Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Hot Dog Soup

It's been a quiet week so far, midwinter break. That means that I spent my day bouncing around in the house knowing that Nick sequestered himself in his room with only an occasional appearance. It's funny how the feeling of a house can tilt in an entirely different direction when someone is in it, even if they're quiet behind a closed door. It means that my day was more relaxed and I farted around more than usual. It means that I watched TV.

It means I made hot dog soup again. I invented hot dog soup the other day when Nick was hungry and I wanted him to eat something decent. I opened up the lunchmeat and cheese drawer and the only thing in there was crumbled feta, a hunk of old cheese, and a package of hot dogs. The vegetable drawer looked a little better, an onion, kale, cucumber, some half-dried mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes. I love when I come up with a new thing by looking at what's in the fridge and the cabinets.

Mike raised one eyebrow the other day when I told him I'd made hot dog soup. Today, he gave me the thumbs up.

The other day, he asked, "What's hot dog soup?" while at the same time wrinkling his nose.

"I started with beef broth. Then I added chopped onions, kale, garlic, and beef bouillon. I threw in leftover rice and shredded turkey, and a hot dog to give it the name."

I didn't say that I put in an old mushroom for the flavor but took it out and ate them before I served it to Nick. Nick hates mushrooms. Mike isn't a big fan of mushrooms either. I like the umami flavor. Umami is the taste of glutamate, inosinate and guanylate and aids in the digestion of protein by allowing the stomach to secrete saliva and digestive juices. I sound so smart, don't I? I read it on the Internet.

"It had vegetables in it? And he ate it?" Mike asked.

"I called it hot dog soup so he'd ignore the vegetables."

"Sounds like it worked."

"It did. He didn't say a thing about kale."

Today, I was out of fresh kale, but I had some purple Brussels sprouts I'd seen at the store. They were pretty, green and purple, so I bought them. Plus, they were local. Dr. Oz says that purple foods contain anthocyanins and promote eye and heart health. I love that you can categorize fresh foods by their color.

Hey, I said fresh foods. IT DOES NOT WORK WITH M&Ms! You do not get anthocyanins in purple M&Ms but I would eat them anyway. Mmm. M&Ms. Now you want chocolate, don't you? Me too.

Sorry about that.

I was talking about the value of purple foods. Right. I'll have to look for purple cauliflower and potatoes for Mike's heart. He can't eat Brussels sprouts. We don't mess with Mike's IBS intolerances. Know what I mean? One misplaced onion can ruin Mike's day. Mine too if we had anything planned.

So, today I'm the champion of hot dog soup with secret vegetables thrown in.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

My Funny Valentine

I sat at the dining table, scribbling my morning to-do list and other incoherent blather before my mind dulled into the daily grind and I forgot something that was essential for me to do. The last you heard about Blitz, he seemed to be stuck in an eternal land of fearfulness. Remember that I worried about him?

I called him dirty and afraid. He was.

As usual, Blitz walked past the legs of my chair and I dropped my left hand to let my fingers run across his back and tail as he passed. It was as soft as trailing my fingers through water.

Then, there was a thump. I stopped writing and looked down to see what was the matter. He had dropped and rolled over, paws reaching for my hand. I leaned down. He drew my hand to his head where I rubbed it and he folded his face into my palm. I could feel his canine tooth. That used to make me wonder if he was going to bite me next, the way a cat tired of rubbing sometimes does. Not Blitz. Not ever. Then, I rubbed his fuzzy dotted belly as he rolled back and forth and patted my hands with his paws.

Earlier this morning, as I trudged to the top of the stairs, Blitz lolled about on his back as Mike rubbed him all over. I had the urge to tell Mike to be more gentle but I could see that Blitz didn't need that. These days, he runs to Mike in the morning. It was another cat lesson. If that was what Seth did, run toward Mike when he got up in the morning, then Blitz followed suit.

Later in the kitchen, I noticed that when Mike used the can opener, Blitz ran in to be with him again. Mike had to stop what he was doing, bend over, rub the fuzzy belly, and explain that it was only corn today not tuna.

And when Nick got up late for school because he was still a little sick and I moved along behind him picking up dirty dishes and trying to help him get ready faster, he stopped, backpack on his shoulder, to take a moment to pet Blitz while he stood on the cat tree waiting for the farewell and have a nice day at school.

It was lovely to see, but the hasty-mom in me, the one that works to get Nick moving, gigged him because he was late and still dawdling.

"You need to get going."

Nick turned and glared at me.

"Hurry up. Everything is hurry up and I'm still a sick."

To him, petting the cats was an essential part of the morning.

Fuck. What a mom. I was just lucky he was well enough to go to school at all. His immune system had picked up so that he only missed two and a half days instead of his usual week from school.

Scientific studies have shown that pets bolster the immune system, that their dirtiness is actually a benefit. So maybe it was okay that my little cat still rolled in the litter box sometimes. Maybe it was okay that he was still a little bit dirty.

And maybe these days, he wasn't quite so afraid.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, February 12, 2018

A Review of 'Destiny's Gambit' by RJ Wood

When I was a kid, I did anything that gave me the sensation of flying, riding out of control downhill on a bike, pushing the wide arc in a circle behind a turning boat on skis, leaping out of a tree hoping to cling to the fat scratchy rope to get the biggest swing ever before landing on my on my feet and feeling that jangly-nervy feeling that meant I was doing it wrong, even grabbing the cables of a cargo parachute on a windy day and ending up bouncing ten feet into the air before being dragged across corn stubble left after the harvest. I did anything to feel space and time rush past me.

I never even minded sitting in the back of the boat waiting for my turn to ski either. I'd just lean out over the water and look at the water rushing under my fingertips just feeling the speed until Grandpa yelled for me to get all the way back into the boat.

The books I chose then reflected that same need, Peter Pan, Bednobs and Broomsticks, and later, Roald Dahl's book, Going Solo. I still pick adventure books this way, sometimes reading books that were intended for middle grades.

Can I read and picture myself sailing the skies?

Destiny's Gambit by RJ Wood, though I'm old and slower than I've ever been, is a book that lets me imagine I'm a kid again, feeling the rush of flying, of spinning, of rushing through a crush of flying asteroids or picturing the battle against enemy ships. It reads like a classic for middle grade readers.

The story begins with Jake, a kid who feels the frustration of being different somehow and his meandering in an attempt to understand himself. Jake finds a boat in the middle of a field of grass. It fuels his imagination and the next thing you know he's off on a nautical adventure. The cool thing is that he finds some intense friends along the way. How can you have an adventure without friends? The other cool thing is that this adventure is in space so things are different. Sound in a vacuum, remember that? And 'an object in motion tends to stay in motion' especially without gravity or friction or anything. And what about oxygen? Yeah, well that's all worked into Jake's universe. But the coolest thing is that when you're in space you have to ask yourself what up actually means. Jake gets used to all this stuff, plus some pretty radical 'people.'

If you know anyone who loves the rush of space and time, then Destiny's Gambit is a good read for them, even if they have grown up and slowed down everywhere except in their dreams.

The coolest thing is that Wood's next book Beyond the Moon is coming out soon! Check it out.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, February 1, 2018

'Dog Medicine' by Julie Barton

I read a lot of nonfiction about animals and their people, especially memoir.

A while back, I read the book Wesley the Owl about how a biologist gave over her life to adopt an owl. I loved it except that in so many ways, I knew I'd never be as patient or forgiving and that I should never bring a intractable raptor into my house no matter how much Nick begged to have his own Hedwig.

I read Dewey the Library Cat except that I wondered, seriously, how anyone in town with allergies managed to go into the library to borrow books before anaphylaxis set upon their throats. The nice thing was that Dewey seemed like an ordinary cat and I still loved him.

Marley and Me was the best story about the world's worst dog except that I hated how he died in the end of the story. It's killer how dog and cat books so often end with their deaths and then the author spends the next year or two writing about how much they were loved to hold onto them longer. I get that. I do. I write about the pets that I've lost too, just to remember this story or that, and hold onto them longer. But it's hard when you read about the life of a great friend and they always die in the end of the book.

I read Ravens in Winter and wondered at the dedication of a scientist who would spend Christmas night in bitter cold in a blind in the forest to get good results on the kindness of ravens. I wanted to hear his wife's story of his dedication. Did she pack him hot soup? I hope so.

In Homer's Odyssey, I loved how a kitten fighting against such odds turns fierce in his love and loyalty. Plus, we all want to read the good stories about the bombing of the Twin Towers because it was such a critical time in history. Where were you when the Twin Towers fell? I knew I could never live in New York City, not even if I had a cat to keep me company.

Not long ago, I picked up a copy of A Street Cat Named Bob from the Choice Reads shelf at the library. I loved it, but it had recently spent significant time with a homeless person because whenever I opened it up, that smell of homeless drug addict wafted up to my nose. I never was a fan of smellovision. This was similarly unpleasant but it faded to a reasonable foulness by the time the book aired out on my nightstand and I finished reading it. I liked the book, but I have a hard place in my heart for people who keep pets despite their inability to properly feed them. I know that Bob thrived in the end, but did he suffer in that beginning?

I keep telling my librarians about Finding Gobi and how that little dog ran 250km with the ultramarathoner for three days in the desert. I'm telling you, they're probably still getting money in the GoFundMe account intended to bring him home. Ah, I see they've closed it, but I guarantee that you'll want to make some kind of donation anyway after looking at the photos of that little dog running with his guy. The Humane Society still needs donations if you're interested. Last fall when I read about Gobi, it wasn't yet available except as an ebook and since my ereader had expired software, I read the whole thing on my computer in two days when I was supposed to be getting my work done.

There are the classics: All Creatures Great and Small and Travels with Charley

But I sat down to tell you about Dog Medicine by Julie Barton. I have trouble walking past that Choice Reads table at my library and Dog Medicine just leaped into my hands. I'm in the middle of Fire and Fury but I get aggravated at the corruption and ineptitude in the White House and need to take breaks while reading sections of it aloud to Mike in a strident tone.

The beginning of Dog Medicine is so incredibly hard to read, but I think it's important because we need to drop the stigma of mental illness from our culture. We're on our way, but we're not there yet. I wonder if Barton has read Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson. I hope so because Lawson is so incredibly funny and really helps to break that old judgmental mold. I wonder if Lawson has read Dog Medicine. Oh, I hope so.

So, I've spent the last two days reading Dog Medicine when I was supposed to be editing. I'm totally hooked and I want to sit down now and read until the end. And I don't want it to end. It's that kind of book, the ones that cast a spell on you, like J.K. Rowling wrote in Harry Potter, so that you walk around reading that book forever, walking into to light poles, reading while you burn the gravy, and furiously reading at stop lights that seem suddenly too short.

Go get a copy of Dog Medicine. I hope you'll love it as much as I do.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

No Bloody Nose

I know I'm trying to keep my mind on the environment, but the latest news has got the hair at the back of my neck standing on end, on and off for hours now. All you twitter people are not helping.

If Trump does a preemptive strike against North Korea, he will be dead wrong. Isn't it against international law to attack without provocation?

This 'bloody nose' that they keep talking about could easily escalate into a nuclear response. I live in range. It would be a colossal waste of life, environment, time, money, and resources to start this fight where only posturing had been evident in North Korea's actions. Hell, they're uniting with South Korea for the Olympics! How cool is that?

Does anyone else think Trump is so desperate to throw suspicion off himself in Mueller's Russia investigation that he's willing to throw the west half of the nation under the bus?

Scratch that. Of course he'd throw us all under the bus. We voted against him, against racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and intolerance on this coast. So if our half of the country is at risk of cracking off at about Idaho south to Arizona after a nuclear hit, then 2020 might be a go for Trump after all, right?

I'm beginning to understand why so many of my friends stopped watching the news and reading social media. At least they'll be able to live their lives in relative comfort until the moment their shadows are permanently thrown against the brick walls they'd been standing near at ground zero.

It's worse than denying climate change and cutting off Bears Ears. We may all be fucked, immediately fucked.

Thank you for listening, jules

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Standing Naked on the Page

So, I hadn't intended to take a break from telling you about cat and dog antics, but last night I lived up to my usual dorky self. It was awful.

Normally, I don't write about being a writer. Oh, it's a fourth wall kind of thing, you know, when Jim Carey looks straight into the camera and says, "Kids today, so desensitized by movies and television." I like to respect that fourth wall. I like to pretend I'm an ordinary woman who doesn't plan on writing four pages every time something awful happens to her.

"It makes life easier, you know," she says, looking directly into the camera. "Whenever bad things happen, we can turn it into art."

When I said there was an open mic in Redmond last night, Mike said I should go. I think he looks forward to having the living room alone sometimes, without me bouncing off the walls and trying to talk to him in the middle of a great video game mission with his friends.

So, I headed off into Redmond even though my new cataract makes night driving a little more challenging and I felt a cold coming on. I was just looking for excuses, my inner critic whispered in my ear. I was a wimp, a chickenshit, a pussy.

My inner critic is a bastard. In one breath, he tells me I'll never write a decent word and in another he says I'm a chickenshit for being afraid to stand up in front of people to speak or sing. He doesn't even care if he's inconsistent. He just keeps up the hateful language.

Sometimes, I mentally shrink him and put him under a bell jar so I can suck out all the oxygen. Silence. Silence is a wonderful thing for an artist. Over time, my inner critic's influence has been reduced but now and then, he pries up a corner of the bell jar and begins to whisper in my ear.

"Chickenshit. Nobody's going to be there anyway. You can't even stand up and read a bad poem in front of twelve other writers. Pathetic."

I hate being called pathetic. So I gathered a couple of my spare books in case magic happened and someone wanted to buy my book and I headed off into the dark night.

I got lost finding the place, VALA at Redmond Towne Center.

I pressed and held the button on my phone as I drove.

"Get directions for VALA," I said realizing before I was finished that I'd have to be more specific.

"Allah," my phone typed where my words were supposed to appear.

"I'm not prepared to talk about such deep topics," Siri said in the male Australian accent I set for it. The woman's voice grated on my nerves. Annoyed, I clicked the button on top of my phone and tried again. Wouldn't it be nice to have someone you could talk to about Allah?

"No. Get. Directions. For. VALA, at Redmond Towne Center," I repeated doggedly, fixing my error.

"Right. Directions for Bella," he said. Dumber than a doorknob. I clicked the button and tried again.

This cannot be what the police had in mind when they clarified that I could press one button to answer a call and after that I could get a ticket.


"Getting directions for Fairfax, Virginia," he said not reacting to my tone.


"Is there something else I can help you with?"

"Fuck, you stupid fuck!" And I switched him off before he had a chance to respond. The nice thing about AI is that you can end the conversation without having to be polite.

I pulled off the road and typed VALA into the map app that came with my phone. It said it knew just where I was going. I'd be there just as the party started.

"Drive 1.7 miles and your destination is on your left."

I started to breathe a little easier. I parked at the old REI lot and continued following directions on foot.

"Proceed to the route," it said.

Suddenly, VALA had skipped a half mile down the road. I returned to my car and prepared to drive. The location of VALA shifted to somewhere by the underground parking. Okay, so I drove into the parking garage.

"Proceed to the route. Drive 18 miles west on Redmond Way. Your destination is on your left."

I knew this wasn't true. I'd seen the words Redmond Towne Center on the website. The Universe was trying to keep me from going to this event. I knew it was fucking with me.

Still, I wasn't late yet, so I got back into my car and drove around the outside of the parking garage where VALA was supposed to have been. There is upstairs, downstairs, and upstairs off the parking garage. I finally parked my car on the west side of the garage and got out. It looked like VALA sat where Eddie Bauer used to be. I walked upstairs and then back down. Nope. I went past the new bookstore where they make me feel stupid for being an author who self-publishes. When I looked in the window, I felt stupid for a moment. VALA had shifted to the east side of the block. I got to the center of the Center and looked at the directory. Nothing. I took the elevator upstairs. Too tired to take the stairs. Nothing there. I went toward the parking garage and looked at the businesses there. VALA could sit on the east side of the block and be there. Nothing. Then, I walked east and looked at the businesses directly across the street from Macy's. Clothes to the right. I walked back down the steps. Subway.

I was about to give up when my eye was drawn to a nice open space with art on the walls. People were in there. A signup desk sat near the door. VALA. Finally.

Before I could reconsider, I went in, signed up for the fourth or fifth spot, and found a seat. This was not so hard, I thought. I didn't even have butterflies the way I usually did before I read at an open mic.

The featured speaker was Mary Dispenza, an activist for equal rights and the protection of children. She read from her book, Split: A Child, A Priest, and the Catholic Church. I wondered how much Mike would give me grief if I bought her book. He's always saying that I'm supposed to sell my books instead of buying everyone else's. I know that, but I also get interested. I love new books. Plus, I feel an obligation to support other writers who may be in the same position I am in, trying to market their work.

When she was done speaking and the moderator, Emily, announced a break, I walked around looking at the art on the walls. It seemed to emphasize that I didn't know a soul in the room. So, I sat back down and surreptitiously reconsidered the poems I was going to read. I'd selected one about a sailboat. That was good, had a nice rhythm. It was sensual, but not overtly so. Then, on a whim, I switched my bookmark to a MeToo poem that would suit the tenor of Ms. Dispenza's talk. I could do that. I wrote that poem over eighteen years ago. Piece of cake.

Other readers stood and read their work. They were good writers. Why hadn't I joined them before? Some of them stuck with a MeToo theme, something I felt a great deal of passion about since I have more MeToo stories than you can throw a stick at. I felt even more certain of my choice in my old poem.

My turn was coming. Between readers, I reached into my bag and looked at it one more time. Yes, it was the right thing to read, a little bit brave, parallel with the experiences of other readers.

I felt a single zing of nerves before my gut settled back into listening. I was here to listen too.

Then, Emily announced me. I was up with my book in my hand. I hoped people could see the title on the cover. I hoped I might see a single spike on Amazon in the next day or two where someone liked what they heard enough to buy a copy. Only $4.99 for a paperback, $2.99 for kindle, a good deal, right?

"Hi," I said. "I'm going to read the easy one first."

And then I read about the sailboat with the red sails, hearing my voice fill the room, feeling the reverb, something I lived for when I was in front of people.

I had learned to feel for that reverb when I sang in church. It always made the butterflies settle in my stomach, especially when I put my hands on the piano and could feel the vibration there.

My hands weren't on a piano, but this space was great for reading aloud to people. You couldn't set a mixer on a better vibe. The first poem came to an end. There is a quarter-second when you're about to read a difficult poem when you could possibly make another choice.

No, I barrelled on. I turned to the MeToo poem I had inadvertently written more than eighteen years ago and resurrected in this moment with all these strangers in front of me.

I began to read. This was good. I got past the hard part and the part where I said "she balled him good."

And then, the veil dropped. Suddenly, I knew with certainty that no one would be fooled that I wrote in third person.

She was me. I was her.

And like the nightmare dream everyone has before the first day of school, I stood naked, figuratively, in front of a crowd of strangers.

Tears welled into my eyes. I couldn't speak. I looked up at Ms. Dispenza, down at words I could not read, and up at another person in the crowd.

I was the child who stops playing piano at her recital in the middle of a piece.

Emily, the moderator stood up and came to where I stood. She leaned her shoulder into mine. It helped. I blurted out two more lines.

Then it came. Ugly crying, sobbing, the moment when a person has her mouth open and nothing comes out. I lifted my shaking hand and pointed to where I had stopped. With my eyes, I asked if she could finish.

With a quiet voice, she finished reading my poem while I stood in front of a room full of strangers and sobbed.

When it was over, she hugged me in that way that my grandma used to do, long and comfortable and done when I needed to be done and not before. It made my breath catch in my throat again to feel my grandma's spirit in that room with me. Emily has a gift. If she ever hugs you, you will feel the blessing of it.

Then, I made my way back to my seat, mortified still that I had made such a spectacle of myself. People on all sides patted my shoulder. They caught my eyes and nodded to me when I found the courage to look up from my knees.

When the readings were over, a woman passed a note into my hands and quickly left. It was a note of encouragement, to keep reading, to keep writing. It helped. Ms. Dispenza came and talked to me. I don't remember what she said except it was a message of continued work to untangle the mess of the MeToo movement, to 'write it into right.' That helped too.

I had hoped I could slip out the door and never show my face to these people again. But as she and I talked other people wandered into the conversation. I was not alone. They shared their stories, their struggles. It all helped. We talked of our daughters, of our sons and the awful legacy, of breaking the chain of abuse. It was wonderful, but I still felt awfully exposed. Most of my friends hadn't even known this much about my history, perhaps hadn't wanted to know.

And before I left, Emily hugged me again. With it, I knew I'd be able to show up to this group again. I'd be able to read again, maybe something funny next time, something not so incredibly awful. With those hugs, and the woman's note, and all the conversation afterward, I knew I could come here again.

This is how you walk into a room full of strangers and leave a room full of friends. I don't recommend it.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Adventures of Omega Dog

Life must be a bitch when you have to ask the kitten for permission to eat your own food.

Teddy is patient. After much pacing and generally standing in front of the sink where I need to be most often, I fill his dish with kibbles. Then he stands there, about three feet from his bowl, while Seth saunters over and takes a couple of bites. It's a demonstration of power. I can tell that Seth doesn't relish the taste. Teddy sighs when Seth walks away but Blitz steps in front of him, rubs against his ankles, and grabs a kibble from the bowl and begins to bat it back and forth, staying between Teddy and his bowl.

"Ha, ha! You can't eat until I let you," Blitz seems to say. He is that kid on the playground, playing keep-away.

It's bad when you can't eat your own food because someone else wants to play with it.

"Go on, Blitzie. Let Teddy eat his food."

Blitzie has learned what that means. It really means, 'Get the hell away from that dog dish or the squirt bottle comes out and remember that I aim for the butt.'

He strolls away, batting his stolen kibble as he goes. I am positive that nonchalance is a term that can be applied to animals. I've seen it.

"There you go, Teddy. Eat your food."

He stands there. He looks back and forth between me and his bowl. Maybe I want his food first. I've been grousing about it.

"Go eat your food, Teddy."

Teddy is learning what that means. It means, "Do you need an engraved invitation? I'm tired of begging you to eat your own food. If you're hungry, you'll eat that shit or I'll put it out of reach for the next four hours so the kitten batting kibbles under the stove won't drive me bat-shit crazy. And somehow, if I go bat-shit crazy, it will be your fault.'

Too late. I'm already bat-shit crazy. I'm trying to understand the nuance of Omega Dog, the lowest guy on the ladder of dominance. Poor Omega Dog. He's on his blanket on the couch now, recovering.

Thank you for listening, jb