle together in a bedroom, while the sounds of out of control fury lashed out around them. Sasquatch blindly saying and doing anything to hurt and humiliate. He hated us and knew we hated him. He accused my husband of physical abuse, and then, nose to nose, dared him to touch him.

And then, inevitably (and too late), came the remorse. The tears. The I'm so sorry I should never have done that/You know I can't control my temper when I get that mad/I didn't mean anything I said/Can't we just forget about all of this and try to have a nice Thanksgiving remorse. He cleaned up everything he had destroyed. He apologized to the boys. He apologized to me. He did not apologize to the FG, because there is a layer to their anger at each other that goes beyond a simple apology.

I know how terrible all of this seems on paper and I wish there was some way I could explain it so it makes sense. Sasquatch is at heart a wonderful kid. A generous, compassionate, funny, brilliant, loving kid. But...he is also exactly like my father. He is never wrong. Nothing is ever his fault. The world, somehow, owes him, and he doesn't like it when the world doesn't deliver. He has had anxiety issues in the past and even flirted briefly with an OCD diagnosis (which I don't think is accurate). He's been to see therapists and he's been on meds. I've dragged him from pillar to post trying to figure out what in the world is going on. He never cooperates with the doctors (or nurses or therapists or psychiatrists) because he thinks the whole thing is "ridiculous". Over time it's all come down to good old teenage angst. But I don't believe that. I want to, but I don't.

My husband was raised in a military family by a real "man's man" who did not hesitate to respond physically to his children. His was a You'll do it because I told you to kind of household. And there was hell to pay if they didn't. My mother-in-law, much as I love her, took no gruff either. As much as they could (and did) do behind her back, I cannot imagine any one of her children engaging in open warfare with her. It simply would not have been tolerated.

So it has been hard for the FG to not just haul off and let Sasquatch have it. But he hasn't. He has grabbed him a few times when the kid was totally out of control. He slapped him once, years ago, and has never been allowed to forget it, even though he apologized profusely and immediately. Every time there is a situation like this he's accused (by his eldest son) of beating his children. Every time.

My son is out of control and my husband is impotently furious and then there's me. I'm a mess. My chest hurts and I can't breathe and I feel like I'm moving through my day through a wall of water. My grandmother was only a few years older than I am now when I witnessed the dramatic appearance of her bleeding ulcer. I keep thinking I'm on that same track.

Tuesday night update: Sasquatch has been very sweet and apologetic since he got home from school. He has told me over and over again how sorry he is for his behavior and that he didn't mean anything he said. He has vowed to work on controlling his temper. He and the FG are talking and things between them seem cordial. Gumby is behaving as usual, although Surfer Dude is a little quiet. It's the calm after the storm. I'm always so afraid of the storms.

He used to have these eruptions often, but they've gotten a lot less frequent. I know he really is trying. Now having said that, last night was without question one of the worst explosions ever. Not the worst, but one of the worst. At least this time it was directed at the FG and I and not his brothers. I know he'd never hurt his brothers (at least physically), but verbally he can say some just ungodly things.

Sorry. This is a very choppy and disjointed post. The synapses aren't quite firing.

I just can't take this any more. And I have no idea what to do.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

pyro girls

Some things just aren't meant to go together:

Belly rolls and crop tops.

Chocolate fudge and brown mustard.

Britney Spears and parenthood.

And my latest discovery:

Californians and leaf burning.

My folk's lake house was practically buried in leaves, so we decided to take care of them in the local way and burn them. It isn't uncommon there at all to pass huge piles of smoldering leaves in front yards with no one even keeping an eye on them. So the kids and I raked and piled and swept for a long time (clearing one not huge area) and filled the fire pit with the leaves.

Enter my mother, fireplace lighter in hand. First she told me I had too many leaves piled in the fire pit, so she took some out. (I thought it was fine, but what do I know?) Then she tried to light the leaves and couldn't. Tried again. Nope. Third time. Negatory on that, good buddy. She looked up at me in disgust and said

One kid with one match in California can burn down 1200 houses and I can't light a pile of dry leaves with a lighter?

She finally got it going and as soon as the flames had barely gotten started we both panicked. I ran to get the hose ready in case we needed it and we both circled nervously the whole time our little leaf pile was actually burning. My mom actually sat for a long time after and watched it work its way down to nothing. I guess a lifetime in a perpetual fire zone will do that to you. There just seems to be something so wrong about deliberately setting anything on fire.

It was a small pile of leaves surrounded by a stone fire pit with a lake on one side and two crazed women with a hose on the other. From our reaction, you would have thought we were burning Rome. This is a close-up of the conflagration. Scary, isn't it?

And for a little perspective, here it is from the dock. (The fire is that itty bitty speck of smoke in the bottom right hand corner)...

Here my mom and kids are planning their getaway for when the Feds catch up to them. The kids were willing to go along with anything as long as they didn't have to leave their toasted marshmallows behind.

Later, the next door neighbor listened patiently as we confessed about our pyromaniac ways. Then he said

Come on over later. I can show you how it's really done if you want to see a big pile of burning leaves. I'll fill the whole front yard for you.

And damn if we weren't too scared to do that, too.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Fun Monday #4

Fun Monday is being hosted this week by Karisma and this is her assignment:

"I want you to take a trip down memory lane, and keep right on going, right back to your childhood. And I want to hear "THAT STORY". You remember the one? Yes, you do! The one your parents, siblings, extended family or friends, would never let you forget, live down or get over!"

I can do that.

My dad was an incredibly sound sleeper. Family lore said that if
a freight train tore through his bedroom he would sleep right through it. Maybe I had heard this said and wanted to test it, or maybe I was just almost two and didn't have a lot of sense. It's a tough call.

I was in the kitchen with my mom and when she turned away from doing something I was gone. She came looking for me and found me hunched over my dad, who was sound asleep. The only parts of his body that weren't wrapped in the covers were his head and his neck. And for reasons known to no one...

I had buttered him. Taken a stick of butter out of the fridge and greased up his head and neck with the whole thing. He had chunks of butter up his nose and in his ears and stuck in his eyelashes...and he had slept through the whole thing. You've never seen anyone wake up more baffled than he did, if you listen to my mother.

And every time I've heard that story my whole life, it always ends with

Who could have guessed that one stick of butter would go that far?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

more energy tomorrow...

Okay, I'm really tired. So rather than do a "real" post, I'm stealing a funny video from la bellina mammina (with her blessing, mind you)...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

end of the road

Just as we had about given up we hit a real town. One with hotels and everything. We collapsed on our beds, too tired to even go get anything to eat, and munched on leftover trail mix from the night before. (And leftover wine, now that I think about it). On the television, (on AMC, so help me) - was Psycho. We couldn't watch it for long because my mom has Psycho issues. (1960's mind altering substances + watching a first run movie in a theater by yourself = no showers for quite a long time. And no reruns either. She was clutching her wine and giving the bathroom nervous glances when I finally broke down and changed the channel).

All in all I think my kids did beautifully with me being gone. The FG definitely rose to the occasion (as we both knew he would) and everything went very smoothly. But around day three Surfer Dude started getting a little antsy. He called me several times a day, which was great. (How did parents ever manage without cell phones?) One conversation started with him telling me how much The Most Perfect Dog in the World missed me. He was quick to point out that he didn't miss me at all, but that my dog was all mopey and flat and put his head between his paws every time SD showed him a picture of me. (Pictures of me have that effect on a lot of living things). He even held the phone up to the dog's ear while he chased him around the house to try and make him "talk" to me. The dog was blatantly disinterested, but couldn't help being amused.

So the second day of this trip involved several phone calls asking when we would be home. Even though I had told them the night before that it would definitely be Saturday, SD called around dinner time Friday to ask what time that night we'd be home. Now, this is the one person in my family who usually pays attention to what I say, so this was definitely a case of not wanting to hear rather than not hearing. We went through it again - we would be home early Saturday afternoon (at the latest). Completely reversing himself he said Wasn't it supposed to be Saturday morning the last time we talked? I said Yes (you little pisher) it was. And what happened to your whole Friday spiel? Can you not keep your stories straight?

Saturday morning we got up in the dark, picked up coffee at the breakfast buffet and grabbed our bags. Never looked outside. Never saw the evidence of the dense fog advisory that had the entire area socked in. Even when we saw the fog we didn't believe it, so we turned on the weather channel. Believe it, sister. The entire Texas panhandle and the southern half of Oklahoma were down to a 2/10 of a mile visibility status. Nice. We did what any two rational women would do. We went back to sleep and waited for it to burn off. At that point I didn't care if it didn't burn off until Spring. My mother, who had been remarkably taciturn on who it was who had pushed for this particular route, gnawed her lip to bits but stayed silent.

At 8 am my phone rang. It was the FG. Sasquatch was refusing to go to his Saturday morning detention (for six tardies to his first class) and the two of them were going head to head. Sure, drag the fogged in woman in to mediate. Let the uterus be the judge. The FG said (suspiciously) Were you asleep? And I said Of course(yawn) not. So with temperatures in my house at the boiling point we got in the car anyway and drove. It was hairy for a while, let me tell you. I can't drive well in fog, so my mom was doing it. We're still alive, so she obviously knew what she was doing, but the visibility sucked. A regular intervals SD would call to check on our progress. I left out the fog, because the kid worries like me, but it was still clear that we weren't making fast enough progress for him. Or for the dog. Whatever.

Very soon we were in Oklahoma. And this is where my strange blogging question came to a head. As soon as we changed to the Southern route I immediately knew that it was going to take me right by two blog buddies (who shall remain nameless unless they choose to out themselves) whom I would dearly love to meet in person and say hello to. Straight through Oklahoma City and through Wichita before skewing east was the route. (I didn't get far enough south in Texas to see anyone I knew there. I'm a step ahead of you, Kathy!)

But how to pull this off? I had no computer so I couldn't just email and say I'll be there for dinner and I like pasta (heavy on the garlic and light on the cheese). What in the world made me think these people would even want me to show up on their doorstep? Think of what it would do to the property values. Besides scaring the children. And making them think they have stalkers. So, reluctantly (because I really wanted to), I gave up on the idea as silly and moved on. But I gave a big old wave at what I thought were the right places on the highway as we sped by. I'd love to do it someday, but I had to accept that this was probably not the best time. I have looked better than I did then. Trust me. All the taffy was still not off of my teeth. All of the taffy is still not off my teeth.

(I thought Oklahoma was lovely, by the way. But since I got such a limited view, I'm afraid these pictures sell it way short).

The last leg was completely uneventful, except for the fact that I had no souvenirs for the kids. I had planned to get something in LA and hadn't, but figured we'd have plenty of time to get something cool on the road. But we were so chronically behind that I never even had a chance to look. (That fact - and the fog - are also why photos are scarce here, too). An hour away from home we stopped due to bladder limitations and my mom found little LCD flashlight things that the smaller boys absolutely adore and a cell phone case for Sasquatch. Bingo. They all think they came from some fun place and who am I to burst their little bubbles?

This is a very bad picture of Kansas. It really looks a lot better than this.

All told it was almost 6 pm when we finally got here. I wasn't able to make my Bunco sleepover, due to a combination of lateness and maternal guilt, but got quite a rowdy phone call much later to make me feel like I was there in spirit. And the spirit was about all we had left at that point. The energy had left the building. I had car ass, from sitting in basically the same position for three days. It was not attractive. Take a (big) ball of clay. Stomp it with your foot. Get the picture?

This is a very cool photo of Kansas that I didn't take. It usually doesn't look like this, though.

It was a great trip. It just wasn't what we had planned. I should realize, at my age, that they almost never are. But for three days my mom and I had a chance to catch up on anything and everything that caught our fancy, and I wouldn't trade that for a side trip to Roswell, New Mexico for anything. I drank 64 oz Diet Cokes and ate Nacho Cheese Doritos and slurped up authentic diner food in three different states quite happily. And I came home to a family that had missed me but gotten through without a hitch (except for the detention). My dog was so excited to see me that he took liberties with my leg. Such a welcome.

Cost of tacky souvenirs at a mega gas mart - $15.42

Dental work to replace four fillings and a crown - $3,412.00

Estimated cost of a new radiator - $ 500.00

A event filled road trip with my mom - Priceless

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Road Hits Back

My mother and I have a long history of car debacles, so this whole thing shouldn't be a surprise. Here's a little back story hitting a few of the highlights:

First was the time she tried to kill me in Miranda, her little red VW bug. We were living on the top of a hill and had a long curvy road that led to the street. As is only fitting for one of our car stories the car wasn’t working right. So when I was around nine or ten she taught me how to pop the clutch and steer the car just far enough for her to push start it then hop in and take over. One day I lost control of the car and headed straight for the neighbor’s swimming pool, watching my mother in the rear view mirror as she ran screaming after me. Then there was the time in Lake Tahoe where all of a sudden smoke started spewing from the dashboard of her car. “Mama,” I said,” The car's on fire.” “Well”, she calmly replied. “Maybe we should get out.” Speaking of smoke, there was the beater she bought me when she was living in the mountains in Wofford Heights that caught fire three times on the two mile drive down the hill to Lake Isabella. That was the car that we limped into LA the back way because we knew it would never survive the Grapevine. Once we hit county limits the car gave up the ghost with an impressive sounding explosion, and the memory of my mother is indelible as she shrieked at the car and kicked its hubcaps with all her might, softly lit by the smoke from the engine. And speaking of the Grapevine, there was the day of her thirty ninth birthday when we were moving her to her new home in Sonora, in Northern California. After a crappy year of trying to salvage her marriage to my first step-father she’d decided to leave. Well you know there’s going to be car trouble in here somehow. The only sound louder than the carsick German Shepard in the backseat was the noise the clutch made when it completely went out. On the uphill side. In a borrowed van. In a rainstorm. When we somehow got off the road she went to the back hatch to look for tools and when she opened it a big box of her favorite clothes, handmade and antique silk, fell out right into a big mud puddle – opened side down. I watched the entire thing in slow motion and, god forgive me, I laughed until I cried. Even now, all these years later, I’m howling at the mental image. Can you imagine how funny that WASN’T to my mother? I can’t believe she didn’t kill me right there. It was close, though.

Back to present day, that same hysterical laughter bubbled right back up at the sight of the heat gauge. My mother gave me a look that could blind children and said NOT funny. Maybe in fifteen years, but NOT NOW. Somehow we managed to get to the top of the crest and what should be right there but an exit leading straight into town. We coasted down the off-ramp and what should be right there but a mechanics shop. The streak of luck kind of ended there, though. The very nice mechanic wasn't able to look at the car but did recommend an import place six blocks away. He even called them and they said they could look at the car right away.

This is where the comedy of errors starts. My mom didn't want to drive the car the six blocks because it was so hot. We couldn't call AAA from my phone since it was dead. I went back into the nice mechanic's shop and stood behind a woman talking for five minutes about some car part her husband had bought from them. Called AAA and was told it would be an hour for a tow. Said okay, but then my mom decided that an hour was too long and the car was cooler so we went for it. Made it, too. While the nice import mechanics were looking at the car we went and sat on a bench in the shade. My phone had started working again, just as mysteriously as it had stopped, so I canceled the AAA call and then my mom called Stu to let him in on the situation.

One of the things that is really important on road trips is the food. I have a list of things, going back to childhood, that make me think "road trip". One of them is Abba Zabba bars. If you aren't familiar with these (and if you're an adult you really shouldn't be) they are white taffy around peanut butter. (A lot like those halloween candies that took such a bashing recently on Jen's blog and almost resulted in a lot of people I like writing me off. Abba Zabbas are way better than those, but still very similar). I had bought one at the store with the postal woman, and now, with a little time on my hands I broke a hunk off and popped it in my mouth.

And promptly got my teeth totally stuck together. Just like the pig in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy who bit off more than she could chew. My mother, sitting next to me and watching them look at the car, finished her phone call and started talking to me but it took her a minute or two to realize that I wasn't answering. By that point my entire mouth was sealed shut and I was proceeding very carefully because I was afraid I was going to choke to death on a dirty bench in Kingman, Arizona just like a pig in a children's book. On a piece of candy no one over the age of ten had any business eating in the first place.

To add to my already lovely image, once I had gotten the piece of taffy to the point where I could actually chew it, I had these little peanut butter/taffy rivulets of drool running down each side of my mouth because I was still trying so hard not to die. My mother took one good look and paid me back (many times over) for laughing in the car. Payback is a bitch. The mechanic came over with a question. I still couldn't talk. Smile, nod, shrug and drool. My phone rang while the mechanic was talking to my mom. It was Stu calling back. My mom made answering the phone motions at me as she talked. Smile, nod, shrug and drool. I worked on that piece of candy long enough to rethink my attraction to taffy in general and peanut butter taffy specifically. Smile, nod, shrug and drool. Ladies and gentlemen - my new mantra.

We then went into automotive debates - they thought we needed a new radiator, Stu thought they were trying to sell us a radiator, they couldn't even get the part for 24 hours, we wanted to get the hell out of Dodge - they somehow got it worked out that the radiator should be okay. So off we went, compulsively checking the heat gauge every ten seconds. It stayed okay, even on the hills. As a matter of fact it stayed okay for the rest of the trip. One down.

Back on the road again, slowed down but moving, we breathed a sigh of relief. We got as far as Flagstaff that night, which wasn't far enough to stay on schedule, but it was considerably better than being in Kingman waiting for the UPS guy to bring a new radiator sometime in the next day and a half. We agreed that the trip had been delayed enough to extend into early Saturday morning - but no later. By the way, this is the kind of weird stuff that you see on the side of the road in Arizona

The next day we drove steadily, but seemed to have fallen into some weird time warp. Even though we were on the road most of the day we didn't seem to be racking up many miles. It was truly bizarre. Soon we were in wonderful New Mexico

and in no time we had crossed the line into Texas. Even though we were making progress, we still weren't where we thought we needed to be, so we kept driving. As it started to get late, we decided that we would stop in the next town and abandon our hopes of making Oklahoma City that night. One small problem, though. By the time we had given in to exhaustion and agreed to stop, the lodging options seemed to go away. We went through four towns in a row - four tiny, hole in the wall towns - that all promised gas, food and lodging on their highway signs but delivered nothing but deserted grain elevators, closed gas stations with signs advertising gas at $1.50 a gallon and motels that had not one light on nor a single car in the parking lot. The last one was the worst. As we drove by it (as quickly as possible) I observed that Norman Bates would not have looked out of place sitting on the front porch. Neither would his mother.

So, half asleep and just slightly south of cranky, we hit the highway again in search of a warm bed. We had one town left to try. After that there was nothing but deserted road for miles and miles. We crossed our fingers and sped forward.

to be continued (and finished - I promise)...

Slight change in plans:

The boys and I are going to spend a few days at the lake with the taffy laugher. We'll be leaving today right after they get out of school. So...

In the interest of finishing this interminable saga I'm going to forgo the Thursday Three this week and post the end of this instead. T3 will be back in full force next week.(And I'm taking suggestions, if you have any fun categories). But since I don't think you can auto post on Blogger, I'll put it up sometime tomorrow before I leave. (If you can auto post let me know, would you??) I'll be back posting Sunday and I swear that at that point my traveling days are over with.

No more road trips for a while.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Saab Sisters Hit the Road

The original plan had been to drive back to Kansas the same way I always did - across the Mojave desert, through a (very) small corner of Arizona, cut across Nevada, up into Utah and then across Colorado and Kansas heading due east. But at some point during my time in LA, the idea of the southern route had come up. Okay, I'm the one who brought it up. I confess. I've done the other way so many times and as beautiful as parts of it are, I thought it might be nice to do something a little different. (Remember that this was my idea. This will factor in later. Trust me).

The southern route is (again) across the Mojave, a straight line across Arizona and New Mexico, cut through the northern edge of the Texas panhandle, through Oklahoma and up into Kansas heading straight north. My mom wasn't too sure about this idea, so I was just going to let it drop, but then my step-father Stu (who is a road tripper at heart) threw in his two cents in favor and the next thing I knew we were map questing the route. The northern way is only two roads - Interstates 15 and 70. The other was more convoluted and took some fiddling with to avoid a four hundred mile stretch of two lane undivided highway, but in the end we had a workable route. Map quest said the northern route would take 22 hours of driving and the southern would take 24. I've driven the northern way many times and knew from experience that even with three young kids I could do it in three days. By myself I've done it in an easy two. (Remember this too. It will factor in later. Trust me).

We were planning on a two day trip, but left open the possibility of an extension into early Saturday for some side excursions. (Unfortunately, Vegas was scrapped right along with the northern route, and even though I really don't like Vegas we thought it would be a fun little stop for the two of us). But since I haven't been in most of the southern states for years and neither of us had ever been to Oklahoma, we were sure we could think of lots of things to do.

So Thursday morning we waved bye to Stu as he left for work at 7 am and headed out close on his heels. We fought the morning traffic for a while, but were able to get out of town without too much difficulty. If you aren't familiar with the Los Angeles area there's one important thing to keep in mind about getting out of it. Unless you're willing to swing quite far north you can't get out without crossing the Mojave desert. And even if you are familiar with the Los Angeles area there's one important thing to keep in mind that you couldn't know. I hate the Mojave desert. My mother hates the Mojave desert. Every thinking person I know hates the Mojave desert.

If you're one of those people who actually likes it - Congratulations. You win. You've officially rendered me speechless. Many have tried (some valiantly), but you have succeeded. First prize is a week in Palm Springs. Second prize is two weeks in Palm Springs.

This is what it looks like - for about four thousand miles.

(Photo disclaimer: I am photographically challenged. Admitting it is the first step in fixing it, I know. The whole time I was in LA my camera gave me fits and I blamed the equipment rather than the user. But this is taken with my moms good camera, so there goes that little rationale. I have no idea why the stupid date stamp is on and it's the wrong time to boot. And as a little pre-curser to the rest of the story, I'll confess right now that every single picture I took was from a moving car driving at (roughly) highway speed. This should give you some idea of where we're headed on the tourism front).

On the other hand we were listening to some great music.

When we had crossed the mighty Mojave River (oh god, do I wish I had a picture of that. Imagine a sandbox with a rut down the middle) we got to the thriving town of Barstow where we had to do a little navigating. Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time might remember that I'm also directionally challenged. It would not be untrue to say that I can get lost in my own bathroom in the dark. (Reading over my list of shortcomings, I'm a little challenged to come up with anything I can do, actually).

I got us lost, is the upshot of all of this. For the first time, but not for the last. And as we were driving in circles, able to see the highway but not get to it, this is the sort of thing we were surrounded by...

That's a picture you'll never see in California tourism brochures. The Gubernator is not in this building. Sometimes I feel bad that I'm as snarky about the desert as I am, but what can I say? It did make me feel a little better when we stopped for drinks just over the Arizona border and and the store clerk asked me where I was coming from. I had barely gotten the word California out of my mouth when she snarled "God, I HATE this place" and went on a five minute anti-desert tirade. I backed out of the store gingerly, afraid of a potential postal moment on the one hand but seeing her point of view perfectly on the other. It seemed rude to hop in my car and peel out joyfully, so I kept a glum face until I was out of her sight. It wasn't easy.

We drove on. Lunch under our belts, perfect weather, open roads - so far so good. Except for the fact that my cell phone mysteriously died during lunch - and it was our only one - it was smooth sailing. I was taking my turn driving again as we went up a series of long grades leading into Kingman, Arizona. Up ahead of me, this was the picture -

Trucker heaven. Behind us looked much the same. In the left lane next to me was another. Our little Saab convertible was surrounded by semis. I sped up a little so as not to get flattened and looked at the dashboard to see how fast I was going. I looked again. Casually, I said Um, how high did the heat gauge get when you were driving? My mother leaned into my lap to look at the gauge and say Not THAT high and then she might have cussed just a little bit.

And as the long grade extended in front of us and the trucks all around put pedal to metal, the little needle crept slowly into the red.

to be continued.