Thursday, February 01, 2007

Light pollution

In winter when there are nothing but clouds hovering over the city, the sky is full of raspberry-tinted light and it glows. I can't see the stars but I can't see them during the day either when the black of space presses closer. The stars and planets, comets and moons are all still there just beyond the light but until the fiery sun sinks below the mountains and the world turns away toward the soft silver glow reflected on the moon's face, I cannot see them. I watch for Venus at dusk before she slips below the sharp mountain peaks and I watch her glide across the sky in the east just before molten brass wells up on the horizon and eclipses her glinting beauty. Venus always faces toward Earth in a circle dance like lovers across a room separated by time and circumstance.

Red-faced warrior Mars dips up and down in the sky, sometimes moving closer, but only in the absence of the warming rays of the sun can I see him and trace his scarred face. The rings of Saturn the big red storm that whirls and boils on Jupiter's surface, the watery, ethereal Neptune and even the quixotic trudge of Uranus stalk and spin, endlessly caught in the sun's magnetic pull, invisible as long as we bask in the sun's glow.

In the city the stars don't seem quite so close. I don't feel like I can reach up and touch them because of street and business and residential lights pushing back the darkness while people huddle close to light and warmth oblivious to the turn and pull of the teeming skies. They choose to view the recorded skies in the background of television shows on nights when the clouds don't reflect the waxing silver light of the sun reflected in the moon's round face on a glowing raspberry-colored night.

On nights like this, I miss the twinkling galactic travelers and the spill of milky stars swirling out of the reach of the life- and light-giving sun.

No fighting here

I called my parents the other night to see how they were doing. Beanie told me a few days ago that Mom is excited about my visit. Dad told me the same thing when I talked to him to see how he was doing. Mom was mopping the floor at the time so Dad and I chatted about his medication and his recent hospital stay. He said he was doing better and that he had just taken his pain pills. Mom finished mopping the kitchen floor (at 9 p.m.) and got on the phone.

"I can't find the Scrabble board."

"Do you still have one?" I asked.

"Yes, but who knows where it could be."

"You could ask Carol or Beanie and see if they have one you could borrow."

"They wouldn't have it. They're not interested but I'll get one and beat you when you get here. You're the only one who gives me a run for my money."

I laughed. "Mom, I'm going to beat the pants off you."

"You'd better eat a few more potatoes first."

"I don't eat pototoes. Too many carbs."

"Better start now. You're going to need them."

"How about we play for a penny a point?" I asked. "That way I can afford the gas to get home and a new car."

"Okay, but you'd better bring your check book. You're going to be paying me."

The conversation went on like this for a few more minutes before she dropped the bomb. "I can't wait for you to get here. I haven't had a good argument in a long time."

"I'm not going to argue with you, Mom."

"You will. You always do."

"Not this time, Mom."

"You're the only one who ever gave me any competition. I'm going to enjoy arguing with you. None of the rest of them argue with me."

"Not going to happen, Mom. You'll have to content yourself with losing at Scrabble."

"Bring that atheist book you told me about. That should give us something to argue about."

I sighed. "Sure, Mom."

"Vir-gin-i-a-," Dad called. "Are you going to leave this mop bucket out all night?"

"I just might. Why don't you take it out if you're so worried about it?"

I said my goodbyes and hung up.

Nope. I'm not going to argue with her no matter what she says, but I will beat the pants off her in Scrabble. I've learned a few words since I left Ohio five years ago. I've also learned how to keep my mouth shut and let the words do the work.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Bragging rights

I received an email from my boss at Author Link that an audio interview will be linked with my review on Ron McLarty's novel, Traveler. The year is getting off to a really good start. The book is good and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a story that is honest and timely and very real. The review should be posted at The Celebrity Cafe later this week and hopefully they will link the audio interview as well. According to my boss at AL, I am becoming their top book reviewer and authors are beginning to ask for me specifically. It has been a long road getting to this point but it has been worth the time and the effort.

On another note, substitution has been on my mind.

A lot of times I don't have the exact ingredients for a recipe or something I'm working on, so I make do with what I have or find another way to finish a given task. I have even discovered that sometimes the substitution makes things better. For instance, I've cut dairy out of my diet and in my butternut squash soup I substituted coconut milk for cream. It lowers the calories of the soup and gives it a creamy and slightly sweet texture so that I don't need to add any sweetener. I also discovered that baking the squash until it caramelizes helps add another level of sweetness that gives the soup a wonderful flavor.

I make do with a lot of substitutions and often end up with something better, but there are some things for which no substitute can be found--or should be found. Sometimes it's necessary to wait for the perfect ingredient no matter how long it takes, holding out instead of settling for less. I can think of at least one instance when that is true and it's worth the wait. Compromise is a good thing at times but there are areas in life when no substitution and no compromise can take the place of the real thing.

There is no substitute or acceptable compromise for love or friendship. There are always people who think they can use something else in their place, but they are wrong. Food, pain, denial, emotional self flagellation, gambling, or shopping are like emotional anesthestics to dull the senses and the need for love and friendship but they are not substitutes. You can't compromise with any of those things and to do so leaves an emptiness that nothing else can fill. It took me a long time to figure that one out. In so many ways, substitution and compromise when it comes to living and feeling and knowing life on a visceral level is like putting life on hold for a nebulous and shadowy promise of paradise and a better tomorrow when each moment of now, of today slips through our hands. You can negotiate a mortgage to buy a home or a car or even furnish your home and clothes yourself and your family, but you cannot negotiate life. That should be lived every single day as if there was no tomorrow.

That is all. Disperse.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

One of those days

I was having such a wonderful dream when the phone woke me, or at least it seemed like a dream (The sleeping part, not the phone. I wished that was a dream.). Could have been something else equally cuddly and wonderful, but I digress. The phone rang. Barely clearing the sleep from my eyes and throat, I answered. "Hello?"

"Well, it must be nice to still be asleep on a Sunday morning when the rest of us have to work."

It was Little Peter.

"It was nice until the phone rang," I replied with a smile.

A few moments of conversation, a couple of quick double entendres, a mention of hot bodies and he was off the phone to deal with his Spanish-speaking crew through his interpreter, leaving me awake and my dream shattered. I got up.

Breakfast, a quick check of email, and another four episodes of Angel, the first season, and it was time to get back to work, although I did have some other plans in mind: baking a flourless chocolate cake before the Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate bar in the cabinet could not longer be resisted and I ate it without putting it in the cake. The only problem was that I would also have to do the dishes and clean up the kitchen enough to find the counter top. I knew where the oven was, still stained with soot and smoke from last night's little fire. The 450-degree heating elements in the electric oven set fire to a few drips of grease in the bottom of the oven from the chicken I baked last week. If I have to clean the oven every time I use it, I'm going to have to find another way to bake flourless chocolate cakes and the once every six months paper thin crusted Totino's pizza I buy so it doesn't go up in flames and leave soot and smoke in my nose hairs that I have to sneeze out for 24 hours.

I decided I wasn't ready to do the dishes and opted instead for a few hours of doctors dictating reports. Once I got that out of my system, checked up on the filing status of my state return and futzed around for another 30 minutes or so, I decided to heed the call of the chocolate, got out the ingredients and let the eggs come to room temperature and started the dishes. I got most of the dishes done while I waited for the chocolate to melt in a bowl over a simmering pot of water then separated the eggs and began assembling the chocolate part of the cake. It didn't take long to get things ready for the beaten egg whites and I even managed to get them whipped into soft and glossy peaks by hand. It's my cardio workout and I really should consider baking even more. There was, however, a casualty: the wire whisk. One of the wires came loose from the handle and nearly took out my eye but I still finished beating the egg whites, added the sugar, beat them a little more until they were shiny and then began mixing the chocolate with the egg whites. I poured the mixture into the pan and put it in the oven for 30 minutes while I watched another episode of Angel with half an eye and wrote another book review. The timer went off and I set it on the rack to cool for a while.

Long story short? The cake was chocolaty and light and melt in the mouth good. It was definitely worth giving up the bittersweet Ghirardelli chocolate bar. The dishes are almost all done, even the bowls, utensils and pan I used to bake the cake and I've had a couple pieces of the cake. I definitely want to do it again. I think I can ignore the siren's call of the unmelted chocolate bar long enough to get the cake done. I know I want to dry some of the other low carb desserts from The South Beach Diet Cookbook because everything I have tried so far has been tasty. I could live like this as long as I can have chocolate once in a while.

The rest of the weekend has been full of reading and work and catching up on paperwork, filing my taxes and talking to a friend on the phone for a few hours last night, keeping each other company and getting to know each other better. Little Peter had to work this weekend so his kamikaze strafing of my warm and cuddly dream this morning was a ring by. I'll pay him back later.

Right now the sky is black and I missed watching Venus rise this evening because I was busy eating dinner after I finished the dishes. The Xmas lights are finally gone from the houses across the street and it's finally comfortable here in the apartment after a very cold day. Good thing I like the cold. The ham club newsletter is finished and sent to the printer and the various people for distribution in PDF format and I have one more book review to write and post. I will probably go back to my desk and put in another four hours with the dictating doctors before I take a shower and climb into bed with a good book and the phone close by in case someone calls with more news about Dad.

Tomorrow is another day, a day of work and errands and responsibilities and more books to finish and review. The work never ends, but at least it keeps me out of trouble. Of one thing I'm certain, I'm going to go back to sleep with that warm and cuddly dream from this morning.

That is all. Disperse.