Friday, December 31, 2010

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again

It's New Year's Eve and I'm helping Queen Teen make Thank You cards for the people who sent her gifts. She and I will celebrate together with some sparkling apple juice, pizza, and a Tinker Bell movie marathon. I wonder which of us will fall asleep first, or will this be the year we both stay awake until midnight? It feels important to stay awake. I need to see this year officially ended.

And in the morning, we all start with a fresh slate and 364 days to try again. Will we learn from our mistakes? Get it right this time? Take more risks? Actually stick to that diet? How many resolutions can one person make and keep? Any?

Despite my feelings of defeat, I too will wake up in the morning with a bit more optimism. Maybe this will be my year? I can't help it. I often get the blues, but ultimately I can't stay down long. Life is just too interesting to hide under the covers.

I can't remember if I've already shared this video here, but I taught myself this song last month and it cheers me up every time I sing it. Feels perfect for a New Year.

Happy New Year, dear friends. Enjoy the adventure. Who knows what will happen in a new year that starts off 1-1-11?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

That dirty little four letter word... help

I admit it: I'm depressed. It feels a bit more intense than my usual end of the year, post-holiday, too much sugar and noise, depression. After some serious thought, I realize the reason I'm so depressed this year is because I am absolutely exhausted. I've worn myself out to the core and I simply do not have another ounce of thought, energy, emotion or knowledge to give. Somehow though, I have to keep giving. Otherwise this hectic but beautiful life of mine will come crashing down. What to do?

Usually, I don't make New Year's resolutions. Instead I lean toward general promises, like last year when I said I would "Be kinder to myself." I can say that despite my crazy life, I've managed to make some progress on that promise. I'm eating better (if you exclude December... and November... and September... and... never mind). I'm exercising more (except for December... and November... and September...). But mainly, I'm just not being so hard on myself. My tendency is to punish myself for any perception of weakness, like this...

You only got a B on that test? Why didn't you study harder? 
You just had to eat that other cookie, didn't you? You have no self control!
Stop being such a whiney baby! 
Oh for heaven's sake, stop crying. I don't care if you're tired. You've got dishes to do!

But in 2010, I managed to combat that evil, vindictive voice in my head with thoughts like this...

It's okay. You're tired. The dishes can wait.
You're a human being, Terena. Remember that.
Queen Teen can wait a minute. Finish your shower.
Look at everything you've taken on this year. No wonder you're worn out.

And so, instead of beating myself up for being tired, depressed, 10 pounds overweight and in a bad mood, I sat myself down and asked myself out loud, "Why are you feeling this way? What can you do to change that?"

Besides the obvious of finishing grad school, there is the not so obvious fact (at least to me) that I am doing all of it with very little help. My husband and I struggle to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. We work hard to care for our child, who at 15 is still unable to be left alone for any length of time. Our families live far away and our friends are scattered with busy lives of their own. Ultimately, caring for Queen Teen falls to me. Rick helps when he can, but he needs to work more or the bills go unpaid. He and I are overstressed and overburdened. Something has to change.

And so, my New Year's resolution in 2011 is "Look for more help, and ask for it."

It won't be easy. With California's budget not just in the toilet, but all the way at the bottom of the fiscal septic tank, services for people with disabilities and their families are extremely limited. What little we had is being cut even more. But we need help, and I am determined to find it.

Being capable can be a curse. People look at me and see how strong and responsible I am, how much Queen Teen is thriving, how hard we all work and manage so beautifully. Because I appear so on-top-of-it, people don't think to ask if we need help. Well I am here to state for the record that

WE NEED HELP!!!!!!!!!!!

Was that loud enough?

I need help. Really. I know I look like I've got everything under control, but inside I am a shaking, weary, terrified, mess in need of a housekeeper, cook, secretary and chauffeur. I need therapy and a massage. I need two weeks of sleep and one-on-one meditation lessons followed by a month of yoga.

But I'll settle for someone to point me in the right direction toward getting more support for my family.

Any ideas?

Monday, December 27, 2010

I'm gonna wash 2010 right out of my hair

The first monday after Christmas and 2011 is less than a week away. I cannot wait for 2010 to be done! I want to finish everything from this year that is still hanging over my head: three more chapters in the "Red Book" to study for my exam, several blog posts to prepare, sales and inventory to total up for Medusa's Muse, my overflowing pantry to organize, all of the laundry finally done, my house scrubbed until every drop of dust from 2010 has vanished.

None of this will happen of course. With my daughter home 24/7, I'll probably get one more chapter read before New Years, if I'm lucky. Plus, my washing machine broke two days before Christmas, so the laundry won't be finished. 2010's dirty socks will most likely still be lying on the hallway floor in 2011.

I always feel this way at New Years. Instead of feeling excitement for a new year, I feel relief the old one is over. Whew! I made it through another year! Then I plop on the couch, open the champagne, and mentally prepare myself for another frickin year.

New Years is not my best time. Some people get the blues at Christmas, I get depressed on New Years.

Today, I'm taking Queen Teen to Santa Rosa for a little post-Christmas shopping with her holiday money. Tomorrow I'll study Chapter 10 (Environmental Accessibility). Some time this week, I'll do a couple of loads of laundry at a friend's house and perhaps on Thursday visit my brother and his family. Queen Teen's best friend is her cousin. I'll do my best to wipe away 2010 and accept the fact that some of this year will still be there on Jan 1st. It always is. Like my gray hair and extra pounds.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Peace on Earth, Good Will to All

Christmas Eve, 2010. Cajun music is blasting while my husband and I make Alligator Gumbo, Red Beans and Rice with Taso, vegetables boiled in Cajun spices, and Bread Pudding in Whiskey Sauce, plus a shrimp and spinach quiche for our friends who can't tolerate the spices of Cajun cooking. In a couple of hours, several friends are coming for a Cajun Christmas celebration. My husband is from New Orleans and loves to cook, so Christmas Eve is the perfect time to cook all day and try new recipes. The house smells of onion, bell pepper, cayenne, chicken stock, and Andouille sausage. The champagne is on ice, the house is clean, and I just changed my clothes into something more festive. It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas...

I've been trying to write something meaningful and important about the season, but so far all I can manage is this:

Whoever you are, and whatever holiday you celebrate, may your days filled with joy, laughter, and love.

And here's a bit of Cajun Christmas to get you in the spirit:

Bonne Christmeusse!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It's a Wonderful Life

Right now I'm watching It's a Wonderful Life, starring James Stewart,  Donna Reed, and the brilliant Lionel Barrymore as evil Mr. Potter, who I imagine Scrooge would have become if never saved by the ghosts. I watch it every year at Christmas, reveling in classic tale of a man who's dreams never come true, but who discovers that his life has meaning after all. In fact, when the movie debuted in 1946, it was panned by critics as too sentimental and "sweet,"despite the fact it was nominated for 5 Academy Awards. But over the years, the movie has become one of the most beloved films of all time and is considered a master piece of American movie-making.

Directed by Frank Capra, famous for creating sentimental movies even by 1940's standards  (You Can't Take it With You is one of my favorites), It's a Wonderful Life tells the story of George Bailey, a man with big dreams that never come true because the needs of his family and the community of Bedford Falls always supersede his own. For the most part, George gives his time willingly, because he is blessed with a generous spirit. But when a crisis threatens to destroy his own life, George is filled with rage and in desperation considers suicide. That's when his Guardian Angel appears and through a series of miracles shows George that his life does have meaning and how much of an impact he has had in the lives of the entire town. It's the kind of movie that makes you cry at least twice, especially at the end.

Here's a clip from the movie, when George sees Mary again.

2010 hasn't exactly been a picnic. In fact, it's right up there with one of the hardest years of all, including 1996, when I got a divorce and discovered Queen Teen had medical problems. And maybe it's a mid-life thing, but I feel as if my life hasn't gone in any direction I had hoped for. Sometimes I swear I'm living someone else's life. When I was a kid, I didn't think about college, I planned to act and travel the world. Instead, I'm a middle aged mom working on a possibly useless Graduate degree, stuck in a small town, slowly putting on weight while I clean house and raise my daughter. I feel an awful lot like George Bailey, stuck in Bedford Falls, hearing the sound of his lost dreams in the roar of trains passing by.

George's dreams of travel and adventure didn't come true, but his life was far richer than he realized. He made a difference in the world, and he was allowed to see just how much he mattered. He had love and an entire town who called him friend, and when things were bleakest, they were there for him. As his brother said, George Bailey was the richest man in town.

So see the movie, and then think about your own life. I know I will. We may be surprised at how rich we actually are.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A mobile life needs a mobile blog

It's Christmas break and I'm playing catch up. I recently saw that I can blog from my iPhone, so I'm giving it a go. Will this help me keep up with my blog? Probably not, because typing on my phone is no fun. But it will be nice to jot down thoughts and read all of my blog friends posts. Has anyone tried using mobile blogging? What do you think?

This is a test, a warm up, as I gather my thoughts and stretch my writing muscles. Looking forward to spending lots of time writing here again.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Does keeping a list of blog topics mean I'm still blogging?

Here it is December and I still have two pumpkins on my front porch. November flew by so fast I barely remember what happened. I think there was a party of some type in there that involved lots of food. Or was that last year?

I've been jotting down topics for blog posts on a scrap of paper I leave by my bed in the futile hope I'll actually be able to write them. So far I have :

  • bras
  • skin care
  • "we could use some boys around here"
  • when fish try to commit suicide
  • more classic movie reviews
  • absinth
  • "I can't sleep and rest at the same time"
  • the bathtub opera
  • I think my hair is falling out
  • Why did I go to grad school?

When I actually have the time to sit and write some of these while I still remember them (why did I want to write about bras, though?), I'll be flooding my blog with enough posts to bore entertain you all. But today, I'll get back to studying for my certification exam, surviving my internship, ignoring spending time with my daughter, and now preparing for the holidays.

The holidays... there are a few more blog topics in there for sure.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thankful for such a full, prosperous life

And there they go again, more weeks flying by. My days are filled with learning and work, my evenings with family and home. I am weary and frantic most of the time. Some days I drag myself out of bed, unable to open my eyes until I've had more than half a cup of coffee. By 7 PM I'm ready for bed again, my brain overwhelmed with everything it's managing at once.

For all of this, I am thankful.

It's funny that I'd feel this way. Maybe it's the holiday. Today, despite my fatigue, I realized that I am this tired because my life is filled with prosperity. Not the monetary kind (that sure would be nice someday), but the learning, growing, adventuring, challenging kind. When I step away from the stress and frustration of grad school, I am able to see how much both my child and my self are thriving. The reason I am so worn  out is because of the possibilities in my life. My world has gotten bigger with more opportunity.

All I have to do is figure out how to get through this time with my sanity somewhat intact.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. May you know your own blessings, including the ones you might think are so hidden it's a wonder you can call them blessings at all. Those are where the real riches of life lie buried.

Friday, November 12, 2010

It's Haiku My Heart Friday

What's Haiku my Heart Friday? Head over to my writing/publishing blog Medusa's Muse to see the poem I wrote this morning, then click on the Haiku My Heart link for more info. Some of my favorite Bloggers have also joined in the fun, including Ms. Moon and Elizabeth.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Nothing cures a cold like The Thin Man

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm sick. Sick-as-a-dog. Queen Teen has been sick for a week and I've busily been caring for her while guzzling tea and sucking down Vitamin C and D to hold back my own stuffy nose and sore throat. For a while it looked like I had fought off the bug, but on Saturday it knocked me flat on my ass like a germ-infested Sumo wrestler. Queen Teen went back to school today, still a little stuffy, but in good spirits and fever free. I climbed into bed with a box of tissues, the portable DVD player and a stack of old movies.

I am a 1930's and 40's movie fanatic. My favorite movie of all time is The Thin Man (1934), followed in close second by The Thin Man Returns (1936) with Myrna Loy and William Powell.

Originally a book by Dashiel Hammet, the Thin Man is a comedic, mystery movie featuring husband and wife crime fighting duo, Nick and Nora Charles. Nick Charles is a former P.I. with a love for alcohol and a reputation for solving the unsolvable. After marrying his heiress wife, Nora, he gives up fighting crime and instead pursues the perfect cocktail. But Nora won't let him retire. When an old aquantance disappears, Nora badgers him to take the case. Nick reluctantly gets pulled in by the police and the missing man's family.  Eventually he solves the mystery, effectively coming out of retirement, even though he continues to deny wanting to be a detective again. Nora is thrilled by the excitement of solving mysteries and lends a hand whenever she can, or when her husband is unable to stop her. 

But it isn't the mystery that makes this series of films so memorable. It is the quick wit and hilarity of the characters, Nick and Nora.

Nora: Take care of yourself
Nick: Why, sure I will.
Nora: Don't say it like that! Say it as if you meant it!
Nick: Well, I do believe the little woman cares.
Nora: I don't care! It's just that I'm used to you, that's all.

Nick: I'm a hero. I was shot twice in the Tribune.
Nora: I read where you were shot 5 times in the tabloids.
Nick: It's not true. He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids.

Nick: The important thing is the rhythm. Always have rhythm in your shaking. Now a Manhattan you shake to fox-trot time, a Bronx to two-step time, a dry martini you always shake to waltz time. 

Besides being a brilliant detective, Nick is an alcoholic. If he isn't drinking, he's looking for a drink. Some people may find the constant reference to alcohol and drinking offensive, but in the context of the time period, it's hysterical. Remember, The Thin Man was made only one year after prohibition ended, so alcohol had just returned to the main stream and being a drunk was considered funny.

Nora is that rare 1930's movie wife who is beautiful, funny, adventurous and smart. She keeps up with Nick's wit and drinking, and their chemistry together is what really makes The Thin Man a classic. It isn't the mystery that keeps us hooked, it is the romantic relationship of Nick and Nora. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Proof I'm still a bit batty

I've been feeling a tad overwhelmed lately. Too much to do, all of it important, all of it needing to happen today. And the fatigue has come back with a vengeance. I wake up in the morning and actually feel pain when I force myself out of bed. I'm back on coffee just to get my body into some kind of shape before I tackle the day (but not so much caffeine that I turn into bitch-mom. It's a fine line).

"I feel like such a wimp," I whined one day to my husband. "Other people can do this, why can't I?"

He nodded sympathetically, but went on working on his computer.

"I know I'm doing a lot, but I'm so frickin tired all the time. Seriously, how do people raise kids and work?"

"You've got a little more on your plate than most people," my husband said, still working on his computer.

"Yeah, we do. But I know people who's kids are more disabled than ours and they can manage to hold down a job. I'm just a wimp."

He just kept working on his computer.

I waited for some kind of response, for him to say, "You're not a wimp, honey."


"Your silence makes me feel that you think I'm a wimp."

He glanced at me quickly, gave me a quick smile, then went back to working on his computer.

My mind went into panic mode. Oh my God, my husband thinks I'm a wimp! He's afraid to say anything because he doesn't want me to feel worse, but he's too honest to say he doesn't think I'm a wimp if he thinks I am one, so he's just pretending that I never said anything and then maybe I'll go away. I'm a wimp. I really am! Here's the proof! He won't even look at me...

I got up from the table and walked away, feeling like the bottom of my world had dropped 100 feet and the walls were too slippery to grab a hold of. The feeling stayed with me for two days, a crushing depression that grew as that evil voice in my head chanted loudly "You're a wimp. You're a wimp. You're a wimp..." It got meaner after a while. "You're a loser, a wimp, a weakling, a nothing. You can't do anything. You are the most worthless human being on the planet."

Do you know how much money I've spent on therapy in the last 20 years to get this voice to shut-up? I don't even know where it came from! No one ever said that to me. My parents never sat me down on the couch when I was 5 and declared, "You are nothing." So why do I have the meanest, cruelest, evil inner voice in the world?

After 36 hours, I'd had enough. "Shut up!" I told that voice. "I'm not listening." And I didn't. It took an enormous amount of energy to redirect my thoughts away from that cackling mantra of failure. I forced myself to think of what I had achieved (Grad school, motherhood and a publishing company... Hello!). When that inner voice got extra sadistic and shouted, "And your fat too," I told myself I am beautiful and stronger than I've ever been in my life (which is true. thanks to Kettle Bell, I can now lift my 90 pound daughter over rain puddles without hurting my back, something I couldn't do 2 years ago). Very slowly, that voice lost some of it's power and returned to that nagging whisper that is easier to ignore.

Therapy didn't get rid of that voice, it taught me how to manage it.

I still have a feeling that I am lacking, though. No matter what I do, that feeling just won't go away. I guess this is why I do so much. Time to stop.

Maybe with a little more practice, I'll be able to just live and not have to prove to myself that I deserve to live.

And maybe I'll learn not to try and talk to my husband about something important when he's working on a computer. He probably didn't even hear a word I said. 

Yep, I am still a tad batty. Maybe we all are.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Full Circle - Interning with Laura Fogg

The first book I published through my press, Medusa's Muse, was called Traveling Blind: Life Lessons from Unlikely Teachers, written by my daughter's Orientation and Mobility Teacher, Laura Fogg. A memoir about her 30 years as a teacher of visually impaired children, Laura shares stories about many of her students and what each child taught her about life, joy, grief and hope. My own daughter's story is one of the chapters. I had watched her for 10 years working with my daughter, but publishing her book gave me a clear picture of what being a teacher of visually impaired people was like. Shortly after the book was released in November, 2007, I applied to the O and M program at San Francisco State.

Last week I started my internship with Laura, riding with her all over Mendocino County, teaching toddlers and high school students, both multiply disabled and able bodied, English and Spanish speaking. She also works with other teachers to help them understand a child's vision issues and parents to help them communicate their child's needs. She eats lunch in her car and rarely takes a break. Occasionally she works 10 hour days. But through it all, she seems joyful and tireless. Even when she's starting to feel the stress because everything happens at once, she has a smile on her face. 

I want to be just like her when I grow up.

Life has come full circle. Queen Teen was born visually impaired. Laura has been her teacher for 12 years. Laura wrote a memoir. I published it. Her book inspired me to go to school. Laura is now my Master Teacher.

Hey, someone tell Oprah. I think our story would make an excellent feature for her magazine.

The other perk to this internship is I now get to work with my own daughter. It kind of feels like cheating taking Queen Teen on shopping trips and nature walks after school. Queen Teen is in heaven. She likes going on outings with Laura, but with Mom in tow, it's that much better.

And this is Laura's office

Anderson Valley in October

And this...

And here's one more shot of Laura Fogg's office, which is mine for the next five weeks...

The Village of Mendocino
No wonder she loves her job.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween! Does Johnny Depp know he has a twin brother?

Johnny Depp's evil twin, Skippy             

For those who don't know, I am a HUGE Johnny Depp fan (since way back, not just since Jack Sparrow. I've even seen Dead Man and liked it). 
I wore this to a drag show and people loved it. "You look just like him!" several people said. It was eerie to see Johnny Depp looking back at me from the mirror. Kind of takes my Johnny adoration to a narcissistic level. 

Queen Teen, on the other hand, was pure girl.
Fairy Princess of the world!

Fairies and Princesses are her two favorite things, so we combined them this year. Thank goodness she didn't say Sponge Bob, her other favorite thing. I didn't have that costume stashed in the closet. 

She went trick-or-treating this evening... at the dark... in unfamiliar areas... all things that would typically send her into a complete melt-down. Even when we had to walk in the street because her wheelchair couldn't fit on the sidewalk, she didn't panic. We went door to door for over an hour, far longer than I thought she'd last, and she remembered to say thank you and even looked at the person when they offered her candy. It was great! I will remember this Halloween forever because this is the one year we went trick-or-treating like the other kids. Funny how you don't realize you want something until it happens.

And now for my all time favorite Halloween joke, which I learned it in the 2nd grade and never forgot:

Why do witches ride brooms?

Because vacuum cleaners are too heavy.        Bwahahahahahahahahahahaa

Happy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

But it's Wednesday! Laura comes on Thursday!

Me - "I'm going to pick you up from school today and then we're going on a walk with Laura and your friend Eden."

Queen Teen - (scowl)

Me - "What?"

QT - "I don't think I like that."

Me - "Why?"

QT - "I just don't."

Me- "You don't want me to pick you up from school?"

QT - "I don't know."

Me - "You don't want to go on a walk with Laura and Eden?"

QT "No."

Me - "Why? It will be fun."

QT - "No it won't."

Me- "But why? You like going out with Laura and you haven't seen Eden in a long time."

QT - "Because I only go out with Laura on Thursday."

Me - "You can go out with her twice this week. Today and tomorrow, on Thursday."

QT - "No."

Me - "No?"

QT - "Today is Wednesday. I don't go out with Laura on Wednesday. I only go out with Laura on Thursday."

Me - "This is an extra special, fun trip with your friend."

QT - "I don't think I like that."

Me - "Well... I'm still going to pick you up from school today."

QT - (deeper scowl) - "Hmph!"

Me - (under my breath) "This is going to be fun."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How do Working Moms do it?

My butt is officially whipped. I started my internships in September and have come crashing into the middle of that work/life balancing act. How do working moms do this? How do you work full time while raising children, not to mention keep up with laundry, dishes, groceries, bills, housework and still maintain some kind of relationship with your husband? I'm not working yet, but I might as well be. My crazy life has been forced to conform into another person's schedule and I am losing my mind!

I've worked in the past while raising my daughter, but all of those jobs were flexible. Even when I was a program manager at a non-profit, I pretty much made my own hours and if I had to work from home due to a sick child, I could. But now that I'm working in the field of O and M, I'm dealing with a whole new set of expectations and deadlines. School districts and the Department of Rehabilitation have strict regulations and both are working on shoe-string budgets. Everyone needs it done NOW, and heaven forbid if I miss a day due to illness or child care problems. I feel stretched to my limits, physically and mentally. And when I go home after working all day, I have a needy, still dependent Queen Teen to feed, bathe, spend time with and then send to bed.

That's the heart of the problem. Queen Teen is 15 but is developmentally about 11. Physically she requires a lot of help and still relies on me to provide the majority of her security and emotional needs. I rarely have down time; when I'm not working, I'm caring for a severely disabled child who requires 24 hour care. Rick is fabulous and does his best, but I am the center of Queen Teen's world, and will probably be for many more years.

It's frustrating because I want to learn more and work more and expand my horizons and perhaps even get my PHD (someone can kick me now and remind me how stressed out I am and NO I do not need any more years of school!). I want a steady income, health insurance, a 401K and retirement, all things I have never had (I'm 43! I should have some kind of savings for when I'm 70!). To get those things I need to work full time.

I can not work full time. Not now, anyway. Instead of looking for full time jobs, I'm considering being an independent contractor so I can go back to making my own schedule and having more control over my time. I need the flexibility to give my daughter the care she still needs from me. I have to be full time mommy a little while longer.

But I'd still like to know, how the hell do you moms with full time jobs do it!?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Holy Cow! What happened to October?

Is it really the 20th already? Last time I looked, it was October 9th. Since then I've been focused on my internship and my Master's Exam, studying like a fiend when I wasn't teaching visually impaired people, driving too many hours, or keeping up with Queen Teen. Plus, there was a Book Expo for my press in the middle of all that, and a book reading with two of my authors (check out my press blog Medusa's Muse for more on those events). So much happening, so much busy-ness, so much learning and growing and exploring that I'm feeling breathless. Really. I need to sit down and rest for a few days.

But no. No rest for the wicked, or crazy in my case. Although I did find a glimmer of sanity in all that chaos. Since my internship is going to take longer than anticipated and I won't graduate this semester, I postponed my Master's exam until Spring. Suddenly a huge weight disappeared from my chest, plus I had time to tackle that gigantic mountain of laundry in the hall, half blocking my bedroom door.

Alas, there was one casualty this month.

My house plants may never be the same.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


After observing Queen Teen in class at the high school, I discovered one very important fact: Queen Teen is popular with the boys. They watch her walk by with curiosity and a little bit of longing in their eyes. They have stammering conversations with her that involve them asking questions and then staring at their feet while they wait for her to reply, which she usually doesn't do. They look for her in the cafeteria and then maneuver for the closest spot beside her, but not too close because they don't want to crowd her (she hates that). Primarily, I'm talking about the boys in her SDC program, but I also saw some of the boys in the general campus population secretly checking her out, and it wasn't just because she was in a wheelchair.

Queen Teen is beautiful. It's not just me saying that, either. She has dark hair and dark blue eyes, pale cream skin and naturally red lips, long limbs and a smile that can turn a teen-aged boy to jello. And although she is still a little shy and has a hard time hearing when the boys are talking to her, I've watched her slowly become aware of the power she has over the opposite sex. She smiles shyly and actually bats her eyes. I'm not sure she really understands what's going on, though. She simply seems to enjoy learning to flirt.

There is a boy at school who hunts for her in the cafeteria every day and then glows with pleasure when he gets to push her in her wheelchair. Sometimes she lets him, sometimes she doesn't. It's always her call, and I think he lives for the moments she turns to him and says with a smile, "You can push my chair." Another boy asks her every day if she'll come to the gym to watch him shoot hoops. She rarely does, but on those few occasions when she does appear, he practically does cart wheels, he's so excited.

And now I have the task of trying to decide how much I need to explain to her about what all this male attention means. She still seems a bit oblivious. To her, boys are "silly," and the ones who give her extra attention are even "sillier." How much does she understand about flirting and relationships? I've been waiting forever for her to ask me questions about boys and sex and where babies come from, but she never has. It looks like I need to start asking her the questions.

It's fun watching her blossom and begin to flex her flirting muscles. She's stunning. Gorgeous.

In fact, I'd better go get a shot gun and a chastity belt. Or I wonder if there's a nunnery I can send her to?

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Giants are in the Playoffs! And you can all thank me

(image from Gear up for Sports)

For the first time since 2003, the San Francisco Giants have made it to the playoffs. This is also the first year I attended a baseball game. Actually, I've been to a few games in my life, mostly high school and amateur softball teams. My dad was on a team when I was a kid called "The Fat Vikings." They were really called something else, but the winery's logo that sponsored the team was "FV," so that became their name (I wonder how the winery felt about that?)

I saw the Giants vs. the Brewers on Sept 19th at AT&T park with my two good friends, Jody and Patrick. We sat in the Club section where the seats have backs and it's a short walk to get a beer. And speaking of beer, they now serve Gluten Free beer at the ball park. Say what you want about "yuppie" ball parks, it made my day to drink a real beer at a real baseball game. Wearing the SF Giants cap and shirt my friends had brought me, I felt fully "Giantified." 

The ball park is gorgeous, with towering rows of seats to the West and South, and shorter bleacher seats to the East.  From our seats we could see the enormous Bay Bridge and boats gliding slowly across the the cool gray water of the San Francisco bay. The sky was gray, but the grass of the field was brilliant green.

image from
At first, I felt pretty odd sitting in the ball park with my beer and Giant's gear. I never watch games on TV and didn't know who any of the players were. Buster Posey looked like a 16 year old kid who should have been in Sunday school, not a baseball game. And when people started booing for Juan Uribe I thought he played for the other team and somehow I'd missed the change in the inning. Bottom of the 2nd? Second what? Why was it called bottom and top? I know this is San Francisco, but that's ridiculous.

Patrick and Jody were patient answering my questions (or at least they hid their laughter), and eventually, the game started to make sense. When the Brewer left-fielder made an incredible catch in the first inning I clapped with the rest of the fans, understanding that sometimes you have to cheer for the opposing team when they play that well. But when Sunday school boy Buster Posey hit a home run early in the game, I cheered even louder. This was my team, baby, and we were winning!

Patrick, Me and Jody, and the Giant Orange hand of beer goodness
The Giants did win that game, going on to battle Chicago and then San Diego and making it to the playoffs. Jody sent me a message after the Giants won yesterday. "You're good luck, Terena!"

Yep, all baseball virgins are good luck.

Now I understand why people go to ball games. It's like a giant party with a game to tie us all together. You forget your own problems and the problems of the world and just focus on the simple game of baseball. When the game is on in a grocery store or my car radio I pay attention, wanting to hear the score and find out who's hitting, who's pitching, who struck out. I doubt I'll ever spend time glued to the TV watching the game like my grandmother, but now that I've seen the Giants, they feel like my team, and I want to know how they're doing.

And now a word from my favorite ball player, Ebby Calvin LaLoosh. A good friend of mine used to say, "This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains." Think about that for a while.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

MRI and Test Results

I got a call from the genetics researcher at Stanford who has been working hard to unravel the mystery called Queen Teen. A few months ago Queen Teen had blood drawn while under anasthesia for an MRI. The researcher had uncovered two new tests that might pin-point the cause of Queen Teen's shrinking cerebellum, hearing loss, and visual impairment. The hypothesis is that she has a Mitochondrial Disorder and there is some evidence to support that, but so far no one has been able to diagnose a specific disease.

They couldn't do it this time either. As usual, the tests came back "normal."

The researcher sounded apologetic about the results, but I wasn't surprised.

"It's what I figured would happen," I said.

"She's still part of the research study, and they can examine hundreds of strands at a time instead of just a few," the researcher said, trying hard to give me hope. "If they find anything, I'll let you know."

"Thanks. I know this isn't your field, but is there any news about the MRI."

She said she thought that I would ask her that question, so she was prepared. The MRI report stated that there was no apparent degeneration as compared to her last MRI, which means it looks like the damage to her cerebellum has slowed down. Yes! When we go to the neuro-genetics clinic in November we'll be able to find out more specifics, but for now the outcome looks good. Why has the degeneration slowed or stopped? Is it the CoQ10 and other amino-acids? Maturity? Has the disease reached a plateau?

So many questions and probably never any real answers. It's okay. We're used to it. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have a clear diagnosis, one that would fill in the blanks and tell me what we're dealing with and what will happen. It might make it easier to prepare. But on the other hand, I'm glad that everything is still up in the air. We just take it a day at a time.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

In other non-Burning Man news

I officially started my internship last week at the Earl Baum Center in Santa Rosa, and though I can't go into details about clients, I can say that I'm learning a lot in a very short period of time. My master teacher is an alumni of the SFSU O and M program, and had all the same teachers and classes I did. She too survived crossing 19th Avenue under blindfold, and now here she is working with clients, helping them with daily living skills, cane skills and street crossing. Gives me hope that soon I'll too have a case-load of students and my office in my car.

It's been challenging though. I'm driving three to four hours a day, from my home and then to the various client's homes throughout Sonoma County. The schedule can be hectic and some days we skip lunch trying to get to everyone. My master teacher tries hard to accommodate my needs, but a lot of the schedule is driven by client availability and location, so there's only so much she can do. I'm beginning to realize just how hard it's going to be juggling Queen Teen's continuing needs and a full time job. Will I be able to pull this off? It's looking more like I'll need to work part time for a while, with one day a week devoted to Queen Teen. How do other parents work and care for a child with disabilities? Maybe I'm just a wimp.

At the same time, I'm studying for my Master's exam in October, and my Certification exam in January. I should know all about Orientation and Mobility, right? Then why does it feel like I've forgotten every term every taught to me. Eye anatomy; common eye-conditions; the difference between a landmark and a clue; the necessary parts of a functional assessment; what color tint of shades to use for Macular Degeneration. All that info is in my brain somewhere, but I'm having to re-read much of the readings from my classes to make sense out of it.

But when I work with a client, the info appears. Instinctively I know how to teach orientation skills to a client. I may not remember all of the visual effects caused by Diabetic Retinopathy, but I do know how to teach, and I figure the details of what I learned in class will coalesce into retrievable, logical sense in my brain. Just takes a little time, and study.

Queen Teen is thrilled that I'm home evry night for dinner now. No more staying in San Fran far away from her. But I miss my weekly trips to the City by the Bay, and miss seeing my friends regularly. The City charges my batteries, so to speak. I need to plan some trips for fun.

Well, gotta get back to work. My master teacher will be here soon and then we're meeting a client. Thanks for hanging in there while I wrote about Burning Man (which everyone should go to at least once in their life).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Adventures at Burning Man - Heading Home

The man had burned; time to go home. Because of work, I couldn't stay for the Temple burn, so I quickly packed up and departed Black Rock City. I was ready. I had seen more beautifully marvelous things in four nights than I have seen in 40 years, but you can't survive on only water and creativity. Eventually, you have to come back to Earth, wash off the dust, eat some real food, and reconnect with the tangible. The human body can only dance under the stars for so long before it needs a full night of sleep. My body was going through moisture withdrawals and dreaming of pizza.

It is amazing how much dust people pack out with them every year, so much dust I imagine the Black Rock desert sinks an inch after every Burning Man. If everyone shook just the dust from their tent into one big pile we could create a hill as tall as the Man itself. I gave up trying to keep the dust out of my van and just shoved everything in, then tossed a bag of garbage on top. There's no garbage service at Burning Man; everything you bring in must be hauled out, coffee grounds and cigarette butts included. The tiny desert towns on the road leading back to Highway 80 and Reno make a tidy sum collecting our garbage for us as we pass through, and the local schools make enough money washing the dust from our cars to keep their sports programs alive.

My dad checked the fluids in my car once I was loaded up and ready to go, then we hugged goodbye. He was heading North to Oregon while I aimed West to Northern California.

"Thanks for sharing this with me, darlin," he said. "You're a citizen of Black Rock City now."

I grinned. "Love you, Pop." We hugged again, suddenly sad because we might not see each other for another year.

It can take two or three hours to get out of the City because 50,000 people are trying to exit through one narrow gate, but I lucked out and beat the rush, leaving the playa in only an hour and 15 minutes. Then I drove the long, two lane road through the high desert, stopping in Gerhlach where I paid $5 to drop my trash. It's good to support the local economy, especially since they've just let us throw the biggest party in the world in their back yard. The locals smiled and waved, seeming happy we were there. A blond woman in a "Wallace Construction" t-shirt asked, "Did you have fun?

"It was great," I said.

She smiled. "I'm glad you had a good time."

The road felt like it had grown longer and the wind kept trying to push my mini-van back the way I'd come. I stopped for a coffee at an Indian Taco stand, then kept going. I had a 12 hour drive ahead of me, but first, I had a pit-stop in Reno.

Gitta lives in a small, 1930's bungalow across the river from the Casinos and when I'd asked if I could stop at her house on the way home, she was happy to oblige. As soon as I got there, her husband made me a snack and a cappuccino, then I took the most wonderful shower of my entire life. Every pore on my skin opened wide to gulp down the delicious water. I washed my hair twice, loving the feel of soap sliding through clean hair. I will never take bathing for granted again. After that, I wolfed down the Gluten Free lasagna she had bought me, even my toe-nails feeling hungry.

Gitta's daughter gave me the grand tour of all her toys and then Gitta gave me a tour of her garden. One of the best things about my Burning Man trip, besides Burning Man, was spending so much time with her. We've been friends since the 8th grade, but now we live 10 hours apart and rarely get to see each other. It was 4:00 by the time I got ready to leave, but I didn't want to go. I miss her already.

At last, I headed home, and this time when I climbed the Donner Summit my car didn't overheat. Just after one AM, I rolled into my driveway and then climbed into my soft, clean bed with the crisp sheets, eventually dreaming of fire dancers, dust devils and a million gleaming stars over a black land.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Adventures at Burning Man - Burn Night

The dust storm blew all night, with only a small break in the morning, long enough to use the toilet and boil water for coffee. Then the wind blew hard, throwing sheets of dust against our camp's shade structure. It reminded me of sheets of rain in a storm, gathering like a wall and moving fast across the city, with an occasional break between gusts, just a hint of blue sky before the sky turned beige.

You have two choices: you can hide in your tent out of the dust storm, or you can grab your goggles and face mask and deal with it. I chose the latter.

dust storm on the playa
Barbara and I met for coffee at 11:00, then hopped on our bicycles to ride out to the Temple. We stuck close to each other and stopped whenever the dust clouds got too thick to see more than 10 feet ahead. When there was a break, we rode on, stopping again when the view was obscured. At last we made it to the Temple where Barbara left items from two more of our friends, adding them to the cluster I'd left earlier. We walked around the Temple paying our respects. The grief in the Temple had grown since first I came and I fought tears, not wanting a runny nose inside my face mask. There were thousands of photographs, some of children. Several old wedding dresses flapped like antique lace flags. A fountain gurgled happily in defiance of the parched air, a memorial for three mountain climbers lost in a snow storm. An Asian man with a Buddhist meditation bell walked around the temple, rang his bell, bowed, chanted, and then moved on, blessing all the people at the temple, living and dead. We bowed to him and he blessed us, then smiled warmly, as if the sadness of the Temple couldn't reach him.

Barbara had to work that afternoon, so she rode back to Center Camp while I decided to ride East to the Dancing Woman. Keeping my eyes on tall, steel flowers in the distance, I rode until they were obscured by the dust. I waited, hunching my shoulders from the sting of the blasted dust, while minuscule flashes of light appeared in my vision. Was it caused by the particles in the air reflecting sunlight, or created by my own eyes? Once the dust cleared enough to reveal my landmark, I rode on, hopping from landmark to landmark until I reached the Dancing Woman. She was just as beautiful in the daylight, her metal mesh skin glowing white in the sun. From there, I rode due East until I reached the city at 2:00 and Esplanade.

I rode through the city, directly into the wind, the streets slowly clogged with thick dust making cycling that much harder. Worn out after only a few blocks, I got off my bike and walked. It was a good two miles to home, if not more, and I had to conserve my energy. Plus, I liked walking; I could explore more on foot. But after a half mile I was so tired I began searching for a place to rest. I turned a corner onto a street that provided a bit more shelter from the wind where I passed a woman holding a spray bottle.

"Would you like a lavender spritz?" she asked.

"Yes, please." I pulled off my goggles and mask and she sprayed me all over. Then she said, "If you have time, come in for a lavender treatment."

I looked at the tent and realized I'd found the elusive Lavender Camp. This camp is famous for their lavender treatments, which involves lying on an air mattress in the shade with a lavender eye mask while someone sprays cool lavender water above you and another person massages your head with a vibrating scalp massager. Absolute heaven, especially after riding several miles in a hot dust storm. It was just what I needed to get home. Feeling energized, I hopped back on my bike and rode home.

By Saturday, everyone is tired. Add a 24 hour dust storm and the anticipation of "the Burn" and there's bound to be drama. I could feel the intensity of the emotions in the city. There was even a minor blow up in our own camp. The Boonville camp had a major blow up. My father, Barbara and I joined them to ride out to the Man to watch him burn, but we were late because of the drama in their camp. Just as Barbara and I were thinking we should walk, the Boonies poured into the car and we drove off to join the massive party on the playa.

my dad

If there are 50,000 people in Black Rock City, then there are at least 40,000 on the playa when The Man burns, gathered in a huge ring around The Man and held back to a safe distance by the Black Rock City security team. When we arrived, Barbara and I jumped off the art car and dove into the crowd, but first I hugged my dad. He decided to stay with the Boonies. "Have a happy burn, and stay together," he said. Barbara and I pushed as far forward as we could to get a glimpse of the 1000 fire dances who perform before the man burned. When the dancers stopped and moved away, the anticipation grew as 40,000 eyes stared at the man for the first hint of flame. Suddenly, fireworks exploded around the man, shooting into the sky and exploding into green and gold shimmering stars. The fireworks grew in intensity, until at last the first flames appeared on the man. People were screaming, laughing, cheering, dancing, drumming, making out, talking loudly. The wind grew stronger, as if it were being sucked into the flames, making the man burn hotter, brighter. Dust slammed into us, so thick that there were times even the flaming man was slightly obscured. And then, with a twist of the four story frame, the man collapsed and fell into a pile of wood and coal.

Every art car in the city seemed to be on the playa right then. Barbara and I wandered amongst them, following the pretty lights, and soaking in the chaos of The Burn. Tens of thousands of peoples were dancing and drinking and celebrating, despite the dust storm that seemed even stronger. Suddenly, the noise and press of humans became suffocating. Feeling like a trapped animal ten seconds from chewing her own pay off, I yelled for Barbara, "I'm freaking out." She took my arm and guided us away from the chaos, back to the city. Center Camp was quiet and cool since most of the city was out on the playa. We opened the bottle of champagne our friend Marnie had given us and shared a toast. Slowly my claustrophobia vanished, replaced by a calm eagerness to see more. A woman appeared, set up her paints, and began working on the painting near where we sat. She was so intense, her work so beautiful, Barbara and I were mesmerized watching her.

Thirty minutes later, we walked back to the playa. The crowds had disbursed and the dust storm had suddenly stopped. The sky was black and filled with stars again, the night warm and the gentle breeze kind. We walked to the pile of embers that was all that remained of the once gargantuan man, the heat still intense. People were gathered around, many nude, and Barbara said they would stay there until the very last coal was out. Barbara and I walked several miles that night, back and forth across the playa, from 1:00 to 10:00, resting once in the Temple to raise a toast to our friends and drink more champagne. At night, the Temple is lit from within by amber lights, creating a feeling of warmth and peace. Back in the city, we stopped at a huge disco and danced to techno while watching fire dancers. There was a large container of flaming water set beneath a giant flaming ball where people had gathered to manipulate the flame. A man handed me his lighter and asked it I wanted to try. I lit the lighter and ran it across the top of the water, which created a long line of flame, burning my thumb a little in the process. But it was beautiful to watch this dance between fire and water.

dressed up for The Burn, on a very dusty night

I think Barbara and I walked 5 miles that night. I didn't want it to end, there was so much to see and do that night, but my body was tired and I had to get up early to drive home the next morning. Barbara said she might stay up till dawn simply because she hadn't done that yet, plus she wasn't leaving until Monday. We walked back to my camp so she could get her bicycle and then hugged goodbye. I watched her ride off into the darkness and wondered what further adventures she would find on Burn Night.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Adventures at Burning Man - Third Night

"I must find Barbara today!" I declared when I got up in the morning. Barbara is one of my closest friends and the person I'd originally planned to go to Burning Man with, but logistics made that impossible. So after a wonderful morning with Gitta before she and her family left for home, I rode my bike to Center Camp to check the espresso bar one more time. Barbara said she was working some coffee shifts, so that was the first place I checked when I got to Burning Man. But when I asked around, no one seemed to know her.

"What's her playa name?" a dark haired woman in a black, shredded t-shirt and Ugg boots asked.

"Playa name?"

At Burning Man, some people choose a playa name, a name that identifies them for who they "really" are. Not a title or label, but a name that reveals a little about their true nature. I met Squirrel, Jumper, HooDaddy and a man I think called himself Star Bliss, or maybe it was Starless... People will use their name exclusively at The Burn so no one will know them as John or Tracy.

Barbara had never mentioned a playa name, and since there are about a hundred people working the espresso bar, I decided to try asking again. This time I lucked out.

"I know Barbara. Blond, kind of perky?"

"Yes!" I shouted.

"She's my camp-mate."

Grabbing the woman's hand, I said "Thank you, thank you! You just made my whole day."

I wrote down my address with specific camp details so Barbara could find me and the woman said she'd give her the message when she got back to her camp. After that, I rode to my own camp to rest and see if Barbara would appear.

But I was too restless to stay in camp, so I grabbed my camera and played tourist, exploring my own neighborhood in this make-believe city. I climbed the scaffolding someone had erected for us to take in the view and watched the dust clouds swirl across the open playa, where The Man appeared and disappeared in their midst. Climbing down, I made a long circle down the avenues. People waved at me as I walked by, struck up conversations, invited me to join their games or rest in their bars. A man who had brought his son invited me to draw a picture on the side of their camper in honor of his son's fifth birthday. Passing an S and M tent, I watched one woman tie another woman to a large wooden frame  with leather straps, then I stopped at a display of pastel teddy bears, burnt and mutilated and stuck on pikes. I listened to two terrible guitar players try to get into key without much success while the drummer kept the rhythm going and a crowd gathered to hear them play.

"It's in G..." said one.

"No, it's D..." said the other.

Finally someone in the crowd yelled, "Just stop!"

Back at 7:30, I explored a steel sculpture that made me think of a sea monster and sat on a cushion someone had left inside the curve of the structure. It felt safe inside the sculpture, secure and a little secluded, even though I was sitting in the middle of the street. This became my favorite place in the City, my own secret hide away, like the places I'd hole up inside when I was a kid. From that cushion, I could watch the people and art cars and bicycles zoom past on their way to some kind of adventure.

A man walked by my hiding place, pulling a rake across the dirt. Behind him walked a woman pulling a large barrel wheel. They walked back and forth and I realized they were making patterns in the dirt, so I crawled out to see. People would stop their bicycles to look at the images of stars and planets the barrel left behind as it rolled. One man said, "That is a cool gift."

My stomach growled so I went back to camp for dinner, and to get ready to promenade along the Esplanade with my dad and camp mates. As we were gathering in front of camp before sunset, I heard a woman yell, "Terena!" I turned and saw Barbara riding her bicycle toward me.

"Barbara!" I shouted. We hugged tightly. "I'm so glad you found me!"

She'd been hunting for me since Wednesday and was just as excited as me when her camp mate gave her my message. "As soon as I got it, I came to find you."

"You're just in time. Want to promenade with us?"

Barbara stashed her bike and joined our motley camp crew.

I love the Esplanade. It is the last road before the open playa, marking the edge of the City. It's where most of the activity and events take place, where the biggest discos and the brightest lights shine. It can be chaos, especially at night. As the sun sets, the City lights come to life and the mood transforms from siesta to party. We walked together for a mile, then when we reached MalMart I announced I wanted to climb it. Barbara joined me while my dad rested. Before we could go inside, a very gorgeous young man in leather pants, swinging a leather strap in one hand, said we had pass by him first. Barbara and I looked at each other, then I stepped forward and turned around. He welcomed me into MalMart then slapped my butt with the strap, not too hard, but enough to sting. Barbara followed, and then we climbed four stories, almost to the top.

As we gazed across the city at all the lights, a strong wind blew a cloud of dust against us, making MalMart shiver with the gust. We climbed back down. It was odd for the wind to blow so hard at night, and it didn't stop. That wind blew so hard it kicked up a thick dust storm that obscured our vision and almost knocked the wind out of my lungs. Plus, I discovered my goggles weren't in my playa bag (a bag which you keep all your survival gear and never leave camp without).

"You don't have your goggles?" my dad said.

"I thought I did, but they're not in here." I kept digging in my bag.

"Virgins." He handed me his goggles and then lectured me on how important it is to never leave camp without the necessities. I felt 14 again. Yeah, yeah, yeah... I know Dad. Sheesh.

My dad decided it was too windy for him to walk the Esplanade, and we'd lost our camp mates at the last bar, but Barbara and I decided to keep going. The further toward 3:00 we got, the thicker the dust became. We turned down a side street which seemed to cut the wind a bit and wandered down quieter streets. At one camp, we discovered a giant crane decorated with neon lights like a pink flamenco with the basket as the beak. At another, four musicians played quiet, gypsy type music under a mirror ball. We headed back to my neighborhood and took a turn on the tall swing, then we sat together in "my spot," and watched the nighttime City flow by.

I looped my arm around hers.

"I'm so glad we found each other out here."

Barbara squeezed my hand. "Me too."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Some of the fabulous art cars I saw

Discovered this site where photographers collected images of gorgeous art cars. Here's the link.

Aren't some of them amazing?

Stay tuned for the next installment of my Burning Man adventure.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Adventures at Burning Man - Second Night

Home Sweet Home

As soon as the sun hit a corner of my tent, I was up and out, too hot to stay buried in my sleeping bag. Black Rock city in the daylight looks very different, more like an upscale refugee camp than a metropolis. Thousands of tents and RV's line wide dirt boulevards which break the city into blocks as large as the ones in downtown San Francisco. The porto-potties were a short walk from our camp, and I was happy to discover they were clean. Bacteria can't survive in the alkali desert, so the potties didn't reek.

I downed a quick breakfast and a cup of tea, then my dad and I rode our bikes to Center Camp, the only place in Black Rock city to get an espresso, and where I was meeting my best friend, Gitta. She'd arrived with her husband and little girl two days earlier and we'd arranged to meet for coffee at 10:30 on Thursday. I'm glad we planned ahead, because it is almost impossible to find people at Burning Man. I had a list of people to visit and their relative addresses (4:30 and Cairo, 5:30 and Frankfurt, The DPW Ghetto), and was desperately trying to find my friend Barbara, who I was originally going to Burning Man with. No luck. You tend to find people by planning ahead, or through happy coincidences. You'll be out for a stroll in the evening and run into the person you wanted to see drinking a beer in a pub-camp you just happened to step into.

Gitta and her husband and little girl gave my dad and I a tour in their car of some of the artwork out on the playa. The weather was incredible, warm but not too hot, with a light breeze, not enough to kick up the dust, and a sky more blue saturated than I've ever seen before. We played in the shade of some giant balloons where a man was giving people rides by putting them in harnesses attached to the balloons. I wanted to go for a ride, but the line was long and Gitta's daughter was tired (she's two). The number of children out there surprised me. I had no idea it was family friendly, but there's a large "Kid's Camp" and lots of kids activities, plus the city planners keep the more freaky, sexually explicit camps far away from the children. My friend's daughter loves Burning Man, especially exploring all the art.

When it was nap time, my dad and I joined two of our camp-mates for a bicycle ride across the playa  to see The Man. Six stories tall, made of wood, metal and neon, the Man is the heart of Burning Man. You can see him from anywhere in the city, standing watch over the playa, until he is sacraficed on Saturday night. Then we went to The Temple, a huge, 4000 square foot, 50 feet tall structure made of interlacing wooden planks. The walls are covered with mementos and messages to people who have died, or to lost loves, lost dreams, goals, hopes, obsessions, and desires... anything people want to let go of when the Temple is burned on Sunday. My father brought ashes of a dear friend who had died last year, and I brought a piece of paper which I'd written, "Must control, and anticipate, everything, all the time, and never stop," around the word "Fear." I shoved the paper between two planks of wood in a protected alcove, and beside it placed something another friend had asked me to leave for her. We're both hoping to let go of these obsessions and fears, and maybe knowing their burned to ash along with a thousand other griefs will help. Later, I rode to the intersection where Gitta's camp was, but never found her actual camp. Instead I went back to my camp to rest for when the sun went down.

Wearing red velvet pants, a red shirt and a cap with glow-in-the-dark fairies, I went to find the Boonville Cabaret with my dad. This is my family, my father's best friends, and some of the people I grew up with. As we walked, one of those happy coincidences occured when Gitta and her husband and daughter parked their car just as I was walking by. The Boonville Cabaret was having a show, an open mic with story tellers and musicians. My dad wanted me to sing a song and Gitta urged me to, but my typical stage fright kept me silent. Even out there, where outrageous is the norm and even people who can't sing think they should, I was too shy to sing a song I've been practicing for several weeks in my kitchen. Instead, I jumped on stage and shouted "I'm a virgin!" Everyone cheered. Then I told the story of breaking down on my way to Burning Man, which was more embarrassing than singing. This stage-fright of mine is a real social crippler.

At last, the show ended and we loaded up in the Boonie's art car, a large, open air cargo bus decorated like a gypsy wagon. I rode in the very back on the window ledge where I could see the most. The sun had gone down and once again the city was transformed into a thriving, shining, colorful city of DIY dreams.

DIY? Yes... and no. There is a lot of money poured into some of the "camps." But just because they have money (one dance club cost a million bucks), does it mean they aren't DIY. Groups of people get together, pool their resources and talent, and create fabulous "gifts" to the community: interactive art, dance clubs with video screens and laser lights, entertainment like circus performances, fire dancers, and live bands, and traveling food stands giving away quesadillas at midnight and pancakes at dawn. And all for free. No money changes hands out there (except for coffee and ice). Everything is a gift, and you only reciprocate if you're able.

We drove to the opposite end of the city to a club called Skinny Kitty, so named for it's display of mummified cats (real?). There we danced under a half dome of canvas and watched the silk performers twirl and twist above our heads. Then we loaded back up and headed out onto the playa where an impromptu art car party had begun underneath the 30 ft. tall dancing woman. I walked through the sea of dancing bodies and swirling lights, the music of 10 different art cars competing for my attention, and stood beneath the woman, watching as the lights under her steel mesh skin changed color and moved. Her entire frame balanced on one toe, and despite her great mass, she appeared weightless. Then I turned to look across the playa toward the city, which was a long ring of lights, as if we were on the sea and the city was the harbor. I started to dance and the stars over head seemed to join me.

My father joined me. Grinning, he said, "You're eyes are shining. I love watching you take this all in."

I laughed. "It's pretty amazing."

Then I danced with my dad to the beat of the music from our gypsy art car.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Adventures at Burning Man - First Night

I've been home several days and I'm still cleaning playa dust out of my camping gear and clothes. That stuff is everywhere! More like talcum powder than house-dust, it dissipates with the slightest breath and resettles softly on areas I already cleaned. Now I understand why people say, "Make peace with the dust." There really isn't much more you can do.

I've also been thinking about all the sights, sounds, textures, smells and experiences I felt out there on the playa, and trying to write it all down. This also seems like an impossible task. There is nothing like Burning Man, no comparison I can make. Even the environment feels like a far away planet. But I'll do my best to share what happened during my Burning Man adventure.

The adventure started before I got there. My car, a 1995 Honda Odyssey with 220,000 miles on her, overheated on the Donner grade (climbing the Sierras). I pulled over to the side of the road and waited for her to cool off, then checked the fluids. Everything looked okay. Two CHP officers checked on me and one said he'd be back later to make sure I wasn't still sitting there. After 20 minutes I started up the mountain again, only for the car to overheat AGAIN. I pulled over, let the car rest, drove for a bit, pulled over again, waited, drove, pulled over, waited, drove.... until at last I made it to a gas station 3 miles away, a process that took an hour and a half. At the gas station, I called AAA and tried not to cry. Then, two motor-homes pulled in to the parking lot, each with Burning Man symbols painted on the side. A man came up to my car and asked what was wrong.

"It keeps over heating."

"Did you check the fluids?" he asked.


After asking me how long I'd been sitting there, he opened the radiator cap and stuck his finger in. "Radiator's empty."

I was dumb struck! All this time, I'd been checking the overflow, not the actual radiator! I felt like a typical, car-stupid, "girl."

The man filled it with water and then left, just as the tow-truck arrived. The driver checked my car and since I didn't need a tow, offered to follow me up the rest of the grade "just in case." I tipped him for driving all the way out there and for making sure I made it up the mountain. When we got to Truckee, he turned off and I continued on to Burning Man. The car was running great, but I bought two containers of radiator fluid to make sure.

It is a long, long way to Burning Man. After making Reno I still had a two hour drive on a two lane road through the high desert. When at last I reached the gate to Black Rock City, the temporary city where Burning Man takes place, it was almost dark. I'd left home at 8 am and had been traveling for 12 hours. Sitting in my car, idling with thousands of others trying to get through the entrance, I tuned the radio to BMR (the Burning Man radio station) and watched the people around me as they excitedly chatted, smoked, shared a meal and introduced themselves to people waiting with them. A couple beside me waved and asked me if I was alone.

"No. I'm meeting my dad. He's already in camp."

"You're dad? Wow... That's neat. You don't look like a kid..." She faltered, as if suddenly embarrassed by implying I look old. "I mean, you're an adult, like us."

I decided to rescue her. "My dad is 62. He's been coming for years."

"That is so cool. You're lucky to have a dad into Burning Man."

Yeah, I am pretty lucky. How many people can claim they went to Burning Man with their 62 year old dad? There have been times growing up I'd wished a had a "typical dad," one that wouldn't embarrass me in front of my friends. But none of those non-embarrassing dads would ever go to Burning Man.

It took over an hour to get through the gate, and at last I made it to the "greeters." A very cute young man (there's some sweet eye-candy at Burning Man!) welcomed me, handed me a map and program of events, and then asked, "Have you been here before?" When I said no, he invited me to ring the bell.

Getting out of my car, I walked to a large, iron prayer bell and grabbed the medal rod he offered me. Then I rang that bell with all my might, making my arms shudder with the force. Everyone cheered and I laughed. At last, I was here!

But then I had to find my camp, and my dad. The city is laid out like a clock, with streets leading away from the center numbered (6:00, 6:30, 7:00, 7:30...) and the cross streets named after cities (Athens, Beirut, Cairo...). My camp was near 7:30 and Hanoi. It was night time. The streets were a sea of people and bicycles and every camp was lit up with Christmas lights and neon. I turned right on 7:30 then drove down the street hunting for Hanoi while at the same time trying not to kill any pedestrians. One person yelled, "Park your car!" Go to hell, I wanted to scream. I was tired, lost, and hungry and all I wanted to do was find my dad. Hanoi Street appeared and I turned left, then realized as I drove there was no way I'd ever find my dad's camp. None of the camps are marked. There are no addresses, just a sea of nondescript tents. "I guess I'll have to just park and sleep in the car and look for him when the sun comes up," I said to myself.

Then suddenly, my dad's face appeared at my window. He had bounced up to my car like a kid on Christmas morning, with a huge grin on his face. Sitting outside camp all evening in a lawn chair, he'd been watching for me. After directing me to our camp, he helped me set up my tent and get settled, then invited me on a walk to see the neighborhood. I was exhausted and nauseous with altitude sickness (Black Rock City is at 4500 feet), but eager to see some of the sights.

The very first walk through the city that night felt like I'd stepped into the heart of chaos. Competing sounds from a hundred different sources flooded my ears; flashes of colored light and blasts of fire slashed the darkness; people raced past on decorated bicycles with bells ringing loudly; art cars slowly drove by with people dancing to techno on the roofs; camps on either side were packed with people dancing, drinking, playing games, laughing, singing songs. The overall feeling of the city was madly happy. We walked down to the Esplanade which runs along the edge of the playa where the swirl of activity was even more frenetic and I watched as huge, glowing art cars moved across the dark playa like neon boats in a black sea. We walked back to our street, 7:30, and my dad pointed out MalMart, a huge six story structure people could climb to take in the view and dance. "That's our landmark. If you get lost, head to the Esplanada and look for MalMart. The landmarks change in this city, but I doubt MalMart will go away."

We walked back to camp and sat together under the starlight while I tried to eat my apple. It was almost midnight. The stars, so crisp and strong, were as incredible as the city. Eventually though, my body demanded I get some sleep. I crawled into my sleeping bag and put in ear plugs, which only helped block the roar of the city a little. Frank Sinatra sang in my mind, "I want to wake up, in a city that doesn't sleep..."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Burning Man- right now all I can say is Wow!

I've been trying to think of something coherent to write that will convey my experiences at Burning Man, but all I can come up with is...


For now, I'll let pictures show what I'm trying to say.

Black Rock City, Nevada

30 foot tall dancing woman 
Flame throwing giant steel tricycle.
my friend's gypsy art car
Temple in the dust storm
Fish swimming across the playa  
me (blue hair) and my camp mates

I'll write more about my adventures once my brain shakes off the remaining playa dust and I can think with more sophisticated words than "Duuuuude! That was aaaawwwwessssooooommmmme!"

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Going to Burning Man with my dad!

(image from  )

How many people get to say that?

My father is 62 years old and loves Burning Man. He's been going for several years, and to him, it is Mecca. He's wanted me to come with him for just as long, but there has always been too much on my plate: school, work, motherhood, lack of money, lack of time...  until now. I realized that when I get my Master's degree I might work for a school district, which means it will be impossible to get time off at the beginning of the school year. And, even if I work for an agency not dependent on a school calendar, it might be tricky spending some of my valuable vacation time on "the burn." Then my dad had a heart attack on New Year's Eve and I knew now was the time. I had to go to Burning Man with my father at least once or I would regret it for the rest of my life.

My husband Rick agreed. "You have to go. It doesn't matter how much a ticket costs, you're going."

Isn't my husband the greatest?

Since my ticket arrived in February, I've been planning and organizing and saving and preparing, physically and mentally. The "playa," which is the bed of an ancient extinct lake, is a challenging and even dangerous environment. The alkaline dust will suck the moisture right out of your skin. Dust storms and 30 mph winds are common. The temperature can exceed 115 F during the day and 45 at night. Dehydration and sun stroke are a serious threat.

But there are also artists from all over the world creating incredible art and giant sculptures of steel and glass. There are fascinating and talented people sharing their music and crafts.  There is a night sky so black you can see the crisp edges of every star. There is debauchery, yes, sex and raves. And there is beauty everywhere you turn. People come and create a brilliant city in an inhospitable place that only lasts two weeks. Then it's gone, like a far away echo of music in the wind.

My car is loaded and tomorrow I leave for northern Nevada to meet my father in Black Rock City. I hope to explore the art and meet interesting people, dance under the moon and take long siestas during the hot afternoons. Mostly though, I want to spend time with my father. His heart is strong now and he'll more than likely live another 20 years, but when he is gone, I want this memory to last forever.

So if you're wondering where I am for the next week, you'll find me at 7:45 and Hanoi in Black Rock City, Nevada.