Tuesday
May292007

The Rest is Still Unwritten

When I stall out on one of the novels I’m writing and start wondering why I even try, I sometimes cheer myself up and get myself going again by indulging in the following daydream:

My first mainstream fantasy novel is published. It’s gotten some nice reviews, and people other than my family members are actually buying it and reading it. One day I get a call from Locus magazine; the fine editors thereof would like to interview me and put a flattering photograph of me on the cover of their publication.

I’m thrilled, since I’ve been reading Locus on and off for something like 25 years. The assigned interviewer emails me some preliminary questions, and they go something like this….

Actually, the following questions were posed by the fantabulous RaJ. Maybe if Locus ever actually does want to interview me, I can request that he do the job free-lance, because he’s really good at making up stuff to ask people.

1) You decide to write the story of your life as a series of novels, one book per decade. What are the titles?

Doh! RaJ, stop stealing ideas out of my head!

Decade 0-9: Michelle, Ma Belle (I went by my middle name until my junior year of high school; I used to think Paul McCartney wrote that song just for me.)
Decade 10-19: Message in a Bottle
Decade 20-29: Under the Blossom
Decade 30-39: The Smallest Seed

2) If you could make one trip through time – a minimum of one hundred years in the past – and visit with one person for an hour, whom would you want to meet and what would you ask or say?

Just one person? Just one hour? Okay, okay; I’ll quit whining.

I'd have a universal translator, right? If so, I would visit my ancestor Alice de Montmorency; she must have been terribly lonely while her husband, Simon de Montfort, was away at the Albigensian Crusade. I’d want to meet her children; I’d ask her for a tour of her house and grounds, all the while peppering her with questions about life at the court of Philip II.

3) In an odd coincidence, you too find yourself at the terminus of a trans-galactic wormhole, face to face with a genuine space alien. This alien comes from a world of Deep Thought, full of engineering and scientific marvels but no “society”; members of its race have lived in solitude and isolation for eons. The alien wants you to explain your best friend in fifty words or less (work with me here okay?). Given a few minutes to compose your answer, what would be your response?

My best friend is not essential, as your antennae are not, Gentle Alien; but would you want to live without them? Think psychic mirror; think completion of a two-part puzzle. Though Day and Night are pleasant in isolation, experienced together they complement one another in a joyous, eternal dance.

4) What is Luisa's kryptonite i.e. your "one" weakness, your point of vulnerability where your super powers seem to fail?

Pride. All my troubles stem from it; all my bad choices are born of it.

5) Multiple choice (you get to pick which one you want to answer):
a) How can you mend a broken heart?
b) Skip ahead a few years to a time when a human brain – thoughts, memories, the whole works – can be fully and verifiably "saved" and restored to and from digital media. For all practical purposes this would enable a person to persist for hundreds, even thousands of years using replacement "bodies," or even to exist without organic bodies as we know them. Do you think we would lose something essentially human in this process? Why or why not?

Though I enjoy those Bee Gees (and their late lamented foxy little brother), my inner/outer SF geek chooses b).

Digital storage of the contents of the brain would be cool, but I think this too, too solid flesh is crucial to the human experience. Creators of virtual reality are always seeking to make it more ‘real,’ i.e. truer to our normal perceptions. We can’t seem to do without the myriad sensate inputs that generally go unnoticed until they are gone.

More information than you probably want: I occasionally use a facial hair removal product on my upper lip; one time when Daniel was tiny, I got a little nuts and put it on my jawline as well.
I experienced almost instant regret. Rubbing my cheek on the top of my baby’s downy little head—an indulgence I savored at every possible opportunity—was much less pleasurable for at least a week. Those tiny hairs had been transmitters I had taken for granted, part of a sensual experience I wouldn’t ever trade for a slightly less hirsute visage.

Therefore I think the generation of replacement bodies—or the availability of forms incorruptible—would be key for life as we know and enjoy it to continue indefinitely.

Thanks, RaJ! That was good fun.

Monday
May282007

Lest We Forget

I’m a bit nervous about this post. There are many bloggers who are open about their faith. While I admire these people and am often inspired by what they write, my own spiritual life is an intensely personal experience that I find difficult to articulate and share.

Last week I heard something in church that lit up my brain like a neon sign. The speaker said simply this: “Prayer should be the highlight of our day.” Really? I thought. Well, yes, of course. Prayer is a conversation with God, after all. It should be the highlight of my day. I must confess that this statement rattled me so much that I couldn’t focus on the rest of what was said. I’ve been mulling it over ever since.

I do hear God whisper to me often. There is certain music that always opens up a heavenly conduit for me. The beauty of our natural surroundings, the light that emanates from the faces of my children, many passages of scripture—all these things and more have been sources of revelation and inspiration for me. I pray regularly: morning, evening, over meals, little missives sent up into the ether during the day expressing thanks or need. But I am sorry to say that these moments have often occurred out of habit and have not been the highlight of my day.

I can think of many conversations that have been highlights: moments of shared experience with close friends; quirky turns of phrase my children come up with; good news rejoiced over, bad news commiserated with. The best interchanges are those I have with people with whom I have a long, shared history built on the foundation of love and mutual respect.

It would be a highlight of my year to talk to certain people: various ancestors, any of a number of Dead British People, one or two intelligent-seeming celebrities. I imagine myself gearing up for some one-on-one time with, say, Toni Morrison. What would I want to ask this wise, talented woman? What would I be willing to reveal about myself? How would I prepare so as to make best use of her time?

Toni Morrison is amazing, but let’s face it: she’s not God. The King of the Universe, who happens to be the Eternal Father of my spirit, is willing to be in communication with me at my convenience. Shouldn’t I put a little more effort into enhancing the quality of the time I spend with Him? Why is it so easy to forget how important God is to me, and how important I, one of his daughters, am to Him?

The growth and maintenance of a successful relationship is work, an aggregation of small daily choices that can become more than the sum of its parts if allowed to reach critical mass. I’m quite vigilant about remembering to make those choices with the people who live in my house—I believe with good results. It’s clear to me that I should expand those choices into my relationship with God. I now believe that I need prayer to become the highlight of every day.

This morning I walked down to the graveyard to pick up James from the Memorial Day Parade. The cemetery gates are about a quarter mile from our house; the whole way there, I could hear the local pipe and drum corps skirling out a patriotic hymn. I’m not a real flag-waver, preferring to consider myself a citizen of the world, but a good bagpiper does get my blood stirring. The air was fresh after last night’s thunderstorm, and I could smell wild roses and mountain ash blossoms. God gently reminded me of His grandeur and mercy; I answered Him with a resolve to keep His glory closer to the forefront of my mind, days, and prayers.

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The captains and the kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

—Rudyard Kipling, “Recessional”

Friday
May252007

That's the kind of house we live in, and I hope we never leave it.*

La Fabulous Carmen asked me weeks and weeks ago to take photos of the results of last year's house renovation. I've been putting this off, since little things still aren't done, like finishing painting the backsplash. But since she's in the process of saving my knitting bacon with an express package from London and an emergency trip to Paris's La Droguerie, and since right now my house is as clean as it ever gets, I figured today was the day.

Taking these photos reminds me of that scene in Blade Runner in which Harrison Ford's character is using his computer to mine clues from a snapshot. But I'll try to get over it, since we aren't harboring any replicants at the moment.

Grrrr--Blogger is not letting me space the photos and captions the way I'd like to. So in case it's not clear, each caption goes with the photo directly above it.

Looking west from the threshold between the den and the living/dining room (between what used to be the living room and the dining room/kitchen)

Looking northeast from the corner shown in the first picture

The new cooking area is where the old kitchen table used to be.

The island with cookbook bookshelf

I spend quite a bit of time in this corner.The new fireplace--this is in what used to be the dining room. The hallway to our bedroom is on the right. We store wood in those little boxes under the seats.

I'm leaning against the new corner sink to take this photo. We still have the Frank Lloyd Wright windows; now they flank two groups of plain windows instead of being all in a row.

Here are the pocket doors between the living room and the den.

Here's the new den/old living room. I guess we should take out the newspapers.
This is taken from the left corner of the photo just before.

And from the right corner

The window seat and door to Christian's new room/old den-guest room are on the left.


The window seat hasn't changed, but since it's one of my favorite spots in the house, I had to include it.

The outside; please remember that the garden is still in the 'Before' stage of Extreme Makeover: Yard Edition.

The new deck is made out of ipe wood.


I feel very, very lucky to live in the house of my dreams (not the childhood dream where I fantasized about living in a Fotomat booth; the dream I had after I discovered the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts & Crafts Movement). It is modest-sized by today's McMansion standards, about 2,000 square feet. But it's the perfect size for us and suits our needs exactly.

Anyone contemplating building a new house or renovating an old one should read Sarah Susanka's The Not-So-Big House; it influenced our design tremendously. Patrick gets all the credit for figuring out the new 'flow' of the downstairs. He also gets all the credit for financing the project; thanks, honey!

*I'm not quite sure what Ted Geisel was up to when he wrote There's a Wocket in my Pocket! It's my least favorite of all the Dr. Seuss books--nowhere near the caliber of The Sneetches or The Sleep Book, for example. But I do like the last line.

Thursday
May242007

Birchmount Stadium, Home of The Robbie

Something bad happens to my brain when I don't get enough sleep. Oh, yes, there's the crankiness, but my baseline a.m. grump level is sufficiently high so as to render any temporary spike imperceptible.

No, the bad thing to which I refer is the complete lack of mental cohesion I experience. This is why I didn't write at all for the twelve years I was either pregnant or nursing. I can't string two thoughts together for the life of me when I'm this tired. Today, don't call me Ishmael; instead call me 'Randomina.' Or 'Randomella.' 'Randi,' for short--but make sure to dot that 'i' with a little heart, or I'll subtract points for misspelling.

Someone who has been a close friend of mine for 19 years, yet shall remain nameless so that I can pay finger service to preserving his illusion of privacy, sends me links to unusual websites once in a while. It used to be that when he did this, I would think, "Where does he find this stuff? And, more importantly, why?"

I don't wonder anymore, because now I know the answers to both questions. It's the wonder of that random place we call The Internet. Can you fathom the magic, the wizardry, the genius of something that rewards you for typing the words 'watermelon sculpture' into a little box with something like this?

No, it cannot be understood; it can only be shared. My friend didn't send me this latest link, by the way; I found it in a comment over at RaJ's place.

I'm going to brunch this morning at groovy gal Kara's house. Kara is great at co-piloting flights of random thoughts when it's just the two of us, but today there will also be in attendance a bunch of really smart moms whom I have not met before. I'm very concerned I won't make a good first impression. And apparently they are all dieting, which means I can't win them over by bringing Sour Cream Blueberry Muffins, or something similarly brunchy and delicious.

Do you think that if I quickly Bedazzle a T-shirt with the message "Please Like Me" and wear it, they'll obey without noticing? Of course, I'd have to get my hands on a Bedazzler first...perhaps I need another plan.

Speaking of Sour Cream Blueberry Muffins--Ann Hodgman, the funniest food writer ever, once dedicated a cookbook to Keanu Reeves. I'm reasonably sure that a) she doesn't know Keanu personally; and b) Keanu has some sort of eating disorder that would drastically limit his appreciation of Ann's culinary brilliance. Whether or not my suspicions are true, her quixotic gesture endears Ann to me all the more.

And now, I offer you a recipe. Not for the muffins; that belongs to Ann. But following in Ann's footsteps, I dedicate this recipe to someone whom I admire from afar. Ed Robertson, this one's for you.

Birchmount Potato Salad

8 medium potatoes (not the waxy kind, for the love of Mike)
3/4 pound Jarlsberg cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 pound pre-cooked sausage (I used this.)
5 stalks celery, peeled and chopped
1 big handful fresh parsley, chopped
5 green onions, chopped
8 cornichons, chopped (optional, but good)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 garlic cloves, pressed
salt & pepper

Peel and cut up the potatoes; put them in cold salted water and boil them until they are cooked through. Drain and set aside to cool for about 15 minutes. Add the cheese, sausage, celery, parsley, onions, and pickles. Mix up the remaining ingredients in a measuring cup, then pour over the potato mixture and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for about an hour. (Or eat it warm, if you don't live with Another Person who has Definite Ideas about the Correct Temperature of Potato Salad.)

If the salad seems dry when you take it out to serve it, mix up another 1/2 cup each of mayo and sour cream, pour in, and mix. Taste the salad and add salt and pepper at your discretion. Serve on plates lined with lettuce or curly endive, if you want to get fancy. Serves seven, with ample leftovers.

Wednesday
May232007

That's me in the corner/That's me in the spotlight


One of my favorite Sesame Street ditties goes:

Three of these things belong together,
Three of these things are kind of the same.
Can you guess which thing just doesn’t belong here?
Now it’s time to play our game!

When I was a kid, contrarian that I was, I liked to find a way in which that fourth thing did belong with the others; it was usually possible, if I got creative enough.

I have a really smart younger brother; he double-majored in Physics and Math in college, and now he’s an engineer. He’s a great dad and husband, an all-around cool guy. If I tell you that he is a Buddhist and a strict vegan, what would you expect his political orientation to be?

Well, he’s not a Democrat, as I found out to my shock in the heated months before the 2000 Presidential Election. I’m sure he was similarly surprised to find out what a huge Al Gore fan I was (and am), since most devout LDS homeschooling-type moms aren’t what you would call liberal. But we both probably should have expected it; incongruity seems to run in our family.

Those who know me are used to my eclectic proclivities. They appreciate that I know all the words to Wire: 154 and Schubert’s "Der Erlkoenig"; that I can watch The Parent Trap (the original) and Fanny & Alexander back to back; that I savor both Marcel Proust and Mary Balogh, both stale Red Vines and ripe Epoisses. But even those closest to me couldn’t figure out what I was doing when I made a certain career choice in February 2004.

It had been a bitter winter, and I was uncomfortably pregnant with young Master Daniel. I was tired, depressed, withdrawn, and heartily sick of being all three. Was it desperation or inspiration that made me call my darling friend Jenna and tell her I wanted to join her Mary Kay team? Definitely the latter: it was the right decision for me at the time.

Jenna and I had a marvelous time together; we both won cars and became Sales Directors pretty quickly. I came out of my shell and formed new friendships. It was satisfying (and lucrative) giving people makeovers and helping them feel attractive. Mary Kay was like a sorority, and I was ‘popular’ for the first time in my life.

In January 2005, I received my National Sales Director’s monthly newsletter, which listed the mid-year leaders for the coveted Queen of Sales position (the MK year runs July to June). There are two Queens of Sales each year in any given National Area: the Consultant Queen and the Director Queen. I was surprised to see that I was in first place--on the Consultant level, since I was debuting as a Director February 1st.

I was also surprised to see that my sales figures were higher than anyone’s on the Director level. Since I’m a tiny bit competitive (stop snickering, Patrick), I decided to see whether I could take the Director’s crown for the year.

Here’s where my inner geek kicked in. I made an Excel spreadsheet listing all of the top Directors and their numbers for the first six months. Every month after that, I painstakingly logged in updates as I got the newsletters, always on the lookout for potential dark horses like myself. For the last month of the year, our NSD (she's the stunning blonde in the photo with me) kept the stats to herself, but by June 30th, I was pretty sure I had it in the bag.

In August we all traveled to the mother ship in Dallas for Seminar, the annual awards ceremony. The minute I checked into my hotel room, I had my confirmation: I had been upgraded to a gorgeous suite containing chocolates, Perrier, and a note of congratulations from my NSD. The limo ride, the banquet, the ceremony, and the sumptuous royalty reception were all part of a great lark. Receiving the 5-carat amethyst ring was a hoot, but the most enjoyable part of that was letting other women try it on and seeing their eyes light up with hope and determination.

My first year as a Sales Director was great, but I gradually realized that it might be time for me to move on. I made sure that that I didn’t neglect my family and my church work despite the fact that I was working pretty much full-time (though from home and with very flexible hours). God, Family, Career: those are the famous MK priorities, and I worked hard to keep them in order.

But that Career thingie left almost no time for me to do anything else. All of the things I write about in this blog got almost none of my time and attention. I only read or knitted when I was on an airplane; the garden languished and I had little time for music or cooking. And after years of not feeling up to writing, I was finally getting that urge again.

It was a painful decision; I worked closely with a group of wonderful women who depended on me for leadership and guidance. But after a lot of pondering and prayer, I called my NSD and told her I was going to retire. I just walked away, Renee. Mary Kay filled a lot of needs for me; I look back on my two years with the Company fondly. But I don’t regret my decision. My life as it is feels just right.



Incongruity: here’s my big ring on my hand with my baking ‘tats,’ as my chef friend Mike calls them, and super short fingernails (necessary when you type as much as I do) a bit stained from gardening. Obviously, I never wear that ring anymore. I’m not really a jewelry girl, wearing only my wedding band and the diamond studs Patrick bought me in The Netherlands ninety-nine percent of the time. I’ve thought about selling the ring and giving the money to Heifer, but I’m afraid my daughters would freak out. Maybe they can figure out some way to timeshare it when they’re grown up, or maybe they'll agree that feeding the poor is more important than a owning a bauble; we’ll see.

So that’s the story behind yesterday’s photo. What incongruities do you have hidden in your closet?