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Get it while you can

This should be a short and scattered post, if all goes as planned. I just have a little time, lots to discuss and lots to do. So, since you always need to get it while you can, here goes:

Last night I finished John Cooke’s brilliant On the Road with Janis Joplin. I knew the ending – lived through it – but, though I was shocked and saddened when JJ died right after my 16th birthday, reading about it as an almost 60-year-old was much more disheartening. So young and so talented.

Yet in many ways, so predictable. Damn. Who knows what she might have achieved had she lived past that unlucky age?

But overall the book is joyous, so don’t let that dissuade you from reading it. (Next on my list is her sister’s book, Love, Janis by Laura Lee Joplin. The two are said to be bookends, one business life and one family – and, since I’m a Laura Lea, it seems like the right thing to do.)

Before jumping to the next topic, let me just add that the link above, if you choose to listen/watch, is to one of Janis Jopln’s appearances on The Dick Cavett Show, her second of three, I think. My son got me a great DVD boxed set years ago of Dick Cavett’s musical guests – a super treat to own, and Janis truly is a pearl in her appearances.

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So, the reason it took me as long as it did to finish OTRwJJ is because I’ve been requiring myself to spend some of my off time studying Italian in preparation for the trip with Mother in aprile. Or indulging myself – it’s pretty fun. And, by the way, that’s not a typo. Months and days of the week are not capitalized in Italiano.

So much to learn. But I think I’m on the right track. Signs are pointing that way. Bear with me and I’ll try to make sense.

My great Zio Giovanni Blaiotta, who married my great Zia Opal, moved to the U.S. (and ultimately to San Francisco) from Italia when he was 10 years old. We always talked about him teaching me Italiano, but since he died much too young of emphysema when I was 15 – and didn’t move to Arkansas until a few years before that – we didn’t get to it while we could.

That always made me sad. Aunt Opal, whose ring I wear every day and whose cedar chest sits at the foot of our bed, had gone to San Francisco from Russellville to make a more interesting life for herself (and after four unsuccessful marriages in a time when that was scandalous, I might add). They fell madly in love and lived just off Haight Street for years before retiring and moving to Russellville.

berlitz Anyway, long story short, last night I got out Aunt Opal’s 1950 copy of The Berlitz Self-Teacher Italian to add it to my instructional pile – I liked to look at it at Aunt Opal and Uncle Johnny’s house as an adolescent but haven’t pulled it out in all the years I’ve owned it.

The inside is stamped in red: “A. Cavalli & Co. (SINCE 1880) 1441 Stockton, St., San Francisco, Cal. GArfield1-4219.” (That’s old-school for a landline phone number, for you younger readers.)

Oh, my goodness. That’s still the phone number at Cavalli Cafe.! If only I’d known that when Mother and I went to San Francisco for her 75th birthday and looked up Aunt Opal and Uncle Johnny’s former apartment, the one where she spent a couple of summers.

You can bet your boots I’ll go there next time John and I are in that great city.

The city where he used to work before coming to Arkansas. And where many of Janis Joplin’s happy times took place.

And the next time John and I go to Italy, we’ll visit the Calabria area of very southern Italy, from whence my dear Uncle Johnny came. And to Sicily, where I’ve dreamed of going since I was young.

Oh, well, makes sense to me.

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Let me wrap this not-as-short-as-I’d-hoped piece up by saying how thrilled we all are that Silas is thriving and growing now that his food allergies have been isolated and eliminated. Out, out, damned milk and eggs. Peanuts, be gone.

You can call him little James Brown much of the time now.

Buono notte. Until next time …

Monterey

A little night reading ... my nightstand overflows with books, most of which I'm at least partway into. The guide to Italy and the two Italian language books are part of my preparation for taking Mother on our trip in April.

A little night reading … my nightstand overflows with books, most of which I’m at least partway into. The guide to Italy and the two Italian language books are part of my preparation for taking Mother on our trip in April.

I’ve never been to Monterey, though I’d love to go there, but Eric Burdon and the Animals’ classic description of the Monterey Pop Festival has been playing in my head for days. That’s because I finally let myself jump with both feet into On the Road with Janis Joplin, one of my Christmas presents from John.

janis It’s super fabulous if you’re a Janis fan – and, really, anyone who enjoys reading history and about pop culture should enjoy it. OTRWJJ is no adequately written lightweight memoir; au contraire, this book is a literary delight. John Byrne Cooke, the multi-talented author (he shot most of the photos and also worked on the filming of Monterey Pop, the excellent documentary, among other accomplishments), is a Harvard graduate and excellent writer, as well he should be as the son of well-known British journalist Alastair Cooke and the great-grandnephew of Ralph Waldo Emerson on his mother’s side.

That’s plenty to give him literary cred. But most importantly for this book, he was Janis Joplin’s road manager from shortly after she played the pop festival with Big Brother and the Holding Company until her much too youthful death – a gig that couldn’t have been easy.

For whatever reason, I was mildly (possibly a lot-ly) obsessed with the Monterey Pop Festival as a kid – I was 11 when it happened, but it just seemed so fantastic and fantastical that I was and always have been drawn to anything about it. I got The Animals’ 45 as soon as it came out and played it over and over. So I was in a literary swoon reading Cooke’s descriptions of the event, including the logistics, the crowd, the performances, even the newspaper reviews.

I’d read some nugget aloud to John from the treadmill (where I do lots of my reading) every time he came within earshot. (Side note: I know I drive John crazy at times, but my Myers-Briggs personality inventory says I can’t help sharing things I’m excited about.)

(Side-side note: I was tickled to read in her recent Rolling Stone cover story that my girl Stevie Nicks was reading OTRWJJ, too.)

This is the third book in a reading cycle of sorts. One of the books I took on our recent trip to Washington, a gift from my 10Songsexcellent friend Susan Garner, who thought I’d like it after hearing about it on NPR, is Greil Marcus’s History of Rock ’n‘ Roll in Ten Songs.

Was she ever right! I read the whole book on the return trip. This is not your standard R&R fare – Marcus takes readers on many side roads, tangents and flights of fancy as he discusses the music we love through some of the more obscure songs in the genre.

If you’re serious about music and like books that don’t walk the beaten path, I highly recommend it. I found myself at times thinking of Sarah Vowell’s books, with their sidetracks and tangents.

Telegraph_AvenueAs soon as we got home I started in on Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon. If you love Chabon’s writing, you’ll enjoy this book. If you’d love a good, quirky story set in and around an Oakland record store (vinyl, not CDs) – with midwifery, family tensions and coming of age themes – then you’ll enjoy it, too. We’re talking literary fiction, not pop fiction, but Telegraph Avenue is easy to read and hard to put down. And it’s nowhere near Chabon’s best work.

This is my overflow stack on the dresser – and one reason the nightstand is in such disarray. I keep cheating and grabbing books form the overflow stack. I'm an addict; what can I say? But the top two books are for the trip ...

This is my overflow stack on the dresser – and one reason the nightstand is in such disarray. I keep cheating and grabbing books from the overflow stack before finishing the nightstand books. I’m an addict; what can I say? But the top two books are for the trip …

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I was thinking today that perhaps we should have named Zuzu “Shadow” or “Curious Georgeanne.” Wherever you are, there she is, and whatever you’re doing, her nose is in it. She’s precious and has an exuberance for life, but, dang, she can be an obstacle.

But look at that face.

Zuzu takes a break from dogging Mom. She'd been my shadow or stumbling block all morning. But we love her madly.

Zuzu takes a break from dogging Mom. She’d been my shadow or stumbling block all morning. But we love her madly.

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One last note about the damned shower and this will be the end of it, I promise. First, I moved all my stuff back downstairs and took a heavenly debut shower today. Ah, the pleasure of not having to stand on a stool to get wet. It’s just my size, has nice water pressure and the river rock floor is like a foot massage.

So, ultimately, whatever. As Tom said, it’s the little things.

But the “grout” is definitely more concrete than grout – we just can’t figure out what those guys were thinking/doing/hoping to accomplish. I’ve a bit of trepidation over how it will hold up, since it won’t take the sealer (even though said sealer is made for grout OR concrete – but evidently not a mix of the two). And, just to show that I’m not an insane woman, as John said I might appear, one last photo to show where he had to patch some areas with the grout we chose.

The chosen color was “Dark Taupe.” We’ll live with “Driveway Gray,” if it holds together. Fingers crossed.

See?! I told you it was the wrong color and texture. The dark area is the pure grout. OK, ohmmm ... letting it go.

See?! I told you it was the wrong color and texture. The dark area is the pure grout. OK, ohmmm … letting it go.

How long (has this been going on)

So after at least a week – I've really lost track – of chiseling, scraping and digging to free the rocks covered with a strange grout/cement-like substance, this is how it looked today. That's wet, though, which makes the grout look almost as dark as what we bought.

So after at least a week – I’ve really lost track – of chiseling, scraping and digging to free the rocks covered with a strange grout/cement-like substance, this is how our new shower floor looked today. That’s wet, though, which makes the grout look about half as dark as what we bought. What the heck did those guys mix it with?

Let me start by saying, OK, yes, these are truly first-world problems. We have a roof over our heads, water to drink, heat, food and a relatively healthy family. But still – I’ve gotten to the point where I really can’t remember how long my squatting, kneeling, scraping and chiseling in our newly remodeled shower has been going on.

It’s not finished – one more day, tomorrow, I hope, of applying sealer, and it should be done. Not the bathroom, but the reparation of the horrible mess left by a crew who didn’t have a clue.

The hired crew did all right on the ripping out of the old tub – though they made a horrible mess inout house – but they just didn't understand the concept of quality work. And the river rock shower floor was beyond their comprehension.

The hired crew did all right on the ripping out of the old tub – though they made a horrible mess in our house – but they just didn’t understand the concept of quality work. And the river rock shower floor was beyond their comprehension.

We should have just hired out the demolition and rebuilding and done the tiling ourselves – John and I are both experienced and perfectionistic tile-layers. I actually like doing it, but we thought we’d save time by hiring it done. Hah.

John lost days of work staying home to correct and supervise. I’ve spent the last week cleaning up their mistakes. John says I shouldn’t write this and people will think I’m an insane woman, but I’ve got to share what we were left with.

Oh, and let me add that we bought very dark gray grout – but what we’re left with is a strange concrete color and consistency. We suspect the grout was mixed – for whatever reason – with cement or thinset. What the hell, dudes? I found one little place with dark gray grout. Crazy.

This is a very small example of what I've been chiseling, scraping and wire-brushing off. Note the color. The gray was supposed to match the dark gray in the tile.

This is a very small example of what I’ve been chiseling, scraping and wire-brushing off. Note the color. The gray was supposed to match the dark gray in the tile.

A little more – this one is mostly funny, if you look at the mangled little wire brush. I had to go buy new ones yesterday.

A little more – this one is mostly funny, if you look at the mangled little wire brush. I had to go buy new ones yesterday.

It didn’t occur to me to take photos until I was almost finished, but I took a few yesterday and today. Granted, we had to leave for Washington and the grout and haze left all over the tile had time to really cure. And we were in such a haze over Doris’s fall and death that we didn’t pay as close attention as we should have.

This is really to show that I did find a product – Aqua Mix's NanoScrub – that would remove month-old haze (you can see where I cleaned a spot and left some haze for contrast). It's time-consuming but doesn't require safety googles and a mask, as the alternatives did.

This is really to show that I did find a product – Aqua Mix’s NanoScrub – that would remove month-old haze (you can see where I cleaned a spot and left some haze for contrast). It’s time-consuming but doesn’t require safety googles and a mask, as the alternatives did.

After we got back, John ran the guys off – they’d done enough damage – and we proceeded to clean up after them. And, ultimately, we’ll have a fine-looking new shower, just with the wrong color grout.

Deep breath – I’m moving on.

Silas, Pop and Tess enjoy playtime.

Silas, Pop and Tess enjoy playtime.

One thing I’m moving on to is our precious youngest grandchild, Silas, who, at the moment, is in the throes of an asthma attack and can’t get a deep breath. So sad. He’s doing much better in general with his health problems, but I’m so sorry he inherited that – it runs deep on both sides of the family, but out of the five, he’s the only grandchild with it so far.

record playerYesterday afternoon we took a break from the damned tile to keep him for a few hours and had a great time. I played him several early Beatles albums on my little retro record player that John got me for Christmas. (That’s actually an Allman Brothers album in the photo, but you can see how cute  the repro vintage record player is.)

When we listened to Magical Mystery Tour, Si especially liked “The Fool on the Hill,” and when I showed him the booklet in the album cover, he was very, very interested – kept saying, “Paul” every time we turned a page.

He also really dug the Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins covers and George’s rockabilly guitar-playing. Cutie. And I danced until my legs were tired.

Last night we and a choice between getting back to work in the shower or watching a movie and resting. Since my hamstring scar (from an old tear) was making its presence very known after the weeklong squat and scape workout – and the dancing – we decided to watch Magnolia, Paul Tomas Anderson’s 1999 masterpiece. I hadn’t seen it since it came out and John couldn’t remember if he’d ever seen it.

If you haven’t, you must. I can’t say too much – no spoilers here – except that the cast is huge and great. And, coincidentally, we ate pie while watching it; coincidentally since the length of the movie is pi, 3.14 hours.

I didn’t just know that – I found it when I looked up a verse from Exodus to make sure I was telling John something correctly, something I can’t say without ruining the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it.

I’d intended to move on to more about recently watched movies and recently read books, but that will have to wait. I’m starting to wonder how long this post has been going on. Don’t want you to do the same.

So, until next time, count your blessings and take nothing for granted. The unexpected does happen.

Peace and love, y’all.

Babes in Toyland

December has been a blur – as is much of life at 59 – and we’re ending the month and year with an impromptu trip to Yakima. John’s little mother has fallen and shattered her hip and things are very grim.

The sadness is palpable in our house, yet as death approaches, life goes on. That’s the beauty of life and generations.

Most of the month has been good hectic, though (I’ll skip over the icky parts). For one thing, this is the year I bought Disney’s Babes in Toyland to show the kiddies. I saw it with my friend Kelly when we were 6 and loved it then bought the VHS when my kids were little. Liz has told her kids it was her favorite Christmas movie.

A full-fledged musical, Babes is both excellent and lame, depending on the scene, but Annabelle and Luke, who saw it Dec. 12 when I kept them, loved it. Sylvia and Jude liked it when they saw it here the next Friday night. (Sylvia loved the wedding scene, as did her mama when she was little.)

We kept them until around 1 Saturday, when their other granddaddy picked them up, but we kept Silas until Sunday afternoon. He and I made vegan gingerbread to take to Mother’s for Christmas at her house that day.

Since Si is so allergic to milk and eggs, all my baking (which was not much compared to year’s past) was vegan. In addition to the gingerbread, we had dark chocolate zucchini/cranberry loaves for Christmas Eve and pumpkin streusel coffee cake for Christmas brunch.

At Mother’s we had lasagna, too many sweets and present pandemonium. Mother outdid herself for a 79-year-old – in addition to gifts that thrilled the wee ones and pleased the adults, she had red “Peace, ya’ll” shirts made for all us women – said she wanted something “in your face” to make people notice the message.

Mother loves to give gifts, but she still gets as excited as a little girl about getting them, too.

Mother loves to give gifts, but she still gets as excited as a little girl about getting them, too.

I’d like to think she’s taking after me a bit in her older age, or at least that I’ve rubbed off on her some. I got her a “Coexist” bumper sticker for her car (she wanted one). We also gave her a CD copy of “Rubber Soul” – she always had to rely on my Beatles records, but now she has one of her own.

All the men got nice flannel shirts – but you can see a hint of little Johnny Hardy in this pic. You can't take the boy out of the man, can you?

All the men got nice flannel shirts – but you can see a hint of little Johnny Hardy in this pic. You can’t take the boy out of the man, can you?

Monday I was sick, of all things, right out of the blue (fever gave me an excuse to cuddle up and watch Kinky Bootswhich I’d been trying to fit in – you should see it, too), but by Tuesday, the day we learned about Doris, I was at work. Anita graciously sent me home to be with John and help him find us a flight – hard to accomplish this time of year.

Christmas Eve we closed an hour early and John and I scrambled to clean the house (construction mess + muddy dogs = super yuck) and get the food out before friends and family arrived. Brother Paul was in bed feeling puny by that point, so Cathy came alone.

Our friends Marsha and Lee picked up Mother. Our next-door neighbors/surrogate kids Alyssa and Matthew joined us, and my former coworker and friend of pushing-30 years, Helaine and her husband Dre rounded out the crew.

Christmas Eve conversation.

Christmas Eve conversation.

The dogs opened their gifts from Grandma,

Tess and Zuzu consult over their gifts from Grandma. Zuzu never touches a toy without permission from the bully big sister.

Tess and Zuzu consult over their gifts from Grandma. Zuzu never touches a toy without permission from the bully big sister.

and the adults posed for fun photos. It was nice.

C.Eve group

Not a bad looking bunch!

Christmas morning I got up early after staying up late and started baking the coffee cake, then we had our Christmas before the kids and grands arrived. What a marvelous morning/early afternoon we had.

The togetherness and how the little ones love each other was the best gift of all.

I could go on, but I won’t. At least not today. Maybe tomorrow.

I don’t feel very profound. Just aware of the joys and sadnesses that make up a good life.

Abracadabra

The five little grandkids on Halloween: Only agreeable Luke is in posing mode; the girls are too busy talking and Silas is just not having it. Poor Jude tried.

The five little grandkids on Halloween.

Halloween has come and gone – and was fun as usual – but the scary season remains. How I wish I could wave a wand, say “Abracadabra” and have this election cycle behind us.

Even if it turns out to be a liberal’s (even moderate’s) worst nightmare, at least it will be over. The negativity is palpable and seems to have taken residence in my neck and shoulder. Ouch.

Ever the optimist, though, I’ll remain Pollyanna until the last vote has been tallied and the official results are in. Good conquers evil, right?

Guess that’s the No. 1 thing keeping this grandmother from sleeping well at night lately.

The No. 2 thing is much closer to home.

Little Silas has a serious condition that weighs heavy on my heart, eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), also referred to as “failure to thrive” in little ones because they can’t gain weight. If I could wave a magic wand and make that go away – or take it on myself to free him from it – I’d use every ounce of strength I’ve got to do it.

He’s Epi-pen allergic to milk – as in, he can get life-threatening anaphylaxis from dairy products – and also allergic to eggs and peanuts. If he doesn’t respond to being off those and on baby Prevacid, he may have to go off wheat and soy, which showed mild reactions on allergy testing.

I’m not going to go into how bad it can be, but you can follow the link above if you want to read more.

Again, we’re super-optimistic (well, hopeful, anyway) that he’ll do well and outgrow some of it – if people don’t feed him the wrong things. And if the medicine helps.

He’s bright and beautiful and funny. When he starts feeling better, there’s no telling what he can do. I see The Tonight Show in his future. (Look out, Jimmy Fallon. Your replacement has been born.)

We’re lucky to have Dempsey Bakery close by; not only do they have fabulous vegan products, but they love to share their knowledge and help others. What a resource!

We’re lucky Liz and I are already vegetarians – makes it easier to adapt recipes.

Even my little 79-year-old Mother is learning to bake vegan-style so Silas can have Grammy-made treats.

Rhyme and reason

Busy-ness has kept The Lolly Diaries on the back burner for  a couple of weeks. I could pick back up with more from our trip to New York or the People’s Climate March itself, but instead I want to talk about rhyme and reason.

Much of what goes on in this crazy and volatile world I am helpless to understand, much less explain.

Beheadings? In the 21st century? Staggering. Heartbreakingly staggering. Religion run amok, of any persuasion, has historically caused great cruelty, but shouldn’t the world be past that by now?

The climate mess we’ve gotten ourselves into? Seems obvious we’ve passed the tipping point, but I remain hopeful we can slow down the pace of the tipping.

The reason we let it get to that point?

Greed. Ignorance, too, some of it willful, but greed over green has been the biggest problem in recent years. Living for the now with no care for the future of the earth and all its peoples doesn’t help, but neither does big money and people like the Koch brothers and their boy in Arkansas, Tom Cotton.

But we do what we can, raise a little hell about issues when we can and try to remain sane in a scary world. Everyone has to find his rhyme and reason to persevere.

Otherwise, giving up and giving in would be all too easy.

My primary R&R are my five little ones.

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The other day, out of the blue around dinner time, Jude asked quite seriously what happened to Grandpa Bill. I explained, in fairly technical detail, and his curiosity was satisfied. He was sad, but he’s also sad that he never met my real dad – which he also mentioned. Kids know more than we give them credit for many times.

We watched Mary Poppins with Jude last night. I caught myself off guard by crying during Jane and Michaels’ first song – that movie is so tied to my parents, who took Cathy and me to see it downtown 50  years ago. I played the kid’s version of the songs on the piano, and Daddy played the adult versions. He and Mother loved musicals.

Mr. Banks reminded me of Daddy, spending so much time at work and regretting it later. Sigh. Nostalgia rolled into grief makes the tears flow. We had the lights out, but the last time I teared up (there were a few), Jude did notice – “Hey, your eyes are watering,” is how he questioningly put it.

Speaking of movies, we just came in from Gone Girl. Very nicely done! I’d been waiting since reading the book sometime in 2013. I’d intended to talk some about books in this blog, but it had other ideas.

So that will have to wait. Maybe next time …