Sunday, February 27, 2011

What I'm Reading: A New Louisa May Alcott Biography

In a shocking turn of events, I am reading a biography about a spinster.

Louisa May Alcott has been one of my favorite authors since I read Little Women in third grade. Alcott was actually a very interesting person who lived in a very interesting time and place. She had a crazy upbringing filled with deprivation and hardship among the Transcendentalists, yet she grew up to be a prolific and successful writer. She wrote "blood and thunder tales" -- pulp fiction -- in addition to more "proper" stories for children and adults alike.

In Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women, Harriet Reisen shows us the people and events that shaped Alcott as a person and as a writer. Reisen shows how Alcott's writings were based on her life, and we learn about the real people and experiences behind the tales.

I'm really enjoying it, but then, I love all things Alcott. Which is saying a lot, considering the fact that after 40 years I'm still pissed because she married Laurie off to that drip Amy.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Other Grandmother's Blessed Mother

This was the first of my collection of Mary images. It belonged to my father's mother, and I took it (with permission) from her home after she died. It hung in her bedroom for as long as I can remember, so it's got to be at least 40 years old.

I'm sure it was a shock to poor Mary to leave my grandmother's house -- where dust was afraid to fall, and if it did, it was attacked and eradicated immediately -- and come to my house, where she is a little dusty more often than not. But I figure after everything the stories say she's been through, she's probably tough enough to handle it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fun Projects

People often ask me if I'm bored now that I'm not working, and they wonder what I do all day. The answer is, no, I'm not bored, and what I do all day is putter.

I'm pretty sure I get this directly from my mother, who can happily spend days on end at home, sewing, knitting, crocheting, and cooking. I am the same way, although my skill level in the needle arts is sorely lacking.

I made this necklace from things I had on hand: ribbon, silver findings, and pieces of clear plastic tubing from Home Depot. I like how it looks light and dainty, even though it has hardware on it.

I also made this bracelet. The beads are handmade, but not by me. They were on a necklace that I decided to cut apart and repurpose. The silver beads are actually hex nuts.

Since I am unemployed, that challenge is to use what I already have and to resist the temptation to go out and buy new supplies. That's also part of the fun.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Signs of Spring

This makes me happy.

I've been watching this tree every day for weeks now. I noticed it had wee little buds awhile back -- long before anything else seemed to be moving toward spring. Gradually, they have grown and opened into catkins.

I've also been hearing songbirds in the mornings around here. Not Canadian geese, not crows. Songbirds. I know that winter is an important part of the natural cycles of the Earth, but I am so happy to see some signs of spring.

Mr. Robin Redbreast hasn't shown up yet, the slacker, but I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Awesome Rating: VERY High

This statue of the Blessed Mother with baby Jesus recently came to me from my aunt. Before her, it belonged to my grandmother and great-grandmother. We're not sure of anything before that. Traditionally, it has been handed down to the eldest daughter in the family, but none of my cousins wanted it so my aunt sent it to my mother to see if any of her daughters wanted it. I got first crack at it because I am the eldest, and oh yes, I wanted it.

What my aunt didn't know is that I collect images of the Blessed Mother. The collection began with an image that belonged to my father's mother, so of course I am delighted to have the statue that belonged to my other grandmother. Interestingly, both grandmothers had images that are of a mother with a baby -- not Mary with a halo or Mary and a grown Jesus wearing halos. Just a mom with her child. I particularly like that this is a very young woman whose hip is cocked a little to accommodate the weight of her baby boy. She looks like every young mother, everywhere, throughout time.

When my brother and I went to the Mexican marketplace in LA, I looked for just the right image of Mary to add to my collection. I was a little disappointed not to find the right thing, but now I understand that it was because the right one was already on its way to me. There's a life lesson in there somewhere.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Roadtrip: Day 8

Forgive me, gentle readers, for taking some time to finish up my road trip saga. I've spent the past three days sleeping. I'm finally shaking the malaria or typhiod or whatever it was we had, and starting to feel like myself again. Also, I had a boatload of laundry to do.

We got a really early start on our last day. It was a race to get me to a train headed to Rhode Island. It was also a race against a possible snowstorm. We did see a little snow in New Jersey, but I made it stop using my psychic powers. It's just another service I provide.

We were only in West Virginia for a short time before we got to Pennsylvania -- as you can see, the sun was just coming up.

The state of New Jersey has their welcome sign in the middle of the highway, which is just wrong. But it was a beautiful day in North Plainfield, which is the birthplace and childhood home of Monica of 5 Cats Shy. There wasn't a statue or even a plaque commemorating her birth at the hospital there, which is also just wrong.

Soon it was time to say goodbye to Monica and the kitties, and head home via Amtrak. It was a long eight days; at the same time, it went by in a blur. I guess time is always sort of elastic when you are away from home and your usual routines.

I've been telling a few people about the trip and everyone says "I'm sorry it was so awful." But it wasn't. Yes, we were sick, and yes, we got hemmed in by Snowmageddon. But we also had a lot of laughs and a lot of fun.

I guess when you're with a true friend, even difficult circumstances can turn into good times.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Roadtrip: Day 7

Sunrise at the South Carolina state line.

We got on the road before dawn, excited to be heading north after so many days of an eastern trajectory. The cats were happy to be singing along with their favorite tunes.

We crossed into Virginia (cue the happy dance) and entertained the patrons at a Waffle House off I-81 by walking the cats in the parking lot after we had lunch.

The drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenendoah Valley was so pretty. The roads had signs stating that speeders would be caught by aircraft enforcement. I viewed this as a challenge and I kept telling Monica I wanted to see a Bear In the Air in action. She thought I was kidding, and then wondered how we made such good time.

When we arrived in Woodstock, VA, Monica got in touch with the Collegiate Membership Coordinator at the Sigma Sigma Sigma Sorority National Headquarters, who very kindly offered to give us a tour. The house was built in the late 1800s. It's beautiful, and full of the rich history associated with the sorority, which was founded in 1898. Monica loved it because she is a Sigma and she was at the mothership; I loved it because I enjoyed the old house filled with antique furniture, china, jewelry, and history.

Roadtrip Day 6

We got another early start and headed toward Mississippi. By midmorning, the cats were getting restless (did I mention we were traveling with two cats?) and needed a potty stop. We also took them out on their leashes for a little stroll in a gas station parking lot. Ringo (left) betrayed his paternal alleycat origins by insisting he check out the dumpster. Seamus was more cautious, preferring a very short stroll near the car.

We got back on the road with the cats in their carriers, singing along to Monica's mix CDs. Seamus likes to sing along with Meatloaf's "Bat Out of Hell;" Ringo enjoys singing along to Buddy Holly's "Every Day" and The Beastie Boys' "Girls" (Ringo is a xylophone man).

The next thing we knew, we were crossing the mighty Mississippi River.

I did my Crossing Into A New State Dance (patent pending). We recited "M-I-Crooked Letter-Crooked Letter-I-Crooked Letter-Crooked Letter-I-Humpback-Humpback-I." And we drove on.

When we reached Alabama, it was a beautiful day -- more like spring than midwinter.

Finally, we made it into Georgia and headed for Atlanta. It felt like a really long day. I'm not sure why this one in particular felt long -- since they have all been long -- but it did. We staggered into the house Monica shares with her friend Karen, went out for a quick bite to eat, then went to bed.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Roadtrip: Day 5

What happens when you go off-roading in a Hyundai Accent.

Our day did not start off well. We overslept until 8:00, and shortly after rushing out the door, ended up stuck in a snowbank. You see, there was a huge puddle in the road, and since we had already sailed through some very deep ones the day before we decided to go around. Getting back onto the road proved problematic.

We called for roadside assistance and then waited. We were first approached by an old man who lectured us before trying to help. Then two guys turned up and as they were discussing what to do, another truck came by. He had chains, so the two guys hitched us to their truck and pulled us out. I wanted to hug them. Who knew that when angels appeared, one would be a redhead smoking a cigarette and the other would have a mullet?

Later in the day, we crossed into Louisiana. We took pictures at the border and did a litle dance by the side of the road. Texas was awesome, and I want to go back someday. But seriously, it is a big state. Getting across it felt like it took forever.

We rolled into Monroe, LA at around 6 p.m. and then went to dinner at the Cracker Barrel across the street from the motel. Sometimes you just need meatloaf.

Roadtrip: Day 4

We reluctantly bid a fond farewell to room 14 at the Motel 6 in Van Horn (conveniently located right next to room 41) and headed down the road toward Abilene.

We followed a snowstorm into east Texas, and were hoping to arrive after it was cleaned up. We saw a lot of cars and trucks that had gone off the highway in the storm, but the highway was clear. Local roads, not so much.

We arrived in Abilene in the middle of the afternoon. We got lunch at a local greasy spoon and then went to K-Mart for snacks so that we could skip dinner and not be on icy roads after dark. Our tasks accomplished, we went back to the motel. I decided to take a nap. When you're sick and driving across the country, you take any sleep opportunities that arise.

Friday, February 04, 2011

LA to San Diego

Gentle readers, now that I feel like I might not actually die of influenza (more on that later), I'm going to try to catch you up on the highlights of the past week or so. These posts will read in order; future posts will be at the top of the blog as usual.

After a quick trip to the Wizard of Bras In LA for a photo op, my brother and I headed to San Diego to spend the afternoon with my aunt, uncle, and cousin. I got to meet my cousin's girlfriend (she's totally cool) and we had a wonderful lunch at a Mexican restaurant.

After lunch, Aaron and I took a walk down the pier at Ocean Beach, and then headed back to spend a little more time with our relatives. It was great to see them. All too soon, it was time for me to meet Monica so Aaron could go home and we could begin preparations for our excellent adventure.

I met Monica at her favorite restaurant where she was saying goodbye to people she saw there evey week. We also made a couple of new friends. This is Howard and Estelle. I didn't really get a chance to get to know Estelle; she was just so awesome I had to get her picture.

San Diego: Day 1

After spending my first morning in San Diego getting hopelessly lost (Verizon's VZ Navigator is cheap for a reason), I finally found Balboa Park. I wandered around looking at art and jewely in the artist's area. Then I grabbed my Nook, got a snack, and settled on a bench to listen to a guy playing music and read for a while. While I was there, I had a nice conversation with a homeless guy named Teddy.

The park is huge. Everywhere I turned, there was more to see: a desert garden, a rose garden, and then the vistas beyond. Inside the park are theaters, and a conservatory of music type of thing where kids take music lessons. It's like a beautiful world that is completely separate from the bustling city. Which was really nice because driving in California completely stressed me out. Everything you've ever heard about Californians being lad back is a lie.

Later that afternoon, I picked up Monica at work. She said her goodbyes to her friends in the Radiology department. She was sad to leave, but we were excited about our upcoming excellent adventure.

San Diego: Day 2

Monica and I spent the day getting things organized, mailing boxes of clothes to her home in Atlanta, and returning her cable box. We had dinner at the Pizza Grotto, and when we went home, we felt unusually exhausted. We decided to go to bed early so we could get up early, get packed, and go. We wanted to be ready to work at peak efficiency the next day.

San Diego: Day 3

I woke up on my third day in San Diego, too sick to move. I lay on the couch that was my bed, alternating between feverish dreams and wondering if I was going to die. Monica wasn't feeling much better.

We also discovered that there was a huge winter storm barrelling down on most of the country. We knew we would have to forego Route 66, but didn't know which other route would be safer. At any rate, we were really too sick to care.

San Diego: Day 4

When we woke up on Monday morning, we were both still sick. Very sick. Skip-all-meals-and-sleep-all-day sick. We decided to forego packing and roadtripping for another day.

Roadtrip: Day 1

When we woke up on the first of February, we were out of options. Monica's lease was up, so despite illness and the weather, we had to pack up and go. We got a late start, but we were on our way.

The sun was shining, mountains and desert rolled by, we were listening to Anna Nalick. Things were definitely looking up.

We were excited to cross into Arizona. It felt like the road trip was starting in earnest. Catwoman was so happy she jumped into this shot.

We drove through Tucson and on to Benson, where we found a Motel 6 and settled in for the night.

While there, we made an archaeological discovery. My research indicates that it is an ancient form of communication.

Roadtrip: Day 2

We woke up in Benson, AZ to discover that an unprecedented cold front had swept through the West while we slept. We're pretty sure we were the cause of it since nothing about this roadtrip has gone as planned. I think the plagues of locusts are scheduled to arrive over the weekend.

Bowlin's Continental Divide Trading Post was heavily advertised on billboards for miles before the exit: "Snakeskin Belts!" "Agate Bookends!" "Mexican Pottery!" "Turquoise Jewelry!" "Grab & Go Snacks!" The appeared to have everything. We had to stop.

It was there that I ran into a guy I went to high school with. He lives nearby and works at the trading post. I figure the odds of that happening are even greater than the odds of Mother Nature deciding to send the worst winter weather in history on the same week we decide to drive across the country.

Monica and I bought matching mood rings at the trading post. Right now, according to the key, mine is the color of "mixed emotions." It's been like that a lot, actually. We're sick, we're stressed, and we're laughing hysterically over everything that keeps going wrong.

We pushed on and had lunch in the west Texas town of El Paso. We drove another hundred miles or so and, with the help of Monica's awesome sister Michelle (who was at home answering our calls and searching the internet on our behalf), we found a motel in Van Horn. When we arrived, we discovered that we got there at just the right time. The motel was filling up with locals who had no heat or hot water due to frozen pipes. I'm beginning to feel like we owe the entire country an apology.

Roadtrip: Day 3

Beautiful Downtown Van Horn, TX.

We woke up in Van Horn, TX feeling sick. After checking the Weather Channel and realizing we really couldn't make much progress through Texas anyway due to storms in the Dallas area, we decided to stay in Van Horn and begin life anew. We figured that a teeming metropolis must have lots of opportunities for a couple of women with skills and moxie.

But first, we went back to sleep for four hours.

After breakfast, we surveyed our new home. I thought this might be a good place to get a job, assuming they were only closed temporarily due to frozen pipes. At the shed in the back of the lot there was a sign proclaiming that they also sell books and do upholstery by appointment. I just want to work at a place where I can answer the phone "Fancy Junk, how may I help you?"

A short drive around Van Horn revealed that the town did not have certain things that we felt all towns should have. So we decided that if the weather kept us there forever (and it looked like it might) we would open Bark-n-Bowl Pizza & Hot Oven Grinders -- a combination bowling alley, pet store, and pizza place. Monica pointed out that nobody in Texas would have any idea what a grinder is; I felt that the curiosity factor would be a key to our success.

We had dinner at the Hotel El Capitan, which is beautiful, and was also interesting to me because I once knew Henry Trost, the grandson (or maybe great-grandson) of the Henry Trost who was one of the great architects of the west.

At this point, it didn't even strike me as an odd coincidence.