Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Village and its Surroundings

Our Georgia home is in a village that seems to be both hidden and secret. On a hill, visible from my living room window, is the best supermarket in the Atlanta area. Especially on weekends, when the staff parks on our neighborhood streets, hundreds of people visit the market, yet when I tell people where I live, most have never heard of Scottdale at all, let alone the Scottdale Mill Village. Many have been to our market and even those who shop their regularly have no idea, until I tell them, that down the hill from the market is a secret historic neighborhood.

(Maybe I should stop giving away the secret!)

The neighborhood was once a company town for a cotton mill that existed from the turn of the twentieth century until the 1980's, if the information I've been given is correct. When I looked up the public record for our house, it said that the house was built in 1915, the same year as the mansion in which our Portland apartment was located. I mentioned this to a neighbor who told me no, 1915 is just when the houses got entered into the tax records, but they are much older. I think she said some were built in the 1890's! but I could be wrong. In any case, our house is about a hundred years old. The owner of the mill built the homes for employees and their families. Ours was a "three-room" house, and if you don't count the bathroom, it is three rooms--a kitchen, a living room, and a bedroom. The three-room house, my neighbor told me, was for a family of four.

Many of our neighbors were born in one of the houses in the neighborhood, although they live in different houses now. These are the neighbors who are able to tell us stories and history.

Between our neighborhood and the market is a barrier of forest. The forest was much larger until a few months ago, when seemingly overnight, it was cut down to make way for an expansion of the market. Opinion on this issue throughout the village is varied and in some cases, passionate. I am just glad that the little forest barrier we have still exists, and I hope it stays. It makes my daily walks varied and interesting. There are always new birds and flowers to see.

Besides a collection of historic homes, trees and birds, and an amazing place to buy food, our neighborhood has some less idyllic surroundings.

Our neighborhood sits between the market and a busy street, one of the main roads of the Atlanta/Decatur area. The road bends, forming a semi-circle (sort of), and our neighborhood sits in that sort-of-semi-circle. The hill keeps out most highway noise. However, very, very close, just on the other side of that main road, are train tracks, so occasionally, a train will come by with its loud, blaring horn. Near the train tracks is the steel mill, from which the smell of varnish occasionally drifts into the neighborhood, but usually, it causes no disturbance other than some strange noises. Late at night, the high-pitched mechanical noises sound like something from a science-fiction movie. HM can't hear as high of pitches or as distant of sounds as I can, and so until I met someone else who'd heard them, I questioned my sanity.

Driving to our neighborhood from the Emory area or from downtown Decatur, an industrial area is all there is to see, making the existence of a quaint neighborhood seem even more unlikely. If one were to leave downtown Decatur, for example, and head in our direction, the sights would include a lot of car repair places with old cars out front, a huge strip club, some large lots shielded by chain-link fences, some secondhand stores, more car-related businesses, some property owned by MARTA, a bus depot, and finally, the market.

On our first day in the neighborhood, HM and I went for a few walks to explore and to buy food. Most of our belongings, including cookware, were still on a moving truck, so we didn't have much to do besides walk around; this was partly also because we needed to find something to eat. In one direction we walked, with no sidewalks and mostly dirt paths very close to the road, to Kroger and to the Last Chance Thrift Store. (I think this might have been the day I found a suit there for $18!) In the other direction, we walked up the hill, most likely with a plan to go to the market. We saw a sign that piqued our interest, however. It said Scottdale Bakery Outlet. I don't think we noticed that in the lot behind the building were large Egyptian-style statues, unceremoniously stored next to some unglamorous trailers. We turned toward the small strip mall where we hoped to find a bakery outlet. In my experience growing up, a bakery outlet was a store that had stuff that food companies for some reason didn't want to or couldn't sell at regular grocery stores and the outlets would sell them for really cheap. When I was a kid, I'd get brownies and blondies and discontinued Celestial Seasonings tea at an Arnold Bakery Outlet.

We may not have noticed the Egyptian statues in the back, but as we approached the store, we noticed the Egyptian statues decorating the front of it. "Maybe it's an Egyptian bakery outlet! Maybe they'll have pita!!!!!!" I exclaimed happily.

But as we continued, the storefront facing us looked nothing like a bakery. I'm writing this from a memory that could be inaccurate, and I won't be going back to confirm these details for reasons I'll explain further down. Behind the big glass window was a velvet curtain, I think dark red or dark purple, and a paper-and-Sharpie'd sign about a bookstore, or something. The building looked closed. We may have even tried the door, so determined to find discounted pita. It was locked. As we later learned, despite the misleading bakery sign, it is actually a religious building, a meeting place or a temple or something for the Nuwaupians.

The neighborhood suits us perfectly. It is secluded, not isolated, but downtown and the law school are easily accessible. We have the benefits of being near a city, but we have a large yard that we are converting into a microfarm. Everyone is friendly, yet everyone also seems to maintain a healthy level of privacy; everyone waves at whomever they see (even contractors and strangers) on the street, but unlike in other places I've lived, no one's ever looking in or knocking on my window. The neighborhood has many impressive gardens, but the attitude is tolerant of works-in-progress, bug-eaten or weedy chaos, and gardens decorated with yard art that is made out of garbage. For example, when we tore up much of the lawn to put in raised beds with vegetables, everyone had kind things to say. No one has commented on the in-progress patches that I'm working on, and before my perennials and sunflowers started to get established, it was either bare dirt or sale papers I could barely keep covered by mulch. In progress is a post about our garden. Or probably a series of posts. I have been documenting it with pictures pretty regularly. I've also been documenting the forest barrier and how it's been changing. When I started my walks in the winter, I took a lot of pictures of sunsets. After awhile, I started capturing the land, as it was being cleared, and sometimes the construction equipment in the pictures. So now I have a purpose, to target the market expansion as it happens, especially at sunset, from the point of view of the village.

Overlap of past and present

When I was little, my family would drive to Florida about once a year. It was not until I was a teenager that I traveled by plane. A 21-hour drive, not a 2-hour flight, was my normal.

This was how I saw so much of the South. Many hours and many miles, but much of it only from I-95. Cars with different license plates, gas stations, Shoney's breakfast buffets, South of the Border billboards, and rest areas distinguished by something special in the vending machines (strawberry soda, mostly like Crush, or once, an event so special I sought to recreate it for much of the 90's--a Milkshake candy bar) or palm trees (which I might later learn were actually palmettos) planted near the Welcome sign.

Very often, we wouldn't get a hotel between New Jersey and Florida; we would drive straight through the night. My mom would sleep, my dad would drive, and sometimes, I would be awake, too, listening to music and talking with Dad. I loved the car ride, if not as much as Disney World, at least as a part of the vacation, an event without which the yearly vacation just wouldn't seem right. I loved being awake in the middle of the night, in a place I didn't live, looking out the window and staring at what seemed like thousands of stars. I felt like an explorer. And I especially loved being awake in the last hours of night and the first hours of morning, and that little bit of time in between when the sky would start to lighten and change colors.

When I began looking at and applying to law schools based on my advisor's suggestions, I noticed that many of them--Vanderbilt, Duke, UVA, and Emory, where I am now--were in the Southeast. The Southeast wasn't where I'd immediately planned the Jersey-to-Portland-to-???? path to take me, but I thought about these road trips and it seemed alright. Those road trips created most of my frame of reference for the Southeast as a place to move and live for my first year of law school and marriage; when I thought the place to which I'd be uprooting my husband, a place and possibly a region where he'd never been, I pictured Shoney's breakfast buffets, palmettos at rest areas, and misty sunrises over I-95. Even the day we drove from New Jersey to Atlanta, that image comprised much of my vision of our new life.

New images have filled my mind since we moved to Georgia. Also, here in the Piedmont*, with Appalachian geology, botany, and ecology, my surroundings more closely resemble the rural northwest New Jersey where I grew up than the Coastal Plain stretches of I-95 I saw as a kid in a car on the way to Disney World.

Over winter break, I started a routine where, if I didn't get exercise in some other way, I'd walk around my neighborhood four times. According to my smartphone, it's half a mile around, so four laps is two miles. At first I felt self-conscious about it, like people might be thinking, "Why is that woman passing our house for a fourth time?" but then I noticed that I wasn't the only person in the neighborhood walking in circles every day. Now that it's summer and it's hot and humid by 9am, I'm trying to walk in circles in the morning. Unless it's just rained, evenings are still hot and humid. One night last week, it was so hot that just the first half-mile lap made me tired! So, I try to get out before 8am. There's enough to see here that even walking the same route four times, I notice something new at every turn. It is in these early mornings that I've started to see something that reminds me my I-95 road trips in the South. Just one corner of my route looks out to the main road, and there, across the main road, by the train tracks and the traffic light, over the trucks and 7-11, is the sky, fringed with mimosa trees. The trees are now bedecked with sunrise-colored blooms. Mist hangs over the scene; the pink mimosa-colored sky and the pink sunrise-colored flowers above the trucks and the train tracks and the traffic light and the 7-11 behind a thin screen of mist are the image that merges this moment right now, the life I live today, with middle-of-the-night watching stars over the highway fade and brighten into a sunrise over I-95.

So far, I haven't been able to get a camera-phone picture to capture it successfully.


Albizia julibrissin, Persian silk tree, in the Fabaceae family, like mimosa, but apparently technically not a true mimosa.**

*Some geology, based on Wikipedia, Google searching, and what I remember from a land use planning internship in 2007: Atlanta and therefore, my home in unincorporated DeKalb County, lies in the Piedmont physiographic province, which is part of a larger Appalachian geologic something (region? I don't know the proper terminology!). Much of New Jersey also lies in the Piedmont region, but the part where I grew up lies in the Appalachian Ridge and Valley physiographic province. The parts of North Georgia where I've (so far) gone apple picking and hiking are either also in that Ridge and Valley province or they are in the Blue Ridge province. North Georgia especially feels familiar; when we are there, I am constantly exclaiming that some view from a hill looks IDENTICAL to suchandsuch in soandso place in Sussex County, NJ. Picking apples at Mercier Orchards is like picking apples at Pochuck Valley Farms, etc etc.

**I only buried this in the footnotes because it makes me a little sad; Albizia julibrissin is now classified as an invasive species in Georgia.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A cat story


sulking.

Artemisia the cat chases her tail. She catches it with her claws and teeth, and almost immediately becomes angry at whatever has made her hurt. Not understanding that it is her own face that did it, she resumes chasing that monster, her tail, with enhanced fervor. She attacks it with enthusiasm, and, shocked, she stops. She looks up, surprised at the pain, and in that time the tail monster has escaped. Artemisia regards it with renewed hatred and chases it again. She catches her tail and attacks it again, chases and attacks it again and again, with increasing savagery each time.

I intervene! I worry what will be the outcome of this series; I picture a trip to the vet, a bandaged tail, and a cone collar.

But sometimes I'm not quick enough, and I've been able to see the end of Artemisia's chase-bite-chase cycle.

Artemisia will jump up and tear across the house, bouncing off walls, running from room to room, eyes filled with terror.

Artemisia will run away from her tail.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

My Quarterly Update

I'm afraid I set too high of a standard for myself with my last post. After that, I felt compelled to only publish stories, and not the meandering rambles so typical of this blog. In the past I have written stories on this blog interspersed with the rambles. I've written narratives with a beginning, a middle, an end; a crisis, a conflict, a resolution; but feeling like I must do so made adapting my experiences to fit within that framework seem like an insurmountable challenge. These are a lot of words to express the thought most people would succinctly sum up as, "overthinking it."

Handsome Man and I have lived in Georgia for almost a year. I see that I have not written (although have probably drafted) a post about where in Georgia we live. Our neighborhood and our house seem like a good place to start - the beginning, the foundation, the home.

We agreed to move into our home without having seen it in person. The landlord seemed nice but also organized, responsible, and normal, from his ad and from phone and email conversations. We got a good vibe.

We were both completely aware of how dangerous it can be to make a decision on something administrative and important, like a house, based on a "vibe." A vibe combined with concepts such as "cute," "historic," and "space for a garden." That vibe can quickly turn into such realities as flaky landlord, irresponsible landlord, landlord with improper sense of boundaries who sneaks into the home while you are out to snoop and you'll discover to your surprise that a stranger has used your toilet while you were gone. (See the following here.) "Historic" and "room for a garden" can suddenly turn into "falling apart...cute...but dilapidated...in perhaps a charming way...but bordering on ramshackle nonetheless," coupled with "one small raised bed in the backyard, which is deep shade, and a lawn you're not allowed to turn into garden but you also have to mow, but I guess you could put some flower pots on the (partially covered and therefore shady) porch if you want."

We left New Jersey, about ten days after our wedding, on the morning of move-in day. Thanks to some traffic jams and one extraordinarily drawn out stop at a Dunkin Donuts (a story for another time), we arrived at our new home at close to midnight. Our new landlord was waiting for us with the keys and a few rolls of toilet paper and paper towels, because it occurred to his wife and him that it might not have occurred to us to pack such essentials. During another visit that same week, they both individually and separately said we could do what we wanted with the yard, that while we were paying rent it was our home to do with whatever we want except "just don't burn it down."

So, in short, taking a chance, choosing a home, and putting down a deposit without an in-person visit, based on some photos and a "vibe," worked out very well. Our apartment in Portland was lovely, but at least once a day, since August 1st, I comment to myself how fortunate I feel to be here, in a house, small but still a house, with no upstairs or downstairs neighbors, no one sharing the laundry machine except my husband, no one to be bothered by my noisy heavy walk or loud Jersey phone voice, no way that a stranger can fill my house with cigarette smoke; lucky to also be in a large yard, a shady backyard that I can and am allowed to turn into the woodland garden of my dreams, and a sunny front yard where I have the same permission to plant all of the herbs and vegetables and perennials and cutting garden annuals which have accumulated over the years (since roughly 2007) on my dream plants list and in my seed collection.

I have more topics to cover just to tell you about my home. I would like to tell you about the secret historic neighborhood where my tiny dream home is located, the wonderful food market visible from my living room window, and some of the other surroundings that are less idyllic than those I've described so far. I'd also like to switch scale to the small contents and surroundings of our home and life in Georgia. Its critters and bugs are plentiful and interesting enough to fill a post on their own.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Old-fashioned blogger

This title isn't totally accurate, as when I started blogging, that word didn't exist. But today the word is "blog," and so I didn't call this "old-fashioned online journal writer."

The Internet is irking me lately. I feel more and more like the type of blog I want to write and read no longer has a place. I don't even like to read much of the content I find, but because web content is designed to grab attention, I find myself reading. The trap set by headlines or pictures that make me want to know more leaves me, despite my disappointment, clicking link after link. It doesn't always work. For example, if I have to scroll through dozens of other pictures-plus-headlines to get to some piece of information I want, or if the link leads to a video (UGH! especially the kind that start playing automatically! with VOLUME! With no warning so you can quickly mute if you are in public! UGH! What's wrong with you, Internet?!), I end up closing the tab before anything can load, any ads, anything, and anything else that would attract me into the click-picture/headline-click cycle. It's like that slightly delayed loading time, that momentary white, empty Firefox browser tab, breaks the spell. If a page takes long enough to load that I have time to form a complete sentence of thought--"Wait! What am I doing!? I could be reading Bleak House!"*--then the website has lost me. Real life has gained me back.

So much about the Internet today makes me ask, "Am I old?" I prefer, "old-fashioned." I like long books. I don't have many thoughts that fit into 140 characters. I understand what hashtags are; I just think they're (most of the time, improperly used and therefore) silly! And of course I'm not anti-technology; I've worked in IT, I dream of inventing my own legal software but first I have to decide what kind of lawyer I want to be when I grow up, and I've recently said things like, "If only I could design a relational database to help me run my entire life!" (One module would be like the thing in Clueless that Cher uses to pick out her school clothes, linked to weather information and the user's personal calendar; for example, if there's a business casual event later in the evening and no time to come home and change, that would be taken into consideration. Oops, I'm digressing.) The point is, I love technology! Anyone who has seen me with my smart phone can attest to that.

I just miss some things about the old Internet. I used to have a blog, then called "online journal," in the late 90's. It was just text. I did have pictures on my website, but only on table of contents pages and the front page, or on separate "My Art" type pages. Online journals didn't include pictures in the text, because they took too long to load! (Although now, there is so much extra crap on webpages, that they still don't load quickly. I'd like to see a comparison of how long modern cluttered pages take to load compared to a text-with-maybe-one-picture webpage of the 90's.) In fact, web browsers had an option, which I loved (because we had dial-up), that would let you load webpages with TEXT ONLY. How I have yearned for that option when I find myself on Huffington Post or some other newsy website whose headline overpowered my urge to read Bleak House, a headline that shouted at me, "YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT THIS IS ABOUT" louder than my inner voice protesting, "But this isn't real news!" I would settle for a browser that, if it wouldn't let me block pictures, would let me block ALL VIDEOS from loading (let alone playing automatically) until I clicked, "Yes, I do want to watch this TV show. Allow!"

I know I am not alone. First of all, there's this about the "magazination of blogs." When I first read it, in 2012, I thought, "But I like some of those blogs!" However, it didn't leave me, like so many things we read on the Internet whose presence in our mind is ephemeral as snowfall in Portland. It stuck with me, because I agree. I, too, miss the storytelling.

I also heard an interview with Camille Paglia (linked here, currently available for free, but that might change!) with one of my favorite comedians and podcasters, Julie Klausner, and at one point in the interview, Camilla Paglia talks about how TERRIBLE design has become on the Internet. I thought, "I AGREE!" Someone has put into words what I am thinking! If you don't know what I am talking about, go on Facebook, click a link that someone has shared from a popular website, and just take in the mess of pictures and headlines and comments and pop-ups and gifs and videos playing when you don't want them to and ads and pop-ups. Content chaotically crammed into any available space. A friend of mine with a gift for analogy once said that he hated Times Square and that it was, "like walking through somebody's MySpace page." I loved that analogy so much, I used to use it both ways. ("This MySpace page is like walking through Times Square! Slow! Crowded! Music playing that you don't want to hear!") Well, a MySpace reference may no longer be topical**, but it seems to me that every website on the Internet is like that now. Like walking through Times Square.

Where does that bring me and my blog? I don't want to stop writing, just because I might be old-fashioned. Maybe there are readers still out there who enjoy stories. I'm not sure what the future of Botanylicious will be, but I do know that my flying cat masthead is too good to let go to waste. So Botanylicious will continue into 2014. Happy New Year, readers, if you're still out there.

And because I don't hate everything about the new Internet, I present to you a picture of a cat. Her name is Kokusho, she is about nine months old, and she was a stray that we adopted in September.



*The last sentence interchangeable with, "This isn't the news!", "It's sunny outside!", "The cat is doing something cute!", "I could be knitting!", "I was just supposed to be looking up my reading assignment!" and a variety of others.
** Here, I stopped writing to see if MySpace.com still existed. Before I inaccurately wrote something like, "MySpace is dead!" To my surprise, a website began to load that looked peaceful and uncrowded. I saw whitespace! But I was wrong, it was just a background image that was taking awhile to load.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

It's begun

Despite my determination not to become a stereotype, I certainly felt like one yesterday, rereading the same passage of my torts book over and over again, the Latin refusing to become any less incomprehensible (or Google-able...still need to find a good Latin dictionary on the Internet), becoming angrier and angrier as dictionary websites that might have been able to help me refused to load. HM came home from work to find me still in pajamas, still in the same chair he'd left me in, wild eyes darting around beneath a messy topknot bun, rambling about the Latin. "I was doing so well until I got to this part!" I insisted. "You read it!" I suggested, aware even at the time that this was completely nonsensical.

"I don't know what any of that meant," he said, quite possibly sneakily, quite possibly knowing what he was doing.

"IT SAYS THAT THE DEFENDANT SHOT THE PLAINTIFF BUT IT WAS AN ACCIDENT AND..." on and on and it became clear that despite the mess of Latin, I had understood some of the passage.

When we got to the part about various webpages not loading, no dictionaries, no Latin dictionaries, no dictionary.com, not even Wikipedia, he said, "Are you using Firefox?"

"Why would I use Firefox? Chrome is the best."

"Download Firefox."

I had to open Internet Explorer in order to do this.

HM explained that there is some bug in recent versions of Chrome where it updates Flash, but doesn't properly delete the old version of Flash, so that any website with any Flash on it (such as an ad) starts attempting to load both versions of Flash concurrently, causing the website to crash. So, for now at least, Firefox is the best.

Not only was it helpful to have access to several dictionaries (a regular dictionary, a legal dictionary, and a Latin dictionary), but I was also relieved to learn that my web page woes were not my brand new laptop's fault. Because what I was most upset about wasn't the incomprehensible Latin (I could always ask about that in class on Monday), but a fear that the brand new laptop I had just spent lots of money on was in fact garbage. That by, after four years of Linux use, trusting Windows again instead of putting my faith into Apple, I had made a terrible, expensive mistake.

The other issue was that the free legal dictionary app I downloaded (as a placeholder until I bought a real one--I'm not crazy!) was also garbage. Part of the panicky stress into which I had lapsed was that the definition I'd found for a key word in the passage made the entire thing really make no sense. Because the definition was wrong.

I had hoped to complete enough reading yesterday that I could take Sunday off, unless I felt like reading ahead. I still have Monday reading to do. That's okay; class hasn't even officially started yet, so I have plenty of time to establish a good study schedule.

If I don't find myself able to take off an entire day each week, what I will at least do is set aside time to read and write for fun. So this blog is not going to die (or continue to languish as it did this summer) just because I am in law school. It may or may not take on a bit more anonymity, however. Like most adults, I have to think about my web presence and how it reflects on me professionally. Believe it or not (from the recent sparseness of posts), I have spent some time thinking about my "brand" as a blogger, a writer, and have done things like secure "botanylicious" as a username on different social media platforms. But I don't want "botanylicious" to be an intentional representation of my legal career. I don't think it should be a secret, but more like a thing someone might stumble across accidentally and that's okay. I just don't think that I should intentionally attach a banner of kitten unicorns with bacon wings to my (eventual as-yet-to-be-created) LinkedIn profile, where I am supposed to seem serious. It is important to display a balance of the serious professional and the real person with outside interests, but kittens with bacon wings is over the line. My Flickr account with pictures of flowers--okay. Pictures of kittens with bacon wings and a story about getting blue cheese dressing in my hair--too silly.

So I plan to split my web presence as the law student from my web presence as a silly writer. I am just not sure how. Especially since I plan to write more often; I learned in my last grad program (the one I left for law school) that the more I wrote outside of class, the easier it was to write for class. All writing is writing practice.

I do have drafts of posts about some of the things HM and I discovered upon moving to a new part of the country. (Side note: aren't you glad I didn't rename this blog, "Big-Haired Jersey Girl in Oregon In the South"?) These posts were drafted before our encounter with the giant insects I kind of should have known to expect but sort of forgot about until face to face with one. So pretty soon I'll start compiling drafts and paragraphs from emails into some stories. But for now, I have some reading to do.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

It's 1988!

Handsome Man and I drove from my parents' house in New Jersey to our new home in Georgia in one day. Google Maps on my phone said it would take twelve hours. Whatever maps iPhone uses said it would take almost fifteen hours. MApple/iMap was correct, because apparently it is clairvoyant and predicted a car fire in Virginia and car accident in South Carolina. (And so the Apple v. Android-or-Ubuntu debate continues.)

What maintained our sanity during the drive, as we sat for about an hour between mile markers 137 and 133 on I-81 in Virginia, and as we detoured through an airport to get around the South Carolina traffic jam, were the podcasts I downloaded during the week. In addition to our usual Radiolab and Planet Money, I added some suggestions from a web article I had read right after the wedding, shared by someone or something on my Facebook feed, about the best podcasts for long road trips. Here is the article. New to us from this list, and most enjoyed by both of us, were Here's The Thing and Good Job, Brain!. I also downloaded one episode of, but did not listen to, The Accidental Creative, and one episode of A Way With Words which I enjoyed but I am not sure Handsome Man did. It wasn't as big a hit as Good Job, Brain! Handsome Man and I either discovered or developed a shared love of trivia during our time on a pub trivia team in Portland.

Anyway, one of the episodes of Good Job, Brain! was about music. The link is here. At one point the podcast brought up the Chicago World's Fair and a song with no copyright referred to as, "The Snake Charmer's Song." This is where I discovered something odd. I think I even paused the podcast to exclaim about it to Handsome Man. The podcast gave the song lyrics wholly unfamiliar to me. Handsome Man's memory of the song was in accordance with the podcast's. He began to sing, "There's a place in France, where the naked ladies dance..."

"Wait!" I exclaimed. "That's not at all like the version I know!"

"I wonder if it's regional," I mused, "like playgrounds in different parts of the country have different words for that song. Or if Sparta Alpine School just had its own version. It was about Mars, not France!"

"Mars?" he asked.

I began to sing the following:

On the planet Mars
Where the ladies smoke cigars
Where the men wear bikinis and the children drink martinis

When the snake is dead
They put roses in its head--

Here, Handsome Man interjected, "This doesn't make any sense!"

"I know!" I replied, before continuing:

When the roses die
They put diamonds in its eyes
When the diamonds break

IT'S 1988!

I faltered a little before that last line, as it suddenly occurred to me that out of that whole nonsense song, this last line was the most nonsensical of them all. What does 1988 have to do with anything? We didn't even start singing this song until 1992! Was this a mishearing on the part of someone? Am I misremembering? Did anyone outside of Sparta Alpine School in Sparta, New Jersey, sing a version of The Snake Charmer's Song remotely like this one?

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Foreword to "It's 1988!"

Every morning I would wake at dawn. The coffeemaker had been set up with a timer the night before, so that coffee would be waiting for me as I sat down to a breakfast of a hard-boiled egg and a whole grain muffin, a new batch made once a week, different recipes as I worked my way through the muffin and then the quick bread (adapted to muffin) section of The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book. If I'd forgotten to do so the night before, I'd have to charge my phone, and the breakfast would then become a little more leisurely, but the time would be spent productively reading and writing. I would drink a pint glass of water before changing into my running clothes and leaving.

While running, I listened to news podcasts (downloaded during breakfast) in German or French to help my language skills. I remember thinking this gave my morning routine the appearance of sickening virtue--exercising and learning a foreign language at the same time. Actually many of the mornings I would listen to How Was Your Week? instead, and always when the foreign language news podcast ended I would switch to something fun and in English. Spilled Milk appeared regularly in the rotation, although on a run or long walk this just made me ravenously hungry. Maybe it pushed me to go a little faster toward home, toward the refrigerator.

I wrote often. I wrote drafts I planned to edit and post. But as tends to happen when I become too set in a routine, when I figure out how to get organized in the space and time that I have, sudden upheaval overturns my carefully manufactured systems. Learning how to adapt, to function efficiently and effectively without my systems, is a constant process.

I have written extensively on this blog about the carefully constructed system of grocery shopping and cleaning tasks assigned to specific days and spreadsheets telling me what to buy where, which governed my last year in New Jersey before suddenly, that system didn't work anymore, as I prepared to move to Oregon. I did not write (but the late fall of 2011 when I wrote very often and suddenly around the new year of 2012 quit writing--that's when this happened) about the car break-in of Christmas 2011, in which a suitcase containing nearly all of my work clothes was stolen. While not exactly a schedule or system, I had selected wardrobe pieces to match and coordinate and construct many work-appropriate outfits from a few pieces, to maximize what I had without buying too much. Do you see a common thread within these two systems? Saving money. I treated myself as though one misstep, one foolish purchase of socks or the wrong brand of flour, was almost a moral error. Like it was irresponsible and careless, as though the decrease of money I was able to put into my savings account that month was an actual numerical measurement of my own virtue. Not my value as a human being, but my ability to make wise, responsible decisions.

When these upheavals of my carefully-designed organizational systems occurred, when forces beyond my control upset them, I always told myself, "See? This is a lesson. You can't control everything!" A large withdrawal from my savings account to replace my stolen wardrobe did not equal a withdrawal from my moral worth; I needed to wear clothes to work, and it wasn't my fault that someone broke into Handsome Man's car. Furthermore, the construction of these systems presumes an ability to control everything. I always say that my systems help me function better in the case that everything doesn't go according to plan, so that instead of chaos, I have something slightly less organized than my system but organized nonetheless. Yet in fact these systems sometimes prove to not be adaptable enough; they don't survive big changes (what I call an "upheaval"), and they don't transition well into a system that does work in an unstable period.

A new personal goal is to adjust this, to establish systems tat are adaptable and flexible. I may have, in the past several months, come up with a good system for living out of suitcases.

It wasn't just my clothes that got me worrying and kept me from writing at the turn of 2012. It was that I was thinking of leaving my graduate program. The idea of law school kept appearing, but at that time, I saw more risks than benefits into which I could put faith. I wrote on paper then, too, but none of it appeared here.

This is not the post I planned to write this morning. I planned to write something inane, something that might frustrate readers who observed a long absence of writing followed by my reappearance newly married and living in Georgia, not Oregon. I planned to dodge any serious issues completely, not to answer the question, "What happened?"

What I planned to write was simply the following: that I had a too-carefully-planned routine in place, of eating the same breakfast every day, drinking two glasses of water, going for a run and long walk while listening to foreign language news, followed by another two glasses of water and arm exercises with weights while listening to or watching something on a "to do" list; that this was interrupted by a need to go back to New Jersey on a one-way ticket; that I told Handsome Man that I would be gone probably a week, maybe two (prompting him to exclaim, "TWO weeks!?"), but I returned to Portland only to move; that some sad things happened in the first third of 2013, and that is all I will say for now; that Handsome Man and I are married now; and that Handsome Man and I now live outside of Atlanta, Georgia, in a very tiny, very cute house with a huge yard.

After this, I planned to write a little about our new location, our new home (with pictures), some non-serious things floating around my head (I'm trying to think of ways to adapt salad rolls to cuisines other than Vietnamese, so they will appeal to a wider array of palates aka my parents), and a silly memory conjured by a podcast listened to on the drive from New Jersey to Georgia. However, this post has become lengthy already, and I have postponed going running (attempting to establish routine yet again) long enough for this morning. A post inspired by the podcast Good Job, Brain! will be up later this week. To any of my former readers who have stuck around after a many month absence, thank you for reading!