Saturday, June 14, 2003

Playing telephone! That's Adam and our neighbor, Roland, playing telephone yesterday. I was demonstrating to Adam's mom how the digital camera works, which led to a demonstration of the slide show software and then exporting images to Chicken Blog. I don't have to imagine how challenging all of these skills were for me to learn, because I remember quite clearly how every step and process related to the computer was utterly foreign and practically foreboding. What delight and whimsy to briskly click away and make the magic happen, now that I have learned a thing or two...

I am impressed with all the tricks I have learned; for one, because it is not intuitive or even natural for me, and secondly because the possibilities and results from working with a digital camera and a computer are an incredible leap forward in memory gathering and presentation. I was mesmerized by the details and thoughtful execution of photo preservation that is so popular in Creative Memories and scrap book making, but the inertia and time it takes to put those albums together is daunting. I wound up buying a lot of stickers. Many, many stickers. And I was accumulating boxes of photographs that needed editing, sorting, warehouse size work tables and blocks of time that will not be realized until I am eighty.

To make a short story long: I really like my neat camera, cool computer, and organizing and sharing pictures with ease and immediacy. Mmm-mm good.

I am trying to think of a written expression or exclamation, something like Homer's "Do'h!" This expression is meant to sound like 'bemused self understanding' or maybe more like 'I am weak, hear me laugh.' I thought I was going to write deep thoughts and wondrous prose, but I drank half a beer with my late lunch and now I am too buzzed to find my own navel. It is fortunate that this makes me appreciative of my...something...I can't think very well right now...

Friday, June 13, 2003

All the campers are tucked in and some are tuckered out. William, Adam, Jacob and Roland are in the tent with glowing blue cyalumes (courtesy of Uncle Hans.) Max and Alex are under the stars with their glow sticks. The boys in the shelter told Max he is the bravest for sleeping in the open, but Max scoffs at their phobias, and announces confidently, "Besides, there's no such thing as the living dead."

Topics such as this are what motivate Alex to sleep outside, and away from the ghost stories. Geoff has joined the outdoor contingent. The moon is nearly full. Adam is dozy, Jacob is sound asleep. I hear Max laughing, and William getting irritable.

We swam and grilled turkey burgers. We ate chocolate cake, and some had pumpkin pie. Around the big round table we all sat eating our burgers, pop corn and celery, and playing the game "telephone." Even Nicholas and Max passed messages in whispers, and we all laughed at the nonsense that came out at the other end.

The moon is nearly full, the day was sunny and warm. It will be a cold dawn, but they are curled up and snug. Good camping boys. Good night.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

We've picked out a pie, and bought party favors. His friends are invited for a Friday night swim and sleepover. My little Alex, the smiler, the soft spoken one with the heart melting grin is 9 years old today. He's been planning this day since March and looking forward, the way children do, to being one year older. I'm not ready. Of course I am not ready to host a party; there's a bit of house work to do. But I am really not ready to watch my boys get older. Why are they so precious at every stage that I just want to preserve them and stop time? Baby Alex was incredibly cute and cuddley. Toddler Alex carried Beanie Babies in a basket and was always full affection. All through kindergarten he wore his boots; he could assemble the most advanced Lego set and puzzles, he could care for a flower seed until it blossomed. I may not be ready, but I am grateful. Alex is a boy to be proud of and it is comforting to see that, though I wish he were still a little boy, he is growing to be a very capable and responsible big boy with new skills and new ambitions and as much affection and sweetness as ever. Happy Birthday to Alex and happy growing too!

A special poem was in the email box this morning. It came all the way from Hawaii, with perceptive insight and deep aloha:

Alex has a twinkle in his eye,
sometimes he's a funny, tricky guy,
but his heart is kind, he gives us joy,
he'll always be our sunny boy.

Alex loves guavas, burgers and fries,
chickens and Legos and fireflies.
He's kind to plants, small children too,
a friend to all, a real true blue.
He can handle his money and can save a dime.
He likes Bionicles too, but I no can rhyme.

Happy Birthday to Alex, one of the best,
I love you true, you know the rest.

Your Tutu

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

My Brother, Bill

Let's face it, there's no way I can recall Bill's arrival. Yesterday I was inspired to put in to words all the memories that I had stored and associated with Hans' birth. As soon as I hit the "publish" button it dawned on me that I'd have less than 24 hours to give my other brother equal air time. The problem with having two really good looking, talented, sweet and funny brothers is that writing about all their gifts and skills, humorous episodes and wild adventures can be a huge undertaking.

Once upon a time, June 11th, 1969, my brother Bill was born. I wasn't there. I was really young, like two and half. Okay, but I have seen the pictures, so I can say that Bill was a full cheeked cutie, with rose bud lips and an expression that read, "let's have some fun." Now we can fast forward to my first memory of Mr. Bill. We are living on "A" Street, in a Valley with blazing Summers, and Bill is in a diaper, standing in overgrown grass and hosing anything that moves. He has the crazed expression of delight and power that comes from possessing the garden hose and making grown people nervous.

Our childhoods, Bill's, Hans' and mine, were largely influenced by two circumstances: Divorce and the '70s. Enough said. Anyway, I remember that we did a lot to keep ourselves busy and fed, and amused. Our Mom went back to school and so we spent many hours occupying ourselves on two different college campuses. From very early on Bill's natural athletic skills were a resource to us. He must have been six or seven years old and he knew how to play pool. The community college had a rec room we would hang out in and play pool. The object was to lure some sympathetic student to agree to play little Billy in a game of eight ball. Hans and I would hang back, young and innocent. Bill's talent would draw a crowd and then betting, and by the time students were returning to their classes, we would be heading to the cafeteria with Bill's won cash. Donuts, anyone?

Mom has always been Bill's greatest fan; rain or shine she was at every game, every event. He ran, swam, cycled, played basketball, racquet ball, soccer, baseball, tennis, golf and he fenced too. She was always there to cheer any of us to the finish line or the end zone. I remember one soccer match my Mom was so absorbed that she wouldn't take her eyes off the players on the field. "Which one is Billy?" A friend asked. Mom didn't look away, but answered proudly "He's the one in blue." As though he were the only one playing. And Bill was good. Good at every sport, every game; not that it would have mattered to our Mom, because she was always proud.

I remember that we had some good fights and squabbles, and there was even a fair measure of blackmail, but we never failed to look out for each other in the face of outsiders. So most days and most of the time we three were good friends. We endured the politics of families and the sides they took in our parents' divorce, we traveled to foreign lands, and stood our ground against the playground bullies, here and abroad. What makes it all a pleasure to recall is the laughter. We laughed a lot, at ourselves and our antics, at the things Hans would make up, and the pranks Bill would pull.

In student housing Bill and Hans (they were 12 and 10 years old) figured out that the neighbors had cable television. They rigged a mirror on a pole,so they could watch the neighbor's TV from out their bedroom window and in to the neighbor's window. Before that ingenious set up, Bill was the one who knew the best way to hold the twisted coat hanger on our television so we could receive the wavy, static, black and white annual airing of The Wizard of Oz. Bill was our home wizard for clever repairs and adaptations. He knew the function of every tool in his Dad's tool box and before he could even walk he would loosen the screws on the legs of the kitchen table.

I have two brothers, and I admire them both. I love them for their humor, for their strength and for their weaknesses. I love them the way our mother loves us; unconditionally. I love my brothers with protective caring and sentimental affection. Bill is a diplomat of compassion through laughter. He leads with his heart, and he never fails to make things work.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003


June 10, 1971. My brother Billy and I were with a babysitter, and I think her mother kept rabbits. Hundreds and hundreds of rabbits. They were in cages, under long tin roofed shelters, like the ones usually housing chickens. While we waited with the babysitter she took us out to see the rabbits. We had two rabbits in a hutch in our yard. I can still smell the alfalfa pellets and the salted sweetness of celery ripped in half. They had babies that were naked and pink, with closed eyes; they became more adorable everyday. I didn't hold the sitter's rabbits or even pet them. We just looked at them and I tried to imagine releasing all of them.

My cousin Debbie, her long curly hair tied in pony tails with yarn ribbons, was visiting once and she wanted to hold our white rabbit. As she was seven years old and I was only five, she had the confidence of her years and knew best. She got hold of the white rabbit and held him close, and I was surprised to see how big he really was. When his legs dangled down and he was not all bunched up, he really was a big bunny. Bigger than a cat. Someone took our picture. I stood beside Debbie and envied her authoritative air, her sophisticated demeanor. I wanted to hold my big white bunny, but she assured me he was getting scratchy and I would likely not be able to manage him.

At four and half years old I was even less likely to reach in to those cages and hug a bunny. I don't remember what Billy thought of the hundreds of bunnies or of being with this lady who was taking care of us while our Mommy was at the hospital having a baby. Having a sister. One thing I was confident of was that I would be getting a sister. What else would they bring me? I already had a brother.

What a shame that a four year old child's memories are so much like a dream; so full of non-sequential incidences and fog. What I can clearly recall was that sometime after seeing the bunnies we came in possession of a birthday cake for Billy and took it to our house. The blue icing was brilliant and smelled of frosted sweetness and sugared anticipation. The anticipation is all that I can remember of the cake, because I don't have any memory of eating it. I am standing in the kitchen of the little white house on "A" Street, looking at the decorated blue happy birthday cake that smells like goodness and the phone on the wall began to ring. I think it was a green phone. The sitter answered and she smiled a lot and said "Ohhh," the warm, happy way that people sigh when a baby is born, so I knew my sister was finally here. And I wanted to hold the phone and hear the news for myself and tell my Mommy about the presence of this beautiful cake with real decorator frosting and about hundreds of rabbits sitting in cages, under long houses.

The sitter said, "Okay." And she hung up. I looked at the phone and realized it was too late. It wasn't going to ring again and I could not know when I'd have another chance to talk to my Mommy, so I was sort of really mad at the sitter. Even though she was very nice and pretty I was getting tired of the arrangement. And then she blurted out, "You have a baby brother!" I looked back at the phone on the wall and asked her to find my Mommy, "I think there's been a mistake." And I wondered what she had to be so happy about. It wasn't her baby brother. She even knew his name before I did and she blurted again, "His name is Hansel." My memory at this point is clear: I wanted to be hearing all of this from my Mommy.

Hans was small but very strong and he cried till his body was the color of baby beets. Everyone still tells of how heavy a baby he was. He surprised people from his small yet heavy body. I remember him being bathed in the kitchen sink and I admired the way he wailed in protest and the color would rise up from his legs and reach his face with a nice loud cry. I liked it when strangers in the market would stop my Mommy so they could admire Hans, and say how cute he was and big, and my Mommy would light up and I felt proud too.

When company came my Mommy would take Hans to her room when his diaper needed changing, then she would stand in the hall entry holding his back side up for everyone to see his clean bottom, which she loved. I waited to see the looks on people's faces. They always laughed, because it really was a cute bottom. And everyday he just got more adorable. His dark hair curled and his eyes smiled. He "showed" his new teeth by opening his mouth wide, but with his lips curled over his gums. He made a face where he would pull his upper lip down and elongate his nostrils, making them look like church windows, which was very funny. In kindergarten when all the children were supposed to answer what they wanted to be when they grew up, there were a lot of "nurses" and "firefighters." He was only five years old, and he was reading already, and Hans' answer was: "I want to be a millionaire."

In 1971, on June 10th , I got another brother,and my Mommy named him Hansel. We call him Hans. He has eyes that smile, and he's very strong, emotionally and physically. I wonder if his hair still curls. It's short now. When I was four, I believed I was supposed to have a baby sister. I cannot imagine not having Hans. He motivates me and makes me laugh, and he has a dedication to his work and his play that is thrilling to witness. Bill, Hans and I have had a thousand good times together and some difficult ones too. We were meant to be brothers and sister.

My Mommy still lights up when people ask her about her son Hans, and I feel proud too.

Monday, June 09, 2003

June Gloom is an accepted weather pattern. Southern California experiences a few weeks of misty mornings and overcast days, that make it rather doubtful that we are on the brink of Summer. This year's gloom is gnarly; I mean it's overcast, misty, drizzly, cool and even cold. Feels more like an Autumn, or pre storm weather in the middle of February.

Last week Anne made chili and corn bread for dinner; totally a Fall feast. Saturday night we had a pie picnic and we had to sit on a sleeping bag and wear bunchy sweaters. We huddled together in the twilight mist eating our apple berry pie and talking about building a fire inside. No one lingered to watch for bats. There were no stars visible. No rising moon. The cats have abandoned their warm weather posts by the open windows. They are sleeping on our feet, near our bellies, under the covers.

I may watch television today or grab the newspaper, find the weather section. What's the word? Who knows the scoop, what's going on? Are the oceans rising? Is this the result of green house gases accumulating and polar ice caps melting? How soon before we can expect to stick to our car seats, start sweating as we come out of the shower, and buy grape popsicles in the bulk box. The supermarkets are promoting potato chips and Dixie Plates, home magazines are featuring lemonade and Fourth of July barbecues with checkered table cloths, bug spray and sun block. Until I see some blue sky, feel a little sunshine on my shoulders, I am staying in my wool socks and all picnics will be held fireside.