My 2010 music picks.

It's a tradition, you know.

"John Wayne," Sons of Sylvia

The first track on their album drew me in more than any of the others I previewed, and I love it for the epic heights they strive for, from the lead singer's unexpected vocal leaps into the stratosphere, to the audacity to tell a woman he's going to come save her just like John Wayne would. Before all the American Gothic ticks were smoothed out of their creativity, this song slipped through, a little dusty, a little dangerous, and all heart.

"It Is What It Is," Lifehouse

Though the height of their fame came ten years ago, Lifehouse is still one of the best groups around. Their latest album felt a little more uneven than the others, but this song, with its slightly R&B flourishes and seriously effortless melody, is mellow and earnest at the same time, and really never gets old.

"You Lost Me," Christina Aguilera

I raved about this after she performed it at the AI finale, and the recorded version proves that sometimes nothing can match the raw emotion of a live song. Still, it's out of place on a mostly throwaway album for its simplicity and haunting arrangement, and I have to give props once again to Sia for writing this song out of the depths of her totally eccentric and fascinating soul.

"Paris (Oo La La)," Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

This band does vintage rock 'n roll and blues and does them well. I saw this performed on the Tonight Show and was blown away. It's gritty, it's got swagger, and it even feels a little dirty though it's not (I think). Grace's voice is captivating. I love it when a group creates a guitar and rhythm lick that's completely infectious and makes me want to dance to it, which I should not be doing.

"God Willin' and the Creek Don't Rise," Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs

The title song from his fourth studio album is the best one, and again, I've raved about it here. Ray is just a genius. That's it. It's like he has access to this place juuuuust beyond our own dimension, and he just reaches in and pulls out melody after gorgeous melody, and sets them to perfect lyrics. You need to own all of his albums, but if you're wary, start with this song.

"Islands," Shakira/The xx

Everything Shakira does is fabulous, but that's beside the point; this song off her latest Spanish-language album (but sung in English) is particularly fabulous, and I was surprised to find out it was a cover of an original by The xx. It's just that the lyrics sound exactly like what she normally writes herself. Anyway, her version is breezy, summery, yellow, danceable; the British group's version is low-key, a little brooding, and obviously very hip. I think they wrote a great song, and you should check them out.

"Straight to You," Josh Groban

Unfortunately in our current society, an un-ironic man singing un-ironic lyrics is a strange thing, to be held at bay and regarded suspiciously. This is why Josh will always just kind of be on the outside, doing what he does. (Well, that and he got famous singing classical crossover in other languages) His latest album is a much better reflection of him. This song is beautiful. That's all, it's just beautiful, and as it's a cover of a song from 1991, it was reworked to be this kind of ethereal moment in time. (The original? Not so much) And the words just slay me. "And the sky will throw thunderbolts and sparks/Straight at you/But I'll come running/Straight to you..."

"Roll Away Your Stone," Mumford and Sons

So I just got their album two days ago. Typically when some band is poised to be the next big thing, I shy away; can't explain it, I just do. But I also want to support real music, and they obviously have it in spades. They're a London-based folk group, guys in their twenties, who create very earnest and tightly-drawn songs; some are boot-stompers, some are more delicate. My favorite so far is "Roll Away Your Stone," but I kind of get the feeling this is an album where my favorite will keep changing, until I love 'em like a Ray LaMontagne.

Any good music to share? ;-)


A very special Domesticated Friday.

It's special because 1) it's basically my Thanksgiving post, and 2) it involves actual cooking. O_O

So today, let's talk dressing.

Although Stove Top dressing really is good, it obviously pales compared to dressing made from scratch. And, I think it's important for younger generations - not just old folks - to know how to make staples such as this, because tradition is crucial and knowing how to do something yourself is becoming an increasingly lost art. I'm not a cook by any means, but I understand the importance of the skill. (The real skill. Not just microwaving Hot Pockets. Which I just did)

Please note: the recipe is for Thanksgiving, and presumes that you will be feeding at least 10 hungry people; there will be enough left over to freeze and use for Christmas, too! You're welcome. =)

P.S. You also may want to have an assistant.

So, here's what you'll need:

6 eggs
1 1/3 cup milk
4 tbsp butter
1 bottle of sage
3 loaves white bread
4 boxes Jiffy cornbread
1 full stalk of celery
2 onions
1 jar chicken bouillion cubes
2 packages Italian sausage (five links/pckg)
Salt, pepper
1 mixing bowl
1 large bowl
1 ginormous roast pan


Video game school? GREAT IDEA.

I stumbled across this fascinating article in the New York Times Magazine about a school in New York City (of course, where else?) named Quest to Learn that uses video games as a central educational resource. There are so many different facets of life and education that the article directly and indirectly touches on, that this blog post will probably become over-long, but hey, where else am I going to post this?

What I want the reader to understand is that I'm not anti-video game. Dear God, the hours and hours I spent in the days before worries playing on systems from the Atari 2600 to the XBox 360. I also am not saying that a video game design course couldn't be integrated into existing curriculums and used interdisciplinarily to great effect. It's just that some of the ideas and philosophies driving the Quest to Learn school indicate what amounts to a scrubbing of all pre-21st century pedagogy in favor of funneling learning through video games.

Video games, essentially, teach us how to be more robotically functioning - greater response time! improved dexterity! increased peripheral vision! There has always been a decision-making function. In the great, old Atari game Pitfall it was, should I cross the lake by hopping on the croc heads or by swinging on that there vine? Decisions happen every day, nearly every instant, as physicists in favor of the infinite universes theory can tell you. So while video games can give us improved military skills and heap more decision-making on us, what they fail fundamentally to be able to teach us is the why in life.

Let's get to the thick of things. The article states, "In a speech given the day before the start of the 2009 G-20 economic summit, Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of Google, offered his own tacit approval, suggesting that playing video games, especially online multiplayer games, fosters collaboration, and that collaboration, in turn, fosters innovation — making it good training for a career in technology. 'Everything in the future online is going to look like a multiplayer game,” Schmidt said. 'If I were 15 years old, that’s what I’d be doing right now.'"

But that's just it, Eric - I'm not 15. Nor are about five billion other people on the planet. Just because video games are fun, and because there are grown-ups who find dealing with them easier than dealing with being a grown-up, does not mean that a diversion meant primarily for people who don't have responsibilities 18 hours out of the day is suddenly supposed to be all we ever do and see.


Hamlet was deep.

To be, or not to be: that is the question:

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? -

- who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought...


The current crisis in American job searches.

So you all know how I feel about the job search process.

One of the featured articles on Yahoo today talks about companies strangely not being able to hire middle-level workers (since those were the jobs that were hysterically slashed when the economy took a fall). There are plenty of reasons offered in the article, and I'll let you read it if you want, but the best part about it happened to be the comments section. I'm not a huge fan of these comment sections returning, because so many people are legitimately amoral, racist, sexist, or just stupid, and I hated wasting my time reading past their garbage before and I hate it now. Fortunately, many of the comments for this article actually pertain intelligently to the subject.

People everywhere are angry at the current hiring practices companies have adopted. One commenter really preached it: "I don't want to hear another word from employers griping about not being able to fill positions when they do NOT give the common courtesy of letting candidates know that they have even received application information. They don't return phone calls, they don't want to be contacted, they don't want to pay a fair wage, they don't want to offer benefits, and they certainly don't want to come clean about any going concern issues."

How in the world has it become acceptable to completely ignore the online applications that are submitted, especially when it's most times the only method we have of applying? At my last job we got so many online apps and if we weren't hiring, there was no way to contact them and let them know. We just had to ignore it, delete it from the e-mail system. But the places that are hiring, that have put out ads on Monster and CareerBuilder and so on, can't they at least extend the courtesy of sending a form e-mail that says "thanks for applying"??

And they don't want to be contacted! I have submitted almost 18 online applications and only ONE gave me, in the process, a name and number for a contact. Everyone else - screw you, we don't want to hear from you, we don't give a shit about you.

Another complaint from a commenter was that positions are being eliminated and then combined at a lower salary. His former company laid off a slew of people, then started combining their disparate positions into one and put out ads looking for not only one person to do the job of three or more people, but to do it for much less pay. His theory is that it was done to keep padding the pockets of the top dogs - and it's hard to argue with that. But also...why are Americans being asked to keep taking lower-paying jobs? It should be obvious that employers don't want to pay us what we're worth anymore - that degreed people end up making $25,000 a year or less which is a CRIME - and then they sit around and contribute to articles complaining about how jobs aren't being filled.

I checked in with my temp agency today and the two or three positions they had available only paid nine or ten dollars an hour. I felt bad telling the lady that I just can't go that low, but after reading all the comments from the people at the article, I don't so much now. I have no savings, therefore I have to re-enter the work force in a place that allows me to become financially independent once again. And I won't apologize for that.

I wish I had a proper conclusion for this post, but there are no words to sum up how I feel at this point.



Yesterday I told one of the twelve-year-olds that I wanted her to draw me a cottage. I gave her the specs.

Today I found this on the desk in my office:


Wouldn't it be nice if life could be like that just a little bit? "Here's what I want..." and the next day it's a reality, without blood, without sweat, without tears. Without rejection or missed chances or misunderstandings. Without waiting.

I was half-joking when I told her I wanted her to draw it, the little, cozy cottage in the woods, like in the land of hobbits. But because she is an Artiste - and, it's starting to look like, a really good kid - she drew it anyway.

That was the first thing I noticed about her almost exactly a year ago, when I first came to the center. Her potential for art, at such a young age, is possibly limitless. She does it all. Sketches, paintings; she did an entire spring mural on one of the walls in the classroom using construction paper and magazine clippings. She fitted dolls with new clothes using the fabric scraps on the art easel. She made a papier-mache pinata out of the blue one day. She cut out the most elegant snowflakes to hang from the ceiling last winter, and decorated them with glitter. She drew scarily accurate caricatures of the other students on the computer using an old drawing program. She made an entire safari of animals using play-dough.

And what I love about it is that no one has to prompt her to do this stuff, ever. You just look up and she's either halfway through or already done.

Isn't is kind of amazing to think that every single person has their "something"?

Just imagine if we all got to do our "something" every day for a living. All of us.


You Lost Me.

So I raved about Christina Aguilera's performance on the Idol finale last week of a song off her upcoming album Bionic (due June 8). Even if you're not a fan, check out the song in the video below. I think it's crazy awesome and she is memsmerizing to watch; she interprets the hell out of that song.

As I've been replaying this song over and over the last few days, I wondered what genius had sat down at a piano and plunked it out. Found out last night - Australian singer/songwriter Sia, about whom I'm sure I've blogged at least once. Her last album, Some People Have Real Problems, came out in January of '08 and is fantastic; she's a little quirky, definitely has her own sound, and a serious set of pipes. "You Lost Me" has her stamp all over it. I'm stoked! I love it when a music collaboration comes out so right. I only have to wait like ten days to get the album version and that still feels like way too long.

(for some reason, sometimes video embeds mess up the comment link, so if you don't see it just click on the blog post title and it'll take you to the post's individual page with comment section)

Happy Sunday! I have absolutely nothing on my plate, so I might drive to Old Navy and try on some dresses; I wanna have at least one for my trip!


Why they lost.

ALERT! ALERT! American Idol post. :-)

I'm going to detail why each finalist, up to this week, did not succeed in taking the Idol crown.

12. Lacey Brown - I admire her tenacity, but though her voice was quirky, in the end it simply was not strong enough. No matter what, an Idol winner has to have a seriously strong voice, and she was never going to add that to her resume. Plus, her song choices were kinda bunk.

11. Paige Miles - every few years Simon has a moment of clarity, and I agree with him that she had one of the best voices in the competition. It's usually not good, however, to audition for the show because your co-workers want you to, or your mom, or whoever. You have to go in with a plan, and Paige simply didn't have one. In addition, she often looked dazed, as though she still wasn't sure where she was. And nerves were a problem also.

10. Didi Benami - my official favorite; she wasn't my typical fave, with obvious good looks and a heavy emotional side. But her super-sweet personality, killer voice, and strong stance against judge ridiculosity won me over. However, in this field of contestants, one true misstep was one too many. She took an excellent song choice and performed it as though a fourth member of the Dreams, complete with big curls and glittery gown. That simply wasn't her style. She should have gone acoustic and melancholy, and if unsure of the guitar work allowed, simply had guitarists join her onstage. I was broken to see her go, but at least there was one other person who I liked very well.

9. Andrew Garcia - his pretty awesome take on "Straight Up" during Hollywood week haunted him every week of live competition until he finally, I think, just gave up trying to please the judges. I think that in the end Andrew just wasn't as creative as we wanted him to be, and some very random missteps ("You Give Me Something," "Heard It Through the Grapevine") only added to the lackluster-ness of it all. Very sad. Of course, it would have helped just a bit if the judges didn't insist on actually reminding him of "Straight Up" during every single critique.

8. Katie Stevens - another one of the top voices. Yet strangely, she was far better during the audition rounds than live. She does have a short history of pageants, and that perhaps lent to her performances feeling less than organic. She never really felt the groove, never really let the audience close to her. The facade never cracked. It's hard for someone to gain voter sympathy that way. And so, they stopped caring. I would like to note that I think it's freaking awesome she can speak Portuguese.


Simple things.

It's funny the things we don't remember after we grow up. Like helicopter seeds. They fall from maple trees in the springtime, and whirl and spin their way to the ground like the vehicle they predate by, surely, millions of years.

I had not given one thought to helicopter seeds since I was a child; so, fittingly, I was with children last week when there they were, once again, in my plane of existence. And how is it that I could go so long without even remembering seeing them? Surely they fall every spring. Is it really possible that I was so caught up in the to-and-fro expected of me that I never really saw them? Or that I simply looked right past them? I don't know which is worse.

It was a sunny and lightly windy day, a Wednesday, and as the kids ran and tried to snatch the seeds right out of the air, I stood up and watched the scene. There was a veritable canopy of trees overhead, broken through here and there with the blue and white of sky, and the seeds falling reminded me of butterflies, the way they take flight at the simplest sound and fill the air with their beating wings; except the maple seeds flutter downward fearlessly, unlike those butterflies who are going ever upward and away.

When a good wind would blow, the kids and I would stop what we were doing and race in their general direction, and leap up and try to catch as many as we could. A simple task and infinitely engaging. And I found myself wondering, as I do more and more, why the world must be composed of moments any more complex than this.



Them's the breaks.


"Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying."

~ Robert Herrick, British poet, from "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time"


This Week's Top Picks.

I wrote this as though I were being interviewed. So...yeah.


Eve's Bayou "My favorite movie ever. It is absolutely, perfectly done, from the pacing to the cinematography to the mood of the time period. Jurnee Smollett's performance is masterful and should have been recognized by the Academy."

Terminator 2: Judgement Day "What I consider one of the best movies ever made. It's much more than an action movie and anyone who doesn't realize that is missing out on on so many amazing things. It actually took me years and years to realize there are three terminators in the film, not just two."

Forrest Gump "It always moves me to dwell on the contrast between Forrest's life--full of great luck and major events and success--and Jenny's, because her childhood abuse led her down such a sad, destructive path. I love how the story never shies away from how arbitrary life can seem."


Return of the Primitive, Ayn Rand "She was the perfect Aquarian! A woman who never shied away from stating her opinion loud and clear, who created her own philosophy (Objectivism), and who stuck to her beliefs and wrote passionately about the Truth at the dawn of the Postmodern era. This book of essays reflects all of that."

The Giver, Lois Lowry "This book is about a future utopia, and all that we had to leave behind in order to achieve and sustain it. It forces the reader to think about what they consider most important in life and society, and shows just how much diversity and chance are necessary evils. Really, really profound the way it's told. And, it's a 'children's book'."

Chaos and Harmony, Trinh Xuan Thuan "Interestingly, he never really shows how closely related the two things are, and only hints at how they are just different forms of the same thing. But he does his best to illiminute quantum theory, and even lends credence to the oft-discredited idea of Platonic forms."


Trouble, Ray LaMontagne "One of those perfect albums, really atmospheric, intimate. A great folk-soul acoustic song-cycle. He may never top it, and hasn't so far with his subsequent albums (not for lack of trying)."

Neptune City, Nicole Atkins "This album has its own atmosphere, too, to the point where sometimes I get uncomfortable listening to it. It is so perfectly what it is. Somehow she updated mod '60s pop without ever losing the past, so it's this synthesis of old and new with original melodies that sound familiar the first time...it's so hard to describe what a wonder this album is."

Midnight Boom, The Kills "Dirty garage band-type rock played by a duo who are so hip it hurts. But as in-your-face and, dare I say, cacophonous as their music can be, I know one thing: they know what the hell they're doing."


Unblock Me "This was the first app I got really addicted to. You have these wood blocks trapped in a square (your screen), and then there's a red block, and you have to move the blocks all around to get the red one through the little doorway on the righthand wall. It ain't easy. But the thrill of success is hard to match."

LineUp "Can't even explain how addicted I am to this. There are lines of little colored squares that keep getting added on to; you have to keep the lines from hitting the top of the screen. You can only tap areas of three or more of the same color to make them disappear. I really do feel like some poor animal in an experiment when I play this. But I can't stop."

Word Warp "You get a six-letter word, scrambled, and have to find all the words within it. If you don't find the whole word, you don't go on to the next level. For the lingual-minded."


When things go terribly wrong: Human Body Edition.

Lately I've been hearing about physical disorders that people unfortunately suffer, and it's pretty fascinating reading up on them. Granted, the reading is courtesy of Wikipedia, and I know that it's not the most reliable source, but then again, I'm not getting paid.

Today it was Kleine-Levin syndrome, dubbed "sleeping beauty syndrome." Read the wiki article here. Sufferers experience episodes anywhere from every couple of years to every couple of weeks. They will simply sleep the days away, some for as long as two weeks, only waking to eat, use the bathroom, and maybe shower. When they are awake for that precious hour or so, they appear spaced-out, childlike, and obviously sluggish. Some will exhibit a voracious appetite. Some will exhibit a voracious sexual appetite. All in all, it's a fascinating disease, one that usually appears spontaneously in the second decade of life and cures itself before old age. Doctors don't know why it happens - which always bugs me - but I want to learn more about this. I think we can actually learn a lot from it, from the behaviors exhibited when sufferers are in their waking mode.

A few weeks ago I heard that the son of a friend of a friend (sorry) had passed away due to complications from Prader-Willi syndrome. This disease usually claims the sufferers before they are twenty-one years of age. They have mild mental retardation, small hands and feet, are chronic overeaters and are, logically, oftentimes obese from a young age. Interestingly they don't actually die from the overeating, it's just a major symptom. Anyway, it's very sad that they must die so young.

(According to the Wiki article, the defect that causes Prader-Willi is similar to that which causes Angelman syndrome. When I read up on that, it was interesting to see that Angelman's is essentially a form of mental retardation--general happiness, a grasp of only the most basic skills, very late potty-training, a vocabulary of maybe five words, tops. It was interesting that the article never said it was mental retardation.)

You may have heard of Desiree Jennings, the "beautiful cheerleader" (they have to mention she's beautiful or, I guess, we won't feel sorry for her) who got the H1N1 vaccination and, ten days later, fell victim to dystonia. If you google her name you'll find videos. She suffers from chronic, manic muscle spasms that make it impossible for her move, let alone walk or perform the most basic daily functions. The only time she is able to move normally is when she is walking backward, or running. (Argh--think how much more we could learn about the human body just by studying why that is!) It even affected her speech. Now, I just saw a video today of her giving an update, and she was able to speak normally again (although she sounded very, very weary), and apparently she is being helped somewhat with treatment. It's not something that will ever go away, but she's not the only sufferer and there are things patients can try to get it under control.

Lastly, there are people who are actually born with no eyes. Specifically, no eye tissue. It's a condition called anophthalmia and while, in the video I saw, you can see this tiny, tubelike [pupil? retina?] just poking through the slit in the eyelids, essentially there is no eye there.

Sometimes I am just blown away by how intricate and fragile the human body is; how inconceivable that it all just came together on its own. (No complex machine/organism ever can) It makes it easier to understand just how quickly or early something can go wrong, though it doesn't take away the great sadness at knowing so many people in the world have to suffer.


How deep is the ocean? How high is the sky?




One of the nicest things about spending Saturday afternoons with my great-aunt was getting to hear to about the family history. She was sister to my father's mom, and one of seven siblings, as previously mentioned. I knew the big stories, but got to hear so many smaller ones that proved to be hardly insignificant.

The most famous one was about her brother Harold, who served in WWII. He was chased across a field by German soldiers and crashed his Jeep in a ravine, being thrown from it in the process. He played possum as they went over to check that he was dead, and stabbed him in the leg to make completely sure. He laid as still as a dead man, and survived it. He went on to earn five Bronze Stars and died thirty years later.

The one she loved to laugh about the most was when my grandmother was pregnant with my father, and the women were busy crocheting little clothes for him to wear. My great-aunt was the least crafty of them all, and one evening her mother, Ruby, gathered the sisters to inspect their handiwork. My grandmother's was fine; Ginny's was fine; then she got to my great-aunt and was appalled. It was a little shirt, or supposed to be, but the armholes were so small, "you'll break the baby's arms trying to get them in it!"

When the family moved to this city, they lived near the downtown area in a cold-water flat. They had the usual early-twentieth-century amenities: an icebox, a coal stove, general lack of air-conditioning. They used oil lamps for much of their light. And though poor, they were not kept from observing holidays as we Americans are so very fond of: with lots of food. They would cook a big meal the day of, and have plenty left over for the next day, and for any neighbors who came by.

On cold winter mornings, her father, Henry, would get up early to start the heat in the stove so that Ruby would get out of bed no less than warm and toasty, and he would rouse the kids and cook a pile of flapjacks for breakfast. One year, they had so little money at Christmastime that there was nothing for gifts. But my grandmother, the youngest, still believed in Santa Claus and just knew he would bring her a tiny little couch to complete her small play furniture set. So Henry dug very, very deep, and very likely did without something he needed, and come Christmas morning, Hazel had that little couch.

There was a mean girl in the neighborhood who was bent on revealing to Hazel that there was no Santa Claus. She was almost as mean as Aunt Ginny. I can just imagine the tidal forces colliding when Ginny grabbed her by the shirt and snarled, "You tell her there ain't no Santa and I will hurt you somethin' fierce..."

There were only six kids in that cold-water flat, you know. The eldest sibling actually died shortly after he was born. I didn't know that until last year.

So those six kids grew up, had boyfriends and girlfriends, held jobs, joined the military, got married...but, as my great-aunt told it, as long as they were in the city, it didn't matter what plans they had for New Year's Eve--they, every one of them, still showed up on Mama and Daddy's doorstep at midnight to say a prayer with the family for the new year.

My great-aunt claims she didn't know how to so much as boil a pot of water when she was a young woman, and that Ginny moved into the same apartment building as she to teach her how to cook. (It worked: the woman was making full meals from scratch up until maybe two months before she passed away) She then moved to Chicago for quite few years; I don't know the exact time-frame, but it was after the death of her husband (he died in 1944) and before the sixties. She first lived in a residential hotel called the S&S with a bunch of other young twentysomething women, and they worked their jobs and courted their men, and often gathered in early evenings in the hotel parlor to play cards and listen to music on the radio. This, she told me just one week before the last time we ever spoke.

I knew her parents lived in Kentucky when she was small, but not that they actually were from Arkansas, and that she remembered the names of the men her father worked for (as poverty was kind of the norm back then). She even told me once the names of her mother's parents--I believe the father's name was Herman, because I remember thinking it's just a terrible name for a man to be shackled with; but the mother's name was Circe. How beautiful!

As someone who has been discovering a love affair with early twenieth century life, I just think it's pretty cool that I got to learn so much from an authentic source, and that it was all about people who mattered to me, too. The next time I get a chance to go to her house, I'm going to grab that photo album with those awesome old pictures and get copies made. They're even better than the ones I ganked for this post. :-)

(photos courtesy of www.phsc.ca, www.guardian.co.uk, www.waynoka.org)


At the end, from a rare height.


When my brother and I were young, we often spent weeks at a time with either our grandmother or our great-aunt. I only realized a few years ago that our parents probably did that so they didn't go completely insane.

Time spent at our great-aunt and -uncle's house was always a good time. I especially liked the way her scrambled eggs at breakfast were always just a little runny, even if the cream of wheat was a bit grainy and unsweetened. At night she would fix me a bread-and-butter sandwich, something my mother would never in a million years have done. My brother enjoyed warming syrup and butter together and dipping strips of bread into it. We usually went to bed pretty happy.

Uncle Phil always, always had a bag of M&Ms waiting for me when we visited. He'd keep it on top of the refridgerator, pretend they weren't there, and I'd pretend I wasn't waiting for them, and then he'd get a little smile and bring them down and pour me a whole placemat full of them, it seemed. I never even liked M&Ms any other time, but from him, they were pretty awesome.

As I said, Uncle Phil was from Mississippi. Any 'ir' or 'ur' in a word was automatically an 'oi.' You may have heard this before. So one morning, my brother was up before me, and sitting on the front porch poking around for bugs with a stick, and as I trudged down the hallway I was just in time to hear Uncle Phil grouse, "Boy, get outta that doit!" Clearly, we laughed all day about it and still laugh to this day, if one of us mentions it.

The backyard was a very nice size, with an old shed and brick barbecue pit for me to daydream over, and a big tree that my brother attempted to summit time and again to no avail. We rolled around in the grass and got itchy. We discovered a huge, mutant ant that he matter-of-factly told me was a 'granddaddy ant' and proceeded to, of course, poke with a big stick. We begged to eat lunch on the old picnic table.

After dinner when the sun was going down we'd sit on the front porch and listen to the cicadas whirring in the trees, a sound that still soothes me and takes me back to better days. My brother and I didn't know it then, but we were living life in a different rhythm, one that the former generations knew well, and to whom watching the sunset and talking about nothing in general made the most sense in the world.


We loved to watch TV, of course. Soaps took priority. Young and the Restless, Bold and the Beautiful. My poor brother got as hooked on them as I did. We also watched The Price is Right faithfully and even kept score (though I can't remember how or why). Channel 4 was the news station of choice, and in the evenings it was shows like Beauty and the Beast and Murder, She Wrote.

My brother and I played with our toys, too. A lot. We read comic books on the guest bed where we slept nights, and devised numerous action sequences with our He-Man and C.O.P.S. (remember that cartoon?) action figures. One afternoon my brother discovered that I had placed Superman on top of She-Ra in a suggestive way. He immediately grabbed them and ran to our great-aunt. "Look what she did!!"

"So?" she replied without missing a beat. "Don't your parents do that, too?"

The idea of that was not a good one for me at that age, but I was very happy that she had saved me from a TON of fun-making.

Above all, we laughed a lot. Our great-aunt was a very, very funny lady. Though she knew how to scold and shame, those moments always vanished before long in favor of the greatest, happiest atmosphere a kid staying with two old folks could ask for.

There's a peculiar light in that guest bedroom. The windows are boarded with quaint blinds that are rarely open, and dainty pink window curtains fall to the middle. The sunlight coming through those curtains creates an alternately rosy and golden glow in the room that isn't bright but warm, and feels like the past; as if beyond the window lies a field of wheat and a neighboring farmhouse, and folks headed to town to the soda shop and the nickleodeon.

There's just something about the past, isn't there.


All those days are gone.

You may remember me speaking every so often about my great-aunt, who I go see every Saturday to visit, bring groceries, and do some cleaning. I even did a post once about the crazy grocery store in her area with the colorful cast of characters. Well, last night after a brief downturn (the longer catalyst being congestive heart failure) she passed away.

When I moved back to my home city in the summer of 2007, I was hardly here three days before I volunteered to take her to the doctor so my dad wouldn't have to miss work. Almost right away she enlisted me to come by the house Tuesdays and Thursdays (since I didn't have a job then) in much the same capacity as I have been doing. Once I did find a job, that October, I reduced it to every other Saturday. In 2008 I took a hiatus from helping her for a while, just midsummer into fall, and by Election Day I was back in the saddle. I went every Saturday for over a year, only missing one week as I was in North Carolina.

She went into the hospital exactly two weeks ago after it became much too hard for her to get around with all the pain caused by her swollen legs. The pain had been increasing since Thanksgiving, and I guess her body saw it as a good time to go ahead and turn things over to God.

She was eighty-five years old. Up until literally just two months ago, she was still cooking for herself--good meals, too--and doing some sporadic cleaning during the week. She loved watching CNN, which she discovered after Young and the Restless finally started to bore her. (If I never see that Saturday afternoon news crew again, it will be too soon) And she was a talker. Boy, was she a talker. She only had two books in the house, one being the Bible. Pretty much the exact opposite of me. So I mostly sat and smiled while she went on.

She never lost any teeth, never became incontinent, and never for a moment lost any of the sharpness of her mind. Just last fall my dad arranged cataract surgery for her, and her eyesight so greatly improved it was like seeing the world anew all over again, and she didn't need glasses anymore. In the nineties, nearly ten years after she quit smoking, she got lung cancer, but fully recovered. She also had diabetes but never any complications. She didn't even take insulin.

She was the last of her seven brothers and sisters to die. The one before her was my grandmother, my father's mother, in 2001. I am much more like my grandmother. Some days, while listening to my great-aunt talk, I would wonder why my grandmother had to go away before I was fully grown and knew how to appreciate the wisdom she had to give. I didn't resent my great-aunt. I just wish there was more time.

My great-aunt married at the age of nineteen to a man named Lawrence, who enlisted right away into the army and served in WWII. He died in Italy in 1944, barely two years after their marriage.

The uncle I remember is Uncle Phil from Mississippi, a really down-to-earth, extremely nice person. He passed away in his sleep in December of 1990.

She had been without the first love of her life for sixty-five years, and the last, for twenty years.

This past November, I for the first time discovered photo albums in her bedroom. We sat on her bed and looked through them for over an hour. I saw Lawrence for the first time (extremely handsome, as I should have guessed). She had a letter from the War Department near the albums, in a cardboard tube, and we pulled it out and looked at it. It was signed (stamped) by Franklin Roosevelt. It contained a very solemn, eloquent message about the courage of all soldiers and the gratitude of the nation. It listed his date of death as November 14, 1944.

"But," I said slowly, "but today is November fourteenth!"

"Why, it sure is," she said.

Not to get too mystical, but how interesting that exactly sixty-five years after his death we would find the certificate and look at his photographs. Even though her health had not begun to decline at that point, I did wonder for a brief moment if this was some sort of harbinger, something that we were being told.

After so many, many months of going to see her, listening to her, learning about her history and the family's, it is so strange to know that I will never again spend my Saturday afternoons at her house, never again change the bed, taking care to fold envelope corners; never use the ancient vacuum or dust around all her little elephant figurines. Never sit forcibly enthralled by CNN, or hear another story about times and places that now seem so real to me. The folding of the clothes is done. The house sits immaculate but empty. All those days are gone.



In three-part harmony.

You are my sunshine
My only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray
You'll never know dear
How much I love you
So please don't take my sunshine away


The other night, dear
While I was sleeping
I dreamt I held you in my arms
When I awoke, dear, I was mistaken
So I hung
My head
And cried