Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Now Accepting Submissions

At tonight's Tri Club meeting, I sat by ex-Prez Brian. Before things got started, Brian let me in on a idea that he thought we should take on.

Taking a cue from Tiger Woods, we'll edit a book called Men and Their Messes. It will be a compilation of stories that ordinary people submit about themselves or someone they know, as long as the person's of the male persuasion, and as long as they've gotten themselves into a sh*tload of trouble.

And because Brian's more than just an idea man, he's got a plan, too. We'll create a website with a form that people can use to submit their story directly to us. We'll compile the best ones, do a little editing and--badda-bing, badda boom (thank you, Urban Dictionary, for the spell-check)--we'll have a book. Simple, right? Until the website, www.myegoruinedmylife.com, is up and running, you can send your tales of self-inflicted woe directly to me.

(Meb gets interviewed by Bob Babbitt.)

After cementing our plan and creating an action-item list, Meb Keflezighi was welcomed as the meeting's guest speaker. Before Keflezighi became the first American to win the New York City Marathon last month since Alberto Salazar in 1982, he was an Eritrean immigrant who took ESL classes at Jefferson Elementary in North Park. After that, he became a cross-country runner by trying out for his junior high team with a mile time of 5:20. And then he became an all-American runner at UCLA. And then at the 2004 Olympics, he became the first American to medal since Frank Shorter in 1972. Keflezighi is a man who has most certainly not made a mess.

(Meb's brother, Merhawi, videoing.)

Monday, December 7, 2009

More than Auto Manuals

I first met Mark-Elliot Lugo, Curator of the San Diego Public Library’s Visual Arts Program, in August while on my whirlwind thirty-six-in-thirty-six tour. It was day twelve, and I had barely entered the gallery when Lugo emerged from his office and welcomed me. He didn’t know who I was or why I was there—or that I’d post a review of the Pacific Beach/Taylor branch later that day on this blog—but generously gave me an overview of the gallery’s then-current exhibition. I have to assume he’s this welcoming and helpful to everyone who enters the gallery.

Last week, Lugo was kind enough to meet and talk with me again at the PB branch.

The job of curator seems a perfect fit for Lugo, but it wasn’t a job vacancy that he applied for. As a San Diego librarian, Lugo had watched the PB library being built in 1997 and thought it looked more like an art museum than a place simply for books. Lugo got the go-ahead to curate an art exhibition to mark the branch’s opening, and the program grew from there into something permanent, and unprecedented in our nation’s library systems. Initially, Lugo’s biggest fear was that the art wouldn’t be worthy of its exhibition space. “Really bad art could ruin this building,” he says.

The inaugural exhibition featured work by Italo Scanga, a prolific artist who taught at my alma mater and who also, incidentally, attended my husband’s high school. Scanga died in 2001.

After 150 shows, Lugo’s fear of subpar art has gone unrealized. The program focuses on mid-career San Diego artists; Lugo has little desire in finding a young artist and giving them a platform that they perhaps have not yet earned. Instead, Lugo has exhibited artists like Joyce Cutler Shaw, UCSD Medical School’s Artist-in-Residence; and Harold Cohen, an artist who creates work with a self-designed computer program that seeks to capture a person’s creative instinct.

Lugo has also shown artists who’ve worked most of their life with little or no attention, and who haven’t sold a painting in years. When Lugo tells such an artist that they’re going to have a solo show, and that they should begin working on a body of work for the exhibition, he sees, “In despair, a renewed sense of vitality.” Some artists, he says, will sell more work through their one library solo show than in the rest of their life.

San Diego taxpayers will be happy to know the Visual Arts Program is self-sustaining. Art from each exhibition is available for purchase, and the library takes a percentage of each sale.

The exhibitions have garnered attention from the art world outside of San Diego. A few weeks ago, Janet Koplos, Guest Editor of American Craft magazine, visited the gallery unannounced while in town for a museum talk. After viewing the Jeff Irwin exhibition, she asked Leah Ollman, a nationally known art critic, to write an article on the show. It will be the Visual Arts Program’s first national review.

Not only does the Visual Arts Program give artists a platform to show their work, but it exposes San Diegans to really innovative art—people who, in Lugo’s words, may “just be coming in for an auto manual.”

The gallery’s current exhibition of Beth King’s work runs through February 15, 2010.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Afternoon Reading

"Putting the Heart Before the Course"

From this month's Smithsonian, a Q&A with artist William T. Wiley:

Q: Some critics don't take your work seriously because of its playfulness. What do you say to them?

A: They're too serious. To be stuck on this planet without humor wouldn't be much fun. Those critics should take a cue from Arthur Schopenhauer, who believed that humor is our only divine trait.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lean Times

Everyone's a critic, especially when it comes to politicians. And while I, too, enjoy taking jabs at elected officials, I must commend our Mayor on his revised budget. The city's $179M shortfall is unprecedented, and cuts have to be made. As everyone knows I'm a library groupie, and am always interested in how the city's finances will impact the thirty-six locales. Last week, Mayor Sanders proposed pairing up some libraries and having them open on alternate days. Which I thought was pretty creative. Today, a revised budget was unveiled, and instead of closing some branches for full days, hours will be reduced at all branches to thirty-six per week. Of course this doesn't make me happy, but it seems like an equitable way to save money and minimally impact the system. Last year's proposal to close some branches was extremely unpopular.

The budget crisis will also affect the library system by changing the overdue fine collection process from three US mail letters to one before sending the library user's account to collection. I wonder how many overdue books it would take to reap $179M in fines?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Food Week: San Diego Pizza Smackdown

I am closing out Food Week with a taste-test. Bryan and Veronika have forever been touting what they think is the best pizza in San Diego. I have my own opinion, too, and so decided we'd settle this once and for all.

As a native New Yorker, Bryan claims that the best NY-style pizza in San Diego is at a little place in PB across from the library. An added quirk, he says, is that it's run by an Asian family. God bless America.

You must also bear in mind that, while Bryan touts this place as the best, he hasn't been in six years. When ordering today, we learned that the place had been sold three years ago to an exuberant Italian man named Mateo. Which I thought boded well for BO's choice--pizza from Italy.

Veronika thinks Bronx Pizza is the best slice in town. This place is tiny and does a lot of take-out service, but you can also eat in their cramped little back room. New Yorkers work here instead of Asians or Italians, and they have the attitude to prove it.

Since this is my blog, I get a say in the contest, and entered Costco's pizza.

The ground rules:
We each purchased one slice of plain cheese pizza from our favored establishment and brought them to Veronika's condo. We then cut each slice into thirds and put one each on a paper plate, labeling the rim with the establishment's name. One by one, we were blind-folded and tested each pizza. The taster's comments were recorded in a notepad, and each taster had to ultimately pick their favorite.

Veronika: Good spices in the sauce. The crust isn't too hard.
Michelle: Good sauce, good flavor. It has more oregano, I think? The sauce smells a little like pepperoni.
Bryan: I smell spices. The crust is thin. I like that. The sauce is flavorful. Surprisingly, the pizza's a little greasy.

Veronika: I like it. I like the mix of the sauce and the cheese. Nice consistency throughout.
Michelle: Good. Tasty sauce.
Bryan: Not as aeromatic as the other (Bronx) one. Definitely not as flavorful. But it's simple. It's not as greasy.

Veronika: The cheese isn't as soft as the others.
Michelle: Nice aroma. Smells good. It has more cheese, less sauce. It's satisfying.
Bryan: The cheese is crispy. I like that.

In the end, while still blindfolded, we each picked the pizza we'd nominated for the contest. But afterwards, we also agreed that Bronx was the most flavorful.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Food Week: Thanksgiving Leftovers

On "Top Chef," contestants sometimes prepare an ingredient multiple ways. "Kobe Beef Two Ways" or "Salmon Two Ways." Today, I offer you a Thanksgiving leftover--yesterday's cranberry relish--prepared five ways.

Cranberry Muffins
I used a basic Bisquick recipe and added 1 1/2 cups of cranberries.
Bryan's rating: 2 turkeys
Comment: "The high points are the cranberries and nuts. But they're a little doughy." I agree. Next time, I'll use a real muffin batter recipe.

Cranberry Salsa
Equal parts salsa and relish, plus a few drops of Marie Sharp's hot sauce.
Bryan's rating: 3 1/2 turkeys
Comment: "Pretty good."

Bread, brie, cranberries, more brie, a second slice of bread. It's then grilled in a pan with butter.
Bryan's rating: 5 turkeys
Comment: "On a scale of four, it's a five." I agree, this is aMAZing.

Cranberry Vinaigrette
Along with leftover cranberries, we also have leftover apricot-walnut-crouton salad. So I added a little balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and cranberry juice to the relish, and then poured it on the salad. I found this idea online, but can't find the link.
Bryan's rating: 4 turkeys
Comments: "Delightful!"

Turkey burgers topped with cranberries would've been to easy. Inspired by the above-linked recipe, we decided to make cranberry-stuffed meatballs. Several of them split open, but not too much spilled out. After the photo was taken, we topped them with turkey gravy.
Bryan's rating: 4 turkeys
Comments: "Now THAT is one satisfying dinner."

It's been a good run, but I hope tomorrow will be cranberry-less.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Food Week: Thanksgiving Day

Nothing I could post here could adequately sum up this Granddaddy of all food days in America. So I won't even try. Instead, I humbly offer you a cranberry relish recipe, which my dad and I first started making when I was in high school. Of course, you can double, triple, quadruple, et cetera the recipe to fit your feasting needs. We also make this relish at Christmastime.

6 cups fresh cranberries
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups water
4 seedless tangerines, peeled, sectioned, and cut into chunks
1 tart apple, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks
1 1/2 cups dried apricots, cut into small chunks
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Put the water and sugar in a large pot and allow to boil, stirring occasionally. Once it boils, turn the heat down to medium and add the cranberries. Let these cook for about ten minutes, or until the cranberries start to pop and cook down. Then add the tangerines, apple and apricots. If the relish is boiling and splattering, turn heat down to medium-low. Finally, add the walnuts and allow the relish to continue cooking. If it seem too thin, raise the heat and some water to boil off. Finally, turn off the heat and allow to cook. Relish can be served either warm or chilled.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Food Week: Dog Donuts

With tomorrow's impending gluttony, I just couldn't eat something good enough to post about (despite a lead on a Peruvian restaurant). Thankfully, Louie--the cockapoo with a bottomless stomach--agreed to take one for Stray Carrier Pigeon, and let me cook for him.

While the canine carrot biscotti was intriguing, I don't make anything for a dog that requires more than five ingredients. I hardly cook anything for myself that requires more than five ingredients. So Louie got garlic-spiced donuts. I've never had a garlic-spiced human donut before, but they do exist.

Onto the preparations:
(Cutting out the donuts with a measuring cup and pill bottle top.)

(Louie waiting patiently.)

(Cooked and cooling.)

(He's polite enough not to bite my finger.)

(Not bad. They could've used a little more garlic, but I'm declaring them good enough for a celebrity to eat.)

It's been two hours and Louie hasn't shown any signs of stomach distress, so I am calling these biscuits a success.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Food Week: Yogurt World

Today I was in El Cajon to observe an ESL class. On the way home, I went to Mission Trails for a run. After that, I stopped at Yogurt World.

I first heard of Yogurt World from a student last semester. He came into class with a slurpee-sized cup of frozen yogurt. When I asked when he'd gotten it, he said, in the most obvious tone, "Yogurt World."

Of course.

Today was my first visit to one of the chain's locations. It's self-serve with yogurt and toppings, and you're charged thirty cents per ounce.

I opted for acai-blueberry and mango yogurt swirled together. After many happy years of Souplantation patronage, I fancy myself a yogurt-swirler dilettante. Today, my swirling was just average. Which was fine; I covered up the oblong spiral with toppings.

The extremely happy woman behind the bar helped me choose what to add to my yogurt. Of course there were sprinkles and strawberries and sno-caps, but those are too boring for Food Week. I settled on three toppings.

Long-yen: This is my phonetic spelling of the word. It's a fruit that looks like very large, peeled, white globe grapes. They have the texture of fibrous lychee and are sweet. They taste like something I've eaten in Central America that I can't place right now. Not termites, though. Those taste like carrots. There's one long-yen visible in the bottom of the photograph.

Candied fruit: These are the red, yellow, and white strips visible in the picture. Sweet, they remind me most of really thick Jell-o Jigglers.

Sweet white beans: These are white beans that have been soaked in sugar (brown sugar?) and cooked. They taste like, well, white beans in sugar.

And to think, after finishing my run, I could've drank Gatorade and missed out on all this colorful, Asian food fun.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Food Week, Day Two: Peanut Butter and Butter Sandwich

With yesterday's deep-fried turkey post, and Thursday being Thanksgiving, I am making this Food Week at Stray Carrier Pigeon.

Day two:
A few weeks ago, I referred to the peanut butter and butter sandwich of my youth. This is a snack/meal that I loved to make. Today, I reprised it for lunch.

How was my dining experience? It wasn't a sandwich that I particularly enjoyed, although I did eat the whole thing (too much energy to fix something else). I chalk the pb&b up to youth and an immature palate. Bp& j is successful because it combines creamy peanut butter with sweet jelly. Just like butter and jelly on an English muffin (a pre-run favorite!). Or waffles with butter and syrup. Of the pb&b, I think Tom Coliccho would say it lacks flavor range.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Sunday Before

...because one Thanksgiving meal isn't enough.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Behind Every Man

I was poking around the Time website, looking for a picture to include in a blog post on a different subject, when I learned that Jeanne-Claude, Christo's partner in life and art, passed away yesterday.

I first saw the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude on "Sunday Morning", which chronicled them and their Umbrellas installation. When people talk about these Umbrellas, or about the Reichstag, or the New York Gates, they talk about Christo. But he had another half.

I'm not going to get all feminist on you. If, by reading this blog post, one more person will know Jean-Claude's name, I will be exceedingly happy.

An artist-friend was recently lamenting to me how art is not purposeful. But it is. The sublime is necessary. I am reminded of a comment made in one of my fiction workshops at Maryland, shortly after 9/11. My workshop mate said of fiction, and art, "In some ways, it doesn't seem to matter very much right now. In another way, it's the only thing that matters."

Thanks, Jeanne-Claude, for things that matter.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Good and Rooted

Many years ago, when I spent a summer in South Dakota working at Wall Drug, I worked with an older, eccentric woman named Violet. Violet lived in a cabin in Badlands National Park. I'd never heard of this before (I was 20; I grew up in the OC) and it seemed so exotic. Travel writer Tim Cahill lives in a national park, too.

From the Wall Street Journal:

"Tim Cahill has traveled to 100 countries, riding on horseback across the steppes of Mongolia, hiking through remote villages in southeastern Turkey in search of the supposedly extinct Caspian Tiger, driving a truck from the tip of Patagonia to Alaska and going swimming in an ice hole on the North Pole.

The veteran travel writer chronicles these adventures from a 500-square-foot cabin hidden in a thickly forested river canyon in southwest Montana. The cabin sits in this national forest on the edge of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, about an hour's drive down gravel roads from the "big town" of Livingston, where Mr. Cahill has a house."

Thanks to my mom for forwarding on this article.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Story That Insists on Telling Itself Again

Paul Lisicky read tonight at USD. From "The Boy and His Mother are Stuck!", this:

"Just yesterday, when we were all a little calmer and safer, my younger brother put his palms on the oven of her and murmured duck, duck, I want a duck as if words alone could make the thing inside her grow feathers."

Lately, many people around me--and when I say "around me," I include myself--are wishing for things to be other than they are. None of us wish our bellies--or any of the bellies around us--to contain a bird instead of a fetus. No, our angst centers around jobs/careers/what we do each day/what we call ourselves/what others call us. In other words, identity. Which is a theme Lisicky dealt with several times this evening.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the duck that is held hostage in Richard Russo's Straight Man, where the protagonist, a long-suffering English professor at a financially struggling college, cries, "A duck a day, until I get my budget."

How did ducks come to represent such futile yearning? Hopefully there's a PhD--who self-identifies as an modern American lit expert--secreted away in some dank office, toiling on this very topic.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

On a November Evening

Dear The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf:

I am writing to you with a suggestion that you change the name of your Apple Roobios tea to Wood. Because, really, this is what it tastes like. I'm not exactly sure what type of tree bark it is-- Sequoia or Pine or whatever (I'm just the idea gal, I don't have all the particulars). Apple is, of course, the obvious choice, but is obvious what you really want in an overpriced drink? I trust that your ad people can come up with something. Gap once had a perfume called "Grass," and it sold quite well. Marketing is everything.

Warm regards,
Michelle Panik

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dime Stories

Last night, I found myself wandering around a place I spent five years at, and wondering where the hell I was.

I'd gone to UCSD for Dime Stories' November Showcase, to hear, among others, my friend Nancy read her award-winning story. Which was great. What the pluck?--I don't know why she was nervous.

I'd parked in the Gilman Parking Structure, which was built after I'd graduated, but I'd become accustomed to it when I'd returned as an employee. I stopped working there in June of 2007, and since then the campus has exploded with buildings. One of which is a new student center that makes UCSD a real college and give it a real central place for students to hang out. Which is a good thing. As along as you can navigate all the other bright and shiny and windowy buildings.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Brooding about Broods

Dear TLC:

I am a fan of American Chopper. Watching the Teutul family is a melange of action, engineering, graphic design, comedy, drama, and family. Bravo. No, not Bravo. Bravo.

As we are in the middle of November Sweeps, I feel compelled to write to you about your other shows, which all seem to be about about freakishly large families. (Freaky, freakier, and still more freakiness.) They are taking over your network. I understand that shows are in the works for several months before going on the air. Perhaps you lined up all these crazy families before the Jon and Kate lost the love. TV executives live and learn. So in the spirit of living and learning, I humbly suggest you find something else to exploit.

The only monstrous family I want to see on TV is one made of up of adopted or fostered children. If at all possible, it'd be great to follow the lives of a family who takes in the children of an immediate family member, after their tragic death in a car accident.

Thank you for reading.

Warm regards,
Michelle Panik

Monday, November 9, 2009

"Goldengrove" by Francine Prose

I love this:

Margaret's death had shaken us, like three dice in a cup, and spilled us out with new faces in unrecognizable combinations. We forgot how we used to live in our house, how we'd passed the time when we lived there. We could have been sea creatures stranded on the beach, puzzling over an empty shell that reminded us of the ocean.

Francine Prose

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Coronado Library

Today I met my friend Nancy, a Coronado resident, for lunch (I recommend the Gorgonzola Tartine) and a tour of her library (I recommend everything).

This library was originally a small building (see above photo) but has been expanded out several times. The last one incorporated two 1938 Alfredo Ramos Martinez fresco murals. Originally, they were painted on the walls of Orange Avenue restaurant La Avenida Cafe, and transferred to the library in the early part of this century. "El Dia del Mercado" incorporated several cafe doorways, and the Coronado library's front desk was designed around these same spacing parameters. (Check out photo below).

While browsing the stacks, Nancy and I came upon a series of signs with arrows and the word "Playaways." Like good sheep we followed the arrows, and arrived at a shelf of single-unit audio book players. Which are pretty darn cool, because you'd never again check out a CD only to find it scratched. The San Diego libraries don't have Playaways. Coronado's one up on us.

This library is so geared to its small community that it doesn't just take suggestions, it has a suggestion notebook. Patrons write out their opinions and staff then type them up along with a response, and print out and incorporated them into a notebook. My favorite suggestion came from a patron who asked that markers be put back on the rose brushes out front, because "there is one rose bush that I just love, but can't identify". The library staff responded that this idea had been discussed in the past, but has not yet been enacted. I love small towns!

Nancy asked that I mention the "library neck" that seems to afflict a good deal of patrons in libraries the world over. Its symptoms include squinting eyes, a slumped chair position, and a pronounced tilt to one's neck as they devour their tome. I'm not sure what's to be done about it--computer use results in a similar affliction of "telescope neck"--but I'm sure there are worse problems to have.

(El Dia del Mercado.)

(Canasta de Flores.)

(The teen area. Since it was early afternoon, this section was dead.)

(After the library, Nancy took me to Jim Morrison's childhood home.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

2009 "One Book, One San Diego" Title Chosen

I'd like to thank the good people of San Diego for voting for the same book I did--Outcasts United. I will soon be racing all of you to the book stacks to borrow a copy. But don't worry, I was raised better than to push. Although my brother did teach me how to hold my own (elbows out) several long years ago in a Smashing Pumpkins mosh pit.

The press release is available here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"Early Bird" by Rodney Rothman

Watch CBS News Videos Online

I first heard about Early Bird from the above Bill Geist piece on "Sunday Morning". I'd been interested in the book at the time, but well, so many books, so little time. But I stumbled upon the book again recently, during one of my library tours. And I just had the book transferred to my local branch.

Here's the premise: a twenty-eight-year-old former "Late Show" writer moves to a Floridian retirement community to see what his life will be like in forty years. He joins the shuffleboard community; hangs out by the pool with the gossipers; befriends a ninety-three-year-old, foul-mouthed comedienne; and even falls in love with a woman...who's younger than him.

Monday, November 2, 2009


This carrier pigeon has again strayed and is charting a course to a new web address. Missives will now be delivered from the following home:

Same great literary content, nine less characters to type.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

"The Road" by Cormac Mccarthy

A writer friend whom I met at Tomales Bay, John, believes that fiction can make humanity better. After reading The Road, I agree.

Who knew that a father giving his son a can of Coca-Cola could be so beatific?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Local Poet Wins Whiting Award

USD Professor Jericho Brown was just awarded a Whiting Writers' Award. Along with the accolades and another line on a writer's bio, the honor includes $50,000. Which, for Mr. Brown, probably nearly equals his USD salary (I feel authorized to say this; my husband graduated from USD, and thought his professors were all underpaid). Anyhow, good for Mr. Brown; poets aren't paid enough or valued enough in this country. No, I'm not about to rant about poets being rock stars in other countries, but Argentina issued special pesos with Borges' image. I'm not saying I want to live in Argentina (I go desaparecido enough on my own in San Diego), but if our government makes a coin for buffalos, can't we also mint one for Mark Twain, disheveled hair and all?

Friday, October 30, 2009

John Irving is Old School. He Likes Plot.

Next on my reading list is John Irving's Last Night in Twisted River. And after that? The Mayor of Casterbridge.

I like characters. And their thoughts, and their feelings, and their complexes, and their strengths.

I also like scenery. And its vistas, its weather, its milieu.

I also like plot. And I don't have to be embarrassed anymore. Plot is cool. John Irving said so.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

When you change the way you look at things, you look at different things.

Tonight I attended an achievement ceremony for SB 618 as a United Through Reading representative. The ceremony honored offenders who've successfully completed a reentry program. The aim of the program is to break the cycle of repeat offenders, and instead help offenders successfully transition back into society.

One of the program participants gave a speech that included the title of this posting. The speaker recently completed a degree in Underwater Welding, which I'm sure will afford him some interesting viewpoints. But really, bridge and boat welding or not, everything he sees from this point forward will be different.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Bidding Will Start at...

(Hopefully, this empty lot will soon be our new central library.)

For some people, it's action movies. For me, my thrills come from city council meetings. I attended today's session to support getting an updated construction bid for a new central library. The ninety-minute session was a nail biter, with Carl Demaio asking tough questions of whether library funds could be instead be used to pay down the Petco Park debt, and Tony Young wanting to ensure that local construction companies get the work. In the end, the council voted 6-2 in favor of keeping the library project moving.

During the public comment session, it was humbling to hear people speak. There was SDPL Foundation's Chair Judith Harris, the Friends of the SDPL's President John McAllister, and a former Executive Officer from the New York Public Library--people who've dedicated a good portion of their lives to libraries. And then there were students from a local charter school, one of whom said she didn't want to be in college by the time the new library was built. This construction bid is no guarantee that the library will be built. But, least for today, the hard work of these people has not been in vain.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

"The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian" by Sherman Alexie

I saw Sherman Alexie speak about this book at the 2007 LA Times Festival of Books. His talk was funny, outrageous, and sobering. But it wasn't until I was talking with Emma from the San Diego Library Foundation , and she mentioned Alexie having appeared at this year's San Diego Children's Book Festival, that I remembered this book.

With its combination of pathos, humor, and self-deprecation, it is classic Alexie. It's the story of a young Spokane Indian who wants to get off the reservation, and seems to be largely based on his life. The protagonist is a cartoonist, and mixed in with the text are humors comics that comment on the story. Sorta like Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

The book is marketed as for young adults, but it exists in that cross-over section. The part that hit me, as a thirty-year-old, was when the protagonist finds his mother's name written in his geometry book. Not only does he realize that his tribe teaches with thirty-year-0ld books, but that if he doesn't get off the reservation now, he will be there the rest of his life, and so will his kids.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Julian Library

Julian Branch County Library
Visiting Time: 1:00-1:30 PM
Did I get lost on my way? No. Bryan drove. And we had Marc's Magellan.
Book Checked out: None. Just browsing today.

Book Selection: 3 bookmarks
Seating: 3 bookmarks
Staff: 4 bookmarks
Architecture/Atmosphere: 3 bookmarks
Total: 13 bookmarks

So I've visited all thirty-six city libraries in thirty-six days, and I thought I was done. But I simply enjoyed myself too much to stay away. Today, I combined a trip to Julian with my first San Diego County Library.

Julian's library is about a half-mile out from the main street, which is a great way to work up an appetite for pie. I looked around the library with Bryan and some friends but didn't check out a book (although if I'd signed up for a county library card, I could've). But I would've felt too bad returning the book to a city branch, and having the Circuit truck it all the way back to Julian. There are plenty of books in my city to keep me busy.

I spoke with the Assistant Branch Manager, Patty, who told me the library opened in 2004, on land donated from the high school, which sits next door. Previously, the library had resided in a one-room house in town on 4th Street. There is a lot of local art showcased throughout the library, in the form of murals, sculpture, and framed art. In case you were wondering, the library does indeed have a full section about local history, Apple Days, and cookbooks.

Patty told me that she started at this library 12 years ago as a volunteer, and in time moved into her current position. Here's her local tip: Soups n' Such is the best place in town to eat. And here's my tourist tip: while the pies is Julian are awesome, the ones down the road, in Santa Ysabel, are just a good and don't have a line. And Marc and Veronika's tip: the rosemary and olive oil bread at Dudley's can't be beat.

One half of a gate that divides the foyer from the main library.

Cozy and cabin-like, no?

Children's area mural painted by a local artist.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Magazine Love

The new Poets & Writers arrived in today's mail. Quarterly issues simply aren't enough.

Also in my mailbox was an issue of Smithsonian, my lapsed subscription to which I recently renewed. I have missed this magazine, and its presence in my home is not unlike the comfort that comes from having one's mom over for a visit.

I took to heart this passage from David Lamb's article about recently deceased Vietnam photographer, Hugh Van Es:

"I've searched for an answer why I stayed all those years," says George Esper, an AP reporter who spent nearly a decade in Vietnam. "What I keep coming back to was a young nurse from upstate New York.... She was tending the badly wounded. Some died in her arms. And I said, 'Wow. What a woman! Why are you here?' and she said, 'Because I've never felt so worthwhile in my life.' That's how I felt, too."

I met a friend for lunch today. She is struggling to enter the job market after earning a graduate degree. Lately, the rejections have been getting to her. Which, as a writer, I understand. But my friend feels that she is meant to be a therapist, and so can only continue her job search. Writing doesn't involve helping the ill--either on a battlefield or in a medical office--but this doesn't lessen my compulsion to do it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

San Diego Public Library--Vote Next Week!

(Good looking building, huh? Some think it's so good looking that it deserves to be built.)

Sometimes, I'm disappointed that I don't live in a more "hip" city. San Diego doesn't have a thriving arts community. It doesn't have fabulous theatre shows seven nights a week. Writers on book tour only pass through our fine city sporadically. None of our waiters are really actors. And you can't even drink on the beach anymore.

But it doesn't have to be this way. We San Diegans can change our city. Building a new central library--which will not only better support the thirty-five branches, but create a cultural center for arts programs--can be a significant step.

There is a lot of misinformation circulating about the proposed new central library. Its erection will NOT divert monies from the fire department, from Parks and Rec, or other services. If we build this new library, $80 million will come from the city's downtown redevelopment agency. $20 million will from a library construction state grant. Because this library is also going to house a new high school, another $20 million will come from school bonds. There are also significant philanthropical funds.

If you support a new downtown library, you can let your council member know with a quick email. There's even a handy webpage to help you find your council member.

You can find out more information about the new central library on this page of the Library Foundation's website.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"The Member of the Wedding" by Carson McCullers

I know Carson McCullers is a weird writer. I listened to The Ballad of the Sad Cafe on audio tape in high school, and was sufficiently apoplectic. So I don't know why it surprises me that I found The Member of the Wedding strange as well. Maybe it was that Sad Cafe was weird in a good way, but Wedding was just weird.

Sometimes I get really annoyed with books, because I want them to be better. I'm like the crazy soccer mom screaming at her kid to "pick it up!" I know stories can do better.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


This is all that remains of the Green Dragon.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Weekend Plans

San Diego likes tourists. They share our sunshine and bring in money. The Village in La Jolla is always filled with Europeans, and Sea World attracts families from all over the country.

But I wish the Westboro Baptist Church would stay away this weekend.

I first had the pleasure of meeting Fred Phelps and his band of hatemongers in 2002, when his group protested the University of Maryland's performance of "The Laramie Project". (Which I recently blogged about.) The campus was treated to a mob screaming hate and wielding equally hateful signs, like pitchforks. These are the same people who disrupt the funerals of gay people who've died of AIDS, screaming and yelling at the deceased family members that their relative is in hell. The depths of their hate is completely unfathomable.

My lesbian co-worker at UMD filled me in on all about this Church's "work." She'd grown up in West Virginia--a place not exactly known for its open-mindedness--and yet the presence of this hate group (you can't honestly call them a "Church") on our campus made made her completely distraught.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

This Is It

This afternoon I sat by Starbucks' front entrance, rather than on the side patio. It afforded me a view of the door, and the people who went in and out of it.

There was the couple in a pill box, a top-up convertible Audi. They went in together and came out a few steps apart, the man holding blended brown drinks. The woman drove. Quickly.

There was the woman who hopped down from her SUV, hopped from the curb to the street and then back up to the store’s curb. In her return path, there was less hopping, because there was a cup with whipped cream as tall as the drink.

And there was the skater boy—who’s a Starbucks employee—and his girlfriend, who carried out two pink frozen drinks, and didn’t look embarrassed in the least.

And now excerpts from Gerald Stern's "This Is It":
I crawl across the street to have my coffee at the low counter,
to listen to the noise of the saws drifting through the open window
and to study the strange spirit of this tar paper café
I listen to the plans of the three teen-age businessmen
about to make their fortune in this rotting shack
I watch the bright happy girls organize their futures
over and around the silent muscular boys
and I wait, like a peaceful man, hours on end,
for the truck out back to start, for the collie to die,
for the flies to come, for the summer to bring its reckoning.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

100% Egyptian Combed Cotton

The first anniversary is paper, and the second is cotton. Not needing any new beach towels, Bryan opted to get me a box from Godiva. While year ten could be interesting (tin, aluminum), we've decided that, at least for the near future, every anniversary will be chocolate.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What We Say Without Words

At the park this afternoon, there was a father on the swings with his baby son. The son had some sort of developmental disability. The grandparents were there, too, with the grandmother taking video and the grandfather sitting at a nearby table. As Louie and I passed, I smiled at the grandfather in a way that meant I thought his grandson was beautiful, if disabled.

He must get this all the time. He was nice enough to smile back sincerely. And in that smile, and the cock of his head, he told me I'm not the first person who'd felt compelled to be extraordinarily friendly to him and his disabled grandson, and that he wasn't offended.

I was once in a Girl Scout Troop with a girl named Danica, who had Down's Syndrome. We never spoke of Danica's disability, although it impacted all of us--girls, adults, leaders--at every meeting, camping trip, or activity. We knew it was there, but instead of mentioning Down's Syndrome, we'd just ask if Danica wanted to be tentmates.

Monday, October 12, 2009

It Ain't Your Mom's Book Club

Books bring people together. All sorts of communities--prisons, colleges, talk shows, cities--have figured this out and have instituted reading programs. In 2002, I read The Laramie Project along with other University of Maryland students, faculty, and staff.

In 2007, San Diego instituted its One Book One San Diego program. I read--and was profoundly affected by--Enrique's Journey.

The 2010 book will soon be chosen. You can vote by going here.

The candidates:
Dreamers of the Day (Mary Doria Russell)
Outcasts United (Warren St. John)
Song Yet Sung (James McBride)

Friday, October 9, 2009

For Sale: '99 Chrysler Sebring--low miles!

(The guts.)

(The very small working area.)

(The finished product.)

Day Two of Larry and Michelle's Extravaganza of Fun.

The Green Dragon's exterior driver-side door handle has finally been replaced, nearly a year after it broke off. I'm embarrassed it took so long. It makes you think about what people can put up with, adjust to, and/or make peace with. For me, it was climbing over the passenger seat, despite laughter from others.

We consulted these instructions. But only at the start. Four steps in, when my dad was completing the steps quicker than I could read, we decided to blaze our own handle-installation trail, and do it ourselves. And by "ourselves," I of course mean my dad. I think his thirty-one years as a dentist--in which he'd worked on third molars and in other inscrutably tiny spaces--were practice for snapping that white clip back onto the rod.

The whole process took an hour and a half. Which isn't bad considering the instruction's author took five hours his first time.

The car will be on Craig's List shortly. Any takers?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cat Food

My father was visiting a friend a couple days ago, and the friend offered him his leftover Nutri-system food. My father, being a Panik (well, actually, being a Check) couldn't turn down something free.

This evening, we thought we'd give it a try.

We started with the soy crisps, which were rancid. I doubt they tasted good when they were fresh, but these had definitely been around too long.

Ever fearless, we pushed on with the pot roast, which my father eloquently described as "soft beef jerky."

From there, we took a break from entrees and tried the cheesy sweet potatoes. Which looked like baby food and smelled like a household cleaner.

The tuna casserole was the absolute worst. It looked, smelled and--as much as I can surmise--tasted like cat food.

Only the beef and pasta was remotely edible. As my dad said, it's pretty darn tough to mess up pasta.

Then we made the best decision of all, which was to go pick up sandwiches. When we got back, the kitchen still stunk of cat food. Later, though, I heated up some apply cobbler (homemade, NOT Nutri-system) and it seemed to clear out the funk.

Coming soon: I revisit and blog about my favorite childhood snack: the peanut butter and butter sandwich. Ah, youth.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"Sunnyside" by Glen David Gold

Glen was my screenwriting professor at UCSD, and I was so happy when "Carter Beats the Devil" came out a few years ago. But I was slightly underwhelmed by "Sunnyside." I think you have to know more about Hollywood's history to fully understand this book. But I just couldn't bother my brother with incessant phone calls (Who's Mary Pickford? Was Charlie Chaplin spotted in a couple hundred places across the US simultaneously? Why are screenplays so difficult to get produced?). But even if I didn't understand everything, and probably missed out on some of the book's joys, it was still an enjoyable read.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Everybody's Got an Opinion

...and I'm not even talking about healthcare or Jon and Kate plus their eight.

I'm referring to the National Book Award. You can vote for your all-time favorite award winner (as long as your favorite is one of six pre-selected choices).

For my own personal (writing) interests, I like that four of the six candidates are short story collections. The mighty short story.

I am ashamed (am I ashamed? Maybe I'm humbled) to admit that I've read works by five of these six authors, but only portions of three of these award-winning books--Cheever's, O'Connor's, and Welty's.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Flying Front Kick

Our Mini Cooper is not only my first brand-new car, but my first car with a manual transmission. Bryan has been teaching me how to drive a stick shift on his car these past few months. But it wasn't until Friday that I first drove on a freeway.

I'd expected Bryan to be in the passenger seat for the drive home from the dealership to give me advice. Except they offered us a paltry sum for the Green Dragon (it may not having a lot going for it, but it has low miles!), so Bryan drove it home while I took the Mini. I drove seventy miles by myself, including stop-and-go freeway traffic.

Two days earlier, I'd met with Lelani, the head of United Through Reading's Transitions Program. At one point, she showed me pictures of her two sons, and mentioned that they participate in martial arts. She said it was great for their confidence and self-reliance, saying her younger son had become much more outgoing and assertive after beginning Taekwondo.

Today, Bryan and I zipped all over San Diego in the Mini, with me at the wheel. It was like I was going for a black belt, and performing all the skills.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Mini Arrival

I think we could fit four of these in our garage, although one is more than enough fun.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mini Movement

(Ours will be slightly less mini.)

Today, our Mini's online status went from "En Route" to "At Distribution Center," and our motoring advisor emailed to say it's at the dealership. Traffic must've been light on the 405.

BO and I plan to pick it up Saturday morning, and hope to be home sometime before Monday. But with the Toyota Speedway not too out of the way, and nine In-N-Out's between Santa Ana and home, there are no guarantees.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I Kill My Darling

Saturday's love is Tuesday's meal.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bryan's Handler

BO and I bought a motorcycle today. On the drive home I became his handler, following behind so no one would cut him off. I also fended off the ladies with a stick out my window.

People (usually women) keep asking me if I'm nervous for him to be riding a motorcycle. Obviously they haven't spent much time with my methodical, meticulous, intelligent husband. But I understand he can't control how other drivers behave, and perhaps this give me a little apprehension.

Earlier this morning, Bryan and I were in his car and spotted a dog loose in the neighborhood. Bryan asked me to get out and approach the salt-and-pepper poodle. After he led me around the complex a few minutes, he must've decided I was innocent enough and let me pet him. He didn't have a collar, and when I told Bryan this, he said, "We gotta take him home and make up fliers."

But the dog then led me back to a house. After I rang the bell, a man answered, look at me and then at the salt-and-pepper poodle, and said, "Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh."

Dumbly, I asked, "Is he yours?"

He nodded. "Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh."

By this time the dog had sauntered through the door and out of sight. The man thanked me profusely, and I just nodded, said, "Sure," and walked away.

It was Bryan who'd insisted we stop and try to get this dog home safely. I hope other people on the roads will look after my husband, too.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Wooed in the Supermarket

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Allen Ginsberg.

I hear the supermarket's a good place to get a date. In Vons this afternoon, I fell in love with a gorgeous eggplant, and just had to ask it to come back to my place. Luckily, the eggplant agreed.

I have no idea what I’ll make with it—probably parmesan—but not today. I want to admire it for a few more days, in much the same way Rosie O’Donnell once said she wanted to hire Tom Cruise to do work around her house, just for the show.

Summer fruit looks to be all done for this season. The trays that had held lofty pyramids of white nectarines and massive peaches the last few months have been replaced with apples. Don’t get me wrong, I love apples—I really do—but it was mid-eighties today. Those apples must’ve been flown in from below the equator. Summer can’t be over yet, can it? Bryan and I haven’t grilled enough dinners. We need more Saturdays in the backyard with Time magazine and glasses of cranberry juice. I want to take Louie on more nighttime walks, and feel the just-cooling air on my skin. In college, a roommate and I used to run through the campus sprinklers behind our apartment on late nights that were still nearly eighty degrees. Can I do this in our complex?

But the last few mornings have been so foggy it’s almost mist. It clears, but soon it will be clearing later and later in the morning. By the time May gray comes around—with the next summer hiding behind a tight corner—I will be thirty-one. Is that too old to run through sprinklers? What peaches and what penumbras!