Thursday, May 31, 2012

Picture Yourself on a Boat on a River

It's always odd, what you think people will find interesting versus what people will find interesting. For example, I'm always surprised that some people find my being a former child actor interesting; I'm here to tell you it was a highly pleasant thing to do but, in the aggregate, is slightly less interesting and revealing than picking out bathroom tile colors.

(When looking to buy a house, I saw a bathroom tiled in shades of burnt orange and lime green. Now THERE'S a mind which deserved close scrutiny, but possibly only by a trained professional.)

When it comes to homeschooling, one of the questions I've been getting a lot lately is "What does the classroom look like?" I can only imagine this is because people who don't homeschool assume the homeschool classroom is either alarmingly organized, with a flag in the corner and those cardboard cutouts of Pilgrims, or consists of a table and chair which are actually stacked bags of cat-litter. Honestly, most days I could point to her bed, where Daughter sat and read and wrote for the better part of the morning, or the  car, where just yesterday we had a lively discussion about the Renaissance which devolved into talking about the Black Death.

The conversation frequently trends towards the Black Death, if I'm involved. Or Ebola. Sometimes Typhus, if I'm feeling lighthearted. These are the sorts of topics I find more interesting than most other people. Come to think of it, this might be why people ask me about being a Former Child Actor, to get me off the words Exsanguination and Mass Graves.

In any case, I'm offering a glimpse into my world, but it works better if you participate. Over at Pinterest, I've put up a picture of the kid's desk and some of her bookshelves. For those of you who have been playing along at home for a while, this is the wall-unit Consort created for her; I'm pleased to say it's aging better than I am. Bask in the clutter. Note the books. Consider how the bookshelf stretches across the rest of the wall. Ponder where my retirement money has gone.

And now, YOU! I want to see where your family learns. It can be full time homeschoolers or it can be where the kids do their homework after getting home from school. It could be where you are slaving away at your degree, and because you are an adult and still managing to learn new things, I will gape at you in polite wonder. The point of Pinterest is to be inspired; who knows? Maybe something you're doing-- some little creative bolt from the blue--will make someone else's homeschooling space better. Don't leave me out there alone; show me how your family learns. If you send me your email, I'll accept you as a contributor to the page. If it starts getting unsightly, I reserve the right to shut it off, but I don't think it will come to that.

And after you put up your education picture, reward yourself by searching "Bathroom tiles." Now THAT'S interesting.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Signal to Noise

(Read the previous blog. I can't force you to do it, but this will be the ravings of a madwoman without it.)

So, the noise. First, I lay in bed and listened to it for about five minutes, dully hoping it would go away. Then I placed one of the adorably coordinated shammed pillows over my head for about five minutes and dully hoping it would muffle the noise. Then I lay there for about five minutes and contemplated how if I had become a Buddhist twenty years ago as I had threatened to and meditated all this time, I’d be able to accept the noise for what it was and equably sleep through it. None of these things made the noise any less itself or any more appealing. Finally, curiosity overcame retroactive Buddhist-longings and I went in search of it. It came from the bathroom, I discovered. Actually, from a wall in the bathroom. Specifically, from a spot in the wall in the bathroom. The place from which the sound sprung was no larger than my hand, but it made up for its size by being the most annoying sound in the world. I did what any reasonable person awakened at 3:30am in a bed and breakfast would do; I grabbed my iPhone and taped the sound. I’d like to say I did this because of my naturally scientific bent, but really I did it so I could send it to Consort and annoy him as well.

Readers, here is the noise. Please note the picture of me holding up the iPhone is from a later time, because I really only planned to annoy one person with this. Once I realized I would blog about it, we had to create a visual so I could attach it. But the noise is real and non enhanced; my phone was about six inches from the wall.

Restful, isn’t it?

I sent it to Consort at 3:50 and tried to read. In case you’ve wondered, Joan Didion is a compelling writer but cannot be fully appreciated over Hector. Yeah, I named the sound. I named it because if I’m spending the night with something in a b&b, I really should know its name. Also, I appreciate a proper noun which is also the verb of what it was doing to me. Ten minutes later, my phone dinged; Consort had written back.


I typed back:

I have no idea. More to the point, WHY ARE YOU AWAKE?

After a few seconds:

Got up to go to bathroom. Heard the email come in.

Hector was powerful; he had awakened someone over a hundred miles away.

The phone rang. Without preamble, Consort said “Take me to the noise.”

We all walked to the bathroom together. I held the phone to Hector. Hector buzzed happily in response. I put the phone back to my ear.

“Hmmm,” Consort said in his Oh, I do love a mystery at 4:00 in the morning voice. Honestly, potential engineering issues in what he thinks of as the shank of the evening meant I probably didn’t need to get him a Father’s Day present now. “It’s the bathroom, but it doesn’t sound like plumbing. It could be electrical. Did it sound electrical to you?”

There was a pause. That darling man has known me fifteen years and still he thought this was a conversation I’d contribute to.

“I’m sorry,” I said politely, “I was rolling toilet paper into ear-stoppers and was pretty much ignoring you.”

“Wet them,” he said absently, “they’ll fit more tightly.” He then got outraged. “I can’t believe the owners aren’t around to take care of this!”

“They are,” I said, dampening toilet paper, “They live right downstairs in the back. They said to come over if I had any questions.”

There was another pause. Consort took in what I assume was sort of like a cleansing breath.

“And,” he said in a slightly strangulated tone,”This doesn’t strike you as...a question?”

“I don’t want to wake them. I’ll get them up here and the noise will stop. You know, like the car-noise.”

“What car-noise?”

“Never mind.”

Pause. Finally, he said, “I’m going back to bed now.”

“You should, you sound tired.”

In order to create white noise, I cranked the air-conditioner to top speed and then added a small oscillating fan I found and turned up high. There was a lot of air flying around. It was as if I had situated my bed inside a wind-tunnel or a photo-shoot for Cosmo, circa 1979. Hector sneered at my white noise, at my sodden-paper ear inserts. Hector and I watched the sun rise. At seven, I staggered downstairs and found one of the owners, a man who until that moment had assumed his early morning would involve making breakfast and not a hollow-eyed harridan waving an iPhone at him. I played "Andrew" the noise; I was gratified that he winced. I explained that I hoped he didn’t have a guest arriving early and expecting that room, because I was going to try to sleep until whenever I could, so that the audience at the reading wouldn’t think they had stumbled into an autopsy.

I crawled back upstairs, opened the door and heard silence. As with the car-noise, the minute I mentioned it to a qualified professional, it slithered away. I had the phone in my hand and was about to call Consort when the noise started up again. Hector was screwing with me. Finally, exhaustion trumped Hector and I slept, dreaming of a nation full of dial-up modems, coming for me.

Two hours later, I ambled downstairs. It wasn’t a full night’s sleep, but it was six hours sleep in total, and I can make six hours of interrupted sleep work if I attach a caboose of three cups of tea. The other owner, "Robert", made me breakfast, which was delicious. You all have heard about my delight in toast and I believe I’ve covered my feelings about pie before, but the third leg of the Table of Quinn’s Carbohydrate Delights is biscuits. A warm fresh biscuit and great lashings of tea later, I was almost myself. The owner and I listened to Hector’s tape. Robert looked at me oddly, opened his mouth, shut it again, and then said tentatively, “Have you ever had any...paranormal experiences?”

There are about eight cities in the world where you can ask this without fearing a side-eye and Los Angeles is one of them. I told him about the poltergeist who pestered our house after my father died.

(I’ll tell you another time, I promise. It’s good, but it’s even too digressive for me.)

“Well,” he said, sitting down at the table,”Then you should know we had a paranormal investigator come here after we bought the place. She said the woman who had owned the property originally was still hanging around and that, well, she has a crush on me. She seems to like your room and there’s been a couple of guests who’ve given me attitude when they check in and if they’re in that room, they complain about how the room is freezing. The room is at the top of the house, it’s never freezing. We think she gets mad at them.”

I was appalled; I had managed to offend both the living and the dead. Until now, the greatest concern I had about a bed & breakfast was having to make small talk before I brushed my teeth.”But,” I spluttered, “I didn’t even meet you last night! Your biscuits are delightful!”

“We’re fine,” Robert assured me. We both looked upstairs, towards Hector. He said supportively, “She’s probably just jealous that you’re cute.”

This was an adorable thing for him to say, because after an evening with Hector my only wardrobe-related question was going to be “What goes with midnight-black eye-bags which cover me to mid-calf?”

The reading was fun; Eduardo, the man who created the writer’s tour is an excellent interviewer and the audience was more sizable than I’ve had in some cities of millions. They sold out of my book, which I hadn’t expected and was awfully nice of the Idyllwildians to do. They even had their books autographed, which means they couldn’t bring it back the next day and get something they really wanted. The owner of the b & b came to the reading. In sum, everyone I might in Idyllwild was incredibly gracious and seemed pleased to have me there.

Well, nearly everyone.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Rest of My Life

It’s time to admit a shameful secret; my writing hasn’t led to free stuff. Not for me the offers sent to bloggers for this year’s It Bag, or tinted moisturizer or even dryer sheets scented like a Tahitian rain-forest; as of yet, no one has read my first book and suddenly felt a driving need to offer me a hat. This is probably because I don't write about objects I own, which makes me a bad candidate to start writing about objects I’ve just gotten. Also, I suspect, you send objects to people who are seen as aspirational, and I’m aspirational only if you’ve always longed to spill some of each meal down your shirt. Actually, no, I did once receive something. A few months ago, I mused on Twitter about how Swiffer needed to create slippers. I believe I even dubbed them Swippers, which tells you how often I Swiffer and how pet-fur cuts off oxygen to my brain. Within a week, the Swiffer organization sent me a pair of slippers with Velcro on the bottoms which cunningly attached to Swiffer-sheets. I sailed around the house on my Swippers, shrieking in delight at the cleverness of it all. Had that been the only offer I ever received, I’d consider myself a blessed woman with hair-free floors.

But earlier this spring, I was invited to read at a bookstore in Idyllwild, a scenic alpine town about two and a half hours outside of Los Angeles. Owing to the distance, the bookstore would arrange for my family and me to stay at a local bed-and-breakfast the night before. Not only that, but the bookstore would spring for  lunch the day of the reading. I tell you, I felt as if I had been called up to the literary majors. Yes, my clothing didn’t smell like a Tahitian rain-forest, but it would smell like an alpine glen!

Also, knowing me, it would smell like my free lunch because of spillage.

A month ago, the plans changed. I got my official reading date the day after we got the official date for Daughter’s last choral performance for this year. You already know they were the same date, right? Quickly, it was determined Consort would stay home with Daughter and I would go to Idyllwild by myself. My brain stopped having dreamy fancies of family hikes as a stag gazed benevolently down at us from a nearby crag. Truth was, the kid is no great fan of hiking and would have probably scared the stag off with her grousing. Now, my fantasies went to a baser and less sporty corner of my brain. “By the arms of Morpheus,” I thought breathlessly, “I could sleep.”

Sleep is a fraught topic around here. The kid is a homeschooler who is a night person. Consort is an independent contractor who is a night person and who also has insomnia. I am a day person who works from home- a home wherein there are two people who are night people-and I am a light sleeper. The dog is very irritated by the family of skunks who live in the front yard and who are night people. The cats sleep when it suits them and them alone. This means the house works something like Las Vegas in that someone is always up getting into something and, in the case of the dog, is sometimes very upset about something outside of their control. I cannot tell you the last time I had an uninterrupted night’s sleep. Every family member loves me, but they’re fixing to kill me. The thought of a falling asleep at one time and waking up seven or (please God) eight hours later with no idea of what had happened in between made up for the guilt I felt in missing the kid’s performance. I consoled myself that I had seen every other performance that year and if hearing Daughter walking around rehearsing counted for anything, I had already sat in that theater fifteen times over. Daughter was gracious about my not being there and kindly wished me a good night’s sleep. We actually had family conversations about how I was going to sleep for a whole night. Sometimes, it appeared the whole point of my going to Idyllwild was to participate in a sleep experiment where I would discover if I could still create a REM cycle.

The trip to Idyllwild from Los Angeles goes like this; you barrel out the 10 freeway for an hour or so in a stupor (The 10 West’s motto is At Least We’re Not the 5 North), and then head up a mountain for another hour or so. The mountain road is exciting if you’ve been putting off considering your own demise. It’s a two-lane highway which hugs the side of a mountain several thousand feet in the air with what I would describe as less of a guard-rail and more of a dental-retainer. I had no idea unimproved WPA road-projects still existed. You don’t just get to Idyllwild as much as you earn Idyllwild. The pastoral little village hove into view and my fingers released the wheel, slightly. I checked in to the B&B, admired the general pinkness and comfort of the room, found a quick meal and a small margarita (half-sized, as not to possibly interfere with my sleep), and came back to the room for some reading and, finally, sleep. I was in bed, lights out, by ten o’clock. The quiet enveloped me like a slanket. I was asleep within minutes.

The dream was odd. An old neighbor and I were sitting in the park, chatting about our kids when she looked at me and said, “Don’t you hear that?”

My eyes snapped open. It was unrelievedly dark in the room, nowhere near morning. Yes, I heard that. It was hard to miss.

NEXT: The noise. And the rest of my night.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Yeah, Don't Cross My Path

Yeah, it's kitten season! Or rather, crap, it's kitten season. You can quibble with these numbers, but even the most conservative estimates will show the shelters are going to start being inundated with kittens. Hard decisions get made.The public shelters usually will automatically euthanize any kittens who aren't weaned, because they don't have the manpower to take care of the tiny ones. Even the larger kittens are at risk of being euthanized if the cages are already full. Private shelters run out of room quickly, leaving people who spend many unpaid hours every month trying to do right by homeless animals in the awful position of turning away animals, and people, in genuine need.

Which is where YOU come in.


Reach out to a local rescue and utter the words "I can foster a kitten or two." Hear them sigh in gratitude. Watch as they hand you tiny shouting fuzzballs. Feel as they give you food, litter, and everything else you will need. Then, for a few days, or weeks, you get to wallow in the simple-minded peculiar joy which is kitten-sitting. If you choose to take on a bottle-fed kitten, know that you will have earned your crown in heaven. On the other hand, if you have a teenage child, a bottle-fed kitten will show them exactly how relentless a newborn mammal is, and that's never a bad thing for a teenager to see up close.

"But," I hear you saying, "I'll fall in love and want to keep the kitten!"

Maybe. Maybe this kitten was meant to be yours and I am merely a pawn in God's plan to have you buying Fancy Feast for the next fifteen years. Or maybe you get to revel in a kitten and then hand it back, knowing you can enjoy another kitten whenever you want, and it doesn't bother you that much. Or maybe you fall in love with that tiny pansy face but aren't in a position right now to have a cat, and you cry the night you take them back. I'm not saying that's a pleasant feeling, but if we only did things that made us feel wonderful all the time, a lot of very important activities would never get done. Think of it this way; your fostering saves a life, and wouldn't you agree a saved life is worth a few tears? If sending them back to a shelter where they might be euthanized if they aren't adopted horrifies you, reach out to a private, no-kill shelter. Either way, if you can do it, please do it.

Who knows? They could look like these guys:

I never said I played fair.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Every Rose Has Its Thorn

I'll tell you all something right now; I don't always love what my daughter wears. Sometimes, the color combinations jar the retina; other times, I'm fairly certain she'd be comfortable if the weather swung thirty degrees but will probably come to regret this ensemble later in the day. For the most part, though, I say nothing. I say nothing because she rarely misses and usually has a flattering, charming sporty/gamine chic thing going. I say nothing because we're not the same person and part of being a human is figuring out what delights you. I also say nothing because this "Saying nothing about Daughter's clothes" is a practice to get my brain used to a few years from now when I'll feel all sorts of things about what she wears and saying something will just lead to door-slamming and threats of tattoos. Usually, I find something to commend (the color, a creative use of contrasting patterns in the socks) and ignore the parts I wouldn't wear.

But a few days ago, Daughter and I were at the store and a girl about her age crossed our path. Daughter inhaled in delight and sighed softly, "Love that shirt."

Readers, the shirt basically looked like this:

I hissed softly and recoiled. Before I could construct something politic to say, the words "Not until I am dead" sprung from my lips.

Daughter looked at me and said "Well, okay then."

"I mean," I backtracked quickly, "I can see why the fringy bits are appealing and there's nothing nicer on a hot day than a t-shirt and..."

We enjoyed the silence. I gave up.

"I'm sorry, honey. This is the first time you've seen that style of t-shirt and I get that the novelty is delightful. But, see, that shirt and anyone my age have history."

I explained that in the usual path of modern fashion, styles go from the runway, to the high-end store, to the regular department store, to the kid's department, to limbo, where they wait a generation and are revived as delightfully ironic. Leopard print, skinny pants, cropped jackets; whatever women's style you can imagine has been created at every price-point. You can buy the cheap item and hope you resemble the socialite you saw wearing the couture version in W magazine.

All except for cropped, fringed tops. At their most aspirational, cropped, fringed tops shouted to the world "I'M ON TOUR WITH MY BOYFRIEND'S HEAVY METAL BAND! WE JUST GOT BACK FROM WISCONSIN!" The next level down was the band groupies, and then the groupies for the roadies. Finally, cropped, fringed shirts were sported by the last person I saw wearing one, a woman solidly in her fifties with three inches of black root, ten inches of peach hair, acid-washed cutoffs and dirty feet in flip-flops. She was in line in front of me at a gas station at 11:30 at night; I assume she was related to the five or twelve children Visigothing around her because of how she screamed "If you don't stop messing with Grandma's lighter, I'm going to tan your tails!"

I explained this to Daughter; we both glanced at the shirt, now a half-storelength away. Daughter pined a bit.

I said grudgingly, "How about this; fringed, but not cropped. Not over shorts."

Daughter sighed and said "I'll accept that."

Because she was a good sport and to prove I have no hard feelings towards the 80's as a whole, I bought her some day-glo ankle socks. Because, as well all know, girls just want to have fun.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Don't Wanna Wait 'Til Tomorrow

The good news is, I’m sometimes inspired. The annoying news is, it’s never when I can do something about it. For example, if I’m ever going to have the Big Idea—the one which eventually pays for my very own island—I have it in the shower, as I’m shampooing. So I rinse and I condition, all the while chanting something like “Edible paper clips, edible paper clips,” so I don’t forget. But by the time I reach for the robe, 99 times out of 100, all I can remember is that for one shining instant, I was going to rule the office supply/snack industry.

So you can imagine my joy this morning when I actually remembered something all the way through robe-tying. Jeteing nimbly from the bathroom, I accosted Consort and announced, “We need to change the wallpaper on my Twitter-page to the new book.”

Consort, no one’s idea of a morning person, blinked at me and waited for me to stop being three people and become one. Eventually he played back what I said and said agreeably, “You’re right. We can do that now.”

I careened to the office and turned to ask him how I did this again, because while I might someday create edible paper clips I never remember how to change Twitter wallpaper. Consort was still standing in the hallway, staring approximately where I had just been. We morning people are a trial and a torment to the other kind of people.

“Sweetheart,” I said, a trifle impatiently, “If you're too tired, you don't have to do it, but tell me how to change the wallpaper.”

“What’s your rush?” Consort asked, looking longingly towards the kitchen, with its paper and its coffee and its not-careening.

“I’m not rushing; we just agreed I could do that now.”

Consort rumpled his hair. “Yeah, now. As in, soon.”

And with that, I just solved 15% of the Pointless Spousal Discussions we’ve had in the decade-plus we’ve been together. When I say “Now,” I mean Ideally, before another minute passes. Consort uses “Now” when he means The omens and augeries have aligned, and this thing can be done at some point from this present second to when the Sphinx crumbles. And then one of us ends up sighing, because the other one is insane.

Since it’s my blog, I am obliged to note my definition of Now is correct and Consort is insane. But he’s a better person than I am in all measurable ways, so I’ll cut him some slack.

[He is, however, insane. And wrong.]

So, here’s the question; is there a phrase with your loved one, or a friend, or a family member, that you two simply don’t use in the same way?