22 May 2010


I own one of the most valuable material possessions on earth.

It is small. It weighs maybe an ounce or two. It isn't a work of art or a thing of beauty.

It isn't easily sold or traded. It can't be worn and no one would really want to show it off.

Yet people have given their lives to get it. They have left their homes, their families, risked everything, traveled thousands of miles with no guarantee of success - some on foot or in leaky boats or smuggled like contraband.

They wait years and try again and again just to obtain this thing that was sent to me in an envelope one day. If I lose it, I can replace it without much trouble.

By virtue of my birth, I have this priceless possession. It is a United States passport.

And yes, I am thankful, not just because it gives me the right to travel. It gives me the right to travel and come home. I don't always agree with everything my government does, but there are so many people who want to be U.S. citizens that I have to remember what a gift it is to be here.

Of course the thing that makes this country great isn't the government, but the people. Every time we express our crazy American optimism and openness, every time we use or entrepreneurial spirit, when we uphold human rights, when we act ethically instead of taking bribes and engaging in nepotism - we make this place what it should be, the kind of country people still want to come to for a better life. I want to live in a way that help make this a country worth dreaming of.

My mind, it is blown

I'm about halfway though Geneen Roth's "Women Food and God."

I don't think it is hyperbole to say that it is the most amazing book about food and diet and body image I have ever read.

It's not about religion or dieting. It's about our need to fix ourselves, about not living fully, and about emptiness and what it takes to fill us up.

I only got it yesterday and I have taken to reading it with my highlighter in my hand.

How about this: "Fixing ourselves is not the same thing as being ourselves." Yowza.

Since I started reading the book, I have already eaten three meals sitting down at the table with a tablecloth and flowers. I paid attention to what I was eating and how I felt.

It was hard work, too. As a compulsive overeater, I tend to eat while I am doing anything else - reading, watching TV, walking around. It felt odd, but good, to concentrate on the food and on my body.

The subtitle of the book is "An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything," and I think that it absolutely true. I'm looking forward to seeing what is ahead.

Small Pleasures

We don't have many colorful birds here. They tend to be LBBs (little brown birds) or crows, or seagulls. When the rare oriole shows up in a flash of sunflower yellow, it is always a thrill.

I had a discussion with my folks the other day about orioles. They see "their" orioles just a few times a year. I had seen "mine" twice this spring. My dad told me what their nests look like - little baskets strung between branches.

I had been hearing high-pitched squeaking outside, like a dog chewing on a play toy, but I couldn't see where the sound was coming from.

Yesterday I saw this out in the fold of a banana leaf:
I found an oriole nest in the banana tree

I got the chair out and stood up to find two fierce little baby orioles glaring up at me!
Two tiny orioles, swinging in the banana leaves

21 May 2010

Friday Crankies

I am going to be cranky in this post. Feel free to skip.

Cranky Item #1
On Monday, my ex-coworker Matt sent me an email: "Want to meet for lunch?"

I figured, since I had already screwed around all morning, why buck the trend? I said yes. We made arrangements to meet, along with another friend, at "The Chinese restaurant across the freeway with the dirty fish tank." We know how to party, people.

I got there and they were waiting outside for me. I hugged my one friend, then went to hug Matt, who said "Oh, no, I'm sick."

I looked at him like he had just told me he had a full diaper. I mean, WHAT? I'm not a super cleanfreak Monk-style germaphobe, but COME ON people. MATT CONTACTED ME. When he was sick. To spend an hour in close contact.

Was this lunch really necessary? No, especially since Matt mostly sat there, sick and miserable, while my other friend and I chatted.

And now? Now I feel sick. Three days before I start a new job. I am SO looking forward to being in the midst of a full-blown cold while I start a new job, since I don't feel like I can be absent the first week.

Why are people idiots when they are sick? Germs exist, people. If you can stay home, stay home. Gah.

Cranky Item #2
I'm helping this woman out with a project. We met at her house last time. This time when we were talking about another meeting, she said 'I'll come to your house."

Excuse me? Did I invite you to my house?

My mom drilled it into my head that you don't invite yourself places. Is this not a thing?

Maybe she was trying to be polite by suggesting that I not drive all the way over to her place. But she knew I would be in her neighborhood - I had told her that before.

In any case, my house is not terribly visitor-friendly. There is a chair for me, and a sofa for Goldie - and the sofa is covered in dog fur.
Goldie is always so tense and nervous

There's no room for anything else - it's just 500 square feet. Good friends come over and suffer with the dog hair, but I don't expect random strangers to.

So, no, I will not be meeting you at my house. That's why Starbucks was invented.

20 May 2010

A ray of sunshine

When I went through the grocery line the other day,Mel just spontaneously told me all about how things are looking up for him.

"It's been so dark for so long," he said. "It feels so good to have it change."

Yay Mel. I was happy to hear his update & thought you might be, too.

18 May 2010

Madam, surely you jest - the horror of the Yosemite West/Mariposa KOA

Into every vacation one horror must fall, right? It wouldn't be a trip without something to make you lose your shit composure. It's why we travel - to go out into the world and find what is out there...and inevitably some of it is maddening, frustrating, disgusting and stupid.

CC and I spent the first two nights of our trip at a basic motel in Mariposa, 35 miles outside the gates of Yosemite. It had everything we needed - comfy beds and a TV with cable. On the first night, we flopped on the beds, drank rosé wine and watched the 2-hour finale of America's Next Top Model. Perfect girly vacation, so far.

The motel was fully booked for the weekend, so for days 3 and 4, we had arranged housing at a KOA "Kampground" somewhat nearer western gate of Yosemite. CC said her "friend" had told her the KOA was a nice place. I was skeptical because I remembered KOAs from my youth.

When I was a kid, my family camped a lot and we considered KOAs the campground of last resort. They always seemed to be little more than dirt parking lots kitted out with the most minimal, rundown and cheesy facilities. I remember showers that were alternately freezing and scalding...laundry rooms with dustballs and spiders in the corners...sad-eyed, filthy children chewing on cold hot dogs as we walked past to the unheated swimming pool.

On our way into Yosemite on day 3, we drove through the Yosemite West/Mariposa KOA Kampground and, much to my surprise, it looked nice. Leafy and cool, with a little lake and these tiny log "Kabins." One of the kabins was to be our home for the night, but it was too early to check in, so we continued on to Yosemite and returned just as the sun was setting about 8 pm.

The office was closing and the clerk was locking up, but she told us the key was inside our kabin, which was across the lake. We drove across a long bridge, down a gravel road, past a bunch of RVs and found our place, K22, which looked charming as hell from the outside. It had a little wooden swing on the front porch, a barbecue grill and a picnic table outside overlooking the green lake.

We walked inside. Hm. One small room with a double bedstead with a thin, plastic covered mattress. A fanlight in the ceiling. A tiny table attached to the wall. Another very small room with 2 bunk beds jammed in. And...and nothing.

"CC?" I asked. "Where's the bathroom?"

We looked around hopefully, comically, as if another door might appear that would lead us to the facilities. We walked outside, all the way around the Kabin, still with a wisp of possibility.


We stood around outside with our hands on our hips, peering into the falling darkness for some sort of bathroom nearby. CC dug out the little map they had given us. It is copyrighted, so I have taken the liberty of producing my own version:

The nearest bathroom - and running water - was about 1/4 mile away down a gravel road, over a bridge.

Have I mentioned that I have the World's Tiniest Bladder? And have I told you about the blisters I had all over my feet from hiking around all day? No?

"Not acceptable!" I barked. "This is ridiculous."
"It will be fine," said CC. Have I mentioned that CC is the most positive-thinking person on earth?
"No it won't!" I yelled. "I am not meant for this type of thing!"
"I'll walk you to the bathroom," she said. "I have a flashlight."
"Oh, yeah, right, three times a night we're going to walk 1/2 mile round trip to the bathroom in the pitch dark over a bridge in an area with BEARS," I shot back. "No, we aren't."

So then, at my insistence, we drove back down to Mariposa in a futile attempt to find a motel. The 10-mile trip down was silent and tension-filled. Occasionally CC would try to placate me and I would snap at her. We scoured Mariposa's eight motels and one charming inn, but the only room we could find was at a filthy Super 8 - one king bed in a smoking room.

After holding my head in my hands a bit, I decided no. Even getting eaten by bears was better than that.

The drive back through the black night to the Yosemite West/Mariposa KOA was even more silent. I could feel my shoulders creeping up around my ears and my back muscles locking up.

I walked in the kabin and threw my stuff on the double bed. I was in such a foul mood that I didn't even put on the pretense of asking CC if it was ok. I relegated her to the bunk beds with no consideration whatsoever. As I put my sheets on the plastic mattress, she said "It will be FUN!"

"Don't you even try to make this ok," I hissed.

I laid on my bed blankly looking at the glaring ceiling light (the only light there was), a bottle of warm screw-top chardonnay clutched in my hand. I didn't have a cup, so I drank out of the bottle. The warm wine was so awful that I could only choke down a couple of swallows before I abandoned the hope of reaching drunken oblivion.

I could hear the sound of CC flipping the pages of a newspaper in the other room and people crunching through the gravel on the long walk to the bathrooms. I laid there thinking of how I was going to get through the night - should I pee outside on the ground? Make the walk, even though my feet were shredded? Or...

I spotted the plastic trash can, which was lined with a plastic bag. The light bulb went on over my head.

Yes, I did, my people. I got up three times that night and squatted to pee into a trash can. I put some paper towels in for sound dampening and stuck it out on the porch between uses.

I felt pretty bad that I was leaving the staff a trash can full of pee, but I was also furious that they would rent me a toiletless kabin for $110 a night.

When we were leaving before the office opened in the morning, I wrote a note on the pay envelope, asking not to be charged and explaining my issues with the kabin and telling them we would not be staying a second night.

"Do you feel better now?" CC asked.
"Let us leave this wasteland and brush its dirt from the hem of our robes and never speak of this again," I said grandly, determined to resurrect my good mood.

Breakfast at the historic Ahwahnee Hotel in the park, complete with brioche French toast and a courtly Romanian waiter helped me to put the KOA behind me. Later in the day, I apologized to CC for my bad behavior.

When I got home, I checked my bank statement online and of course, they had not removed the charge.

I emailed them and asked for a refund, given that our lodging was actually not lodging, but a cramped, facilityless hellhole on earth. They sent this charming reply:
Your reservation was made online and it does have what each kabin has. It isn't the campgrounds fault you didn't read what you reserved. You could of chose a lodge with bathroom and kitchen. The kabin you chose is exactly 200 foot steps to the restroom and we do not have bears.
Have a good day
Yosemite Mariposa KOA

Then I didn't feel so bad about the pee. People who don't use apostrophes and who don't know that it should be "could have" instead of "could of" deserve whatever they get.

17 May 2010

The Layoff Chronicles: The End

Looking back on it, getting laid off was pretty great.

If I had had a couple kids and a spouse and a big mortgage, it would have sucked bigtime, but as a Bachelorette on a Budget, it wasn't as hard as I had thought it would be.

I cut way back on my expenses, hunkered down, and quite frankly enjoyed the heck out of not having to get up and go to work 8 (or 9 or 12) hours a day. I woke up late, took the dog on long walks and went to the morning class at the gym. The simple life suits me because, well, I am quite simple.

While I was off, I kept really busy. I worked my butt off doing freelance, started ghostwriting a book and spent more time shepherding my folks around to doctors and hair appointments.

But those days are about to be over. I HAVE A JOB!

More importantly, I have a job that I WANT. I had been rueful about the two jobs I got passed over for - especially the first one, because I spent about a month dangling, thinking I was about to be hired, before they cut me loose. But now I am thankful I didn't get one of those jobs, because I would have missed out on an opportunity that, so far, seems perfect for me.

I get to write more. I get to use my graphic design skills. I get to use the weird obscure technical knowledge that I gained from my last job. I get to work with some old friends. And I get paid over 10% more than at my last job.

Weird how it all worked out.

I start next week. I gotta start honing my getting-up-at-a-reasonable-hour skills again. I'm also going to have to work on my juggling skills, because I still have the ghostwriting to finish.

To celebrate getting hired, my BFF CC and I took off on a girly adventure. We packed up the Bluemobile and headed for Yosemite National Park. I had never been there before, and let me say this about that: those Ansel Adams photos? Don't even begin to touch the beauty of the place.

My eyes got filled up with the majesty. Sometimes I had to concentrate on the fat butts of my fellow tourists as they waddled up the trails, just to give myself a break.

Driving to the park on the first day, I kept going around corners and thinking "It can't get more beautiful than this." And then, going around another curve, it did. Everywhere you turn, there is something that takes your breath away.

If you look up while you are sitting on a bench outside the visitor's center, this is what you see:

That's Upper Yellowstone Falls. Right below that, there is also Lower Yellowstone Falls. Double falls! For the price of ONE falls.

You can go up to the top of the valley and see this:

350 pixels really doesn't do it justice. If you can stand up there and not get a little verklempt, your heart is made of stone.

And if your friend CC talks you into going on a trail ride, you might get to make a friend like Ringo:

Ringo was quite nice, except for trying to crowd the mule in front of him, a move that got him kicked in the chin a time or two. Good thing I am an excellent muleswoman. That's kind of a lie, but I managed not to fall off, at least.

CC's mule was a whiter shade of pale and is named Vegas:

What happened on Vegas will have to stay in Vegas.

But let me warn you - when you ride a mule, you sit on parts of your body that are not used to being sat upon. Yowch. My lady parts may regain feeling sometime before the end of the year, if I'm lucky.
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