Season Opener

The staircase to the upstairs in the center hall.

This house is bright. The light was a big gain from our first house which allowed little sunshine through its windows.

Our house is a bungalow with a wide covered porch. The big front picture windows welcome the rays. The bays in the front rooms and the radiator to ceiling glass portals in the dining room provide sun patches for the Beast to follow throughout the day. The light is invited into the hall by the south facing window in our bathroom. The house loves the light.

When that bathroom door is closed, though, when someone showers, shaves or shits, there is only darkness in the center hall.

Much of the plaster is crumbling through the house, and I bet it started in the hall. Or there was some god awful wallpaper that couldn’t be removed. I think this because someone, before we moved here, covered the walls in the hallway with dark brown paneling from floorboard, ten feet up, to the ceiling.

Once, during a party, a guest pointed out that the perpetrator of the darkness used standard eight foot panels, capped them with a piece of trim, then finished with scrap. While they did an excellent job in lining up the panels, the walls now seemed flimsy to me.

Over the years, some of the panels have come a bit loose. There may or may not be a hole or two that may or may not have been delivered by a boot or a fist by brothers who may or may not have been in a brawl. But damage or no, the dark paneling just doesn’t make sense.

But we aren’t so simple. No. We. Are. Not.

Of course we’re tearing out the depressing paneling. That will be amazing. But not as amazing as opening up the stairwell.

Bungalows are a either one story or a story and a half. Our stairs to the second floor have been enclosed just behind a door and ensconced in thick plaster–like a secret elevator shaft without the elevator. The door will be replaced with air and the wall is being subbed out by an open railing. I will be able to look down from upstairs to the hall. And so will the sun. The house will be flooded with light from its center. I think this will be the aspect of the remodel with the most impact.

More than increasing the kitchen size by 50%. More than adding another full bath. More than the new windows across the back of the house. More than the new HVAC and powered up electrical.

Just you wait. This new staircase, with it’s come hither look, is the refresh. It’s going to be grand.

Can’t Tell Me Nothing

a black and white rendition of the SE corner of the current kitchen. There's a window that will go away, and a range sitting squarely there

The kitchen plans, of course, look good. Why on goddesses’ green earth would somebody give a client something that looks bad. See what I mean?

There’s a lot of time between encounters–encounters between the design/build folks and the client. And for those of you not quite following along, the client in the equation is me. Doc. I want it to be done. Complete. Finito.

Maybe this is less about being done, and more about my impatience. Be that as it may.

The problem is that Doc is actually obsessing about that last batch of drawings. The batch in possession is actually one conversation/version behind. So, the pix that I have do not actually incorporate all that we said. All that we agreed to. All that I want to be.

Well, that’s not exactly true. There are notes and arrows that acknowledge the changes–but you don’t see them all. Not totally. There is interpretation required. See. I’m obsessing. I told you.

So, as you know, pretty much every day I stand in different spots in the house and try to imagine what will be. I’m not saying that this is healthy. I’m just reporting the truth.

Today, I’m looking at the plans and seeing that there’s a problem. I’m looking at the edges and see that there are two corners in play. One on the southwest side. The other on the southeast side. The cabinets join at those corners. I’m wondering how the hell you get anything into or out of those spaces. It’s geometry. Angles and space. This is not looking good. The space is blocked.

And then I look, again, at the drawings. I see some weird words. On the plans it says:

Blind corner with pull out magic corner.

An image of one of the drawings that includes an indication that a pull-out-magic-corner will save the day. Fingers crossed.

Of course. Magic. That’s what I needed!

I go to the Google and ask about the “pull out magic corner.” It’s actually a real thing. I know this because one of the sellers is AmazonDotCom. Has to be legit.

It’s a few wire shelves that are connected and folded upon themselves. These shelves are attached to a cabinet door to provide access to the dark matter at the joining of the cabinetry. You pull the door open and the storage unfolds, four shelves for pots and pans or for mixers and bowls or for plastic containers and their snap on lids.

I’m feeling more confident. You can live through anything if magic made it.

Personality Quiz

The wall of pots in our kitchen, hanging haphazardly on a pegboard wall. Circa now.

What’s your kitchen style? Farmhouse? Modern? Mediterranean? French country? Traditional? Transitional(?) ? Contemporary? Eclectic?

It’s like a giant, stupid Buzzfeed quiz. Which Disney princess are you? What Hogwarts house will you be sorted into? What does your aura orb say about your love life? How are your values reflected by your cereal choices?

It’s not like it’s science. The elements of the different design styles overlap. A lot. Like what’s the difference between contemporary and modern? Maybe styles can be grouped along a spectrum running from fussy to Jetson sleek. I’m not sure, though. I mean, I get that it’s a shortcut to a consistent look–except, however, if you choose eclectic, which evokes “whatever you want.”

Selecting a kitchen style reminds me of that “seasons” thing they used to do to figure out someone’s most flattering color palette. Women went to parties to get draped with scarves of different tones and colors by an expert who likely learned the trade by going to a party the previous week. After the sorting, you’d be named a Winter–whereupon you were instructed to throw away all your gold jewelry and, speaking of jewels, focus on jewel-toned clothes. If the veins in your wrists looked more green than blue, you’d be crowned an Autumn and were instructed to wear coppery browns and olive-y greens. [You can see the ancient ceremony performed here.]

These kitchen styles don’t really speak to me. I don’t want fussy, but minimalist would soon look like some professional organizer’s “before” picture. There isn’t a style called “hide the dirt and accept that there’s gonna be a mess and, also, I cook here.” Too many words, I guess.

I don’t want the rich look of marble with a fancy crystal teardrop chandelier and the nooks and crannies of faux furniture turned legs and corbels flanking the hearth. I don’t want a Tony Stark kitchen with shiny surfaces that are unforgiving to fingerprints and with cabinets without pulls, hinges or surface details, camouflaged as a blank wall.

Then I found industrial kitchens. Industrial sounded good. Like a factory floor with working machines and surfaces that you’d clean with a sandblaster. But what if it’s really another term for steampunk with all the complexity of sci-fi meets Victorian charm? Too much. And how do I distinguish industrial from professional? And, does it actually matter?

For me, for my kitchen style, maybe I should just say, Winter is coming.


A pile of papers. So old school.

Times have changed. Things are faster. We have the internet. And cellphones. And wireless earbuds.

I can imagine that I’d want to make snickerdoodle cookies because the New York Times emailed me a link to a recipe on their site. And I could realize that I didn’t have a decent cooling rack for cookies. I used the phone that I got the email on and that I read the recipe on to research and order a cooling rack. It will be delivered in less than 24 hours. The transaction–including comparison shopping–took less than 10 minutes.

I got a call today from the loan processor guy. He is different from the loan origination guy, who is different from the loan paper-compiling guy, who is different from the house appraiser guy, who is different from some woman I spoke to who apologized that the cryptic automatically generated email reached me before she could call. Especially because the email said it was following up on her call that she had yet to make. They all seem to like the telephone. They use email to tell me to ring them. 

So the loan processor guy called to say everything was great, and all he needed was a phone number for my HR department. A landline. It was just in case they wanted to do a last minute employment verification. Sometimes the underwriter guys do that. 

I work for a pretty large organization. The company has been working to accommodate a modern workforce. It’s been focusing on building a virtual work environment. I haven’t had a landline myself for four years. I don’t have an office. We hotel–meaning no assigned, permanent seats. Most people work from home at least a few days a week. Some work from home all the time. We’re mobile and flexible. It’s 2017. 

I didn’t know what to say, so I told him I’d email him the info. 

Even though I started the transaction online, I felt like I was stepping into a time warp. It wasn’t that different from the last time I got a mortgage–twenty-five years ago. 

I sent a query out over our Slack channel to get the answer about HR. 

This just seems to be harder than it needs to be. It’s not really hard, but I can’t stop wondering if it couldn’t be easier. I’m sure in a week or ten days, I won’t be thinking about it at all. It will be done. Friction and all. But I kinda want to let them know that 1995 called–to release them. 


 Two cinnamon rolls. Did you ever notice how Princess Leia's hair looked like two cinnamon rolls on the sides of her head? Just in the first movie.

The theatre was crowded for the opening night of Star Wars. The auditorium was big, but the only available seats were in the first five rows. When the lights went down, we needed to throw our heads over the back of the seats to take in the monster screen. After reading the famous scrawl–you know a long time ago, far away galaxy–the blank screen was slowly, and most impressively, filled by an enormous space freighter. The subwoofers emitted low rumbles as the ship took over all of the space above my thrown back head. It was thrilling. But that wasn’t the most breathtaking.

No. It was the moment when Luke and Han “rescued” Leia and she realized they didn’t have an escape plan. When she grabbed Luke’s blaster and blew through a grate to create an exit, covered herself to get to the chute and led her “rescuers” out of their foolhardy self-trap.

She took charge. She just needed to be released. God, I was totally in love with her. From that moment.

A few movies later a masked operative came into the bad guys’ lair to rescue Han Solo. I’ll never forget the reveal–it was Leia. Whuh? Really? Her? Yay! Here’s my favorite hero. The brave, competent hero who a few scenes later strangled her captor. Yeah, she killed that enormous muther-fukcing slug. With her wits. And her bare hands. Baller.

While Star Wars doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test (there’s not a single scene in any of the first three movies in which two female characters have a conversation about anything at all besides men), it was a liberating experience. Princess Leia was a hero in her own right.

In a Rolling Stone interview last month, Carrie Fisher said

I like Princess Leia. I like how she was feisty. I like how she killed Jabba the Hutt. That’s my favorite thing she did.

Carrie Fisher, who was Princess Leia. Carrie Fisher whose jilted bride character carried a rocket launcher to off her former fiancé Jake Blues, this was after she set explosives to blow up his apartment. Carrie Fisher whose gal pal to Sally who met Harry would not put up with that horrid wagon wheel in her house. Carrie Fisher who brilliantly reprised her role of Leia, but this time as a rebel general and a heartbroken mom.

Carrie Fisher who was funny and honest. Who was a terrific author and one of the best script savers in Hollywood. Carrie Fisher who told us all about her struggles with addiction, depression and being bipolar with authenticity and wit.

I liked Carrie Fisher. I liked how she was feisty. I like how she killed Jabba the Hutt. But the favorite thing she did? She blasted a path by showing us what it’s like to be herself. She worked on a script for me to embrace myself at all of my ages. I am sorry that she left us so soon. I would have liked to see her as an old lady.

Peace, General. And thanks.

Decoding Emoji

the new apple iOS whiskey emoji. on the rocks.

New EMOJIS! New little images for us to use when words just don’t do it. I wonder if a future society will look back at this batch of Apple emojis and wonder what the hell we were trying to say? Recent phone software updates makes it much easier to emoji-fy, offering a pictogram for words you type, next to where the correct spelling of the word should be.

But back to the emojis. Apple added a cute little fox face (wonder what she says?), bacon (like what took them so long?), a Vespa and two fingers of whiskey in a glass.

I’m not sure if they added any new flags. I’m not so good at flags. I don’t usually use them. They didn’t have a burning American flag, though. I checked. But after my review, I’m wondering about what seems a worrisome subtext. A subtext of worry, if you will.

My uneasiness sensors were piqued as I swiped past dozens of round yellow faces emoting emoji-style emotions. And, in the midst of yellow dots, I saw a creepy clown face. I had to look twice to make sure it didn’t disappear. Seriously, this is the stuff nightmares are made of; a creepy clown assaulting you from within a sea of seeming normalcy. Who decided to add a creepy clown?

I began looking at the new emojis with a more discerning eye. I saw a black heart and a wilted flower. There was a yellow emoji with a black hat. You know, the man with the black hat. Not known as a good guy, AKA the bad guy. Oh, and a shark. A big one. I could hear the strains of the Jaws theme and wondered if I was going to need a bigger boat.

I was unsettled by an erupting volcano and what looked like an asteroid with a flaming orange tail, heading toward our planet, ready to destroy life as we know it. Or maybe it’s an image evoking our new president-elect’s hair. Same result.

There was a disembodied arm (a zombie?!?) taking a selfie and someone throwing up. That combo seemed right. Is Apple trying to manipulate us into being more frightened? More off of our game? What’s their game? Were they infiltrated? Figuring out the meaning in these new images makes me feel like I’m Kremlin-watching. Up for interpretation, but with a big dose of suspicion.

I can’t unsee these disturbing images. There is no going back. So here I am, hit in the head with the reality of the emoji hard knocks life. Can I uninstall the ones that scare me? Or, if that’s not an option, can I at least drink the whiskey?

Drive By

Tesla drive train.

Four years ago I went to a Tesla dealership. I strolled past the sleek chocolate brown coupe and found myself standing in front of a metal bed on four wheels. Wait. That’s the inside of the car? Where’s the engine? How car go?

The salesperson started talking about the battery and plugs and how smart the car was–that it would charge itself when electricity was cheapest. But I was floored by the lack of an engine. It was just a big, heavy battery. No pistons exploding inside of a big heavy hunk of metal. Almost no moving parts, except for the wheels.

Back to smart, the car was run by software that could be updated. And a few months ago, they started shipping all vehicles with self-driving hardware. The hardware is ready for programming so the car can drive itself. I’m thinking that we should stop calling these things cars. And use another verb for drive.

Cars and car ownership created modern America. We built extensive roads, suburbs, cul-de-sacs and drive-through meals because of cars. We have cement and asphalt covering one-third of the land in Los Angeles for our cars. We have people in jail for driving under the influence. More than three thousand people are killed in car accidents every single day, and 20 million are disabled every year. Seventy percent of all the oil in the U.S. is consumed by transportation.

People express themselves through their cars. Many a new parent resisted their first mini-vans because they never saw themselves as that kind of mom. Then there are growling sports cars, the monster trucks and the SUVs with bike racks and kayaks telling the other drivers who you are.

Us humans have a hard time imagining a post-car world. Frankly, we have a hard time imagining any world different than the one we know. But once cars start driving themselves, when they don’t use gas, it’s a new game. Gas stations, highway motels, auto repair shops, windshield wiper makers, will be superfluous.

Personal vehicles might be more like mini trolleys. They’ll be optimized, set routes. People will call for a ride and won’t need to find a parking space. Cities will lose revenue from speeding and parking tickets. Smart cars won’t need stop signs or traffic signals. They will modulate themselves to the other vehicles around via sensors and satellites.

It was only sixty-six years between the flight at Kitty Hawk and when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Maybe we will have hovercrafts. Maybe they will fly. Maybe. But however this new technology and new transportation plays out over the next decade, we are near the beginning of another upheaval in our world. And this one will be faster than the last. Buckle your seat belts, if we have them, that is.


By Any Name

Two books of religious teachings, the Quran and the Bible.

A young man walks into a restaurant full of families enjoying their meals. Little kids run around the servers who try and balance the pizzas, beers and milk filled cups with straws poking out of protective lids.

The young man, in righteous wrongness, pulls out an automatic weapon to free child sex slaves that he knows are hidden in the basement of this otherwise idyllic scene.

The staff and patrons escaped to nearby bookstores and coffee shops. The police arrived and the young man, self-radicalized by conspiring theories on the internet, surrendered with his hands over his head. Thankfully nobody was hurt. I guess nobody was hurt.

This in a very tony area of Washington, D.C.

He later said that maybe he made a mistake.

After recently having internet service installed at his house, he was “really able to look into it.” He said that substantial evidence from a combination of sources had left him with the “impression something nefarious was happening.” He said one article on the subject led to another and then another.- NYTimes

He was under the belief that this wild and unsubstantiated about Hillary Clinton being involved in child sex trafficking was true. And that he should do something about it.

Another time, another young man entered a church. He executed nine people who welcomed him into their prayer circle. He killed them because they were African American and he wanted to start a race war.

Roof wrote he was radicalized via the Internet following the Trayvon Martin case. Roof wrote he researched “black on white violence,” which took him to the website of South Carolina-based hate group the Council of Conservative Citizens (formerly the White Citizens’ Council). – The Daily Beast

You tell me he acted alone. Or that he was radicalized by social media and people spewing hate over the internet. Like other young terrorists.

[R]esearchers identified 16 key “mindsets” of members of terrorist groups….Among those mindsets: A belief that the world is a disaster, that peaceful change is not possible, that self-sacrifice is honorable, that noble ends justify immoral means, and that it is possible to create a utopia. – NPR

Terrorists believe they are making the world a better place.

It seems like there is a cohort of generally young terrorists that spans religious and political spectrums. They speak similar languages of antipathy and want to take actions to fix the world. They pick up and hone their ideology from online sources with improbable and flat out incorrect sets of “facts.” They study techniques that they find on like-minded websites to learn how to accomplish their attacks.

It’s critical to understand the actual problem we are trying to solve. Otherwise we risk solving the wrong ones. Are we running down a rabbit hole by focusing on specific ideologies? If we look at the characteristics of home-grown terrorists should we be looking for disaffectation? Youth? Fear? Bloated sense of honor? Is there a trigger that incites action? Are there interventions that could stop attacks? Is a focus on specific and deeply held moral or ethical beliefs helpful? Harmful? A distraction? Are there specific sets of ideologies that are more fertile ground for terror activities?

People who commit heinous acts of terror may read different holy books or have different motivations, but their wrongness is the same. Let’s work on the right problem.

Bing Bells

Bing Crosby's Merry Christmas album cover.

The baritone of Bing brings Christmas to my house. Every year, for as long as I can remember, he croons Christmas to me as I string the lights and find the exact right ornament placements on my WTF-themed Tannenbaum.

My mom had what might have been an original press of the 1955 12-inch LP. It definitely was before my time. It always was in our house. Mom said that when we were little, she’d start playing Christmas music in October so we’d know all the words to the songs by the time the tree went up after Thanksgiving. There were other Christmas albums–that Sing Along with Mitch with the printouts of lyrics we’d pass around, a jazzy compilation headed by Frank Sinatra and other members of the Rat Pack and, of course, Elvis. Her technique worked. We knew all the words.

I didn’t know that the Bing was my favorite, though, until I left home and put up my first tree in my college dorm. I went out to buy my own copy of the album. I couldn’t feel Christmas until he sang Silver Bells. I remember walking across campus at dusk with the first real December snowflakes, city sidewalks dressed in holiday style the internal soundtrack to my first adult holidays.

I bought this album first on vinyl, then on cassette tape so I could listen in the car. We added it to our old reel to reel Christmas party tape. And, a decade or more ago, I purchased it again, this time on CD. My next car didn’t have a tape player. I ripped the CD, so I had digital files first for my iPod and now on my phone.

Tonight, I asked my new friend Alexa to play it for me from Amazon Prime. She went to the depths of her collection and served up Bing and the Andrew Sisters (theirs is the only version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town that beats The E Street Band‘s). I mumbled and stumbled along to the second and third verses of a Latin hymn. I was good, as usual, on the first. And, like I have since I was a teeny-tiny tot, imagined the holidays from Irish blarney to Hawaiian greetings. I remember that year I realized that you could have Christmas without snow. I thought that all your Christmases would be white. Wouldn’t Santa be too hot? And the reindeer? Mind blown.

I’ve infected or inoculated–maybe both?–the Boyz with this set of holiday tunes. Even the Spouse adds his baritone to our home choir that accompanies Bing. Turns out this was his dad’s favorite Christmas record, too.

I was going to rant a bit about owning music, since it doesn’t seem that I can actually own it, even though I buy it. I was gong to get righteous about buying multiple soon-to-be-obsolete media just to feed my fix. And then, I realized that I don’t even feel ripped off. Now that’s some charitable Christmas spirit there.

Mele Kalikimaka, y’all.


Money drawer from a cash register.

For my first jobs, I used a cash register. I took money for hamburgers, music on vinyl, women’s fashion and video game tokens. At the beginning of every shift I’d count my drawer to verify its contents. At the end of every shift, I’d count out against what I sold. And my boss would count the money too. Double-checking my work. We’d do this every shift because the money was the point. It was why were were at the store.

This week some security experts raised issues about potential vulnerabilities of electronic voting. People are calling for an audit of the results. Not because there is credible evidence of a hack, because there isn’t. But because it strengthens our system.

“Auditing ought to be a standard part of the election process,” says Ron Rivest, a cryptographer and computer science professor at MIT. “It ought to be a routine thing as much as a doctor washing his hands.” –from Wired

The votes are the entire point of an election. The votes decide who wins. Why wouldn’t an audit be part of the standard operating procedure? Frankly, I don’t believe that an audit will have an impact on the results of this election. But some states are using voting machines with outdated software. If nobody audits the results, it’s as if we just assumed my cash drawer was right every night. That’s a huge vulnerability.

Accountability and verification maintain the integrity of my cash drawer. It provides insight into possible leaks in the system–either poor training or poor honesty. Our electoral process should have the same validation. It can only strengthen our democracy by removing doubts. We need to have trust in our systems.

I think it was an old Republican president who said, “Trust but verify.” Let’s do that.