Friday, August 19, 2011

Prattle Chatter, Owl Pellets and Meditation

Chatter with 10 year olds is like a constant ocean tide that we wade through every day. Often the tide rises and it gets to be a bit much and I end up begging them (well, especially Riley, since he talks, always, as long as he's awake) to 'be quiet', even to 'shut up for a while!'

Bear with me here, this may get long.

I was writing to my friend Karen this morning. Her brother passed on a week and a half ago, too young, from cancer. While we were driving back from LA and dealing with a broken transmission over the Grapevine, Karen was having to deal with all the funeral and burial arrangements and paperwork and craziness that happens when someone in your family dies. Her brother has 2 children, a nine-year old boy and a little toddler girl. I wasn't very close to her brother, but Karen is family, so he was family of family, if that makes any sense. It's going to be very hard for his family for a long time, and I wish there was more I could do. There's not much, it feels like. I was thinking about the boy, though. He's really into Magic the Gathering, played it with his dad, loves the game. Now that's something I know about, since Paul introduced our boys to it and they play it and Riley in particular goes through periods when he is completely obsessed with it. Karen mentioned that her nephew was obsessed with Magic even during all that's been going on and of course it made me think about my guys and how they deal with things.
Boys. They chatter, they prattle. I hear that girls do that even more, but in different ways. Boys talk a lot, but rarely about the really big things. They talk of games, superheroes, movies, tv shows, stuff going on at school, friends. They can talk on for hours about stuff. Just, you know, stuff, mom. I frequently sit with the guys at bedtime and we sometimes read a book together, or we tell stories, or we just talk. And the most interesting things come out within the chatter. I was telling Karen that boys talk around things, by the edges, underneath whatever they're ostensibly talking about. They sneak the big stuff in there under the radar and it's easy to miss if you're tired and distracted and not listening closely.

I guess I think of boytalk like owl pellets. I have several owl pellets, those mud balls that owls puke up from their gullets periodically to get rid of bones and fur and such. They're sitting on my kitchen counter. Hey, I know, but I have 10 year old boys and owl pellets a hecka cool, actually. If you open up the owl pellets and sort through them you can figure out what that owl ate and all sorts of interesting info. Ooh, this one ate a mouse; here look, the skull is almost intact and there's brown fur too... How do you think he caught the mouse, mom? Did the mouse suffer when he died? Was he afraid?
So I suggested to Karen that if she can manage it, she try to listen to her nephew's chatter, even especially the stuff that seems trivial. Odds are nobody at home has the bandwidth right now to listen to that boy's chatter, and he may end up not talking much at all, especially if it goes on too long with nobody to listen to him, to find him interesting and worth the attention. Who will pick up on the big stuff that gets snuck in around the edges, like the bones in the owl pellet?


I was over at Michealle's last night, with the wonderful friends who helped me put together my portfolio a few weeks back. We were talking about what Michealle had been learning at a great, intense workshop she'd been going to, and she led us in a guided meditation, to help us become more aware of our breathing. Breathing in, down, through and out, letting go of things, cleansing out. All good. Michealle gently told us to breathe in, bring the breath deep down past the chest and down, deep into the belly, let it dissipate and flow out, then around and back out. And I couldn't do it, the breath catching right at my chest, hung up and shallow, like it was caught by a web of strands, tough and stringy.

Think of a memory, her voice said, and I was laying on the bed with a towel clenched in my teeth to keep myself from screaming with the pain while Paul had to push a six-inch wooden q-tip with a gauze bandage around it down deep into my chest to fill the surgery site there, so it could heal gradually, slowly, over several months with twice-daily bandage changes, healing from the inside out. Breathe in, she said gently. Caught in a web there, like scar tissue, a little bit of breath could leak like smoke down and around, but not much. Five years, Karen had told me. The doctors told her brother that his cancer must have been there for at least five years before they found out about it and by then. Deep breath. I went off the Tamoxifen anti-cancer drug after five years, just a few months ago. It was a bit over five years ago that I had the surgery and that long healing and then the radiation and more healing. We didn't get a clean margin around the cancer tissue, they said, so you need radiation. That should get it. Five years clean is what we aim for, they said. Five years.

Did the mouse suffer, mom? Was he afraid?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Venice, California
Tell me this doesn't look like everyone's dreams of the ideal California. Or this house:
It's almost dreamlike, somehow. What sort of people live there? How do they afford such beautiful places when it's so incredibly expensive?
SCBWI, (more on that from Debbie, who covered it in much more comprehensive detail than I'll ever be able to) was intense and amazing and left my poor brain in a muddle. I went back to visit with Paul's family and as a sanity break, I went out on a fun walk/stroll/photoshoot with Stacy, who is a wonderful, innovative photographer with a wry sense of humor. She's a kindred spirit, and it was a lovely afternoon and evening, wandering the streets and alleyways of Venice, then going out for Indian food.
Venice is of course known for its counter culture, its beach with lots of colorful characters and all the avant garde art and lifestyles Venice is famous for. But back a bit further from the beach are the canal streets, built in the 20's as the 'Venice of the West'. I'd never seen them, so we went walking in search of them.
It's a small but really lovely neighborhood with incredibly high-priced houses, big and small. Lots of pretty little bungalows from the 20's lovingly restored, and many that had been torn down and rebuilt in grandiose California Excess Style. It was a bit of a shock to run across this lovely little stucco bungalow house:

It was rather run-down and had a For Sale sign out front, so we poked about a bit and a rather disgruntled man came out and wanted to know what we were up to. When asked about the house he said it was for sale, but as a 'tear-down'. Apparently you buy the property and tear the house down and rebuild. For only $750,000, you get the land, the run-down house, and any further expenses to tear down and rebuild are of course your own.
Damn straight, that's a lot of money. Yet in that neighborhood it's only a small amount of money. We felt sorry for the house; the man who was in it seemed disgusted with it and uninterested in any potential buyers who looked like us. Obviously we didn't look like we had $750,000 to spend on a run down little house in a high priced neighborhood. But we would have liked to rescue that little house.
But there were lots of lovely little bungalows still. I took a ton of pictures of whatever struck my fancy and put up a set over on Flickr. I haven't been doing much photography for fun lately and this was something I really needed.
 The light in LA is odd; it's sunny but it's a cool blue light. I kept having to stop down because I was overexposing. Stacy said the light is like the cool white light from movie set arc lights, and she's right. It might explain why the movie studios liked this area, besides the even, consistent weather.
Anyway, it was a much-needed break and very enjoyable time spent with my sis-in-law.
Thanks, Stacy.
Tomorrow we're driving back down to the Grapevine to retrieve our poor van, which blew out its transmission trying to get us over the pass. It's getting older and has served us well, so we opted to get it fixed. Hope the little garage at Gorman does a decent job of putting in a new transmission for us; it's costing a ton of money we weren't prepared for. Isn't that always the way it goes?
Why can't life be more like this more of the time?

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Whale Watching
Casey and Paul gamely hang onto their cookies
Monterey Bay is a mecca for sealife. It's one of the best places in the world to go whale watching, and while we've been to the Monterey Bay Aquarium any number of times we've never gone whale watching before. Paul set it all up and off we went.
Kayakers were having fun spotting Sea Otters in the water next to them.
So the naturalist on the boat who pointed out sea life and told us interesting things taught us to look for three B's when going whale watching: Birds, lots of them feeding in an area, since they would indicate lots of food interesting to birds and fish and whales, Boats, like the one we were on, who were cruising slowly around or motionless and not fishing, and Blows, as in whales blowing water from their airholes and taking breaths. 
Nope, no whales yet- not out to sea far enough yet.
Lots of giant jelliyfish in the water as we drive by.

Plenty of pelicans and other seabirds around, fishing.
 So we went out for a long way, until you couldn't see any land at all and everyone was a bit queasy from all the rolling and motion, before we saw any action.
Casey's face when asked how he was feeling.
We found another boat circling around out in the middle of nowhere and we slowed down to look around as well, and lo and behold:
We found a family group of four humpback whales, 2 adults and 2 youngsters. They were quite obliging and hung around and showed off a bit for us.
 Once they do a big tail flip they are generally going down deep and may not come back up for about 10 minutes or more, so it becomes a game of cat and mouse to try to figure out where they will surface next. The whale watching boats also have to be careful not to get too close and not to harass the whales. The goal is to be able to watch them without altering their behavior in any way, though it seems clear that the whales are very aware of the boats hanging around; they almost seem to play with the boats a bit, though I know that sounds anthropomorphic.
Riley and I ended up spotting the whales by their blows several times before other people; we were really enjoying it all. Casey and Paul were having trouble with queasiness the whole time, so they were less thrilled.
Sharp-eyed Riley
We were told that there were a couple of rather rare Basking Sharks hanging around on vacation in the Monterery Bay, so we kept a sharp lookout, and Riley was the first to spot one.
Top fin of the Basking Shark- it was huge- about the size of one of the whales we spotted.
Pelicans on the wing, low on the water
Paul was a good sport despite nausea.
Watching the Basking Shark passing very close to the boat.
Riley describing how he spotted the shark.
So eventually we headed back to shore, where we staggered off the boat along with all of our fellow passengers and went along the pier in search of some late lunch and a place to sit that wasn't moving. :)
Riley and I would do it again in a heartbeat; Paul and Casey might think twice. I do love the fact that you can still go out to sea and spot whales living their lives, raising their babies. I admit it gives me hope for the planet for some reason.