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Well, yesterday was a glorious day.  Yim and I had Prantl’s burnt almond torte for breakfast with coffee.  It was left over from Yim‘s birthday celebration on Tuesday.  After breakfast we ran a couple of errands together.  We went to Home Depot for anchors and to Market District for lunch meat, rolls, Gerolsteiner and . . . Kennywood tickets!  (Yimmy loves it when I refer to Giant Eagle as Market District!  But, hey, my friend Alyssa calls it Hot Man Mecca!)

While I made a picnic lunch for us, Yimmy re-mounted my mailbox on the front of the house.  I’d given the mailbox a shiny new coat of black paint.  Incidentally, the mail has already come today, and the mailman opened the screen door and dropped the mail inside again, without any notice whatsoever of my newly painted and mounted box.

Once the chores were done and the picnic lunch was packed, Yim and I headed out to Kennywood.  The weather was phenomenal; clear, bright blue sky, dry warmth under the sun with wispy high clouds up above and a cool air circulating just enough so that one never felt uncomfortably hot.  The occasion was Yim‘s boy’s school Kennywood day and all three of his boys went there with their mother.  We shared the responsibility with her, trading off between the older and the younger so that everyone had the opportunity to ride.

Throughout the day Yim and I were prone to our own memories of childhood days spent running the park, from ride to ride, with our friends.  We didn’t leave until the park closed at 10pm and when we got home I collapsed on my bed, feeling the same satisfied exhaustion as I did at the end of a day back when I was 9 years old and had spent the hours running, laughing, riding and eating funnel cakes with Elisabeth.  I fell to sleep fast, with physical heaviness but mental levity, dreaming of all good things.

And so it was a great day, but there is more!

Yesterday marked the last day in the house of the Earth sign Taurus, which, other than my own Capricornian sign, I love the most.  It seems that so many of my favorite people have been born under the sign of the Bull:  Zia, Lord Mycol, Yim, and my brother, Rock.  If you follow the philosophy of the stars, it’s no wonder why.  Consider the following:

The Taurus and Capricorn combination is considered to be one of the best astrological combinations. When they unite there is a union of similar and positive creative forces and a subtle but powerful physical attraction. They understand each other’s weaknesses and strengths perfectly and act accordingly. Since both require a certain amount of acknowledgment of their positive qualities they do the same for each other. They fulfill each other emotionally, physically, intellectually and financially. Saturn and Venus the ruling planet of Capricorn and Taurus respectively complement each other. Taurus loves money and Capricorn wants security and sees financial stability as a way of security. Both are practical, sensual and calculative. They believe in hard work and success. So nothing can be better than this!!

Also, yesterday was, indeed, Rock’s birthday.

Before I get into wishing Rock a belated birthday I’d like to point out that I seem to have developed a habit of birthday posting, which puts a new kind of pressure on a person.  I no longer merely have to remember to check the calendar and get a card off in the mail, but now I must come up with some sort of brilliant tribute to the ones I love, lest any of them feel jilted.  This all started with a ridiculously fun post I wrote, a roast post, if you will, for the birthday of Elisabeth’s husband Dag.  It was one of the easiest and most fun things I’ve written to date.  On that day my blog stats reached their highest rating.  This created a two-fold reason to continue writing birthday blogs: 1) so as not to offend the others, hahaha, and 2) to strive towards beating my personal best where my stats are concerned (I’m talking about daily readership, folks).  This week I won some and lost some.  Let me put it to you this way; I beat my personal best on Tuesday, May 18th with “Feelin’ Good”.  That’s right, Dag, my post for Yim surpassed my post for you!  If I were a statistician I’d tell you by what percent.  On the other hand, I failed to put up a post for one of my most cherished Taureans, my brother Rock.  And so, short and late as it may be, without further adieu . . .

I’d like to tell you all the truth about how I feel about my brother.  I used to wish he was a sister!  I remember telling my mother that I wanted a playmate.  In my recollection of the past, like she’d waved a magic wand to grant my wish, the next thing I knew was that she’d gotten herself pregnant with a playmate exclusively for my sake.  Imagine my utter horror when, after months of giddy anticipation, she came home from the hospital with a boy-child!  What had gone wrong?  It went down like this:

One day my mother was so swollen with pregnancy that she could not find the energy to play with me.  I had no one else to play with at all.  I played imaginary games all by myself with my wooden farm set on the coffee table while she lie big on the sofa with heavy eyelids.  Then, in the dark of night in the middle of a spring rain, we had to leave the house.  There was a mild urgency – do you understand that? From the back seat on the way to my grandparents’ house I peered at blurry street lights through the rain drops on the windshield, glowing white, red, yellow, green, intermittently through the slash of the wipers.

It was likely 4 days later when Mummy returned from the hospital.  It was a sunny spring afternoon.  My grandparents lived in a 3 story large Victorian house and my mother came in through the back door to the sun-lit kitchen carrying the swaddled babe.  The excitement and joy expressed by those around me could not befog the circumstance.  There’d been a dirty trick played and this was not my requested playmate.  As I ran up the dramatic staircase in the entry hall, I stopped two-thirds of the way up, stuck my little head over the banister and screamed past the chandelier, “Why didn’t you tell the doctor we wanted a girl?!”

Oh, the follies of youth.  I’d like to tell you now that I would have it no other way than to have my playmate be my brother Rock.  Despite a fight here and there we got along marvelously.  I love him so much.

In the winter time when we were confined to playing indoors a lot, we used to take his crib mattress and prop it against the bedroom wall.  We mimicked Muhammed Ali and Leon Spinks, sparring with the mattress, fancy-footing around the room and sticking our faces in the mist from the humidifier for the dramatic effect of profuse sweating.

We have been playing together since he could walk and talk and the fun has never come to an end.  There is only one person in the world who really understands what my childhood experience was all about and that is him.  And vice versa.

Still, I did dress him up as a girl and call him Rebecca for about 4 years, until Mummy made me stop.  There is photographic evidence to support this claim.  I suppose you’re wondering which years, as from 12 to 16 would be rather strange, huh?  Don’t worry, he was hardly big enough to defend himself.

I called my brother yesterday and wished him a Happy Birthday and he told me it was his second best to date, the first best being the day he was actually born.  I am so glad his wishes came true.  He met one of his idols, Dave Matthews, who, ironically, shares his birthday with mine.  You see how Taureans and Capricorns love each other?  Rock and his wife, Luvy, were granted a backstage audience (with photos) with Dave, Tim Reynolds and Jane Goodall before enjoying the show up close.  An ecstatic experience for my brother and I am happy for him.

Happy Birthday, Rock!  I love you, brother!

On this day thirty-nine years ago a woman gave birth to her first child, a son, and he would become my best friend.  The world is indeed a wondrous place.  Consider all of the possible outcomes with the actual results and wonder: how?  why?  And be amazed.

Every person is a bundle of possibilities and he is worth what life may get out of him before it is through. — Harry Emerson Fosdick

Last night we went out for a celebratory glass of wine.  A toast to life, love and the pursuit of happiness, which is what we have been doing heartily since we joined forces: living, loving, and pursuing happiness.

We went to Ava Lounge to enjoy the jazzy notes of Howie Alexander’s Interval Jam.  What is happening here on the jazz scene is the making of history.  Having just recently lost a hometown jazz gal, Lena Horne, whose career spanned the test of time and whose beauty and music touched many beyond the borders of this steel town and the Hill District scene, I like to imagine that someday Yim and I will be talking about how we used to rub elbows with none other than the jazz greats of the turn of the century, just like those who hung around the Crawford Grill would have spoken about Lena.  We will fondly reminisce about Howie, Doc Nelson, Roby Supersax, Chris Hemingway, and my favorite Sean Jones.

In between sets on Monday nights, JMalls spins throwback vinyl.  Last night, as Yim and I raised our glasses and enjoyed each other’s conversation, another fateful thing occurred.  A familiar voice rang through the lounge.  Who knows, perhaps it was at the very moment in time that this woman went into labor . . . Yes, Yim‘s mother’s voice sang out from the deejay booth, like a birthday reminder and gift from the source.  And we were all “Feelin’ Good”.  So, now, for your listening pleasure . . . ladies and gentlemen, Lynn Marino!

There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will. — Shakespeare

And one more thing . . .

Happy Birthday, Yim!

Sometimes you find yourself living in a house that you didn’t even know was yours.  What I mean by that is that one day your vision clears and you see clearly for the first time.  What you thought you liked you now realize is gauche and what you thought you had the strongest distaste for?  Well, now you are discovering just how clueless you were.  The stuff you hated before now appeals to you more than ever.  You finally get it!

So, go to the cellar and poke around.  There is something there left behind by someone years before you came along.  And for years now, instead of throwing it on the curbside for pick-up, you’ve just been shuffling it from one spot to another without much wonder for where it came from, who it belonged to, why it is still in the cellar, or what will become of it.  It is dirty, dusty, sooty even.  And it smells dank.

(I like the word ‘dank’.  Don’t you?  It’s tough and nasty at the same time.  We used to know a guy called ‘Dank’, short for his last name ‘Dankovitch’.  He was tall with a curly brown mop of hair like Magnum P.I.  And he was too tan and sported cut-off jean shorts!)

Bring it upstairs and let it breath for a minute.  Or a week.  Get to know it even though you don’t much want to touch it.  Consider it’s style.  Huh.  Who knew you were a fan of Danish Modern?

Now that you know its name and you are sure that you like it, it’s time to get down to business.  This is like furniture boot camp.  You have to break it down to its bare bones, strip it of everything it’s ever known before and then build it up again in a new and improved image.  This will be a chair that salutes you when you enter the room and then kindly offers you a seat.  Of course, if you are going to undress this thing, you’re going to have to touch it.  It’s dirty because it’s old and no one has cared for it in so many years, including you.  So grab what you need to deal with it and get to work. 

Now it’s time to shop around for some new clothes for this baby.  Get over to the fabric shop and buy fabric, cotton batting, upholstery tacks and foam.  If you are anything like me, don’t expect to re-upholster your chair in a day.  What takes so long?  Decisions, decisions, decisions.  The basic materials, the ones hidden from view, are easy.  But the fabric is ultimately the most important and after all the hard work you will put into rehabilitating this old piece, the last thing you want to discover when it is done is that you don’t really love the fabric you chose.  Or worse, you can’t stand to look at it, which means back to the cellar for this poor thing.  I shopped around for fabric on different occasions for about a month while the chair sat in my entry hall wearing its old clothes.  I spent countless moments staring at it, burning its image into my brain so that I could reference it at the fabric store.  And still I brought home the wrong material.  But this is why, even after you make a purchase, you don’t start re-upholstering on the spot.  Ever hear of sample swatches?  I draped that first material over the chair and walked past it, taking furtive glances from every angle, for a week or more before I accepted my awful faux pas.  Then back to the store it was, to make a return and shop some more.  Once you do settle on a fabric that is just right, you may begin.  You have my express consent and permission.

One of the main reasons why I challenged myself to this project and absolutely encourage it is because I do not support the consumerist lifestyle that has swallowed the country.  Gluttony is everywhere. What do you think becomes of all that old furniture?  Meanwhile, some folks on Earth, the very same planet that you and I live on, sit on the ground.  Shopping for new furniture is sometimes a must and the old stuff sometimes has no proper place anymore but the landfill.  Just consider, there are many resources where you can find older models in top structural form at fractions of the cost of new furniture.  You could buy a timeless piece at a garage sale or the Goodwill.  You would still be contributing to the economy, especially once you purchase your tools and materials.  But you would be cutting back on pollution;  less landfill and no contribution to a modern manufacturing warehouse.  You will develop a new skill and have a story to tell.

So, back to the chair.  If you’ve paid close attention to how things were originally put together when you were disassembling the chair, you should have no problem re-assembling it with the new materials.  I used an electric carving knife to cut my foam (which I didn’t get a picture of, but it is firm and green) into the appropriate sizes for the back and seat.  I wrapped cotton batting over the foam and tightly around both the back and the seat and used a staple gun to secure the batting along the back of the wooden frame.  Tightness is very important here.

Important tip:  Use the old fabric pieces as templates to cut your new fabric, with about 2-3 inches extra.  Remember, everything must be pulled as tightly as you can manage.  I’d never upholstered or re-upholstered anything before, so I just used my good judgement and skillful fingers to create the appropriate folds along the corners of the chair.  Even when I pulled and folded as tightly as I could, I could not match the skill of the original, which was obviously done in a shop.  Still, I managed a fairly good job and I don’t think anyone would interrogate this chair on suspicion of loose folds!

The most difficult challenge was getting the armrests back on after the chair was re-upholstered.  I’d failed to mark exactly where they were and cut slits through the cotton batting for the bolts.  For lack of a professional method, I used a penknife to cut x’s where the bolts would go in and relied on the bolt to tighten up on the edges of the hole to prevent the fabric from tearing away or fraying.  It actually worked quite well so leave your skepticism at the door!

Voila!

And now, just for fun, you can search for the perfect adornment, sort of like a new pair of earrings.  Ten-hut!

Last year Yim and I were at Barnes & Noble and there was an author of children’s stories at the store signing books.  I cannot remember her name, but she was blind.  Yim, who loves to strike up lengthy conversations with everyone and at any time, got involved in a talk with the author and her husband on the discipline of writing.  I, who feel I must be in top form in order to get on with talking to strangers, reluctantly walked over to the three of them that evening.  I’d browsed the stacks long enough and I could no longer avoid the inevitable.  Yim would introduce me to the author and her husband and I’d be forced to make small talk when I was not even close to interested.  But as unfortunate as I felt at the time to have to put on airs of enthusiasm, I can now be grateful for the advice I was given.  That author, whose name I cannot recall, suggested that I read Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott.  I remembered that title, Bird by Bird, and eventually looked up Ann Lamott online.  I watched a video clip of her speaking and I was intrigued because she is so strange and funny and smart.  So I bought the book, 6 months later.  Yim couldn’t even remember the blind author at Barnes & Noble by that time, let alone the book she’d recommended.  And then, as is prone to happen in my life these days, Bird by Bird sat unopened on my coffee table for another stretch of months.  Until last week when I finally peered inside at the first few pages and began to read.  Oh, so far I’ve only read the introduction and the first 28 pages beyond that, but I am enthralled and inspired.  Everything I’ve read thus far is true, true, true!  It’s uncanny.  Does she know me?  Or, damn, I’ve just realized that I am not special at all, but indeed, just like all the other writers or wannabe writers in the world.  Still, to read your thoughts put on paper by someone else, someone you’ve never met, well, it’s affirming.  I have excitedly told Yim about the book and what I’ve read.  When I am finished with it, I will pass it along to him.  In the meantime, however, I am glad to read to him interesting passages from its pages.  Just last night when we spoke on the phone, Yim shared with me his frustrations with writer’s block.  I asked if I could read to him over the phone, and when I got to this paragraph my eyes welled up with tears.  For the second time.  These words from Ann Lamott‘s book give me a feeling of awe and inspiration.  I said to Yim, “I must really love books!”

“Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth.  What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you.  Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave.  They show us what community and friendship mean;  they show us how to live and die.  They are full of all the things that you don’t get in real life — wonderful, lyrical language, for instance, right off the bat.  And quality of attention:  we may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and really pay attention.  An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift.  My gratitude for good writing is unbounded;  I’m grateful for it the way I’m grateful for the ocean.  Aren’t you?  I ask.”  — Ann Lamott, Bird by Bird

INCOMING!

Now this is what I am talking about folks: COMMENTS AND REQUESTS!  Ha!  Ask and you shall receive!

UB, to answer your question, “By the way do you know who is playing that alto sax in your photo?”, yes, I do.  I must admit I only know now because you asked and I did some research – which took about 4 seconds.  That is Paul Desmond, who actually wrote “Take Five”.

http://rhythmandwaves.files.wordpress.com/2008/09/paul_desmond.jpg

And by the way, did you know that you could click on that ‘photo’ and play the video clip of The Dave Brubeck Quartet with Paul Desmond playing “Take Five”?  Try it, UB, I know you’ll like it!

And now, because Zia, UB and E-Beth have all requested the story of what happened with Rock and the bird, here it is: (E-Beth, chime in with more detail if I am forgetting something here…)

Rock used to wear one of these all the time:

https://i1.wp.com/www.sportswearhouse.com/store/media/replicabattinghelmetpirates.jpg

That’s a batting helmet for the best team in the league!!  Okay, so I think Rock’s helmet only had one little hole in the center of the dome, rather than two as in this image, therefore cutting the chances of something randomly dropping from the sky onto his scalp in half.  Right?  Right.  And as we, E-Beth, Rock and I played on Broughton Street, running up and down, jumping and climbing the mulberry tree on the edge of the property, somehow a bird dropped it’s, well, it’s droppings, straight through that little 1/4 inch diameter hole in the center of Rock’s batting helmet.  INCOMING!!!

And everyone knows that getting hit with bird poop is good luck, right?

Last Saturday Lord Mycol and I went to lunch at La Feria.  It was his birthday, it was our third choice restaurant, and we were short on time.  Sausalido doesn’t serve lunch on Saturdays, the line at Primanti’s in the Strip was out the door, Oakland was packed with graduation traffic and we knew we’d get a good meal at La Feria with little to no wait at all.  And we did!  The only problem:  I forgot to tip our server.  At La Feria you take your bill to the cashier at the counter as opposed to waiting for the server to pick it up at the table.  I was so caught up in the moment; admiring the Peruvian wares they have for sale and on display on every available surface other than the actual dining tables, getting our leftovers boxed, getting home in time for lemon cloud tart I made for Lord Mycol, and paying the bill at the cashier’s counter, that I utterly forgot to leave a tip on the table.  I didn’t think twice about it until 8 pm that evening.  All of the sudden I was seized by the memory of having walked out without leaving a tip, therefore causing the waitress to wonder what she’d done wrong, or worse, what kind of bitter person I might be.  Neither of which, of course, is true.  Since then I have been trying to find the time to get over to Walnut Street and leave the tip for that waitress at La Feria.  Every day since Saturday it was lingering on my mind.  I was certain I would do it just as soon as possible.  Then the universe stepped in and saved me a trip.

On Thursday night Yim and I went to CJ’s in the Strip to get our dose of jazz.  Roger Humphries and RH Factor are there every Thursday and we love it.  On that particular Thursday Howie Alexander was sitting in on keyboard.  Yim and I love the scene at CJ’s.  The tables are dressed with burgundy tablecloths and set with numbers that remind me of a club from the 1950’s.  As the band struck up “Take Five” I noticed a familiar face walk in.  “Hey, that’s my waitress from La Feria,” I told Yim, who knew the details of the forgotten tip.  I thought to myself that if there were any doubt in my mind that I would take the initiative to get that tip to La Feria that here was fate stepping in to nudge me.  I could choose whether the tip was important, after all.  I mean, the waitress didn’t know me.  I go to La Feria maybe once or twice a year, chances are she’d never recognize me again.  And even if she did, would it matter?  Was this really a karmic opportunity or not?  Well, as soon as I recognized her I knew that I was going to go and give her the tip.  It feels good to do the right thing.  When I approached her she was puzzled at first and then truly happy.  She gave me a hug and exclaimed, “I love people like you!”  See how good that felt?  Now go out and see if you can work some good karma into the world today!

I am sitting here at my desk listening to a morning dove coo outside my window.  The windows are shut because even thought the sun is shining brightly, it is extremely cold outside.  I am eating leftover jelly beans from Easter because I am starving and there is nothing already made to eat in the house and I don’t feel much like cooking.  I just ate a pear flavored jelly bean and that is my absolute favorite flavor.  Lord Mycol has left for work and the house is empty, quiet.  I am daydreaming about my ideal situation.  Where the blog is concerned, I’d ideally like to log in to my account and see that nearly everyone has left a comment for me.  It’s validating.  Most days, though, I struggle to get more people to visit in the first place, let alone comment.  Of all the visitors that click by, how do I even know how many of them actually read the article I posted?  Sometimes the truth is just that I am tired of coming up with new and interesting things to write about.  Any suggestions?

My Zia has told me that when I was a little baby she held me sitting on her lap.  In those ancient times babies were still wearing diapers made from natural fibers, like cotton.  Mothers had to wash them and dry them every time they were soiled.  Children were potty trained nearly as soon as they could walk.  So there I sat in Zia’s lap without a diaper at all.  When she picked me up she saw that I had laid 3 little brown eggs in her lap.

When I was 3 years old I named one of my baby dolls Diarrhea.

My brother and I used to fight like cats and dogs sometimes.  When he was smaller than me and I would torture him, adults used to warn me that when he grew up the tables would turn.  The tables did turn by the time he was 8 years old.  He was like the Tasmanian Devil when he got mad.  A raging bull.  I would fight with him to a certain point and then it became a game of survival for me.  I had to lock myself in the bathroom, the only room with a locking door, to protect myself.  And his rage lasted for hours!  I got tired of being a bathroom shut-in!  At some point I figured on how to lock him out of the house instead.  When from the other side of the door he told me that he had to go to the bathroom, the very room that used to be my refuge from slaughter, and pleaded with me to let him in to use the toilet, I sympathized and truce-fully opened up.  And I got pummeled.  But then there was the time.  As in, “Remember the time when . . .?”  The time when I locked him out of the house again and he begged me to let him back in to go to the bathroom again.  “Go outside,” I said.  But he said he had to go ‘number 2’.  “So what,” I said, not believing him.  “Go outside!”  And seemingly with no other choice, he did.  We had a fairly private back yard.  Our dog didn’t seem to mind.  But that evening when we sat down to dinner with Mummy, she asked that question that all good children dread to hear; “Okay, which one of you pooped outside?”  And we simultaneously pointed at each other.  Who knew adults could tell the difference between dog and human poop?  Then Mummy made poor Rock go and cover up his mess with dirt, just like a cat!  And that is how we used to fight like cats and dogs.

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