Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Tomato Let Down

Stinko. Growing tomatoes in Arizona seems to be a bust.
I arrived a year ago this week, with several heirloom tomato plants in the van. I started them as seeds in February, and I wasn’t going to leave them behind. What the hell, it is Memorial Day, the usual time to put plants into the ground. I’ll stick them in the Arizona ‘soil’ and see what happens. In the 110 heat of the Arizona summer they fried up.
First round; no good.
Well, perhaps it is the season; here people grow things from Sept-May not May-Sept. I’ll start up some new ones in August. These grew, but it wasn’t light enough or warm enough to put out anything.
Second round; no good.
I’ll start really early this year, January rather, so they are grown and done by May time. I’ll use containers and pots, to keep off the bugs and assure the watering. I barely got some fruit, but these were puny and bugs got to them. And then they started to fry in the hot May sun.
Third round; is forfeit and game.

Well, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. I am growing peppers. So far, they are doing nicely. They look healthy and thriving (the tomato plants look miserable in contrast). I hope to get a lot of peppers in different colours, sizes and heat intensity.
Let’s see how they fare this summer time.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

"What I did this summer"

I don’t recall writing these lame papers in elementary school. Did anyone?

We are watching our pennies this year, so what summer trips we have two criteria; they are not too expensive and they are out of Phoenix.

Trip #1 – to Colorado; to attend a family reunion.
My father is organizing this, and I am going to lend support. It sounds a bit disappointing as none of my brothers or first cousins will be there. Mostly my father’s cousins, who are my first cousins, once removed. I am looking forward to seeing Colorado as well as kin.
Trip #2 – to Flagstaff; to attend a pride event.
We will volunteer therein and then see the local sights. Driving through Flagstaff on the way here last year, it looks like northern Michigan. That may be nice to experience ‘back east’.
Trip #3 – to Tucson; to attend to a friend.
A chum comes to Arizona – in the middle of July! – to hike and catch butterflies (and no doubt get sun stroke in the process). We’ll go see him and give out water.
Trip #4 – to Santa Fe; to attend the opera.
We saw NM last winter. We will see it now in summer. We get to see this legendary opera house, and hear Salome, one of my favorites.

That is ‘what I did this summer” – or will do.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Tea Time

My first cup of tea was with my maternal grandmother. I remember quite well the tea things. She drank Red Rose brand. I don’t remember when I first had my first cup; I must have been young when I was allowed to sip a taste. Later, I had a British nanny, who would have her chicks over once a month for tea. Memories are vague, but the emotional recall is that of pleasure. It gave me a sense I was doing something like adults. I knew my grandmother drank it, so it must be something that ladies and gentlemen drink (my parents were coffee drinkers, which had no élan). I can see still the white porcelain cup with its pale gray and blue grape vines, the brown, clear warm liquid therein, with steam rising. Back then I used sugar, 2 spoonfuls, that did not always dissolve right away. There would be some grains to swirl at the bottom of the cup.
So tea arrived first as a ritual, a social interaction. “let’s make a cup of tea’ my grandmother would say on winter weekend mornings. It was a sort of social ‘glue’, a tonic for all emotions. It cheered you up when one was down; it calmed you down when one was frazzled.
My parents did not drink hot tea, but iced tea was consumed in season. In the summer, my mother would put 3 or 4 teabags in the same curved metal pot and place it in the sun. I saw it in the same ilk as strawberries, melons and other treats only available in summer time.
I never moved on to coffee. Coffee seemed dull, something my parents drank in the morning to get going. It has a delightful smell but its dark opaque pungent cup did not suggest peace. It certainly did not have the social appeal (in my mother’s defense she had many coffee socials; with an olive green percolator chugging along, but I was not invited to those hen parties.
I’ve graduated from Red Rose a long time ago. I drink all sorts of tea now – green, white, oolong and black. How pleased I was to find out that at least one thing I liked turns out to be good for me! I have a basket of varieties for different times of the day and needs.
And I drink alone. It is another element of my life where I stand apart; I am a tea drinker in a coffee world.
But the routine of boiling water, hearing the impatient whistle announce ‘it’s time!” and the sights and sounds of that first poured cup – well, it still evokes serenity and a sense of peace.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sitting Still in Palm Springs

I am never on time for vogues. In contrast to my German like promptness for everything else I am usually 2-5 years behind in discovering what others are talking about and doing now. Some examples; I love AbFab, but did not see them until they were off the air. I read the Da Vinci Code as late as last year. I may do better with “Little Britain’, a BBC show others tell me I would very much like. I haven’t seen it yet but at least it is still ‘current’. Another area where I am ‘behind the times’ is the discovery of locations. I “discovered’ Key West in 1980, long after its glory days. I move into ‘hot areas’ 5 years later than I should have. The list goes on and on.
And this is so for Palm Springs. Living in Michigan, I wasn’t sure where Palm Springs was let alone have visited. It might as well have been on the moon, somewhere in California I am told. Now that I live in Arizona, it is a few hours drive away. So I was finally able to see this legendary place.
There are wide open areas, parties, hints of decadence, a bar every other block and some talk about building a church. As Twain would say “It is no place for a Presbyterian, and I did not remain one long”.
What a place. I was recently given a tour of the homes where the stars of yesteryear lived in the 40s and 50s. Modest homes some of them; now beyond most people’s income. It gives the impression of having evolved into something new/else every 10 years or so. And it is still growing. I hope there is some sort of “plan’ for it. But I digress. I enjoy this city. I have not seen much of it so far, but the scenery is nice and I feel quite at home. I also feel young. Even at 44 I feel a youngster there. I wonder who takes care of all these seniors? No doubt themselves, as one needs a lot of cash to be there.
Someone and I drive to Palm Springs this Memorial Day weekend with the purpose of doing nothing. I will channel my mother; as kids we were bewildered by her notion of a vacation – to sit still somewhere with an iced tea and read a book. What a spoilsport.
Now that I am 44 I see the wisdom in this. I shall bring a few books and some sunscreen, and not much else. I just hope I am not too out of practice

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Composing a Theme Song

In a recent entry I wondered who is my audience. Today I wonder what is my blog’s ‘theme’.

Reading and rereading my favorite writers I notice each has a sort of ‘niche’. They not only write in a style all their own but stick to a general topic. Some examples<
Ellis < writes about Catholicism
Vowell < history
Sedaris < his family
Perry < life a gay man
Holland < the joys and sorrows of every day items.
You get the drift. Even my ‘colleagues’, the few bloggers I know and read regularly, each hae a general theme; one writes about his daily happenings. One writes about fish and “B” movies.

Trained first as a biologist, I think of writers and bloggers as successful plants that found a niche through a sort of evolution (and survived the lesser fit rivals). Nice metaphor. That leaves me in a mercurial state. I haven’t developed a style, let alone a general leitmotif. I wonder if one is born with the knack for scribbling out thoughts, or does one develop such over time (the evolution thing again; influenced by my current (slow) read through the original “Origin of Species”).
I’ve had two mistakes at the onset. One is to try to talk about this/that and everything. It may appeal to my tiny ADD wired mind but the blog comes across flighty, like a hummingbird. The other error is trying to write/emulate like my favorite writers. I think this is complimentary, but perhaps some would consider it unoriginal if not copycatting.
Well, like evoluation, it is a slow process of what works/doesn’t work and what survives. How this will look a year from now may be radically different; it may have died out even.

Meanwhile, I poke about and think and snoop for ideas and inspiration.
Readers of Spo, what would you want to see and hear?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

My Top 25 Short Stories

I love short stories. Like most lovers of the artform, I have my favorites. Most people have them, the ‘oh, you’ve got to read this one!’ list. Lists like these are irrelevant, as one likes in short story vary as much as any art form - might as well make a list of ‘my favorite paintings’ and expect people to be equally transported. There’s no accounting for taste.

I doubt I could explain why I love these 25; I know they hit home.

At the End of the Mechanical Age – Donald Barthelmy

A Christmas Memory – Tobias Wolfe

The Conversion of the Jews – Phillip Roth

The Dead – James Joyce

The Duchess and the Jeweler – Virginia Woolf

Everything that Rises Must Converge – Flannery O’Connor

The Garden Party – Katherine Mansfield

The Grave by the Hand-post – Thomas Hardy

Gryphon –Charles Baxter

How Wang Fo was Saved – Marguerite Youcenar

In the Garden of the North American Martyrs – Tobias Wolfe

In the Land of Men – Antonya Nelson

The Jewbird – Bernard Malamud

A Life of Crime – Diane Leslie

The Little Match Girl – Hans Christian Anderson

The Magic Barrel – Bernard Malamud

Menagerie; A Child’s Fable – Charles Johnson

The Ones who walk away from Omelas – Ursula K. LeGuin

A Painful Case – James Joyce

Pie Dance – Molly Giles

Revelation – Flannery O’Connor

Roman Fever – Edith Wharton

Signs and Symbols – Vladimir Nabokov

Sleeping Arrangements – Laurie Cunningham

A View from Riverview Cemetery – Jane Moffet

Friday, May 19, 2006

A Couple of Old Cats

I’ve had a few friends and patients recently convey the news their pets have died or were put down. For someone who does not own pets, this may not sound too bad, but it is very tragic for those who loose Puss or Fido. I notice this is more so in people without spouses or children. Friends whom I have never seen crack have done so when the four foot companion departed. It is a loss without adequate words.

After a life time of dogs, I got two cats back in the early 90s. I was ready for disappointment. I think I was also thinking ‘short term’. To my surprise they have been good companions. Quite unlike each other, they make a good ‘couple’ < a skinny, black cat and a fat, white cat. I often wondered and worried ‘what would happen to them’ if I were to go before them. I had visions of them lost in a pound or on the street.
That was 15 years ago if it was a day. I am older and show no signs of going soon. But they show signs of aging as well. They are slowing down, not as frisky. The white cat has a haggard look around his face. Both seem OK but these recent announcements from others make me sit up. Cat days are numbered. I too will be quite overwhelmed when they go. I am getting tearful as I type the thought.

I once asked my English Lit professor which of the Shakespeare plays is the most tragic. She replied without pause it was King Lear. Why is that? “Because Lear sees his children die before him, the greatest tragedy there is. No one should see their children die before they do”.
It is a stretch, but apt for pets as well.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

5 Mawkish Splendors

Lucky me! The things that give me the most joy are simple, cheap, and available.
Oh, I have some more exquisite tastes and fancies, such as Pol Roger Champagne (NV), Stag’s Leap Wine, smoked salmon from the Pacific Northwest but these are not ‘every day’ treats to be sure.
Here is a list of my five favorites; I am curious to know if others agree;
1) Hot water. For bathing, lounging, cleansing and making tea. It still remains a brilliant anxiolytic treatment, without the nastiness of Xanax type medicines.
2) Bad weather. Thunderstorms are my favorite; snow storms will do; a tornado near by (but not too near); and hurricanes hitting elsewhere are jolly good fun.
This is the one splendor I don’t get much out here in Spo Land; hot bright weather doesn’t do it for me as winds and rain. Let’s hope the ‘Monsoons’ put out this year.
3) A back scratch. Ooh! Nothing beats a good scratch, especially to the middle of the back, curiously designed to make others scratch for you. Getting Someone to apply enough nail and pressure is sometimes a challenge.
4) Reading. I am thankful that the joy of reading sank in early and continues. I always have new books on hand, and there are the old favorites to revisit. Some books deserve to be read at various stages in one’s life time.
5) Oh, I will leave this one blank just in case my mother is reading.

Monday, May 15, 2006


So far I’ve managed to avoid talking about politics (nasty), my family (lest they be reading), and Someone (who wouldn’t like our dirty laundry out in public). I’ve written a few pieces on where I live and what I do, both for a living and as past times. I don’t want to complain about the government, as everyone seems to be doing that, and they may be reading too (I wish them luck on my phone calls though, which are mostly from psychiatric patients; I wonder what they sound like to a NRA flunkey?).

So what is there next/left?
As Prior Walter says in Angels in America “It’s something you learn after your second theme party; it’s all been done before”. I can’t come up with any topic, thing or matter that hasn’t been blogged to death already.

Ironically, I have been doing a lot more reading since I started this little pet project. I read my favorite writers, I look at friend’s blogs. I try to get inspiration and look at styles without consciously trying to pilfer. I’ve enjoyed reading books and novels more than ever, as I am now reading for form as well as content. I may never be a good write, but this experience is helping my reading skills, no harm in that.

So, I will stick with advise my 2 blogger friends have given me; write about yourself and write, write, write!.
And if I build it and no one comes, then that is that.

Or, I start to tell all about my family……..

The Whore of Medicine

In the Broadway musical “The Life” a prostitute gets out her calculator and figures that in her lifetime ‘I’ve been laid by 15,000 men”.
I can relate - at least to the high turnover rate. I am in a profession with some parallels.
I interact with a lot of people; they are seen in quick 15 minute time slots. I work for bosses who want their money’s worth from me, so there is no down time. I too feel “worn out and weary” at the end of the day.
On my calculator, my counts are < 4 patients/hour x 8 hours/day x 5 days/week = 160 people a week. And not ‘just people’ but people in pain/crisis/on the verge of destruction.
And then there are the new patients, nicknamed ‘evals’ (short for an evaluation). I am used to having 90 minutes for an eval. I go through a persons’ present and past medical, social and psychological history. Even at 90 minutes it is hardly enough time to get a tip of the iceberg in a person’s life. Here in Arizona the ‘eval’ slot is 45 minutes long. I have to cut details, throw out interesting but hopefully not too relevant material, like their childhood. I have to come up with a diagnosis and plan – and explain it all – by 45 minutes. Since starting this new clinic I have seen 450 evals. 450 / 45 minutes = 10 people per minute. This doesn’t mean anything but it sounds cute.

I think I do a fair job at this. Between my intuition and years of experience I can usually get the gist, but do I really get to “know” anyone? Worse question; does it matter? If “Dicky Purdy” comes in with symptoms one makes the diagnosis/gives him options and goes with it. The analyst part of me cringes every time.

A confession – when a patient does not show up for an a scheduled appointment I am almost elated. Time! A break! Write some notes/return a phone call! or close the door......

I suppose I should not kvetch. Psychiatrists complain some that they are not treated like ‘real doctors. Now I am work like one, only without the stethoscope. Gotta take some bad with the good.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Summertime in Arizona

Tomorrow is our first day of 100 degrees, here in the far off kingdom of Arizona.

Apparently the arrival of the ‘first 100” is a local event; like the last frost or the first snowfall back in Michigan. It is not quite a ‘celebration’, but with so little variation in the weather people are starved for meteorological changes.
I am surprised how I am adapting to the heat. It has been in the 90s most of the month. It feels ‘fine’. I drive around with the windows down without AC and don’t feel at all overheated. It feels hot, but the dry heat seems to make it bearable. We haven’t turned on the AC yet. I see we are the last in the neighborhood to do so. The evenings are a bit hot but the pool is still quite chilly. It makes for a goodnight dip . This week they will reverse – the pool will heat up and we’ll cool down the house.
Up till now, the plants in pots have been thriving, but it is ‘fire time’ now. All greens have to be moved into the shade and watered daily. A lot of work but worth it. My Midwest roots are telling me to ‘turn up the gardening’ as it is May but in Arizona it is ‘shut down’ time.

So the heat starts – and the endless string of clear, intensely bright, and bloody hot days that won’t let up until October. Only break in the matters will be in July. Then we’ll get the ‘monsoons’ a local misnomer for the sudden violent downpours. They are quite disappointing for this displaced Midwesterner. I like a dark gray/black sky with lots of thunder. Here it is common to be soaked only to see clear sky on the horizon. What a place.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

One of us

I am drinking “Windex”
I found the recipe in the Ruby Ann Boxcar books for trailer park entertaining, Windex is a mixture of 4 types of booze, something blue (that I can’t ever pronounce), and 7-Up.
I am drinking it as I like the colour – a light sky blue that reminds me of Key West and cheerful times. It has taken me forty years to get around to making “the evening cocktail”. My father crudely calls this ‘having a snort’.

This weekend was spent doing something other than doing the usual droll weekend errands. We went to the Bears of the West weekend festival. I persuaded Someone that it could be a way to meet new people of similar ilk. I volunteered ourselves to drive the van shuttle between the bars, and man the hospitality room at the hotel. It allowed me to ‘be part of it’ but fulfill a need to keep busy/do something (more accurate; to be slightly apart and see it).

Overall it was pleasant. I have not been to one of these events. I had all sorts of visions of what it would be like. Turns out it was just a bunch of men having a party. We got to see the Frank Lloyd Wright School in Scottsdale, and the Desert Botanical Gardens. We met people. I shook hands with a celebrity. We drove a van between 3 bars until 2:30in the morning.

But did I fit in? I was one of the thinner ones. While I am attracted to bearded lumberjack types, I am not large enough to be a real ‘bear’. Sporting whiskers and donning a suitable cap and T-shirt can’t cover up the fact I am skinny.

So - while I am a card carrying member of the BOTW (full paid membership and several volunteer jobs to boot) I sense I crashed a party. It raises the ongoing issue - I want to belong. I want a clan to whom I can point and say “I am part of them” and – more important – they point to me and say ‘gooble, gooble one of us’. It is a common need, found in all; the desire to be part of a clan of similar others.

After 40 years I have not quite found this ‘group’. There is always some quirk or exception that makes me not quite like the rest. One of the greatest experiences I had in Michigan was attending a group of men; all counselors, with whom I processed cases and shared personal matters. There were 8 of them; all social workers - and I the psychiatrist. I need to be clear; they never ever made me feel apart. It was an inner voice that said “sorry, you are not quite like the others”.

And then there is the other part of me, that doesn’t want to be like the rest; who wants to be me/unique and stand apart.

These two needs; to belong and to be different, move in conflict throughout my life.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The Farm Report

I harvested some cherry tomatoes of the Risentraube variety. They came from a plant I put into the ground last June. It managed to live all year around and put out some fruit. IT was very satisfying to pick and eat them.

There are some green tomatoes on various potted plants; I hope they redden and taste OK. I certainly put a lot of time and energy into them. Soon the hot weather starts and it will be too hot for flowers and pollen. Tomatoes rank a ‘near passing’ grade.

On the other hand, the hot peppers are doing well. I have a dozen varieties. They range in colour and size and ‘heat’. It would be nice to have them all bloom at once – black, purple, orange, red, yellow, green and chocolate.

The herb pot does well.

My palm tree and my cacti are doing OK.

The eggplant is slowly growing. It will have white and pale purple stripes on them.

The cucumbers (four varieties) are germinating at a slow pace. I hope they grow up the trellis. This would provide shade, privacy and things to eat. How multitasking is a cucumber.

All of this requires daily watering as they are all in pots. A lot of work to be sure, but I can not shake the passion to grow vegetables.

We’ll see what survives the Phoenix summer.