28 August 2006

I'm just trying to be the person my cat thinks I am

Our daughter, now that we have a cat she can carry around (just as Olivia does in the book) now wants to adopt fish. I think that might just drive our young and playful burly cat Jack wild, but the daughter is very interested in taking care of her pets. She loved our big black kitty, the gregarious one of two cats we have had since they were kittens, the one who let her haul her all over the place. A few months after she died we adopted a kitten, who was charming, fun, and sweet, and sadly was lost on one of her first times out of doors to a larger animal looking for lunch.

So we waited a few months and adopted another kitty from the pound named Charlie the first time we had met him and Jack the second time. It turned out we checked out a new kitty twice and we liked him the second time. He's sweet, and has some odd things about him but is a good kitty.

When we visited our familial friends in California recently, we met their dog, who was trained as a guide dog and is now a breeder dog instead of a working dog. We liked going for walks there -- it's beautiful and it's nice to get the dog outside. It's fun to see what people are like with their pets, how they interact with them and turn to them for comfort or companionship. And sometimes it's astounding or appalling to see how seriously they take their pets.

And my mind keeps circling back to my daughter's parallels with these critters we bring onto our raft. (With no guarantees they won't get lost or get eaten by crocodiles, but we try to float them along with us.) Sometimes I see it through their eyes and wonder about the dogs and cats who end up in snarling, abusive families. Or neglectful families.

The same things happen to the kids of the world, too. Some kids end up in good environments where they can grow and thrive. Perhaps a higher number of adoptive families thrive because the families have been actively trying to become parents. Self-selected parents, I think the hoops you must jump through.

But plenty of people jump through the hoops and adopt kids and bear kids without a plan. That's what those nanny shows are talking about. These people have the kids and get the houses and cars, stock the pantry full of groceries, and figure the rest will sort itself out, especially once the kids are in school.

And these creatures, the ones we have borne into the world as well as the ones we have adopted into our hearts and hearths, deserve our plan. Deserve to be played with and exercised. I can be a better person to get some gloves so I can clip our kitty's claws. We have to be able to play with him, and we sure can't now (I have a five-minute-old angry red scratch across the back of my hand as I type).


On a brief cat tangent, life has been full of messages that we're all somewhere on the food chain. Yesterday F. told us that the mountain lion that had attacked a boy on a local mountain trail a few months ago has been determined to be a young male, about a year old, starving and mad because it was fighting for territory in an area where older mountain lions are already well established. Everyone's territory is also squeezed by the mountain development (limited growth is still growth, after all, and where do we have to sprawl now that the plains are covered with cookie-cutter houses? the mountains!). That lion attacked the kid while he was holding his father's hand, and he needed a week's stay in the hospital after that. And I imagine that little guy and his family will need some help processing that information over the next while. I send hopeful thoughts his way. And it's yet another reminder that we're not always at the top of the food chain and we always need to keep our eyes and instincts sharp.

26 August 2006

No religion no politics no soliciting no shoes

We're missing our charming do not knock sign (we don't really mean the "no shoes" thing in our house, if the truth be told). Now the door-to-door folks are upon us.

Tonight the knock came the minute we had finished our roast chicken dinner. My daughter and I opened the door to a woman who could probably earn a small fortune in Japan as a Venus Williams lookalike, asking if I could help people including herself get themselves up off the streets and go after some goals instead of all that loser stuff they were doing before, in her case in the inner city of Baltimore, Maryland. (This, though I don't always know how much of these raps to believe, is what makes me want to open the door. I find people's stories irresistible.)

When I offered her a glass of water, knowing what it's like to go door-to-door, she asked for chips instead, which I produced. We then proceeded down the road of her magazine sales pitch. She did that thing where she handed me the clipboard with the list of "people I've been talking with in your neighborhood -- here's one over on N_____ Street." So I had to take her clipboard and I had to look at the list, even though I pretty much knew what would be on it. (Maxim, Sports Illustrated, and Elle are the norm, so I found the Notre Dame sports magazine an odd inclusion.) I found as she spoke, though, that I didn't like the smell on this girl (cigarettes, alcohol), and the things she said sounded like excuses the way she put them.

I asked how much it would be to buy a couple magazine subscriptions for poor kids, because they offered this new option. It sounded good: I would never get any bills or renewal requests. She scribbled and calculated and showed me an outrageous figure. Well, I've been around the block and felt I'd be a fool to pay for subscriptions at those rates. To boot, she could not produce a shred of information about the money going to the kids vs. the money spent on administration or overhead (the expenses of teaching kids scripts and driving them all over urban areas).

When I declared, "I'm sorry, but I couldn't possibly do that," Venusene's wide nostrils flared further with rage. It was 8 at night on Saturday and she was no doubt dashed, thinking she finally had that last sale. She lost it when I announced it was the principle: "I would rather give your organization the money and not go through the whole rigamarole of ordering overpriced magazines."

"You'd rather give my organization the money," she repeated back to me slowly. "That's like stealing from me! That doesn't put dinner on my kids' table. I got a 4-year-old, and an 11-year-old, and that doesn't give me any commission.

"Here." Venusene thrust the chips I'd given her into my daughter's hand and stalked off.

When we'd gone back inside, my daughter asked, "What did she mean by that, when she said, 'That's like stealing from me'?"

I said, "I do not see it that way. That's too extreme a view of it. For her it just means she doesn't make the money she wants to make, but that was an unfair way to put it. Mean, even."

"She was probably tired and hungry. It's Saturday night and she's probably been out walking around for hours," added my husband.

I could see the gears turning in my daughter's head -- it's news to her that people don't always mean what they say, or that people might disagree about whether others speak the truth. She's just recently grasped the abstract concept of sarcasm: saying one thing and meaning another. So I see her grappling with what it means when what someone says doesn't reckon with what she knows.

But I do know what it feels like to lose a sale when you really need one: I've been on the same side of the door as our Venus lookalike. I actually did it a couple of times. The first was selling encyclopedias (New Standard brand - not even very good ones) and another time I canvassed for CalPIRG, the public interest research group in California (in that day Colorado's was COPIRG but is now Environment Colorado).

I remember the encyclopedia sales team leader on our excursions into Denver calling the houses that looked like good sales prospects "mooches." A Volvo in the driveway: mooches. Toys and tricycles on the lawn: mooches. The signs were the houses just up from poverty, people who knew what it was like to be poor but were trying to make it better for their kids.

I would knock at these doors and ask to schedule an appointment to come back later. If they said yes it was a slightly more formal arrangement and they would be inviting me in, which gave me a big boost. Sometimes the family simply wasn't home at the appointed time, and I quickly learned not to be surprised by this.

Once inside, we were supposed to read from our copied-down scripts. (To get our scripts, we listened to someone recite it and copied the words, pretty much as fast as we could write, until we got a break for sodas and snacks (and socializing, no small part of the cultural immersion process), and repeated the cycle several times until we had the whole thing in our spiral-bound notebooks.)

We had been advised to not to worry about feeling embarrassed or awkward when reciting the script because that was "normal." We were instructed to ask our prospects for water, and to compliment them on their "nice home." (That became a permanent habit, actually. Except I usually say "house" -- "home" always seems pretentious, like saying "wealthy" instead of just "rich.")

But I found that when I started learning the script too well, after two or three weeks, it wasn't as effective; that fumbling newbie thing really did tug at the heartstrings of the young families. (I still have that notebook, and I remember how our team leaders instructed us to always read from the script we had written down, even if we'd memorized it. I found that surprisingly difficult. I wanted to recite the parts I knew.)

I remember getting dropped off in neighborhoods all around Denver. I never forgot one great couple in central Denver who were very apologetic when they cancelled their order. We liked each other so much that I actually felt much better about the whole thing when I heard that they'd cancelled. By the end of my four weeks of selling encyclopedias I would have pitied them had they actually gone through with the purchase; they would have ended up paying $2,400 for a $700 set of books. I came to feel terrible about saddling those few poor hopeful families with all that debt. It became a little stain on my conscience.

Canvassing felt different, though, because I got a place to put some of my self-righteousness (before getting taken down a peg or two by people's stunning indifference or resistance to talking to someone at their door who says, "Hi, I'm so-and-so and I am wondering whether you care about your water. I'm here for the California Public Interest Research Group and... yadda yadda yadda."). I found I was very unwelcome in the high-security Defense-contractors' backyards, around what had recently become Silicone Valley; in some Sunnyvale neighborhoods I started guessing in advance how many doors would be slammed in my face on a given evening. I was far more welcome in Palo Alto and Burlingame and the liberal enclaves where earnest good-doing people like the ones I grew up around answered the door with their babes at their ankles saying, "Why yes, I do care about my water!" as if they'd just been waiting for me to knock. Sometimes they surprised me and subscribed at $100 or even $75 instead of the basic $35 level and I felt charmed and had great days without even trying.

In my six-week stint canvassing in California, I came to love the days I got to go to the Peninsula's safe, comfortable neighborhoods, where I'd find a school playground and a niche where I could sit and write. I'd go door to door for a while and as a reward tuck myself into a at a park or into a booth at a diner for a piece of pie and a couple of cups of coffee and would just write like crazy. I don't remember what I wrote about, but I had to write.

Today I choose my interactions more carefully, and those doorstep transactions seldom seem like a good way to work with people, from either side of the door. (Although I do delight in opportunities to deploy my "Thank you, but I already believe" line on the Jehovah's Witnesses.) Yet I still question whether I should post a do not disturb sign on my door. One friend surprised me with his strong reaction against doing so. "No politics!?" he exclaimed, incredulous.

I read a good Miss Manners (aka the disarmingly clever Judith Martin) once in which she suggested that the best response when you wanted to say no without explaining yourself was to say, "Oh, I couldn't possibly." I felt the same way, sincerely, with Venusene's magazine pitch tonight. Is that a total cop-out? I don't think so. As an adult, I now have the privilege of choosing the people I work with, the business I transact, the political discussions I engage in. And we certainly extend ourselves in many ways in both our immediate community and in our larger one, too. It's nothing so simple as not wanting to help people, or wanting to "steal" someone's commission for selling magazines. I just don't like doing it in on those terms, on my doorstep on a Saturday night, during dinner. Been there, done that.

24 August 2006

Things I loved about our trip to San Francisco, Part 2: Dinner at the Most Pretentious Restaurant Ever

It turns out we have a slender thread of a connection to a touristy-trendy dinner spot at the Ferry Building, which is that the person who started it used to work with a group of mutual friends and catered the wedding of two of them. But I didn't know this when we went to dinner, and I'm afraid that it would have only made me perceive the cool and distance of it all more acutely. But the connection does bear out my theory that there are only two, maybe three degrees of separation between you and anyone you would really want to meet or know or work with. (And yes, I do believe in ending sentences with prepositions.)

I loved the decor, especially the bar backdrop, a curved wall of stacked glass that glowed a gentle pool turquoise, allowing light from the kitchen behind it to bleed through. I was equally wowed by some of the bronzed, Pilates-fit women in trendy jeans and strappy tops who were gathering for parties. (There were several groups.) Then I made myself look around at more of the people and saw them, too: the earthy Bay Area liberal, aging but gracefully -- nay, even forcefully at times, draped in solid colors of linen and hemp and cotton and wearing comfortable, durable shoes. I saw fellow tourists in ill-fitting khakis and Lands End polo shirts. I saw well-heeled people from all over, and watched people snap pictures of their plates (for their memories? for their food blogs?).

Our waiter had clearly decided we were just tourists: when he asked, "Have you been here before?" which I realize in retrospect is an irritating question that implies there's some kind of special code to dining there, Two of us said no and two said yes. He treated us with professional distance, which amounted to what felt like disdain at times. From behind his thick, squared dark frames ("aggressively trendy" was a phrase that popped into my head more than one time that night), our waiter (who never once overstepped a boundary by telling us anything so common as his name) peered at us, brought us intensely delicious and not oversweet cocktails, and when quizzed about the fish choices, leaned in toward our group making it clear he was making a special one-time-only effort to educate us, and said earnestly, "The caramelized prawns are the dish that epitomize the flavor intention of the restaurant." I almost burst out laughing then and there but was distracted by my kaffir-lime and ginger drink. I've never heard anything so pretentious in my life. (And not one of us ordered the dish.)

Our drinks were memorable (and at $9 a pop I was expecting nothing less). The ginger limeade was tart and not very sweet, the kaffir lime vodka adding a lovely twist. But I was wowed by my second drink, the Daiquiri No. 3 (Barbancourt 15 yr. rum, lime, maraschino liqueur [which is not the syrup that comes in the cherry jar], and fresh grapefruit juice, from the recipe from La Floridita, in Havana). Some would argue that using a sipping rum in a mixed drink is all wrong, but here it's fantastic. My husband and I discovered the North Beach restaurant Enrico's in the couple of years before we moved out of San Francisco and they made Hemingway daiquiris that were good but could only dream of being this good. My husband's mojito was good, strong and straightforward. My friend had two Phantasms, which are lemongrass-infused vodka with falernum, which she was assured was not sweetened with sugar. Indeed the drink was not sweet but it was smooth and luscious.

The food was very good but I wasn't quite as knocked out as I expected to be. As I studied the menu, I agonized over my choices more because these flavors and ingredients remind me of my own cooking at times and I wanted to find something I would not be able to do at home. So I had the jicama and grapefruit salad, which really should be billed as the cabbage, jicama, and grapefruit salad. Delicious and fresh in a way that was cleansing but not filling. In contrast, I had a rich Niman Ranch ribeye steak, cooked to perfectly medium rare and caramelized on the outside with a wonderful salty-sweet spiced marinade. Fortunately, everything comes out ready for sharing family-style, and everyone got to try the ribeye, the stir-fried Alaskan black cod, and the lovely cellophane noodles with Dungeness crab. We loved the "spicy Dirty Girl Farm haricot verts with honshimeji mushrooms," and I swooned over the dessert, the rice cake with coconut cream and mango.

I was pleased that the quality of the food eclipsed the too-cool waiter experience. It was a delicious evening, and our company was excellent, of course. But what I will never forget is the waiter telling me what dish best "epitomizes the flavor intention." There's another good foodie blog name: Flavor Intention. (And with that, we bid adieu to the former winner of this dubious honor, the Library at Chaminade Whitney, with its textbook-lined walls and cognac cart.)

Things I loved about our trip to San Francisco, Part 1: Getting there

It had been three years since our last visit, too long. So it was a pleasure to touch down on the narrow landing strip on the San Francisco Bay. It was clear and hot the day we arrived. My daughter and I came out early and went to Marin on BART/Ferry, which meant our day was getting up before six, my sweetie driving us to the airport, airport train, plane to L.A., lunch with one of the grandpas, and back to the aiport and another plane to San Francisco, the airport train, the BART train to the Ferry, and the Ferry to Larkspur, where our friends were there to meet us with their car. Phew! I must have thanked myself ten times for ditching some of my stuff and repacking into a small wheeled suitcase on which I could carry my daughter's booster seat. She was quite enthusiastic about the many modes of transportation and wheeled her suitcase everywhere. I had also found a Dora the Explorer's kid's-sized carry-on at a thrift store a few months back and had put it on the present shelf. This seemed like the perfect time to give it to the little one, and indeed it was nice to be able to check her suitcase and leave her with a hands' free case she liked and could easily manage. She likes to bring Maya the pink poodle these days; she is getting glimpses of many airports from her soft toy pet carrier.

The best part of the trip was certainly the ferry ride. It was hot and clear, amazingly so for summer in the Bay Area. We sat out on the back and got sprayed and splashed with the salty Bay water, having been amply warned by someone talking with his friend so that we could hear him and saying how it cracks him up to see the tourists getting wet. We didn't mind the water, though -- in fact, my daughter was quite surprised and fascinated by the saltiness. I thought at some point we'd get cold air streaming in from outside the Bay but a chill only lasted about three minutes before it was hot again.

The guy talking with his friend reminded me of someone I knew in college from working on the newspaper. He was funny and interesting, and I had the sensation that he was flirting with me without even talking to me. But he was just the kind of person I would have gravitated toward at a party, so I just basked in the sun and moist air while my daughter delighted in the wind and waves. I listened as he and his friend had beers from the ferry bar and bantered and groused about working with Google folks who paid stunningly little for their stock in the IPO (one tenth of one cent per share) and are ridiculously rich now. At one point he speculated that he'd understand about having kids soon enough (this made me look for a ring, which he did not wear). Then guy's phone rang at one point. "That sounds like a real phone," said his friend, surprised at the old-school ring tone. "It is," funny guy said. "I finally got rid of the toy one a few months ago."

At the end of our half-hour cruise, funny guy offered me a hand with our luggage, which I just couldn't bring myself to accept, given that I still had a hand free. But I had this funny feeling that I'd sort of met a sweet, gallant fellow and I wish him well in the world.

More highlights to come....

22 August 2006

Trip report: Denver Mint and Berry Patch Farms, all in one morning

We hopped in the car this morning at 9:08 and zipped down to Denver. I puzzled over how carrying a six-year-old can really be considered carpooling but apparently is, so we did all our puzzling in the hov lane, which was open all the way to where we had to go. We got off I-25 at Speer South and drove to Colfax, where we found the Denver Mint. We found a parking lot nearby, waited with our friends (who had fortunately printed out the tour reservation number they had obtained beforehand), and we went on the tour. One of our group had checked the U.S. Mint's website the day before and had sent an e-mail with all the security information about what you are not allowed to bring on the tour. This saved us considerable time and grief: We all knew we had to come with just a tiny wallet (the size of a man's billfold at most) and no backpacks or purses or water bottles or anything extra. I carried only my glasses, keys, and a coin-purse, and we didn't have to dash and return anything to the car. Incidentally, I noticed that the website says no tours will be given if the Homeland Security Level is at Orange, but it is now Orange and tours seem to be proceeding as usual.

Our friend had reserved our ten slots on the tour well in advance; she thought of it in early July and between the advance notice the Mint required and the conflicts among four families' schedules, the earliest slot we could find for the tour was today.

But it's always fascinating to see the making of money. You get to see blanks going into stamp-and-die machines and coming out as pennies. They did one of the best things at the very beginning and handed each participant on the tour, adults and children alike, an uncirculated state quarter. If left sealed, they are relatively rare and valuable. We learned a little more about why on the hour-long tour, which was just interesting enough to keep the adults going, if a little over the younger kids' heads.

My friend and I later confirmed each other's memories of seeing sheets of uncut paper money on the tour back when we visited the Denver Mint as kids, even though I think I remember learning that it wasn't printed in Denver (San Francisco, I believe, was the place for that). I remember seeing more of the building on that tour, too. Today we had armed police officers watching our every move.

The tour is only an hour long and it's free. I'd say don't take kids under six and expect them to be thoroughly diverted unless they have a particular fascination with money or machining (or counterfei-- oh, never mind). But with a family or out-of-town visitors who allow you time to plan in advance, it can be a fun little diversion. I think a family or smaller group might often be able to queue up just before the hour and see if there are last-minute no-shows or openings, but larger groups would do well to plan ahead.)

So instead of the gallery hopping in Denver I had envisioned, we switched gears in a big way and drove out to a berry patch after the tour. It's pretty far out northeast of Denver, about a 25-30 minute drive from Speer and Colfax. We went north on I-25, east on I-76, and north on 85. After a few miles (a little past the E-470 junction) we turned east on 136th and almost missed the left on Potomac, whose street sign is hidden neatly behind a tree.

We made a u-turn and went north on Potomac to Berry Patch Farms, which turned out to be a beautiful site with shade trees and picnic tables, with chickens and turkeys roaming free and fields of ripe organic produce and flowers, some of which you are invited to pick yourself. We joined our friends for lunch at a picnic table. As usual, my daughter evinced both fascination and horror at the animals just roaming around. "The chicken is going in the parking lot! Is that okay, Mama?" And "That dog is touching me!" And twenty minutes later, "I petted it! I petted the dog!"

We ate our lunch quickly (we were on a schedule & had to be back in town by 1) and then got cardboard pint baskets from someone in a little shed and headed out to pick raspberries, which are at their peak now. I coached my daughter on finding the darkest berries, the ones that just slip off the ends of the vines. The farmers say the raspberries are at their peak this week.

You can also pick strawberries, cut flowers, pull carrots, and harvest other vegetables. Check it out, especially if you have more time than we did to stay and enjoy the picnicking -- and the picking and eating. Berry Patch encourages people to munch as they pick, a real treat in the raspberry patch. One of the kids picking near us kept saying, "It's raspberry heaven! Come over here for more raspberry heaven!"

And we got back just in time for my daughter's 1 pm camp. Phew!

21 August 2006

The hawk incident

We had a frightening experience during our recent California vacation. In the car on the way to the open space park, I was mentally totting up how perfect it all was -- we were seeing friends, swimming, playing tennis, and now going blackberry picking in Marin County with some of our dearest people. I was beaming with joy at all of it, and at my beautiful goddaughter and her mother's idea that we go to pick fresh fruit.
After we parked, I stood in the warm sunshine with my six-year-old daughter and watched her clean hair shining in the sun.

A pair of hawks circling overhead caught my eye.

"Look! Hawks!"

And together we saw them circling the August-gold hilltops of Marin that are dotted with Live Oak and speckled no doubt in the raptors' view with songbirds and snakes and mice and the like. But then they circled nearer to us.

And I kept my eyes on them, because my daughter is my daughter and she weighs but 35 pounds, and because I am her mother. And they kept not going away, not continuing on their rounds, but staying near. Circling closer. They were big and powerful birds, hunting in a pair, which we'd seen at a park falconry demonstration in Arizona last winter. And suddenly I was deeply afraid of them. "Those birds are just little dinosaurs. Raptors are predators. That's their job. My kid is small. And this is all happening so fast." I caught a mental glimpse of a bird on my child and just said No. Terrified to the core at this point, sure they were zeroing in on us any second, with my tender-on-the-outside daughter just standing there shining in the sun, I told my little one, "We have to go to the car right now!" and snatched her up and dashed for the shelter of the car. We even rolled up the windows, because the hawks stayed around for a little while longer.

It was eerie; I felt as if the fear I felt and admitted had turned me into a bullseye for them and all my instinct told me was to get my child under cover as fast as I could. And I didn't think twice but just did it. Scared the bejeesus out of her, too, poor thing. But I keep talking about it with her as something good to remember. We live in a world with bears, mountain lions, dogs, birds, and all sorts of wild animals who are just doing their jobs and looking for food. We have to remember we're not always at the very top of the food chain. And when confronted with animals, we need to trust our instincts.

Our blackberry-picking friends who accompanied us on this outing had no idea what was going on, and maybe thought me paranoid. But I have no regrets. We're here, intact.


And twenty or so minutes later we felt safe enough to come out. But it was truly frightening

20 August 2006

Some instinctive feng shui

We need to give our pets our attention (petting and stroking), security, exercise, and light, as well as food and fresh water.

And if we can't handle that, we need to give them to someone who will. They are sweet if we are sweet with them.

I find our pets and our daughter actually have a lot in common. They weren't the ones who chose their families; they were chosen by the parents. And you look at some pets and you are glad they landed in a good family and others you wish you could bail out of their families.

03 August 2006

The answer: See Irish women sing like Barbie dolls, if Barbies could sing

I walked upstairs after posting on this blog a few nights ago and was astonished to find a message on my answering machine, as if in answer to my earlier post.

My uncle had called me to say he had an extra ticket to go see Celtic Woman and did I want to come? Of course I wanted to, and I did, the night before last. (Last night I ushered a performance of improv Shakesperean comedy. I haven't had much time to post.)

So we watched Disney-lite versions of Irishwomen come out and pose in gowns that would be bridal if not for their variety of hues and tones, as if to identify each woman with a specific element in the production and Irish scheme of things (one woman had a dress the color of seafoam, straight blonde locks flowing well past her shoulders, a voice like polished silver, and was clearly intended to represent the water element; another danced carefully to the rhythm within her shoulder-length, marcelled auburn hair and swath of pine-green silk. Two of the women had dark birthmarks on their faces, whether authentic I don't know). They did carefully choreographed moves that flicked their hair and showed off their bright smiles as their clear voices merged and harmonized into the night air. But the prevalence of long, dramatic gowns made the proceedings all quite static, with one exception: the high-stepping fiddler. She stepped and twirled all over, in turns electrifying and by the end of the show pesky as a bee at a picnic. And in part she was irritating because she was one of the only things that moved. Aside from a dance the women did with their song about having to choose between the rich man and the poor man at the village dance (which they did in silk dresses that trailed on the floor, an odd and unnecessary choice of fashion over function), the Irish lasses came out and posed, sang their designed-to-be-inspiring, reach-for-the-first-cliche songs, with a big boom from the drummers from time to time that served to automatically jolt the audience into applause. Very cute, awfully cheesy, with the occasional bit of traditional music worked in (including a couple of very pretty Italian arias sung by the seafoam soprano).

We didn't stay for the last song or two, but left the stars and stone of Red Rocks Amphitheater for the refuge of a Starbucks, where we dissected the show and talked about family stuff, which left me feeling in part that I know things are bad (zero cash flow is a recurring theme), but I could also see that my aunt's idea of chaos also could be a world away from my uncle's. And after spending time with him I can see that he is struggling, but aren't we all? And I came back again to the fact that he isn't asking me for anything, except to be there. And I am. So all is well in a way, despite his health falling apart and his life pushing him in that direction. Everybody's got sicknesses or catastrophic problems, but there's no one who can do anything about that except them on some level. And if he needs something from me, I have to trust that even though I'm his niece, he will ask for it.

So is it callous or simply realistic of me to say that it's enough for now to know he knows that I am here for him, and to let him call me and invite me to a concert once in a blue moon? I don't think that's a small thing. And if it's a generational point of pride, as my sweetie suggests, that's not to be trifled with either. Just giving a little of yourself seems like something big sometimes. Even if it doesn't solve the underlying problems, just being there seems like the right thing, the only thing to do.