Monday, September 27, 2010

drawing the line

Today was a very hot day, one of those few days of the year where it gets 90 degrees or so in San Francisco, and the children and I were too parched to get on the bus. We stopped off first at a cool, quiet cafe to unparch. I was pursued into this cafe by a crazy woman who was convinced that she and I had a longstanding debate pending over Yoko Ono, and she followed us right through our orders and up into the back of the cafe, all the while ranting "I have told you how Yoko Ono still can't speak English", "Her English is worse than mine!", "After all these years, Yoko Ono can't speak English!" and "Yoko Ono!", while glaring at me and stomping around me in circles. Thankfully she eventually tired of my polite refusal to engage on the Yoko-Ono's-fluency question and left before I needed to call the police.

After our refreshing drinks and some bagels for the children, we left the cafe. As Lola and I waited for the lagging Iris uber Alles, Lola turned to me with a smile and showed me that she was cradling an empty can of Canada Dry in her hands.

Lola (very happily): It's Canny!

Me (sternly): No way.

Lola looked at me questioningly.

Me (even more sternly): I have to draw a line, and I am drawing it here. We are not filling our house up with cans. Put that in the recycling.

Lola dragged off and returned, without the can and with tears in her eyes. "Canny was so innocent!" she cried.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

love, soft as an easy chair

Oh, how I love my Aga Legacy three oven, six burner dual fuel range. I love it so much. It truly makes my life better.

Many people say about fancy ranges, "But how often will you use that?" and "How can it be worth it?" That attitude is no doubt accurate for many homes, but over here, we're using the Aga's special abilities regularly.

A food I make often (but hadn't made for over 3 months while we were stoveless) is frittatas, frittatas of all types. Italians, so talented at so many things, truly invented the perfect omelet variation with frittatas, a sort of cake of eggs and vegetables cooked in a skillet but not stirred. The children like frittatas; the Sober Husband and I like them, and they're fast and easy to make. It's a great way to get everyone eating vegetables, and there's a ton of protein. Even Al, our demented toothless cat, is insane for frittatas. He drags the leftovers off by the broken washing machine and growls in preemptive fear that someone will try to reclaim his little stub of a frittata slice.

A frittata is cooked almost to completion in a skillet, and then it's normally put under a broiler to finish cooking the eggs on top. But with the Aga, my multi-function oven has a browning function, using only the top heat. This finishes a frittata perfectly and removes the fear of overcooking or burning the top, as the browning more gently and perfectly finishes the frittata off than any broiler could. Incidentally in my crappy old oven, the broiler was too shallow to fit a skillet, so I had to finish frittatas in the oven, which meant the already-finished bottom was getting over-cooked as the top was being finished. My frittatas are better now, just right, thanks to my fancy oven's fancy feature.

And all the burners have a very low simmer setting, providing a steady, tiny flame which has been impossible to get on any other gas stove I've ever used. I made a roux-based blue cheese sauce last night, and I was able to leave it on a burner on simmer and completely ignore it while I made the rest of the meal.

The other day I ventured into experimental territory. I made a big pot of Tuscan cannellini with rosemary, and I set the Aga to turn the oven on while I was off picking up the children on and turn it off an hour later. It worked perfectly.

And all the space, with those six burners. I haven't used more than three or four burners simultaneously yet, but I have thoroughly enjoyed having the roomy stovetop. Occasionally the Sober Husband and I both need to use burners; he to make tea or ramen noodles while I make something more complicated, and that has led to jostling and territorial disputes in the past. It's crowded and uncomfortable to share a normal, small four burner stove with another person. But on the Aga, it's just companionable and delightful. He can boil his water down at one end, and I can saute down at my end, and never do we bump into each other. Bliss.

The Aga represents not taking a vacation this year, and combined with my major surgery (which we are still paying for), it was insane to buy it. But I'm so happy, so happy with it, and it raises the value of our house. Every day I use that range, my life is better, easier, and more peaceful. No appliance has ever given me such enjoyment. I'd like to have a sports car (I like driving fast and cornering sharply), but I settle peaceably for a crappy, dented old Volvo. I'm so glad I didn't settle for another crappy little stove like I've had my whole life until now.

Your homework assignment for tonight: Order a fancy double oven, six burner range for yourself. Bonus points if it comes from the same factory in Bordeaux as my Aga and my dream ovens, La Cornue and LaCanche.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

idiot, with teeth

Yesterday I spoke firmly to the children, who were driving me crazy with their lackadaisical, unthinking ways. "Sometimes I feel like I have to have the brains for all three of us!"

Lola slipped her hand in mine and confided, "Yes, you do. I am really stupid!" How we laughed and laughed.

Today, though, I didn't feel like I had enough brains to be in charge of my own teeth, let alone a pair of lazy children. I've finally found a new dentist in my own city, after years of trying to replace my dear dentist who moved away, and I'm in the middle of having a lot of work done. This morning I learned that in my sleep, I swallowed a temporary crown. At the dentist for an emergency visit, I confided in a technician, "I must be the Idiot of the Day." She politely demurred, but I wasn't comforted. I was already convinced they'd written all over my file, "Highly Neurotic Patient. Administer Gas Whenever Possible. Move Slowly. Use Quiet Voice." Today they no doubt added, "Careful -- Swallows Things When Not Supervised."

Monday, September 20, 2010

like bowls of porridge

We have four foster kittens now, and they have very distinct personalities. That's not always the case. I've been volunteering with the kitten rescue for six years now, and over that time we've had a lot of kittens come through here. Most of them blur together and are forgotten, no matter how crazy we were about them at the time. Many litters all seem to share a single personality. I remember one particularly mellow and attractive litter of half-Siamese kittens, whom I never learned to tell apart from each other but adored, and a litter of orange kittens given to me as a mark of kindness, for they were so cute that everyone who saw them wanted them, but who had such terrible, terrible personalities that I actually said of them, "I never thought I would say this, but I hate these kittens." I was so glad to see the back of those orange kittens when we turned them in.

Two of these current kittens are too loving and too tame. One of them in particular drives us crazy, so hyperbonded to people, always leaping on us. These two kittens have to be locked out of our rooms at night, because their exuberant love and need of people will not permit them to let us sleep at night. "Licking my face," shuddered the Sober Husband after the one night these kittens were in our room. "Going after my face all the time. I couldn't sleep." These two are like dogs in cat form.

Over the years we've only seen one kitten who was as crazed about people as these, the kitten we remember as "Dee Dee, the cat who loves too much." You'd think that we'd have all pleaded with the Sober Husband to let us keep Dee Dee, a black and white kitten who pestered us with her affections to the point where the children were constantly trying to fob her off on each other, but we didn't. She loved too much; she drove us crazy. But we remember her and talk about her still, and I put up an album of pictures of her on Facebook.

The third kitten is a remarkably inert one, a soft, fluffy kitten referred to as "El Rabbito" by Iris and "Ranch Dressing" by Lola. This kitten would be a perfect store cat, the kind of large, lazy cat people love to pet but who is so lazy that he never tries to leave the store.

And the fourth is a terrified little tabby, who was found at the SF dump and who is so terribly shy. There's an outstanding reward here most days for finding that kitten, who is a remarkably good hider, so I can force some more socialization down her throat. She accepts being handled with no resistance once she's captured, but as soon as she can, she slinks off into a tiny space. Our progress with her has been glacially slow and small. I was optimistic when we got her, because I thought the pesky, over-loving pair of kittens would set such a good example for her, but it's an example she's not about to follow.

It is just like when we had "Dee Dee, the cat who loves too much." We had another foster kitten at the same time who didn't care for people, and we worried about her. "I wish we could take some of the love out of Dee Dee and put it in that other cat, and then they'd both be perfect," the children and I said repeatedly.

Friday, September 17, 2010

my failure

We played cards today, and Iris was a blatant cheater (which I consistently called her out on) and a poor loser. After some reflection, she said to me calmly, "Teaching good sportsmanship is a parent's job. I'm such a poor sport that it's obvious you've done a really poor job." This thought cheered her up, and she smirked. I laughed.

not Iris's mother's Burning Man

A few people have called me out, in a polite enough manner that it didn't offend me, on taking Iris to Burning Man. It's understandable enough, because these people haven't been to Burning Man themselves and were working off the legends and rumors they've heard over the years. They thought Iris was "exposed to so much nudity and casual drug use", when the reality is that Iris sees more nudity and casual drug use walking around San Francisco. At home we often smell marijuana as we run errands or play in the park, and it's quite fashionable to walk around the Castro nude these days, no matter what the weather. Out at Burning Man, people tended to wear at least underwear, fearing the rage of the sun and also wanting to make more of a fashion statement than skin can pull off alone.

And only an idiot would have openly used drugs, given the ubiquity of law enforcement. Every Nevada county which barely brushes Burning Man enjoys billing the event for untold amounts of overtime for its cops, who clearly enjoy being paid to drive around sneering at the participants and looking for something, ANYTHING, that will allow them to make an arrest.

It's not the old days, people, not at all. The days are over when Burning Man had just moved to the desert, before it was so famous and big, when there were no roads and reserved camping spaces. Back then, the days of Iris's mother's Burning Man, we took guns to Burning Man, and sometimes we shot at things (one year there was a Drive By Shooting Range). We had fires all over the place, and we felt free and anarchic. But then in 1996 the first participant died on the playa, and it was clear that the freedom needed to be reined in. I was part, as General Counsel and a member of the LLC for a few years, in dealing with the authorities and creating rules and changes that Burning Man participants had to accept. The event could not go on, once it became internationally famous and once someone died, without becoming lawful and tamed down.

That's not to say that Burning Man isn't worth going to. It's just a different place now. It's a much safer and more regulated spot, with a beautiful, air-conditioned medical clinic and tons of law enforcement constantly roving the streets. There's still amazing art to be marveled at; there are still tons of interesting strangers to meet. The typical participant is creative, highly intelligent, and fun, and who doesn't want to be around people like that?

One big change I saw was that there are now so many businesses which create products for people to take to Burning Man. Back in the old days, we built our own shade shelters, and we shared tips on line. We went to Home Depot and bought PVC pipes and lengths of rebar, and we practiced putting up our makeshift shelters in the Panhandle or Golden Gate Park. Now there's an online Ikea of Burning Man, a place which sells furniture for you to assemble for your theme camp, and endless other shops as well. I complimented a campmate on his beautifully arced rebar stakes, and he blushed. He shamefacedly said he'd bought them online (my comparatively shabby rebar stakes were state of the art circa 1998, when a friend of my husband's made them for me onsite).

I noticed that roughly 85% of the women at Burning Man were wearing the same thing: a tool belt over underpants, with bare thighs but calves covered with boots or faux fur leg covers. All these tool belts were the same, and virtually none of them contained a single tool (some women carried a water bottle in the tool belt). Obviously they were all buying this same tool belt somewhere, and it was considered a must-have for the 2010 burn. Back in my day, we dressed more diversely, because there weren't yet businesses set up to sell us Burner chic clothes.

Another booming industry was goggles. "You've GOT to have goggles," said so many people. My friend N. asked me, "Am I going to be okay? I don't have goggles." I reassured her. "Back in the day, we didn't have goggles. NO ONE had goggles. We wore sunglasses, and we were fine."

Despite that, I did buy goggles for Iris and myself. Why? The goggles they were selling at the Nixon gas station were just so fabulous, I couldn't resist. Iris's goggles went so well with her microbraids. And when I saw a spiked pair that fit me, I couldn't pass them up. They fit in with the Warcraft theme all too well. "I'll say I'm an engineer!" I said (Warcraft characters who choose engineering as a profession craft goggles themselves for their characters). I felt bad at spending so impulsively, and I tried to justify it. "We can wear them to the Makerfaire and try to look steampunk, Iris," I said. She nodded agreeably and admired her goggled self in the mirror. "Also, I like to put money in the local economy, make up for the inconvenience of all the traffic they have to put up with once a year." I pulled out my money and conformed to the trend.

Monday, September 13, 2010

the cat poacher calls

On Sunday morning the phone rang. I picked it up, but handed it off promptly to the Sober Husband when I learned it was the gabby cat poaching neighbor (who wooed my old, fat tabby, Bob Marley, away years ago). I was in the middle of making a zucchini-basil frittata for lunch with other, non-cat poaching neighbors. (Sidenote for those wondering about the new Aga: I used one of the funky new features for my frittata, the browning mode on the multi-function oven. This mode operates the top heating element only and finishes a frittata off to perfection, providing a more gentle heat than a broiler would).

"You say 'the bushy black cat' is eating over at your place?" the Sober Husband said. He turned to me. "Frowst is eating over at John's."

I was livid. "Tell him not to feed Frowst!" I hissed repeatedly. The Sober Husband ignored me, apart from making "leave-alone-I'm-on-the-phone" faces at me.

After an extended conversation (the catpoaching neighbor is very chatty), the Sober Husband reported. "Frowst figured out a way to go in John's house, and he's eating over there. But he's not friendly or social; he doesn't interact with John."

"He's trying to steal Frowst! My most beautiful cat!"

The Sober Husband defended John. "What's he supposed to do? Frowst is coming in his house. He didn't have to call."

I shouted after him as he descended into the garage. "DON'T DEFEND THE CAT-POACHER AGAINST ME!"

He rolled his eyes. "Sweetie, the cat is going into his house."

God with a bad aim?

"First, I pray for those families who suffered in the San Bruno pipeline blast; this is a tragedy that could've been corrected with the right care being applied beforehand. However, on a more divine level: This blast can be viewed as God's divine judgment upon San Fransicko (sic) for its ultra-leftist and anti-normal way of doing things, and for that sad excuse of a judge who overturned the will of the people in his anti-Proposition 8 ruling. God is speaking, folks. Are you listening?" - Lloyd Marshall Jr., Lockport, NY

This little mash note to my home town, San Francisco, appeared in today's newspaper. I found it rather amusing in its blatant stupidity. First Lloyd Marshall Jr. helpfully notes that the San Bruno disaster could have been prevented by taking more care; then he says it was God's judgment. Which is it?

I really, really hate it when Christians proclaim smugly that disasters are God's judgments upon liberals. Today's paper had a picture of a beautiful twenty year-old girl who died in the explosion. Her lovely, expressive face was so full of life and humor, and now she's dead, so young. Her boyfriend is badly burnt, losing all his fingers, and is undergoing the hell of a burn ward and mourning his lost love. And this is because God is mad at Judge Vaughn Walker? I think an omnipotent God could find Judge Walker (a judge who was incidentally appointed by the first President Bush) if He wanted to and would not strike down a pretty heterosexual girl by mistake.

I also think an all-knowing God knows the difference between San Francisco and San Bruno. They are separated by Daly City, South San Francisco, and Brisbane, after all, and the airport makes a pretty good landmark. I live in the Castro, on the very same street where the Marriage Equality people's headquarters are, and I can safely report that there are no signs of divine wrath here. The weather was beautiful all weekend. The gay bars are opening for business like clockwork; my gay neighbors' contractor is hard at work ruining my morning bellowing at his workers. I'm not going to go so far as to say absolutely all is well here, but it's been a lovely few days.

Aside from the question of whether God would send Judge Walker a signal by blowing up middle class families down the Peninsula, what gives Lloyd Marshall Jr. the right to determine which utility failures are divine vengeance and which poor maintenance? Was the BP oil well disaster due to God judging the aquatic birds and fish of the Gulf?

Anyone who lives in Northern California can tell you that PG&E is a notoriously inept utility. It's infamous. Just before the explosion I read a scathing article about how many more outages per household we suffer here, compared to other American utilities. Somehow the plucky utilities keep the lights on in places where blizzards and ice storms truly bring down the power lines, but here, in our mild and even climate, bumbling PG&E ineptly subjects us to frequent outages. This wasn't the only dramatic explosion we've seen, either (there was a very newsworthy one not long ago, with flames shooting out of manholes in the Financial District and suitclad executives running down the sidewalk).

And finally it's truly pathetic how Christians only think disasters are divine punishment when they strike somewhere the Christians don't like. Notice how hurricanes and blizzards and deathly heat waves are never God's ire at work. Hurricane Hugo killed many more people and did millions of dollars more damage than San Francisco's big quake in the 80's did, and no one ever called for South Carolina to repent.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

conversations with my neighbor

Yes, I know I owe you, the readers, reports on my trips to Camp Mather and Burning Man, but what I feel like writing about is what happened today. Actually what I really am dying to write about are some things from the Sober Husband's place of work, but I've discontinued what I used to call "Scenes from the Silicon Valley Soap Opera" because he got too recognizable on here so I have to exercise a higher level of self-censorship. If he and I were more organized, we'd write a book together about Silicon Valley, he generating the material, me doing the writing, together under some adorably clever pen name. But instead you get anecdotes of the children's wackiness or cute cat stories or whatever comes your way:

Part I: This morning my neighbor, B., stopped by, holding a brick in one hand, to ask if I could unlock my side gate so the city inspectors could come through to inspect the side of his house and new foundation. I said it was no problem to let the inspectors in, as I was waiting for my new range. My neighbor, like everyone, was well versed in my epic struggles in getting a new range. "That's amazing! I was down at the Ferry Building the other day, on Monday, and I saw a container ship come in, and I thought, 'Maybe Carole's stove is on that.'"

"And it was!"

B. was carrying a special, sample brick, which he showed me, because he is spending much of his time shopping for the perfect bricks to lay in his yard. His involved and extreme search for the right bricks reminded me of my obsession with researching ranges. Like me and ranges, B. had become a master of arcane information about where bricks come from ("It turns out ALL the bricks in California go through Sacramento"), had dismissed what was easily available as unacceptable ( "All the bricks at Home Depot are just terrible. They're not real bricks; they're made of composite"), and had been making a lot of unsatisfactory field trips ("I've been to Redwood City, I've been to Antioch, I've been so many places..").

My neighbor felt that conducting life's transactions is becoming harder and harder. As well as the bricks, he couldn't get new wheels for his car easily; they have to be special ordered. I said that I thought these problems arise only because B. has climbed to an elite position in consumerism. I pointed out that B. drives a Porsche Boxter convertible, not a Toyota Corolla.

"Are you saying that if I drove a Toyota Corolla, my life would be different?" He scoffed. "I'd be happy with the Home Depot bricks?"

"No, I'm saying that if you drove a Toyota Corolla, you could buy wheels for it! When my ex drove a Porsche, they used to always tell him for everything, 'Oh, we have to send to Stuttgart for the parts.'"

B. began to see my point, but wouldn't cop to being demanding in his tastes. I called him out: "I've heard about you and your coffeemaker." [He has a notoriously expensive coffeemaker].

"That's different! I cannot tolerate drip coffee!"

Part II: Much later, while the appliance installation service was hard at work replacing the aged, broken Magic Chef (which they estimated at 15-20 years of age) with my fresh, pristine Aga, I heard a voice. "Carole? Carole?" It was my neighbor again.

It turned out that the inspectors had uncovered termites, "unusually active" termites. My neighbor, stressed, had efficiently gotten an exterminator on the scene already. "That's what all that noise is, they're drilling. They're drilling and putting that stuff down there, that stuff they use."

We discussed termite treatments, and I brought up the possibility of getting rid of the termites without pesticides, like "The Bug Guy" recommends. My neighbor acted to dismiss any concerns I might have about the exterminators visibly working between our properties. "They're not using poisons, they're putting down stuff that wards the termites off. It scares them away."

"So they run off your property and come onto mine??" I immediately resigned myself to getting our house treated for termites.

To cheer my stressed, termite-plagued neighbor up, I ushered him back towards the kitchen to admire the new Aga, which the appliance repairmen were laboring over. We both felt happier looking at it, and the conversation turned to all the food that would be made on this stove in the future. B. made a reference to meat, and I cut it off. "I'm a vegetarian."

"I thought that was just Iris."

"No, there's no meat in this house."

"Are you serious? You don't ever eat meat?"

I pointed out the rows of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks.

"You can't be a vegetarian! Your food tastes too good! You must hate us, we're always having steaks."

Saturday, September 04, 2010


Iris and I pulled back in to San Francisco this evening, almost exactly to the minute one week after we left. I'll write much more later, but for the meantime, I'll share that we had the most sedate Burning Man experience plausible. No sunburns. No hangovers. Only small injuries (a fiberglass tent pole disintegrated in my hands, and the tent I was putting up ended up stained in many places by my blood). No violations of marital vows. No moving violations (and that was a rarity: Burning Man is considered an annual Festival of Taxing The Freaks Passing Through, and everyone who talked about their drive seemed to have gotten a ticket for $100-600+ for something or another).

I feel so homesick for Burning Man now; I want to be back padding through the dirt in my bare feet, opening a bottle of champagne right off in the morning, admiring the art cars. It is very good indeed to see my darling Lola & the Sober Husband, though.