Thursday, December 31, 2009

Finally Home

And just in time for the new year...

Just got back late last night from the holidays in Hartford. I so enjoyed seeing my family! Somehow we all stayed under the same roof for the week. There were eight of us altogether, overlapping much of the time. No one got a lot of sleep. Also somehow, even in the midst of all the snow and airport closings, no one was delayed more than an hour or so, either coming or going. (I say that now, but I'm thinking my mom may have had to stay overnight in Dallas last night, en route to El Paso, because of delays in flying out of Hartford.)

The highlight was seeing my two nieces and nephew. My nieces - 19 and 16 - likely would prefer little if anything written about them here, on this blog, while my nephew - 2, in from Chicago - doesn't seem to mind that at all when I write about him. (That, though, could have something to do with the fact that he doesn't read yet.) It was especially nice to see the three of them hang out together. The 16-year-old in particular had this gentle way of keeping track of the toddler without impacting his spirit - anticipating where he'd be, and when, and then corralling him in to better choices. I don't think he noticed any restraints whatsoever. Watching my nephew kept reminding us all of my nieces at that age, and we kept telling them stories of what it was like when they were young. There's the zipper story, the tutu story... Not to be shared here, though. I wouldn't want to embarrass them... And then we came up with new stories to share with my nephew years from now, when he's their age. Like how he was told he had to stop running through the blinds on the sliding glass door because he could break them, so he kissed them instead (apparently to demonstrate his lack of malice). Or how much he loved his ABC's. He does really love them. And my nieces! So remarkable. They are such kind people, with such good hearts. My younger niece is a math whiz - truly is. Once we were talking about creativity, and I said how creativity isn't limited to just writing, but can be in things like math and engineering. She nodded, fully aware of what I meant. She's a great writer too - don't get me wrong - but I think her passion lies with the math. My older niece will be (I know this) a writer by profession. This week, she shared something with me that she'd written. It drew me in. I've thought about it often, these past couple of days. She helped me, too, in working through an additional piece to the screenplay that I've written - an added facet to my lead male character's personality. She had right-on comments that will make a huge difference in the re-write. Hanging out with them - and my nephew - and the rest of my family - was a perfect way to spend the holiday.

Something cute, on the way out of town. At the gate, there was this sign. When the attendant announced that the flight was ready to board, he said they were getting to board flight such and such, going to Minneapolis, "and then on the North Pole, apparently," he said, his voice trailing off as he read the board. Funny. Or maybe the sign meant that Minneapolis is AKA the North Pole - since there was all that snow in Minneapolis, the day that I left - potentially a big deal, since I flew through Minneapolis on the way to Hartford. Smooth sailing in the end. Lucky for me. (Click the pic to see a bigger image.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Travel Ahead

Well, I'm scheduled to fly to Connecticut tomorrow, to my sister's house. We are gathering there for the holidays - many of us, my other sister included, and my mom... I say "scheduled" because my flight goes through Minneapolis. Yikes. Snow alert. So we'll see where I end up at the end of the day. But if I do succeed, I'll be there for a week. Posting, as usual, will be slow while I'm gone...

So Long Zumba

Our last Zumba class - a salsa aerobics class - was last Wednesday. So much fun! I highly recommend it. The teacher matters, though. We had a great one - Kathy. In the picture, she's on the left with the white boa. This was her last class teaching, as she's pregnant (it's a boy!) and can't continue at this point. Sigh. She's a really, really good instructor. Don't know why or how - but she is. She makes Zumba a lot of fun.

For that last class, one of the women brought a sweet baby blanket that she had made for Kathy, and we all signed a card, thanking Kathy for the class. The boas and scarves - we brought them on that last day as a surprise. There's a song where the movement is like toweling off. That's how Kathy instructed us, to get the hips moving by pretending to towel dry, so we surprised her that final day by bringing her that white boa and bringing boa-like things for ourselves. She was very surprised! and said she's always wanted a boa, just has never had one. Voila. And then she played the song, and there we all were, "toweling off" at the right times. Fun. Kathy has other trademark movements too - the motorcycle movement, the "washing the window" movement (which somehow got the hips moving), the "push it down" movement (exactly as it sounds).... Always a workout. Always fun.

The next Zumba class is at the end of January. I might take it again, even without Kathy teaching. I'm taking boot camp again, starting in January, in the mornings. And soccer already, through part of January, on Thursday nights. Actually, Zumba wouldn't overlap too much. So I'm thinking about it.

Here we all are with our boa-like scarves. (Well, here are some of us - we didn't think to take the photo until after some women had left.) I'm the one off to the right. In the big, bright yellow shirt. (Note to Self: do not wear oversized shirts anymore. Or, at least don't do it when there might be a photo taken. Or, at least don't have it be bright, bright yellow.)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sixty Votes - and Tom Coburn's Prayer

Early this morning, at 1 a.m., the Senate voted to begin the process of closing debate on the health care reform bill - called cloture. They needed at least 60 of 100 senators to vote yes. There are two more procedural votes before a vote on the bill can be taken. The bill itself needs only 50 votes to pass. But ending the debate takes 60, starting with last night's vote. This means that every Democrat plus two independents needed to vote yea last night. All Republicans voted nay.

Included in this 1 a.m. vote was Democrat Sen. Robert Byrd from West Virginia. He's 92. He's been in and out of hospitals, and was home yesterday because of his weak health. But he was going to attend the procedural vote. He would be the 60th vote needed. It would have been better for his health had the vote taken place at a more respectable time, and not in the middle of a snowstorm. But apparently the Republicans resisted that, so he needed to trudge out of the house, in his wheelchair, in the middle of the night instead.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) apparently wished for his demise earlier in the day. At 4 p.m. yesterday afternoon, Coburn said, "What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can't make the vote tonight. That's what they ought to pray." Later, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called him out on it. "This statement goes too far," Durbin said. "We are becoming more coarse and divided here ... When it reaches a point where we're praying, asking people to pray, that senators wouldn't be able to answer the roll call, I think it has crossed the line... This statement troubles me, and I’m trying to reach him [Coburn] come back to the floor and explain exactly what he meant about a senator being unable to make the vote tonight."

In spite of Tom Coburn's apparent call for prayer for his demise, Sen. Byrd was there at 1 a.m. - like clockwork:

Coburn was wearing blue jeans, an argyle sweater and a tweed jacket with elbow patches when he walked back into the chamber a few minutes before 1 a.m. He watched without expression when Byrd was wheeled in, dabbing his eyes and nose with tissues, his complexion pale. When his name was called, Byrd shot his right index finger into the air as he shouted "aye," then pumped his left fist in defiance.

Here's an article on what happened.

And here is some of the video:



Bottom line - and Tom Coburn's prayers notwithstanding - the 60 votes have gathered. For as frustrating as it's been - and as frustrating as the compromises are - this is a great, great thing, that this bill has moved.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Buy Agri Beef - With UPDATE

Saw an article buried in the newspaper today that Agri Beef, out of Boise, has donated $50,000 and $77,000 worth in beef and pork to Second Harvest, our local food bank. Here is video of the event. Seems above and beyond the call of duty, don't you think? Made me wonder: what controversy has led them to this altruistic act? So I did a little research. Couldn't find any scandal. All I get is "highly respected." Seems to be a homegrown company, family owned. Their website has a section under Policies and Programs entitled "animal well being." And they've donated $50,000 to Second Harvest every year for the past five years. Hmmm. So, they're really just doing this out of the goodness of their collective heart? How do I sign up?

This is my commitment - and encouragement to the rest of you. Buy Agri Beef. En masse (to the extent that this little blog reaches any masses). I can't really figure out how to make sure to buy Agri Beef, unfortunately. Apparently they deliver to 18 states, so they're wide range (ha ha). Associated brands, according to their website, are Double Ranch, Snake River Farms, St. Helens Beef and Rancho El Oro, if that helps. I guess I'll ask at the stores where I normally shop - local, all. But kudos to them, for caring. That's the sort of corporate consciousness this country needs.

UPDATE: For those of you who can't read the "comments" section (and some people can't), I heard from Chef Alan Turner from AB (Agri Beef) Foods. Thanks, Alan! He explains what I surmised - that they do this because it's the right thing to do. Here's his full comment - it includes a list of Spokane stores that sell their products - Rosauers, Huckleberries (my favorite!), The Trading Company, Harvest Foods and Family Foods:

Beth,

I read your post with a big grin on my face. I am one of those altruistic folks at Agri Beef and I'm writing to tell you that you got it right. We work for a family owned company that has enjoyed great success raising and producing Beef and Pork here in the Northwest. It's our commitment to quality products and high business standards that has ensured our success. While Second Harvest was receiving a check and our product in Spokane, our truck was being unloaded here in Boise at the Idaho Food Bank by over 20 folks from our Office here. After the Beef and Pork were safely in the freezer and an identical check presented to the Food Bank, we stayed and sorted groceries in the Food Bank warehouse for several hours. Why? Because we can, and we should. Pretty simple stuff. We produce food for the people of this country and because they have supported us for years, we are able to give back to those that need our help. Because we should. There's your answer.

I can help you out with how to find our products in your area. As I said, we are very proud of the Brands that we produce and I believe that it is the highest quality Beef and Pork you can buy. In the Spokane area, our products can be purchased by consumers at The Trading Company, Rosauers, Huckleberries, Harvest Foods and Family Foods.

So thanks for your very kind words, it means a lot to me. If you ever have any questions about the preparation of our products please feel free to contact me. That's my job.

Chef Alan Turner
alan.turner@abfoodsusa.com

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

One More Week

Living in Spokane is great in the summer, with its long days and often-perfect weather. Sometimes the summers get too hot. But the days are always wonderfully long.

The other side of that coin is the winter. Last winter, we had crazy snow. Not the snow itself, flake by flake. Just that, in concert - by accumulation, you might say - there was no end to it.

But even without the snow - which they say this year will be light, and will melt off and on, which is nice - there are the days. They are short. It stays dark until 7 or 7:30 a.m., and starts to go dark by about 3:30 or 4. This happens every year, rain or shine or snow. And they get shorter and shorter, day by day.

It's true that the way to have those wonderfully long days in the summer is to have these painfully short days in the winter. So I take my lumps where they show up. And I try not to notice. In fact, I usually don't notice too much until after Thanksgiving. I guess it's all the activity that leads up to Turkey Day that keeps me distracted.

But every year, come December 1, I can't avoid my circumstances. It is dark. Let there be dark. And on the first day, it was dark...

Well, I could avoid them by moving to some sunnier, warmer, lighter climate. But I don't. Instead, I simply know one inalienable truth - that by December 1, I will be aware, acutely aware, of how short the days have become.

And two weeks ago, on December 1, I began my ritual of anticipating something else: December 22.

December 22 is the day after the winter solstice. And since the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, December 22 is when the days start to get longer again. I won't celebrate the solstice. But I do anticipate its aftermath. December 22 will be the marker to the beginning of light again. It will still be dark, yes, I know. But it will have turned the corner. As will I. One more week, and the days begin their journey back to long. Long live December 22!

photo credit: Joana Roja, found here

Monday, December 14, 2009

Weird, Great Game

I received an email from my dad yesterday afternoon, at about 4:50 p.m. "You're Welcome," the caption read.

We had talked earlier in the day, but I couldn't remember the favor I'd asked him to do. I clicked open the email, trying to remember. "And good luck tonight," it read. I laughed out loud.

My father lives in San Diego, you see. And he was doing what we sports fans do all the time. He was taking credit for his team's win.

Here's how it went down. The Chargers game had just ended against the Dallas Cowboys, and the Chargers had won. The Eagles and the Giants were playing in about half an hour. Now that the Cowboys had lost, the Eagles had the chance to take over the lead in the NFC East. The Giants, on the other hand, had the chance to create a three-way tie for that lead if they won. (Poor Washington D.C., the fourth team in the NFC East, is nowhere in this playoff picture.)

Oh, and have I mentioned that the Philadelphia Eagles are my favorite football team? So it all mattered. Greatly.

It was a weird game. But great - and I loved it, mostly because the Eagles won, 45-38. I'd never seen so much scoring! Well, there was that one playoff game between the Oilers and the Bills way back when... But between these two teams? I've been a Philadelphia fan since 1987 - have watched nearly all the match-ups between these two teams for those 20+ years - that's a lot of games, with the obligatory two-a-year for a division rival, and then the every-so-often playoff match-up. It was not a normal game for these two teams, was my impression. (This impression turned out to be true - "It was the highest scoring game in this series, and these two have played 156 times since October 1933.")

I think all the offense was because of the rain. Apparently it had rained all day in the Meadowlands, and while the rain stopped for the game, the field was soggy. They looked like kids playing in puddles, so splashy they got sometimes as they ran down the field.

What I loved was how the Eagles offense scored, marched, and scored again. Sometimes their offense can't get in to a rhythm, but not yesterday! The first touchdown in particular was exciting and clear. Michael Vick played part of those downs. In his first snap, he threw well, to Number 10 - DeSean Jackson, a kid that isn't too small to play in the NFL, despite the conventional wisdom that said otherwise. Beautiful football. (I've come around a bit on the whole Michael Vick deal - mostly because of his own behavior, which has been good.) And then DeSean Jackson, at another point, ran a punt back for a touchdown... Amazing play. Poetry in motion. Amazing.

And then there was that pivotal goal line stand. There was one last week too - I wrote about it here. But this one was different. This one - well, it wasn't during the Eagles game. It was a couple hours earlier, during the Chargers game. The pundits are saying that it was the Chargers' goal line stand against Dallas in the second quarter that broke the Cowboys' spirit, and turned the tide the way of San Diego. Which turned the tide the way of the Eagles - even before they took the field.

What was disappointing was all the missed tackles on defense. But I think that had to do with the soggy field. At least, I'm hoping that was the main cause. Otherwise, the Eagles are going nowhere in the playoffs - if they get to the playoffs (which I think they will - I was not so confident a few weeks ago, but I'm feeling optimistic right now about those prospects).

Also disappointing was the officiating. I get that I may not be balanced when watching calls, and want them all called for my team, but there were some pretty bad non-calls last night that could have given the Giants the game. Luckily the impact was fleeting, since the Eagles won. Smile.

I love mornings like these - you know, Monday mornings after the Eagles have won.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Trickster

I just got back home from an early morning meeting, and had just stepped out of the car, when I spotted an unusual-looking, happy dog trotting up the sidewalk. I wondered if he had spooked my cat Alex, who hates dogs. I paused and looked at him again. It didn't really look like a dog. Was it a - couldn't be a wolf. A coyote? In my little neighborhood? I turned to go put the trash can away, deciding I was crazy, and it really was a dog, when my neighbor Matt came out of his house and shouted at me. "Beth!" he said. "Look at that coyote!"

And so it was. Somehow I'd known, but had not been able to believe. Matt said he knew I'd want to know - he knows how I am about animal totems, and recognizing them. I nodded. The Trickster, I said. That's the coyote. "I know some coyotes," I told Matt. "They're all men. A bunch of coyotes, they are - in a good way though," I assured him.

Which - I do know them. And enjoy them. And love watching them trick themselves. That is Coyote's lesson - how not to so caught up in your own stories and traps that you get yourself stuck in them. Think of the Road Runner cartoons. The Coyote is always trying to "get" the Road Runner - and ends up on the wrong side of an anvil instead. And that is how it is for the Coyotes that I know. I enjoy them because they are funny and enterprising, and because they try to be so ruefully honest (when they're not setting up some sort of scheme). It's challenging medicine, the Coyote Totem. You have to love them for trying. Truth be told, I likely have a little Coyote in me. Not too much - but enough to appreciate its follies and recognize it in someone else. Thank goodness it's only one aspect of any given person. Could you imagine an entire lifetime of only playing tricks on yourself?

As the coyote continued up the sidewalk, to the next block and beyond, Matt and I watched him and waved, and wondered where he may have come from. And I wondered what coyote I'd be seeing soon. For that's how it usually goes in this world of mine. One thing leads to another - lets me know that the other is on its way. Watch out! for dropping anvils...

photo credit: Josh More, found here

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

About Alex

Amazing Alex... I've written about him before, my cat Alex. But since I've come home from El Paso, I've marveled at his ways. Let me tell you some of them (as he chases Annie - my other cat - throughout the house and I say, now and then, "Hey, hey - stop that!").

Here's an example. Every morning, for the last six months or so, I've given Alex and Annie wet cat food as soon as I wake up. Well, as soon as I get up - I usually don't get up as soon as I wake up... Well, and as soon as I've made the coffee - I make the coffee first so it's brewing while I dish out the cat food. The point is, I have a routine. I don't break from that routine, unless I'm traveling, and then the cat sitter follows that routine, for the most part.

But for Alex, there is doubt. There must be doubt, because he spends the entire time in the kitchen meowing and winding his way around my ankles, watching my every move, wondering, (must be) wondering - will she feed me this time? What if she won't feed me this time? "Don't forget, don't forget," he meows as I dish out the food on their separate plates. Every so often he jumps on the counter - presumably to "help" - and I have to scold him off of it, which creates delay, so he does this only when he can't stand the uncertainty for another second.

Annie, on the other hand, sits calmly, patiently. She knows what's coming. She knows it is coming in the next 30 seconds or so. When I set down the plates, she gives me one sweet meow, as though saying thanks, before starting to eat. Alex, on the other hand, is already inhaling the food on his plate.

Contrast this with the two of them pre-kitchen. Here is where Annie is antsy, and will meow in my face if she thinks I'm not moving fast enough from the bed to the kitchen. This must be where her doubt lies - before the movement. Alex, on the other hand (now this really makes no sense) is happy to lounge, curled up next to me, sleepy still, letting me have my wake-up time.

So what is that about? Why is he so calm before the process gets started, but beside himself at the point of inevitability? Is it a guy thing? That's all I can figure out. It must be a guy thing - at the moment of movement, he gets anxious, has all kinds of doubts. He knows he wants to be fed - but why does he need to rely on me to accomplish that task?

Another Alex thing. He's perfectly happy to have nothing to do with me for hours at a time - days, in the summer, as long as I feed him. But if just for one moment I should try to be friendly to another cat, it's Armageddon. He (reluctantly) has accepted that I'm nice to Annie, but that's where he draws the line. This has made for some scary and hairy times since I've come home from El Paso, because there are several new cats in the neighborhood and they've decided to camp out on our front porch. I've worked hard not to be friendly to them - I know how that drives him nuts - but he still is beside himself because of the porch liberties they are taking. Nearly every day, I hear cat growls outside the house and must go out to stop the cat fight before it begins. The other day, after I'd let Alex in from outside, he came over to me and meowed once. "Are you okay, honey?" I said, and went to pet him. My hand hit the cat claw that was sticking out of the top of his head. We had to go to the vet to get it removed. The vet assistant tried to be sympathetic. I shook her off. "I'm sure he started it," I said.

How can a cat be so sweet and loving and yet vicious at the same time? He only attacks other cats. He adores people, and they adore him. It's the other-cat thing that drives him crazy. That for sure is a guy thing.

I've said often how I feel bad for him, putting up with Annie and me - the two old ladies. He should be out on the town, "catting about" as it were, the stud that he is. But there's something about this home that draws him, keeps him near. It must be that cat food.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Diehard Fan

It's freezing cold in Spokane yesterday. With wind. A Sunday - a day of rest. So where was I? Heroes and Legends sports bar, downtown. The Philadelphia Eagles were not on television, you see. And I don't have that fancy NFL cable sports package, or whatever it is, that would let me see them anyway. So I bundled up and trudged on down to the bar at 10 a.m., willing the Eagles to make my journey worth it. Which they did, by beating the Atlanta Falcons 34-7. And I appreciate that. But I would have been at the sports bar even if they had lost. I didn't wait at home until half time to see if the trek would be worth it. I weathered the weather right up front because I wanted to watch them get from here to there - win, lose, or draw. However it turned out.

It was a great game. I have no qualms about the blow-out. I watch enough Eagles games that are tense - and disappointing - all the way to the end that I'm perfectly happy with a game that seems won before it ends.

There was one great moment, when the Eagles held the Falcons at the one yard line for three downs - second to fourth - right before the end of the first half. It didn't make the highlight reels - not the ones I saw, anyway - but it was perhaps the greatest moment of the game and a turning point for confidence. The Falcons imagined, I suppose, that one of those straight-up-the-middle runs would result in a touchdown. Three times, three zeros. I love the Eagles. When I don't hate them.

That goal line stand reminded me of a series of downs years ago, when the Eagles were playing the Cardinals. The Cardinals were still part of the NFC East back then, so it was an important game. Reggie White still was with the Eagles, as I recall. And the Cardinals decided what the Falcons decided - maybe it's a bird thing - that at least one of those up-the-middle runs from the one-yard line would score. In that game though, the run up the middle happened seven times - seven times! - because at some point there was an offsides call and the Cardinals got another set of downs. And for seven runs, the Eagles held. That made the highlight reels.

Here's an article about yesterday's goal line stance, which points out that, at the time, the Eagles were ahead only 13-0 - would have been a game changer. And I looked up that goal-line stand from before. Can't find a linkable article, but it was 1992, so it was the Eagles' last season with Reggie White. (There was no Jerome Brown - he had died in a car accident in June.) The Eagles won the game 7-3, so it mattered. And there were three penalties, not just the one. But seven times, no touchdown - that, I'll never forget.

E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Jake: An Amazing Story

Here's a touching, inspirational story. It's about a young boy named Jake who was getting ready for a final surgery that would take away his eyesight - a necessary step to protect him from cancer - and his final wish was to see the USC Trojans, his favorite team, one last time before blindness. One thing led to another, and - well, watch the clip:

Friday, December 4, 2009

The West Point Cadets

I read somewhere that, after the president's address on Afghanistan Tuesday night at the West Point Academy, Chris Matthews opined that the cadets had no reaction to Obama's speech and that, in truth, Obama had found himself in the "enemy camp." Matthews has since apologized for his comment. As he should. Besides the impolitic nature of his comment, he needed to apoligize because he got it wrong. Completely wrong.

I watched those same faces that Matthews watched, when the camera panned to the audience during the speech. But I saw something completely different from what Matthews saw. Instead of lack of reaction, I saw intensity. Somberness. I saw young people, with perfectly pressed uniforms - how many hours did that take? to get those uniforms just right - listening to every single word, absorbing what the president said, determined to understand exactly what they will need to do - what their mission will be. My heart broke several times as I watched their faces, their intensity, their focus, knowing that at least some of them will die over the next months and years, fulfilling this mission being told to them on this night in December, 2009. For as much as this was a speech to the country and the world, it was even more a speech to these young and brave men and women who have chosen - chosen - to put their lives on the line for all the rest of us. How could Matthews not see that, and respect what was, in that moment, a relationship between the president and these cadets, irrespective of any television camera or political pundit who may be spinning the story even before the speech could finish?

What I saw is, apparently, what the cadets felt. There is this reaction of one cadet, Ben Salvito, to Matthews' comment, entitled "We Are Not The Enemy." In part, it reads:

To applaud or to boo at the announcements made last night would have both been equally inappropriate for the Corps of Cadets. In fact, the stoic reaction by all ought to leave the world confident in the Corps' and the military's ability to be apolitical and execute the policies of the President and Congress with fervor and duty. [...]

Cadets are trained in acceptance of orders, and the Commander-in-Chief was effectively issuing an order to all who were present. No cadet will be spared from the effects of President Obama's remarks -- his message has been received and internalized by all who were present in Eisenhower Hall. I am humbled by the President's decision to announce his new strategy at my school and completely reject the notion of any who suggest that West Point is in any way "the enemy camp." The enemy camps are in Helmand province, where soldiers are currently engaged in the President's mission.

Goooo-aaaaal!

I scored last night, in indoor soccer! It was a header, right into the goal, preceded by a perfect pass from my teammate Sandie, who has been a teammate of mine, on one team or the other, for about 10 years.

Now I would say that I never score - ever - except that just a month or so ago, I scored in outdoor soccer. Which I never do.

I don't score because I never play offense. My instinct is defense - protect the goalie, protect the goal. But it appears that I'm playing more offense. Let's keep that in mind.

Also, in indoor soccer, anyone can be playing offense - or defense - in a given moment. The field is small, there are only seven players a side. The indoor game lends itself to great flexibility.

We played two games. Two hours' worth of soccer. I noticed that this a.m., as my body creaked awake. But that feels good too, to know that the muscles have been hard at work.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Kingdom for My Phone

My phone! My phone! My kingdom for my phone!

If I had a kingdom... Or would it be a queendom, if I had one?

Yesterday, in the midst of getting from my mom's house to the airport to fly back to Spokane, I forgot to do a final "sweep" of the house to look for my belongings... and left my phone behind. My phone. That thing that is always with me - that I've never lost (unlike a bunch of people I know).

I figured out what I'd done as we drove to the airport - soon enough to make plans with my mom to get it back to me, not soon enough to turn around and go back and fetch it. My mother grasped the urgency of the situation - she's seen my attachment to the darn thing - with its fancy Internet access and all - so she took pity on me and offered to Fed Ex it. It should arrive some time this a.m.

In the meantime though - it's been a bumpy ride. No phone to check messages. No phone to check email. No phone to occupy my free time. Instead, on the way home, I had to - gasp - read the newspaper. And a magazine. I almost had to resort to reading the book I'd brought, but it was stuffed in the luggage, I never could get to it (there were extenuating circumstances).

In my defense, that travel thing shortens my attention span. I'm better off reading short pieces than something long and involved, as I fidget and hope for a quick return to my home town.

The phone itself is turned on in its Fed Ex package, with the ringer off. I've called it a couple times since I got home, to see if I have any messages. Sort of funny, to think I've been calling my mail.

So let's review. First, my computer needed fixing, so I had to leave it in Spokane while I went to El Paso for the week. Then, I forgot my phone. So for several hours yesterday, I was without any access to the outside world (as I traveled through three airports surrounded by masses of people)... I can't believe I'm supposed to let go of my structure or anything, but - hmmm. Maybe I am?

I sit. I wait. I watch the streets. Soon, soon, the Fed Ex guy will drive up, with a package for me... just for me....

photo credit: Shlala, found here

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tragic Loss

In El Paso, we've been following closely the evolution of events near Tacoma, Washington these past couple of days. First, the unthinkable - four police officers slain in a coffee shop while filling out paperwork. Simple paperwork. Then, the inevitable - figuring out who did it, and learning of his criminal history. And wondering why such thugs are out on the street.

I'm usually the one who says, hey wait, most crimes put people back out on the street after a conviction and jail term at some point. So this guy got out a year sooner - or three years sooner - he still was headed back out on to the street. We have to figure out how to matriculate people back in society...

But in this case, there is a reality to Monday morning quarterbacking. This guy (now dead himself, as I read in the headlines) was serving a life sentence in Arkansas. He had gotten the sentence at an early age - 17, I think - and so the state governor 10 years later (that left-winger Mike Huckabee) decided to commute his sentence with the idea that he had rehabilitated. That belief was wrong - the guy was back in jail a year later for violating parole...

And so now, years later, we've lost four police officers. And the guy himself is dead. It all seems such a waste. And it results - it has to result - in our police officers wondering if they are in the right profession.

I've said before how much I admire the job that law enforcement officers do. They deal with the most potentially violent of situations, and keep their cool in the midst of the storm. We are so, so lucky that people choose to protect us like that. And where are we, if we fail to protect them?

I'm a lawyer in this justice system. I represent criminal defendants. I believe in rehabilitation. I believe in second chances. But in this case in particular - if he really needed his sentence commuted - why wasn't there a safety net? A rescinding of the sentence, but only on the condition that he stay out of trouble? He didn't go from model inmate to cop killer overnight. It took a few years to slide to that low. We haven't done this man himself any favors, by letting him out under these circumstances. He's dead too, now. Weren't there options?

It hits close to home for me, not just because Tacoma is in Washington but because one of the officers - the one female killed - has a sister living in Spokane who is beside herself with grief. There were nine children between the four officers killed. Nine children have lost parents. Such a waste. Such a loss - for them, for all of us.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Where The Wild Dreams Are

I've had a plan. That plan's been tweaked. It now involves January with a sprinkling of preparation in December. But I still have a plan of how and where and when to get my writing moving from idea to product. Well, and I already have product. So it's in moving that product where I've had to come up with plans. And where the plans have not fully borne fruit. Baby steps....

And even with it all mapped out as best as I can do at this moment in time - so I should be feeling solid and clear - I still had the dream.

It was Tuesday night. I'd just gotten to El Paso to visit my mom and family for the Thanksgiving holiday. My computer was at the repair shop - symbolic, I thought, of me really just taking the whole week off. I mean, how in the world can I work on much of anything without my computer? I thought I was doing well. It was a healthy thing, to let go of everything for a week.

But then, that night, I had this dream. In the dream, a person that I know - well meaning, but on the negative side - had lent me her truck, as I needed transportation. But there was no gas - fuel, get it? you know, like energy - in the truck, so I went to a gas station to buy gas, a simple process, until I realized the gas tank was somehow broken and shut off, so there was no easy way to get gas into the truck. Some people came by to help me - very nice, enthusiastic people. They took the nozzle from me, aimed it at the truck's gas tank, and just gushed out fuel towards the truck. In their defense, a little bit of fuel did get into the truck, but most of it just sloshed on the ground, and I watched the cost just go up - $20, $30, towards $40 - and I said, wait, wait, wait. This is not working. I'm going to need another vehicle. I'll rent one if I must, but this is just not working.

When I woke up, I knew exactly what I had to do. I had to change my attitude. For as much as I have had a plan, I have fretted and worried about it every day. I have good reasons to worry - and it's always good to adjust if new information arrives - but my subconscious was telling me in this dream what I was trying to deny during the day: that my worrying was keeping my energy down, and I needed to choose a new way of getting from here to January, and beyond.

That night, we went to a pre-Thanksgiving church service at Cristo Rey, the downtown Lutheran church here in El Paso. It was a bilingual service, which was so much fun - I do speak Spanish, though no longer fluently - and there was great, fun music, and there was Holy Water, which I also love (you can tell you are in Catholic country when there's holy water at the Lutheran church). The sermon was on leaving your worries behind, and having faith in the process from here to there. Hmmm. A little bit of a dovetail there.... The church itself was having a heck of a harder time than me - 17 of the congregants have been seized by immigration, breaking up families, and the church is struggling to raise the finances to keep going - as do all churches when serving poorer communities, but 2009 is worse than other years - so that things like their after-school program - helping kids keep safe, and out of trouble - are at risk. And yet here was this sermon, about keeping the faith. Giving thanks for both the good times and the bad. Because what does worry get you, anyway? (I know, I know - it gets you a vehicle that shuts you off from the very fuel that you need to keep going.)

After the service, we had a Thanksgiving dinner, which the church had made as a way to greet all its visitors from all over town (from the "other" Lutheran churches), and it was great and wonderful and such a heartwarming experience. We did donate some money. I know it will be used well. Pastor Rosemary, the leader of Cristo Rey - what a great lady. And passionate about what she does, and believes.

And between the dream and the service, I decided to change my attitude. But if I wasn't going to fret, where was I going to put my energy? I figured my dreams could fill me in. And oh my gosh - these past few days! I've dreamt about making movies, and writing movies, and everything in between. I'm almost exhausted, I've been so busy at night! In one dream, we were filming a part of the baseball story - the bus crash part - and I saw some close up angles, and heard a narrator's voice... It was so, so real. I could see it. It really is time for all of this to move.

So I guess I should put my energy towards what I want, and not what worries me. That's a vehicle that will take me places.
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photo credit: Nam-ho Park, found here

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On to El Paso

I'm on my way to El Paso for a week, for Thanksgiving. Will blog as able. Have a great holiday!

NW Film Festival

Song Bird Theater, one of the local KNIFVES members, held a film festival this weekend as a fundraiser for our local women's shelter. I ended up going for the whole day on Saturday. It was really good, and interesting. Most of the films were short, and a lot of them were by other KNIFVES members. It was the first time that I had spent a whole day watching KNIFVES-related films.

The winning film was a documentary called "Rivers in the Desert," by Jody Lee, on the physical moving of an historic Jewish temple in Boise from one location to another. Jody also gave a talk on film making. She's got some great stuff - commercials, annual reviews, etc. - but the documentary was the shining star. While the starting point was the moving of the temple, the documentary itself was about the Jewish religion in Idaho, the swastikas that periodically get painted on temple doors, and the groundswell of support that the rest of the community offers when those horrible acts occur. Powerful.

In addition to the films, there was a young man named Travis Thompson, with a display for his nonprofit organization TACTIC. Great website - http://culturaltactics.org/index.html. Travis is from Sandpoint, Idaho, and has a passion for helping people in need. His passion has led him to found TACTIC, which stands for Targeting Advocacy to Conserve Traditional Indigenous Cultures. His organization's goal is to help, not convert. The group has two main programs right now. One is to find housing for Tibetan nuns who have no homes because the Chinese have barred them from the convents for being "unchaste" because they have been raped. Travis and his group are trying to provide housing for them while they wait for a permanent location to be built. The other TACTIC project is to set up a Big Brothers-like program for young refugee Tibetans through a soccer program at a refugee camp in India. The idea, as I understood it, is to give young adults a sense of direction and responsibility to a youngster, or a group of them, which helps the young adults shake off that sense of despair and lack of purpose that they feel in their temporary-permanent lives at the refugee camp. Ultimately, Travis expects TACTIC to expand into Africa, with its primary work there.

Travis was pretty impressive - and humble, so it took me a day of talking with him off and on to figure out just how impressive. But I asked a lot of questions, and learned that a starting point for him was when he got into a battle with Idaho's governor Bruce Otter over divestment in companies doing business in Sudan, as a protest against the genocide in Darfur. The battle went public, and a local Idaho paper asked its readers what they thought. Over 80 percent wanted divestiture. Otter still refused. Here's a short article outlining the exchange. And while Travis continued to work nationally for a while, at some point he wanted to get more hands-on. So he formed his own nonprofit. TACTIC.

The thing that floored me - Travis spoke about the young Tibetans he was sponsoring so that they could get their lives on track and act as mentors in his big brother program. He used the word "sponsor" a couple of times. I looked at him. He couldn't be more than 25 (he's 22). How are you sponsoring them? I asked. With what funds? "With my own money," he said. Still not making sense - how does this guy have any money? So I asked where his money came from. (A trust fund, was all I could imagine.) "I sold everything I own," he said. Guitars, amps, his car....

Wow. He really means to do what he's doing. So I gave a donation. And when he was telling the festival attendees about his project, I thought, they need to know that piece of information. So when he was done (not before! - no Kanye West deal here), I went up and took the microphone and told that story, about how he's sold everything to fund this project. And people came up to him after, so that he was the most popular guy at the end of the night. Maybe something will spark, and his nonprofit will get more funds. He definitely needs to branch out beyond his own pocket to have impact. But like I said to the crowd, here's someone who's worth the investment. He's proven his grit. Let's give him our support.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Health Care Phone Calls

I just received an email asking me to call my U.S. senators and ask them to support health care reform. Well, of course both of my senators already do support it. But it's an important weekend in the Senate - the threat of a filibuster hangs over the heads of these men and women - so I thought a phone call from me and hundreds (thousands?) of others could be helpful.

This is what I said to both Sen. Patty Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell's offices: stand firm. Fight for the public option. And if Repubs and conservative Dems want to filibuster that - let them filibuster. The polls - even just this week - show that the public supports the public option. If the naysayers want to fight upstream on that issue, let them. Let's see if they will join in that filibuster already. Let it all unfold. Let the chips fall where they may. I'd rather see a fight for the public option than have my senators not fight for it at all.

(BTW - a filibuster is when senators fight against agreeing to consider a bill. This bill only needs 50 votes to pass on the floor, but it needs 60 votes for cloture. If the senators want to delay that consideration, then they have to have something to say in the meantime - hence, the "filibuster." This is when they might start reading from the phone book, just to keep the bill from floor debate. This happens only in the Senate, not the House. In modern times, apparently just saying the word "filibuster" was enough to keep the thing from consideration. But the Senate leader has the option of requiring a traditional filibuster too. Okay, so now I just called Harry Reid's office - Senate leader - and asked that he require a traditional filibuster, if it comes to that.)

Last Day of Boot Camp

Today was the last day of boot camp. It's hard to know whether to celebrate or feel sad. It's a month of torture when I take it - not the least of which is arriving by 6 a.m. to the camp. But it has such impact. Literally and figuratively. Very much figuratively (ha ha). And I can feel how much it improves my health. And it's great camaraderie - the same small group of us has showed up every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning. If one is missing, we wonder if we've lost her - and are glad when we haven't.

Most everyone else is starting back up for a three-week session the week after Thanksgiving. I am doing so much traveling, however - I leave Tuesday to spend a week in El Paso with my mom - that I would miss most of December sessions, so I won't be joining them. Carry on, brave ones! I salute you.

I am taking it again in January, though. So I may have a respite now, but I start back up at the new year. There I will be, with all the rest of them, grunting and sweating and feeling the evolution. I can't wait 'til February 1.

photo credit: Noel Fields, found here

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Acting Bug

I've haven't caught the flu, but I think I could be susceptible to the acting bug.

We had a great time last night, at the final of three acting classes. We did improvisation of our characters. Very powerful, interesting. I was playing Doris, from "Same Time, Next Year" (which is the play about the two who meet once a year for 25 years on teh same weekend every year to have an affair.) It was odd - everyone else's scenes were full of anger. My scene, I'm playing sweet, easygoing Doris. Which was fun, and fine. Though I would have enjoyed a little yelling too.

For our improvisation, we improvised the first meeting between Doris and George (played by Alan Alda in the movie). We know from the script - which begins the morning after their first encounter - that they first meet when George sees Doris at the hotel restaurant and wants to send her a drink, but has to send her a steak instead because it's an alcohol-free restaurant. Last night, as we made up what we thought that scene would have looked like, and George made this grand gesture of sending me a steak to get my attention, I decided to go over to thank him, and ended up joining him. "No one's ever done anything like that for me before," I said, as I introduced myself. And George said, well, I've never done anything like that before myself.

And suddenly, that's what I knew about Doris - that no one in her life makes grand gestures. She lives a good life, and she is glad to be in it. But there is nothing like this man George in it.

Then George said that his daughter's name was Wendy, after the Wendy in "Peter Pan," and I said that it was a good name since her father could have been named Peter Pan, so spontaneous he was, and he said, well, that would have been an odd name, unless I could fly - then it would fit, and then I said again, no one's ever done anything like this for me before.

And as we kept on, it made more sense to me, why she would have continued the relationship over 25 years. It really helped me with the scene we were reading - the last scene of the play - to imagine what went on the night before the play even begins. That is the one sticking point in the play - why are these people staying in their marriages when they have such a connection? Or, in the alternative, what causes them to keep meeting every year if both their marriages are so worthwhile? That improv really helped me see the story from a new perspective.

We ended up running out of time to have people do cold reads of my movie script, but everyone wanted to stay and read anyway, so we spilled over about a half hour or so and I go tthe chance to listen to the actors read scenes from my movie script. So exciting! Very interesting. Quite different, the cold reads are from a read-through of the entire script, which is my only other experience.

All in all, a productive and interesting three days. Definitely worth it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Reading Tonight

Well, I had the night wrong. My acting class will be doing cold readings of my suspense drama script tonight, not last night. No matter. Still very exciting.

The acting class itself - so interesting. We went over our scenes again last night, this time by really acting them out (though I haven't yet memorized the lines). After the acting, we looked at physical expressions of emotions, we threw down the scripts and did the scenes improv... It was really interesting. I was nervous when it came time for my scene, but it went all right. Actually, I was nervous and then decided not to be nervous. I think that made a difference.

The only time I acted before was 18 years ago. I was in three different plays - one where I had 16 lines consisting of "pfennig, sir?" and variations thereof; one - a musical - where I had a solo and dance moves; and one - a short play - where I had the lead. Over the years, I've thought about going back to the theater, just because it was a lot of fun. I even thought about just helping out with set design, that sort of thing. But now here I am. Only 18 years later...

Tonight we're at it again. We'll start with cold readings of my screenplay (exciting!) and then get into our individual scenes. I'm going to try to memorize my lines today.

Monday, November 16, 2009

That Whole Acting Thing

So I had my first of three intensive acting classes last night. I was nervous, but it was good. It was interesting. Fun. People were nice - way ahead of me, but nice about it. We did some movement exercises, some voice exercises, we read from scripts, and we did some improv.

And then there was an exciting turn of events. Karen Kalensky, our instructor (up from L.A.), asked if I would like the actors to read some scenes from my movie script tonight. What an offer! I'm very excited. And then I'm realizing - I sure do have a lot of male parts in this movie. Which is weird, because the lead character is female. So I'm thinking through which scenes to use, and which men could be turned into women... Just for the reading tonight, of course - but we have an equal number of men and women in the class, and I'll need to figure out how to give everyone a chance to read. I had not expected Karen to make this offer, but I'm so happy for the opportunity.

In the meantime, I need to read my scene today - and the whole play too - I'm Doris in "Same Time, Next Year" - and do a little research on my playwright, etc., etc.

photo credit: Anderson Silva, found here

Sunday, November 15, 2009

KNIFVES Week

There are plenty of KNIFVES and KNIFVES-related events abound this week - KNIFVES being my regional movie networking group. (It stands for Northwest Independent Film, Video and Entertainment Society - the "K" is silent).

Today, tomorrow and Tuesday I am taking an acting class through Interplayers Theater downtown that was advertised through KNIFVES, for a total of about 10 hours. They say a screenwriter needs to know about all aspects of the movie biz, including the acting, so voila. That's where I'll be this afternoon, and the next two evenings. Acting. Can't be much different from lawyering, can it?

Then Thursday there's a fundraiser at 7 p.m. at the Hayden Cinema in Hayden, Idaho, where we will watch "Teenage Dirtbag," a film by Regina Crosby, a young filmmaker from Idaho who now lives in L.A. Many KNIFVES members helped out in the filming, including our group's president. Information for the fundraiser is here.

And then on Friday and Saturday, there is the Northwest Film Festival, a fundraiser for local women's groups at the Songbird Theater. More information can be found here.

Larry Timm and Movie Music

Yesterday my KNIFVES movie networking group had Larry Timm come give an all-day seminar on music in movies. Dr. Timm is a professor at Cal State Fullerton in California and teaches this subject, as well as writes about it. His book "The Soul of Cinema" is the standard music appreciation textbook around the country, including at USC's film school. He also plays the oboe, and has done so for various television, movie and music video scores - something that would impress one of my nieces, who also plays the oboe.

It was a whole day chock full of information interwoven with interesting stories of the world of music within the world of cinema. Larry gave us a day's worth of highights from his semester-long course. I knew sound was complex in movies. Larry gave us details on what "complex" means. He also showed some great clips of conductors taking music written for movies and then getting their orchestras to play the scores in time with the movies themselves, and explained to us the details of how that works. One tape was from the early 1980s, of Ray Bradbury and a young James Horner (who has composed all kinds of movie music, including the award-winning "Titanic" score) as they listened to the playback of the orchestra's work that day on the music for "Something Wicked This Way Comes." Very cool, to see that.

Larry's talk got my mind in a whirlwind. With the suspense drama script that I've written, I have certain music in mind - one song in particular that would be "source" music in two places (a new term for me, that means music being played as part of the movie itself, on the radio for example). But how does that music then get intertwined into the movie throughout? I pondered that as we watched "Titanic" clips and Larry explained how the love theme and the lead female character's theme got intertwined at various points.

The talk also got me remembering my one foray into soundtracks, way back in the early 1980s, in London. I was spending my junior year on a study-abroad program, at Westfield College - a part of the University of London, up near Hampstead Heath - and a group of us got chosen to spend a week at University College London (sort of like the main campus) to make a short film. All the other students were British, but for some reason they had let the American tag along. My friends were all actors, so they all wanted to play in the film - a short drama of no particular import, but a useful exercise for the weeklong class. I didn't want to be on camera, so I offered to do the background sounds, and took off to record restaurant noises and a bus driving away. I had so much fun, even in the midst of a workers' strike that had halted the London underground - the Tube - making travel around London nearly impossible. (Buses still ran but were so crowded that they wouldn't stop for new passengers. I had to borrow a bike for the week.)

And then, after all my work, our instructor forgot to put in the bus exhaust sound, and it ended up coming in after the designated line (so that it just sounded weird) and even though I knew no one else really noticed, it was like nails on a chalkboard for me. I can still see my instructor's face, looking slightly chagrined as I gestured at him and he realized his error and then tried, belatedly, to correct it.

But back to yesterday's seminar... At one break, several of us got into a discussion of what we hear in our heads, and how some of the writer types hear both music and words when they write while the rest of us - me included - hear only the voices of our characters. Though I do listen to music when I write. I always try to find something instrumental that I can have in the background while I' m creating. With the exorcist play, I used a lot of Hildegard de Bingen music. With the baseball novel, I tried out some 1940s music, but there were too many lyrics, so I went with emotional instrumental (a movie score by James Horner, actually) as well as some Robbie Robertson (to help evoke the Native American component of the novel and besides, I love his music) and some Billy McLaughlin (who is truly gifted). So, a mixture.

We ended the day with Larry taking out his oboe and playing a few notes. So beautiful. I love the oboe. I thought, my niece who plays the oboe should be here for this part.

And then some of us ended up going to dinner at The White House, a Greek restaurant in Post Falls, Idaho, which is a little weird because I just wrote two days ago about growing up in the White House (my home in Poway, not the one in DC). This particular White House in Post Falls is a great restaurant, authentic food, perfect hummus, and garlic on everything. Here it is, the next day, and somehow I can still smell the garlic. Delicious.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Memory Lane

When I was in San Diego a couple weeks ago, and was going to travel to see a relative for the day, the Mapquest program decided to take me through Poway, where I grew up. It probably wasn't the most efficient route from here to there, but I decided it was destiny that I re-visit old stomping grounds and so decided not to re-route the path.

As I drove into the town from the highway, nothing looked familiar. All had grown up too much for me to recognize anything. When I had lived here, this little town was unincorporated. But it's California and it's near San Diego, and so there was no option but growth, I guess. So I figured it was fine to drive through town, but not much of an event.

Then boom - it was like 40 years had melted away. Suddenly I was driving by the old school district buildings - and my old middle school - surrounded by growth, but with no doubt of where I was, where this road was taking me.... Then I drove up Espola Road (wow, just the same, just the same) and then, at Poway Road, I turned left rather than right (so I wouldn't end up driving by the old church after all...).

A few hours later, when I was driving back to my father's house, I couldn't resist. Rather than turn left on to Twin Peaks from Espola Road, I kept driving, headed for our old house. Suddenly all seemed so much the same from when I grew up. I remembered that there was a covenant in the area, where people had agreed not to break up their property into separate lots until at least the year 2000 (I think that was the agreement). That covenant had left the property established into single family homes with huge yards, all chaparral. (Remember chaparral from science class? A type of habitat? There's tundra, and forest, and desert, and chaparral....)

So then I got to our old house, where I lived from the ages of 6 to 12. It looked the same, except it was painted a different color. When I lived there, it was white. I called it the White House. I didn't know at the time that there was another White House 3,000 miles away. (When I found out I thought, oh, the president lives in a white house too?)

And as I peered into the house's back yard - not trespassing, mind you - I saw the rocks still on the hill in back, and thought of all the pretend games we played there - robbers, and Indians, and everything under the sun. Once we were playing a sort of capture-the-flag kind of game, and my sister was hiding out in one of the caves back there, and she said, um, I think I should get out of the cave, and her leader (or was it her captor?) said to stay put, and she said, well, I would, except for the snake in here... And as I remember it now, the snake cooperatively rattled its tail and everyone skedaddled to safety. Of course, that's how I remember it now. It could have been just a regular snake and not a rattler at all. But where is the story in that? Besides, we saw plenty of rattlers back then, in all that chapparal. And fires. Fires, too. Once on Halloween, the fire was coming so furiously that the orange in the sky almost matched the orange-paper pumpkins taped on the windows at school. We didn't always evacuate when there was a fire, but that time we did. You don't stick around when the sky is that orange.

So I saw the rocks and thought of those stories, and took a photo of the memory. Who knows if the rocks will still be there tomorrow, much less 40 years from now? Our old house (no longer white) is to the left, and the rocks are hardly visible - though there are some, right in the middle, and if you knew the site, you'd be able to picture the rest of the terrain. (If you click on the photo, you can see it better.)


And then I kept driving down the street, just looking at the old neighborhood, seeing that the covenant had done its job and people had kept their houses intact as I had known them (with changes, of course, but basically the same).

And then I came upon the corner that had been my old bus stop, for my bus for elementary school. There it was - exactly as it had looked 40 years ago. How is that possible? In California of all places, how is that even possible? But it is. Because there it was, with the rock and the tree and all of it, just as it had been back then.


So then I figured, what the hey, and I went by an old friend's house, and a young woman was in the driveway on a cell phone, and I asked if the family from before still lived there, and she paused long enough to shake her head and laugh and say no and then went back to her phone call, and I felt a little foolish but hey - it didn't hurt to ask. Just in case.

BC Update

With regard to boot camp, and two steps at a time, which I discussed a day or so ago - it was three flights of stairs, not four.

But while we're on the topic of BC... Today we did "laps," which means that we did five sets of exercises, two exercises per set, and then a countdown of those exercises from ten down to one. So, for instance, if push ups and squats are the two grouped together, then we did ten push ups, then ten squats, then nine push ups and nine squats, etc., down to one push up and one squat. And then on to the next set of two exercises grouped together. For an hour. Do you think that doesn't sound like much - or much different than just doing exercises in general? Hmmm. Try it out and see what you think then.

Abortion Statistics

So I'm watching "Morning Joe" in the a.m. again (but only when I wake up at 4, or when I'm getting ready for 6 a.m. boot camp). This morning, Lawrence O'Donnell was on, looking about as sleepy as I felt. They started talking about coverage for abortions in insurance. I guess the RNC found out that it had insurance coverage for abortions in its insurance policy, and has now eliminated that coverage (after Politico reported on it). So Joe Scarborough asked O'Donnell what he thought about that. O'Donnell began by saying that the majority of Americans support abortion rights. Scarborough interrupted him, said it isn't 1972 anymore, and that the statistics show that Americans don't support abortion rights anymore. O'Donnell said to go ahead and show his poll, but O'Donnell remained correct. O'Donnell then cited an interview with John McCain from some time ago. Apparently McCain was asked if he would be against abortion if his daughter was pregnant. McCain said that he'd have to think about that. (I can't find the quote.) O'Donnell rephrased it: so it's fine for everyone else to ban abortion, but maybe not for my daughter, but I'm still against abortion because I'm a Republican. O'Donnell then used that quote to say that politicians treat abortion as a political issue, regardless of personal belief, and it keeps them out of touch with the reality of the country's leanings, to be so black and white about it.

The discussion got me thinking: are Americans against abortion now? So I looked it up and found a great compilation of surveys taken over the years, including recent surveys taken in 2009. Taken as a whole, and not cherry-picking favorite results, I think the polls are pretty solidly consistent: a majority of Americans believe in a right to choose, with some concern about the circumstances (which I attribute, at least in part, to misinformation out there about third trimester abortions) and only a handful believe that abortions should be outlawed in all cases. Another interesting stat: most see it as one of many issues, not the key issue for which they must vote yea or nay on a candidate. Some of those same people who believe in choice also see themselves as pro life, which is perhaps where some of the confusion lies. Bottom line, however, O'Donnell was right, Scarborough was wrong, and Congress is doing what it often does - it is listening to the loudest, most boisterous voices, not the much-quieter majority.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

OMG Boot Camp

So yesterday, at boot camp, we were supposed to run up three flights of stairs, two steps at a time, twice. (We jogged back down.) Then we'd go back to the workout room, do some short set (10 bench curls or something), and then go back to do two sets of three (or was it four?) flights of stairs, two steps at a time. OMG.

I couldn't run it. Just couldn't. But I did keep going two steps at a time. I didn't know I could be so nostalgic for longer reps for the in-between exercise.

Just as I thought I couldn't do another set of steps, our instructor switched up the last ten minutes with another event. I think I ended up doing seven or eight sets of the steps. Not that I had the energy to keep count.

Then last night, I went to Zumba (my dance class). Love that Zumba. (Caveat: the instructor really matters.) Every squat killed my legs. Go figure. And no exercise today. I think I've earned it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fort Hood Speech

Absolutely worth watching - about 15 minutes total. The president at the Fort Hood memorial today:



Calisthentics

I joined boot camp again - something I did this past summer. With summer gone, the boot camp is now indoors. Still early. So yes, I'm paying money so that I can go to a workout room three days a week at 6 a.m. in the morning for an hour and - well, work out. Like a madwoman.

There were supposed to be 12 of us total in this month-long session. Usually about six or seven show up. It's separating the girls from the women, that's for sure.

What I like about it is that we each go at our own pace. So if it takes me twice as long as everyone else to do - say - 12 push ups, then that's what it takes. What I also like is the variety. I never know what the morning will bring. Well, I have an idea. A lot of exercise. But where will the focus be?

What I don't like about it is (a) it's really early, (b) it's a killer for the whole hour, and (c) it makes me sore all day - week - long.

But then anther thing I like about it. It really works. The old body gets in shape. Quickly.

Speaking of old bodies... One of the women in the class - young, it appears - is waaay ahead of me in skill and speed. The other day, she mentioned something about boot camp being new. "You've never taken boot camp before?" I said, pointing out how much further ahead of me she was, even without the background. Then I laughed and shrugged and started to say our instructor's motto: everyone goes at their own pace. But the young woman interrupted. "Well, I'm a lot younger!" she said. Just as I was trying to decide whether to be offended by her comment, she added, "I just hope I'm still doing this sort of thing when I'm your age."

Huh. How old exactly do you think I am? I wanted to ask. But then I thought, well, she's right. I am old. At least I'm older than her (I thought as I dragged myself out of the gym to get started with the day).

Later that same day, I was at a legal education seminar. I ended up meeting some lawyers who have been practicing in this region since the 1960s. They asked me how long I'd practiced law, one thing led to another, and suddenly I had announced my age. They were shocked - shocked! - that I possibly could be that old, and were skeptical that I had recited the correct age.

So there, young-woman-from-boot-camp. We don't always look as old as you think we do.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Great Movies

I went to the Sandpoint, Idaho film festival Friday night, called the Lakedance film festival. What fun! Interesting, fascinating, and funny shorts. Some winners were from my KNIFVES movie networking group, so I for sure had to attend that night in particular. (Hey, I'm on the board.)

The funniest film was "The SPAM Job." It was about a guy named Paddy who lost his mojo when someone stole the can of spam from his briefcase, and the notoriety that came to that can once the story emerged. It was a whodunnit mystery, really. Very funny.

Then there was a great short about frequent flyer miles and the crazy people who make a science out of getting as many frequent flyer miles that they possibly can, and included how they will just fly to some city and back in one day just to accumulate the 1,000 or so miles that they need to qualify (that year) for elite flyer status (which gets them double points). It was called, aptly enough, "Frequent Flyer." It went on slightly too long, but it was mostly entertaining and the creator of it was there in Sandpoint to take questions. (He flew in, of course.) I especially liked the part about the guy who got interviewed by the Drug Enforcement Agency after he hired homeless to fly a particular corridor overseas to build up miles. Apparently it's a drug corridor. Who could have known?

There was also a sweet film on foster care, and another deeply touching, longer film about music written by Holocaust victims, how that music is being performed in Seattle now, and the woman who has spearheaded the effort.

The short by KNIFVES people - showed in the second block of the night - was called "Started by a Mouse." Very sweet (though I don't really understand the title). The star of it is a young girl, so there were a lot of kids in the audience for its winning premiere. (It had been part of a contest earlier in the week.) They had to empty the theater of kids after it showed, however, as the remainder of that block of films was not particularly suited for children. I left with them, for the long drive back to Spokane.

I forgot to watch any of the films for transitions - my newest game - how the film takes you from one view to the next - but I'm going to get serious about my studies in that regard.

I was sorry to miss one of last night's films, called "My Movie Girl," especially since I had a chance to meet Adam Bronstein, the writer/director/actor of it. Interesting guy. He had flown up from California, though I easily pegged him as not-a-California-guy. I lived too long on the East Coast not to know he was from there, somewhere. Which is a compliment, actually.

I was also really disappointed not to make it to Wednesday night, as there was a showing of a documentary on minor league baseball called "Time in the Minors." (I was at the Interplayers theater that night in Spokane, watching "Doubt" - which is a totally different story.) Such is life.

Overall, a great night Friday.

Health Care Moves

What an amazing night for health care. I watched only a little, and then some highlights this morning. I'm sorry to have missed seeing the vote live.

It is just the one step. But I feel glad. And vindicated. And I think - I think - that the paper tiger of the Repubs is starting to look frayed. When John Boehner (R-Ohio) went on and on about how terrible it was that the bill had a provision that would make people pay a penalty if they don't get insurance (which comes with subsidies for people who can't afford the premiums, and is basically the way we already do auto insurance) - well, he just looked dumb. Especially since we all know that those who aren't insured will still get medical care in cases of emergency, which means we pay for their lack of foresight in failing to get insurance in the first place. Isn't that a Republican principle? No free rides? And he's against that provision? Hmmm. Something smells in the state of Ohio.

They also look silly in light of the fact that both the AARP and the AMA have come out and endorsed the bill now. I happened to see an AMA doctor talking in support of it. He was even-handed, but clearly advocated for the bill's passage. I figured he had to be some random doctor, so supportive he was of the bill. Then they flashed his title - head of the AMA. Wow. Really?

It is one of those great times, when people step up and stand for something. It started with Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who hit the gavel to being the proceedings. It was his father who introduced health care legislation for years, and it was his son who took over that legacy for the past 54 years (and who started the proceedings for the Medicare bill back in 1964). Every year, he introduced a health care reform bill. Every year.

And then during the press conference after the vote, Nancy Pelosi made a point of calling up to the podium Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), the late Teddy Kennedy's son - another champion of this cause, up through his death. "My dad was a senator," Patrick Kennedy said. "But tonight his spirit was in the House."

I'm unhappy with the restrictions of funding for abortions. But it seems like a hollow victory for those who want it. At least, I hope it will be, in the end. As in, there's no guarantee it stays in the bill. And even if it does, it doesn't end abortion (though it does affect the poorest of women out there.) We'll have to wait and see what happens. In the meantime, the bill has passed, 220 to 215.

And my brother made a great point last night. Why do they need 1,000 pages? The Medicare bill back in the 1960s apparently was 28 pages. I haven't read the current bill, though am very familiar with its concepts, but the number of pages does seem daunting. I suppose it's the evolution of the times, and the law. When we lawyers write "briefs," they hardly ever are anymore.

Politics. It's the making of sausage, isn't it?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Scare

On Monday, I returned home from San Diego to three phone messages and a letter from Inland Imaging - the people who had done my mammogram the week before my trip to San Diego - asking me to make another appointment. "The results of your exam indicate the need for additional evaluation," the letter said. "This does not mean there is a serious problem in your breast(s); however, you should not delay followup."

Okay, I thought. It's fine. I'm sure it's fine. How can I have breast cancer? I don't feel like I have breast cancer. And - um - well, I'm just not naturally endowed enough for a lump to stay hidden. Right? (Right?)

It was too late to call the office directly. Instead, I called and made an appointment with their main number. The soonest I could get in was this coming Tuesday. Eight days later. A long time to wait.

I figured I would call the main office in the morning, and just wait everything out until then. Then the phone rang. It was my sister. She was calling about something else. But her timing was perfect. Having just decided to share my news with no one until the next day at the earliest, I told her my news. I read the letter out loud. We processed. Just talked. I processed, she listened. We remembered that they had brought me in for a second mammogram a few years ago, and everything had turned out fine then. By the end of our conversation, I was as calm as I was going to get. And I was going to be able to sleep that night. At least, sleep a little. Everyone should have a sister who calls at just the right time like that.

At 8:05 the next morning, I called the office directly. The woman, Jo, was really nice - she had a very soft, gentle voice - the perfect temperament for phone calls from people like me - but I was not lulled. I asked questions, prodding for information; she hesitated, was general...

"Look," I said. "I'm upset. I'm worried. The way I handle stress is to get information. As much information as possible. I know I won't get answers for weeks" - Not true, she said. The doctor would speak to me at the appointment itself. And it's all vague as to reasons for changes from past mammograms, she said. That's information, I told her, laughing. As my sister said later, information is different than answers. (Which has been my question with the movie front, too - can't I get more information about where things might be headed with my stories? But that's a different issue, I suppose.)

Then Jo said a beautiful thing. I know this is short notice, she said, and it's at a different office, but would you be able to make an appointment at 9:45 a.m. this morning? "I'm there," I said, and got directions to where I'd be going. "Jo, I love ya, and it will be what it's going to be - but at least I will know," I said as I told her goodbye.

As I drove to the north side of town, I thought about getting a negative diagnosis. I was all prepared. A biopsy would come next, if there was really something to worry about. So there would not be a cancer diagnosis today. I planned out my chemo and everything. I wondered if the doctor would agree with what I'd decided (not a full mascetomy, chemo and radiation...) And then I would lose my hair, I thought. (My hair! I thought, and realized how vain I really am. For as much as I don't care about things like that....)

So there I was, almost void of emotion (except way deep down inside, where I was like a volcano), walking into the office and taking all the exams... which are not fun exams, but I was too worried about health to worry about comfort.... Both technicians were reassuring. They couldn't diagnose - that was for the doctor - but they said such reassuring things that I thought, well, nothing looks too bad... It can't, if they feel so positive about it all.

I could see the screen on the sonogram (or whatever it's called). "Well, that does look like something," I said to the technician when she reached the one area that showed up as a dark spot. Yes, but it doesn't mean cancer, she said. (Then the thing on the screen got humongous, which scared me until I realized she had probably magnified it.)

She was done with the test, and went to find the doctor. She came back. It would be a little while - he was talking to another doctor. She laughed and said she gets so possessive - he's her doctor and he isn't supposed to be occupied when she wants to talk to him. I vehemently agreed with her.

So then she found him, and he walked in, and I liked the fact that he wasn't really young (so he would know what he's doing) but he wasn't really old either (so he still had his eyesight, which is more than I can say for my own tired old eyes), and then he said, everything's fine. Everything's great. See you in a year.

So I high-fived him, and I said are you sure? And he said, yes I'm sure, it's just a collection of cysts, and I quizzed him a little more (for informational purposes only) and he said again that he was sure. And I was so glad, so glad. I thought, thank you God, that it wasn't me, this time it wasn't me...

And then I felt bad. Because think of all the women around the country - the world - who, in that same moment, were having that same kind of conversation with their own doctors, and who were getting a wholly different kind of answer. No amount of information can erase the stinging, ringing words that they were getting, in that exact same moment. Or hour. Or day.

And I know it isn't wrong for me to get a good answer even when they aren't. All the same, I felt their angst and pain in the midst of my relief. Right in the very middle.

I have friends who have had cancer. They have been brave and extraordinary. One of my friends, Gay Edwards, took the illness and turned it into good for others in that she put together a series of healing meditative CDs that can be found at her website, www.bridgestohealingenergy.com. What a gift she is to the rest of us. If I ever got cancer, I'd look to my friends like Gay, who have gone through it, for guidance on how to get to the other side of it.

So that's my saga. It's part of the reason I haven't blogged this week. Between traveling and this (and a busy week overall), I've been completely wiped out. But happy. How can I not be happy? What great news. A new lease on life, as the expression goes.

And next year I won't wait the six months that I waited this year to get my mammogram. And from now on, I'll actually do those monthly exams that they tell you to do. And in the meantime, maybe there's something I can do for the women who had different news on Tuesday about the results of their exams. I don't know yet what that is. But I've been thinking a lot about them.

UPDATE: I emailed my friend Gay to let her know I'd made the preceding post. She emailed me today. Here's what she said.

Hi Kiddo,

I just read your Cancer Post. What an amazing story. This is a story every one, yes, man and woman should read. This crappy disease effects all of us in one way or another. So many people will face this first hand, as I did almost 4 years ago. Beth, I'm not glad I had cancer, and sometimes the possibility of a 'return' of this disease scares the beegeebers out of me. And, yet, my experience with this particular life challenge has left me a much better person than I ever could have become without the catapulting effect of the Big C. For You, My Sister, I am just so profoundly pleased that you will not face this. Stay healthy, and happy, my friend.

It was nice to read about MY STORY through your words. Thanks for the plug and your sincere words about my experience. You are a lovely, huge-hearted person.

I recommend these books for your reading on this topic:

Anticancer...David Servan-Schreiber
The China Study...T. Colin Campbell
Cancer Free...Bill Henderson

They are all excellent, and each author will give you his 'take' on how to remain cancer/heart disease free for life. Amazing studies! In-Joy...most you can get on Amazon.

Love you, Thank you,


Gay

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Another Beautiful Day in Paradise

So here I am, in beautiful San Diego - actually, north of it, and south of Escondido - feeling, as one of my sisters would say, that "baby steps" are the only way to go. It's been a great time, and fun. The trip to L.A.? Like I said, baby steps for my art, and enjoyable and interesting on its own merits. Love the weather here - I told the security guard at the Spokane airport, "I hope it snows while I'm gone." She said I better not make such wishes - "you're coming back here," she pointed out. Ah, yes. The dreaded "I shall return."

For as beautiful as the weather is in Southern California, and for as unique (in a good way) living here would be - there's the traffic. Such traffic. Everything takes forever in travel time. I got started back up north yesterday at about 4 p.m. after a visit in southeast San Diego, and hit that dreaded traffic. It ebbed and flowed, for which I was grateful (for the flowing, not the ebbing). But - man. In Spokane, I'm five - maybe ten - minutes away from pretty much everything. Sometimes 20 minutes. Sometimes 45, if it's in Idaho. But things are close in, and the traffic is almost never the reason for the length of time it takes to get from one point to the other.

Still - I don't know - there's something wonderful about being here. It's like a return to home. Which, for me, that's true, since I grew up in Poway (near Escondido). As I first arrived, and got my rental car (what an interesting fight that was - I won, btw), and was driving up I-15, I looked to my right and there was a car all painted up with "Go Poway" whitewashed on the windows. Must have been in preparation for an athletic event... I felt like honking my horn and waving. The set-up felt designed to be my welcome-home greeting.

And then there was watching my dad play tennis this week with his group of men that play tennis together every week. They were funny, and nice to me. Very Californian. I watched them play a few games. I was the only audience member, but that didn't stop me from applauding encouragement at particularly good volleys. One of the guys in the tennis office came out and told my dad and the others, "Don't get nervous. This is the biggest crowd you've had all year!" So, funny.

More to go, as I'm here through Monday... I've volunteered for a family thing tomorrow morning, totally forgetting about the Eagles game (egads!), so football is not on the horizon (although we might go to a sports bar in the afternoon, since the Vikings/Packers are not on TV). Baseball's good to watch too (except when the Yankees win). And it's another beautiful day. The sun's come out for the weekend it seems. Life is good on the coast.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hiatus

I'm off tomorrow to San Diego for a long weekend (with both Thursday and Friday now in L.A.), so will be posting intermittently, if at all. See you on the other side of Monday!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pursuing the Art of Writing

Paul Castro came for a day workshop yesterday, to Coeur d'Alene. Paul is the UCLA prof, "August Rush" author who came up to Idaho last spring and gave a weeklong workshop from which my suspense screenplay has come. It's like a shot in the arm to have him here. And then I go to San Diego on Wednesday with an early meeting in L.A. on Friday morning and then a tour of the UCLA Film School (courtesy of Paul) after that. It was a great way to rev up for this trip - to have Paul here, and to hang out with the gang of will-be (paid) writers that we are.

In between the seminar and the evening event (a showing of "August Rush"), I drove back to Spokane for a soccer game. Now, here's a new twist: I scored a goal! I never score. For thirty years, I've played defense. I'm a little lost up front. But up front was where they had me play, and I was right in the right place when one of my teammates crossed the ball just in the right way, a little in front of me, so I could score easily and effortlessly. Gooo-aaaal!! Someone said I should a game ball for such a feat. It was a nice thought.

photo credit: Philipp Hilpert, found here